Technology is advancing… fast!
And it’s advancing exponentially, meaning that the advances predicted over the next 30 years, will make our complete history to date seem like the work of primitive children. With predicted tech advances in mind, I see a future where ‘human’ becomes a word used to describe the unempowered. Transhuman will be the new normal – superhumans will no longer live only in fiction.
In the emerging years of humanities transcendence into something more, only a small number of people will be ‘upgraded’. It is reasonable to make the assumption then, that some people will use their privileged power to help others, in such a heroic way, that headlines will read – “Our First Real-Life Superhero”.
The US Army Research Laboratory released a report last year titled, “Visualizing the Tactical Ground Battlefield in the Year 2050: Workshop Report“. In the report, they describe a world where robots and humans will fight side by side on the battlefield, with these humans being ‘advanced’ in a number of ways. They explain that “the presence of super humans on the battlefield in the 2050 time-frame is highly likely because the various components needed to enable this development already exist and are undergoing rapid evolution”.
The key to taking the question seriously: Exponential thinking
Real superheroes can exist within 30 years! That’s one hell of a statement.
To seriously consider the possibility, you need to understand the impacts of the ongoing exponential growth of our technologies – the reason why humanity has advanced far more over the past 100 years than it has ever in the whole of history. 1,000 years ago, we went our whole lives seeing barely any improvement to our way of living. We are now on the ‘knee of the curve’, and exponential growth is about to sky-rocket our technological advances. You can see an example of exponential growth in the chart below, which maps out the predicted advance of our computing power over the next 30 years.
Incredibly, in 30 years, the power of a computer will outmatch all human minds put together. Just 2 normal human minds put together are smarter than Einstein. So, when we try to imagine what a computer that powerful will be capable of, we can see all our problems being solved simply by asking it to help us. Every single industry will also follow this exponential trend of improvement. We have more information about exponential growth in our article, The Future is Coming Much Faster than we Think, Here’s Why.
Real superheroes can exist within 30 years! Hopefully now that seems a little more plausible.
What makes a real superhero?
We have people we consider heroes already: our armed forces, emergency services, freedom fighters – anybody who selflessly risks the fortune of themselves to improve the fortune of others. Take those we think of as heroes, make them superhuman, and that makes them superheroes. Then though we need to think about who will be the first to benefit from transhuman technologies; it’s not gonna be the customers, it’s going to be the creators; before the tech has time to roll out and upgrade an army of soldiers, it’s going to first be tried and tested by a select few.
It’s the first select few who have the potential to shock the world with heroic acts so big, that make us react with such awe, that the majority of us brand them as the first real life superhero.
Also, no cheating, there are certain things that make a comicbook hero so awe inspiring. So, no one-hit wonders – the first real superhero has to achieve more than one heroic feat before being killed, arrested or retired. They have to have a long running career, and they have to make a big impact on the world.
That’s not to say they will have to work alone. At first of course though, they will, because that his how they will stand out as an individual. After they gain the notoriety needed for their actions to make revolutionary impacts, they will need support from others to defend themselves and continue.
A logo and a costume? Now that would be insane (in a good way), but not compulsory.
Most importantly, what makes a hero will be what they fight for and how they go about it. Remember, one persons terrorist is another persons freedom fighter/hero. A real superhero will not have a radical ideology, and they will not act immorally or break any democratically authorized laws. They will act as the voice of the people, to make those voices not only heard but acted upon.
The First Real Superpowers
Of course, I’m not saying that a Kryptonian is about to be found by the Kent’s in Smallville. There are no superheroes from comics that will ever exist with the same origin story. The abilities of those heroes though – they’re not all so impossible. Batman’s superpowers are possible! But yeah, he doesn’t actually have any. How about Iron Man? Well almost yeah, besides the magical, fictional power source in his chest. What makes Iron Man more of a superhuman hero than Batman though, is that Iron Man becomes integrated with machine, and so becomes transhuman.
