Bill Gates: “It was an honor to make a list of ten breakthrough technologies. Selecting only ten for this list was difficult. I wanted to not only choose the things that would appear in the headlines in 2019, but capture this moment of technological history - and this made me think about how innovations evolved over time. Then I remembered the plow - among all things. Plows perfectly embody the history of innovation.
People have used them since 4000 BC.when the Mesopotamian farmers first began to saturate the soil with oxygen using pointed poles. Since then, we have been slowly improving them, and modern plows are wonders of technology.
But what is the purpose of the plow in reality? "
Robots learn to deal with the physical world.
Despite all the talk that carsrobbed jobs, industrial robots are still clumsy and flexible. The robot can repeatedly find the component on the assembly line with amazing accuracy and never get bored, but move the object half an inch or replace it with something slightly different, and the machine will clumsily scramble over the surface or catch air.
Although the robot cannot yet be programmed tounderstanding how to grab any object, just by looking at it, as people do, now he can learn to control the object on his own through virtual trial and error.
One such project is Dactyl, a robot thattaught himself to turn a toy cube on his hand. Dactyl, which was developed by the non-profit organization OpenAI, is a complete robot arm, surrounded by an array of light sources and cameras. Using so-called learning with gain, software based on neural networks, the robot learned to grab and turn the cube in a simulated environment, before doing this trick with his own hand. Experiments with software, initially random, reinforce communications in the network with time, bringing the robot to the target.
Usually transfer this kind of virtual practicein the real world is impossible, because things like friction or various properties of different materials are difficult to model. The OpenAI team bypassed this by adding randomness to virtual learning and giving the robot an example of the confusion of reality.
New wave of nuclear power
Advanced nuclear fission and fusion reactors have become closer to reality.
New nuclear constructions that have gained momentum inlast year, they promise to make this source of energy safer and cheaper. Among them are the fission reactors of the fourth generation, the evolution of traditional design; small modular reactors; synthesis reactors that have always been something unattainable. Engineers of the fourth generation of reactors, like the Canadian Terrestrial Energy and the Washington TerraPower, entered into partnerships with utilities, hoping to arrange deliveries to the grid by 2020.
Small modular reactors typically producetens of megawatts of energy (for comparison, a conventional nuclear reactor produces about 1000 MW). Companies like the Oregon-based NuScale claim that miniature reactors can save money and reduce environmental risks.
There was also progress in the field of synthesis. Although no one expects shipments until 2030, companies such as General Fusion and Commonwealth Fusion Systems, an offshoot of MIT, have achieved some success. Many believe that synthesis is an impossible dream, but since reactors cannot melt and create long-lived radioactive waste, society will be more willing to distribute them, unlike conventional nuclear reactors. Bill Gates invested in TerraPower and Commonwealth Fusion Systems, by the way.
Prediction of preterm infants
A simple blood test can predict whether there is a risk of premature birth in a pregnant woman.
Our genetic material lives mostly inside.our cells. But a small amount of "cell-free" DNA and RNA also swim in our blood, often standing out by dying cells. In pregnant women, this cell-free material is an alphabetic broth of nucleic acids of the fetus, placenta and mother.
Stephen Quake, a bio-engineer from Stanford, has found a way to use this broth to solve one of the most difficult problems of medicine: about one in ten babies are born prematurely.
Freely floating DNA and RNA mayprovide information that previously required invasive methods of capturing cells, such as a biopsy of a tumor or a puncture of the abdomen of a pregnant woman to perform amniocentesis. It is now easier to detect and sequence small amounts of cell-free genetic material in the blood. In the past few years, scientists have begun developing blood tests for cancer (for detecting the DNA of tumor cells) and for prenatal screening of conditions like Down syndrome.
