- 1 of 10
ExtremeTech, as you’ve hopefully noticed by now, deals primarily in bleeding edge technology and science. Technological advances are, as the French so eloquently say, our raison d’être — our reason for existing. When you spend every day reading about such magnificent and momentous breakthroughs, though, you sadly start to go a bit numb. I still remember the jubilant excitement that coursed through my veins when I wrote my first story on graphene — and now, as you read my fiftieth story on the topic, that joyful feeling of discovery is starting to be marred by pesky realism and cynicism. Can graphene really do that? That’s great, but when will I have a graphene screen in my smartphone?
The brutal truth is that bleeding edge tech and science takes a long, long time to go from theory to the lab, and often just as long to go from lab testing to commercialization. Except in some rare cases, most of the new technologies that you read about on ExtremeTech probably won’t be ready for human consumption for at least two or three years. But, and this bit is important, just because these breakthroughs might take a while to reach fruition, it does not diminish their importance. Do you think that packet-switching networks or the CMOS transistor were created in just a few weeks or months? No, they took years, and only after a critical mass of important intermediary discoveries and breakthroughs had been made. The only difference is that, back then, there were no tech blogs to report the intermediary advances — only newspapers and magazines, and they’re generally loathe to report unfinished technology that isn’t yet actionable, ready-for-consumption news.
As 2013 draws to a close, I want to highlight the year’s 10 most important tech and science firsts. The list is in no particular order, because it’s impossible to compare breakthroughs that impact wildly different domains. Some of these firsts are awesome intermediary steps towards the realization of an amazing end goal, and some are fully developed technologies that were launched this year and are already changing the world. The one common thread that weaves these 10 stories together is that they’re all incredibly significant to the future of technology and science and humankind — and remember, you read about them first on ExtremeTech.
Here we go!
1. The world’s first wireless brain-computer interface
While this list isn’t in any particular order, Brown University’s wireless BCI is my personal favorite of the year. A BCI, or brain-computer interface, is a device that feeds your brain activity into a computer, where it’s usually processed (to work out what you’re thinking) and acted upon. BCIs usually consist of a large mesh of electrodes — an electroencephalogram, EEG — which is then wired into a PC. This is great for lab-based testing, but not so useful if you want to use your BCI at home, out shopping, etc. The Brown University BCI, however, is implanted under the skin, and communicates with a nearby computer wirelessly.
For now, Brown’s BCI has only been tested in pigs and monkeys, but human subjects are next. The wireless BCI was implanted for over 13 months in pigs and monkeys without issue, and there’s no reason to believe that implantation in humans won’t be 100% successful. Once we can equip humans with wireless BCIs, we’re the only one step away from bionic, robotic, prosthetic limbs that can be naturally controlled by thoughts. Wireless BCIs would also for truly revolutionary applications in gaming, smart homes, driving, commerce — and, well, just about everything.
Next page: The first helium filled hard drive
- 1 of 10