In terms of scientific advancements, it would be hard to argue that the 20th century didn’t exceed every preceding century in many ways. Humans visited the moon, nuclear power was harnessed, the Internet came to fruition, just to name a few marvels. As we’re still early into the 21st, some budding technology is enough to create speculation that something even greater could materialize within the next decade.
Perhaps current technology doesn’t seem as mind blowing when compared to the last century, at least just yet. However, many things that are part of our everyday lives we hadn’t envisioned just twenty years ago. For example, the evolution of smart devices has generated multiple spins on creative tech even sci-fi didn’t quite imagine in their current incarnations. Alongside smart devices, paralleling items from 3D video cameras, 3D printing, advanced AI, and others, have become topical in the last couple years.
Below, we’re going to look at four technologies with the greatest potential to disrupt the future.
Renewable energy – water converting solar panels
What good are technological advancements or anticipation of things to come without the power to make it all work? Considering reliance on aging infrastructure and companies lobbying to maintain reliance on fossil fuels, renewable energy seems neglected – yet, it has been a viable option for some time.
Hydroelectric first came into production in 1881 at the Schoellkopf Power Station by Niagara Falls. Wind power was first harnessed in 1887 by Professor James Blyth in Scotland then applied at the world’s first windfarm during 1980 in New Hampshire. Pacific Gas and Electric harnessed geothermal energy for the first large scale operation in 1960.
Bell Labs developed the first practical solar cell in 1954 which is arguably the most capable power source for circumventing electric grids altogether. Just last year, it was shown to have even greater potential thanks to an invention by a company called Zero Mass Water. Their Source Hydropanels siphon water from the air by utilizing nanomaterials to both provide energy and clean water.
3D camera – not just a toy for entertainment
Early on, the application for 3D video only seemed to have application for entertainment purposes. Beginning in 1922 with the very first “3D film” – an illusion produced with the aid of stereoscopic filming – was aired in Los Angeles, even prior to color becoming a mainstream part of video.
Over the decades, color and technology improved and the first 3D comic, Three Dimension Comics: Starring Paul Terry’s Mighty Mouse, would be published in 1953. This advent segued to more production of other 3D entertainment material, but it also spurred greater imagination for 3D technology.
The first time a hologram would be visually simulated for the public would be in the 1956 film, Forbidden Planet. This adaptation of virtual reality would later become a sci-fi staple with the holodeck room after Star Trek gained immense popularity. Today, we have practical devices for VR immersion and usage that extends beyond just entertainment.
The 3D camera is changing entertainment by adding another dimension to a visual experience, which is certainly the most fun part of the technology. Moreover, this added dimension is a highly practical tool for business as well. Companies are applying this technology for everything from collecting detailed surveys of new construction sites, reading body language during recruiting and interviewing, immersive product demonstrations and training, among many other applications.
3D printing – resilient, affordable housing
The 3D printing movement started decades ago but didn’t start receiving the level of buzz seen today until the start of the current decade. Despite seeming like a recent development, the technology was first developed in 1980 with its first application taking place in 1986, thanks to an inventor named Chuck Hull.
Throughout the 1990s, application was minimal though it did help some companies inexpensively build models for various prototypes. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the medical industry began using the technology to print functioning organs. In 2005, the RepRap 3D printer, developed at the University of Bath, became the first open-source, 3D printing project, serving as a push to make the technology highly accessible.
At first, only plastics, soft metals, and biological mater could be printed but new advancements are making the application significantly greater. With the ability to print denser metals, companies can 3D print highly specific parts inhouse that would normally be time consuming and expensive to order elsewhere. In construction, the ability to 3D print concrete is a breakthrough for housing, as it is both fast, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly.
AI – human thinking with less error
The idea of artificial intelligence originated in the early 20th century with early works beginning at Dartmouth College in the 1956. The zeal of the students led them to believe they could create a machine with intellect paralleling a human within 25 years but were stifled by the lack of computing power of that era and the following decades.
Work on AI systems continued over the next several decades until the first useful product, known as XCON, was completed in 1980 for DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation), which acted as a functional ordering system, aiding in assembling their VAX computer systems. Fast forward to today, we have AI systems such as the Amazon Alexa in our homes, capable of interpreting complex voice commands.
Some view Alexa as a novelty item, as it mostly adds convenience and it’s simply fun to use. Though that may be the case with Alexa in its current state, it’s familiarizing many us with “what AI can do.”
The next wave of highly useful and accessible AI will be Google Cloud AutoML, providing an image analysis system for business or personal use. The application allows someone to train a program with visual data for predictive capabilities, specific to their own needs, whether it’s analyzing machine parts for wear, aiding in maintenance scheduling, or capturing environmental data in an area to predict changes in an ecosystem.
All the technologies working together
It’s speculation right now but imagine this: Google’s AutoML will also be powerful enough to process data beyond simple images, eventually analyzing 3D videos. Remote environments or terrains that were typically uninhabitable could be analyzed in great depth, enabling low-impact structures to be built for a small price. Finally, solar power would be the primary resource for powering all the above technologies. Between renewable energy, 3D technology, and AI, we’re on the cusp of a new, more self-sufficient era.