Climate Crisis: Rising Tides and Sinking Cities

climate_changetideWith all the population, urban sprawl, and consumption that we as a species are imposing on the planet, there are those who argue that we’ve entered a new geological era – known as the Anthropocene. It’s an age we’ve lived in since the neolithic revolution and the advent of farming, one where the human race is the dominant force shaping our planet. Since the industrial revolution, this era has been accelerating and escalating, and things are not likely to get better anytime soon.

It is because of this that we need to contemplate what the near future will look like. Consider the recent floods in the Canadian Prairies, or last year’s wildfires which raged across the American midwest. Consider the famines and shortages that led to a world food price crisis in 2007-8 which had serious political consequences, especially in the Middle East (i.e. the Arab Spring).

climate_changesandyWhen you add to this the fact that rising tides and the increased risk of storms are already effecting coastal communities in severe ways, you begin to understand just how turbulent the next few decades are likely to be. Already, incidents like Hurricane Katrina and Sandy, which rocked the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard in just the past decade, have shown just how extensive the damage can be.

Historically speaking, cities have been built in fertile river valleys and at river mouths to take advantage of fertile conditions, maritime resources and trade. Agricultural run-offs of sediment, water and nutrients created rich coastal deltas that could support greater food production. This and the good maritime and river connections for trade and transport made these ideal places to live.

Population_curve.svgBut as populations grew, rivers were tapped and diverted for irrigation, industry and canal transport. They were also trapped behind dams and reservoirs for energy and water storage, and depleted by droughts and other extractions. Meanwhile groundwater is increasingly being extracted from beneath cities, and sea levels are rising because of the run-off from the melting of glaciers and thermal expansion of the oceans.

As a result of these changes, many major cities are slowly sinking into the oceans. Our rapid industrialization over the past century has sped these processes, so that now, many urban centers face inundation by storm surges, and we stand to lose many of the most economically important parts of our planet. The loss of these cities will mean a terrible loss of life, economic fallout, and a massive refugee crisis.

Population_densityCities from Bangkok to New York have already experienced emergency flood conditions, and many more are to follow. Those most at risk include Mumbai, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Miami, Ho Chi Minh City, Calcutta, New York City, Osaka-Kibe, Alexandria and New Orleans. More than 3 billion people currently live in coastal areas at risk of global warming impacts such as rising sea levels – a number expected to rise to 6 billion by 2025.

And as was recently learned, the carbon levels in the upper atmosphere have surpassed 400 ppm (parts per million). The last time the atmosphere boasted this concentration of greenhouse gases was the Pliocene Era, a time when sea levels were as much as 60 to 80 feet higher than they current are. If sea levels rise to that level again, we can say goodbye to all these major cities, as well as any that sit on major waterways.

climate_changeshanghaiIt’s not just a matter of water rising up to swallow the coastlines, you see. As the flooding in southern Alberta and the Canadian Prairies demonstrated this week, there’s also the threat of flooding due to increased precipitation and of sewage systems backing up from increased storms and rainfall. These threats make shoring up river deltas and waterways effectively useless, since its not simply a matter of blocking the tides and rivers.

In terms of solutions, a number of major cities are investing in new sea walls, dykes and polders, or high-tide gates – like London’s Thames Barrier – to hold back high waters. In poorer places, people simply endure the problem until they are forced to abandon their homes. As the problem gets worse though, coordinated efforts to rescue people caught in flood zones will need to be mounted.

climate_changedykesAnd there are those who speculate that underwriting the damage will be a waste of time, since no government will be able to afford to compensate its citizens for the untold billions in property damage. In reality, many of these place will simply have to be abandoned as they become unlivable, and those forced out resettled to higher ground or protected communities.

At this point in any lecture on the fate of our planet, people are about ready to abandon hope and hang themselves. Hence, I should take this opportunity to point out that plans for dealing with the problem at the root – cutting our carbon footprint – are well underway. In addition to clean energy becoming more and more feasible commercially, there are also some very viable concepts for carbon capture.