Tests for searching for such conditions rely on searching.genetic mutations in the DNA. RNA, on the other hand, is a molecule that regulates gene expression - how much protein is produced by the genome. By sequencing free-floating RNA in the mother’s blood, Quake was able to detect variations in the expression of seven genes that he associates with preterm labor. This allowed him to identify women who are likely to give birth prematurely. After anxiety, doctors can prescribe precautions and controls and give the child a greater chance of survival.
According to Quake, the technology behind the blood test is fast, simple, and costs less than $ 10 a measurement. Together with colleagues, he launched a startup Akna Dx to put the analysis on the stream.
Intestinal probe tablet
A small device that can be swallowed, takes detailed pictures of the intestines without anesthesia, even in infants and children.
Environmental intestinal dysfunction causedenvironment (EED) may be one of the most costly diseases you've heard of. Marked with an inflamed bowel that skips and absorbs nutrients poorly, it is widespread in poor countries and is one of the reasons people suffer from malnutrition, developmental delays and never achieve normal growth. No one knows what exactly causes this disorder, how to prevent or treat it.
Practical screening for its detection would helpmedical professionals to know when and how to intervene. Therapy is already available for infants, but the diagnosis and study of diseases in the intestines of such young children often requires pain relief and the introduction of an endoscope into the throat. It is expensive, inconvenient and impractical in those regions of the world where this bowel dysfunction is common.
Therefore, Guillermo Tierney, pathologist and engineerThe Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston is developing small devices that can be used to check the intestines for signs of EED or even get a tissue biopsy. Unlike endoscopes, they are easy to use when providing first aid.
Tirnye's capsules for swallowing contain miniaturemicroscopes. They are attached to a flexible wire rope that provides power and light when sending images to a console with a monitor. This gives the healthcare provider the opportunity to suspend the capsule in interesting places and take it out at the end, in order to then sterilize it and reuse it. Although it sounds strange, the Tierney team has developed a method that does not cause discomfort. It also allows you to take pictures of the entire surface of the digestive tract with a resolution up to a single cell or to capture three-dimensional cross sections a few millimeters deep.
Technology has several uses; she isused to screen for Barrett's esophagus, the precursor of esophageal cancer. For the EED, Tierney’s team has developed an even smaller version for children who cannot swallow a pill. She was tested on adolescents from Pakistan, where the EED is distributed, and on babies, tests are planned for 2019.
A small probe will help researchers respond toquestions about the development of EED — for example, which cells it affects and which bacteria are involved — and evaluate interventions and potential treatments.
Individual Cancer Vaccines
This treatment induces the body’s natural defenses to destroy only cancer cells, identifying mutations that are unique to each tumor.
Scientists are on the verge of commercializationfirst personalized cancer vaccine. If it works as planned, such a vaccine that encourages a person’s immune system to detect a tumor by its unique mutations will be able to effectively turn off certain types of cancer.
Using the body's natural defense forselective destruction of only tumor cells, this vaccine, unlike traditional chemotherapy, limits damage to healthy cells. Attacking immune cells will also be vigilant for the appearance of any street cancer cells after initial treatment.
The possibility of such vaccines beginningtake shape in 2008, five years after the completion of the Human Genome Project, the human genome project, when geneticists published the first cancer cell sequence.
Soon after, scientists began to compare DNA.tumor cells with the DNA of healthy cells - and other tumor cells. These studies confirmed that all cancer cells contain hundreds, if not thousands of specific mutations, most of which are unique to each tumor.
A few years later, a German startupBioNTech has provided strong evidence that a vaccine containing copies of such mutations can catalyze the body’s immune system to produce T cells designed to find, attack, and destroy all cancer cells.
In December 2017, BioNTech, together withThe biotech giant Genentech has begun extensive vaccine testing in cancer patients. The ongoing study focuses on 10 cancers and plans to cover 560 patients around the globe.
Both companies are developing new technologies.production to produce thousands of individual vaccines cheaply and quickly. It will be difficult because the creation of a vaccine involves a biopsy of a patient’s tumor, sequencing and analyzing its DNA, and also transmitting this information to the production site. After production, the vaccine should be immediately transported to the hospital; the delay can be fatal.
