Monday, 4 March 2013

5 signs that a cyberpunk future is closer than we think

When you think cyberpunk, you think gargantuan cities made up of towering skyscrapers and peppered with buzzing neon, huge adverts flashing across the sky. You also think human augmentation - adding technology to our bodies in order to make life easier for us. This all might sound like science fiction, but we're actually not too far from a cyberpunk future, and here's why.




Google Glass 

You've probably heard about the next big piece of tech from Skynet wannabes Google. Google Glass is essentially a voice-activated visor that can do a whole host of nifty things, including video chatting, GPS navigation and the ability to record video and take pictures. Glass is set for release in 2013, but a handful of lucky competition winners are getting the chance to grab a pair of these futuristic specs for a mere $1,500.

While we've only seen a few applications for Glass so far, you can quite easily see how it could evolve. Augmented reality will probably play a big part, allowing you to merely look at a restaurant to find reviews about it, adverts that pop up on your visor as you're walking through town a la Shadowrun, and a whole host of other uses.



Worldwide Social Connections

There's no doubt that the past ten years have seen a dramatic change in communication. When once upon a time we used to have to look someone up in a phone book and use some weird wired device to call them, now we're all connected through social media. I wake up in the morning and talk to people thousands of miles away - I see their pictures, videos and hear their voices. Events can be planned at the touch of a button and I can hang out with people over a live video feed.

Not only that, but smartphones allow us to communicate through social media while we're out and about, so we're never truly alone if we don't want to be.

Cybernetic Implants

Last year a blind man was fitted with the first cybernetic eye, allowing him to see. This year, a little boy was fitted with a robotic hand made from parts that were printed. If that sentence doesn't blow your mind then you live a more exciting live than I. But even more impressive than that, later this year the first bionic hand that will enable the user to feel sensations will be surgically attached to an Italian man.

It won't be long until this kind of surgery is cheap and cheerful, allowing people who have lost limbs in accidents to have cybernetic replacements with a nervous system. Maybe then even people without missing limbs will choose to be augmented in such ways, but that's a moral dilemma for another time.

War is Becoming Digital

The nature of battle is changing. Drones take the place of military personnel, able to manoeuvre in dangerous war zones and neutralise enemies without putting a single human soldier in harm's way (on one side, anyway).

But war is already transcending the physical world. Hackers are becoming more sophisticated, able to take down government sites and access big banks. Wikileaks finds government secrets and puts them out for everyone to see. Anonymous and other hacktivists are going above the law to serve their own brand of justice.

Global Megacorporations with Political Power

There's no getting around the fact that this is a world run by corporations. You can't turn your head without seeing a corporate brand name or hearing about them on TV. From oil magnates to tech giants, like it or not corporations are huge parts of most people's everyday lives, even if they don't know it. Governments are in bed with many of them, and others lobby for bills that could give them an advantage.

Banks are a big example of how bad the situation has become. HSBC has knowingly laundered money for cartels and terrorists, but they received the judicial equivalent of a slap on the wrist, only having to pay a fine of a few hundred million dollars, which for them is pocket change. They are too big to fail, which is a surefire way to throw the world into a dystopian cyberpunk future.

With technology getting more advanced and a rapid rate, there's no doubt that within ten more years augmented reality glasses, cybernetic implants and widespread global hacking will become more commonplace. This is no longer a world where we're all tied down to our localities, having to go buy a videotape from the store to watch a film or a CD if we want to listen to the latest band. We can stream straight to our mobile devices cheaply while talking to friends about it on the other side of the world.

The only thing that remains to be seen is whether the world will be a better place.