These include inventions like artificial trees and ecoengineering, which will no doubt become absolutely essential in coming years. At the same time though, urban planning and architecture are beginning to embrace a number of alternative and clean technology concepts as part of their design. Not only will future buildings be designed to provide for the needs of their residents – food, water, electricity – in sustainable ways, they will also incorporate devices that can trap smog and turn it into biofuels and other useful products.

Of this, I will be saying more in the next post “Thinking, Breathing Cities of the Future”. Stay tuned!

Source: bbc.com

Environment Alert: Atmospheric CO2 Reaches Record High

airpollutionIt’s no secret that humanity, like all terrestrial organisms, has a symbiotic relationship with the Earth’s environment. And whereas the fortunes of entire civilizations and species once depended upon the natural warming and cooling cycle, for the past few centuries, human agency has an increasingly deterministic effect on this cycle. In fact, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, just 250 years ago, human industry increased the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40 percent.

And now, it seems that humanity has reached a rather ignominious and worrisome milestone. Working at the Mauna Loa Observatory, an atmospheric research facility, scientists announced Friday that for the first time in millions of years, the level of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached 400 parts per million on average over the course of a full 24-hour day. The last time there were these kinds of CO2 levels was approximately 3 million years ago, and that has many worried.

co2_levelsFor some time now, climatological scientists have warned of the dangers of reaching this limit, mainly because of the ecological effects it would have. The Kyoto Protocol, an attempt during the late-90s to curb fossil fuel emissions on behalf of the industrialized nations of world, specifically set this concentration as a target that was not to be surpassed. However, with nations such as Canada, the US and China expressing criticism or pulling out entirely, it was clear for some time that this target would not be met.

And as mentioned already, the planet has not seen these kind of CO2 levels since the Pliocene Era, a time of warmer temperatures, less polar ice, and sea levels as much as 60 to 80 feet higher than current levels. If conditions of this nature are permitted to return, the human race could be looking at some very serious problems in the near future.

trafficFor starters, much of the world’s population and heavy industry is built along coastlines. With sea levels reaching an additional 60-80 feet, several million people will be displaced over the course of the next few decades. What’s worse, inland areas that have river systems connected to the sea are likely to experience severe flooding, leading to more displacement and property damage.

Those areas that find themselves far from the coast are likely to experience the opposite effects, increased heat and dryness due to increased temperatures and the loss of cloud cover and precipitation. This in turn will result in widespread drought, wildfires, and a downturn in food production. And let’s not forget that rising temperatures also mean the spread of disease and parasites, ones that are typically confined to the tropical areas of the world.

china smog 2013 TV bldgIf any of this is starting to sound familiar, it’s because that is precisely what has been happening for the past few decades, and with increasing frequency. Record hot summers, food shortages in several parts of the world, flooding, wildfires, hurricanes, the West Nile Virus, Avian Bird Flu, Swine Flu, SARS, rising sea levels – these are all symptoms of a world where increasing output of Greenhouse Gases mean increasing temperatures and ecological effects.

But of course, before anyone feels like the situation is hopeless, this news does come with a silver lining. For one, the confirmation that we have now reached 400 ppm is likely to spur governments into greater action. Clearly, our current means are not working for us, and cannot be counted on to see us into the future. What’s more, a number of clean energy concerns are well under way, providing us with viable and cost effective alternatives.

solar_array1

The growth in solar energy in just the last few years has been staggering, and carbon capture technology has been growing by leaps and bounds. What’s more, upstarts and clean energy labs no longer need government support, though public pressure has yeilded several positive returns in that area. Even so, crowd-funding is ensuring that growth and innovation that would not be possible a few years ago is now happening, so we can expect the current rate of progress to continue here as well.

And of course, geoengineering remains a viable possibility for buying our planet some time. In addition to clean energy (putting less CO2 in the air), and carbon capture (removing the CO2 there), there are also a number of possibilities for Global Dimming – the opposite of Global Warming – to slow down the process of transformation until we can get our act together. These include evaporating oceanic water to lower sea levels and ensure more cloud cover, triggering algae blooms to metabolize more CO2, and dumping sulfur dioxide (SO2) in the air to combat the warming effect.

