Technologies are developing faster than ever these days. Some of them have the potential to change our society comprehensively: autonomous driving, blockchain, immunotherapy and artificial intelligence. Here are our ten favorites.
Autonomous driving – mobility without people at the wheel
We get in the car and off we go. So far everything is as before. Only the car of the future has no steering wheel and no gas pedal. We do not have to guide it through the traffic ourselves, this is done by an intelligent computer system. It is only a matter of time before autonomous vehicles dominate the roads. Almost all automotive companies are already developing them. The cars will be able to communicate with each other, optimizing traffic. As a result, there will be less congestion, fewer accidents and less air pollution from exhaust fumes. First of all, everyone will still own their own copy, but in principle, one could share the cars, as today in car sharing: one enters any autonomous vehicle, calls the target and paid for it – either per route or monthly subscription. Buses, trams and trains could also be controlled autonomously. In the future, only a few people will own their own driver’s license. Driving a car on your own could become a mere pleasure in leisure, which is only allowed on designated routes.
Blockchain – Secure Electronic Commerce
An Internet where sensitive data is completely secure – until recently, wishful thinking was. It could become a reality with Blockchain. Most people only know the term in connection with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Blockchain, however, hides technology that allows data to be generally managed and protected from cyber-attacks. This is due to the principle of operation: Each so-called “block” is a list of data records that can be expanded and concatenated using cryptography (“chain” is English for “chain”). The blocks contain information about the respective previous block, a timestamp and transaction data. If a block is subsequently modified, all subsequent blocks will also change. Any interventions are so visible and can be understood. The technology is made for digital currencies. But it can also be used to exchange and store all sorts of electronic information. Consider health data, electoral votes, training certificates or tax data. In addition, the method is very reliable: The participating servers are not connected via a node, but with each other, ie decentralized network. If an error occurs, each participating server has a copy of the data. That could significantly change the economy, as electronic commerce would be so secure. The Blockchain stores data in near real-time so that large amounts of current information can be quickly exchanged. Even objects, such as autonomous vehicles, can communicate with each other via the Blockchain on the Internet of Things.
Genome Editing – Customized People
Defining a person’s appearance and intelligence before birth sounds like a frightening vision of the future. The fact is that we are not that far away anymore. The development of genetic engineering has really taken off with the invention of CRISPR / Cas9 gene scissors. With it, the genetic material can be relatively easily and precisely manipulated. This can be used to remove and replace damaged DNA sections, as planned by medical genetic engineering. One can also use the gene scissors to specifically alter genetic material and, for example, to intervene in the development process of a living being. On stem cells of animals this is already practiced worldwide in many laboratories. In the future, technology will most likely lead to radical opportunities. On the one hand, diseases could be treated better, but on the other hand people could be optimized. Not only could you adapt physique and intelligence, but you could also counteract the aging process. At some point, people will certainly exploit the potential of technology. Genetically modified organisms – including humans – will probably be part of everyday life in the future.
Nanotechnology – Designing the World of Atoms and Molecules
The favorite vision of many nanotechnologists is tiny molecular machines that roam the body and deliver medication to the right place. The physicist Richard Feynman gave a lecture in 1959 entitled “There is plenty of room at the bottom” (German: “Below is a lot of space”). He talked about the great potential in the world of molecules and atoms, and laid the foundation for the discipline. In the 1990s, not a few experts believed that nanotechnology would become the key technology of the 21st century. She has not been able to meet these expectations so far. Nevertheless, there is no end to the high number of publications dealing with new findings and techniques in the nanometer range. Researchers, for example, build motors with molecules, store data on DNA strands or create tiny electronic components and sensors. These nanotechnological inventions could be applied in many ways, mostly in medicine, materials science, computer technology and biotechnology as well as in biomedical engineering. Nanotechnology will change the world therefore certainly shape of world of the future in a comprehensive way.
Holograms – Copies of Reality
We know it from sci-fi films: A realistic, three-dimensional image of the interlocutor suddenly appears in the room. The person moves and can be viewed from all sides. This is a typical hologram for many. In general, the term holography initially refers to a technique in which all information is stored by lightwaves and then reproduced. This makes it possible to represent an object or person in real life. This is already possible today and is used in art, for example. However, most holograms can not move. They can not be viewed from all sides, but only from the direction from which the recording of the light waves took place. Researchers around the world are working hard to change that. The first small, moving holograms that can actually be viewed from all directions have already produced them – such as this magic cube. So far the appearances are maximally a few centimeters and their movements still very rudimentary. But that will change soon.
