Do you drool with envy when your favourite character jumps into a mech suit to aid humanity? Perhaps you just can’t wait to lay down some cash to retreat into an android body…
I love technology. It’s not uncommon to find me with a dopey grin on my face whilst watching anime featuring funky gizmos.
Summoning the scientist from a past life, I took a stroll down Internet lane to discover what some of the world’s leading tech companies are up to. It may surprise you how close we really are to living our sci-fi fantasies.
#10 Virtual Reality
As seen in Sword Art Online
Brought to you by Oculus, Sony, Microsoft et al.
Ok this isn’t a surprise, VR has been referenced in sci-fi and anime for the past 40 years, but the first commercial release of VR headsets (we don’t count the Virtual Boy) is next year!! If you’ve had the chance to experience Oculus at an expo in the past two years you know VR is set to change the way we consume media.
Sure the games will be basic, it’s going to be buggy and the set up will cost you a small fortune, but we are one step closer to living in Aincrad, Alfheim or any other virtual world you can think of. Tell your family and friends they won’t be seeing you for a while, potentially longer if developers go on a power trip and lock you in! Now all we need is a decent Internet connection.
#9 Bionic Eye
As seen in cyberpunk
Brought to you by multiple institutions
If you’ve watched the Terminator or any number of cyberpunk anime, you’ve seen how useful a bionic eye could be. Instant zoom, target tracking, and message receiving are all built in; no need for third party accessories.
Bionic eyes are already being trialed throughout the world, including some here in Australia. Trouble is, they’re still a long way off reproducing 20/20 colour vision. Early devices could only display a couple of pixels, revealing a few squares of light when the device is turned on. Tests on the latest models have produced blurry images and ghosting of moving objects, which would make driving impossible. Hold off on the upgrade for a couple more years!
For the colour blind, there is already an alternative to seeing colour. Neil Harbisson is a human-cyborg with an implant that allows him to hear colour. Every light wave his implant detects produces a note. Colour to him is literally a symphony. Imagine going to that concert! You also get to wear a nifty antenna, the perfect conversation starter in any social circle.
#8 Mega Robots
As seen in any mech anime
Brought to you by MegaBots
Heard about Japan’s challenge to the US in a giant robot fight? Well it’s official; NASA is assisting MegaBots in building a worthy opponent. Paintball cannons, shock absorbers and a six-foot-long chainsaw will accompany the 4.5 metre tall challenger into the ring.
Of course the battle isn’t going to be as hectically paced as Evangelion. Most of the movements will be around 8-16 kilometres an hour, which is still pretty fast for a hulking machine.
If only it had thrusters and armed lasers for space warfare. Oh wait, it probably can. The US Air Force just announced combat lasers on fighter jets by the year 2020. Looks like we’re on track for fighting alien invasions. Sign up for duty today!
#7 Interactive Androids
As seen in cyberpunk
Brought to you by Osaka University, MIT
You might have heard the phrase ‘uncanny valley’ (hint: it’s not a place) to describe how close artificial creations resemble real life. Well Osaka University is set to blur the lines even further with a new interactive android called Erica.
Erica can have simple conversations and show small emotive gestures, such as blinking, head tilting and slight facial movements. The current vision is to have androids such as Erica working as receptionists in offices, greeting and directing customers.
Tie this with MIT’s new robot “Hermes” and you will have the equivalent of Sunny from I, Robot. Hermes is able to show human-like reflexes and fine motor movement, with incredible strength. This is currently achieved through a human controller, but could be powered by AI in the future.
Someone send it to MegaBots so we can create Jaegers!
#6 Crime Predictive AI
As seen in Psycho-Pass
Brought to you by JR Rail
Considering today’s smartphones have more processing power than NASA’s original moon landing computers (1300 times more powerful), it’s a wonder we don’t already have crime predictive analytics a la Watch Dogs and Psycho-Pass. But just when you thought the dystopian future of George Orwell’s 1984 was just a distant fantasy, Japan goes and proves you wrong again.
Osaka’s Kyobashi Station is playing host to a JR Rail trial to help lower drunk related train injuries. A 46 camera set up monitors the platform for passengers exhibiting drunken behaviours such as stumbling around or sitting on a bench for “extended periods of time” (and how long is that piece of thread?). The set up alerts station attendants to deal with “at risk” individuals before they can injure themselves.
Should the plan succeed, “Big Brother” may extend his reach beyond the platform. Perhaps this is the pivot point for the creation of Dominators.
As seen in Tokyo Ghoul
Brought to you by Stanford University
More fantasy than sci-fi, vampires are often portrayed as immortal beings gaining strength from human blood. Clearly this had an impact on researchers at Stanford University, who have discovered regenerative benefits in giving old mice young blood. Older mice show new neuron growth in the brain when receiving a transfusion from young mice, due to unidentified proteins in the plasma.
The study has entered human trials in the hope of extending the quality of life in older people. Whilst the elderly aren’t clawing at the windows of their grandchildren to slurp at their veins (yet), it may soon become the norm to share an artery with your Nan at family functions. This wild future does feel reminiscent of Tokyo Ghoul and general vampire lore. Best part: the US government is on board, making vampirism legal. Looks like your local blood bank is set to become the next McDonald’s for senior citizens.
