We’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer.
For those who haven’t been following its progress across the galaxy, the James Webb Space Telescope has an impressive resume already.
Since its triumphant launch on Christmas Day, 2021, Webb has inspired a million future careers in STEM, sent back images of deep space, and performed complicated functions- like unfurling its massive main mirror in space- flawlessly.
Besides inspiring scientists and future scientists all around the world, bringing a fractious society a bit closer together and sparking joy in elementary and middle school classrooms everywhere, the James Webb Space Telescope has done for science what David Bowie did for rock music.
Science is becoming rockstar cool again- which is good, because science, technology, engineering, computers and robotics are playing an increasingly fundamental role in our individual lives and society as a whole.
“Science” is a sprawling amalgamation of millions of fields, specialties, experiments, laboratories, scientists and students. Science, it should also be noted for clarity, costs money- ever a complicating factor in humanity’s more ambitious endeavors.
While the media and plenty of scientists have been understandably distracted by the pandemic, science has scored some major wins over the past two years in particular.
The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope was a tremendous success. Its first images, even more so.
Scientists in Israel may have just unlocked the secrets of how to reverse cellular aging, which is very exiting. This, in addition to Israel currently sitting on the best desalinization technology breakthrough in the business.
Four radical new fertility treatments are presently in the works, all of which hold incredible promise heretofore unknown in that field.
In February, a U.S. medical research team reported the first female patient cured of HIV. The method used, an advanced stem-cell transplant, had been used previously to cure three men. The treatment has since appeared to cure other patients, though much more research is needed.
Thus far, at least five people appear to have been cured of HIV, a rarified club which seems likely to grow in the coming years.
Still, not all of science’s at-bats have been home-runs this year.
Recently, a meta-study upended decades of research on the causes of depression and its common treatments. The condition of depression, long thought to be the fault of a chemical imbalance of serotonin in the brain, is now being treated with a suite of psychopharmaceuticals called SSRIs, or serotonin re-uptake inhibitors.
This newest research suggests a chemical imbalance of serotonin is not, in fact, to blame for depression; which means SSRIs aren’t as promising a breakthrough as once thought.
The scientists behind the new study believe the reason so many sufferers of depression find relief in SSRI medications is…placebo.
In the fields of AI and advanced computing, the pace is equally fast and furious; change and upheaval has become business as usual.
Things are changing so much in the many fields of technology, some scientists and futurists insist 70% of the jobs which exist today won’t even exist in 10 years. They might be right: Computers and automation will probably continue to play an increasingly large role in our lives.
Already, computers and machines do many of the things we once had to do for ourselves. Our lives are filled with devices, our homes with smart televisions and labor-saving appliances. Automation, especially in light of the pandemic, is increasing at a very rapid rate.
More self-checkout lanes at the grocery store; more kiosks replacing cashiers at fast-food restaurants. Truly self-driving cars may yet take awhile, but the technology is improving all the time.
And though flying cars remain out-of-reach, jetpacks might be coming soon to a retail shelf near you.
In this world of evolving wonders, it might surprise us what machines and computers are eventually able to do. The jobs replaced by advancements in technology might not even be the ones we think.
In China, the first A.I. prosecutor is charging defendants with crimes ranging from fraud and theft to political dissent and assault. A.I. can analyze decades of court precedents in a single nanosecond and never miss a filing deadline.
A.I. is getting better and better at generating realistic-looking human faces, almost indistinguishable from real people. Sites like www.thispersondoesnotexist.com offer a fun way to test this weird, wild and wonderful new technology.
Computers can generate realistic-looking human figures now, too, which means A.I. may soon be replacing human actors in movies and television. Movies with actual human actors could eventually go the way of in-person theater; that is, a niche some people still enjoy but which most have eschewed.
It’s hard to blame erstwhile theatre patrons who abandoned the genre for the expanded offerings of the silver screen. So too will be the shift to purely CGI movies populated by computer-generated actors who can look like anyone or anything. Special effects? Imagine the motion picture possibilities.
With all the myriad technological advancements society is currently enjoying, and looking back at all the ways technology has transformed our lives over the past two decades in particular, it is normal to wonder what the future might hold for human beings.
What jobs will computers and machines do for us in a decade? In two?
What will humans still be required to do for ourselves?
We have already discovered certain limitations with artificial intelligence, advanced computer modeling, and robotics.
Computers can’t seem to generate cute cat videos, for whatever reason.
Science has not yet passed the Uncanny Valley yet. Robots have more capabilities than ever before, and they can be made to look more like replicant human beings; but they’re still not us.
And we can always tell.
Because of how our brains work, the closer something looks to a human being, without actually being one, the weirder and more unsettling we find the experience. Confronting a human-like face creeps us out; that’s the Uncanny Valley.
No computer or A.I. or advanced algorithm has yet been able to pass the Turing Test, either. Unless a lone engineer recently fired from Google for going public with his theory is correct, no AI has yet become what we might consider a sentient “consciousness”.
All things considered, we’re not exactly keeping up with the Jetsons just yet- that aspirational, futuristic cartoon of yesteryear, but we’re getting closer all the time.
Whatever machines can do for us over the next decades, there remains something only we humans are able to do.
Unless the James Webb Space Telescope has some very interesting news to tell us in its next photographic phone call home, human beings are the only creatures in existence who can imagine something, then create it.
Our seemingly limitless ingenuity, curiosity, inventiveness, creativity and quantum brain-power have served us well, taken us to far distant places of which even our recent ancestors never dreamed.
Without the power of human imagination, which appears to be an endless, invaluable, and renewable resource, we wouldn’t be within a stone’s throw of the futuristic utopia of the Jetsons.
By harnessing our collective brain power, there is nowhere we can’t go. Together, we might create anything.
Even a funny, friendly, fully-functional housekeeping robot.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)