Edition: February 3rd, 2022
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS
- Excerpts from article by Nabil Alouani, published on OneZero
The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.William Gibson
“The future is already here,” science fiction writer William Gibson once wrote. “It’s just not evenly distributed.” Some of you might live well into your 150s — and even keep your brains and curves till the very end. Not bad, eh? Wait until you discover that your granddaughter could spend her summer internship on the Moon and that her son might upload his mind into a computer to cheat death!
If this sounds like exaggeration, take a look at this list of recent technological achievements and what to expect in the near future:
1. CRISPR edits DNA to beat genetic diseases
- CRISPR is a technology that relies on two key molecules to edit DNA.
- The first molecule, called Cas9, works like biological scissors. It can cut DNA in specific locations allowing for edits (removal, change, or addition).
- The second molecule is an enzyme that acts as a GPS, giving the Cas9 scissors the exact coordinates of where to edit DNA.
- CRISPR’s main use case is to turn off or replace bad genes to cure disease.
- The changes do not spread to the patients’ children, eliminating the worrisome risk of messing up the human genome.
- Usually, researchers remove sick cells from patients’ bodies, edit them in a lab, and infuse them back in.
- The breakthrough promises significantly less painful treatments for those who suffer from an unfair gene distribution.
- But the scary part is that CRISPR can be used to design superhuman babies as it’s now possible to edit embryos to give them beautiful faces, perfect bodies, longer lifespans, and brilliant brains!
2. Neuralink turns telepathy into reality
- At the beginning of 2021, researchers from Neuralink plugged 1,024 ultra-thin electrodes into the brain of a monkey named Pager. It was an interface that connected the monkey to a computer.
- Pager then played a simple videogame repeatedly to calibrate Neuralink’s algorithms.
- Neuralink managed to decode the Pager’s intentions, allowing him to play a game called Pong through telepathy.
It’s not magic. The reason Neuralink works is because it’s recording and decoding electrical signals from the brain.One of Neuralink’s spokespersons
- The company’s next target is to enable paralysed people to use computers and phones through their brain activities alone.
- Since these individuals can’t move a joystick or click a mouse, the calibration will be based on mental exercises like imagining hand movements.
- Further into the future, Neuralink intends to allow humans to interface with Artificial Intelligence and even upload their brains into a computer.
- Both projects would require a ton of calculation power, which is a problem we’re getting better at solving thanks to quantum theory.
3. IBM unleashes the power of Quantum Computing
- Quantum Computing is a field that specialises in what mathematicians call “Combinatorial Optimisation.”
- It’s when you analyse many options to extract the best possible solution — what stocks to invest in, which drugs work best together, or what’s the cheapest way to build electric cars.
- Quantum computers analyse those combinations simultaneously, delivering results in a far shorter timescale.
The goal is to scale quantum computers into “paradigm-shifting systems capable of solving some of the most pressing challenges the world faces today.IBM
4. Injectable chips are no more just an idea
- In May 2021, a team of researchers at Columbia Engineering published a paper describing the smallest chip ever built.
- It’s as big as a dust mite, visible only through a microscope. Even more impressive, it works as a stand-alone system — no need for wires or complementary devices.
- The chip is a medical device that collects biological information from the body part where it’s implanted. Ultrasound is used to power and communicate with the device.
We wanted to see how far we could push the limits on how small a functioning chip we could make. This should be revolutionary for developing wireless, miniaturised implantable medical devices that can sense different things, be used in clinical applications, and eventually approved for human use.The research team
- The first use-cases may involve patients with neurological diseases and astronauts as both need continuous monitoring.
5. Space tech takes a new leap with reusable rockets
- Fully reusable rockets are the Holy Grail of space exploration.
- Not only do they decrease the cost of space launches by a factor of 100, but they also reduce the amounts of metallic junk we throw into orbit.
- In May 2021, SpaceX conducted a successful test flight. Starship reached a six-mile altitude, carried out a few maneuvers, and landed graciously on the same spot it took off from.
- Elon Musk, who’s the chief engineer of Starship said it can carry up to 100 metric tonnes per flight. He intends to begin orbital flights as soon as early 2022 and iterate on the design until it ticks every box.
