MIT Technology Review: Top 10 Breakthrough Technologies in 2018

MIT Technology Review
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1) 3-D Printing:

In Recent years 3-D printing is gaining a lot of traction. But for many years hobbyists and designers were the only adopters of the technology as printing with anything other than paper was expensive and painfully slow. However with advancement in printing techniques and reduced costs, 3-D printing has everything to became a game changer. The most significant impact would be in the case of manufacturing and supply chain. In the future, there would be no need for large inventories as manufacturers could merely print the specific part that the customer is looking. Also, it could make large factories obsolete and make way for smaller ones with a much more flexible manufacturing process which could better cater the user’s need.

Markforged, Desktop Metal, GE are identified as key players in this business. In 017 Markforged released the first printer that cost less than 100,000 dollars. In the same year, Desktop Metal began shipping its first metal prototyping machines.

3D Printing

2) Artificial Embryos:

Creation of life is something that has always fascinated scientist alike. In a stunning revelation. Embryologists of Cambridge University have grown realistic mouse embryos from only stem cells. The cells were placed in a three- dimensional scaffold and team watched as the cells started lining into the bullet shape of mouse embryos. Magdelena Zernicka­-Goetz, head of the investigating team said in an interview “We know that stem cells are magical in their powerful potential of what they can do. We did not realize they could self-organize so beautifully or perfectly”.


Despite the discovery that could very soon lead to the birth of mammals without an egg, It wasn’t her original intention. She wanted to study how the cells of an early embryo start taking on their individual roles. She says that the next step would be the creation of an artificial embryo out of human stem cells. However artificial embryos also face ethical questioning. Questions like How long can they be grown in the lab before they feel pain? This is only one of the issue that needs answering.

Also Read: Top 10 Ongoing AI Projects that will Blow Your Mind

3) Sensing City

The concept of a smart city is fascinating, but often smart city projects run into extensive delays, dialed down objectives or being too expensive.
Well, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) sought to change that.  Aplahbet’s sidewalk labs are collaborating with the Canadian government on a high tech project for Toronto’s industrial waterfront. The project aims to base the designs regarding design, policy, and technology on the data from a network of sensors that gather information on virtually everything such as air quality, noise levels and people activities. The plan includes automated and shared vehicles. Robots would be employed underground for menial chores.

Sidewalk labs would share access to the software systems so that other companies could build on it is similar to what Google does on Android. But the project has also raised some issues regarding data governance and privacy as the company wants to monitor public infrastructure closely. But Sidewalk says that it can work with the community and the local government to ease these worries.
The project seems to have gained attention as many North American countries including San Francisco, Denver, Los angles have called for introductions. According to company’s CEO Will Flessing.

Sensing City

4) AI for Everbody

Despite all the hype and the talk surrounding AI, Deep Learning and Machine Learning, the truth is that it has been a plaything only for tech giants such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft and some startups. For many other businesses, the setup is just too expensive. Solution: Cloud-based Machine learning tools. In this regard, Amazon takes first place with AWS ( Amazon web services) with Google close behind with TensorFlow, an open source AI library. While Microsoft has its own AI-powered cloud solution in the name of Azure but is teaming up with Amazon to provide Gluon, an open source Deep-Learning library.

Whosoever be the winner in the race the big picture is the increased implementation of AI. So far the most prominent deployment of AI has been in the technical field. But cloud AI could lead to AI in the field of medicine, transportation, energy. These changes sectors could lead to a big boost to the economy. Amazon and Google even offer consulting services to ease the use of their AI products.

Also Read: How Machine Learning is changing the world

5) Dueling Neural Networks

Deep learning models are extremely good at identifying the thing, Show it thousands of pictures, and it can show you which ones depict a pedestrian crossing a street with uncanny accuracy. However what they lack is the ability to generate the images of pedestrians themselves. The solution to this occurred to Ian Goodfellow, a PhD student at the University of Montreal. The approach, known as a generative adversarial network, or GAN, takes two neural networks and pits them against each other. Both the neural networks are trained on the same dataset. One is called the generator and is tasked with generating variations on images it has already seen. The second one known as the discriminator is asked to identify whether the example it sees is an image of a pedestrian.

With time the generator becomes so good at producing images that discriminator can’t spot fakes kind of like trial and error. Essentially the generator has been trained to recognise and then create realistic pictures of pedestrians. This has vast implications in the field of self-driving cars. It could create gobs of realistic but fake pictures with pedestrians in various settings which then a self-driving car can use to train itself without ever going out in the field. There are some bugs which need to be sorted out, but it is a step in the right direction.

