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Future technology: 10 ideas about to change our world..
1-Personalities for robots
Google has obtained a patent on robot personalities, reminiscent of the ‘Genuine People Personalities’ of robots in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Owners could have a personality automatically chosen to match their needs, or select one based on a fictional character or even a loved one. Although the patent was announced suspiciously close to April 1, it does exist (US Patent 8,996,429), and with our natural tendency to anthropomorphism it seems a likely development.
We’ve almost got used to the idea of driverless cars before we’ve even seen one on the roads. The truth is, you might well see a lot more driverless trucks – after all, logistics make the world go round. They’ll be cheaper to run than regular rigs, driving more smoothly and so using less fuel. Computers never get tired or need comfort breaks, so they’ll run longer routes. And they could drive in convoys, nose-to-tail, to minimise wind resistance. Companies like Mercedes and Peloton are already exploring these possibilities, and if the promised gains materialise, freight companies could upgrade entire fleets overnight. On the downside, it could put drivers instantly out of work, and even staff at the truck stops set up to service them, but many companies have said the trucks will still need a human passenger to ensure their cargo is safe.
3-Sleep in a petri dish
Up to 30 per cent of us have trouble sleeping, but help may be at hand. A team atWashington State University has identified the smallest set of neurones in our brains responsible for sleeping, grown a tiny group of these cells in the lab and induced them to fall asleep and wake up. Their work could help to unravel the science of sleep disorders.
Swallowing seawater is part of surfing. But now the scientists behind a new initiative called Beach Bums want to swab the rectums of surfers, to see if this water contains the key to developing new antibiotics. They’re searching for antibiotic resistant bacteria known as superbugs: by studying the samples from the surfers, they hope to learn more about these potentially dangerous organisms in the hope of producing new drugs to combat them.
5-Viagra for women
Now approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, flibanserin looks set to become the first in a new class of drugs for improving female sexual desire. Though it’s been dubbed ‘the female Viagra’, flibanserin works rather differently: Viagra works by boosting blood supply to the penis, while flibanserin acts on serotonin receptors in the brain. Its makers say it increases sexual satisfaction, but critics question the drug’s safety and effectiveness.
6-Your brain print as a password
Could your brainwaves function as your computer password? A team at Binghamton University, New York, looked at the way volunteers’ brain signals changed as they read a list of acronyms. Each person reacted differently enough for the system to predict who was reading the list with 94 per cent accuracy. In future, a honed version of this idea could verify who is sitting at a PC.
7-The four-day working week
It turns out working less might mean more work gets done. A raft of studies have shown that with less time to work, less time is wasted – there’s less absenteeism and, in most cases, greater productivity. A more compact working week has also been shown to encourage employees to stay with companies for longer, and works as a recruitment tool. A shorter working week could even reduce global carbon emissions, with fewer commuters clogging the roads on certain days.
8-The AI scientist
Cut off a flatworm’s head, and it’ll grow a new one. Cut it in half, and you’ll have two new worms. Fire some radiation at it, and it’ll repair itself. Scientists have wanted to work out the mechanisms involved for some time, but the secret has eluded them. Enter an AI coded at Tufts University, Massachusetts. By analysing and simulating countless scenarios, the computer was able to solve the mystery of the flatworm’s regeneration in just 42 hours. In the end it produced a comprehensive model of how the flatworm’s genes allow it to regenerate.
Although humans still need to feed the AI with information, the machine in this experiment was able to create a new, abstract theory independently – a huge step towards the development of a conscious computer, and potentially a landmark step in the way we carry out research.
Hate commuting? Imagine, instead, your train carriage hurtling down a tunnel at the same speed as a commercial jet airliner. That’s the dream of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. His Hyperloop system would see ‘train’ passengers travel at up to 760mph through a vacuum tube, propelled by compressed air and induction motors. A site has been chosen with the goal of starting test runs in two years. Once built, the loop will ferry passengers between San Francisco and LA in 35 minutes, compared to 7.5 hours by train.
NASA has challenged designers to develop a conventional drone to work inside a space station, navigating with no ‘up’ or ‘down’. Thewinning design, ArachnoBeeA, would use cameras and tiny beacons to manoeuvre its way around. How popular drones would be in such a confined space is a different question.
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