But in the end, nothing short of serious and immediate changes will ensure that decades and centuries from now, the ecological balance – upon which all species depend – is maintained. Regardless of whether you think of humanity as the masters or the children of this planet, it’s clear we’ve done a pretty shitty job in both capacities! It’s time for a change, or the greatest natural resource in our corner of the universe, Earth itself, is likely to die out!

Source: fastcoexist.com

Towards a Cleaner Future: The Bloom Aquatic Habitat

bloom_habitatWhen it comes to addressing Climate Change, scientists have known for some time that changing our habits is no longer enough to meet the challenge. In addition to adopting cleaner fuels and alternative energy, carbon capture – removing carbon dioxide gas from the air – will have to become an active part of our future habits. In addition to geoengineering processes, such as introducing sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere, carbon capturing technologies will likely need to be built into our very habitats.

And that’s where the Bloom comes in, an artificial coastline habitat that will also generate carbon-consuming phytoplankton. In a world characterized by rising ocean tides, shrinking coast lines, changing climates, and extreme weather, a water-based living space that can address the source of the problem seems like an ideal solution. In addition to being waterborne, the Bloom is hurricane proof, semi-submersible, and even consumes pollution.

bloom_underwaterDesigned by the French firm Sitbon, these structures are a proposal for a research station moored to the seabed with a system of cables and would both house researchers and grow carbon-dioxide absorbing phytoplankton. While it’s more of an experiment than a vision for what housing looks like in the future, their goal is to install them in the Indian Ocean as part of an attempt to monitor tsunamis and absorb carbon dioxide.

Alongside skyscrapers that utilize vertical agriculture, carbon-capturing artificial trees, and buildings that have their own solar cells and windmills, this concept is part of a growing field of designs that seeks to incorporate clean technology with modern living. In addition, for those familiar with the concept of an Arcology, this concept also calls to mind such ideas as the Lillypad City.

arcology_lillypad

In this case and others like it, the idea is building sustainable habitats that will take advantage of rising sea levels and coastlines, rather than add to the problem by proposing more urban sprawl farther inland. As the creators wrote in a recent press statement:

Bloom wishes to be a sustainable answer for rising waters by decreasing our carbon footprint while learning to live in accordance with our seas. Every factory would have its own bloom allowing it to absorb the CO2 that it created.

And even if it doesn’t pan out, funding for the design and its related technologies will lead to innovation in the wider field of sustainable architecture and clean energy. And who knows? Might make some really awesome seaborne property!

Source: fastcoexist.com

New Anthology Sample!

gliese 581Boy, its been awhile since I posted anything from my group’s anthology. But, since it is something I am committed to do doing on my site, I always feel the need to post sample updates whenever they become available. And here is the latest from one of my own contributions to the anthology (titled “Yuva”), the fourth installment to be exact. I imagine there will be two more like it before the story has reached fruition and “The Torch”, as it is called, will be complete.

Hope you all enjoy it, and I really hope people will come on out to support Yuva once it too is completed and available for purchase/download. I’m hoping to make it available in both paperbacks and ebook format, and of course, there will be promotional discounts. But that’s another day and we still need more contributors before it can happen. If you’re an indie, there are still a few spots open…

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The door slid open, admitting the faint light of the room’s nighttime bioluminescent units. Muktari stumbled in, his eyes set on the desk at the far side of the room, where his satchel and compad rested It was a bit of an effort to make it there without knocking anything over, and yet he found his way to his chair within a few minutes.

Muktari had been drunk exactly three times in his life. The first two occurred in university while studying abroad. Being in the company of some many young men who were either not members of the faith, or who had turned their backs on its more rigorous elements long ago, had sufficed to get him to indulge then. But after discovering there was little in inebriation, he had quickly put a stop to that.

The third time was tonight. After the first drink with Mazzini, he had quickly found his way back to the front where the company shuttle was awaiting him. After hopping in the back and ordering the automated driver to take him home, he had indulged heavily in the private stock that was kept in the back. There was no trace of the whiskey Mazzini had coaxed him into drinking, but he found plenty of another generic variety to sip on. No soda water was needed, as he wanted the full, punishing effect of it.

