Technology

7 Crazy Technology Trends That Will Define the Future

The future of technology is a very open one. There is one fact, however, that many things will be possible. For instance it will be possible to cool the atmosphere by injecting clouds with sea water to make them reflect more sunlight.

That’s just one tech prediction from Amy Webb, founder of the the Future Today Institute (and Inc. columnist).

Here are some of the other trends Webb’s report highlighted, ranked in general order from most imminent to most far-out.

1. Predictive machine vision 

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have trained an artificial intelligence system to predict human behavior, like whether two people are about to hug, kiss, shake hands, or high five. “This research will someday enable robots to more easily navigate human environments–and to interact with us humans by taking cues from our own body language,” Webb writes. That could make them especially useful in helping people operate machinery or work in labs and operating rooms. The MIT bots were trained by watching episodes of “The Office”. However, it’s unclear whether Michael Scott’s behavior is more or less predictable than a real-life human.

2. Cyber risk insurance

Hacks can be costly to businesses. So it makes sense that in recent years more insurance companies have begun offering coverage for security-related expenses. These include expenses like liability and data recovery costs. Webb predicts the trend will go even further to include more protection against hacks. This kind of insurance will involve reimbursing revenue that’s lost while a company is handcuffed by an attack. Or repairing reputational damage that occurs as a result of it. Underwriting policies will be a challenge, though, since it will likely require getting businesses to agree to provide an awful lot of access to their infrastructure.

3. Drone surveillance

Law enforcement agencies and the military use drones for surveillance. But the number of private-sector customers is growing. When combined with machine learning software drones can identify people and track them. Whether at concerts and amusement parks or as they drive on highways, then provide useful data about their behaviors. Clearly, though, there are thorny ethics and privacy issues at play with this one.

4. Solar highways 

They’ve been considered something of a holy grail in the solar space for some time–imagine if all that black asphalt could produce green energy? A few much-hyped projects in France and the U.S. have failed to make serious progress toward scalability. And this is due largely to the panels’ inefficiency and lack of durability. Webb points out that in China, where roads are made of a harder form of concrete, state-owned construction firm Qilu Transportation is building a highway coated with paper-thin solar panels that can endure the 45,000 cars that travel over it each day.

5. Flying taxis

They’re not as far off as you might think. Flying taxi technology “is accelerating and reaching an inflection point where proof of concept designs are beginning to become viable,” Webb writes. Uber is designing flying aircraft that can take off and land vertically. This vehicle can travel 200 miles per hour with 60 miles of range. Of course, you might consider that to be closer to a helicopter than a car. But if you can travel across town 1,000 feet above rush hour gridlock, you won’t really care what it’s called.

6. Smart dust

Scientists at the University of California-Berkeley have already figured out how to create microscopic computers. More so, these computers can send and receive data at considerable speeds. Another team in Germany is working on 3-D printed lenses the size of a grain of sand. Those kinds of technologies could be used to study the atmopshere or measure air quality, or to replace endoscopies–just swallow some smart dust, and your doctor can take a look at your insides.

7. Artificial trees

One of the many reasons deforestation is bad: Trees naturally scrub atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Scientists at Columbia University are developing plastic trees. These trees can pull CO2 from the air–and so far, they do so 1,000 times more effectively than real ones. Of course, the world isn’t saved yet. Not only will the technology have to be developed further and refined, but there also will need to be a financial incentive for a company to deploy it. One possibility: Selling the stored carbon to manufacturers that can turn it into carbon nanofibers or plastics.

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