Forget about that connected fridge you’ve had your eye on. Put that smartwatch up on eBay. The world is already a lot more connected and complex than GE’s product line could have ever predicted. In the next few years, the technologies you’ve taken for granted, and the ways we interact with them, are going to change forever—and rework our lives along the way. Allow me to introduce the Internet of Things (IoT), the biggest agent of change in technology since the Gemini space program of the 1960s.
Thanks to the ease at which data can be shared automatically between devices, we can tie together information from many different sources. The fitness app on your phone is a great example of this in action: it interfaces with your GPS and cell antenna and transmits data back and forth to a remote server where your run times are stored, while also meshing with your phone’s music player and other apps, like a diet tracker or even a coupon app (so you can buy more energy bars, of course). But the data gymnastics your smartphone does today is just the beginning of what the IoT will do. Watch for these technologies to change our culture in the next five years.
15. Hearables will replace your smartwatch
Why glance down at your smartwatch to find out what your pulse is? Right now, you can buy a set of earbuds that will tell you your pulse or the time of day. You can get a rundown of the day’s headlines, listen to voice mails, get calendar reminders, and not surprisingly, listen to music. Hearables’ functionality right now is about the same as that of a smartwatch, and most need to be paired with smartphones to work fully. The big difference is you can use that functionality without having to look down, or away from what you’re doing. And most people are comfortable with wearing earbuds, so they don’t have to work an extra piece of technology into their day.
14. Wearables will keep you connected–and warm
Clothing is about to get a whole lot smarter: a host of startups are developing connected clothing that handles several different functions. How about shoes that warm up if they sense your feet are getting cold? Digitsole debuted recently at CES and incorporates sensors to do just that. And soon, you may be able to try on a pair of vibrating pants. Spinali’s tingly britches vibrate in the direction that your GPS is telling you to go, letting you keep your eyes on the road instead of looking down at your smartphone. And if your clothes just aren’t doing enough for you, put on the Welt, a “smart belt” that monitors your waist size, activity and food intake. It presumably then delivers a guilt-inducing tirade about that donut you just ate.
13. Eyeglasses will refocus automatically
Having to wear glasses is already a hassle. Having to get a new prescription or carry a second pair of glasses for reading, adds to that annoyance. Science long ago solved the problem of having to carry a third pair of prescription sunglasses, but it’s time to put a little more thought into how glasses work in the first place. A team of researchers at the University of Utah is doing just that, debuting a prototype pair of smart glasses that adjust automatically to focus perfectly on whatever you’re looking at. The key component is glycerin, a colorless liquid that can be pushed back and forth to change the curvature of the lens. Right now the prototype looks like those creepy X-ray specs advertised in the back of comic books. But there’s a good chance you’ll see a retail version for sale in the very near future.
12. Drones will go mainstream
Once, drones belonged in just two categories: sinister, military-grade death dealers, or tiny, flimsy toy drones. But that has changed, with civilian-rated drones hitting the retail shelves in a variety of sizes. They’re also about to make people some serious cash. The Drone Racing League, for example, is signing talented drone pilots with contracts up to $100,000 a year. News media are attaching broadcast-quality cameras to larger drones for soaring live shots. And both Google and Amazon are testing deliveries by drones: Google’s Project Wing is participating in an FAA test of automated drone delivery, while Amazon Prime Air is trying out its service in the UK for a trial period. If these services get government approval, drones won’t just be fun—they’ll be profitable, too.
11. Naughty Viewing is getting virtual, quickly
These are exciting times for the naughty industry. With the rising sales of virtual reality goggles, the industry is in a lather about gearing up to pound out the kind of immersive content it’s sure that VR users are looking for. “The entire history of porn has been trying by whatever means available to arrive at this type of experience, and now it’s here,” said Ian Paul, chief information officer at Naughty America, in an Esquire article. By the end of this year, the industry thinks, VR porn will be the new mainstream standard, thanks to cheaper gear and plenty of VR-ready distribution channels, like the internet and VR-ready gaming consoles. They might be right: Japan’s first VR naughty-themed event in 2016 had to shut down early because too many people showed up.
10. Privacy is going out the window
An incredible amount of automation is about to find its way into everyday life. But with it comes a huge problem: the loss of our privacy, not just our private data. Connected systems like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home send all kinds of data back to corporate servers, where we just kind of have to trust that these technology giants will secure its analyses of our daily behavior, shopping habits, and online porn collection against hackers—or worse, marketers. Even more at risk is our medical data: doctors and hospitals are rapidly adopting electronic health record (EHR) systems, which makes sharing health conditions between doctors much easier. But they’re not always securing those systems properly, and our health data is often compromised.
9. Driverless trucks will dominate long-haul trucking
Driverless cars are already being road-tested by companies like Uber, but at the moment these automated wonders are pretty much just gimmicks. What we may see much more of in the near future, however, are driverless tractor-trailers. Automated trucking is cost-efficient when it comes to reducing the need for actual human drivers: required rest breaks are eliminated, and accidents due to exhausted or distracted operators also go away. (On the negative side, it would also eliminate thousands of jobs.) The technology is already here: In April 2016, a convoy of self-driving trucks crossed Europe, all the way to the Port of Rotterdam. Companies like Peloton Technology are testing different ways to make self-driving transport efficient and safe. All that’s needed now is regulatory approval.
