The Wonders of Technology

The ppl over at lifeboat foundation are totally awesome. Not only for their beautiful webdesign, but because their content is super interesting.They’ve done a list on 10 materials to watch for in the (+/-)future. Can you imagine diamonds used as building materials? How about floating cities made from a foamed-up titanium/aluminum mixture? I’d actually love to hear your imaginings of a world with diamond buildings and floating cities – leave a comment if your imagination runs wild.

Special Report

10 Futuristic Materials

by Lifeboat Foundation Scientific Advisory Board member Michael Anissimov.

1. Aerogel

Aerogel protecting crayons from a blowtorch.

This tiny block of transparent aerogel is supporting a brick weighing 2.5 kg. The aerogel’s density is 0.1 g/cm3.
Aerogel holds 15 entries in the Guinness Book of Records, more than any other material. Sometimes called “frozen smoke”, aerogel is made by the supercritical drying of liquid gels of alumina, chromia, tin oxide, or carbon. It’s 99.8% empty space, which makes it look semi-transparent. Aerogel is a fantastic insulator — if you had a shield of aerogel, you could easily defend yourself from a flamethrower. It stops cold, it stops heat. You could build a warm dome on the Moon. Aerogels have unbelievable surface area in their internal fractal structures — cubes of aerogel just an inch on a side may have an internal surface area equivalent to a football field. Despite its low density, aerogel has been looked into as a component of military armor because of its insulating properties.

2. Carbon nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes are long chains of carbon held together by the strongest bond in all chemistry, the sacred sp2 bond, even stronger than the sp3 bonds that hold together diamond. Carbon nanotubes have numerous remarkable physical properties, including ballistic electron transport (making them ideal for electronics) and so much tensile strength that they are the only substance that could be used to build a space elevator. The specific strength of carbon nanotubes is 48,000 kN·m/kg, the best of known materials, compared to high-carbon steel’s 154 kN·/kg. That’s 300 times stronger than steel. You could build towers hundreds of kilometers high with it.

3. Metamaterials

“Metamaterial” refers to any material that gains its properties from structure rather than composition. Metamaterials have been used to create microwave invisibility cloaks, 2D invisibility cloaks, and materials with other unusual optical properties. Mother-of-pearl gets its rainbow color from metamaterials of biological origin. Some metamaterials have a negative refractive index, an optical property that may be used to create “Superlenses” which resolve features smaller than the wavelength of light used to image them! This technology is called subwavelength imaging. Metamaterials would used in phased array optics, a technology that could render perfect holograms on a 2D display. These holograms would be so perfect that you could be standing 6 inches from the screen, looking into the “distance” with binoculars, and not even notice it’s a hologram.

4. Bulk diamond

We’re starting to lay down thick layers of diamond in CVD machines, hinting towards a future of bulk diamond machinery. Diamond is an ideal construction material — it’s immensely strong, light, made out of the widely available element carbon, nearly complete thermal conductivity, and has among the highest melting and boiling points of all materials. By introducing trace impurities, you can make a diamond practically any color you want. Imagine a jet, with hundreds of thousands of moving parts made of fine-tuned diamond machinery. Such a craft would be more powerful than today’s best fighter planes in the way an F-22 is better than the Red Baron’s Fokker Dr.1.

5. Bulk fullerenes

Diamonds may be strong, but aggregated diamond nanorods (what I call amorphous fullerene) are stronger. Amorphous fullerene has a isothermal bulk modulus of 491 gigapascals (GPa), compared to diamond’s 442 GPa. As we see in the image, the nanoscale structure of the fullerene gives it a beautiful iridescent appearance. Fullerenes can be made substantially stronger than diamond, but for greater energy cost. After a “Diamond Age” we may eventually transition to a “Fullerene Age” as our technology gets even more sophisticated.


6. Amorphous metal

Amorphous metals, also called metallic glasses, consist of metal with a disordered atomic structure. They can be twice as strong as steel. Because of their disordered structure, they can disperse impact energy more effectively than a metal crystal, which has points of weakness. Amorphous metals are made by quickly cooling molten metal before it has a chance to align itself in a crystal pattern. Amorphous metals may the military’s next generation of armor, before they adopt diamondoid armor in mid-century. On the green side of things, amorphous metals have electronic properties that improve the efficiency of power grids by as much as 40%, saving us thousands of tons of fossil fuel emissions.

7. Superalloys

A superalloy is a generic term for a metal that can operate at very high temperatures, up to about 2000 °F (1100 °C). They are popular for use in the superhot turbine areas of jet engines. They are used for more advanced oxygen-breathing designs, such as the ramjet and scramjet. When we’re flying through the sky in hypersonic craft, we’ll have superalloys to thank for it.