#4 Bionic Limbs
As seen in sci-fi, Fullmetal Alchemist
Brought to you by DARPA
For some, the possibility to upgrade our fleshy bits for modded machines is an exciting evolutionary event. However, for others who have lost or never had legs or arms, bionic limbs represent a chance to experience what many take for granted.
DARPA has made some outstanding breakthroughs in mechanical limbs, the most recent being the ability for arm recipients to feel sensation when they grip objects.
Another exciting event in cybernetics is remote tissue stimulation. A recent trial at the University of California allowed a paraplegic man to walk 3.5 meters using a brain-to-computer setup. His thoughts were relayed wirelessly to a computer, and then back to a belt connected to the nerves in his legs, which generated a movement response. This technology is absolutely ground breaking, helping to return the critically injured to previous health. Of course these devices are years off naturalistic perfection, but we are certainly on the way.
I’m just excited to see what the Paralympic Games become in the next 20 years. Already, some bionic legs produced for athletes have been so good they were thought to disadvantage Olympians. Perhaps they can call them the Superlympics?
#3 Electronic Clothing
As seen in Psycho-Pass
Brought to you by the University of Central Florida (UCF), UC Berkeley, Intel
I get bored of my clothes too easily, but my wallet and my closet have an inverse relationship. Thanks to UCF I can have all the clothes in the world in one item.
A thin crystal display has been produced that can be shaped to any material, changing colour and pattern with a little bit of electricity. The technology works like a chameleon skin, reflecting or absorbing natural light to emit colour, instead of producing a light source like a traditional LCD screen.
Someday soon we will all be able to change clothes as easily as Akane Tsunemori, or maybe you’ll be able to get that Invisibility Cloak you’ve always wanted, which UC Berkeley are already hard at work on by the way. Their nano-film is able to hide any surface by reflecting light. An original thought in design was to hide beer guts. Instant six-pack, as long as you are standing perfectly still!
Need something a bit more flashy? Intel is stylizing dresses for pop icons such as Beyonce and Lady GaGa. Titled “Chromat” the 3D printed panels react to the performers’ heart rate, pulsing and glowing as it changes. This might get awkward when your secret crush enters the room. Not so secret anymore!
#2 Synthetic Food
As seen in Ghost in the Shell
Brought to you by Katjes, Hershey, Soylent, Beyond Meat and Breakout Labs
Have you opened your cupboard in search of food only to find crumbs slowly being carried away by ants? Just me then?
If you were to experience this, you would probably want to go out to purchase some nibbles… but what if these nibbles could be made in your home? I’m not talking healthy snacks from your veggie patch, I’m talking candy. Sweet, sweet CANDY!
With the rise of 3D printing, it was only a matter of time until companies started printing food. Berlin has just opened a café where customers can print their own sweets. The flavour and design can be customised to suit those rampant taste buds, and they’re ready to go in five minutes. Don’t worry chocolate fans; Hershey’s taking their 3D printer on tour, allowing customers to print whatever design they desire. Now you too can live out your Willy Wonka fantasies, minus the traumatising of children hopefully!
Not a sweet tooth? Science understands. With the fears of over-population and dwindling food supplies, people are already turning to alternatives. Soylent is a food replacement shake made from algae oil, molybdenum, and a whole stack of other chemicals mixed together into what resembles a McDonald’s thick shake. The inventor swears by it, drinking the replacement every meal of the day. His aim: to make food replacements so cheap, “only the rich will cook”. Let’s be honest though, the rich will probably have a chef that cooks for them.
If you’re craving meat and that shake just won’t do, there’s always a lab-grown beef patty. Made from the stem cells of cattle and backed by Bill Gates, test tube meat could be lining your shelf within the next ten years. Good news vegetarians, there are also patties made from plant proteins, but will that be enough to tempt the hardest of vegans?
#1 Cyber Brain
As seen in Psycho-Pass
Brought to you by too many to say
One of the greatest mysteries in life is the human brain. Although we have been studying it for centuries, we still know very little about it! For such a tiny piece of smoosh, it certainly packs a tonne of power.
The ultimate goal of cyborgs is to replicate the human brain, by digitizing human consciousness and power for an immortal future. But if supercomputers can barely manage the task, how are we going to fit a cyber brain inside a skull?
Japan’s K computer was able to simulate one second of brain activity in 40 minutes (What?!). The US is hoping to build an exascale supercomputer (processing 10^18 calculations per second) by 2023, which will be faster than the K (10 petaflops = 10×10^15 = YOU’RE WRINKLING MY BRAIN!). Even with all that power, it is unlikely to match our thought processes, but it will assist in modelling cures for diseases, so there’s a positive.
So will it ever happen? Potentially. Computers are getting faster, smaller and cheaper, and our knowledge of the brain and cybernetics is growing stronger. The Ohio State University has developed petri dish brains from adult skins cells, which contain 99% of the genes in a foetal brain. The hope is to use these for the laboratory testing of drugs and genetic manipulation before conducting human clinical trials. Given we have the ability to create brains, surely we can throw in a microchip?
According to neuroscientists, it may be possible to create a digital replica of a person in the next 40-50 years. An amazing story in the New York Times detailed a young woman’s battle with terminal cancer and her decision to cryogenically freeze her brain. Kim Suozzi hopes to be re-awakened when the technology to produce a digital brain becomes available. With so much research into regenerative and adaptive medicine, I hope her dream becomes a reality!
What kind of anime technology excites you the most?