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20 Technologies That Will Shape the Next 20 Years

Technology
20 Technologies That Will Shape the Next 20 Years

Technology is constantly advancing at a breakneck pace. Things that mystified us 20 years ago seem commonplace and mundane by today’s standards. It follows, then, that to the people of 2034 (assuming, of course, that the Zombie Apocalypse of 2017 doesn’t destroy human civilization), the things they take for granted everyday would be downright magical to us.

Over the next two decades, many of the technologies on this list will shape the world in ways we can’t fully comprehend. Most of the following technologies already exist in some form or another; they’re just waiting for the right scientist or entrepreneur to come along and change the world. Technologies like…

20. Graphene

Graphen

Graphene has become somewhat of a buzzword in the tech community these past few years. Essentially a one-atom-thick crystalline layer of super strong, conductive, and flexible carbon, this material has a big future in fields ranging from biomedical devices to desalination to vastly improved battery technology. Speaking of batteries…

19. New Battery Technology

Electric_batteries

Aside from our friend graphene up there, researches have been experimenting with countless other materials, chemistries and formats in an effort to improve battery technology. From tiny flexible batteries that are constantly being recharged by kinetic and solar energy to sugar-powered batteries that last up to 15 times as long as today’s lithium-ion cells, the promising future of battery technology virtually guarantees that we’ll never again have to bulldoze a group of nuns as we sprint frantically to the nearest outlet before our phone dies and we lose our new high score in Flappy Bird. No promises, though.

18. Google Glass

Google Glass, now you don't even have to speak to let people know you're awful!

Google Glass, now you don’t even have to speak to people to let them know you’re awful!

Like it or not, this one’s probably here to stay. Though mercifully it will likely never be as mainstream as smartphones or tablets are today, Google Glass has actually shown some real promise in the medical industry, enabling doctors to quickly access patient information, confirm diagnoses and even aid in complex surgical procedures. Thankfully, Glassholes in the wild are still few and far between, and we can only pray it stays that way.

17. Energy

how to save electricity at home 10

As the planet’s population booms and its oil reserves dwindle, cheap, efficient, and renewable energy sources will become more important than ever before. Breakthroughs in this crowded field are being made all the time. In the next 20 years, houses could be 100% powered by solar and wind energy, coastal communities could draw their power from the tides, and nuclear fusion may be powering our biggest cities.

16. The Large Hadron Collider

cern_hadron_collider-745810

The LHC is a giant particle accelerator built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) 300 feet below ground on the Swiss-French border. Its purpose is to carry out large scale experiments to test various theories of particle and high-energy physics. In 2013, experiments were conducted that proved the existence of the Higgs boson (the so-called “God Particle”). With more experiments planned, it’s possible that in the coming years the LHC will play a key role in our understanding of the fundamental building blocks of the entire universe.

15. 3D Printing

Just a little off the top, please.

Just a little off the top, please.

3D printing isn’t new. In fact, it’s been around since the 1980s. But it’s only been in the last few years that the technology has finally started to come into its own. In the next 20 years, 3D printers will become as common as inkjets are today. Think of the possibilities: you just got back from Ikea and realized you’re missing a screw for that beautiful new Fjorkltünde bookcase you spent $300 on? No need to curse our Swedish furniture overlords. Just go to their website, download the plans, and 3D print yourself one!

14. Genetically Modified Food

OK, this should get rid of most of your wrinkles.

OK, this should get rid of most of your wrinkles.

Genetically modified (GM) foods have become quite the hot-button issue in recent years. People hear the words “gene modification” and their brains process them as “Godzilla mutant danger.” As a result, you’ll find no shortage of people yelling on the internet (what better way to be taken seriously?), vilifying genetically modified foods to no end. Right or wrong, their outcry has been heard by many and there are anti-GM food movements popping up all over the world. But the bottom line is that genetic modification has imbued crops like corn and wheat with disease, drought, and pest-resistance enabling them to feed hundreds of millions of people around the globe. You can’t ignore those kinds of results, and that’s why GM foods will play a big role in the next few decades.

13. Darpa

America's Skynet since 1958

America’s Skynet since 1958

DARPA, a decidedly boring acronym for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is a subset of the US Department of Defense that is tasked with creating the awesomest weapons possible for the US military. DARPA is no stranger high technology, having created the earliest precursor to the internet in the late ’60s. Today, the agency is hard at work developing modern military marvels, including cloaking technology, Iron Man-style military exoskeletons and the BigDog Legged Squad Support System (basically just a headless demon robot dog from your nightmares).

12. Biometrics

biometrics-password-copy

Biometrics are the next wave of mobile security. They’re nothing new, per se, but their implementation is much improved over the past few years. After Apple released the iPhone 5S last September with its Touch ID fingerprint scanner, other manufacturers have fallen in line. Soon people will just expect all consumer electronics to come with some form of biometric security, whether it be fingerprint scanning, retina identification or voice recognition (maybe all three).

11. Apple iWatch

Hopefully the real thing doesn't look quite this horrible.

Hopefully the real thing doesn’t look quite this horrible.