8. Metal foam

Metal foam is what you get when you add a foaming agent, powdered titanium hydride, to molten aluminum, then let it cool. The result is a very strong substance that is relatively light, with 75–95% empty space. Because of its favorable strength-to-weight ratio, metal foams have been proposed as a construction material for space colonies. Some metal forms are so light that they float on water, which would make them excellent for building floating cities, like those analyzed by Marshall T. Savage in one of my favorite books, The Millennial Project.


9. Transparent alumina

Transparent alumina is three times stronger than steel and transparent. The number of applications for this are huge. Imagine an entire skyscraper or arcology made largely of transparent steel. The skylines of the future could look more like a series of floating black dots (opaque private rooms) rather than the monoliths of today. A huge space station made of transparent alumina could cruise in low Earth orbit without being a creepy black dot when it passes overhead. And hey… transparent swords!


10. E-textiles

If you meet up and talk to me in 2020, I’ll likely be covered in electronic textiles. Why carry some electronic gadget you can easily lose when we can just wear our computers? We’ll develop clothing that can constantly project the video of our choosing (unless it turns out being so annoying that we ban it). Imagine wearing a robe covered in a display that actually projects the night sky in realtime. Imagine talking to people over the “phone” just by making a hand gesture and activating electronics in your lapel, then merely thinking about what you want to say (thought-to-speech interfaces). The possibilities of e-textiles are limitless.

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The Hybrid Age

Machines will be embedded within us in hybrid age: Ayesha Khanna, Hybrid Reality Institute

Rituparna Chatterjee, ET Bureau Mar 6, 2012, 07.11AM IST
In this interview, Ayesha Khanna shows us the emergence of the Hybrid Age, its technologies, and their integration into daily life cyborg-fashion.

Ayesha Khanna is the founder and director of the Hybrid Reality Institute , a unique research and advisory group focused on the co-evolution of humans and technology. She is a Faculty Advisor at Singularity University (a university in Silicon Valley focused on a future when machines outsmart humans), on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Lifeboat Foundation (an NGO helping humanity survive existential risks of powerful technologies) and directs the Future Cities group at the London School of Economics. Khanna discusses the Hybrid Age — on which TED will be bringing out her book in June — with ET in San Francisco. Excerpts

Technology has been around since man invented the wheel, if not earlier. What is new in the Hybrid Age? And when did this Age begin?

Yes, technology has been around since the Stone Age and more recently through the Information Age wherein large amounts of information are produced on mobile devices and computers. Each time technology has changed, our lives have changed as well. We still tend to think that we are in the Information Age. But we are at the frontier of the Information Age and are now entering the Hybrid Age, an era of humanmachine interdependence.

This is primarily because of the integration and the convergence of different kinds of technologies such as big data, computing power, and regenerative medicine. In the Hybrid Age, machines will be all around us and embedded in our lives. They will be on everything from our clothes to our skin.

We have never been surrounded by so much technology ever before! Responsive environments around us will respond to each of us intelligently because they will know us. For instance, your car will know you and automatically take you to your kids’ school, putting on music and temperature of your preference.

Can you give specific scenarios of life in the Hybrid Age and where it will take us?

The multiple biometric devices — measuring our blood pressure, heart rate, sleep patterns — that are beginning to take over, are just the first step. Soon we could have sensor-enabled biomedical pills that we swallow and which send us emails. Human machine integrations will be so deep that we will become like cyborgs — beings that are both biological and artificial.

We will have all of these bionic implants that will help us lead long lives and drastically improve the capacities of a normal human being. We will be able to live until 150 years or more. So, not only will our environment become hybrid — with smart transport, smart cities and self-driving cars. — but we ourselves are moving towards that direction. Second, all of these machines around us will become more intelligent. They will look for patterns which will help us lead better lives.

The iPhone’s voice assistant Siri is a good early example of this. Technology will also get increasingly social which is new because for the first time, with virtual avatars , we will see artificial intelligence that will start to mimic human emotions. And we will build emotional relationships because we are hardwired as human beings to feel empathy. The embedding of machines into us will happen in a way that will seem very natural to us.

What are the social, economic and political implications of this?

The Hybrid Age is being led by elites. Certain technologies are very expensive and give people undue advantages. Cognitive enhancers are a good example and are already being used by soldiers and being further developed in academia. The question is whether such elitist technologies will increase socio-economic divides? Or will it increase the numbers of the stagnating middle class in the West? The internet of things and smart cities will be the next big tech wave after the current social media boom that we are going through right now.

As with PayPal and Square, we will see a lot more of peer-to-peer payments as well as various kinds of currencies. It will be all about the soft architecture of space, all of which will be an intelligent, highlypersonalised environment. The ability to compute, things to be stored in the cloud, analysing that data in the cloud will impact transport, parking, housing, food, education and pretty much every aspect in a city. So much so that in 50 years, large parts of economies could be automated and provide jobs and education as needed.

Economic Times Article