Welcome to the Future!


Written by Barney Cox
10 Monday 10th December 2012


Stratosphere Scraper

Thankfully, we're not quite at this stage yet.

Science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson, author of critically acclaimed novel Snow Crash, had a fantastic idea: the construction of a 20km tall steel tower. It would have multiple purposes, allowing for meteorologists to observe weather patterns, for planes to dock, and as a launch pad for space rockets (which would save massive amounts of fuel). In a perfect example of how science-fiction and science fact now crossover, he’s teamed up with structural engineer Keith Hjelmstad to figure out how to build the stratosphere scraper for real so, watch this space (sorry, we couldn't help it)!


Bionic Exoskeletons

This invention is straight out of the pages of a science-fiction novel - at a TED conference last year, Eythor Bender, CEO of Berkley Bionics, introduced what he called ‘the true integration of man and machine.’ 30% of American soldiers suffer chronic back pain due to the crippling weight of the equipment they have to carry across harsh and punishing terrain. This robotic exoskeleton provides additional strength and support while adapting to movement allowing the wearer maximum agility and flexibility. Won't Iron Man mind you stealing his ideas, Eythor? 

Particularly exciting is the exoskeleton's potential to help people suffering from paralysis or physical disabilities. Amanda Boxell suffered a horrendous skiing accident 19 years ago which left her paralysed from the waist down, she was told by doctors she’d never walk again. Wearing one of Berkley’s prototypes, however, that’s exactly what she does, and walks on stage giggling with glee.


Cloning Extinct Species

A perfectly preserved baby mammoth, found by a Siberian reindeer-herder in 2007.

We don’t know about you, but since reading this article our dreams of a real-life Jurassic Park have been shattered - we won't be riding to work on a triceratops any time soon. However, the discovery that, in January 2011, a team of scientists from Kyoto University announced they had extracted DNA from a preserved mammoth carcass perked us up a little. They plan to insert it directly into the egg cells of an African elephant and have promised the birth of a baby mammoth within six years!

Just chillin': the Pyrenean ibex has been extinct for 13 years.

The woolly mammoth isn’t the only animal to be resurrected by modern science. In 2009, scientists successfully cloned the Pyrenean ibex, a wild goat which became extinct in 2000. The clone died due to lung malformations, but the project’s success proved that bringing extinct species back to life is well within the realms of possibility.


The Pain Ray

The pain ray rifle prototype.

Developed by the U.S. military, this piece of high-tech weaponry can cause immense pain to its targets by emitting high-powered waves similar to that of a normal microwave oven. Formally called the ‘Active Denial System’ (which sounds like a feasible title for my autobiography), there are talks of the radar being developed into rifle form. It doesn’t get any more dystopian than this!


Zombie Gun

Look, it works.

Oh wait, it does! Recently, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s charming and warm-hearted dictator – sorry, President – admitted that his government had developed a gun that targeted its victim’s nervous system with electromagnetic radiation. The resulting short-circuit in the brain renders the victim in a zombie-like trance. The weapon was originally engineered as a means of crowd-control, but, not exactly famous for their openness, the Russian government haven’t released any more information. Stay strong, Pussy Riot!


Living Forever

Cynthia Kenyon explaining the findings in Edinburgh last year.

Right from the dawn of civilization, humanity has always searched for a way to stay younger for longer. But no matter how hard some people tried (we’re looking at you Countess Báthory), all were unable to prevent the inevitable - that is, until now. Biochemists have been studying animals to determine why some live longer than others, they discovered that the daf-2 gene plays an essential part in aging and the development of age-related diseases. So, what would happen if they created mutant animals whose daf-2 genes were deficient?

Feeling pretty: a C. elegan worm under an electronic microscope.

They chose to experiment on these little critters - the C. elegan worm, roughly the size of a comma (,) and they only live for around 30 days. The results were astonishing: the mutant worms whose daf-2s had been targeted lived twice as long as their natural cousins, with no sign of any kind of impairment or defect. The scientist did the same with flies and mice, and the results were the same, meaning that animals have the latent potential to live much longer than their natural life span. With drugs being formulated for humans, perhaps immortality isn’t so much of a pipe-dream after all!

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