- From there, Starship would be manufactured enmasse to power a future where humanity will establish Moon bases and build colonies on Mars.
6. NASA’s mini helicopter explores Mars
- NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on the Red Planet in February 2021. Its aim is to analyse the Martian lands and look for signs of past and present life.
- Perseverance sent back gorgeous pictures of our neighboring planet. Then, it deployed a mini-helicopter designed to test whether our technology can fly on Mars’s thin atmosphere.
- The answer was a “YES!” as the small chopper pulled off a flawless 30-second-long hover manoeuvre.
We don’t know exactly where [the mini helicopter] will lead us, but today’s results indicate the sky — at least on Mars — may not be the limit.NASA’s, Steve Jurczyk
- While the mini helicopter doesn’t carry cameras and sensors, future devices might.
- We now know we can make things fly on Mars — and the next step is to leverage that to better understand humanity’s second home.
7. Smart clothes for both humans and robots
- Picture an outfit that analyses your movements to suggest better postures.
- Researchers at MIT weaved conductive yarn to make wearable textiles that can sense pressure.
- An algorithm then collects and analyses the data transforming it into potential applications that aren’t only intended for humans.
Imagine robots that are no longer tactilely blind, and that have ‘skins’ just like we have as humans.Wan Shou, a postdoc at MIT
- Thanks to smart clothes, robots will be able to analyse their environment better and self-correct when moving around.
- MIT’s smart textile is mass-production friendly.
8. DeepMind decrypts biological enigmas
- In July 2021, Google’s DeepMind solved a “grand challenge” in biology known as the “protein folding problem.” They managed to predict how our biology works on a very small scale.
- The team behind the breakthrough made their findings available in a free searchable database.
- Scientists can now browse over 350,000 protein structures to develop better drugs, accelerate experiments, and even help deal with pandemics.
9. An Australian company designs a high-tech artificial heart
- The first version already exists under the name BiVACOR TAH.
- It’s designed to be a long-term device that can replace the total function of the patient’s native heart.
- BiVACOR TAH lasts 10 years before replacement.
- It’s small enough to be implantable in kids and powerful enough to match the cardiovascular needs of a young man during workout sessions. As for autonomy, it’s 10 hours per charge.
- Future designs aim to be less intrusive and use wireless tech instead of the current portable kits.
- This will give patients unparalleled freedom to return to life beyond the limitations of heart disease.
10. Concentrated solar power gains popularity
- Solar Energy companies capture heat inside a liquid, which powers turbines to generate electricity. That’s Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) in a nutshell.
- CSP’s main strength lies in its ability to store large amounts of energy using cheap tech.
- Instead of storing electricity inside expensive batteries, CSP plants use thermos-like reservoirs to store heat. Whenever electricity is needed, heat is converted into electricity while emitting zero carbon dioxide
- The growth of CSP has been somewhat slow over the years, but a recent development involving South Africa may give it momentum.
11. MIT & CFS get us closer to nuclear fusion
- Nuclear fusion is the process that happens inside the sun. Hydrogen atoms smash into each other forming helium and releasing tons of energy.
- We can recreate the same process here on Earth to build a reactor that produces more energy than it consumes while emitting next-to-zero waste.
- In other words, Nuclear Fusion = infinite green energy.
- How to build such a reactor? You need two technologies: microwaves and super magnets.
- Powering the latter happens to be quite the challenge. But a super magnet called SPARC has made it possible.
- SPARC generates a magnetic field of 20 Teslas, enough to lift a dozen cargo trucks as if they were tiny screws. It also consumes less energy.
- The Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working on this tech.
12. The race to the Metaverse will be fun to watch
- The Metaverse is a world built out of software. It’s a lot like an online role-playing video game.
- Inside the Metaverse, you’ll be able to do everything you already do online, like work, entertainment, and dating. But your experience will be much more immersive and interactive.
- Whether the Metaverse will be a parallel reality or an additional layer to the existing one is still up for grabs. It might rely on Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality.
- The first Metaverse applications would be games, but later versions may include other areas like work and tourism.
- There will be fierce competition that will result in new hardware and software achievements.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article mentioned above are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)