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The best new technologies (probably) arriving in 2017

Spoiler alert.

In 1956, during the General Motors Motorama exhibit, a short film aired suggesting that the world would have driverless cars by 1976. Inexplicably, everyone also sings. Those of us who are still waiting to get our hands on these hands off cars might scoff at the video, which teaches us all about the dangers of making unfounded predictions about the future.

But, hey, let’s do it anyway! Here are the best technologies that maybe/possibly/hopefully will be arriving in 2017.

Robot chefs

If we ignore the part about robots dooming us all by forcing us into unemployment, the idea of a robot kitchen assistant is a dream come true. A year and a half ago, Moley Robotics said their robot hands would launch in 2017, claiming they would be able to cook 2000 meals at the push of a button. Whilst the undoubtedly expensive equipment won’t be one for all of us next year, the robot hands pave the way for a future where you might never have to stir your boyfriend’s beans again.

Google’s modular phone

Project Ara is Google’s attempt to stop us all buying a new iPhone every six months. The modular phone will allow users to slot in and out different parts of the device (such as cameras and speakers), meaning when phone technology improves you can simply swap in a new module rather than buy a whole new phone. The Ara phone has been delayed before, but Google hope it will be on the market in 2017.

Virtual touch

Electrovibration technology is seen as the way forward in allowing us to really “touch” the stuff on our touch screens. The tech will hopefully allow us to feel different textures, which could potentially help amputees and the blind, whilst also improving everything from gaming to online shopping.

Instant charging

The technology to improve batteries has been around for a while, with StoreDot unveiling their prototype fast-charging battery way back in 2014. Whilst battery life has been threatened by ever-slimming phones, there’s no reason that instantly-chargeable batteries shouldn’t be on the market soon. Get the hint, yeah, Apple?

The male “pill”

Research into male contraception is still ongoing 55 years after the pill was introduced in the UK (for the reason why, see: patriarchy). Nonetheless, there have been significant breakthroughs in the last few years, with RISUG and Vasalgel – both contraceptive injections – currently undergoing clinical trials.

The Moon Express

Whilst commercial trips to the moon may be another few years off, the first private company has permission to land on the moon in 2017. The Moon Express will launch its lunar landing next year, with permission from the US Government.

Fully waterproof iPhones

Though the iPhone 7 is partially waterproof (and for that we sacrificed our beloved headphone jack), fully waterproof iPhones are not yet widely available. With both the technology and the consumer demand available, 2017 will hopefully become the year that you can start keeping your phone in your back pocket again. (Bonus: Samsung also might release a phone you can fold.)

The e-shower

Speaking of water, the Hamwell’s e-shower could potentially help alleviate the world’s water crisis. The shower will recycle the water you’re using in real time, meaning you use a much smaller amount, and is commercially available next year. The water is caught in a tray, filtered with UV light, and then poured back over your head. Trust us, your great grandchildren will thank you.

Fake news detectors

With “fake news” being the hottest two words of the moment, it seems unlikely that the furore around the stuff won’t lead to practical solutions. Facebook are already said to be developing solutions, whilst various organisations are attempting to roll out real-time fact-checking. Could we live in a future where it’s impossible for politicians to lie? Well, no, but at least we'll get better at telling when they're doing it.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

Artie Limmer/Texas Tech University
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Meet the evangelical Christian persuading believers that climate change is real

Katharine Hayhoe's Canadian missionary parents told her science and God were compatible. Then she moved to Texas. 

During Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, alarm rose with each mention of climate change. Denial, dismissal and repeated chants of “hoax” left no doubt as to his position.

Now President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has been seen as a seminal moment in the fight against climate change - one which many fear could lose the battle ahead of humanity.

But one scientist has been fighting a war of her own on the ground, against those who typically doubt the facts about global warming more than most - the evangelical Christian population of America.

And to make matters even more unusual, Katharine Hayhoe herself is an evangelical Christian who lives in the indisputably "bible belt" of Lubbock, Texas.

The atmospheric scientist has been named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people and one of Politico’s 50 thinkers transforming American politics. Now she is using her considerable heft to speak to those who are hardest to convince that there is a manmade problem that threatens the Earth’s future.

