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Technology of the future

There has been a lack of commercialized jet packs and flying cars since the passing of Y2K, but at a time when the president communicates via YouTube and 9-year-olds are creating iPhone applications, “impossible” is a word that should be used carefully. Technologies once thought possible only for Spock and Harry Potter are quickly becoming realities.

Invisibility

Invisibility sounds simple in theory – a working invisibility cloak would need to let light surround it, rather than absorbing or reflecting it, so that a human eye would see what’s behind the cloak rather than the cloak itself. However, realistically implementing this technology has proven difficult.

Though invisibility in the light spectrum visible to humans has not been successful in experiments, scientists have been able to achieve it in other ranges.

In October 2006, scientists at Duke University took a huge step forward in the magical art of disappearance. Though their creation was not as flawless or fluid as Harry Potter’s magical garment, they had created the first working “invisibility cloak.”

The cloak works by deflecting microwave beams to give the illusion that nothing is there – something that could be useful for military technology designed to hide objects from radars.

Duke scientists have been working to perfect the technology so that, in time, it can be made to distort infrared and visible light – making 3-D objects visible to the human eye vanish.

They are not alone – electrical engineers from BAE Systems in Washington, D.C. are working on a new design using simpler materials, according to a press release in Dataweek magazine.

Those impatient to sneak into the girls’ locker room unnoticed, however, will have to wait 30 years for a perfected cloak, according to a prediction in New Scientist.


Teleportation

While Scotty isn’t beaming anyone around the country just yet, a breakthrough has been made in the field of quantum information processing.

On Jan. 23, scientists at the University of Maryland’s Joint Quantum Institute announced that they had successfully teleported quantum information between two atoms placed one meter apart.

While this doesn’t sound very impressive, it is an important first step. It marks the first time information has been transferred outside of an atom at such an extensive distance. According to Science magazine, the scientists said the information is recovered perfectly 90 percent of the time, and they hope to improve the figure.

This experiment has the potential to be recreated at a larger level with the help of a quantum computer, but there are ethical complications when it comes to humans.

Theoretically, teleportation only works with quantum information. Because of this, a person would have to be broken down into data and “rebuilt” at a quantum receiver – an event some say would be like dying and being brought back to life.

Teleporting home for dinner is one step closer but will only be possible after much more research and many ethical debates.

Holograms

Video chat may soon be a dated idea. If hologram technology is commercialized, phone calls will be able to be made “in person.”

Holograms aren’t a new idea, and neither is the technology. Groups such as the Air Force and several companies including Chrysler and Siemens Medical use large-scale holograms to present future developments and products.

In January 2008, Prince Charles gave a speech in Abu Dhabi as a 3-D hologram, and Madonna beamed into the 2006 Grammy’s.

However, these holograms – like the message Leia sent to Luke Skywalker – were all prerecorded projections. Hologram companies have been seeking to create live projections that can interact with their audiences, something that would be useful for talking, teaching and reaching out to other countries.

This goal was met in June when Musion, a London company that owns the patents to the 3-D technology it uses, not only projected a successful live hologram presentation but projected it overseas. The speaker from London appeared on a stage in Orlando and, according to itpro.co.uk, was so lifelike that audience members had a hard time discerning the projection from a real person.

It is only a matter of time before this technology reaches the consumer market – an estimated five years, according to a Telegraph interview with Ian O’Connell, the director of Musion. Once a higher broadband speed is available for home computers, hologram possibilities will likely be endless.