It was somewhere between the old opera house and his hotel he realized the true purpose of such poison. The use was to be found in its abuse. The infliction of pain and torture upon oneself, not to alleviate pain or worry, but to punctuate and drive it home. He had to admit, it was genius, in a bleak and sardonic sort of way.

But were human beings if not lovers of irony and masochism?

Setting his eyes on his satchel, he pulled out his compad and flexed it a few times to activate its bio cell. The light came on and the image of its welcome screen was projected into his visual field.

Meşale, he typed on the virtual keyboard, and was rewarded with a desktop. He called up all his files on his presentation and eyed them despondently. The images of the five planets arrayed from left to right suddenly seemed like a terribly lost cause, a fool’s hope that he made the unfortunate mistake of sharing with others. Running his hand over the screen, he took the entire file in hand and began drifting it towards the icon of the trash in the lower right corner. It hovered directly above the icon, darkening it… and there it waited.

He wanted so badly to destroy it all, to remove all traces of the proposal and all the difficulty such ideas was bringing him. He wanted to forget about everything that had happened in the last week, to start fresh and stop feeling like a fool who was shouting at the rain. He was so tired of staking everything – his life, his job, his reputation, his future – on gambits that got him nowhere.

Really, what made him think that Zimmerman, or anyone for that matter, would have taken it seriously? Could it have been the fact that after years of doing the same thing, over and over, that he was beginning to suspect there was no future to be had here at home? Was it that deep down inside, all empirical evidence pointed towards the same outcome and all attempts to defer or delay it seemed futile? Was it really so absurd, with all he saw happening around him on daily basis, to plan for the worst? And who could fault him for looking further, given the audacious but still limited plans for Solar Colonies?

In business school, they still taught young academics that ambition and initiative were the keys to the success. Was it so wrong to think that that still applied? Would he be calling them tomorrow and demanding that they revise the curriculum to teach conformity and affability instead?

His nerve faltered and he pulled the file away from the trash. Taking a deep breath, he did his best to get his head together and proceeded to the lavatory. Some cold water on his face, and some mineral water in his belly, and he was sure to feel better. He also needed to get out his night clothes, as they were ruffled and beginning to stink of self-pity.

The door chimed. His head snapped around in a hurry and he felt his heart leap. Between the fatigue and alcohol, he was in no shape to be startled. Sighing, he proceeded to the room’s common area and approached the front door. It chimed again…

“Who’s there?” he asked irately.

“An interested party,” came a female voice through the comm. Muktari frowned. What could possibly the meaning of this, he wondered.

When he reached the door, several possible answers came to mind. It slid open to reveal the woman from earlier, the one he had left Mazzini with at the afterparty. At the time, he had suspected her of being an industrial spy, or possibly a professional. He now suspected the former, as there was little chance she had passed on Mazzini in order to seek him out. Mazzini was not known to turn his nose up at a fine lady who would deign to ask for money before performing an act he held so dear.

“Magid Muktari?” she said.

“Yes,” he replied, putting his arm to door frame, blocking her entry. “How may I help you?”

“Actually, I was thinking it was I who could help you.”

“I’m not sure what you’re selling, but I can tell you I’m not interested.”

She smiled at that, exposing to perfectly ordered rows of white teeth. Another very impressive and pretty feature she boasted. It was little wonder she was sent out to deliver messages.

“I can assure you, I’m not here to solicit anything. I’m just here to relay a proposal.” She looked past him into the common area. “May I come in?”

Muktari looked behind him to the couch and considered his options. He could slide the door shut, leaving the lovely lady out in the corridor. Or he could invite her in, hear her out. Aside from being rude, the former option seemed downright needless seeing as how he had nothing else planned. And an offer might be just what he needed, given his prospects.

Stepping out of her way, he ushered her in and made his way over to the dispenser in the far corner of the room. “Can I offer you something? Coffee? Tea? Mineral Water? Perhaps some poison?”

“You look like you’ve had your fair share yourself,” she said, sitting on the couch and getting comfortable. Muktari shook his head, began filling two glasses with mineral water and some ice cubes.

