Disruptive Technology Mash-up!
Back in the mid 90’s I started to play a computer game called Alpha Centauri by Sid Meier. A turn based strategy game that evolved from the original Civilisation game.
Alpha Centauri was similar but different in that this game had a significant technology theme. In this game there was the concept of the ‘Technology Tree’. Through research and development activities you could continuously discover new technologies based on a combination of previous discoveries. Out of interest, another game that I played for a number of years, Eve Online, also has a similar approach to R&D.
Suffice it to say that this post is built on the very same theme. I’ve taken the disruptive technologies from my previous two posts (My Top 10 Disruptive Technologies & 5 More Disruptive Technologies) as the starting point. Through a bit of a technology Mash-up I’ve come up with 3 interesting technology combinations!
By the way, this post is not intended to predict the future. It is merely designed to stimulate your imagination. It is asking you to think about the possibilities and potential outcomes of the technologies that we are actively developing today. Here goes..
1. DRONE – FUSION – AI
Imagine the near future with intelligent fusion powered drones!
One of the limitations of current drone technology is the power source. Drones need to be light weight and that puts a restriction of the size of the lithium-ion batteries used, which in turn restricts the flight time of your drone. With the introduction of a fusion power source drones will be able to fly almost indefinitely. This will be a real game changer for drones. Surveillance drones will be able to hover high in the sky for weeks before they are rotated out for maintenance checks. Military drones will fight continuously in the battlefield until they are destroyed or compromised and salvaged. Amazon will be able to deliver small to medium sized parcels all day and all night, week in and week out.
The next part of the equation is Artificial Intelligence (AI). A drone that can run almost indefinitely is really going to benefit from having a brain of its own. Surveillance drones will be able to intelligently adjust position to gain a better viewing angle or to focus in on a suspected incident. Military drones will work together to engage a hostile target, will know the difference between friend and foe and will be able to build a campaign of their own with minimal to no human intervention. Worker drones will be able to analyse the job in hand, consider the correct tools for the job and overcome complications or unexpected issues.
There are of course some negative scenarios that we should consider, even if very briefly. What if our intelligent fusion powered drone decides that it doesn’t like working for humans any more? With its powerful intelligence, its ability to communicate with other drones and an almost infinite power source drones could become very disruptive indeed!
2. Fusion – Space – Bio – Robot
This combination is interesting. It opens up the possibility of terraforming planets, spreading human DNA throughout the galaxy and of collecting DNA from other planets!
Firstly we have a fusion powered rocket that will be able to take it’s time. It will be in no hurry as it does not have any human passengers. It can stop off at planets of interest along its way, either within our solar system or beyond.
Secondly it will have a biological cargo, stored cryogenically, that it can access and modify according to the planet of interest. Let us imagine that our fusion powered spacecraft’s first destination is Mars. A modified form of lichens, genetically engineered for sub-zero conditions, with a particular appetite for carbon dioxide could be quite a useful addition to Mars. Our spacecraft could drop a few cargo loads of this stuff off onto the planet as part of a coordinated terraforming program.
Finally our spacecraft has a range of autonomous robots, programmed with a number of prime directives for terraforming and / or exploration and sample collection. These robots would vary in nature and form. Some would be ship bound, maintaining the ship and its systems. Others would be dedicated to laboratory work, focused on maintaining a healthy population of the bio cargo hold and creating new genetic modifications as per mission parameters. Finally there would be observation and sample collection robots dedicated to landing on planets.
The real scenario where this gets a little exciting is when the bio cargo contains human DNA. You can imagine a scenario where an automated, fusion powered spacecraft that is totally operated by robots could traverse the galaxy to our nearest star with earth like planets. It may take several hundred years to do so but on its arrival the autonomous systems could ‘grow’ a small population of humans, animals and plants from the bio cargo hold. The autonomous robots could care for and then educate our new colony of humans in preparation for the creation of earth’s first stellar outpost.
As a combination of technologies this one has the greatest potential for prolonging the life of the planet earth beyond its due by date. There are a number of potential outcomes for life on planet earth, the majority of which are not particularly positive! This technology set gives us the real opportunity for populating the stars and for ensuring the survival of the human race.
The level of technology needed for the scenarios described here do not yet exist but it is possible that within the next 10-20 years they will. Pulling them together into the right combination will take an even longer period of time. However, at the current rate of discovery and innovation it’s highly possible that we will be doing just this kind of thing within the next 100-150 years.
2. Robot – 3D Printing – AI
Imagine a future where huge warehouses are filled with robotic 3D printers that are managed by sentient systems that are pre-empting the demand of the population and building the things that we need before we even know we need them!
Or how about huge 3D printers that are governed by AI that can print bricks, build houses or construct apartment blocks!
Both of these scenarios and others could become a reality when you combine these technologies together.
In the first scenario you can imagine a huge warehouse full of 3D printers of various types printing a range of components from plastic, metal, ceramics, clothing etc. As the components are printed the robots will assemble them into finished products, ready for shipping via our fusion powered drones perhaps?!
The key part of this equation, as is so often the case, is the introduction of AI. The AI will monitor current consumption trends, forecast future consumption, analyse weather patterns and look at fashion trends etc. Based on its conclusion it will ensure that the factory is producing products that will have the highest probability of meeting demand, maximising sales, revenue and profitability.
In the second scenario our portable 3D Printing factory will produce custom designed bricks, beams, tiles etc. They will be designed to interconnect and will have service ducts built in from the ground up. As the bricks and other building components roll off the production line a range of robots will assemble the components into a house, an office block or apartments. Everything will be done on site, only raw materials will be transported to the building site.
In fact, if you make your 3D Printer big enough it could just print the whole house in one go! Imagine a building site with lots of big 3D printers printing and assembling houses in a number of weeks. Roads and street fittings could all be printed.
So there you have it! My sample mash-up of some of the disruptive technologies of the near future that are being built today. I don’t claim to be able to predict the future but it sure can be fun trying. There are lots of different combinations to choose from, so why not give it a go. You may even hit ‘gold’ with the right combination!