While we’re on the subject of Apple, consumer electronics industry insiders have been hinting for a couple years now that the Cupertino company would one day release a smartwatch, long dubbed the iWatch. Apple has yet to make any formal announcements, but its presence in this nascent category would likely legitimize what until now has been viewed as a bit of a fringe market. Several companies have already ventured into the smartwatch game with mostly middling results. MP3 players, smartphones and tablets already existed before Apple came along and revolutionized those categories. If it decides to get into the smartwatch category as well, there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t do the same to the world of wearable technology for years to come.

10. Brain-Computer Interface

emotive-e1350917197133

Imagine being able to control your computer with your mind. For most of us, the brain-computer interface would only serve to heighten our dependence on computers and further isolate us from the outside world. But for amputees and victims of paralysis, in conjunction with biomechanical prostheses, the brain-computer interface could provide a return to normalcy. This technology is in its infancy at the moment but it has enormous potential for the years to come.

9. Holographic Interfaces

There's a better than average chance Tony's a little drunk in this picture.

There’s a better than average chance Tony’s a little drunk in this picture.

As seen in any movie that wants to make basic interactions with a computer appear high-tech and science-fictiony, holographic interfaces are both a highly intuitive way to interact with a computer and a great way to blow a movie’s special effects budget in one take. Even the best real world examples of this technology today are crude by movie standards but, as with everything else on this list, it will only get better in the coming years.

8. Cloud Computing

retail-technology-cloud

Cloud computing is already very common. Services like Dropbox, Google Drive, Apple iCloud and Cubby have been around for years and have tens of millions of users. But in the future, everything will be in the cloud. Hard drives, flash drives, and onboard storage will be a thing of the past. All your documents, music, and photos will be stored in the cloud and available on all your devices the instant you want them.

7. Nanorobotics

Nothing scary about this.

Nothing scary about this.

Nanorobotics, or nanites as they should never be called, are still largely in the research and development phase. Largely being developed as in a medical capacity, nanorobotics are microscopic machines capable of detecting and eradicating pathogens, administering specialized medicine directly to the affected area and quickly repairing wounds on a cellular level. There are also numerous agricultural and defense applications being explored. Though, given the complicated manufacturing process and the sheer scale required to be effective, anything concrete is still a long way off.

6. Mining Desalination Waste

200362609-001

As droughts around the world become more frequent and more severe, coastal municipalities are increasingly turning to desalination for their water needs. This comes at a price, however. Aside from the exorbitant costs associated with saltwater desalination, the process produces wastewater with high concentrations of salinity. This waste wreaks havoc on the environment when it’s returned to the ocean. New methods of mining this wastewater for sulfur, calcium, potassium, magnesium and other valuable elements continue to show promise and could provide an ingenious solution to two separate problems.

5. Virtual Reality

Insert your own joke here.

Insert your own joke here.

We’ve been waiting for a competent virtual reality system since the ’80s. With the Oculus Rift, it seems like that wait might finally be over. The Oculus Rift, which was recently acquired by Facebook (we we’re bummed when we heard that, too), offers a stunningly realistic experience that will soon be a common feature of every gamer’s dream setup.

4. Advanced Robotics

Finally, the pinnacle of human achievement. Well done, humanity! Well done!

I give you the pinnacle of human achievement. You can retire now, Science.

We’ve been promised robots, both the helpful and murderous kinds, for the better part of the last century. For the most part, progress has been slow, but that’s mostly because the technology required to build these ping pong-playing miracles has lagged somewhat. In the next two decades, the fields of artificial intelligence and mechanical engineering will improve considerably and, slowly but surely, our robot masters servants will finally become a reality.

3. Aerogel

Aerogelflower_filtered

This one is really cool. Aerogels are gels that have had their liquid portions removed and replaced by air via a process known as supercritical drying, leaving only the solid parts behind. The resulting product, known colloquially as “frozen smoke,” has remarkable insulating properties and load-bearing capabilities surprising for something with such little mass. Silica aerogels have even been proposed for use in any future long distance space explorations. 3…2…1…Segue!

2. Galactic Colonization

Suburbs all look the same.

You know you’re in the suburbs when all the homes start to look the same.

Dutch non-profit Mars One recently announced its plans to colonize Mars by the year 2025.  They’re currently in the initial stages of determining who will be the first humans to colonize the red planet. There are many roadblocks standing in the way of success, the biggest of which is how to fund this project. The answer: reality television. The minds behind this endeavor plan to follow every second of the astronauts’ lives for a reality show. But look on the bright side, they’ll probably never have to experience to stigma of being reality stars, because they’re never coming back to earth. It’s a one way trip!

1. Self-Driving Cars

"I'm supposed to hit the cones, right?"

“I’m supposed to hit the cones, right?”

This is something we can all get behind. Google has spearheaded the driverless car movement (you can even see them driving around their Mountain View, CA campus fairly regularly). Many automakers, from Audi to Nissan, have jumped on the driverless bandwagon as well. Government transportation safety agencies from several different countries are currently evaluating the concept of driverless automobiles and how best to prepare individuals who have spent their whole lives driving to give up control to a computer. This one’s definitely coming, maybe sooner rather than later.

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