Do you ever feel like the non-stop march of technology is going to leave you behind if you don’t read about the latest technological happenings every day? You’re not alone; it’s very clear that technology is advancing more quickly than ever. It took humanity thousands of years to do something as simple as adding barbs to flint arrowheads. These days, though, it only takes a decade or two to advance from having a simple flip phone to carrying a supercomputer in your pocket – and things are only advancing more quickly as time goes by. Sometimes, it almost feels like a new technology can go from being just an idea to becoming a product you can actually buy within the span of a year.
So, what are some of the craziest new technologies of 2021 that you might have missed if you weren’t paying close attention? Here are just a few examples.
It would be hard to find any industry in the world that’s more universally reviled than the tobacco industry. Cigarettes, after all, must be the only products that are completely legal to buy despite the fact that they kill the majority of their users. Until recently, the problem was made even worse by the fact that the tobacco industry provided both the problem and the solution.
If you wanted to quit smoking, you’d buy an alternative form of nicotine. You might use traditional nicotine replacement products like gums or lozenges, or you might take advantage of a newer technology like vaping. Either way, though, you’d still be supporting the tobacco industry in a way because all nicotine replacement products used nicotine extracted from tobacco.
Today, though, laboratories have found ways to synthesize nicotine from scratch and to extract it from non-tobacco plants such as eggplant – and these new forms of nicotine are being used for a variety of alternative nicotine products ranging from oral pouches to synthetic nicotine vape juice. Although there’s no evidence at this time that synthetic nicotine has any health benefits compared to tobacco-extracted nicotine, it’s still good to know that people finally have a way to quit smoking without continuing to line the tobacco industry’s pockets.
Robots for Every Conceivable Purpose
Robots, on their own, aren’t exactly a crazy new technology. We’ve been using robots for decades, in fact, to perform menial tasks such as cleaning floors, welding car parts and sorting mail. Two technologies, however, have converged to help make robotics a completely different field in 2021 and beyond. The first of those technologies is modern lithium-ion battery technology, which enables robots to become mobile and to stay mobile for hours between charging sessions. Until recently, robots would have to remain connected to power if it was necessary for them to perform tasks all day.
Artificial intelligence is the second technology that has helped robots become more useful than ever. By defining a set of behavioral rules in software – and by using collected data to continually improve those rules – you can program a robot to perform some fairly complex tasks and to become better at performing those tasks the longer it remains in service.
One of the reasons why robots have made such great technological strides over the past year is because businesses, hospitals, municipal offices and other organizations are looking for ways to do their work while minimizing person-to-person contact because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Imagine, for example, replacing a human desk attendant at a local DMV office with a self-service kiosk that’s able to renew car registrations, transfer titles and update drivers’ licenses automatically. Imagine having a hospital waiting room with a roving robot that checks patients’ temperatures and can instantly identify potential risks for transmitting the virus. Robots are already performing those services in many cities today.
Automatic Flying Taxis
It’s been two decades since Star Trek’s Avery Brooks complained about the lack of flying cars in a famous commercial for IBM – and while it’s true that we still don’t have flying cars in 2021, we’re still inching closer all the time.
One of the craziest technological concepts unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2021 was a Cadillac-branded autonomous flying taxi from General Motors. The long-term vision here is that you could essentially use something like a mobile app to hail a taxi and have it fly directly to you for pickup. You’d then tell the taxi where you want to go, and it would fly you straight to your destination while bypassing all of the land-based traffic on the way.
Believe it or not, battery-powered aviation is a technology that’s already here and rapidly getting to the point at which it’ll become commercially viable. Self-driving vehicles and drones already exist as well. It’s technically possible to build an automatic flying taxi today. With that being said, though, it’s likely to be a while before this becomes a technology that’s actually available to consumers. Manufacturers will first have to prove that it’s completely safe, and that’s not going to happen overnight.
Do you remember the scene in the film Minority Report when Tom Cruise’s character walks by The Gap, has his eyes scanned and begins to see personalized advertisements? We’ve already reached the point at which this technology has essentially become a reality, but it’s not your eyes that are telling advertisers who and where you are – it’s your phone.
Companies are long past the point of advertising just within geographical regions and broad demographic groups. They want to know what you are interested in buying, and they want to send an advertisement to you precisely when you’re ready to buy. Free services like Facebook track as many of your online activities as possible, and the same is true of many of the mobile apps you install. Even something as simple as a free game can often access your browsing history, your search history, your contacts and more.
Your web browsing and buying habits have created a mountain of data about you, and advertisers are willing to pay a huge amount of money for that data. That’s why services like Facebook are so profitable. Social networks are essentially the world’s most effective advertising brokers because they know what you like – and since you carry your phone everywhere, advertisements can follow you everywhere.
The next time you see an alert about grabbing a tasty latte when you just happen to be around the corner from Starbucks, it’s not just an uncanny coincidence – it’s a planned event that happened because your history suggested you’d be likely to respond to the ad. You’ll even confirm that the advertiser’s suspicions were correct by paying with your phone. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is definitely open to debate, but omnipresent personalized advertising is not going away.