10 Futurist Predictions in the World of Technology

Science fiction can be a powerful genre. In books like “1984,” “Brave New World” and “Fahrenheit 451,” we can consider the dangers we face if we put too much power in the hands of the government. These books also stress the importance of individuality and critical thinking. While the setting may be futuristic and even fantastic, the themes are relevant to how we live our lives. Don’t dismiss a tale just because it has robots and rockets in it — there may be more going on under the surface of the story.

But apart from deep social commentary, science fiction has given us other gifts: amazing inventions that we’d love to possess. Some gadgets from science fiction became reality. “Star Trek” introduced the concept of a universal translator — a gadget capable of making communication possible across language barriers. Today, you can use a smartphone and Google Translate to have a conversation with someone else even if you don’t share a common language. There are thousands of examples of real-world gadgets and inventions that were once just the stuff of dreams.

But not all gizmos and doodads from sci-fi are available at the local retail store. We’re going to take a look at 10 gadgets introduced in sci-fi that we’re just dying to get our hands on.

10.Zero-size Intelligence

Computer brains (or chips) have diminished in size — some powered by just five atoms, and one-atom developments about 10 to 20 years down the road.

Lucidio Studio Inc./Getty Images

No one wants to be called a zero in terms of intelligence, but having zero-sized intelligence in computing means packing a whole lot of brains in a tiny, tiny package. Computer companies encourage forward-thinking creativity, and some, such as Intel, even have futurists on board to predict where technology is headed. Futurist Brian David Johnson sees the future advance of computing to so small a size that the housing for the computer itself is almost zero. We have the technology to put computers almost anywhere and in almost anything. Computers used to take up entire rooms, then whole desktops, laps and palms, to micro-chip-sized casings and atom-powered transistors invisible to the naked eye

Many have predicted that the shrinking of computing size would also lead to the end of something calledMoore’s Law. Gordon E. Moore, a co-founder of Intel, famously predicted that every two years the number of transistors on a chip will roughly double every 24 months. As computer brains have diminished in size — with some models powered by just five atoms and one-atom developments about 10 to 20 years down the road — getting smaller may reach an end point as atomic transistors replace chips. Whether the low cost will trickle down despite the high cost of innovating such small transistors remains to be seen


9.Moon, Mars, More?

Space exploration has taken some hits in the 21st century, with cuts to the U.S. and other international space program budgets. But with the Curiosity Rover on Mars as of August 2012 and plans to launch the “most powerful rocket in history,” the Space Launch System (SLS) by 2017, NASA is still very much in the business of the future. After the planned, unmanned sendoff of the SLS in 2017, NASA intends to send a crew of up to four astronauts into space by 2021. This could be a return to the moon, with capabilities for missions on other planets

[sources: Landau; NASA].

Even with the world economic downturns of this century, individuals and corporations in the private sector also plan to keep aiming for the stars and enabling people to buy space exploration tickets of their own. Some futurists of decades past would be surprised to see that space travel for every man isn’t commonplace, but for a few wealthy adventurers, it’s no longer the stuff of science fiction. Maybe their trips will help drive down costs for the rest of us.


Will there be a day when you say “I can’t read your mind, you know!” and the reply will be “Oh, stop it — of course you can!”? It could happen. Neuroscientists are finding ways to read people’s minds with machines, and although this has been in the works for decades, real progress is being made by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and elsewhere. Translating electrical activity from the brain by means of decoding brainwaves is one way to help sufferers of dementia, for example, who have complications with neurotransmitters relaying thoughts into comprehensible speech or holding thoughts long enough to get them out verbally before they’re forgotten.

On the other hand, it is more than a little frightening to know that science and machines could soon have access to our innermost thoughts. Implications for neurohacking into people’s thoughts have also been studied in relation to neuromarketing, which targets people’s brains by manipulating their wants and desires through marketing and advertising. Our thoughts and actions could actually be hijacked by a form of media that makes us think we’re getting what we want, when really, we’re going for something our brains may only think is supposed to be good [sources: IGF; Carmichael].

7.Mass Data

Even if scientists and marketers can’t get access to our brains for neurohacking or neuromarketing, can they get access to our data? With unprecedented amounts of images and data available online, filling clouds and other Web-based storage, media, government regulatory bodies and marketers work around the clock to mine user preferences, habits and even relationships.

What to do with all of this data, and more specifically and maybe more urgently, how can we keep all of our activities in the virtual space from shaping the real space of our world? As search preferences narrow results when using the Internet, and our reading and research have become “optimized” based on what key words people search for, our choices in buying products and accessing news and information narrows as the enormous stores of data accumulate.

Data and the machines and algorithms used to manage and make sense of it could largely replace independent decision-making — either large or small — and it is happening at such a speed that it’s sometimes hard to remember the data isn’t in control. People still control the data, but just who has this control and what they do with it will become an ongoing challenge


6.Quantum Control

Picture a tiny bit of a thing on an already miniscule computer chip. Something microscopic with the power to think like a computer without the need of complex circuitry and capable of being moved by light or sound: That is quantum technology simplified.

