10 technologies that still won't be ready by 2015

5 years is a long time in technology, but there are some things that still aren't going to be ready by 2015. We know it's sad. There'll be no flying car, no hoverboard and no robot servants for every man and his dog. If you want to know why, we'll let you know later in Future Week, but for now here are 10 other technologies that just don't stand a chance of being ready come the middle of the decade.

 

Holodecks

ETA
2025
Chance of a 2015 prototype
7/10

Although described by one of our futurologists as "the next thing you'll see from Star Trek", it's going to be a while before we have even the basics of what Gene Roddenberry dreamed up to keep his characters from getting space fever. The tricky part is that much of the technology is there.

There's plenty of graphics power and projectors are getting more and more sophisticated, as are the sensors we'd need to interact with the programs. However the coordination of all this stuff, the amount of time and bodies it would take to fine tune it, then make the experience something smooth enough, entertaining enough and useful enough that consumers would want to get involved is going to take a lot of time.

A prototype in some institute somewhere on some kind of scale? Yes, more than likely in 5 year's time. Full working technology for the public? No, but certainly in our lifetimes.

 

Replicators

ETA
2300
Chance of a 2015 prototype
Nil

Perversely, probably the single most important invention on this list is the one where there appears to be the least work at the moment. Machines which could not only create vital substances - like fresh water, food or fuels - but also recycle old and useless matter at the same time, would be the kind of magic wand to solve mankind's problems for good.

In practical terms, the closest really anyone has got is with the work on nanotechnology, but getting tiny bots to make things for us isn't quite the same as having matter transformed from one object to another on demand.

Some of the key problems are, firstly, down to what level of detail would we need to copy things - ie: molecular, atomic, sub-atomic - for them to serve effectively the same purpose as the object we're looking to copy? Secondly, how much energy would it take to do this? Thirdly, it would require quite an in-depth knowledge of complex structures of just about everything you're looking to make. Fourthly, messing round with creating atoms is potentially quite explosive.

Probably the closest we've got to the replicator at the moment is 3D printing. These machines realise complicated computer designs into genuine real world objects by placing down layer upon layer of detail of any given substrate material. So, in many ways, the concept is already working. Bring the sophistication of the computer plans down to the atomic level and provide cartridges of elements and you're there, but that's the kind of fine tuning that would take several teams many, many lifetimes to complete, even if we ignore the expense and slew of unforeseen issues.

The good news though is that we'd only need to make one of them. Once we'd got it right, we could just turn it on and get it to make copies of itself.

 

Teleporter

ETA
?
Chance of a 2015 prototype
Nil

The teleporter is probably the ultimate in future technology. It may not be as iconic as the flying car but it's certainly the most advanced thing we could think of. Even time travel is probably easier to accomplish, but more on that in a minute. De-materialising an object or person in one place, turning them into data and re-materialising them in another is nearly theoretically possible.

We know that there's a workable relationship between matter and energy, but there are two very galactically large obstacles in the way. The first is a matter of physics, namely that of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. We're not going to pretend we understand what the theory is all about, but what what we can tell you is that it says that it would be impossible to determine simultaneously both the position and velocity of an electron or any other particle with any great degree of accuracy or certainty. In other words, it prevents us from knowing what all the sub-atomic particles of the atoms of what we're trying to beam up are doing. So we couldn't know how to put them back together again in the right order.

Now, it may be that in many, many years time (100+), someone works out how to get around this. Maybe, but that still leaves the second problem which is one of ethics. If you destroy a matter form in one place, take that data and then reform another version of the same object or person elsewhere from whatever raw matter is in that location, who is to say that it isn't another version of that entity entirely, rather than the exact same thing? Is it just a copy? Would it still have the same genuine experiences and memories? Would it be a problem if it wasn't? What is the sound of one hand clapping? etc.

 

Off World Colonies

ETA
2100
Chance of a 2015 prototype
2/10

It was predicted some time in the late 70s that the 2020 Olympics would be taking place on the Moon on our lunar colony. As it goes, it's going to be in Rio de Janeiro. Exotic but not the same.

Our increasing thirst for crippling the environment could be the necessity that mothers this invention, but there's an equally good chance that it'll work out easier just to take care of the planet we're on already. All the same, people will still look to the stars and wonder about whether terraforming or living life under plexiglass domes with atmospheres pumped inside is viable, and there's no major reason why this won't happen.

Consumer space travel is very nearly here and it'll undoubtedly be commonplace within 40 years, so the next logical step might well be to set up places for space tourists to stop off or visit while out there - as well as house scientists working on all sorts of extra terrestrial matters and hopefully blowing our minds and theories in the process. But we digress.

Space station technology is already the beginnings of this kind of stuff, so the equipment largely seems to be in place already. Whether NASA will have some deep sea/underground working model by 2015 is another thing.

 

Jet Packs

ETA
2018
Chance of a 2015 prototype
Already exists

Technically, we already have these. The Martin Jetpack - we still love the name - has just become commercially available to anyone willing to lay down $86,000 and strap something the size of a small bus to their backs. It's undeniably a jetpack, but it's hardly going to take off - if you pardon the pun - in that form and price.

