We are at a strange place in this world's history, where the Industrial Revolution is over, and we're in the new technological age. So many things have been discovered over the course of the last and this century, and we're still no closer to reaching a technological epiphany... or are we? One of my favourite quotes in the world of technology is:
"It took 38 years for radio to reach 50 million people. The internet got there in 5 years flat."
I'd like to highlight some of the most innovative, interesting and fascinating emerging and developing technologies, as well as future technologies which could change our lives, just in the way that the World Wide Web has.
Metamaterials and invisibility Having invisibility cloaks has been the dream of every Harry Potter and James Bond fan for some years now, but we're surprisingly close to getting the real deal. Of course, many would see this as either a hoax or a theory, but scientists at the University of California have developed a material which allows light to be reverse-refracted around 3D objects making them disappear... to some extent.
These "metamaterials" allow forms of electromagnetic waves (of which visible light is part of) to be channelled from one side of the material to the other, allowing the object with the material covering it to appear invisible. At the moment, they're no way near to making this perfect, but the theory and practicality is there; it's just a case of investing more money into research to perfecting it.
Although I don't see any civilian use for it, the military could acquire this for combat scenarios. By covering soldiers and combat vehicles in this material, this would make warfare scenarios a lot more interesting; even though it's something we would rather not see. I bet Kim Jong-il would be quaking in his boots if he saw this field of invisible tanks.
Advanced human-input computing
With more and more products featuring smaller screens and mobile applications, the keyboard and mouse are slowly starting to slip away. Desktop and laptop computers will have them for years, decades most likely. But recently, we're hearing more about touch and multi-touch technologies which will "transform our lives" and bridge that gap between man and machine - by allowing users to physically interact with their computers.
Having interactive screens, displays, objects and expanding research into the underlying hardware, physical sensing and future computer vision is something every company out there would want to crack right open. Microsoft Research has spent tireless hours working on these things, which will eventually be seen in Windows 7 and can already be seen in other products.
Speech also includes here, as "hands-free" computing is something destined to be accomplished at some point in the near future. I find it strangely odd how researchers and engineers are looking at hands-on multi-touch computing, whilst looking at hands-off voice controlled computing. Nevertheless, having these advancements in society would be a fantastic leap for innovation, creativity and close the gap between semi-intelligence systems.
Cyber-intelligence and web security
I've already written about how the Internet has turned into a mass crime zone, and a hotspot for criminal activity, but there's little chance of them sustaining their activities with the amount of security research being done.
Those who know me will back up this that I say; Microsoft to some extent started the Internet [I know Netscape did, but Internet Explorer being provided free with Windows really started it] so it's partly their responsibility to fix the bloody thing. Microsoft Research are doing just that.
Whilst many companies, organisations and governments are all working towards the same goal, of a safer and more productive world wide web, it's still being hampered by virus attacks and zero day flaws - one which only yesterday caused a mini-panic amongst the online security community.
Many are working towards developing cyber-intelligence solutions which detect threats and neutralise those which corrupt the web with spam and malware. Implementing already-known "real life solutions" and recreating them in a computer like way, such as creating a flight data recorder for monitoring are a step closer to ensuring a safer web. MSR are working on "Strider", a set of projects aiming to slowly but surely wipe out these threats, with cybersquatting analysis, malicious website detection, spyware management and rootkit detection; using state of the art concepts, theories and human intellect.
The new space race
Technology on the ground hasn't been always been the main priority for some companies and organisations. With governments harnessing the power of orbit for decades already, private companies are taking more advantage of the power that Kármán line holds. Google have been part of the recently launched the GeoEye satellite, which has been blasting high-resolution images of the Earth's surface 62 miles below.
My Google god-like colleague, Garett Rogers, highlighted what the GeoEye would be giving us. The satellite can take high-resolution of New Mexico in one day, and have already seen incredibly accurate sharp imagery beamed back to us in Google Maps. It's so clear; you can see what colour shirts are being worn by a baseball team. Although, because of my super-Britishness, I'm not sure if any of them wear anything other than white.
Having images of this quality could open up a whole world, literally. The reason why we've only really discovered craters from giant objects from space over the last half-century is because we've been able to see them from space. Having the GeoEye above us snapping away, we might finally be able to get around to really exploring Papua New Guinea, find new areas and landmasses, as well as other geological areas and features which could benefit us in the long run.
Solving the energy issue Ray Kurzweil spoke at TED in 2005 about how technology's accelerating power will transform us, and said:
If we could convert 0.03% of the sunlight that falls onto the Earth into energy, we could meet all of our projected needs for 2030. We can't do that today because solar panels are heavy, expensive and inefficient."
There's a panic, if you will, about the state of our climate and levels of natural resources left. Trees, oil, fuel, food, even water - all these things we take for granted. I am personally sceptical about the whole thing; I've seen my queen get friendly with the Saudi's because they have oil, yet when they run out we'll probably invade because of their "abhorrent acts of barbarity." But let's not get political...
There are prizes out there to find a "solution of the utmost urgency to save the Earth" in response of the global warming worry, as well as others trying to bring clean water to everyone, everywhere.
My conclusion It shows that technology doesn't always have to bring something sparkly and new, that connects to other devices or lets you watch videos and hear music from them. Some technologies really can transform lives. Today's graduates, it's your and our job to make this world that little bit better... as well as making future worlds better.
As always, comment as you wish.