Ten more technologies which could change our lives
Inventions such as archery revolutionised hunting, with the wheel doing the same for transportation. The arch radically changed construction techniques, the loom revolutionised clothing, and printing transformed the storage and sharing of ideas. The steam engine led to industrial production, followed by the electric motor's democratisation of power. Vaccines and antibiotics profoundly altered health and medicine. The invention of the railway, automobiles, and airplanes revolutionised transport again; and the telephone, mobile communication, and the internet have made it as easy to talk to one another as if we all lived in one global village. 
Technological development continues today, at an ever-accelerating pace. Can you imagine, having invented the wheel, just to sit around after, and be like: Naaah, I’m not curious anymore. We’re good here, no need for new improvements! Fortunately, humans are not like that at all, and there is always a plethora of new things and new areas to explore.
It is increasingly important for society and policy-makers to anticipate possible game-changing innovations, to start analysing potential benefits, as well as harmful effects, early on, and to develop an appropriate response in order to maximise the good and minimise any damage.
The European Union (EU) institutions, along with national institutions in the Member States and a growing array of international and global policy institutions, are a key source of policy-making in the 21st century. EU policies affect not only the lives of over 500 million Europeans, but increasingly also global trends and developments in issues such as climate change, resource efficiency and sustainability, trade, health care, regional conflict resolution, and reduction of poverty. 
Here’s a list of 10 game-changing technologies of the future (well, they’re pretty much already here!), as identified by the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) in their publication Ten more technologies which could change our lives:
1. ELECTRIC CARS
Are we really going to entirely switch over to electric cars, and if so, how soon? There are many advantages of electric cars, including reducing air pollution and lowering CO2 emissions They are quieter, with lower maintenance cost and reduce dependence on imported energy. However, at the moment they are still rather expensive to produce, with heavy batteries, which take quite a long time to recharge.
Another factor to consider is the price of electricity too. Several Member States have introduced subsidies to help establish the market for electric vehicles, as well as younger generations seem to be shifting towards car-sharing model, and lighter, more eco-friendly solutions. What do you think will happen in the future? Would you drive an electric car yourself?
Wondering what are the latest news about electric cars in the UK? Browse through the UK Office for Low Emission Vehicles website.
2. INTELLIGENT URBAN TRANSPORT SYSTEMS
Over 70% Europeans live in cities, and that number keeps growing. We had to get used to traffic jams, noises and pollution but certainly, that is not our preferred environment – how much time do you spend commuting every day, and then how much time complaining to your friends about it? Cars might be getting more eco-friendly but that still does not remedy the extreme level of urban congestion. In order to improve our life quality we might need to rethink the way everything is organised at the moment, and transform the infrastructure, public spaces and, of course, public transport.
Buses moving 10 mph, frequent stops and red lights, as well as bus drivers selling single tickets while 50 passengers are already on-board and waiting to depart… We all know that too well, don’t we? One option could be to aim at an intelligent traffic system giving absolute priority to surface-bound public transport such as buses or trams. Traffic signals along roads employed by public transport could be programmed in such a way that buses would never have to stop for a red light, nor for cars blocking the road.  Also, who should pay for it? How about making urban transportation free and accessible to everybody, like we did with education years ago? Luxembourg is set to be the first country in the world to ever introduce free public transport, lifting all fares on trains, trams and buses.
3. MAGLEV TRANSPORTATION
Hoverboards from Back to the Future are not science fiction anymore; magnetic levitation-based transport might soon become our reality! The technology is based on the creation of opposite magnetic fields that repel each other to counteract gravity, thus elevating the magnetised objects off the ground. Maglev is applied in transport modes of all sizes, from individual hoverboards to high-capacity bullet trains. Superconductor trains are able to achieve speeds over 500 km/h by eliminating the friction of the train wagons with the railway track. They have begun commercial operations in China and South Korea, and are under construction in Japan. As much as the EU is interested in implementing them, there hasn’t been much action taken yet. The problem with introducing maglev trains lies in infrastructure – this kind of transportation needs a dedicated railways network and it is not easy or cheap to construct.
