Many kids grew up reading comic books of Green Lantern or X-Men. Stories of fantastic people with extraordinary abilities as they tried to make the world a better place or dish out vigilante justice have stirred their imagination.
Who wouldn’t want to have one of their super powers? To leap tall buildings in a single bound or to have the strength of ten men or to even peer into the future. Odds are, however, you weren’t born on Krypton or you haven’t been bitten by a radioactive spider so you probably don’t have any of those super powers.
While some superheroes are born with powers and others get them from science accidents, a few use technology and science to replicate the effects of being super human. Both Iron Man and Ant-Man, for instance, rely on technology in order to fly or shrink.
Those characters may be fictional using impossible science that doesn’t exist. But in the real world, researchers are finding ways of augmenting human capacity to the point where we could have — for all intents and purposes — superpowers. With that in mind, here’s our list of 15 ways science may give us super powers in the near future.
15. Human Flight
We’ve actually had this one for a while starting with the Bell Rocket Belt jetpack. You know, the one you’ve seen Sean Connery use as James Bond in Thunderball. Unfortunately, that jetpack could only fly for 21 seconds with a range of just 400 feet. These days there are a couple of options for human flight which include the JetLev which uses water as propulsion and the Martin Aviation jetpack which can achieve heights of about 5,000 feet. There are also hoverbikes being developed based on the same principles as drone quadcopters.
Alright, so this one is not exactly how you would expect telekinesis to work. Since the 1920s we’ve known that the human brain uses electrical impulses and it has since been speculated that we could use those signals to control devices. In the past couple of decades, scientists have been able to develop brain/computer interfaces that allow people to control computer technology. In the future, it’s possible we’ll all have an interface like this and get any electronically powered device to do whatever we want by just thinking about it. In essence, you’d have a sort of cyberkinesis or technopathy which you could use to turn on a TV or open a door.
13. Super Vision
Here’s another thing we actually have already, the ability to give people supervision. Researchers have already developed bionic lenses that will make a user’s vision three times better than 20/20. These aren’t like your normal contact lenses as they need to actually be implanted directly into the eye via a pretty painless procedure that takes just ten minutes. Engineers have also already developed contacts with built-in LCD displays which means wearers could inevitably get a personal heads up display superimposing an image directly over their sight feeding live information. They’d be powered by your blinking and be able to do some other neat stuff like changing your eye color or they could even dim like transition glasses in the sun.
Science is already working on several ways to achieve a cloaking device. Metamaterials are one way which controls the way light waves travel and effectively bending light around the material. Currently, they’re more effective at cloaking longer wavelengths like microwaves then they are the visible light spectrum. A second way to achieve invisibility is to use adaptive camouflage. Basically, it uses cameras on one side to take in video and project it on the other side. Both of these technologies are relatively in their infancy, however.
11. Underwater Breathing
Aquaman is usually treated as a punchline but he’s actually a pretty powerful character with super strength and an entire army at his disposal. And, yeah, he can talk to fish. He can also breathe underwater which is where we’re going with this one. There’s a solution developed by scientists at Boston’s Children’s Hospital which can be injected directly into the bloodstream that will give a person the ability to go without breathing for 15 to 30 minutes. The solution is composed of oxygen gas that is trapped in layer of lipids. The lipids slowly release the gas which directly oxygenates the person’s blood.
10. Super Humans
There are loads of superheroes, like Captain America, who are the result of some kind of super serum. Scientists have mapped the human genome and have now developed the Nobel prize winning technology called CRISPR Cas9. If this is the first time you’ve heard of that technology, the simplest explanation is that it will allow scientists to edit the human DNA. Want to make it easier to gain muscle, just write it into a person’s genetic code. It’s much harder to edit a full size adult but far easier to edit that of a fetus which means we’re on the cusp of delivering super-human babies. This opens the door for a lot of ethical discussions, however, that are really worth having as the super-genes would be hereditary and passed down.
