Humans: we’re pretty great aren’t we? Whether playing golf on the moon, building immense skyscrapers or travelling faster than the speed of sound, we love to push boundaries. However, living in The Noughties – the age of Twitter, Paris Hilton, and dress-up kits for cats (Google it) – our ambition has waned a bit. These achievements, realised this century, will restore your faith in humanity.
Scary-fast technological growth
Technology is advancing at a lightning pace – just 15 years ago you’d practically wind up your mobile with a crank to make a call. Moore’s law- originally describing the fact that computer components halved in size every 18 months- is now applied to every form of technological advance, and has held true for the last forty years, showing no sign of failing. Simply put, it states that technology gets twice as useful every 18 months. Computer hard drive capacity, mobile phone camera resolution, laptop speeds, even the total number of Wikipedia articles all obey Moore’s Law- which leads us to speculate, “Where will it all end? Surely things can’t keep advancing forever?” Well, computers are already feeling the pinch- components spaced apart by even 5cm reduce efficiency, as the speed of light itself is not fast enough to transport signals between processors without producing noticeable lag. At the current rate of acceleration, it is predicted that by 2050, our technology will approach ‘The Singularity’, where it is hypothesised that computer capability for processing- and even thought and intelligence- will surpass our own intelligence. Futurist Raymond Kurzwell says of the event, “[it will] lead to technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history”. Blimey.
The reality isn’t nearly cool as the movie where Nick Cage and John Travolta swap faces – transplanted faces don’t retain the look of the donor due to differences in the underlying musculature and bone structure, and you can forget about patients going on slow-mo shootouts upon waking – but the technology is revolutionary none the less. In March, 2008, Pascal Coler of France received the world’s first full successful face transplant to correct a condition called neurofibromatosis, while on April, 9, 2009, James Maki, a Bostonian who fell on an electrified subway rail and lost his nose, upper lips, and cheek became the 2nd recipient of the pioneering surgery in the US. There have been five face transplants to date worldwide.
Two thirds of all spacecraft destined for Mars fail before they reach their destination. This may leave faces red at NASA but the Spirit and Opportunity Rovers are their saving grace. On January 4, 2004, three weeks before its twin Opportunity landed on the other side of the planet, Spirit touched down. It’s mission – assess whether conditions on the Red Planet are conducive to life. Though on May 1, 2009, Spirit became lodged in soft soil, Opportunity continues to function as planned and is currently making its way to the 22km-wide Endeavour creator, still operating long after its 18 month predicted lifespan. Proof of aliens is pending.
There are also manned missions planned, by both Russian and American agencies, penciled in for the late 2020s. The mineral and metallurgic wealth of the planet is valued at over £10quadrillion, so expect profit- alongside simple human endeavour- to be a motivation in future explorations.
The 21st century has yet to give us flying cars and robots that do house chores, but it’s shaping up to be pretty special, isn’t it?