These new technologies will shape our future
The expected future of technology, where everyone zips about in flying cars or lives on the Moon, might not turn out quite like that. Instead disruptive new technologies are changing the way we live now and will change our lives in the future entirely.
From simpler advances in battery power to 3D printing human organs and delivering drugs using nanomachines, the future is coming and it's going to look like nothing that's gone before.
We're potentially on the cusp of advancing more in the next ten or twenty years than humanity has done since it first crawled up out of the primordial slime.
The humble battery is found in nearly every kind of modern gadget yet it hasn't advanced itself in decades. With electric cars growing in popularity and ever increasing mobile phone use big companies are investing heavily in battery research. The result will be huge advances as soon as next year.
One recent announcement could see us looking at batteries in a new way entirely. uBeam transmits power over the air much like Wi-Fi does with data. It's limited to a room but can be adapted for most gadgets with a small 5mm plate attachment. Expect to see "Free power" next to "Free Wi-Fi" at coffee shops soon.
Scientists have also developed batteries that run from water dew in the air, solar power through the screen, sound vibrations in the atmosphere and even human urine. These things combined could create enough power to avoid ever needing to recharge the phone.
But while recharging is still on the agenda there have been a few developments to speed that up. StoreDot is a charger, worth £20, that can charge your current phone to full in 30-seconds and should be on sale in 2016.
Gazing a little further into the future we expect wireless power to improve to the point where batteries will merely be used for a little back-up power when you lose wireless juice. Much like music can be stored offline for when data connections are poor. This in electric cars will be a big jump forward that should see a shift in the way we pay for electricity – perhaps including our car's power, nationwide, in our home's electricity bill. Suddenly investing in those solar panels on roofs does't seem like a bad idea.
Devices that talk to each other are no longer a new thing with mobiles controlling lighting and more. Indeed the smart home is coming on leaps and bounds with Apple talking about its HomeKit software and Samsung buying up SmartThings. But this is just the start.
Even now your home can be smart enough to know where you are, based on your phone or car, and adjust heating to suit your arrival time. It can be set to unlock when you get near, turn on the lights and music that follow you about the home to save power. Even your washing machine is smart enough to wash a load ready for your return, should you need it to. But at this stage it all still takes programming.
Smart heating devices like Nest give us a glimpse of what is to come. These devices will soon be able to work out what we need before we even need to think about it. Everything in the home and even out and about will run perfectly without the need for us to interact. From our cars driving us to work without us even having to say anything to our shopping and train costs being paid wirelessly.
Another industry that's in its relative infancy is 3D printing. At the moment anyone with a 3D printer can design and print off plastic parts and models. On a lager scale companies are printing off metal engine parts for planes and in the case of China even printing houses. But it can be so much more.
Recent discoveries mean that a human liver will soon be printed that can be transplanted into a patient. This will mean no worry of rejection since it can be made from the person's DNA. They won't have to spend their lives taking drugs to make sure their bodies accept the parts like transplants patients now need to.
As 3D printers become more adept at printing new materials like organic food matter, metals and flexible plastics their potential to create anything grows. Chemists are currently working on a machine that, with basic materials, can create virtually anything. Imagine one of these in every home and the basic materials piped in like water is now. Everyone in the future could print off absolutely anything they need simply by getting the design from the internet. The Star Trek Replicator future may be nearer than we ever realised.
You may have noticed health tracking sensors, like heart rate monitors, starting to appear in gadgets like mobiles and watches. This is just the start. These sensors are appearing as on of Google's XPrizes is currently for a Star Trek style tricorder to track health all from one gadget. As scientists strive to create this their now affordable technology discoveries are filtering down into gadgets.
The future of this is a complete health monitoring suite that is built into everyone's phones, smartwatches, or even under-the-skin implants. That will mean doctors can track their patients constantly and react to any needs immediately.
In the short term this is going to apply to patients like diabetics, who need to track bloody sugar levels using the latest infrared tech. But this could be far broader in the future. Eating too much fat and putting your heart at risk? You doctor will know and could let you know to cut back. And since future doctors will probably be software you can hopefully control the level of feedback as you see fit, within safety parameters of course.
The next step is feeding back and affecting the body. Scientists have already created a wrist plate that, by changing temperature by only a few degrees, can change the entire human body temperature. Imagine getting on a hot train carriage and adjusting your own temperature to remain cool. That's just the beginning of what could be possible.
Siri, Cortana and Google Now voice assistants will seem like the BBC Micro compared to what's coming. All the big named companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft are embarking on a race to achieve a truly smart assistant. Not only will this help to run the interconnected smart home mentioned above, but it will also, effectively, replace Google as the new hub for searching the internet.
Google bought artificial intelligence mobile messaging assistant Emu. Apple is reportedly planning a Siri desktop assistant that "acts like a third hand" and Microsoft wants Cortana to work like a real-world assistant. They're all a long way off but with huge investments in artificial intelligence it might not be long before they become far more life-like.
Cyc is a computer intelligence that was recently announced but has been secretly learning for the last 30 years. The result is a smart computer that can read between the lines to understand what a person is saying beyond words alone. This combined with the recent Turing Test loss to a machine, meaning it appeared human, hail a future of human-like robotic intelligence.
Replacing money with virtual currencies is a huge way to shake up the economy and industry as a whole and it's already happening. While BitCoin offers an anonymous way to pay for items online there is a lot more to this area of online development. PayPal makes contactless payments easier as people move away from wallets to use phones in the real world. But, again, there is more to this currency shift.
Crowd-funding is a huge new model that is affecting how businesses work. At last there's a way to go from designing a product to funding its creation and distribution without giving up power. Indiegogo and Kickstarter are prime examples of this.
Another new model that's come from the ease of online money handing is subscription based payments. The music industry has pioneered this after its songs were all being taken for free via the unstoppable sharing ability of the web.
Now companies like Spotify offer a monthly fee for ease of access to music where downloading via torrents is more difficult. People are prepared to pay for the ease as has been the case with the hugely popular Netflix which actually makes torrent use drop as it enters a new country. Future subscriptions could cover car use, 3D printing materials, food shopping and even medical bills.
Creating items at a molecular level is the next industrial revolution. This could mean materials designed to respond differently to various molecules; such a capability could lead, for example, to artificial drugs which would recognise and render inert specific viruses.
Moving away from health, where nanomachines should make huge advances, there is also the need for smart materials in the real world. These could mean materials that are able to self-heal, allowing bridges or buildings to self-maintain.
Nanosensors are also hugely valuable as they will be able to react, say to light, and only turn on a corresponding machine when needs-be, meaning huge power-saving potential. So a light sensor could turn on your hall light, but only when it gets dark – all without using even half of what current sensors do.
Nanorobots, that are able to self-replicate and build using atomic building blocks, could be the future of health care. These inside the human body would be able to artificially regulate systems and fix problems before the human host ever knows they're there.
Nanotechnology will change everything making materials lighter, stronger and smarter than anything we have right now.