The breakthrough technologies of 2016

It’s about that time again – when publications and broadcasters pump out review after review of the year that was – and look to the one ahead.

In 2016, again we found technology once filed under ‘Imagine’, ‘Maybe’, and ‘What If’ firmly enter the zeitgeist. From ubiquitous virtual reality headsets to cloud-based assistants, and huge advances in robotics’ visual perception, speech recognition and decision-making powers.

Maybe ground zero for the AI takeover will forever be traced back to 2016.

But if the tightening of the tech curve has taught us anything it’s that the past has gone, it’s finished. Nowadays, we look ahead – from what was to what is.

So with that, from healthcare to STEM and consumer, here’s what the experts are predicting for 2017. We’ve cherry-picked some of the breakouts, trends, and game-changers in the science and tech space that we predict will make noise.

 

MedTech Miracles

  • Helix

MIT Technology Review highlighted Helix, a ‘DNA App Store’ which plans to launch within the next two years. Having secured more than $100 million funding to develop this concept, the San Francisco–based company hopes to make it cheap and easy to learn more about individuals’ health risks and predispositions – ultimately empowering us to guide our own healthcare decisions.

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  • Immune Engineering

Already undergoing testing, and saving lives, is the concept of genetically engineered immune cells. Immune engineering takes T cells (the “killer cells” of the immune system) from a person’s bloodstream and, using a virus, adds new DNA instructions. Already shown to be effective for cancer patients this could also transform the lives of those who are HIV positive or have multiple sclerosis. Find out more

  • Ultrasound Therapy

The BBC recently reported a pioneering procedure which uses deep-brain ultrasound therapy to treat tremors. With the patient conscious throughout, Dr Peter Bain, consultant neurologist with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, used MRI guided, focused ultrasound to destroy the specific tissues that sent mis-timed electrical signals to muscles. With ‘an enormous future’ this practice could be used to good effect for Parkinson’s disease sufferers. 

  • Optogenetics

The World Economic Forum’s report on Emerging Technologies  highlighted recent developments in optogenetics: the use of light and colour to record the activity of neurons in the brain. Although the technology has been around for some time, recent developments are enabling light to be delivered deeper into brain tissue, offering hope for better treatment for those with brain disorders.

 

WorkTech Wonders

  • Wearable Tech

As watches, glasses and even clothing become ever ‘smarter’ and mainstream, it is expected that wearables will begin to impact business life. Research house Juniper, via Business Insider, suggests that wearable tech could improve productivity by over 30 percent. Gartner predicts that some 2m employees in fields like law enforcement and paramedics will be required to wear health and fitness tracking devices by 2018.

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  • Conversational Interfaces

Technology Review highlighted that a growing number of China’s 691 million smartphone users now regularly dispense with swipes, taps and tiny keyboards when looking things up on the country’s most popular search engine, Baidu, and opt instead for speech technology. Upgrades are coming to make voice interfaces more practical and more widespread – to include many more of the everyday devices and machines around us.

  • Slack

Slack, the intra-office messaging software, is now surpassing email as the preferred method of internal communications. Slack is the fastest-growing workplace software the world has ever seen, having surpassed the 2m daily user mark in under three years. It delivers a centralised place to communicate and collaborate on documents with colleagues through instant messages.

  • AI PA’s

Open artificial intelligence in the form of virtual personal assistants is already breaking through. Using cloud-hosted neural networks to predict our needs and act autonomously on our behalf, Gartner predicts that by 2020, they will facilitate 40 percent of mobile interactions in a ‘post-app’ era. Look out for Facebook’s fledgling virtual assistant M in the near future.

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GreenTech Game Changers

  • CRISPR

New, ultra-precise methods for plant genetic engineering promise to keep us a step ahead of the drought, and to help safeguard disease-prone crops whilst generating better yields. Technology Review believes that the gene-editing technique could be critical in helping scientists keep up with the constantly evolving microbes that attack crops, whilst sidestepping consumer concerns about GMO and rigorous regulatory barriers.

  • The Final Frontier

Rockets are typically destroyed on or after their maiden voyage. But reusable rockets, which make an upright landing, can be prepped to go again, dramatically reducing the galactic costs associated with space travel.

  • Gigafactory

The so-called ‘gigafactory’ is SolarCity, a $750m facility that’s about to kick into life. Capable of making 10,000 solar panels a day (one gigawatt of solar capacity a year), the US factory aims to push solar into society, making the eco-friendly powersource more attractive to homeowners. With a fully integrated service, SolarCity will take care ofbu everything from making the solar cells to putting them on rooftops.

  • Autopilot

If litigators ever allow it, autonomous driving will become a mainstream reality. Doing its bit to push the case is electric vehicle pioneer Tesla, which recently issued a free software update; handing drivers the kind of autopilot control that aircraft pilots enjoy: putting speed, steering, lane changes, and parking in the hands of the system. Here’s how the test drive fared.

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Imaged sourced from: https://www.technologyreview.com