9. Power Suits
Who doesn’t want a super-powered exoskeleton suit? Everyone from Ellen Ripley in Aliens to Master Chief in Halo to Iron Man has one in order to enhance their own abilities. Most of the current power suit technology is meant to help people who have been paralyzed but Lockheed Martin is also developing something called the Human Universal Load Carrier (coincidentally shortened to HULC) using the same technology for military purposes. There’s also another suit called HAL being developed by a Japanese company called Cyberdyne. I think someone should talk to their marketing department because HAL was what the murderous AI in 2001: A Space Odyssey was named and Cyberdyne was the company that created Skynet in Terminator.
When the flesh fails, replace it with steel. While a power suit can augment a body, there are prosthetics that replace limbs that work better than their biological counterparts. Carbon fiber Flex-Foot Cheetah prosthetics are so good that runners who’ve lost one or both feet have an unfair advantage over regular runners. We’ve come a long way from the peg-leg already but robotic prosthetics that use nerve impulses to work are even more exciting. Scientists are working on a two-way system so that users can feel with their artificial limbs — and they’re not stopping there. Harvard is engineering human tissue that is embedded with bio-compatible electronics. This will blur where the tissue ends and the electronics begin.
While everyone thinks of Wolverine’s mutant powers as his adamantium claws that is actually not the case. His power is actually his healing factor that allows him to rapidly heal his own body which was what allowed scientists to coat his skeleton in the metal in the first place. While there’s no known way of creating cells that heal themselves, researchers are currently creating nanobots that can live and work in a person’s bloodstream. They’ll be able to automatically fix anything from a simple paper cut on your finger all the way to curing any cancer that shows up.
6. Bulletproof Skin
We’re at a point now where human organs and tissue is being grown in labs. At some point we’ll be able to recreate every part of the human body but why stop at what mother nature designed when you can make it better? Along with these synthetic body parts as well as cyberware, there is also a material known as super fiber which is bulletproof. Right now, it’s extremely expensive but in theory, you could have bullet proof clothing. Combine all of the above you can create a synthetic body with bulletproof skin.
5. “I Know Kung-Fu”
Something that everyone has wanted since The Matrix hit the scene is the ability to upload skills directly into the brain. Scientists at HRL Laboratories have recently been able to record electric signals from the mind of a trained pilot which was then fed into novice subjects’ brains. The results were that those who benefited from the data fed into the brain were able to learn how to pilot an airplane in a flight simulator 33% faster than the control group. Not quite there at learning Kung-Fu in the matter of a few seconds but it seems to be the first step to reaching that goal.
4. Super Intelligence
Speaking of plugging the brain into a computer, we come back to the idea of the brain/computer interface. While one application of this was cyberkinesis, a more powerful variation would be the exocortex. It’s basically an artificial external information processing system which will enhance the capabilities of your biological brain. You’d be able to record memories to a hard drive or instantly download information to your brain from the internet — in essence, you’d be super smart. Some people already have neural implants in order to circumvent brain damage they’ve had from a stroke or head injury so we’re already starting to plug in.
3. Mind Control
DARPA has already developed a technology called “transcranial pulsed ultrasound.” It targets specific areas of the brain with high-frequency sound waves which can control a person’s mind. It can be used to dull pain or keep someone extra alert for longer. That’s as far as that technology goes, so you wouldn’t be able to control someone’s action. However, if the technology for an exocortex does come to pass then that may open the door for hackers to hack your brain. Currently, there’s a kit that you can buy online which turns cockroaches into remote controllable critters. You can even find kits that will allow two people to be linked together where one person is wired to involuntarily mimic the movements of the other. Both of those are primitive examples of hacking the brain.
2. Astral Projection
A final fun thing that you could do with a brain/computer interface is a form of astral projection. Where Doctor Strange could push his soul into the astral plane, in the future we could be able to log our consciousness into a computer network as a form of cyber mental projection. Some really weird things you could do would be to upload a copy of your mind onto the internet and then reintegrate it afterward, effectively doing two things at the same time and downloading new memories your virtual self may have made.
Who wouldn’t want to know the future? While peering into the future to pick out winning lottery numbers may be impossible we have the next best thing: predictive analytics. Law enforcement agencies have been using IBM’s software since 2010 in order lower the number of reoffenders by predicting which candidates are likely to offend again. In that way, this is more along the lines of Minority Report coming true.
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