When you consider how far the human race has come in just the past 50 years, it's hard not to get a little carried away when fantasizing about what we could be seeing in the near future. There's certainly no shortage of Hollywood blockbusters that harness this imaginative creativity--in fact, I've used several of them for inspiration here. Some of the concepts on this list may seem far-fetched, while others could be just around the corner. Either way, the future of technology is an intriguing subject to mull over. In the spirit of imagination, I've laid out 10 concepts and inventions that I'd like to see in the near or distant future. (If you'd like to see larger images, head directly to the slide show .)
Flying cars: Of course this had to be at the top of the list--ever since Back to the Future II came out, we've been dreaming of the day when we could pilot our own mini aircrafts (and skateboard with just the help of an air cushion). Apparently, this scenario might not be too far into the future--a company called Moller International has already developed the Skycar , a "personal vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle." I can only imagine the number of headaches this is bound to give the FAA (and the inevitable restrictions that will result).
Uni-energy: "Uni-energy" is the term I've coined for the 100 percent clean and renewable energy to be used in all vehicles, appliances, and machines. And guess what? It already exists. Wind, running water, the sun, even manure and other biomass can all provide energy and they pretty much never run out. All that's missing is a convertible cell capable of containing this power and the ensuing compatibility of all power-hungry devices.
Teleportation: If you're a Star Trek fan, you are no doubt intimately familiar with the concept of teleportation. If not, here's the breakdown: Teleportation at its core is the instant transportation of an object (such as a person) from one point in space to another. There are variations on how teleportation is accomplished. One method is "disembodied travel," whereby the being is broken down into many smaller particles and "beamed" to another location via a futuristic machine. Another proposed method is the wormhole or space-time vacuum, where the dimension of space is "folded" so that you can step from one place to another at the given moment. Anyone who has spent any amount of unwanted time in an airport terminal no doubt appreciates the desire for this technology.
Nanotechnology: Although the term sounds familiar enough, most people don't fully comprehend the minute scale upon which nanotechnology is based. Nanotechnology defines the understanding and control of technology on a scale of about 1 to 100 nanometers--consider that a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick . You might imagine that nanotechnology is especially useful in the medical sciences, and you'd be right...progress is being made in the field as you read this. But we're still not to the point of microscopic manmade mechanisms that can recognize and destroy individual cancer cells--with no adverse side effects.
Androids: When we hear the term android, we usually think of the appropriate definition: an artificial being that resembles a human in both appearance and behavior. Two characters that immediately spring to mind are C-3PO from Star Wars and Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Humanoid robots already exist, thanks to a slew of Japanese companies--such as Honda --but these bots don't yet completely factor in the "behavior" quotient of the android equation.
Dream machine: Imagine fiddling with a few buttons on a device next to your bed and lying down to the ultrarealistic dreams of your desire? Yeah, I think it sounds pretty cool, too. Just type in the setting, characters, and subject and let the machine and your subconscious do the rest. Japanese toy maker Takara has taken a stab at this concept with the Yumemi Kobo, but it doesn't even come close to what I'm hoping to see in the future.
Smart appliances: Remember The Jetsons? Picture this: you're stuck in traffic on your way home from work, so you pick up your mobile device, punch in a series of commands and have your freezer defrost the roast on its top shelf. Even better, once it's defrosted, a little door between the freezer and the oven opens and the roast is transported via a conveyor belt to the oven to start cooking. That's what we call "smart appliances", and companies such as Samsung, Whirlpool, and LG Electronics are already working on them. More recently, Microsoft showed off a home laden with them.
Sci-fi medicine: The implications of cloning are far-reaching, and but one of them is the ability to grow replacement organs and body parts. Of course, if the moral issues are left by the wayside, things could get creepy really fast; think of the scene in The Island where they come upon rows and rows of sleeping clones whose futures are limited to organ harvesting. Ew. A better scenario: medical scientists conceive of a way to grow individual parts in a matter of days from a small tissue sample.
Space development: A prime example of this can be found in The Fifth Element, when Bruce Willis' character wins a vacation to Fhloston, a gorgeous, beach-filled planet in another galaxy, and stays in a luxury space vacation "development" (actually a gigantic spaceship). Of course, plans for manmade Biospheres on places like the moon and mars have already been in the works and practice models, such as Biosphere 2, have been built, but we're a long way off from habitable colonies in deep space.
Time Travel: Scientists currently accept that time travel into the future is possible, in that as you approach the speed of light time slows down (for the traveler), so it is possible for someone to stop aging while still technically moving ahead in time. One of other proposed methods for time travel is another variation of the wormhole mentioned for teleportation. Only instead of "folding" the dimension of space, the dimension of time would be folded, and thus the traveler would be able to move from one time to another at one point in space. But travel into the past is considered unlikely as well as paradoxically dangerous. (Remember Back to the Future? When Marty interferes with his parents meeting, he starts to fade.) Either way, we're currently lacking the necessary technology to travel in either direction.