8. New cloth weaves tackle the dangers of modern life
Wearable technologies are moving beyond devices that clip onto your clothing or strap to your wrist. They’re about to integrate function with fashion. Right now, researchers at Jinan University in China are testing cloth with solar cells woven right in—if it proves commercially viable, soon you may be able to charge your devices’ batteries every time you go outside not naked. Cloth weaves with added protection are also being explored. For men nervous about whether putting that smartphone in their front pocket will render them sterile, a new startup called Spartan is marketing radiation-proof underwear. Silver strands woven into the underwear’s cloth act as a sort of Faraday cage, shielding little soldiers from electromagnetic waves emitted by 3G and 4G phones as well as Wi-Fi frequencies in the 2.5 GHz to 5 GHz spectrum.
7. AI will make many medical decisions
Using computers to scan and flag potential medical conditions, like breast cancer, has mixed results so far. But artificial intelligence may change the way computers analyze medical data and give AI a much bigger role in diagnosis. Researchers are testing new ways to optimize machine learning so that computers don’t simply follow a set of rules, but rather make choices based on progressive and complex pattern sets. Computer scientist Sebastian Thrun led a research project in 2015 where, through machine learning, a computer was able to recognize and classify skin lesions into cancerous, non-cancerous, and benign categories with 72% accuracy. (Two dermatologists scored 66% on the same test.) MedyMatch, an AI start-up, recently partnered with Samsung and IBM Watson: its tech alongside a mobile CT scanner will help assess whether a patient is experiencing a stroke, and what type, while still in the ambulance on the way to the ER, so paramedics can deliver lifesaving treatment within the critical first-hour window.
6. Synthetic food will land on grocery store shelves
Very shortly, you’ll be able to find red wine that wasn’t made from vineyard-grown grapes. You’ll be able to eat hamburger that didn’t come from a slaughtered steer. And how about vegan milks, cheeses and egg whites, made from yeast? Or butter and shrimp grown from algae? Companies like Ava Winery, Mufri and New Wave Foods are all working on synthetic, or man-made, versions of these popular foods. The impetus behind these engineered replica foods isn’t simply science gone mad. “If a perfect replica of meat were available on the market at a price point equal to or less than natural meat, it’s hard to believe that industrialized animal farming would continue,” wrote Alec Lee, co-founder of Ava Winery, in a post on Medium. Likewise, wasteful and environmentally-unsound farming practices can wreak ecological havoc. Synthetic food could reduce the impact of agriculture on our planet, and even make certain foods and spices, like vanilla, much more affordable.
5. Scientists will map every cell in our bodies
The Human Genome project is still in progress, but science is now embarking on another ambitious project with massive ramifications for humanity, particularly in medical treatment. A consortium of scientists from around the world are tackling the task of identifying and cataloging every cell in the human body—about 37.2 trillion. They’re not just going to look at each cell: they’re going to crack the cells open and study each one, right down to their gene structure. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan are among the biggest backers of the new project, donating $3 billion in September 2016.
4. Hyperloop will change transport
Elon Musk is taking a century-old concept—using a pneumatic vacuum tube to send capsules filled with mail, memos or bank checks from one location to another—and scaling it up. Way up. The Hyperloop will use reduced-pressure pneumatic tubes, linear induction motors and air compressors to move pressurized capsules from one place to another at upwards of 700 mph. The concept is being tested at a 3-km site in Nevada. If it works, we could see a transport connection open up between San Francisco and Los Angeles in just a few years. Though it may not carry live passengers for some time while its safety is proven, it’s entirely feasible that the Hyperloop could transport cargo from one location to another in minutes, replacing some of the 18-wheelers currently hauling freight above ground.
3. 3D printing is revolutionizing medicine
A 3D-printed cast is already in the works that aims to resolve one of the most annoying aspects of having to wear a hard-shell cast: constant itching and nasty skin irritation. It is instead printed as a lattice, or mesh, that is custom-fit to the person wearing it. The lattice allows for plenty of airflow and room to scratch. It’s just one of several 3D printing-inspired ideas that will give doctors and researchers a lot more to work with when helping patients—things like 3D-printed prosthetics that cost far less than custom-made prostheses today.
2. Digital medicine is rapidly making inroads
How can doctors make sure a patient with schizophrenia is taking his or her medications regularly? Pretty soon, they’ll be able to prescribe one extra pill: a capsule containing a radio-emitting device, that only transmits once the pill has been swallowed. How can doctors help recovering opioid addicts get crucial medicine to combat their addiction? With a small implant that steadily delivers Buprenorphine to the person for up to six months, helping them stay on track and reducing the number of clinic visits. But those are just a few of the devices already hitting the market that were developed by start-ups in the rapidly growing field of digital medicine.
1. Make way for augmented humans
Improvements in prosthetics and robotics have paved the way for a new wave of augmented support technologies that can make us stronger and more mobile. Exoskeletons, for example, are helping paralyzed patients to walk again—a company called SuitX is working on just such a technology, which can also be used to help people with neurological issues that make it hard to walk. But they’re also proving useful in environments where heavy lifting is required: Lowe’s, in partnership with Virginia Tech, is testing a lightweight exoskeleton frame that will help its employees move large, heavy objects more easily while preventing injuries, but is comfortable enough to wear all day.
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