My thoughts after noticing the incredible pace and significance of recent papers in the scientific community…
On several occasions, I have yielded to my inner nerd and shared with friends how much I’d desire to have been born a few centuries later, to grow up in a world not unlike Roddenberry’s fictional universe. As any dedicated Trekkie will gladly discuss at length, many of the principles and concepts in the series were inspired either directly or indirectly by actual scientific research and mathematical postulates. As for gadgets, today you can point to a number of now-commonplace examples of what was just a short time ago thought to be daydreams. Automatic doors, cell phones, tablets, Bluetooth headsets, wireless transfers of any kind, and anything involving the Internet, all creations of forward thinking geeks who were undoubtedly giddy with excitement when these innovations became possible.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been seeing a stunning number of articles announcing progress in even more astoundingly advanced fields. The future is coming far more rapidly than I could have even believed. I’m sure that I am not adequately aware of the true scope or impact of these discoveries, but they excite me nonetheless.
In 2008, Researchers are the University of California, Berkeley, announced that they were able to construct a device that could bend light “the wrong way” that could make an object appear to vanish. This was previously achieved with microwaves in 2006, but thought to be impossible with visible light. This year, this feat was accomplished with light in three dimensions. The invisibility cloak was born. Now, a study has confirmed that it is theoretically possible to create a ‘’space time cloak’’, to literally hide events from time. They are racing toward a proof-of-concept which will be able to conceal space-time events spanning a few nanoseconds.
More Trek-turned-fact involves the faster-than-light engine fuel method of choice a few hundred years from now: antimatter. The concept of antimatter has been around since the late 19th century, was the subject of research and speculation for years. Antimatter has been able to be created, albeit for picoseconds, since the mid 90’s. However, this year, scientists at the LHC facility were able to successfully create and contain antimatter, and then release it at will. Trapping antimatter is difficult because, as you may recall from so many episodic adventures, antimatter and normal matter annihilate each other on contact in powerful explosions. This is the factual property that powered our favorite Star Ships through the galaxy. In the Federation’s time, creating antimatter was an incredibly difficult process that took years to accumulate enough to run a ship. Indeed, as we can only now create a few dozen atoms of the stuff at a time, it will be quite some time before we can, if ever, use the stuff as an energy supply. Until then, more realistic short-term plans of one-way trips to mars are being developed as a way to begin our venture into space.
On the other hand, going into space via conventional means may not be required after all. Scientists have just recently made breakthroughs bringing us one step closer to the technology Scotty used so frequently. A team of physicists have utilized quantum entanglement theory to actually transport particles up to distances of 89 miles instantaneously. Today, a few photons can be duplicated miles apart, and it may be a shorter wait than you think before we can re-materialize an object or even a person.
Try not to think about the Collective during this next bit. For some time now, we’ve been able to control computers with our thoughts. While these previously required physical direct connections implanted within our skull, it now can be achieved by simply wearing an appropriately outfitted hat combined with some software. Numerous patients have now demonstrated the ability to move on-screen cursors, navigate simple menus or mazes, and control rudimentary artificial limbs with the power of thought alone. NASA researchers have also created subvocal speech recognition sensors that, when attached to one’s neck, allows the wearer to communicate without saying a word. Then sensors can detect impulses that your vocal cords receive – even if you don’t actually speak or mouth a word – and turn those impulses into signals that a computer can translate to words. It may sound far-fetched, but it already has a 99% recognition rate with a current small vocabulary. Soon, sending a text message while driving may merely be a matter of thinking about the words you wish to transmit.
The Doctor would be proud of this next one. Although holograms have been possible to a limited extent, they have until now relied upon a surface medium, such as projecting an image upon glass or suspended particulate matter. Now technology allows for the development of impressive holographic displays capable of being updated in real-time. Refresh rates are currently low, on the order of a frame every few seconds. In short time this will increase and we’ll be ushered into a new era of telepresence. It isn’t a far stretch of the imagination to consider combining this with expanding AI capabilities and be well on the way to an Emergency Medical Hologram of our own. We have as of yet not been able to produce “force fields” in the sense required to allow our holograms to manipulate real-world objects, but the reverse is already possible. Utilizing existing sensor technology, demonstrations have taken place where users can interact with projected holograms as if they were touching and tugging at them (although they couldn’t feel it).
The realm of mechanics displays equally impressive feats. From a car that can drive over 300 miles on a 6-minute charge to Google’s no-longer-so-secret fleet of robotic vehicles that drive themselves, we are truly coming upon a new age of engineering marvels. Just don’t expect frivolous Jetsons-esque hovering vehicles and skyscrapers any time soon.
All of these advances have populated my Google Reader subscriptions over the past several months, and all the research and stories are from the past twelve months or so. I can’t wait to see what happens when engineers begin utilizing these theorems and proofs-of-concept to build real-world, working examples of this technology. Here’s to the present!