Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Coolest Inventions of the 21st Century

Technology! Am I right? It’s a crazy thing and nobody can deny its ability to both surprise us and leave us wanting more. It seems like even the most amazing iphone apps lose their novelty in a week or two. Anybody remember laser discs?

I think this constant drive is at least partly what spurs humanity on in its quest for bigger and better inventions, and the past twelve years have been no exception. The 21st century, despite its reported recessions and hardships, has borne some of the most amazing technologies mankind has ever seen. If news anchors weren’t so busy talking about stocks, presidential candidates, and murderous teen moms, we might see more of the awesome things mankind can create. So, I’ve taken it upon myself to share with you some of the most whoa-inspiring inventions of the 21st century. Ten inventions, to be exact. I mean, what self-respecting list ever leaves the house wearing anything other than multiples of ten?

*disclaimer: I’ve purposely left out the big ones, such as facebook, youtube, and ipods. If you don’t know about them yet, it may be too late for you.

+IMPORTANT: This post is filled with hyperlinks. If you don't click on these little Easter eggs, you'll be missing out on most of the awesomeness of these awesomely awesome tools and gadgets. So do it. Click on some Easter eggs. 

10) I, Robot? More like I, Skywalker.
First on the list are a few examples of robotic prosthetics. Things have come a long way since wooden legs. In fact, here’s a fully robotic hand controlled by the residual muscles of an amputee. And if that’s not enough, let’s go ahead and put in a robotic heart while we’re at it.
The Million-Dollar Man may have to register for a name change thanks to inflation, but the idea doesn’t seem so silly now, does it?

9) Eat your heart out, Aron Ralston (not literally, of course).
So, you got your arm stuck between a rock and a hard place and you had to cut it off, but you’re really not down with setting off metal detectors for the rest of your life? No problem. We’ll just grow you a new arm. Don’t believe me? Well, here are your options: Sir Magni Yacoub can grow you a new one using harvested stem cells, Dr. Fiona Wood can spray one on using your own stem cells, or you can find a pig, cut out its bladder, and use the lining (specifically the extracellular proteins and connective tissue) to create “pixie dust,” a miracle powder that grows back even those tough to reach body parts.

8) Forget Harry Potter’s Quick-Quotes Quill.
You’re going to have to see this one for yourself. It’s a pen. It’s a recorder. It’s a computer. Imagine doing an interview, scribbling away on normal paper with your LiveScribe pen. Later, you pull out your pen and tap one of the words on the paper and BOOM, your pen starts playing the audio recording of your interviewee at the exact moment you wrote that word. Not only that, you can plug the pen in and it’ll upload everything you wrote. Check it out. It’s the closest thing to magic I’ve seen.

7) One word. Skynet.
AI (Artificial Intelligence) is the stuff of Sci-fi horror, but it gets more real every day. Want proof? Check out this relatively low-budget, public domain website that learns and evolves with every human encounter. Freaky deaky Dutch.

6) What are we supposed to do with all these empty bookshelves?
This is one everybody knows about, but few actually appreciate. It’s the digitization of information. Let’s run down the list shall we? Wikipedia killed the multi-volume, multi-million dollar industry of encyclopedias. People can carry hundreds of books in their backpacks or purses thanks to ebooks. The same goes for music and iTunes. When’s the last time you bought a CD? DVDs are only barely hanging on. Mark my words. Even blu-ray is going to fizzle out in the near future when Netflix perfects its hi-definition digital downloads. It doesn’t seem weird now, but wait until movies are projected directly into our brains. Then we’ll see who’s laughing, digitally, of course.

5) Simple, but when you think about it, ridiculously sci-fi.
Not a lot to this one, but still very reminiscent of “Minority Report.” What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of the blockbuster psycho-adventure staring Matt Damon (yes, I realize it's not really MD)? Well, never mind. Here’s a Virtual keyboard that allows you to type away at a picture of a keyboard on a table. The same technology works for pianos, drawing boards, and pretty much any other fine motor task you can think of. Take a second and think about how cool this is. Do it.

4) And speaking of getting sucked into our electronics (TRON, anyone?).
Atari came out about 35 years ago. Now our game systems project our EXACT movements into elaborate fantasy worlds, allowing us to manipulate detailed environments as if we were really there. The Wii and the xbox Kinect push the envelope of movement recognition technology, but before long, we’ll play video games using only our brainwaves. Oh wait, they already have that.

3) Seriously, how are people not more excited about life-sized RC cars?
This one needs very little introduction, but I still don’t see how people fail to appreciate the implications of a mass-produced, all-electric car. I know they’re not perfect yet, but the very idea of ANY vehicle on the road not using a drop of fossil fuel is huge. Here’s are the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Roadster for examples. Hydrogen cars are right around the corner, as soon as researchers stop getting assassinated…

2) Flubber. No, seriously.
Imagine a material as soft as putty that you can squeeze, roll, and mold, but the second you try to slam your hand down on it, it become rock hard. What would you do with such a material? Protective sports equipment? Body armor? Yeah, d3o thought of it first. Dow Corning isn’t doing too bad of a job at it, either.
1) Help, my battery ate my breakfast!
Last, but not…well, you know. A battery created by Sony that runs on, wait for it, sugar. That’s right. A hypoglycemic energy storage cell. I’m telling you, the Bio Cell is the first step toward Back to the Future's Mr. Fusion.

Oh, and one more thing. Underground Antarctic lakes. No, no one invented an underground lake. But someone discovered it, so it deserves a spot, too. Get over it. Recently, the Russians (go figure) drilled through 2.5 miles of ice and reached the pristine waters of Lake Vostok, a 160-mile-long lake that was, until February 5, 2012, completely sealed off from the outside world for somewhere around 25 million years. Anybody who doesn’t think this is amazing can go eat a sno-cone. I mean, think about what could be down there! By the way, I WILL be writing a short-story about what IS down there, so if I see a similar story written by YOU, I will hunt you down and bury you 2.5 miles below Lake Vostok.

That's it. Well, not really. That's only the tip of the Lake Vostok iceberg. But it's all I'm going to give you for free. Now get out there and find the rest of the Easter eggs without my help. Better yet, lay an egg yourself. Er, invent something. Yeah, that's what I meant.

Minority Report. Remember now?