6 Superpowers Scientists Are Trying To Give Us
Science has given us amazing things, from modern medicine to The Clapper. If those leaps in technology wowed you, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Researchers across the world are revealing their collective inner nerd by pouring their efforts into the kind of advancements that will make all your comic book dreams a reality sooner than you think. Check 'em out.
1. We're building real-life Iron Man suits
Weapons technology is finally catching up with comic books. Whether or not that's a good thing is unclear.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is no stranger to turning sci-fi into reality. Just check out their Warrior Web project, which aims to combine new technologies into a wearable exo-skeleton that will enhance the natural abilities of American soldiers. There's also the Human Universal Load Carrier that will give its wearer the super strength needed to carry heavy loads without breaking a sweat. Arizona State University has something called Air Legs Version 2, that can turn regular dudes into really fast runners. Project TALOS, which one government official expects to be in use as soon as 2018, will be a bulletproof suit with onboard weapons, as well as features which will grant soldiers "superhuman strength and perception."
But, don't be too impressed. Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave!
2. Electricity may unlock the key to superintelligence
Being a nerd might not have benefited you during childhood, but in the adult world, superintelligence can be the power that grants you fame, fortune, and a sweet Silicon Valley job.
And science may be able to deliver it one day. Transcranial direct current stimulation is not merely what you name your band if you won the Scripps National Spelling Bee; it's a method of delivering small electric shocks to the brain, which have the effect of boosting its power. DARPA has already used it to halve training time for drone pilots. A virtual reality game given to prepare soldiers for decision-making in combat showed that tDCS greatly improved subjects' performance. MRI scans have revealed that the process produces physical changes in the brain associated with rapid learning. The more we discover about tDCS, the more we realize just how much we may be able to hack our own minds.
This may be the rare case in which the classic comic book scenario of "shocking yourself with electricity for superpowers" actually works. But please, dude, don't try this at home.
3. Science is trying to reverse the aging process
Two rats—one old, one young—are stitched together. New blood vessels grow, fusing their circulatory systems. The old rat receives young blood. The young rat receives old blood. Young rat begins to show early signs of aging. Old rat appears to have gained new youth, health, and vigor. A grinning old woman whispers, "The circle is complete." (Probably.)
Ancient ritual to appease the angry gods, or the most metal science experiment ever?
It's the latter, which may not make you feel better. For decades, researchers have been observing the effect that young blood, and the specific proteins inside it, has on aging bodies. Results of their work show that introducing it into an animal's system can essentially reverse the aging process by rejuvenating all types of tissue, from the heart, to muscles, to the brain.
So far, work has only been done on rats and mice, but scientists hope to apply this process to people eventually. On the one hand, that could mean a revolution of human longevity. On the other hand, anything that involves injecting young blood to keep the aging process at bay sounds like the plot of a horror movie.
4. Cyborg-style enhancements are already here
The part-man/part-machine/all-badass trope is a classic. If you disagree, we can only wonder how you wasted your life without seeing RoboCop and Terminator.
Entertainment value aside (but seriously, get on it), those movies will be important preparation for the not-too-distant future. Humans enhanced with cyborg technology already exist, and the trend shows no signs of slowing. There's Kevin Warwick, a professor who has implanted himself with microchips, hooked up his nerve fibers to electrodes, and can now control a robotic hand via his own sense ultrasound. Neil Harbisson created an antenna attached to his head, called an eyeborg (terrifying!), to fix his own color blindness. The British government recognizes it as an official part of his body now. Rich Lee is using implanted magnets to develop non-human abilities, like the echolocation skills of a bat.
And yes, of course DARPA wants in on this. They're working diligently to see how they can add robotic elements to soldiers, hoping to give them such powers as mind-controlled, prosthetic limbs.
There are worries that these enhancements could create a new, potentially superior class of human. Sure, that's a valid concern, but if it happened, doing The Robot on the dance floor could be deemed a hate crime one day, which may be worth it.
5. Spider-Man wall-crawling is right around the corner
It's really starting to look like DARPA is simply what happens when you combine Marvel Comics with billions of dollars of taxpayer money. Just consider the Z-Man project, which gives soldiers Spider-Man's wall-climbing power.
After studying the anatomy of geckos, whose toes allow them to climb up completely vertical surfaces and support themselves on as little as one foot, researchers created paddles which have already done the same for humans. In a test of the technology, an adult man was able to climb a sheer 25-foot-tall glass wall. Fairly soon, this should make it much easier for soldiers to scale obstacles and defeat the Green Goblin.
In truth, it's a pretty mundane approach to a mindblowing sci-fi development, but we do like to imagine there were a bunch of radioactive spider-bite tests we'll never hear about before they arrived at this solution.
6. Professor X might read and control your mind one day
In an age of surveillance and selfie sticks, privacy is hard to come by. Thankfully, at least our thoughts are still safe from everyone except Santa Claus and your deity of choice.
Except that might not always be the case. Researchers have already created something called NeuroSys, an aptly named computer program that can identify the word you're thinking of when hooked up to it. As the technology develops, it could one day be able to interpret full thoughts. The people behind this project hope it can be used to let us type emails without touching a screen, or talk without opening our mouths, which is great, because we'll be too busy screaming.
But don't worry, it gets worse. In a groundbreaking/pants-crapping study from the University of Washington, pairs of people had their brains connected via a brain-to-brain interface. Through this process, one subject could control the hand of the other simply by thinking about it. So, in other words, mind control. Dance, puppets, dance.
Sure, neither of these can yet be used on you without your knowledge, and if consumer models hit the market, there might be some awesome applications. But just in case, we'll be working on our tin foil hats.
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