So yeah, that’s where I’m going with this – I think it’s most likely that, should we declare the existence of a real life superhero within 30 years, his closest similarity from the comics will be Iron Man (or maybe it’s a her, but I’ll refer to whoever it is as a he to save precious typing time).
The ‘Iron Man scenario’, while most likely, is only one of two types of transhumanism, the other is through the editing of our DNA. Scenario 2 then could be called the ‘Captain America scenario’ – the upgrading of our human biology. Editing genes is already possible through a method called CRISPR, which promises to lead to cures for cancer, HIV, and every other disease. Its potential to upgrade our biology to a superhuman level though is not likely within 30 years – not because the technology will be lacking, but because administrative and legal resistance will be almost disabling progress.
The Iron Man scenario is where our interest is for now. So, how similar will the first real superhero be to Iron Man? That depends on what tech he has at his disposal at the time he decides that there is something he needs to fight for. It’s not all predictable, but let’s check out the tech already in development that may help.
Artificial red blood cells, called Respirocyte, are currently in development. It is an upcoming nanotechnology, which will massively reduce our need to breath. They are spherical in design, powered by glucose in our blood, and are 8 times smaller than red blood cells, while each holding 236 times more oxygen and carbon dioxide. Read more about Respirocyte.
The superhuman ability here is the ability do stay underwater for hours at a time, and the ability to run at top speed for a time that is not limited by the need to catch our breath.
The first use for any advance in cybernetics will be with the aim to improve the quality of prosthetics for the disabled. Second use will be for big companies to reduce cost on their production lines. Third use will be for both the shear fun of it, and to upgrade the human body. Check out the most advanced prosthetic hands in the world, as of 2015. In the 2014 article, “Is This the Future of Robotic Legs?“, we hear inventor Hugh Herr say that he sees a future where we will all use exoskeletons to protect our joints from impact damage. Once we have exoskeletons advanced enough to protect our joints while we run, we will have the technology available for us to run easier, and so for longer. Then with further advances and improvement in battery power, we will have exoskeletons that will allow us to run faster even with extra weight and for much longer periods. Transhuman Olympics, anyone?
Exoskeletons just about count as a superhuman ability, even though they are just vehicles a little more tightly wrapped – they allow our human bodies to go beyond their normal limits – they are fixed to us and therefore a part of us. Plus, DARPA are currently developing a brain implant which will allow us to communicate telepathically to our technologies, find out more in this CNN article.
Advanced Battery Power
Batteries are way overdue a big upgrade. Any kind of tech that will allow us to become transhuman will need to be powered by batteries that are hundreds of times better than they are today. Thankfully, those upgrades are in development, and a hell of a lot of different versions of them. Read more about many upcoming improvements in battery technology.
Bulletproof Nanotech Fabric
Current military combat body armour is nowhere near good enough to protect the one man army that will be the first real superhero. Wearing current infantry armour alone reduces movement efficiency by 30-50%, and then you have weapons, ammo, and equipment to carry, which at the extremes can slow you down by 90-95%. A superhero feat is going to mean working at the extremes, and that’s impossible without massive improvements in armour technology.
Those improvements are coming thanks to advances in nanotechnology. We’ve been hearing a lot for a long time about graphene and cadmium arsenide, and their potential to revolutionise so many industries. IBM expects to use graphene by 2020 in their computer chips in replacement of silicon. China is now beginning mass production of carbon nanotubes, and is expected to manufacture 1500-2000 tonnes per year over the next few years.
In the 2020’s we will finally see graphene and carbon nanotubes begin to revolutionise industries. As use in body armour, it will be as light as plastic, thinner, and far tougher than current materials. This will allow bulletproof armour to be shaped around limbs and provide full body protection. Find out more about developments in nanotube body armour, and some more, and some more.
In around 10 years then, if only at the prototype stage, we will have far advanced body armours. We don’t know what’s coming as far as 30 years away, but it’s fair to assume that the ability to withstand heavy bullet fire and explosive attacks will be a common ability.