“So… what’s so important that you chose to bother me at this late hour? Was my friend not entertaining enough for you?”

That made her smile again. He had to admit, she had a very pretty smile, and the way she was seated right now showed just enough leg to intrigue him. Perhaps it was the alcohol thinking for him. He offered her a glass and sipped from his own.

“Oh, Mazzini is quite charming. But I didn’t come to this city to enlist him. It was your presentation that I wanted to hear.”

“You mean the lecture on Oceanic Enhancement?” he said, shrugging and taking a sip from his glass. “Not my work, specifically. I merely presented the relevant findings, based on the company’s ongoing efforts.”

“Not that one,” she said. “I was referring to the one you presented to your boss, Mr. Zimmerman, less than a week ago.”

Muktari stopped in the midst of sip. He was worried he might choke. He stared over the edge of his glass for a few seconds and carefully lowered it. The lady smiled again and placed her glass down on the table in front of her.

“Ah, I see you I have your attention now. I can imagine you’re also wondering how I knew about it?”

 Muktari cleared his throat. “The thought crossed my mind.”

“Our sources are very good. And company gossip has always been a prime source of intel. One scarcely needs sources at all when people speak so freely.”

Muktari wasn’t sure how to respond. He shuffled awkwardly and cleared his throat.

“What was not being spoken of so freely was the fact that you are also scheduled to be transferred to Oslo. That information came at a price, but it was a good investment, in my employer’s opinion.”

Muktari saw where this was going now and saw an opportunity to respond.

“And who is this employer, pray tell?”

She reached into a small fold in her dress, invisible to the naked eye, and pulled out a card. She laid it down on the table carefully and slid it in his direction. Muktari snatched it up in his left hand and held it up, depressing one corner to activate the display chip within.

A small presentation video began, colorful graphics dancing around and showing a name.

Harding International, it said. Muktari’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open a few centimeters. When he looked back at the lady before him, he glared intently at her, a frown forming on his face.

“Who are you?”

Again, that smile. “Seriously, you don’t recognize me? Don’t you read the trade pages?”

He frowned harder. It was a rhetorical question largely, just about everyone was familiar with the Harding family and their holdings. And aside from the slight tan she had picked up, it was not hard to see the resemblance to her father.

“Not that ones that deal exclusively in global capital and investment,” he said firmly. “Why would your father be interested in exoplanet colonization?”

She spread her hands before her. “He likes to think he sees things in people, in ideas. It’s what built our family empire after all. And he also liked to enlist people who can do the same, who see potential in things down the road.”

She let that linger in the air for a moment, during which time, Muktari could think of nothing to say. He was hit by a wave of self-satisfaction and found he couldn’t speak. Naturally, he did his best not to show it, but knowing that a corporate headhunter was interested in his work could not help but inspire a certain sense of self-satisfaction. He had to wonder if Zimmerman had sources of his own implanted in Harding, whether or not they would get wind of this and wonder if it was an indication to start taking his proposals more seriously…

But alas, such feelings were tempered by the fact that he knew nothing about what Harding or his people had in mind here. What’s more, he knew enough not to trust any offer at face value. Regardless of how bleak his future looked with Zimmer and Associates, he still needed to proceed as if he were in a position of strength, unwilling to settle too quickly or easily.

“So what does your… father want of me?” he asked firmly. “Is this to be a matter of intellectual property, buying up and patenting an idea so it can be turned into cash once it becomes profitable?”

She didn’t smile this time. Instead, she rose to her feet and extended her hand to him.

“Nothing so crass. But if you’re interested in making your proposal again, to someone who is genuinely interested and willing to listen, then I’ll arrange a meeting?” She looked to her hand, back at Muktari. “Sound fair?”

Muktari looked at her hand as well, cautiously, and then took it in his. “Alright. I will meet with him. But no guarantees. I hear Oslo is very nice this time of year.”

“It is,” she said, smiling very broadly. He was almost dazzled by her two rows of impeccable teeth.

