Modern technology often seems to rest in a very gray area, sitting firmly at the junction of reality, dreams and nightmares. Inventions from movies are being brought to life everyday. Remember Mr. Freeze and his freeze ray gun from 1997's Batman & Robin? A development team in Berlin has brought that gun to reality.
Smartphones - and now wearable technology - have given rise to some weird uses for technology. The LovePalz app allows you to control a stranger's adult toy. There's also Cuddlr, a location-based social-meeting app just for cuddling.
Saying technology is developing at a rapid rate is a massive understatement. The first iPad was released in April 2010; seven generations after, there's a profusion of copycat tablets.
In many ways, we can barely keep up with the pace, and that's simply with everyday stuff. In the medical field, the military, and even in entertainment, some downright creepy technology and new uses for such advanced processes are being developed everyday.
We've all seen the movies where messing around with DNA to create new lifeforms always ends badly. From bringing back extinct dinosaur in Jurassic Park to creating some kind of superbug in Contagion, movies have shown it's never a great idea.
This doesn't only happen in movies, unfortunately. In a lab in Denmark, Dr. Ron Fouchier, a virologist, successfully created a new organism: a genetically modified mutation of the bird flu virus.
His strain of H5N1 is reported to be so deadly that if released, it could kill more humans than an exploding nuclear power plant. It's so virulent that a victim only has to breathe the same air as a carrier to get infected.
Under pressure from the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, Fouchier has refrained from publishing the details of his experiment. Members of the scientific community are upset at this perceived censorship.
9 Organ Transplants
Waiting lists around the world grow longer by the day. More people require new kidneys, livers, and even hearts. Organ transplantation is an example of rapidly developing technology; the first successful human kidney transplant was done in 1954.
These days, surgery isn't limited to internal organs; surgeons can reattach any body part. In 1994, Sandeep Kaur's face and hair were ripped off her skull by a threshing machine. Microsurgery was successfully used to reattach her face and reconnect the arteries. In 2005, both of Arsenio Matias' hands were amputated in an industrial accident. Surgeons were able to reattach them and he regained full use within four weeks.
Since then surgery has progressed even further; scientists estimate that a complete human head transplant will be possible by 2016. This can signal a new life for people who are paralyzed from the neck down or those whose organs are riddled with cancer.
8 3D Printing
3D printing: some hate it, others love it. Tinkerers are glad for the opportunity to recreate parts at home. Big businesses are wary about how 3D printers will change manufacturing. Toys, bongs, even fully functioning gun parts can be fabricated at home. In the midst of this debate, it's no surprise that the medical field is looking at 3D printing on the quest for better materials.
Their goal is to find ways to create functioning human organs that the body won't reject or require that the patient go on a regimen of immunosuppressants. This can be achieved by using the patients' own cells to make the organ.
Using bioprinting, scientists harvest stem cells, and grow them in a petri dish. The resulting mix is used as the filament in a 3D printer to produce the desired body parts. This guarantees that the body has no adverse reaction when the new organ is transplanted in.
7 Stem Cell Research
Speaking of stem cells, from the onset of stem cell research in 1908, it has been touted as the answer to the world's problems. Regarded as the body's 'master cells', stem cells provide the building blocks for organs, blood and the immune system.
Their potential to grow into any type of cell makes them vital in the regeneration of body parts that have been lost or damaged. They have been used to cure blood cancers, reverse paralysis and even halt the spread of Parkinson's disease. They have even been found to help "mend broken hearts" i.e. repair damaged heart muscles.
Many ethical debates plagued the birth of stem cell research. Some worry about the extraction of stem cells by destroying a human embryo; others claim the immunological reaction that occurs isn't worth the entire process.
6 DNA Surveillance
The DNA double helix is widely considered to be the building block of all life. It's so unique to each individual that it has been used to solve numerous cold cases, such as identifying survivors from the Titanic and reuniting missing families.
This uniqueness gave New York artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg an idea. She collected waste: gum that's been chewed, cigarette butts, even bits of discarded hair. Using a technique called polymerase chain reaction, she sequenced DNA from the waste to get distinguishing markers like gender, eye color, hair color, complexion, etc. Using a 3D printer, she then created a face and brought it to life.
