7 Incredible Technologies That Will Terrify You

The future. It’s an exciting place, filled with things we want, like cures to cancer and hoverboards that actually hover. But what about inventions in the works that are scary and dangerous? Or even cool, good things with an obvious bad side? 

That question has forever challenged technological development. Most tools can be put to good or bad use, and the more guardrails we can place on the bad uses, the better. So with that in mind, here’s our list of tech developments we’re wary of, even if they’re inevitable. Most of them (admittedly) can do cool things, but all of them have a dark side. What did we miss? Share your least favorite tech developments with [email protected]

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Military Robot Dogs

Photo credit: Sword International

Also known as “quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicles,” these little guys go viral regularly on social media. Choreographed videos highlight their domestic side and playfulness. But the cuteness tends to conceal their real-life military applications. 

Unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) have been in development for over a century as frontline operators looked to create space between themselves and the action. Today, the US military actively uses four-footed UGV’s at several domestic Air Force bases, where mechanized hounds act as extra eyes around the perimeter. Long-term, developers want to see UGVs deployed to locate targets and detect and dispose of weapons—whether traditional, chemical, or nuclear. 

The positives seem obvious. But should they be allowed to wield weapons? Companies in the space are divided, with some vowing never to weaponize their quadrupedal UGVs, while others are actively marketing small-arms modules to militaries. As with any tool, the legislators and ethicists will make the rules—and others will blaze forward regardless. At one arms show, Russian engineers mounted a grenade launcher to one of the robo-dogs.

Fake News Generator

A new AI generator crops up almost every day—whether it’s a computer model trained to produce images based on texts or one that shows what you’d look like in the past. Dozens of text-generators are available to writers looking to ease their writing process.  

But there’s a worry here: A host of bots, trained on huge troves of natural language, are whipping up written content more convincing than human-made writing. This can lead to the creation of literal fake news, the plague of open societies premised on an informed citizenry. One of the earliest creators of such a generator, Microsoft’s OpenAI, opted not to make it available to the public out of concerns it would be abused

Ironically, one of the best antidotes to AI-generated news involved building a powerful text-generator and then using its language model to detect fabricated texts. Grover, developed at the University of Washington, out-does all other tools used to detect AI-generated fake news, screening fabricated news items with a 92% accuracy. 

Odd as it may seem, there’s a lot of incentive to producing fake content. False stories can move markets, shift public opinion, and undermine trust in public institutions. So while we dig turning our humble selfies into masterpieces, not all AI generators are equally welcome.

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Drone Swarms

Photo credit: Air Force Research Lab

Imagine fast-moving groups of armed insects. That’s the chilling idea behind “drone swarms,” and their major developers are advanced militaries around the world. These swarms are distinct from the drone light shows you’ve likely seen moving in pre-planned unison on the Fourth of July or New Year’s, as they can, if needed, make operational decisions themselves. 

For example, the US Navy’s “Super Swarm” project is looking for ways to make small drones run longer and coordinate more effectively. Long-term, the goal is to utilize thousands of drones to perform reconnaissance and attack targets. Amateur, fairly simple drones have had significant impact in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine; the Navy predicts with greater advancements, drone swarms will be able to take out entire battalions—and provide immediate, detailed images of the results. 

The logic of an arms race is premised on the speed of development. Nations currently developing drone swarms include Russia, Iran, China, India, Israel, and the UK. Air warfare may look very different very soon.

Smart Toilets

Photo credit: Duke University

One of the conundrums for a modern consumer is to decide how much privacy they’re willing to forego in order to take advantage of a booming, data-greedy Internet of Things. There are products out there to help you manage pretty much everything, including your toilet waste.

Take Coprata, for example: the Duke-incubated startup has developed a toilet that tracks and analyzes a user’s bowel movements to detect any emergent health issues. It’s a way to monitor your well-being with little disruption to your routine. Such tech can even be used by public health officials to monitor and address public health trends.

Some of these toilets even have cameras attached to them used to observe flows of waste as well as to detect your unique anoderm—that is, anal print. All of this has incredible potential to boost individual and communal health. And the promise is consistently made by such developers: All data are protected, encrypted, secure. 

All the same, the Internet of Things is vulnerable, with 84% of IoT companies reporting data breaches. That means your smart toilet could very well be hacked. That’s a lot of sensitive data. The question remains: Is the trade-off of privacy for convenience worth it?

Ghost Guns

Photo credit: Vvzvlad/Wikimedia Commons

The first 3D-printed gun was created in 2013. Dubbed “The Liberator,” the gun was created by Cody Wilson, one of the founders of Defense Distributed, an open-source library of digital gun blueprints for use with 3D printers. The tech has become more sophisticated since, engendering a budding movement of homemade gun hobbyists complete with meet-up competitions.

Concurrently, so-called “ghost guns” without serial numbers, typically assembled by the user via incomplete kits or 3D printing, continue to pop up in local law enforcement investigations. 3D gun advocates claim the technology is too cumbersome for most people looking to obtain an untraceable gun for criminal purposes. But the ATF—the federal agency mandated to investigate unlawful use of firearms—says over 20,000 ghost guns were confiscated in 2021 alone. 

Homemade guns can be bought via incomplete kits, which means they aren’t regulated by gun purchasing laws. New rules from the Justice Department in April 2022 expanded restrictions on the manufacture and use of homemade guns, but that will likely not stem the tide of technologies putting unserialized guns in the hands of anyone enterprising enough to build one.

Deepfake Apps

Photo credit: Chris Ume

Videos purport to show what really happened, but in the last four years, so-called “deepfakes” have exploded in popularity, casting doubt on the medium itself. Deepfake technology uses deep learning AI to study a source face and then lay it over another actor or face to produce a fake video. The end result can be humorous, fascinating, inspiring; or it can contribute to identity theft, reputation damage, or political misinformation.

One terrifying case involved a woman whose face had been overlaid in dozens of pornographic videos she’d had nothing to do with. The images had been taken from her social media. Laws banning image-based abuse in recent years are hampering such actions, but legal interventions have not kept pace with the development of apps leveraging deepfake tech.

The United States’ DEEPFAKES bill would require all deepfakes to be irreversibly watermarked. That legislation was introduced in 2019, and has yet to be passed amid expert pushback on the approach

The mashups can be entertaining—Jerry Seinfeld as the protagonist in “Pulp Fiction,” for example. But for every one funny juxtaposition, another is likely pumping out misinformation.

De-Extinction

Photo credit: Getty Images

The effects of human civilization have likely destroyed 60% of fish, mammals, reptiles, and birds on earth since 1970. So, what if we could biologically engineer a species return? So-called “de-extinction” looks to bring back creatures like woolly mammoths, passenger pigeons, and aurochs (the ancestor of modern cattle) in “Jurassic Park”-like fashion. 

Advocates for the resurrection of the woolly mammoth claim a list of justifications, arguing the massive shrub-eater will help restore the arctic permafrost and prevent the release of greenhouse emissions below it. The science, they say, will help save extant elephant species, as well. And, wouldn’t it just be rad?

It would make for a great movie. But conservation biologists think funding such projects is a misallocation when those funds could go toward efforts to preserve existing species. Plus, ecosystems are fragile: The introduction of a new species into any environment will have significant consequences for existing species, possibly imperiling them. 

In the end, the cautionary tale underlying “Jurassic Park” may apply: “‘Ooh, ah.’ That’s how it always starts. But then later, there’s running and screaming.” 

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