Immunotherapy – Revolution in Medicine
Immunotherapy uses the body’s own defense system to fight disease. Especially with cancer, it is considered a great hope and can already boast some success. For example, American scientists have taken immune cells from blood cancer patients and genetically engineered them to recognize and fight degenerate cells. They injected these targeted serial killer, who then multiplied in the body and eliminated all cancer cells. After treatment, patients were completely free of cancer – even those with very advanced disease. In another form of immunotherapy, researchers mark the diseased cells so that the body’s immune system can better identify them. Still, physicians do not use such manipulations of the immune system as a standard treatment. The partially severe side effects they have so far not sufficiently under control. Many doctors agree that immunotherapy will revolutionize medicine.
Nuclear Fusion – Highly efficient Energy Generation
The goal of nuclear fusion bombardment of helium and Hydrogen in Sun research is to generate energy in a similar way to the sun. In the fusion process, two atomic nuclei merge into one. In the Sun, about two hydrogen nuclei fuse to form a helium nucleus. As a rule, a large amount of energy is released. Since the middle of the 20th century, researchers have been trying to gain energy in this way. But the technical challenges are gigantic, because you need an extremely high heat and a very high pressure. The process also carries great risks as it can quickly get out of hand. In addition, it sets free dangerous neutron radiation, which must be adequately shielded. Many are hoping for the experimental nuclear fusion reactor ITER in France, which is expected to perform its first realistic tests in the 2030s. In the plant, scientists want to include a plasma by means of a magnetic field. This allowed the necessary pressure and heat to be generated to fuse hydrogen nuclei. Although technology is developing slowly, many experts believe that it is only a matter of time before “fusion current” comes out of the socket for the first time. As fossil fuels will soon be scarce, nuclear fusion could complement renewable energy production.
Artificial intelligence – competition for the Homo sapiens
By artificial intelligence, abbreviated AI, we understand computer programs that learn independently and thereby become more and more “cleverer”. Intelligence in this context usually means that the AI can perform certain tasks particularly well – like playing strategy games or recognizing faces on photos. Through self-learning behavior, the AI continues to develop this ability until it finally masters it far better than a human being. Already today, the AI is therefore used in certain areas, including image recognition or data analysis. However, AI research moves away from the specific problem-solving and towards a comprehensive artificial intelligence that can learn everything in principle. To do this, scientists use systems that work in a similar way to the neural network of our brain. In many areas of everyday life, AI will make choices for people. But what if she will be superior to her creators in many – or even all – areas? How such a scenario could end, one would like to imagine. Therefore, one should also keep an eye on the potential dangers, if one exploits the possibilities of the AI.
Quantum Computer – New Standards in the Data World
The idea came in the early 1980s: a computer whose computational unit can not only accept the two values 0 and 1 (as is the case with conventional bits), but to a certain extent also any value in between. Such a system can explode the computing power. In order to realize so-called qubits, one needs quantum mechanical two-state systems. These are systems that are not only in one of their two states, but in any overlays, also called superpositions. One example is the spin of one electron, another the energy levels of atoms or molecules. The tricky thing is that such quantum systems are very difficult to control. In addition, you have to interconnect many such qubits for a useful application. Researchers around the world are working hard on solutions. In fact, they have built small “quantum computers” in which they combined a few qubits. They were able to prove that such systems are significantly more powerful than conventional computers. Nevertheless, the prototypes solve so far only very specific problems, so they can not replace normal computers yet. Skeptics even believe that quantum-based computers will never leave the laboratories. Other experts suspect that the technology will revolutionize current information technology. In addition, quantum computers could, for the first time, fully describe the world of quanta and thus decode themselves in some way.
Virtual Reality – A Second Reality
You put your glasses on and suddenly you’re in another world: welcome to virtual reality! The previous applications of this technology are usually limited to video games and film projects. Soon, however, the virtual world will become an integral part of our everyday lives, because the technology is developing rapidly. The following generations will probably spend a considerable amount of their time in virtual worlds. They will do tasks there, learn new skills, and engage in certain, including sexual, pleasures. Businesses could make their products palatable in virtual reality. Customers will be able to try these out and browse the virtual store as they wish. The virtual environment of IKEA is a first example of this. Employers are expected to train their employees in virtual reality to learn how to handle new machines, for example. In particular, the so-called augmented reality (also known as Augmented Reality) could play an important role. It consists of a real environment with virtual elements you will feel everything on fron of you. For example, in augmented reality, information about objects or operating instructions for devices can be displayed in the field of view. To make the experience in the virtual world even more realistic, scientists are researching to create haptic feedback in the air – for example, by standing ultrasonic waves. So you could not only see the virtual things, but also feel. At the latest, when you can immerse yourself in such a virtual reality with a pair of contact lenses, it will compete with the real world – whether we like it or not.