Put less simply, quantum control uses a technology derived from physics for computer applications. Quantum electrodynamics, or QED, describes the interaction of matter and light, and QED-circuits take this interaction to the computer chip by trying to harness the interaction for circuitry in machines. Phonons are sound-activated quantum vibrations that move circuitry and motor machines at the chip level.

All of these breakthroughs in quantum technology are advancing the zero-sized intelligence we touched on earlier, and they’re very exciting to techies and scientists alike. They merge science and technology into something that isn’t mere experimentation, but has enormous implications because they work and may someday power the computer and communication devices we use every day. Their enormity comes in their tiny, atomic-sized power


5. Youth Tech Movements

In what’s been called the Arab Spring, anti-government protesters in Cairo, Egypt, used social media and networking to help organize protesters in Tahrir Square in 2011.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Young people have never before been so technologically savvy and interconnected, with so much time on their hands and so little money in their pockets, as they are now. There have always been disgruntled youth who fight the establishment and their parents for change and strike out against the old regimes in favor of new freedoms. But in the 21st century, a global recession, lack of opportunity and lack of hope for the youth are practically boiling over — or, at least, are simmering and ready to explode.

People between the ages of 16 and 24, and ranging from the unschooled to those with doctorate-level educations, are coming up in a world where they may be stuck at home and without job prospects for years. All of this discontent may breed organized anarchy or rebellion in the form of technological or infrastructure sabotage, either physically or in cyberspace.

4.Nanotechology, Nanomed

Technology at the nano level, or nanotechnology, allows for unbelievable precision and a way to copy the work of nature at its most basic functioning, but just how small is a nano? According to the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a sheet of paper is 100,000 nanometers thick and there are 25.4 million nanos in 1 inch. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter

[sources: NNI; Sarchet]!

How is this impacting technology and the future? In just about every field, nanotechnology is being used for innovations in engineering, medical devices, imaging, computing and many more. Nanomedicine is one area experiencing rapid and dramatic growth. Because many illnesses and disorders in the body take place at the cellular level and grow as ruled by the formation of genetic makeup, nanotechnology has the capability to treat at the very root of the condition, rather than after it’s fully spread throughout the body. It can be both preventative and curative because treatment reaches the narrowest and most minuscule centers of control. Neurosurgery and gene therapy are just two areas within nanomed that are particularly well-suited for nanotools and technology.

3.Dark Networks

Members of Anonymous (seen here wearing Guy Fawkes masks) hacked the French presidential Elysee Palace Web site in early 2012, and briefly knocked the FBI and Justice Department Web sites offline in retaliation for the U.S. shutdown of file-sharing site Megaupload.

Photo courtesy Vincent Diamante

As the world gets smaller by sharing more and more of the same cyberspace and social tools, we are, like it or not, becoming a bigger collective target for the bad guys. While our data puts us all “out there” in many ways, that same data enables those involved in dark networks and activities to get lost and take on false, covert identities in order to plan bigger and bigger attacks.

Anonymous is one such dark group involved in “hactivism,” having found its way into sensitive stores of information from the likes of the FBI, Visa and Mastercard, and government Web sites from the U.K. to China, causing large-scale, disabling computer terror. It functions as a collective of many individuals and spreads its login and computer activities thin enough to lead authorities in too many directions to track, and its acts target everything from politics to commerce.

As incidents of cyber-attacks — and even infrastructure attacks to water systems and electrical grids — grow, billions of dollars are stolen and billions of people are at risk each year. This may lead to increased cyber-insecurity, or widespread fear of the very technology people need to go about everyday commerce and communication [sources: Fantz; IGF].

2.Universal Translators

As the Old Testament Bible story goes, the people once spoke the same language and were proud of the accomplishments they made in society, so they decided to build a tall monument to their accomplishments to spread their name to the heavens. God decided to humble their pride by confusing their language so they no longer spoke the same tongue. He created a babble and they abandoned their tower of Babel and scattered out to other nations, no longer proud and no longer one.

Maybe the creators of universal translators aren’t out to reunite the nations and put an end to global language confusion, but amazingly enough, the day is near when two people speaking different languages can communicate with one another in their own voices but in languages they don’t know or understand. An Arabic speaker can push a button and have his words translated into English as spoken, and vice-versaAnyone who uses Internet-based translators knows the difficulty of getting an accurate translation through a computer, but some of the biggest names in computer technology and military intelligence are hard at work in enabling easier communication across the nations.

1.Avatars, Surrogates, Robotics

While avatars (like this one from the game Second Life) and surrogates were once just the stuff of games, virtual reality and computer interfacing, now they’re taking on more active roles as replacements for living, breathing humans.

Tina Stallard/Getty Images

Maybe you aren’t comfortable with all of the futurist predictions and even the current rate of technological advance, and that’s OK. You can be yourself and interact in the world in a fairly low-tech way while allowing a surrogate, avatar or robot to live your online and tech life for you. Even the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has budgeted millions of dollars to create avatars that will act as surrogates for real, live soldiers

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