Technologies are developing more rapidly than ever these days. Some of them have the potential to comprehensively change our society: such as autonomous driving, blockchain, immunotherapy and artificial intelligence. Here are our eleven favorites.
Autonomous driving – mobility without humans at the wheel
We get in the car and off we go. So far, everything is the same. Except that the car of the future has no steering wheel and no accelerator pedal. We won’t have to steer it through traffic ourselves; an intelligent computer system will take care of that. 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 and thus optimize traffic. As a result, there will be fewer traffic jams, fewer accidents and less air pollution from exhaust fumes. Initially, everyone will probably still own their own copy, but in principle, cars could be shared, as is the case today with car sharing: You get into any autonomous vehicle, name your destination and pay for it – either per route or by monthly subscription. Buses, streetcars and trains could also be controlled autonomously. In the future, very few people will have their own driver’s license. Driving a car autonomously could become a mere leisure activity, permitted only on designated routes.
Blockchain – Secure electronic commerce
An Internet in which sensitive data is completely secure – until recently, this was wishful thinking. With blockchain, it could become reality. Most people only know the term in connection with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. However, blockchain is a technology that can be used to manage data in general and protect it from cyber attacks. This is due to the operating principle: each so-called “block” is a list of data records that can be expanded and are linked by means of cryptography (“chain”). The blocks contain information about the previous block, a timestamp and transaction data. If a block is subsequently modified, all subsequent blocks also change. Any interventions thus become visible and can be traced. The technology is tailor-made for digital currencies. But it can also be used to exchange and store all kinds of electronic information. Think of health data, election votes, education certificates or tax data. In addition, the method is very reliable: The servers involved are not networked via a node, but among themselves, i.e., decentrally. If an error occurs, every server involved has a copy of the data. This could significantly change the economy, as it would make electronic commerce truly secure. The blockchain stores data in near real time, so large amounts of up-to-date information can be exchanged quickly. Objects, such as autonomous vehicles, can also communicate with each other via the blockchain in the Internet of Things.
Genome editing – people made to measure
Determining a person’s appearance and intelligence before birth sounds like a terrifying vision of the future. The fact is, however, that we are actually not that far away from it. The development of genetic engineering really took off with the invention of the CRISPR-Cas9 genetic scissors. It can be used to manipulate the genetic material relatively easily and precisely. This can be used to remove and replace damaged DNA segments, as planned by medical genetic engineering. Genetic scissors can also be used to specifically modify genetic material and, for example, intervene in the development process of a living organism. This is already being done on animal stem cells in many laboratories around the world. In the future, the technology will very likely lead to radical possibilities. On the one hand, diseases could be treated more effectively, and on the other, people could be optimized. Not only could physique and intelligence be adapted, but the aging process could also be counteracted. At some point, humans will certainly exploit the potential of technology. Genetically modified creatures – including humans – will probably become part of everyday life in the future.
Neutrinos- Converting Invisible Radiation Spectrum into Energy
Neutrino energy, the world sensation that was recently considered by most to be technically and physically impossible, is now taking off.
Even when the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to two researchers from the international NEUTRINO team in the fall of 2015, this did not yet lead to a general rethink. Both the Canadian researcher Arthur Mc Donald and the Japanese Takaaki Kajita succeeded – independently of each other – in proving that neutrinos have a mass. This was achieved by newly developed measurement methods that unambiguously assign a mass to the neutrino. Until then, neutrinos passing through almost any matter had been considered massless. This corresponded to the standard model of particle physics.
If you imagine a solar cell that works not with light but with the non-visible spectrum of radiation, you come very close to the future possibilities. The essential difference is that this neutrino cell also works wonderfully in the dark. Instead of capturing the costmic radiation, the kinetic energy of the particle stream is converted into electrical energy. This opens up great possibilities for the future.
NEUTRINO Deutschland GmbH is a subsidiary of the American company Neutrino Inc. Under the leadership of mathematician Holger Thorsten Schubart, the team is working with international universities and researchers from all over the world to develop the first technical devices that convert the energy of the radiation into electrical current and thus make it usable in real life.
Nanotechnology – Shaping the world of atoms and molecules
The favorite vision of many nanotechnologists are tiny molecular machines that move around in the body and deliver drugs to the right place. As early as 1959, physicist Richard Feynman gave a lecture entitled “There is plenty of room at the bottom.” He talked about the fact that there is great potential lying dormant in the world of molecules and atoms, and laid the foundation for the discipline. In the 1990s, more than a few experts believed that nanotechnology would become the key technology of the 21st century. So far, it has not been able to fulfill these expectations. Nevertheless, there is no end to the large number of publications dealing with new findings and techniques in the nanometer range. For example, researchers are building engines with molecules, storing data on DNA strands, or creating tiny electronic components and sensors. These nanotechnological inventions could be applied in many ways, in medicine, material sciences, computer technology and biotechnology. Nanotechnology will therefore certainly shape the world of the future in a comprehensive way.