Back to the Future II
In the long run, maglev trains offer the prospect of travelling faster than conventional trains without the environmental impact of aviation (noise and pollution), linking large metropolitan areas over distances of several hundreds of kilometres. It could completely change our perception of distances and enable wider population spread. Have you ever been on a high-speed train? Can you imagine commuting like that every day?
This might come as a surprise – it doesn’t sound like a new technology, does it? Well, ladies and gentlemen, we are re-introducing good ‘ol timber! The pressure to convert more land to agricultural use, as well as centuries of using wood for shipbuilding, or as a fuel, have drastically reduced the earth's forest cover, even before climate change became an issue. At the same time, over the last few hundred years and in most parts of the world, wood has largely been replaced as a building material with concrete and steel, and as a fuel by fossil hydrocarbon sources.
These trends are turning around now: there is a lot of emphasis on reforestation (not compromising agriculture but instead, using arid areas), and wood has been recognized as a sustainable and eco-friendly construction material, as well as biomass good for fuelling technologies not able to switch to running on electricity exclusively, like maritime transport or aviation. Policy-making is an important factor here, as growing forests is a long-term process, plus energy production would make much more sense if it was relying more on local resources, reducing long-distance transportation. And hey, please plant a tree everyone – have you hear of Jadav Payeng, a man who planted a tree every day for 37 years and created a beautiful oasis? Way to go!
5. PRECISION AGRICULTURE
Precision agriculture (PA), or precision farming, is the use of technology to improve the ratio between agricultural output (usually food) and agricultural input (land, energy, water, fertilisers, pesticides etc.). It consists of using sensors to identify precisely (in space or time) the needs of crops or livestock, and then intervening in a targeted way to maximise the productivity of each plant and animal, whilst minimising any waste of resources. 
Introducing this kind of technology, we should be able to reduce the use of fertilisers and pesticides and maximise food production, so it is both more productive and more sustainable, and it can contribute to food security and safety. Automated steering systems, remote sensing and robots are amongst the new solutions.
This could trigger societal changes too, altering the perception of agriculture as a low-skill economic sector, and boosting its attractiveness to younger generations. In order for all of this to happen we would need large investments but these technologies could potentially also stop people from leaving countryside, closing the gap in development between rural and urban areas.
Want to know more about precision farming? Here’s the UK take on it, based on Harper Adams research.
- Cryptography: quantum cryptography should prevent any form of hacking, as it relies on the fundamental law that measuring a quantum system changes that system – by using such a system to transmit information, two communicating parties can find out whether someone is listening to their messages. 
- Computing: very promising and potentially game-changing technology, yet still quite far from being broadly used. Basically, toss the binary code, and imagine a bit being both “0” and “1” at the same time. I know, right?!
- Sensing: quantum sensors encompass a wide range of devices, which use quantum effects to make high-precision measurements of quantities such as time, gravity and magnetic field. Many of these devices could be commercialised within the next few years. 
- Traditional medical research involving large trials or surveys could be made cheaper and faster
- Smart devices and sensors could be collecting complete and objective data, much better than people filling in questionnaires
- Personalised health care, for example sensors collecting information and warning patients ahead of, say, a heart attack.
Interested in science and innovation? There is a great deal of interesting opportunities for young researches – here’s a few links to follow:
- Horizon. The EU Research & Innovation Magazine
- Research & Innovation
- European Commission – research and innovation
- EU Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS)
- Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions
- EURAXESS - Researchers in Motion
- European Young Researchers Award (EYRA)
- European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers
- NASA for Students
- European Space Agency
- Eurodesk Opportunities
- STEM learning UK
And even if you are not a science type, do stay up-to-date with recent developments – we should all follow new technologies and try to understand the forces driving our society.
*All the quotes come from:
Ten more technologies which could change our lives
EPRS | European Parliamentary Research Service
Author: Christian Kurrer with James Tarlton
Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA)
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