4 Exciting emerging & future technologies
As a digital agency, we are endlessly intrigued by new technologies and keep a keen eye on what other creative minds are developing.
Even if these emerging technologies cannot fuel your own digital projects, being aware of new perspectives can help you to drive change, to solve problems, and to think more creatively in your field.
Here are some exciting new inventions and innovations currently fascinating the Calico team.
1. Brain-computer interfaces, and turning thoughts into text
Whether I’m on the train, in the shower, or halfway through washing the dishes, I want to be able to make notes with just a thought - no typing required. With the help of a tiny new brain implant, this thought-to-text is already a reality: a paralysed man has sent a Tweet using just a brain implant and his thoughts.
While this ‘brain-computer interface’ (BCI) technology might simply be a useful convenience for many of us, it has life-changing implications for some in the disabled community, who know they can still communicate with their loved ones and the wider world even if they are no longer able to speak or use their hands. This technology works by connecting brain signals to a computer device via Bluetooth, and humans adapt to controlling the keyboard directly with their brain.
Where BCIs have typically required specialised and invasive surgery in the past, scientists have recently implanted a BCI by delivering it into the brain via blood vessels, where it’s incorporated into the body like a tattoo under the skin. With this method BCIs have the potential to become properly accessible to millions of people.
As well as changing lives in the present, scientists are also excited about what this could mean for communication in the future, and have mentioned that we could potentially use future BCIs to “throw” our emotions and allow other people to temporarily feel how we feel.
More information can be found here.
2. Advanced AI and next-gen robots
Where current AI is very specialised, the next key step is more generalised AI.
Most neural networks are currently designed to do only one thing, and Jeff Dean from Google says that training a neural network from the ground up is “effectively like forgetting your entire education every time you try to do something new.”
Instead of extremely specialised models, we are now heading towards an age of multitasking models that can perform thousands of different tasks. If it then needs to do something new, it can draw on all the knowledge it already has so that it can quickly learn how to perform the new task as well. This is similar to how humans learn, drawing on our existing expertise when encountering something unfamiliar.
Jeff Dean says that this kind of generalised, multitasking AI will “really enable us to tackle some of the greatest problems humanity faces.” This includes pharmaceutical engineering, disease diagnosis, individualised education, and helping to tackle climate change and clean energy solutions. It will also affect our AI assistants, which will be able to seamlessly cover all aspects of our lives instead of just one (e.g. only our home, or only our health). Karen Lellouche Tordjman says that these next generation of smart assistants “will be embedded in every device around you. Your smartphone itself, of course, but also your car, the mirrors, your fridge, your glasses and who knows what other device in the future.”
Tesla Inc. is also working on a general-purpose humanoid robot known as Optimus, which Elon Musk hopes to be production-ready later this year. It’s intended to stand at 1.7 metres tall and weigh 56.6 kilograms, and to be intelligent enough to do things like visiting the supermarket independently and picking up a list of your groceries. Once the initial costs go down, Musk believes that buying one of these robots could be cheaper than buying a new car.
Information technology is expected to keep advancing quickly throughout the rest of this decade, with some futurists believing that AI will routinely pass the Turing Test by 2030. This is where a human judge in conversation with a human and computer (in isolated locations) will be unable to tell which is which.
3. 3D printing of clothes and human body parts
The 3D printing of clothes isn’t new anymore, with the first 3D printed clothes walking runways in the 2010s, and several big brands such as Nike, Victoria’s Secret and Adidas already using 3D printed parts in their clothes and shoes. But the real fashion revolution will come when it’s commonplace to have a 3D printer in the average home, when anyone can simply download a file for a clothing item and your personal machine can easily print it for you, to your exact measurements, within the space of a few hours.
Compared to traditional methods, 3D printed clothes are much more sustainable: they eliminate a significant amount of waste, use much less water in their creation, and are usually recyclable, so when you’re done with last year’s outfit your 3D printer should be able to recycle it into a brand new one. Imagine a world where we can print perfectly-fitting, environmentally-friendly clothes as needed in our own homes.
Even more exciting is the 3D printing technology developing in the medical field, where custom-printed 3D body parts such as replacement skull parts, an artificial jaw, and a bioresorbable airway splint are already a reality that save human lives.
The next big step to conquer is 3D organ bioprinting, which would allow doctors to do things like print a kidney using a patient’s cells, instead of waiting for a suitable and available donor. A shortage of organs is a huge problem for our current medical system - for example, at any given moment about a million people worldwide are in need of a kidney - and in another decade we may simply be able to print enough organs to meet the demand.
Further into the future we may have technology like keyhole bioprinters, which would allow these printers to repair a patient’s organs in the middle of an operation. They could also have cosmetic applications, such as replacing a living patient’s skin with freshly-printed youthful skin cells.
4. Digital fashion
Also in the realm of fast-growing clothing technology: digital or cyber fashion. Although we’ve been dressing up our digital avatars within video games for a long time, people are now buying virtual clothing for their own human bodies - virtual clothing that you wear via augmented reality, but that doesn’t actually exist within the meatspace.
What does this mean in practice? It means that anyone can buy a piece of digital clothing from a digital fashion brand such as Tribute Brand, and which is then applied and fitted to photos of their bodies. These customers can have photos of themselves ‘wearing’ amazing garments without needing to acquire the physical garments (some of which are too fantastical to easily create using traditional methods).
Gala Marija Vrbanic from Tribute Brand is also enthusiastic about where digital fashion could evolve from here. She says, “we are currently at the beginning of this new era. An era where digital garments could become an added layer to our reality, where you will be able to instantly choose to whom you want to present yourself wearing multiple different outfits at the same time and using most advanced technology, like AR or VR for example.”
As technology continues to evolve, there are endless exciting inventions and innovations on the horizon. Keeping a keen eye on technological advances both within and beyond our own industry is essential – not only to examine their potential for use, but to see how they will shape the digital landscape for the next generation of tech.
[Ephiny Gale is a Senior Project Manager at Calico. She has managed projects in the information technology and digital spaces for 6 years, and is a keen follower of emerging technologies across many disciplines.]
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