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February 27, 2014
3 Min Read
Google self-driving car.
employed to assist the disabled and elderly. Some scientists think that eventually all our biological functions will be replaced by bionic machines.
The extent that humans are replaced by robot helpers or morphed into man-machines is an interesting philosophical question. Joan Slonczewski, a microbiologist at Kenyon college, notes that humans have continuously redefined intelligence and transferred those tasks to machines. Slonczewski asks: "Could we evolve ourselves out of existence, being gradually replaced by the machines?" I think it is possible but still in the realm of science fiction.
As for tech advancements in patient care: Doctors will have new abilities for remote monitoring and treatment of patients that will benefit isolated areas and poorer countries. Wounds will also be repaired with robotic surgical systems and new procedures. A start-up, RevMedx, which develops products for military medics and emergency services, has created a device that can heal a gunshot wound in 15 seconds via an applicator filled with dozens of tiny sponges.
Advanced robotics will also have an impact on the cost and precision of manufacturing. Exciting research in materials science are creating stronger, more durable, lighter, and even "self-healing" materials.
3D Printing is already here. In fact, BAE systems successfully made spare parts for Tornado fighter jets by engineering metal parts with 3D printing technology. 3D printing will be replaced by 4D printing essentially by machines that assemble themselves. Such concepts have already been proven at MIT Self-Assembly Technologies lab. Printed electronics are a next step.
The capability to design and manufacture infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and buildings with stronger, self-intelligent, and seemingly eternal materials will help revolutionize the construction and transportation industries. In the latter, self-driving vehicles will become the norm and be fueled by solar power and photovoltaic batteries. New scientific and manufacturing breakthroughs will also lead to enhanced agricultural production, water purification, and full energy independence.
Of course there are mitigating factors when dealing with humans (Albert Einstein once observed that "the problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.") Technology advances may originally have altruistic intent, but there is always the possibility for misuse. The mastering of big data can also lead to control by dictatorships over its citizens. Developments in biotech can have dual-use applications for bioterrorism. As technology proliferates, the destructive capabilities of our adversaries can also grow with the advent of specialized algorithms, powerful lasers, and nano-military applications.
And, there is always the fear of machines run amok (such as driverless cars) and the errors often associated with early-stage deployment of new technologies. As always, human health and welfare will need to be overriding priorities.
Despite the potential pitfalls, what is evident is that science and technology will pave our futures. How we harness for good should be our focus. The list of potential scientific breakthroughs that I shared only touches the surface. It's an ever-expanding list and the future beckons.
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About the Author(s)
VP & Client Executive for DHS, Xerox
Charles (Chuck) Brooks serves as Vice President and Client Executive for DHS at Xerox. Previously, heserved in government at the Department of Homeland Security as the first Director of Legislative Affairs for the Science & Technology Directorate. He also spent six years on Capitol Hill as a Senior Advisor to the late Senator Arlen Specter and was Adjunct Faculty Member at Johns Hopkins University where he taught classes on homeland security and Congress. Chuck has published articles on the subjects of innovation, public/private partnerships, emerging technologies, and cybersecurity.
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