I meet her at the science and music festival Starmus in Trondheim, Norway, where she is to address the attendees on Thursday in a talk entitled "Climate Change: Facts and Fictions".

Hayhoe was born in Canada, to missionary parents. Her father, a former science educator, showed her that there was no conflict between the ideas of God and science. However, it was something of a surprise to her when she discovered her pastor husband, whom she married in 2000, did not feel the same about climate change. It took her two years to convince him.

What started as a conversation became an organised project when she moved to America's South in the mid 2000s. 

“Moving to Lubbock was a culture shock," she tells me. "When I moved there I wasn’t doing much outreach, but it moved me in that direction.

“Lubbock is very conservative. It’s small and isolated.

“I would say the majority of people in Lubbock are either dismissive or doubtful about climate change. I was surrounded by people - neighbours, parents of friends, people at church, colleagues down the hall in the university - who weren’t convinced.”

So Hayhoe, who works as an associate professor and director of the Climate Science Centre at Texas Tech University, set to work. She began to collect the responses she was seeing to the climate change discussion and prepare her counter-argument.

“When I talk to people who are doubtful, I try to connect with the values they already have," she says. “The greatest myth is the myth of complacency - that ‘it doesn’t really matter to me’.

"But I would say that the second most insidious myth is that you only care about this issue if you’re a certain type of person. If you’re a green person, or a liberal person, or a granola person."

The stereotypes mean that people outside that demographic feel "I can't be that kind of person because that's not who I am", as she puts it.

Hayhoe convinced her husband using data, but rather than repeating a formula, she tries to find out what will resonate with different people: "For many groups, faith is a core value that people share.”

Whether she’s speaking to city planners, water company managers, school kids or Bible believers, Hayhoe says her hook is not the facts, but the feelings.

“I recently talked to arborists," she says. "For them, trees and plants are important, so I connect with them on that, and say ‘because we care about trees, or because we care about water or what the Bible says then let me share with you from the heart why I can about these issues because it affects something that you already care about’.

“My angle is to show people that they don’t need to be a different person at all - exactly who they already are is the kind of person who can care about climate change.”

Hayhoe came to public attention in the United States after appearing in a Showtime series on climate change. She has appeared on panels with Barack Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio, and launched a web series. As well as plaudits, this level of fame has also earned her daily threats and online abuse. 

“My critics think they’re coming from a position of religion, but they aren’t," she says. "They’re actually coming from a very specific political ideology which believes that the government should not have control over people’s lives in any way shape or form - very libertarian, free market, free economy, Tea Party."

She believes that in the United States, faith and politics has been conflated to the point "people can no longer tell the difference". 

“Now it’s conservatism that informs religion," she elaborates. "If the two are in conflict - like the Bible says God has given us responsibility over everything on this earth - then people say ‘oh, we can’t affect something as big as this Earth, God will take care of it anyway’."

Around half of those who attack her on social media identify themselves as Christians, she notes, but almost all call themselves conservatives. 

As a scientist, she’s been preparing data herself - naturally - on her online attackers, with depressingly familiar results.

“As soon as you stick your head out of the trench, you get it. There have been papers published showing that white men disproportionately form up that small group of dismissives. They’re almost all men. When I track my social media comments, I would say that 99.5 per cent of them are white men.

“Out of 1,000 negative comments, I have maybe five from women.”

After the climate change argument moved up a gear - following the Paris withdrawal - Hayhoe admits that she and her fellow scientists are concerned, although she pays tribute to the businesses, cities and states from the US that have committed to following the Paris agreement themselves.

On the subject of the chief white male denier, Trump himself, Hayhoe says she has a discussion point which she feels may convince him to think carefully about his role in the fight against global warming’s impact on humanity.

“I would attempt to connect with the values that he has and show him how acting on this would be in his best interests," she says.

“One guess would be ‘what do you want your legacy to be? What do you want to be known as, the man who destroyed the world, or the man who saved it?’”

Katharine Hayhoe is speaking at Starmus on Thursday June 22. For more details, visit Starmus.

Kirstie McCrum is a freelance journalist. Follow her @kirstiemccrum.

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