The boldest new ideas in technology may come in handy someday soon. 3D printers are already generating prosthetic limbs. Soon your home computer and phone will alert you to a plumbing leak – or someone else to the fact that you fell. And websites already accept digital currency – bitcoins – as payment; what’s more, the first bitcoin ATMs were installed last month.
We hear about these new digital innovations, but what are they and how do they work? Read on for the basics about some of tomorrow’s biggest life-changers.
The Internet of Everything
The IoE, as it’s called in business, conceives of a wrap-around, Internet-based approach to life – at home, at work and on mobile devices.
Processing power – the speed with which a computing device processes data – and the reach of wireless technology have grown to make us more connected than ever, and we are heading into an even more connected world. The Internet of Things is what it sounds like: every thing or object is connected to the Internet and through the Internet, they are connected to each other. This includes your car, your stove, your smoke alarm, even your floor. If you fall down, your floor sends a signal – and hopefully, someone comes to help you. Move forward a few years on the IoE timeline, and that might be a rescue robot.
Today, computers depend on us to press a button, swipe an icon or type a key.The IoE is a vision of life that would take actual us out of the equation.
If things move along the IoE roadmap, more homes and offices of the future will be “smart” enough to regulate their own temperatures. Buildings and machines could let us know when something needs fixing.
The possibilities of the IoE are being widely explored for aging in place technologies. Some of the ideas that are already taking shape include remote health monitoring hubs; refrigerators that communicate to someone miles away, your doctor or child for example, if you haven’t opened the refrigerator (ie: eaten) in a couple of days; voice-activated assistants that will set a reminder, turn on the oven, post a status update, turn off your lights and lock your door.
So one day, when you forget to turn off the stove before leaving the house, your house computer will take care of it for you.
Earlier this year, a Texas gun enthusiast fired the first shot from a handgun he had manufactured himself using a 3D printer.
The government has since banned the weapon, since it’s undetectable by X-ray and metal detector. But the cat, as they say, is definitely out of the bag.
Of all recent technological advances, 3D printing may have grown most rapidly, developing at supersonic speed from a weird “Star Trek“-like fantasy to an affordable tool with startling applications.
Let’s back up a bit. In the 1990s, a lab called 3D Systems figured out how to load a digital file into a machine that essentially “prints” out layer upon layer of material until a tangible object appears. By the end of that decade, medical researchers had applied the technology to create a synthetic scaffold that, coated with human cells, developed into a lab-grown bladder.
3D printers operate like inkjet printers, but instead of spitting out ink, they mostly use polymers. The kind that 3D printers use are the consistency of honey before they harden and are uniquely strong and elastic at the same time.
Some advanced printers use titanium and even gold and silver instead of polymer material. And – latest news – it’s now possible to turn your old plastic milk jugs into 3D printer filament.
In just two short decades, 3D printers have grown cheap enough for individuals and even cash-strapped public schools to buy them. You can now buy a home model on Amazon for around $1200; the way prices for new technologies drop, that figure could come down rapidly, especially after home-printer company HP introduces its model.
There are kits for personal desktop 3D printers, so artists and inventors can prototype their own jewelry, machine parts and even clothing. And already across the Internet, you can find 3D printing patterns for any number of practical objects.
That’s the real game-changer: Soon, when some of the technology’s bugs have been ironed out (principally, its slow speed), instead of going out to buy a new part for your car or a cane, you’ll just make them – at a fraction of the cost. That’s why some people say 3D printing could be a major disruptor of the global economy – the democratization of manufacturing.
You might be here to witness the second industrial revolution.
As technology makes it possible to reinvent manufacturing, it is also leading to a rethinking of another basic aspect of commerce: money.
You may have heard of bitcoins – a virtual currency unit that can be traded only online. It sounds like something out of science fiction, but it’s getting a little bit more real every day. In February, A Vegas-based company announced it was installing the first bitcoin ATMs in Seattle, WA and Austin, TX.
Bitcoins are one of the weirder developments of the Internet. They were conceived by one – or possibly more than one – anonymous programmer in 2009 as a form of encrypted currency. (Newsweek claimed to have identified bitcoin’s creator last week – but the 64-year-old man later denied having even heard of bitcoins.)
There are a limited number of possible bitcoins that can ever be traded – 21 million – and the “coins” become available incrementally. As of November 2013, only about 12 million bitcoins were in circulation.
Since they’re digital, Bitcoins aren’t minted in a traditional way. But they can be “mined” by anyone who can solve complex encryption problems. Most bitcoin miners have an army of computer hardware doing the work for them.
Like any currency, bitcoins already in circulation change in value depending upon demand. In November 2013, the value soared to $1,100 each, only to drop by 20 percent weeks later. Today, there are some 60,000 daily bitcoin transactions. And those transactions are all unregulated.
What can a bitcoin buy? So far they are accepted as currency by somewhat shady electronics websites and are the subject of black market investigations. But they can also be used for payment on legitimate sites like WordPress and Reddit and function like a Paypal account.
Investors and speculators control most bitcoins. Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss – former rivals to Mark Zuckerberg – own one percent of all the bitcoins in circulation, the biggest stake so far.
Bitcoin is already one of several virtual currencies; it seems inevitable that one of them will break through the legal and regulatory issues and become a trustworthy, people-friendly way to pay in the near future. In fact, that currency might be what is currently being called iMoney: Apple’s rumored Bitcoin.
Meanwhile, we recommend that you hang on to your dollars – or what is now being called “flat currency.”
Ready for the revolution? Let us know in the comments below.