Most probably this armour will be provided in layers. First, a skin tight body wrap made using carbon nanotubes will act as the last line of defence. It will be breathable to allow heat to dissipate efficiently into the next layer which will be a cooling system. The US Army will have a cooling system in its planned 2018 TALOS Combat Suit. The next layer will be soft padded armour, most probably using carbon nanotubes, unless an even better technology is available within 30 years. The final layer will be outside the powered exoskeleton, and will be hard armour plates.
Directed Energy Weapons
Imagine laser weapons, man portable just like modern rifles, but that can immobilise a car with a single 1 second shot! Well yeah, that’s not possible, at least not within 30 years anyway. I was hoping it was, but even if it was, those things are gonna be tightly controlled, and would need a huge power supply, even after 30 years of battery advances. Find out about current developments in DEW.
We already have bionic eyes that can restore partial vision to the blind. They are crude however, providing (as of 2016) a 200 pixel flashing black and white image, using glasses fitted with a camera to send images directly to the visual region of the brain, bypassing the eye.
In approximately 20 years though, with exponential advances in sensor technology, computing and neuroscience, we will have bionic eyes that provide vision at least as good as human vision. Soon after that, and possibly within 30 years, they will provide enhanced transhuman vision, with abilities that include telescopic-vision, night-vision and augmented reality.
Even more incredibly: bionic vision will enable us to augment our vision with anything at all we want. We won’t need TV screens any more, or any other screen… And that’s just for starters. We won’t need to invent holograms, because augmented reality will just make it look like it’s there; we won’t need to physically visit someone, because we can make it look as though we are in the same room together… And that’s still just for starters.
The audio implants will ultimately work in the same way – by imputing a signal into the vestibulocochlear nerve, which connects the ear to the brain. Audio will then no longer be limited by the abilities of our human ears. Research for this is ongoing with the aim to cure deafness.
A.I. Assistance / Sentient integration
At the most basic level, we will become integrated with artificial intelligence through our visual & audio implants, which will certainly be possible within 30 years, probably within 20 years. Then we will add more transhuman components and sensors to increase integration. The main component will be the brain-computer interface, which will allow us to control electronics telepathically. Relevant to the above, it will allow the brain to control exoskeletons, making them move with limbs, rather that moving in response to force applied by the limb – eliminating fatigue. We already have basic wireless brain-computer interfaces. As these advance, much more complex brain signals will be picked up, allowing us to communicate in thought (brain-text) with machine and one another, which is actually also already just about possible, with a device created by scientists in Albany, New York.
Combining the Technologies: The First Superhero
There we have a selection of technologies that will all be emerging in 10-30 years. Let’s combine this tech and see what we can create.
The amount of people with access to all of this emerging tech will be extremely limited in their emerging/experimental years. As well as having access, they will need to have the logistical authority to assemble the required equipment and then have it delivered to the location it needs to be utilised. Therefore, many of the technologies will already need to be publicly available. And the one or two technologies that are not publicly available, will need to be in the testing phase. The ‘first superhero’ will be a person (or a friend of a person) with administrative access to the tech which is in its testing phase, and not publicly available. The tech which will take the longest to perfect will likely be an agile exoskeleton which allows us to far exceed our human physical abilities.
Another requirement will be money, and a lot of it! So the ‘superhero to be’ will need to be a large shareholder in an exoskeleton company, or have their own project which provides significant disposable income (or be a friend of someone who is).
#1 priority will of course be protection – A superhero feat will be fought by criminals with deadly intent. The defence will be provided by all technologies combined.
Ideally then, we would enter a hostile environment using a remotely controlled robot, and skip the human element altogether. This will reduce the likelihood of a superhuman needing to put themselves into danger. However, even if a robot which is as agile and able as a human was in its testing phase, it will be tightly controlled by the government contractor developing it, especially where it is designed to be used as a weapon. Even the household robots which will be in development will be tightly controlled to prevent them being used with criminal intent.
