Every day the world around us changes shape just a little as new tech is harnessed that enables us to do things we could never previously dream of. This can be an app that allows us to track the orbit of the International Space station (it’s been around a while) or an organisation rolling out an online service that allows customers to create bespoke clothing.

Sometimes we get a peep behind the curtains as to what governments and militaries might be doing such as Chinese fighter pilots engaging in simulated dogfights with AI powered jets. The AI warplanes started winning.

What may come as a surprise though is the tech we often see today has been years in the making in the background. With this in mind here are some works in process that build on foundations laid down earlier and which could well be opening eyes in the near future.

Smart bricks

Let’s start with the humble brick, the foundational staples of civilisations for thousands of years. In this age of tech though, bricks could become smart bricks. Scientists have found a way to store energy like a battery, in house building bricks. They claim the bricks could be recharged hundreds of thousands of times within an hour. Though still at a proof-of-concept stage, its clearly clever, but the cost of house built with these bricks might make you shudder.

Thinking computers

Flatworms are unusual insects. If you cut off a flatworm’s head, it grows another one, chop it in half and two worms will emerge. Blast it with radiation and it will repair itself. An artificial intelligence coded programme was able to solve the mystery of the flatworm’s regeneration in less than two days. To get to the bottom of the riddle of the flatworm the computer created a new, abstract theory independently. You might think ‘so what?’ But in terms of AI computation it’s a huge step forwards and one that ultimately might lead to the development of a computer that can think for itself. Gulp.

Sweat powered smart watches.

Engineers at the University of Glasgow have developed a new type of flexible supercapacitor, which stores energy, replacing the electrolytes found in conventional batteries with sweat. Supercapacitors store energy like batteries and can replace batteries in some devices. However, there are some important differences. Unlike batteries, they can be fully charged with as little as 20 microlitres of fluid.

This is a tiny amount; one million microliters make up one litre. The flexible supercapacitor device works by coating polyester cellulose cloth in a thin layer of a polymer, which acts as the supercapacitor’s electrode. As the cloth absorbs its wearer’s sweat, the positive and negative ions in the sweat interact with the polymer’s surface, creating an electrochemical reaction which generates energy. It gives an entirely different meaning to the phrase ‘working up a sweat.’

Robotic guide dogs

A robotic guide dog replicates the functions of a real guide dog as well as programming quick and safe routes to destinations using real-time data. The word dog is a bit of a misnomer though, it’s not a four-legged metal thing with glowing red eyes; rather it’s a portable and concealable handheld device that guides users through outdoor environments and large indoor spaces with very little input. In this sense you could also call it a bat guide because it acts a bit like bat sonar which helps them to fly blind without crashing into things.

But it’s also a bit more. Using a special control moment gyroscope (CMG), the ‘dog’ moves user’s hands and physically leads them much like holding the brace of a guide dog. The device is designed to process real-time online data, such as traffic density, both pedestrians and cars, and the weather, to guide users accurately and safely to their destinations. Still at the prototype stage it will have a fail-safe procedure for high-risk scenarios, such as crossing busy roads, so the user can switch to navigating the road crossing themselves.

Artificial neurons replace diseased bio-circuits

Artificial neurons on silicon chips that behave just like the real thing have been invented by scientists offering tremendous potential for medical devices to cure chronic diseases, such as heart failure, Alzheimer’s and other diseases of neuronal degeneration. The artificial neurons respond to electrical signals from the nervous system like real neurons and open up the possibility of curing conditions where neurons are not working properly, have had their processes severed as in spinal cord injury, or have died.

In theory they could repair diseased bio-circuits by replicating their healthy function and responding to biological feedback in order to restore bodily function. This is a bit of a mouthful for the non-medical among use but in practical terms take heart failure as an example. Damaged neurons in the base of the brain do not respond properly to nervous system feedback. This means they do not send the right signals to the heart, which then does not pump as hard as it should, leading to a heart attack. Scientists are excited because they believe artificial neurons could accurately imitate real, living neurons.

Machine versus machine cyber war

An area of new technology that is already influencing the security landscape is the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. The ability of these technologies to extract useful information from large volumes of data is having a major impact in industry and research. BullGuard is already using dynamic machine learning to identify patterns that can indicate a cyber attack. However, it’s likely in the future that these technologies will be used by cyber criminals in attempts to circumvent defences. This process is a consistent dynamic between cyber security defence and attackers which is why BullGuard places so much emphasis in anticipating future attacks methods to beat back cyber villains.

But when it comes to nation states, we are likely to see this type of technology scaled up considerably and become even more sophisticated and used to probe and attack critical national infrastructure and important institutions. Will this lead to a machine versus machine cyber war? We can’t say yet, but the way things are developing you certainly wouldn’t bet against it. Governments don’t openly publicise it but cyber attacks can already lead to real world physical damage when the functioning of fundamental infrastructure components such as control systems and power regulators is compromised by attackers. There are potentially plenty of chilling scenarios and it doesn’t take much imagination to foresee a future in which AI powered machines launch attacks.