Top Stories of 2012

biotech_alienAs Dec. 31st fast approaches, I find myself thinking about New Years resolutions. And part of that is taking stock on what’s been accomplished in the past year. For me, one of those resolutions was to stay current and share all the new and exciting news from the field of science and tech all my followers people; to the best of my abilities, that is.

In keeping with this, I wanted to create a list of the most important developments of the last year. Many sites have produced a top 10, top 12, even a top 7, list of what they thought the most significant accomplishments were. Well, I wanted to do one of my own! Opinion varies as to what the biggest leaps and bounds were over the course of the last year, and I’ll be damned if I don’t get my say in. Lord knows I’ve spent enough time reading about them, so here’s my comprehensive list of the greatest inventions, developments and advances made during 2012.

I think you’ll all agree, the list packed with stories that are intriguing, awe-inspiring, and even a little scary! Here are the top 12, as selected by me, in alphabetical order:

3D Printing:
cartilage1As far as tech trends go, this one has been in the works for some time. However, 2012 will be remembered as the year that 3D printing truly became a reality. From tree-dimensional models to consumer products to even guns, 3D printers have been featured in the news many times over for their potential and frightening abilities.

However, one of the greatest potential uses will be in the field of artificial cartilage, organs, and even food. As the technology is refined and expands to the field of organic molecules, just about anything can and will be synthesized, leading to an era where scarcity is… well, scarce!

Bionic Implants:
mindcontrolledprostheticPerhaps the years biggest achievement came in the form of bionic prosthetics, artificial limbs which are calibrated to respond to the nerve impulses of the user. As a result, amputees, veterans and accident victims are able to receive artificial limbs that act like the real thing.

The most notable case was Zak Vawter who scaled the 103 flights of Chicago’s Willis Tower using an artificial leg. In addition, two men in Britain had their sight restored after undergoing the first ever case of retinal surgery where bionic implants were placed in their eyes.

Brain Implants:
digital-mind1In September of 2012, scientists grafted an implant onto the brain of Chimpanzee, enhancing its brain power by ten percent. This consisted of an electrode array that was attached to the cerebral cortex of several monkey subjects, researchers were able to restore and even improve their decision-making abilities.

The implications for possible therapies is far-reaching, such as with brain injuries and cognitive disorders. But additionally, it also heralds the beginning of an era where human beings will be able to enhance their intelligence, recall, and memory retention.

Commercial Space Flight:
skylonThough not yet fully realized, 2012 was a big year in terms of commercial space flight. For example, Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic announced the first successful fully-loaded “glide test” of SpaceShipTwo, the rocket craft that will be taking passengers into low orbit as soon as all the kinks are worked out of the design.

In addition, Reaction Engines announced a breakthrough with the design of their hypersonic engine, which they claim will be fitted to their proposed spaceship – the Skylon. Capable of achieving speeds of up to Mach 5, this new craft is expected to be able to take off from conventional airfields, propel itself into low orbit, and deliver supplies to the ISS and make commercial trips around the world. No telling when either company will be conducting its first real suborbital flights, but the clock is ticking down!

Curiosity Rover:
Curiosity_selfportrait
One of the years biggest announcement was the deployment of the Curiosity Rover on the Martian surface. Since it landed, the rover has provided a constant stream of scientific updates and news on the Red Planet. Though the Mars Science Team did not find the “earthshaking” proof organic molecules, it did make a number of important discoveries.

Amongst them was solid evidence that Mars was once home to large rivers and bodies of water. Furthermore, the x-ray lab on board the rover conducted studies on several rock and soil samples, determining what the chemical and mineral composition of Mars surface is.

Faster-Than-Light Travel:
alcubierre-warp-drive-overviewIn the course of speaking at the 100 Year Starship, scientists at NASA began working on the first FTL travel system ever. Long considered to be the stuff of science fiction, physicist Harold White announced that not only is the math sound, but that his team at NASA had actually started working on it.

Relying on the concept of the Alcubierre Drive, the system involves expanding and contracting space time around the ship, allowing it to move faster than the speed of light without violating the Law of Relativity.