Holograms – Copies of Reality
We know it from sci-fi movies: A true-to-life, three-dimensional image of the person we are talking to suddenly appears in the room. The person moves and can be viewed from all sides. For many, this is a typical hologram. In general, the term holography refers first of all to a technique in which all information is stored by light waves and then reproduced. This makes it possible to reproduce an object or a person in retrospect in a true-to-life manner. This is already possible today and is used in art, for example. However, most holograms cannot move. Nor can they be viewed from all sides, but only from the direction from which the light waves were recorded. Around the globe, researchers are working single-mindedly to change that. They have already created the first small, moving holograms that can actually be viewed from all directions – such as this Rubik’s Cube. So far, the apparitions are a few centimeters tall at most and their movements are still very rudimentary. But that is bound to change soon.
Immunotherapy – Revolution in Medicine
Immunotherapy uses the body’s own defense system to fight diseases. It is seen as a great source of hope, especially in the case of cancer, and has already been successful in many cases. For example, American scientists have taken immune cells from blood cancer patients and genetically modified them in such a way that they recognize and fight degenerate cells. They injected the patients with these targeted serial killers, which then multiplied in the body and eliminated all cancer cells. After treatment, the patients were completely cancer-free – even those in whom the disease was already very advanced. In another form of immunotherapy, researchers mark the diseased cells so that the body’s defense system can better identify them. Doctors are not yet using such manipulations of the immune system as a standard treatment. They do not yet have a sufficient handle on the sometimes severe side effects. Nevertheless, many doctors agree that immunotherapy will revolutionize medicine.
Nuclear fusion – Highly efficient energy generation
The goal of nuclear fusion research is to generate energy in a similar way to the sun. In the fusion process, two atomic nuclei fuse into one. In the sun, for example, two hydrogen nuclei fuse to form a helium nucleus. This usually releases a large amount of energy. Researchers have been trying to generate energy in this way since the middle of the 20th century. But the technical challenges are gigantic, because enormously high heat and very high pressure are required. The process also involves great risks because it can quickly get out of control. In addition, the process releases dangerous neutron radiation, which must be adequately shielded. Many are hoping for the ITER experimental nuclear fusion reactor in France, which, as things stand today, is expected to conduct its first realistic tests in the 2030s. In the facility, scientists would like to confine a plasma by means of a magnetic field. This would generate the pressure and heat needed to fuse hydrogen nuclei. Even though the development of the technology is progressing only slowly, a number of experts are convinced that it is only a matter of time before the first “fusion electricity” comes out of the socket. With fossil fuels soon to become scarce, nuclear fusion could complement energy generation from renewable sources.
Quantum Computer – New Standards in the World of Data
The idea emerged in the early 1980s: a computer whose computational unit can take on not only the two values 0 and 1 (as is the case with conventional bits), but in a sense any value in between. Such a system causes computing power to explode. 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 arbitrary superpositions, also called superpositions. One example is the spin of an electron, another the energy levels of atoms or molecules. The tricky part is that such quantum systems are very difficult to control. Moreover, many such qubits have to be interconnected for any meaningful application. Researchers all over the world are working hard to find solutions. In fact, they have already built small “quantum computers” in which they combined a few qubits. In doing so, they have been able to demonstrate that such systems are significantly more powerful than conventional computers. Nevertheless, the prototypes solve only very specific problems, so they cannot yet replace normal computers. Skeptics even believe that quantum-based computers will never leave the lab. Other experts suspect that the technology will revolutionize current information technology. In addition, quantum computers could also fully describe the world of quanta for the first time and thus decode themselves in a certain way.
Virtual Reality – A Second Reality
You put on your glasses and suddenly you are in another world: welcome to virtual reality! The applications of this technology to date are generally still limited to video games and film projects. Soon, however, the virtual world is likely to become an integral part of our everyday lives, because the technology is developing rapidly. Future generations are likely to spend a significant amount of time in virtual worlds. They will do tasks there, learn new skills, and pursue certain pleasures, including sexual ones. Companies could use virtual reality to make products palatable to their customers. Customers would be allowed to try them out and look around the virtual store at will. IKEA’s virtual environment is a first example. Employers are likely to train their employees in virtual reality so that they can learn how to use new machines, for example. In particular, so-called augmented reality could play an important role. It consists of a real environment with virtual elements. For example, in augmented reality, information about objects or operating instructions for equipment can be superimposed on the field of view. To make the experience in the virtual world even more realistic, scientists are researching ways to generate haptic feedback in the air – for example, through standing ultrasonic waves. In this way, virtual things could not only be seen, but also felt. At the latest, when you can immerse yourself in such a virtual reality with a pair of contact lenses, it will rival the real world – whether we like it or not.
Artificial intelligence – competition for Homo sapiens
Artificial intelligence, or AI for short, is the term used to describe computer programs that learn independently and thus become increasingly “clever. In this context, intelligence usually means that the AI can perform certain tasks particularly well – such as playing strategy games or recognizing faces in photos. Through its self-learning behavior, the AI continues to develop this ability until the program eventually masters it far better than a human. Already today, AI is therefore being used in certain areas, including image recognition or data analysis. AI research, however, is moving away from specific problem solving and toward comprehensive artificial intelligence that can, in principle, learn anything. To do this, scientists are using systems that function similarly to our brain’s neural network. In many areas of everyday life, AI will take decisions away from humans. But what if it will outperform its creators in many – or even all – areas? How such a scenario could end, one does not even want to imagine. That’s why we should also keep an eye on the potential dangers when exploiting the possibilities of AI.