Breakthrough technologies are those that have a significant effect on our lives. They have a potential to change the world, ease our everyday tasks or even save lives. Let’s together find out what emerging technologies of 2018 are and how they can influence our life.
3-D metal printing
3-D design and printing have been around for a while, but mostly it was used by designers to produce one-off prototypes. And all of them were plastic because printing objects with anything else have been slow and expensive. However, now it is becoming cheap and easy to use with the invention of 3D metal printing technology. It can be used for manufacturing parts, and it could potentially change the way we produce products.
The technology can create stronger and lighter parts with complex shapes, which is not possible with standard methods. It can also provide more control of the microstructure of metals making them stronger.
One of the breakthroughs was made by embryologists that work at the University of Cambridge in the UK. They have grown mouse embryos using not egg and sperm but only stem cells that were plucked from another embryo. These “synthetic” embryos probably could not have grown into mice, but there is a big chance that we soon could have mammals that were artificially born.
The next thing is to create a synthetic embryo out of human stem cells. They would be a boon to scientists, but artificial embryos pose a lot of ethical questions.
Smart sensing city
A lot of modern smart-city ideas have lowered their ambitious goals, run into delays, or are extremely pricey. Quayside, a new project in Toronto is hoping to change that pattern of failures. They rethink and rebuild an urban neighbourhood from the ground up with the latest digital technologies.
One of the main goals of upcoming IT technology is to base decisions about policy, design and technology on data from a big network of sensors. These sensors collect information on everything from noise levels and air quality to people’s activities.
The plan is to build infrastructure where all vehicles are shared and autonomous. Robots will do menial chores like delivering the mail. Also, they will open access to the systems and software that they create so other companies can build services on top of them.
The company will closely monitor public infrastructure, and this has raised concerns considering privacy and data governance. But they believe it can work with the local government and the community to alleviate those worries.
Artificial Intelligence for everybody
AI has so far been among top technologies for big tech companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Baidu, as well as some startups. But for many other companies, AI systems are too difficult to implement fully and are too expensive. But nowadays, cloud-based machine learning tools are bringing AI to a far wider audience.
Currently, artificial intelligence is used typically in the tech industry, where it has produced new services and products. But many other industries and businesses have struggled to take advantage of it. Sectors such as energy, manufacturing and medicine could also be changed if they were able to use the technology more fully.
Also, some specialists are concerned that most companies still do not have enough qualified people who are skilled in cloud solutions and AI. For that Google and Amazon are setting up consulting services. Once the cloud makes the technology available to almost everyone, the real AI revolution will start.
Duelling neural networks
AI is getting very good at identifying things, but it is not good at creating something entirely new. Until now everything that requires imagination has perplexed AIs.
The solution occurred to a PhD student at the University of Montreal, Ian Goodfellow. He proposed an approach, known as a generative adversarial network (GAN) that takes two neural networks and puts them against in a digital cat-and-mouse game. It can help machines generate results that trick even humans.
GANs have been put to use creating photorealistic fake imagery and realistic-sounding speech. For example, some research group primed a GAN with celebrity photographs to make hundreds of usual faces of people who do not exist. Pushed further, this technology can reimagine pictures in different ways, like turn horses into zebras or make a sunny road appear snowy.
The outcome is not always ideal, but because the sounds and images are often incredibly realistic, some experts believe there GAN is very promising. That means AI may gain “imagination” and more autonomous ability to make sense of what it sees in the world.
In the famous sci-fi classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you put a Babel fish into your ear to get direct translations. In our world, Google has come up with a similar solution – a pair of earbuds. They are called Pixel Buds. They work with Google Translate app and Pixel smartphones to produce an almost real-time translation.
The thing is that Google Translate already has a conversion feature and its Android and iOS apps. It let two users speak as it figures out what languages they are using and then translates the talk. But background noise can make it hard to identify the speech and also to spot the moment when one person has stopped speaking, and it is time to translate. Pixel Buds solve these problems. Splitting the interaction between the earbuds and the phone gives each person control over the microphone and make it generally easier.
Pixel Buds are showing that mutually clear communication between different languages very soon.
Carbon-free natural gas
Natural gas is one of our primary sources of electricity. It is relatively cheap and available. Nowadays gas accounts for more than 30 percents of world electricity. And even if it is cleaner than coal, it is still producing massive carbon emissions.
But Houston pilot power plant is just starting testing a technology that could make clean natural gas energy possible.
Net Power, the company behind the 50-megawatt project, believes it can make power at the same price as standard natural-gas plants and capture all the carbon dioxide emissions in the process. If that is true, it would mean the world has a way to make cheap carbon-free energy from fossil fuel. Zero-carbon technology will not solve all the problems with natural gas, but it can make it as clean as possible.
Flawless online privacy
Full internet privacy could finally become possible due to an upcoming software technology that can let you prove you are over 18 without telling your date of birth. Also, it can help you prove you have enough money for a financial transaction without showing your balance or other details. Only that decreases the risk of identity theft or privacy breach.
The tool is called a zero-knowledge proof and it is a unique emerging cryptographic protocol. Researchers have worked on it for decades, and now investments came with growing interest in cryptocurrencies, most of which are not private. Much of the credit for a tool goes to Zcash, a digital currency that uses a method called a zk-SNARK (for “zero-knowledge succinct non-interactive argument of knowledge”) for anonymous transactions.
Another trending software technology is generating DNA fortune-telling report cards for newborns. These reports will show predictions about their chances of suffering from different illnesses or addictions and of being smarter than usual. Thanks to huge genetic studies the science behind these report cards has suddenly arrived.
It turns out that many traits, behaviours and most of common diseases are a result of a few genes but many acting in concert. Using the data from genetic studies, scientists create what they call “polygenic risk scores.”
Though these new DNA tests are not offering diagnoses, they could greatly benefit medicine. Also, pharmaceutical companies can use the scores in clinical trials. They would be able to pick volunteers who are more likely to get sick, so they can more accurately test how well the drugs work.
The trouble is that the predictions are far from perfect. But the chance that genetic data will be used for both good and bad is what makes the new DNA technology alarming and exciting at the same time.
Quantum leap of materials
The possibility of powerful new quantum computers comes with a mystery. They will be capable of computation feats inconceivable with today’s machines. But at the same time, we have no idea what we might do with such powers. One likely prospect is precisely designing molecules.
That will allow creating new proteins for far more effective drugs, compounds that could turn sunlight directly into liquid fuel, novel electrolytes for better batteries and more.
We do not have these things because modern computers do not have right capabilities for that ridiculously complicated process. Recently, researchers used a quantum computer to model a small molecule made of three atoms. In future, it should become possible to simulate far larger and more interesting particles as scientists build machines with better quantum algorithms.