Are technological advances happening more quickly than ever before? In recent years a number of transformative technologies have moved from science fiction to reality. Vincent Matinde predicts five inventions that may change our lives in the near future.
The synthetic brain
The world’s first synthetic brain could be built within ten years, giving us an extraordinary insight into the nature of consciousness and our perception of reality. Scientists working on the Blue Brain Project in Switzerland under the EFPL (École Polytechnic Fédérale de Lausanne) are the first to attempt to ‘reverse-engineer’ the mammalian brain by recreating the behaviour of billions of neurons in a computer. But it is no easy task – indeed other scientific advances such as cloning human body parts appear relatively straightforward compared to the complexities of recreating the composition of the consciousness that is a huge component of the brain. The project that kicked off in 2005 is still on its course to unveil the secrets of the human brain and find out if it can be replicated in a controlled environment. Currently the Blue Brain project is developing the software that will look to operate the synthetic brain.
“The virtual brain will be an exceptional tool giving neuroscientists a new understanding of the brain and a better understanding of neurological diseases,” say the engineers of the Blue Brain project. Ultimately, scientists want to use synthetic brains to understand how sensory information from the real world is interpreted and stored, and how consciousness arises. They may also help scientists to study brain disorders and neurodegenerative diseases without the need for experimenting on animals. Other great applications for this innovation are speculated to include: medical diagnosis, stock trading, robot control, law, scientific discovery and toys. For the conspiracy theorist, the brain might be integrated into warfare. Some describe the synthetic brain as a ‘supercomputer’ that will aim to bypass some of the weaknesses of the natural brain.
How would it feel to be able to relive your happy moments with the push of a button? Would you like to relive the feeling you had when you fell in love? Just as you might play a favourite song to make you feel better, recorded feelings will enable you to relive your best moments.
One of the implementations of this invention could be ‘Active Skin’, as reported by Alun Palmer of the UK’s Daily Mirror.
“Tiny skin-cell sized electronic capsules blown into the skin would enable us to record nerve signals associated with any sensation. Then you could relive the experience days or years later. From a favourite ski run to the feel of everyday objects, you can replay the full sensory experience,” explains Palmer.
The implementation of such technology could be used to make computer games feel more realistic.
A new British app known as Xpression has already launched to help users track their moods by recording phone calls and translating them to what they are feeling.
Co-Founder of the company Matt Dobson said the application will be used to monitor mentally ill patients
“I wanted to know: could we bring something into the market that would help people sort out their stress and depression and anxiety? I found that voice-based recognition was something that would work on a smartphone,” Dobson said.
But the technology is still years away from actually recording body, heart and mind feelings and replaying them later.
Mind reading headphones
Mico (Music Inspiration from your Subconscious) is the latest wearable device from Japan that could be able to detect your mood and select you a playlist according to what you feel.
The technology that was presented at the music trade show, South by South West (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, has an ungainly sensor that is placed on the user’s forehead so that the device can determine mood and, together with the application, arrange music accordingly.
The device can read mind waves and detect moods. It then simply plays a song from an iOS apple device to create a ‘telepathic’ play list.
Currently the device can detect only three moods: focused, drowsy or stressed. Even though this is limited compared to the amount of feeling or moods that a human being is capable of, the headphones are still one of its kind.
The developers are looking into incorporating other brain wave interpretations into the device. If this happens then you could be able to choose your playlist from any music system in your house by just ‘thinking’ about it.
According to Amanda Kooser in a CNET article, the headphones work with an application that can select the song according to a database of songs. The songs however have to be tagged according to the mood. To combat a stressed mood for example, one could tag an uplifting and enjoyable playlist ready to be played when the sensor kicks in.
The gadget has a forehead sensor that resembles a microphone. On the earmuffs, there are screens to communicate what mood you are in. “Whatever mood Mico detects is also shown on an indicator on the outside of the headphones. This could be a good warning for people to leave you alone when you’re stressed out,” muses Kooser.
G>4 Web 3.0
An upgrade from Web 2.0, Web 3.0 is probably the most eagerly-awaited deployment of technology ever. Most analysts describe Web 3.0 as technology that fuses real life with software; in many instances where devices can be controlled from the Internet.
The biggest benefit for this technology is in the sphere of medicine where patients have wearable devices to monitor their health and report their findings via the Internet to doctors.
One of the most exciting deployments of wearable devices is the Google Glass. Essentially, Google Glass is a camera, display, touchpad, battery and microphone built into spectacle frames so that you can put a display in your field of vision, film, take pictures, search and translate on the go. It is, in essence, an attempt to free data from desktop computers and portable devices like phones and tablets, and place it right in front of your eyes.
Even before the dust settles on the Google Glass project (set to be released at the end of 2013) innovators are experimenting with contact lenses which aim to be more comprehensive than the Google Glass.
Web 3.0 also includes the concept of controlling robots though the Internet to do various tasks. Robots may take many forms including household appliances as well as actual robot figures that can do house chores. Along similar lines, Web 3.0 is a technology that will enable people to control computers and other objects by just ‘thinking about it’. The trial tests involve a machine that reads the brain waves and interprets them into electro-energy and employs that energy to move objects. Scientists reckon that one way to implement such technology is to have it being used by those who have lost limbs.
The introduction of SmartTV by Sony and other players depict where Web 3.0 comes in. Some of the features of the Smart TV, including hand gesture interpretation, have gone into exploring applications of Web 3.0 (though this is a tiny replication of what the technology can actually do).
Augmented reality is one of the most interesting inventions of this century and will definitely be of much use in the future. Imagine receiving a phone call and seeing the caller on the other side, hovering over your phone screen, almost like a ghost.
It sounds like a scene from a science fiction movie, but phone manufacturers are always thinking of the next best experience for phone users. The phone manufacturing industry is one that is highly competitive with smartphones such as the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy trying to outdo each other. Hence having augmented reality for phones to be used in phone calls and games is not far-fetched.
Originally the concept was a fusion of real life and technology. For example, you can use an app called AugMeasure which is a handy little tool that can measure short distances with just your iPhone. The app displays distances on screen by using your iPhone’s camera and overlaying the measurements on screen with live pictures from the phone’s camera. The picture will adjust in real time to measure whatever’s in front of your camera. Yelp Monocle is another augmented reality app for the iPhone that can show you bars, restaurants and other businesses by just taking a shot of the area you are in.
“Today, your smartphone’s computational reach into its surroundings ends at its touchscreen surface. To your device, the real world isn’t a canvas of interactivity. Soon, however, computer vision will be used to make real-world environments computationally interactive and fun, thereby extending the computational reach of your device into the visual space around you,” says Vikas Reddy, Co-Founder of Occipital – a technology mapping firm.
There are some predictions within the industry that Augmented Reality in smartphones will happen by the end of 2013. There is already some implementation of Augmented Reality in games and applications in phones including the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the iPhone. But neither have succeeded in making images hover on top of the phone screen. Yet.