When you’re walking down a typical city street these days, it’s hard not to bump into people who are so absorbed in theirsmartphones and tablet computers that they’re almost one with their gadgets, oblivious to the world around them. This burgeoning digital dependence may conjure up vaguely creepy images of the hapless citizenry in “The Matrix” movies, strapped into chairs and wired into an illusion that takes the place of reality.
But that’s taking the negative view. To neuroscientists, psychologists and researchers in the field of artificial intelligence — that is, teaching computers how to mimic and even improve upon the human thinking process — machines can be a positive influence on our lives, too. They’ve come up with the term cognitive technology to describe how electronic devices and other tools can assist and influence humans’ mental activities, such as learning, retaining and retrieving information from memory, and problem solving [source: Walker and Herrmann].
Cognitive technology encompasses not just electronic gadgets, but a range of other things that can assist human thinking, from pharmaceuticals to brain-training games. As Tel Aviv University philosophy professor Marcelo Dascal
Being a farmer is hard work. Sure, you get to spend all day outdoors, and there’s that nice supply of incredibly fresh andorganic food at your fingertips. There’s also the crack-of-dawn starting times and 14-hour days filled with hard physical labor, ripe animal manure and delicate cow udders. Fortunately, technology is making its way down on the farm. It’s also making the work of living off the land just a little bit easier.
Back in 1794, Eli Whitney secured a patent for his cotton gin, the revolutionary machine that made de-seeding balls of the fluffy, white stuff a much more efficient process. In 2014, modern inventors are increasing farming efficiency and effectiveness with everything from GPS-equipped tractors and robot milkers to hand-held gadgets that measure nitrogen levels in soil.
If you’ve ever milked a cow before, you may already know that yanking on udders isn’t much fun. It’s also a time-centered process (starting before dawn) that requires several farmhands who could be performing other tasks. With good help so hard to find, some farm owners are turning
One of the tenets of Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity is that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. Light speed is considered the universal speed limit of everything, and this is widely accepted by the scientific community. But in science, if you make a hard-and-fast rule, someone will try to disprove it, or at least find a loophole. And the speed of light is no exception.
Light, in a vacuum, travels at approximately 299,792 kilometers per second (186,282 miles per second). In September 2011, physicists working on the Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus (OPERA) created a frenzy in the scientific community when they announced that their experiments resulted in subatomic particles called neutrinos traveling from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva, Switzerland to the Gran Sasso National Laboratory near L’Aquila, Italy and arriving around 60 nanoseconds earlier than a beam of light. Ideas as to either how these neutrinos could have actually broken the speed of light, or as to what errors could have caused the impossible results, abounded. Finally, equipment issues, including a loose cable, were discovered as likely culprits, and the results were declared erroneous. So
We’ve long been fascinated by the idea of the house of the future. In 1956, MIT researchers tested plastic homes — it’d be a cinch to hose them clean, wouldn’t it? — while Goodyear researchers worked on air-bubble domiciles a few decades later. Neither one panned out, of course. But the concept of the “house of the future” wasn’t just structural. It also encompassed all of the new technology that would lie inside: video chatting instead of rotary-dial phones, robots to do our housework, and a few buttons we could push to control just about everything.
Alas, our homes still aren’t the technological wonders we’d dreamed about. But we certainly have made some advances. Think of amenities like central vacuum, in-home stereo and programmable thermostats. Not sexy enough? Then read about five truly exciting home technologies that are either available now or in development, meaning they all have a real chance of becoming commonplace.
Imagine coming home after work and pushing one button that adjusts the lighting for your entire house. The lights go on in the kitchen and living room, maybe your bedroom and select hallways, and the drapes lower throughout the house. Then the
There are always generation gaps between people born in different eras, but nothing makes them so obvious as technology. New gadgets come into being and become obsolete within just a few years. Lots of items that seem like they didn’t come out all that long ago to us adults have already evolved into unrecognizability to children who are old enough to use the latest high-tech gadgetry (which these days probably starts at 3).
At the time of this writing, 15-year-olds were born around 2000, 10-year-olds around 2005 and 5-year-olds around 2010. These kids were born during or shortly after some pretty major shifts in our tech, from hardcopy to cloud-based software, from difficult-to-access Internet to 24/7 connectivity, from pagers and cell phones to smartphones, and from desktops and laptops to mobile computing. A lot of devices have, in fact, been driven to extinction (or near extinction) by smartphone apps that replicated their functionality.
With that in mind, here are 10 bits of tech today’s adults used as youngsters, or even just a few years ago, that now seem like barely decipherable ancient relics to today’s always-wired children.
The original iPod, released in 2001, was a
People have been working on putting computing hardware into contact lensesfor years now. One breakthrough happened in 2009 when a group at the University of Washington in Seattle successfully tested a prototype that incorporated an integrated circuit, an antenna, a radio receiver and an LED into a contact lens that could receive power via RF from an external battery to light the LED. Two of the same researchers worked with Google X labs to create a prototype for a glucose-detecting smart contact lens, a project that was officially announced by the company in January 2014. So integrating other minuscule hardware — such as a tiny camera — isn’t all that far-fetched.
And it’s already in the works, at least in the patent-sphere. Several patents filed by Google in 2012 having to do with integrating computing components into contact lenses were released by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in early 2014. At least one of them, titled “Image Capture Component On Active Contact Lens,” involves embedding tiny camera hardware.
One of the inventors listed on the patent, Babak A. Parviz, worked on the both of the formerly mentioned contact projects, as well as Google Glass, which
Electronic circuits and components have come a long way since the 25-ton, 680-square-foot ENIAC supercomputer first whirred to life in 1946 [source: Jones]. But despite scientists’ amazing achievements in miniaturization, even the tiniest gadgets have been made with rigid materials — until recently [sources: Hockmuth, Yong].
In the past few years, advances in nanotechnology, materials science and manufacturing techniques have led to the development of stretchable circuits and components with the potential to be used in lifesaving medical devices, “smart” athletic clothing, solar energy technology and any number of future applications that we have yet to imagine [sources:Economist, Gaudin, Hockmuth].
Different researchers have found different ways to build stretchable electronics. Engineers at Purdue University took a relatively low-tech approach, using a basic sewing machine and conventional wire to create what they call “ultra-stretchable interconnects” capable of stretching 500 percent of their length and then back again [source: Gaudin].
Using water-soluble thread, the Purdue team stitched wire in a zigzag pattern onto a polyethylene sheet similar to the kind used for overhead projector transparencies. They then poured a rubbery material over the wire and used warm water to dissolve the thread and separate the polyethylene, leaving the wire encased in the rubbery material [source:Gaudin].