Invisibility Cloaks

Long a staple of science-fiction and fantasy, the ability to become invisible would be a revolutionary technological development. By bending light of all wavelengths around an object, irrespective of its shape, both metalenses and metamaterials offer the potential to effectively “cloak” any object. Recent research has demonstrated that combining the two nanotechnology devices may in fact pave the way to the first working, universal invisibility cloak.

Ethan Siegel – Invisibility cloaks are not just possible, but are becoming reality
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Our Immersive Future

I have long believed that the way we interact as humans is on an accelerating journey towards massive change. Whether the next interaction frontier involves the brain or a broad Metaverse vision, it is almost certain that how we interact will change. There have been several waves of change to our interaction paradigm through at least three stages of transformation. However, the next transformation will alter many long-standing beliefs, and as we explore possibilities, emerging scenarios can be very illuminating.

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Ford To Use Robots To Operate 3D Printers

A recent article describes how Ford intends to use robots to operate 3D Printers. According to the article, Ford’s Advanced Manufacturing Center has developed an interface that allows machines from different suppliers to speak to each other in the same language and operate parts of the production line autonomously. The article explains how Ford’s patent-pending system solves a crucial bottleneck in the production line by using robots to operate the 3D printers through the night without human interaction. The video below provides a glimpse into the process.

Non-Fungible Tokens

The hype surrounding non-fungible tokens (NFTs) is reaching a fever pitch. A recent article describes NFTs as data added to a file that creates a unique signature. It can be an image file, a song, a tweet, a text posted on a website, a physical item, and various other digital formats. Another article explores NFTs from the perspective of value.

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Web3

The current buzz surrounding Web3 represents the convergence of multiple domains. In the past, Web 3.0 represented the semantic web, which focused on making Internet data machine-readable. Web3 has moved to a broader place, including the Metaverse and decentralization. The metaverse is described by Wikipedia as a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection. The metaverse itself is a huge buzzword these days, but its origins date back to Author Neil Stephenson when he coined the term in Snow Crash, a dystopian cyberpunk novel published in 1992. In the novel, the metaverse is described as a 3D shared virtual world – a whole universe of shared virtual spaces seemingly linked together with an ability to teleport between them. Games like Minecraft and Fortnite are close to the vision that he foresaw. You can explore more on the metaverse here.

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Humanoid Robot Defends Personal Space

Many prognosticators expect a robotic tipping point this year. We are witnessing the acceleration of the robotic journey with advancements appearing at a dizzying pace. Unlike the robots of the past, these advancements might freak us out – as it did to the folks at Engineered Arts when they witnessed this reaction by their humanoid robot. See video below.

Humanoid Robots Making Remarkable Progress

A picture is worth a thousand words. I’ve written recently about our robotic journey and everyday robots – but to that adage about pictures, this video says it all about accelerating progress. This recent article describes how This lifelike robot is terrifying everyone with its realism.

The Metaverse

Once a niche concept beloved of tech enthusiasts, the idea of a centralized virtual world, a “place” parallel to the physical world, has careened into the mainstream landscape this year, as epitomized by Facebook’s decision in October to rebrand as Meta

Peter Allen Clark – The Metaverse Has Already Arrived. Here’s What That Actually Means

That quote from a recent article speaks to the growing buzz around the metaverse. As the article states: “the promise of the metaverse is to allow a greater overlap of our digital and physical lives in wealth, socialization, productivity, shopping and entertainment. Essentially, the metaverse is an evolution of the current Internet. Although today’s version involves goggles, tomorrow it’s all about glasses. John Riccitiello, CEO of Unity describes the use of glasses this way: “You’re walking by a restaurant, you look at it, the menu pops up. What your friends have said about it pops up.”

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The Acceleration Of The Robotic Journey

Although predictions these days may be even more difficult given our complex systems are progressing and scaling at an unprecedented rate, a macro-level focus can provide an ability to scan beyond the horizon. So rather than attempt to predict, here are my 2019 thoughts on several macro-level forces.

Frank Diana – What to Expect in 2019

That quote comes from a post I wrote to usher in 2019. One of those macro-level forces was acceleration (the other two were convergence and a burst of possibilities). As we close 2021, acceleration is all around us, but in 2019, no one knew that a pandemic would enable a great acceleration. There are countless examples of how the pandemic pulled possible futures forward, and one such example is robotics. In a recent article, Greg Nichols says that there is no denying we’re in the midst of a robotic renaissance, as industries like construction and delivery reach a tipping point.

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Everyday Robots

A recent article via Evan Ackerman takes a look at Alphabet’s Everyday Robots. Several videos are provided via the article (a couple are included below). He provides an entertaining analysis of each video and some perspective as well.

I’m a little bit torn on this whole thing. A fleet of 100 mobile manipulators is amazing. Pouring money and people into solving hard robotics problems is also amazing. I’m just not sure that the vision of an “Everyday Robot” that we’re being asked to buy into is necessarily a realistic one.

