Over the course of the last 30 years, there has been an explosive growth in the field of information technology, with researchers taking evolutionary leaps forward in fields ranging from big data and quantum computing to AI and predictive analytics. There are some who argue that innovation has stalled in the real world – however, there are a whole host of technologies on the horizon that suggest we may very well be in an age of unprecedented progress. Here are just a few of the technological advances set for the coming years.
1. Reversing paralysis
Scientists have already demonstrated how people can use machine-brain implants to control prosthetic limbs. Now they’re going one better, in one of the most sensitive systems in the body, by helping individuals to overcome spinal injuries and to regain control of their actual limbs.
This involves placing a receiver against the brain and connecting it to an electrical stimulator in the nervous system, on the other side of the break – using technology to bridge the gap. The upshot of this is that people who have suffered severe damage to the neck or spine may be able to regain anything up to full mobility.
2. Fusion technology
There’s nuclear energy and then there’s nuclear fusion. Based in the south of France, ITER is planned to become the largest magnetic confinement plasma physics experiment in existence, and is the first step to full-scale electricity production via fusion technology.
Nuclear fusion will produce far more power than renewable energy sources, while releasing negligible amounts of atmospheric pollutants – and radioactive waste that is dangerous for a much shorter period than that created by conventional nuclear power. Meanwhile some of the raw materials for the process can actually be derived from sea water.
3. Widespread gene therapy
The concept of gene therapy is to use an artificially engineered virus to ‘infect’ a patient with healthy versions of a gene, thereby replacing defective versions. This has traditionally been used to combat rare hereditary conditions such as haemophilia.
The field has been picking up pace, however, and researchers are exploring how the approach can be applied to dozens of genetic conditions. What’s more, in the near future it may be possible to treat common diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer using the technique. The challenge will be how to adapt the methodology to fight conditions whose causes lie in multiple genes. Once that’s cracked, though, it will transform healthcare and, indeed, the ageing process itself.
4. Self-Driving Cars
Efforts have been underway for some time to create cars that are able to drive themselves – and the technology is already part-way there. Uber already has self-driving taxis on the streets of Pittsburgh, while Tesla vehicles reportedly have all the hardware required for self-driving, and can currently auto steer but not drive themselves.
While there were initial stumbling blocks (it can be difficult for sensors to tell the difference between a plastic bag and a boulder), these vehicles are set to be far safer than human drivers, with the benefits of precisely controlled steering and braking (and perhaps inter-vehicle communications) and without the hazards of tiredness or distractions. They are also set to have an enormous impact on the world, going beyond consumer use to fully take on the sphere of commercial driving, including haulage, deliveries and taxis.
Then, of course, there’s always the Hyperloop – a mag-lev train that operates in a vacuum tunnel and moves at over 600 mph – which is set to revolutionise high speed travel in the near future.
Sci-Tech Daresbury is internationally known for its research work and is home to scientists and engineers from across private industry and the university research community. Areas of study at the campus (which is just a short journey from Manchester and Liverpool) include accelerator science, bio-medicine, physics, chemistry, materials, engineering and computational science, while facilities range from a particle accelerator to a VR/AR lab.