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22 May 2017, 7:52

Modern technology – turning science fiction into science fact

Now entering my second half century of life on earth, yes people that makes me 50+, I stopped to think about how much of the really cool stuff from Dr Who, Star Trek, Fantastic Voyage, Logan’s Run, The Tomorrow People and loads of other show’s that kept me glued during the 70’s have actually made it from fiction to fact.

As it turns out there is quite a lot of stuff out there, but first of all let’s get teleportation and time travel out of the way. At this moment in time there is nothing of any note and for now these two remain fiction. If in the near future we discover the secret of time travel, I will travel back to this moment in time and amend the text of this article removing the time travel reference. As you can see it’s still here so no, time travel is still fiction, (note to self) I need to remember to remove this also.

The wonder years and beyond

The really cool advancements in my teenage years were Video recorders and Compact Disc. With these I could record the telly and play a whole album without having to turn the record over to the B side.


What’s not so cool these days are loads of video tapes and cd’s gathering dust in my loft, never to see the light of day again?

Well at least my vinyl collection is getting a second wind. Thanks to the comeback in vinyl the offspring have discovered dad’s old collection, thus giving many a good album a second airing. The Stone Roses, Bowie, The Smiths and Joy Division have never sounded so good.

Remember when turntables were works of art.

But for me, it’s the digital format that is king, although I miss the tangible interaction of a vinyl album, I could never have the amount of music and easy access to it with vinyl compared to digital.

Now I can type a lyric or play part of a song to an app and hey presto I have music, instantly when I want it. As for video’s, I have loads of tapes but no players, it’s streaming services all the way, box set binges and series links, fantastic.

Anyway back to those old shows, I remember there were always loads of tiny communication devices and small box type appliances used for measuring, viewing and analysing. Wouldn't it great to have such a device I thought to myself back in the hazy summer heatwave of 76. Fast forward a few decades and enter the smart phone, applause please, for this little gizmo is all those communication devices and portable apps in one, call, take a picture, film an event, speak, send messages, connect with other devices, browse the web, become part of IoT, download an app for medical, environmental, physical and almost anything else for that matter.

How the landing party of the USS Enterprise could have done with a Smartphone back then.

“Its life Jim but not as we know it”

We all remember the sick bay from Star Trek, this is where Bones McCoy brought so many back from the brink with futuristic medical devices which could analyse and repair many aliments without complex surgery. This leads nicely on to the technological advancements in medical science we are benefiting from today.

Now robots are helping to perform complex surgery, where the degree of control required is greater than anything that we humans can manage.

Be truthful did you ever think a robot could carry out eye operations considered too intricate for skilled surgeons, well my friends it seems we have one such robot. Not only that but this particular robot has a familiar name too, R2D2. Not the one from Star Wars but the R2D2 from Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, otherwise known as  the Robotic Retinal Dissection Device,  developed by Preceyes BV. This robot has been used by Robert MacLaren an ophthalmologist and professor at Oxford University and will be able to offer procedures that were previously considered inoperable.

 Discover more in the BBC news video below.


Source BBC News

With more development in soft robotics and bio engineering to come, it’s not unreasonable to think that the aliments suffered by us today will become conditions of yesterday. Goodness knows I need two new knees after the follies of my younger days. Hopefully it won’t be long before a CT or MRI scan is used to shape my knee joints and then pass the file to a 3D printer with reproduces an exact match to replace my damaged cartilage using materials called hydrogels.

Health monitoring is big business, in fact it’s massive and continues to grow. Wearable technology now tells us when to exercise and how much we need to do. With heart rates, blood pressure and pulse rates so conveniently easy to measure via a wrist watch, we are now constantly monitoring them all day long. Before long these little devices could be the big data gathers that document the health of the nation and make a pre-arranged Doctors appointment for the soon to be ill.

Continuing on the wearables theme, electronic skin is now being developed to monitor health, this skin is 13 times thinner than human hair and contains organic polymer light-emitting diodes that turn on and off when exposed to electrical pulses. Not only will it be able to monitor heart and blood oxygen levels, but it could potentially be used as a wearable display.  Can you imagine watching Netflix on your hand, or arm, if you want wide screen.

Image source University of Tokyo

The Human factor

Also up for consideration is how much impact modern technology is having on people. Are jobs at risk, are we really being replaced by Robots?

Well, a recent report for The Institute for Public Policy Research Scotland said that about 1.2million jobs were at risk of becoming automated within the next 13 years, this represents 46% of the current jobs market in Scotland. In China we are hearing that Sehnzhen Evenwin Precision Technology aims to reduce its workforce from 1,800 to 180. They are only one of over 500 factories from the Dongguan factory city area who are investing heavily in robots, the ultimate aim is to replace 30,000 workers.

The respected Boston Consulting Group also predicts that by 2025 a quarter of jobs could be potentially replaced by robots or smart software.

So how should we view this eventual rise of the machines, in the fashion of John Conner or by learning a little from our own history? From all the way back to the first industrial revolution of the 18th Century each advancement of technology has led to uncertainty within the labour markets. Its true many hardships have been endured, but being prepared and embracing technology rather than fighting against its eventuality, ultimately leads to a stronger position.

With technology moving forward we may need to adapt the way we approach our working lives. For people to remain employable over their working lifetime, it’s obvious that they will need to retrain, learn different skills and adapt, probably much more than previous generations have done. Governments who realise this and invest in programs to develop skills gaps and tailor education to the needs of future industry will ultimately benefit.

As our technology changes we need to consider how this can help the ever growing population of the planet, now standing at 7.5 billon people, by the way, it was 3.4 billion when I was born, so more than doubled in half a century. Ultimately I’m responsible for two of those additions.

We will need more food, more water and more power to keep us alive. Advances in medical science means we are living longer too, go to the world-population counter and you will see that births are more than double the rate of death.

It could be said that for our very existence technology needs to evolve, we will become more reliant on it than ever before. Who knows, the IoT and Industry 4.0 revolution maybe our saviours. But that's for someone 50 years from now to look back on. 

What we do know is that data is king and the outcome of this is asset management. The assets we need to manage better in future being, food, water and power, currently our school report says "could do better".

Here's to the next 50.



Favourite things are Family, Music, Judo and Game of Thrones. Also I have the ability to retain and quote useless facts, something that pleases me but can annoy others. My engineering hero - Isambard Kingdom Brunel

22 May 2017, 7:52