Three new technology announcements of the last few days concerning brain-computer interfaces, thinking robots based on frog DNA, and quantum computers are so extraordinary that they can’t obviously come under the moniker Fourth Industrial Revolution. Instead, the description Fifth Industrial Revolution may be a more appropriate description.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is about data, AI analysing that data and automation. I think you can throw into the mix 5G, 3D printing and advances in renewables. The technologies don't change the world so much or change us, but take something we do already and do it better. In some cases, much better.
Contrast the above with smartphones; in some respects, they have changed us. It is no exaggeration to say that our smartphone has become something akin to the extension of our brain. For better or worse, smartphones have either augmented us or lessened us.
But other technologies under development will change us even more. So profound will these changes be that the description' Fourth Industrial Technology' doesn't do them justice. They are instead examples of Fifth Industrial Revolution technologies.
Take three examples from the last few days.
Researchers at Brown University from Rhode Island, US, have been trialling "BrainGate technology."
BrainGate's objective is noble, for sure. What do they do? It says they are "focused on developing brain-computer interface (BCI) technologies to restore the communication, mobility, and independence of people with neurologic disease, injury, or limb loss."
But the researchers from Brown University have demonstrated the "first human use of a wireless transmitter capable of delivering high-bandwidth neural signals."
"People no longer need to be physically tethered to our equipment, which opens up new possibilities in terms of how the system can be used," said John Simeral, an assistant professor of engineering (research) at Brown University, a member of the BrainGate research consortium.
Leigh Hochberg, who also worked on the project, said: "This will help us to design decoding algorithms that provide for the seamless, intuitive, reliable restoration of communication and mobility for people with paralysis."
The thinking robot that uses a bit of a frog
"Did you ever hear of the frog that dreamt of becoming a king, and then became one?" sang Neil Diamond. Well, maybe the frog can dream of becoming a robot instead. Researchers at Tufts University and the University of Vermont have been looking to apply frog cells to develop biological robots.
"The biological robots arise by cellular self-organisation and do not require scaffolds or microprinting; the amphibian cells are highly amenable to surgical, genetic, chemical, and optical stimulation during the self-assembly process," state the researchers.
They continue: "We show that the xenobots can navigate aqueous environments in diverse ways, heal after damage, and show emergent group behaviours. "
They conclude: "These results introduce a platform that can be used to study many aspects of self-assembly, swarm behaviour, and synthetic bioengineering, as well as provide versatile, soft-body living machines for numerous practical applications in biomedicine and the environment."
The quantum computer
Honeywell Quantum Solutions System Model H1 has achieved a new quantum volume record of 512. (A broad measure of a quantum computer developed by IBM and which factors in, among other things, the number of qubits, errors present in the quantum operations and how connected the qubits.) This compares with a quantum volume of 64 it achieved last June.
"The System Model H1 is once again the highest-performing quantum computing system in the world," said Tony Uttley, president of Honeywell Quantum Solutions.
Honeywell says that quantum computers will transform:
- New drug design and discovery
- Accelerate development of new chemicals
- Develop new aircraft materials and military technology
- And accelerate machine learning and analysis of large data sets
Companies can avail themselves of Honeywell Quantum Solutions System Model H1 via a Cloud Subscription model, and BMW, DHL, JP Morgan Chase, and Samsung are all doing so. However, the subscriptions are currently sold out.
"In time, AI will become more powerful. It will eventually build on data, and via sophisticated computer models, help test and experiment rapidly, creating new cures and treatments for diseases. Likewise, nanotechnology will create revolutionary new medical treatments. It may also create clothes that never need washing or are virtually indestructible. Stem cell research may make it possible to produce meat, bypassing the environmentally disastrous business of rearing and then slaughtering animals. A new super material called graphene will create new, super strong and flexible products. Genome sequencing will create new revelations in medicine. CRISPR/cas9 enables the ability to edit DNA, potentially making us healthier and longer-lived, or manipulate the DNA of, say, mosquitoes so that they no longer spread malaria. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) could transform that most human of characteristics, the way we communicate, uniting us in a way that is currently impossible. Neural technologies will enhance our brains, while prosthetics and other implants may enhance our bodies.
"This revolution began with the smartphone because this was the first device to augment us, but its extreme outcomes will occur afterwards. Indeed, some of the fourth industrial revolution innovations, such as AI, will make some of the more astonishing innovations of the fifth possible. "Like Beethoven's fifth symphony, the fifth industrial revolution began strongly with the iPhone, but could, if we play it right, unite humanity, in the way Beethoven dreamed with his ninth symphony. "The fifth industrial revolution could transform us into very wise, empathetic, augmented humans, or Hom augebatur, miserator, ipsum sapiens, or Homo sapiens augmented for short, or make us as extinct as our former cousins, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis."
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