If you aren’t a scientist, then technologies used in a lab setting can seem abstract – even an alien concept – to the way we run our day to day lives. But as technology becomes a more and more integral part of our existence, there are significant questions to be asked about how these developments can help – or hinder us.
Behind closed laboratory doors, technologies are in use that will filter into our everyday lives. Huge leaps forward in the development of Artifical Intelligence and new scientific instruments capturing and interpreting more of the invisible data around us may seem futuristic – but the future is here, and being used as we speak in many different ways…
The process of creating nanobots – tiny, programmable technologies that can be used for early detection of disease – is already well underway. Miniscule bio-particles found in bodily fluids hold valuable information in the form of ‘biomarkers’ that can be used to detect and prevent disease. Now, nanotechnology is in development that can isolate these particles at a scale that gives access to DNA. These could be put into handheld medical scanning devices for use in at-home diagnostics and testing. Combined with data streams from wearable technology – such as fitness trackers, which monitor sleep quality and exercise – people could be alerted early if they need to see a doctor, leading to a surge in health are preventable diseases are identified and treated earlier.
As the development of AI continues at a break-neck speed, many are worried about the implications the technology contains for human consciousness and free will. Smart learning algorithms are already responsible for substantial blind spots in the news and information we receive, as social media becomes a reductive echo-chamber bound by the positive feedback loop that trips our serotonin levels. But there are areas where machine learning could help to support the most vulnerable. Mental health is a national issue that’s on the rise – and A.I could provide some critical insights into a range of mental health conditions. AI programmes installed into a smartphone can monitor and recognize patterns and trigger words in our writing and speech for signs of various conditions, such as depression, mania, and psychosis. This technology could also combine with results from MRI scanning to monitor a patient’s brain activity and develop better, more efficient individual treatment plans.
‘Smart’ or web-connected sensors have been used in the medical and lab environments for years – used in technologies such as Portable Incubators, they have revolutionised scientific trials and veterinary science – and now the intelligent technology is starting to be used for other applications, from monitoring air pollution to limited heat damage to hair from a hairdryer. Now, evolving technologies in silicon photonics, or sensors that transfer data by light, can be embedded within infrastructure to provide real-time feedback that detects atmospheric pollutants. Affordable sensing technologies combined with analytics could truly help to prevent pollution.
These are just some of the macro-trends that show how lab technologies could be shaping our lives in the very near future. Whatever you believe around the ethical implications, it’s important to stay informed about the increasingly switched-on world around us.