The technology sector has set the bar high for itself. Unfortunately, that is also why it has, on occasion, fallen short after making spectacular promises.
Here we delve into four big technology ideas that continue to be in the works.
In the world of technology, nothing is impossible. At least, that is the perception built around the field over the last couple of decades. There are such spectacular ideas in the pipeline as a technology to ship off a million people to Mars, prosthetics with a sense of touch, the Super Maglev trains and 3D printed food.
However, despite the seemingly limitless promise of technology, the industry has not always lived up to its magnificent promises. To put this in perspective, Wired recently compiled a list of bold tech promises that are yet to see the light of day. We delve into four of them in particular.
1. Bill Gates’ Spam-Free World
Microsoft co-founder and American business magnate Bill Gates had, in 2004, proclaimed at the World Economic Forum, “Two years from now, spam will be solved.” Thirteen years later, spam very much still exists, and there is no reason to believe that we are overcoming the spam problem anytime soon.
Take the email and spam data for the month of July 2017, for instance. CISCO’s Talos, a world-class threat intelligence group, has pegged average daily spam volume for the month at 346.04 billion. Average daily legitimate email volume, on the other hand, stood at 57.60 billion. Spam accounted for 85.80 per cent of global email traffic in July. A staggering number, don’t you think?
Whatever solutions Gates had proposed to eliminate spam all those years ago are yet to bear fruit.
2. Jeff Bezos’ Drone Delivery Service
Amazon’s chief executive officer Jeff Bezos wanted to use drones to deliver products right up to customers’ doorsteps in about 30 minutes or less. Four years ago, Bezos gave the American television talk show host and journalist Charlie Rose a glimpse of the “Octocopter” after their 60 Minutes interview. Amazon “Prime Air”, he had said, would be available to customers in four to five years.
Nearly four years later, the technology still appears to be in the trial stages. The company made its first delivery by drone in Britain in December last year, but not much else has been accomplished in terms of actual regular drone delivery. The latest development on this front has been the patenting of mobile drone delivery hubs that could travel along railroads, seaways and roads. This is, of course, besides the controversial issue, recently, of the use of these drones for snooping in order to make product suggestions, essentially stalking and judging, if you will.
There continue to be some concerns around theft, liability and safety, and it remains to be seen whether Bezos will march through with the idea anyway. For now, though, the wait continues.
3. Elon Musk’s Computer-Aided Telepathy
The chief executive officer of SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk, aims to make telepathy, or communication by thought, a reality. Through his new company Neuralink Corp, Musk seeks to link the human brain with computers by implanting neurons in the brain. Physical disability, such as severe brain injuries like stroke or paralysis, Musk said, could be tackled by 2021. Full-fledged telepathy, though, has been afforded more time, at eight to 10 years from now.
And Musk is not the only one working on this technology. There is Openwater founder Mary Lou Jepsen, formerly at Facebook, X (previously Google[x]) and Intel, who says she can already tell “what words you're about to say, what images are in your head... [and] what music you're thinking of” using the magnetic resonance imaging machine, and can make telepathy possible in eight years.
Antonio Regalado, writing for MIT Technology Review, has, however, argued that “it’s not going to happen” and that “the time lines are not only wrong—they’re pure malarkey”. Proving that the brain implant will work – and a neurosurgery would have to be carried out each time – would take a very long time given the need for extraordinary evidence of safety in this case.
What Musk, and also Facebook, are promising may be a real possibility, but their intended time frame is highly likely to pass them by quickly.
4. Anthony Atala’s 3D Printed Organs
In 2011, surgeon Anthony Atala demonstrated an early-stage experiment of 3D printing a human kidney on the TED conference platform. Atala, who heads the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, said he would “someday” bridge the gap between demand and supply of organs.
But the fact is, printing organs is hard. “They need to grow slowly, generating massive networks of nerves and blood vessels,” said a Popular Science report. So Atala plans to print organ moulds instead, which pushes the actual 3D printing of organs further in time. But how long? A long way off.
“The possibility of printing an entire body, complete with functioning systems”, wrote Kristin Houser for Futurism, “is a long way off. It’s one thing to print skin, for example, but to expect it to thrive against a metal, synthetic frame or skeleton is another challenge altogether.”
3D printing and other dazzling technology ideas, some of them listed here, promise to shake up our world and introduce change for the better. For now, though, we’ll have to continue to wait, for better or for worse.