6) Babel-Fish Earbuds

Until now, the feature of real-time translation was found only in pages of Sci-Fi books and novels. Well, Google has unveiled a set of earbuds known as Pixel buds which feature a real-time translation feature. These work with the pixel smartphone and the translator app. Basically what happens is the person wearing the earbuds speaks in his/her native language, and the translator app translates and plays it out. The app then converts the response, and it is played in the earbuds.

Google already has conversation feature in its translator app but because it employs the speaker it has some problems. Forex background noise can mess up with the translator in understanding what the person is saying or when to stop listening. They fixed this feature with the buds as the person has to tap and hold the right earbud to use the translation feature. Earbuds also allow the persons to maintain eye contact as they are not continually exchanging a smartphone. While the earbuds have received some flack for underwhelming design. But hardware can be revised; it should the promise that we should look out for.

Babel Fish Earbuds

7) Zero-carbon Natural Gas

It is no surprise that world is trying to move away from coal and petroleum or instead it has to. Then, natural gas comes into the picture as the next significant fuel source. It accounts for 30% of US electricity and 22% of world’s power. But even natural gas is not perfect, while much cleaner than coal, it’s still a massive source of carbon emissions.

A company called Net Power believes that it can generate power at least as cheaply as conventional natural-gas plants and capture virtually all the carbon dioxide released.  So what this means is that we would have a way to produce clean energy from fossil fuel at reasonable cost. This project has the upper hand as compared to Nuclear energy and renewable sources of energy as it won’t requires the considerable capital costs of Nuclear power and it won’t have the unsteady supply as some renewable sources do.

What the plant does is that it places the carbon dioxide released under extreme heat and pressure and using the resulting “Supercooled CO2” as the fluid for running a specially built turbine. A considerable chunk of the carbon dioxide can be continuously recycled; the rest is captured cheaply. A vital aspect of the whole project is the sales of C02. Well, right now the primary use is the extraction of oil from petroleum. However, Net Power hopes to see growing demand for cement manufacturing and plastic making industry.

Zero carbon natural gas

8) Perfect Online Privacy

Data privacy is an ongoing debate in today’s world. Well, thanks to a new tool it might just end. This tool can help you prove that you an adult without sharing your DoB. The tool is a cryptographic tool called Zero-knowledge proof. While it is something that many people have been working on for many years. It gained traction late last year, due to the sudden interest in cryptocurrencies. A lot of the credit for this protocol goes to ZCash, a digital currency that launched in late 2016. The developers used a method known as zk-SNARK (“zero-knowledge succinct non-interactive argument of knowledge”) to allow the users to interact anonymously. This was new in the world of cryptocurrency as usually, all transactions are visible to everyone.

Though these transactions are theoretically anonymous, they can be combined with other data to track and even identify users. Vitalik Buterin, creator of Etherium called the tech “absolutely game-changing technology.”  This protocol could allow banks to use blockchains in payment systems could giving away their client’s identity. In fact, JPMorgan Chase added as zk-SNARK to its blockchain-based payment system. Well, nothing in the world is perfect, as zk-SNARK are computation-heavy and slow. They also need this “trusted setup”, creating a cryptographic key that could compromise the entire system.


9) Genetic Fortune Telling

If this one has it’s way DNA report cards for our children are on their way. These reports will offer predictions regarding their chances of a heart attack, Cancer, and IQ. It was discovered that many common traits including intelligence and diseases are a result of many genes acting together in concert. So using the data from large ongoing genetic studies, scientist are creating something called “Polygenic risk scores.”

Despite providing only probabilities, this could be a boon to the medical field for obvious reasons. Many pharmaceutical companies can also use the scores in trials of their preventive drugs for diseases like Alzheimer’s or heart disease. By selecting volunteers who have a high probability of getting sick, they can better test how well the drugs work. Well, not everything is golden and shiny. Since it is just a probability, there is no guarantee that someone with low likelihood would develop heart disease. Also, which child would want to know that they have a less than average IQ, imagine the consequences on his self-confidence.

Genetic Fortune Telling

10) Materials’ Quantum Leap:

We are all too familiar with the phrase: “With great power comes great responsibility”. Well, the issue with the new quantum computers is that they don’t know their responsibility. They have computational powers far higher than today’s computers, but so far we have had a tough time deciding what to do with it. Well, in recent time a possibility has come up, and that is designing molecules. As the medical sector, energy production sector improves, the scientists are coming up with new molecules for more effective drugs. Compounds that can create liquid fuel straight from sunlight resulting in much more efficient solar panels. We still don’t have these things as modeling of these molecules is extremely hard on classical computers. But it can be a natural game for quantum computers.

Quantum computers use “qubits” instead of the traditional 1s and 0s. These qubits are themselves quantum system. With quantum computers at our disposal, it is now possible to stimulate large and exciting molecules.

Material Quantum leap


Credit: Technology Review


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