Exoskeletons though will be less tightly controlled, due to their primary use being to empower the disabled, and for new transhuman sporting competitions. And they will be much easier to weaponize, with the ability to use weapons designed for human operation. Heroic feats achieved by robots (controlled remotely by humans), will probably occur within 30 years, but very probably it will only be small scale heroics.
The first big scale, awe inspiring, super-heroic, civilian feat, will likely be achieved in support of a wider aim and ideology – such as the defeat of a terrorist organisation/ideology, or taking a stand against a certain criminal or criminal group or genre of crime or corruption. An aim like that require perfect precision planning to gain the maximum public support in order to both act democratically, and have the whole weight of the world on side to crush the chosen enemy. The person in the driving seat of that aim, needs to literally be in the driving seat, on the front line – in the line of fire. Otherwise, the amount of respect he will lose, although it may only be a little, it may be the difference between the success / failure of the overall objective.
Let’s get back to basics…
Battery power will likely already be available from the company creating the exoskeletons.
Brain-computer interfaces will likely already be used to control the exoskeleton, which as explained before will massively increase the power efficiency of the suit, both for the battery usage and the human effort required to operate.
Nanotechnology armour will need to be added to the exoskeleton. The exoskeleton will likely not already provide bullet and blast protection, so this is where the ‘superhero to be’ will need to get creative. Available will need to be far advanced nanotechnology armour, which can be layered as described above.
Bionic eyesight and hearing devices will need to be used, because adequate heads up display and audio enhancements will not likely be pre-built into the exoskeletons. Normal vision will be massively obscured by armour, and so sight will need to be sent to bionic implants through cameras on the suit. Same applies for hearing.
A.I. assistance will likely already be popular in 30 years time, and this will make for a helpful guide, and also sync with the exoskeleton and human body to provide statistics. The A.I. can warn of threats, possibly with the use of drones, to create a radar of surrounding activity, as well as autonomously stunning those known enemy threats.
Nanotechnology blood cells will likely be commercially available in 20 years. If artificial red blood cells are available, this will allow for massively increased endurance, which will be beneficial to augment the power of the suit and improve battery life. This tech will only provide an advantage outside of the suit if it is not also used by the enemy.
Weapons! This will need to be what is already publicly available. Presumably the ideal weapon will be electricity with the aim the stun and warn enemies to not attack. Also, flash bang grenades could be used in close proximity to the suit, as well as super loud speakers and super light flashing light to disorientate the enemy. Weapons like this could be used by autonomous ‘bodyguard’ robots and drones.
To act legally, death can only be caused in self-defence, and even then it’s morally questionable. Depending on the reasons, causing death may be warranted as collateral damage by public opinion, but the same judgement will not be guaranteed by laws.
Support Vehicle! Not something you usually associate with superheroes, but the support vehicle is absolutely vital. In a hostile environment where the aim is to not kill the enemy, time out in the line of fire will need to be as short as possible. The vehicle will provide a fast getaway, as well as providing extra armour. It will store extra batteries, and extra equipment. It will provide cover for rescued hostages, or arrested personnel. The amount of armour needed, will match the environment – in peacetime environments, the vehicle will need to blend in and would probably resemble a normal van – wartime environments will allow the use of heavier armoured vehicles.
Part 2 – What will they fight for?
So there we have it – the vision of what I think will most likely be our first superhero. Now, just as important as the powers, will be what they fight for. What would make them worthy of the title? What might their breakout mission be? How will they influence our world? Will all of us praise them? Will their actions find them in contempt of our laws? Big questions for part 2 of this article.
Part 2 will be available within a month of this one. Please follow us on Facebook and enable notifications to be told when part 2 is available. Or write a quick message in the form at the bottom of this page to let me know you want to be notified when it’s available.
In the meantime… What do you think about the story so far? Complete load of shit, or maybe something interesting to think about? At the least I hope I thought you something about the massive changes that are coming to our world in the near future.