However, it doesn't take a genius to think back to the first Motorola mobile phones as modelled by Gordon Gecko in 1987. It was a good 5 to 10 years after, that these devices became both affordable and desirable. There's a very good chance the same would be true for the jetpack. Expect a good amount of legislation and red tape to get in the way as well, so maybe not quite by 2015 but certainly very soon after. With any luck, the design will be something closer to Yves Rossy aka Fusion Man and his jet wings.

 

Fusion Power

ETA
2060
Chance of a 2015 prototype
8/10

The ability to harvest vast amounts of energy by joining two atom nuclei together to form a heavier nucleus has been a dream since the 1950s and an idea that's been dangling over our heads since the dawn of time. But although the sun has been quite happily at it on a daily basis, creating a fusion reactor on Earth has and is still proving a very tricky business.

The more scientists try to build them, the more problems they throw up and it's even been suggested that they simply wouldn't be economically viable - quite a statement considering fusion power would harvest by far and away more energy per unit of fuel than anything else we have. Some have even predicted it would allow us to increase our energy consumption 100 fold.

Better still, the fuel in question would most likely be deuterium which is found in seawater, thus potentially solving one of climate change's problems at the same time. That could well kick up a few different ones on its own, but that's another story. All the same, most agree that fusion power would be an excellent thing and, unlike many of the others on this list, we know it's possible and it's bound to happen one day - just not by 2015.

 

Time Machine

ETA
2150+/Never/?
Chance of a 2015 prototype
1/10

This one isn't just an essay, a thesis or area of study. It's a bound and printed collection of encyclopaedia full of writings, films and conversation that would stretch off toward the sun.

Time travel into the future is probably an easier one to make real than travelling back into the past. According to Einstein, all you need to do is accelerate an object beyond the speed of light.

The trouble is, it would take an infinite amount of energy to do so and that's a rather tricky figure to achieve. In fact, it basically indicates that time travel is only theoretically possible and could never actually happen.

As for going back into the past, well, that's even trickier but, rather than getting into the physics, which, again, we wouldn't pretend to understand, the fact that we haven't met any time travellers from the future at any point in our history rather indicates that it's not and never will be possible. That said, they could be superbly good at keeping themselves secret and there is a theory that there could be a point beyond which time travel becomes possible because of a physical change to the universe - a point which it's impossible to travel back beyond.

However you want to look at it, it's a very safe bet that no one will have invented the time machine in 5 years' time unless they stumble upon something rather intriguing at CERN, such as the actual existence of tachyons - particles that already travel faster than light as allowed by relativity, but most people think they don't exist anyway.

 

Cryonic Revival

ETA
2100+
Chance of a 2015 prototype
1/10

There are plenty of people who've had themselves frozen in the hope that one day they can be brought back to life. Seeing as scientists can't even successfully thaw an edible strawberry at the moment, these guinea pigs may be in for a long wait. Whether it will ever happen at all, is another matter.

What's more, thermal stress of the tissues and cell structures is only one of the issues. There's also the small problem of bringing the person back from the dead from whatever ailment finished them in the first place as well as making up for the damage done by the lack of oxygen to the body.

Of course, that can be bypassed by freezing the subject before they've actually popped their clogs, which adds an interesting ethical twist to what is already an area so grey that you'd find it on the paint swatch titled "charcoal".

Unlike many of the other technologies on this list, there isn't quite the same interest and, therefore, money pumped into the development of this one. The main uses really are for storage of commodities, whether they're strawberries or people being sent on epically long space missions to other solar systems in the future.

Aside those, it's really only the people who're actually frozen that are rallying behind it, and they're not a particularly vocal lobby.

Bonus Factoid - It's a common fallacy that Walt Disney had himself frozen. He was in fact cremated. The most famous cyro-preserved human being is Baseball player Ted Williams who died in 2002.

 

Force Fields

ETA
2080+
Chance of a 2015 prototype
5/10

Whether they're to protect the hull of some intergalactic ship or to erect around an individual for personal protection, there's no way we'll be looking at these things in 5 years' time. The only developments at the moment here are from one or two academic groups experimenting with plasma field shielding by using super-charged wire meshes.

The theory is that these will be able to deflect matter from passing through, which sounds very useful indeed. Whether they're going to either work or require impossible amounts of energy or not is another question, but the applications beyond could be lots and lots of fun - perhaps eventually some sort of extreme zorbing at the very least.

 

Invisibility Devices

ETA
2100+/Never
Chance of a 2015 prototype
Already exists

Invisibility is a concept relative to what's doing the looking. You might describe a stealth jet as invisible because it's covered in paint that radar can't detect. For all intents and purposes, it's invisible. If we're talking about invisible to the human eye, then it's a question of technologies that allow bending the visible spectrum around an object such that it appears that the wavelengths are passing straight through it.

In 2000, artificial materials known as metamaterials were realised, that were able to do this kind of thing without any reflections. So far, their properties have been demonstrated only to refracted microwaves in this manner. If you try to transfer this to visible light there would be problems of the materials absorbing some of the waves and so appearing as slightly darker or opaque.

There's also the issue of pulsing waves at an "invisible" object and then measuring the time it takes for them to get to the other side. If an object is in the way, it's always going to take longer for those waves to get around. So, even though you might not be able to see something, you could certainly detect it.

The point is that invisibility cloaks are nearly all there in theory, and even practice to a degree, but the fine tuning could be next to impossible.

If you enjoyed this article, then head over to our Future Week homepage where you'll find a collection of features on what gadgets will be like in the year 2015.