A modification of this technology is being used in Hong Kong to shame people who litter. DNA is extracted from poorly discarded litter, and is used to create an Electronic Facial Identification Technique, or e-fit. The e-fit of the person is prominently displayed at bus stops and metro stations.
The ease of use of this has sparked a debate on potential misuse of DNA, from profiling to surveillance.
5 Weather Modification
Lasers are so versatile that they're used to do everything from cutting diamonds to changing your eye color from brown to blue. Little wonder the military has developed multiple uses for them, such as being able to pierce a moving truck from more than a mile away.
Scientists in Switzerland are using lasers to create clouds over clear skies. The laser induces condensation in the air, causing water vapor to condense into droplets. This process mimics the natural process that creates clouds, triggering rainfall when the clouds get heavy enough.
Weather modification has been in use for decades. Even during the Vietnam war's Project Pop Eye, the tops of monsoon clouds were seeded to trigger rain to extend the natural rainy season. This was done to reduce traffic along infiltration routes.
Weather modification can be a powerful weapon. Just imagine being able to induce devastating floods on an enemy country.
The military is constantly coming up with new ways to gain the upper hand in war. They have already developed gloves that essentially turn soldiers into geckos. They've even developed drones that are camouflaged as hummingbirds and insects.
Noticing that 56% of soldiers in the Middle East were evacuated because of sickness, scientists at DARPA created a solution to this. They came up with microscopic robots that can be injected into the soldier. These nanobots can self-diagnose and repair any abnormal cells they encounter, thus curing illnesses.
This technology can be modified so the nanobots are self-replicating and can monitor the soldier on a molecular level. Scientists are on their way to perfecting the super soldier.
3 Electromagnetic Pulse Weapons
The idea of a weapon that can instantly disable all electronic devices sounds scary, like something straight out of science fiction. One was used in the movie Ocean's Eleven; remember the scene where the gang used an EMP to shut down all the electronic equipment in the casino? Well, such a weapon is now available in the USA.
The US government and Boeing have developed a weapon with the power of a nuclear device but without the death and destruction that nukes cause. They call it the 'CHAMP', or Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project.
This technology is capable of rendering an enemy's electronic and data systems useless, allowing troops to invade with minimal casualties. What happens if it falls into the wrong hands?
Your friendly neighborhood search engine is on a quest to "use technology to make a difference in people's lives." While that's a laudable goal, the rate at which Google is invading every aspect of our lives is a tad alarming.
They hold patents in just about every field imaginable. From driver-less cars to reduce accidents due to human error, to partnering with Novartis to produce smart contact lens to help with self-diagnosis of diabetes, their projects surround us.
They recently unveiled Project Jacquard which allows clothing to become an "interactive surface". Google's Project Vault allows users to create more secure communications by miniaturizing computers for use across multiple platforms.
They acquired the Deepmind software company to produce an artificial intelligence that surpasses anything available now. When finished, it will be able to "pore through massive databases, gleaning meaning from databases so vast, it would take humans millions of years to read them."
Google's role in AI development is scary. Apparently, their AI program can play an Atari game on its own! The amount of influence they have and will have on our daily activities is more than a little unsettling.
1 Artificial Intelligence
All these technologies have one thing in common: creating better, faster, smarter systems. But what happens if we lose control of them? Is AI really all that it's cracked up to be?
Many will dismiss such thoughts as fear-mongering, but what do some of the greatest minds of the 21st century think?
Elon Musk, founder of Paypal and SpaceX, cautions the speed of development of AI. Naming AI as humanity's biggest existential threat, he is pushing for regulatory oversight on all AI developments.
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, agrees, saying, “First, the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well.”
Professor Stephen Hawking, renowned physicist, says “computers will overtake humans with AI at some point within the next 100 years. When that happens, we need to make sure the computers have goals aligned with ours. Our future is a race between the growing power of technology and the wisdom with which we use it.”
Are we on the right path or are we going to destroy ourselves? Is this technology scary or essential?