Geo-engineering:
converted PNM file
In October, the world’s first – and illegal – act of geo-engineering took place off Canada’s West Coast. The product of a “rogue geohacker” named Russ George, who was backed by a private company, the project involved the dumping of around 100 tonnes of oron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean. This technique, known as ocean fertilization, was meant to stimulate the growth of algae which metabolize carbon and produce oxygen.

The experiment, which is in violation of two United Nations moratoria, outraged many environmental, legal, and civic groups, many of whom hail from Haida Gwaii, the traditional territory of the Haida nation, who had enlisted by George as part of a proposed “salmon enhancement project”. Though illegal and abortive, the act was the first in what may very well become a series of geoengineering efforts which will be performed the world over in order to stay the progress of Climate Change.

Google’s Project Glass:
google_glasses2012 was also the year that augmented reality became… well, a reality (oh dear, another bad pun). Back in April, Google unveiled its latest concept device for wireless and portable computing, known as Project Glass. Combining an active display matrix, a wireless internet connection and a pair of shades, Google managed to create a device that looks like something straight out of cyberpunk novel.

HIV and Flu Vaccines:
HIV-budding-ColorWhen it comes to diseases, HIV and the Flu have two things in common. Until 2012, both were considered incurable, but sometime in the near future, both could be entirely preventable. In what could be the greatest medical breakthroughs in history, 2012 saw scientists and researchers experiment with antibodies that have been known to fight off HIV and the flu, and to good effect.

In the former case, this involved using a new process known as Vectored ImmunoProphylaxis (VIP), an inversion of the traditional vaccination method, where antibodies were introduced to mice. After allowing the antibodies to reproduce, researchers at Caltec found that the mice were able to fight off large quantities of the virus. In the latter, researchers at the Friedrich-Loeffler Institute in Riems Island, Germany used a new RNA-based vaccine that appeared to be able to fight off multiple strains of flu, not just the latest mutation.

Taken together, these vaccines could bring an end to a common, but potentially deadly ailment, and signal the end of the plague of the 20th century. In addition, this could be the first in a long series of developments which effectively brings all known diseases under our control.

Medical Implants:
enhancement2012 also saw the culmination of several breakthroughs in terms of biomedical research. In addition to the world’s first medimachine, there were also breakthroughs in terms of dissolving electronics, subdermal implants that dispense drugs, and health monitoring patches.

Little wonder then that Cambridge University announced the creation of the Center for the Study of Existential Risk to evaluate future technologies, or that Human Rights Watch and Harvard University teamed up to release a report calling for the ban of “killer robots”. With all the potential for enhancement, it could be just a matter of time before non-medical enhancements are a reality.

Mind-controlled prostheses:
woman-robotic-arm_650x366Researchers at BrainGate created a brain-machine interface that allows users to control an external device with their minds. The first person to use this revolutionary new system was Cathy Hutchinson, a stroke victim who has been paralyzed from the neck down for 15 years, who used the robotic arm to drink a cup of coffee.

This news, combined with other advances in terms of bionic prostheses, could signal the end of disability as we know it. Henceforth, people with severe injuries, amputations and strokes could find themselves able to make full recoveries, albeit through the use of robotic limbs.

Self-driving cars:
googlecar2012 marked an important year as three states (California, Nevada, and Florida) made autonomous vehicles legal. Self-driving cars, once perfected and produced en masse, will help with traffic congestion and significantly reduce the chance of auto accidents through the use of GPS, radar, and other technologies.

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All in all, it’s been an exciting year. And with all that’s been accomplished, the future is certainly looking a lot more interesting and even frightening. What is clear is that predictions made for some time now are becoming realizable, including replication, a cure for all known diseases, advanced robotics, implants, cybernetics, and even post-humanism. Regardless of where one sits on these developments, be you pro, con, or neutral, I think we can all agree that it is an exciting time to be alive!

Happy New Year to all, and here’s hoping 2013 proves just as interesting, and hopefully a lot more peaceful and sound. And may we ALL find ourselves able to keep our New Years resolutions and build upon all we’ve accomplished so far. And of course, with all the potential for medical and technological enhancements that are coming, I sincerely hope we can find ways to improve ourselves on a personal level too!