Lots of people are probably familiar with the TED.com videos and podcasts. For those that are not, check out ted.com – it’s got a category called Most Jaw-dropping for a reason!
Through work, I was sent this link for a talk by Dr Janine Benyus, given all the way back in early 2005. It’s about biomimicry, how humans can learn innovation from other species (as distinct from bioprocesses, such as domestication, where humans can use other species, such as bacteria to clean water). In it, she describes just 12 ways in which we can use the 3 billion-odd years of R&D undertaken by 10-30 million species on the earth. Even if this list of 12 were exhaustive, and of course it’s not, it’s just the start, the implications in terms of inventions and research possibilities are huge.
I’m not an expert in the area of biomimicry, but here are some possibilities of what may exist by 2050 or 2100 that really excited me:
- A world without car-crashes, learning instead from locusts, which have a neuron that prevents them from bumping into each other, even when there’s millions of them per square kilometre
- A world where water is harvested from air
- A world where metals are mined without quarries
- A world where products self-assemble (like shells), giving themselves particular colours without using pigments (like peacock’s feathers) and then which disassemble or decay after a set period of time (like some breeds of mussels)
- A world which treats carbon not just as output, or indeed waste, but as plants do, as an input, for example in constructing plastics and other materials that need carbon
These are just some of the ideas in the talk, which itself is just an overview. Already at the time of the presentation, architects and designers were beginning to talk to biologists about how to incorporate some of the lessons that nature has learnt about ‘product design’.
Between talks like this, and scattered reports about the occasional breakthrough in quantum computing, it’s enough to keep sci-fi-heads and futurologists dreaming for years to come!