Evan Ackerman – Years Later, Alphabet’s Everyday Robots Have Made Some Progress
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Quantum Computing

Recently, an audience question about the timing of quantum computing (QC) was answered by an expert in the following way: the timeline for the realization of QC is accelerating, with some milestones being realized as early as 2025. Much remains to be seen, but any acceleration of QC brings an acceleration of many world altering scenarios. In a recent article, Daphne Leprince-Ringuet identifies eight ways that quantum computing will change our world. Those eight are:

  • Discovering new drugs
  • Creating better batteries
  • Predicting the weather
  • Picking stocks
  • Processing language
  • Helping solve the traveling salesman problem
  • Reducing congestion
  • Protecting sensitive data

You can read about each in detail via the article. While that’s an impressive list, the true power of quantum computing lies in its problem solving potential. When realized, QC will likely help with climate change, chronic disease, and other long-standing problems that have been impossible to solve. As with every emerging innovation, it also has the potential for destruction. Quantum computing is explored in a fascinating new book titled AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future. Authors Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Qiufan take us on a fascinating journey to 2041. They use the power of story-telling to effectively help us understand where artificial intelligence (AI) is taking us. I will write a separate post on the book, but in the meantime, I have added it to my book library. The power of AI is amplified and accelerated with the realization of a new QC compute paradigm. However, after telling a story about quantum computing in 2041, Kai-Fu Lee states that he believes QC has an 80-percent chance of working by that date. He goes on to describe the challenges that quantum computing faces, and that considering those challenges, most experts believe it will take ten to thirty years to get a useful QC.

Bottom line: it’s still anyone’s guess regarding the timing of quantum computing. Current signals have some believing that the timeline to realization is accelerating, and Kai-Fu Lee indicates that some optimists see it happening in five to ten years – consistent with the views shared during that audience interaction I mentioned. Regardless of timeline, QC is just another example of a future innovation with massive implications.

Tesla Pursues Humanoid Robots

Move over Sophia you might have company. At Tesla’s AI Day, Elon Musk said the company plans to build a robot in human form, leveraging some of its vehicle technology. The path of humanoid robots much like everything else, will go in two possible directions. Constructively, care robots, companion robots, and those that handle difficult repetitive tasks, help address mounting challenges as well as long-standing ones. On the destructive side, these robots may someday encroach upon those traits that make us distinctly human. Our path forward continues to represent a balancing act. Elon Musk describes his vision in the video below.

Will The Next interaction Frontier Involve The Brain?

In 2017, I explored the various ways that human interaction was likely to change. Two years later, I shared predictions from Ray Kurzweil that included his thoughts on interacting in a world that is increasingly instrumented and machine-oriented. Ray envisions a deep transformation in the way we interact in a machine-oriented society, and that includes thought commands. The possibility of interacting with the world using our brains still feels like science fiction to most. Whether it is moving an object (like the racecar video in my earlier post) or communicating with another human brain-to-brain, it is hard to wrap our minds around that profound a change.

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Emerging Technologies With Near Term Impact

Given the overwhelming number of science and technology building blocks available and emerging, keeping pace is a monumental task. Harder still is identifying those that have near-term impact. A recent article by Kevin Dickinson identifies ten emerging technologies projected to impact us in the short term – many of which were accelerated by COVID-19. Here is a quick look at the list.

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As We Accelerate In The Short Term – Horizons Move Closer

While COVID-19 is an acknowledged accelerant, we are accelerating towards a known destination. Remote learning and working should have evolved sooner; the digital foundation should have been a priority earlier; eCommerce should have exploded by now; and last-mile delivery is only just beginning. Although we may arrive at this destination sooner, acceleration now draws scenarios that are further out closer. Those that may have been reluctant to order online overcame their fears. The elderly on zoom calls is now a thing. With broader societal adoption comes an ability to more aggressively pursue innovative ideas that may have been further out. When combined with learning that comes from broader adoption, acceleration becomes a virtuous cycle.

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Companion Robots And Mental Health

What is your initial reaction to this question. Please respond to the poll.

Virtual Reality Converges With Fitness

A scenario I explored when looking into the Future of Sports was improving our fitness in virtual ways. As our bodies are immersed into games or eSports, athleticism matters. Where the view of gaming in the past was a teenager or young adult wasting away in front of a screen, virtual reality is turning that view on its head. In this recent Article, author Clint Carter describes the serious workouts he enjoyed virtually. In essence, your body is the games controller, and your fitness level plays a major role in how you do. Here is a description of one of those games from the article:

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Materials Play A Big Role In The Next Phase Of Human Development

When looking at possible futures, one domain seems to intersect with them all. Whether we are discussing the environment, food, mobility, or energy, one common denominator is materials science. Wikipedia Defines it as an interdisciplinary field focused on the design and discovery of new materials, particularly solids. Materials science incorporates elements of physics, chemistry, and engineering. The Wikipedia page reflects on why it intersects with so much:

Many of the most pressing scientific problems humans currently face are due to the limits of available materials and how they are used. Thus, breakthroughs in materials science are likely to affect the future of technology significantly.”

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Companion Robots: An Example Of The Accelerating Power Of COVID-19

Hanson Robotics wants to help those craving company during the COVID-19 pandemic. For those not familiar with Sophia, it is a human-like robot from Hanson Robotics. For those not familiar, check out the video below. Sophia appears between the 2:10 and 5:30 marks of the 8-minute segment. In discussing the roll of companion robots, CEO David Hanson told Reuters that “Sophia and Hanson robots are unique by being so human-like, that can be so useful during these times where people are terribly lonely and socially isolated.” His company, Hanson Robotics, plans to roll out thousands of these robots in 2021. They aim to roll out four models — including Sophia — in the first half of 2021.

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Dancing Robots – How Do You React?

By now, many of you may have seen this video of dancing robots. Yet another remarkable accomplishment delivered to us by Boston Dynamics. The reaction to this video has been varied. Many view it with fascination, while others fear. Those reactions reflect the broader response to possible emerging futures. This recent Article views dancing robots as a really big problem, going as far as calling them unethical. This One sees them as fun and games – until they murder us. Yet Another sees them as eerie, yet marvels at the accomplishment. Finally, this Look at the video calls it unsettling. What about you? What is your immediate reaction when viewing this video? Take the poll below and select your initial reaction.