Burger without a cow
Both grown in the laboratory and vegetable options come close to the taste and nutritional value of real meat, without causing damage to the environment.
The UN expects 9.8 in the world by 2050billion people. And these people are getting richer. None of these trends bode well for climate change, especially because when people walk away from poverty, they start to eat more meat.
By this date, according to forecasts, people willconsume 70% more meat than in 2005. And it turns out that raising animals for human consumption is one of our worst actions towards the environment.
Depending on the animal, the productiona kilogram of meat protein by western industrial methods requires 8–50 times more water, 12–34 times more land and 12–40 times more fossil fuels than to produce a kilogram of vegetable protein.
The problem is that people are unlikely to stopeat meat in a short time. This means that laboratory-grown meat and vegetable alternatives may be the best way to limit destruction.
Meat production in the laboratory impliesextracting muscle tissue from animals and growing it in bioreactors. The final product is very similar to natural, although scientists are still working on taste. Scientists from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, who are working on large-scale production of laboratory meat, believe that they will grow a burger in the laboratory next year. One of the disadvantages of laboratory-grown meat is that, in this case, the environmental benefits are minimal - carbon emissions will be reduced at best by 7%.
As an option - to make meat on a vegetable basis,as do Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods (Bill Gates, by the way, an investor in both companies). They take protein from peas, soybeans, wheat, potatoes and vegetable oils to imitate the texture and taste of animal meat.
Beyond Meat has 2400 square metersland in California and has already sold more than 25 million burgers in 30,000 stores and restaurants. The Beyond Meat cutlet is likely to generate 90% less greenhouse gas emissions than a regular burger made from a cow.
Carbon dioxide catcher
Practical and affordable methods of trapping carbon dioxide from the air could absorb excess greenhouse gas emissions.
Even if we slow carbon emissions,The warming effect of a greenhouse gas can persist for thousands of years. According to the UN, the world in this century will need to remove 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to prevent a dangerous increase in temperature.
Harvard climatologist David Keith last summerhe calculated that theoretically, machines can handle this for less than $ 100 per ton if they use the direct air trapping method. This is an order of magnitude cheaper than earlier estimates, which led many scientists to abandon the technology as too expensive, although it would take years for the costs to fall to that level.
But when you catch carbon, you still have to figure out what to do with it.
Canadian startup Carbon Engineering, whichFounded in 2009, Kate plans to expand her pilot program and increase synthetic fuel production using captured carbon dioxide as a key ingredient. (Bill Gates invested in Carbon Engineering).
Located in Zurich factory direct captureClimeworks will produce methane from carbon dioxide and hydrogen, and a second plant in Switzerland will sell carbon dioxide to the soft drink industry.
However, if you use it insynthetic fuel or carbonated carbon dioxide will be returned back to the atmosphere. The ultimate goal is to permanently block greenhouse gas emissions. Some of them can be arrested in carbon fiber, polymers or concrete, but it would be much easier just to place them under the ground. Only in this case very few people will support this business model.
In fact, removing CO2 from the air, with engineeringpoint of view, is one of the most difficult and expensive ways to deal with climate change. But given how slowly we reduce emissions, there are no good options.
ECG on the wrist
Regulatory approval and technological advances make it easy for people to continuously monitor their hearts with wearable devices.
Fitness trackers - non-serious medicaldevices. Intensive training or a weakened strap can confuse sensors that read your pulse. But the electrocardiogram, which doctors use to diagnose disorders even before they cause a stroke or a heart attack, requires a visit to the clinic, and often people just do not have time to pass the test on time.
Smart watches with ECG support made possiblethanks to new rules and innovations in hardware and software, they offer the convenience of a wearable device with an accuracy close to the accuracy of medical.
Strap for Apple Watch, developed by AliveCor,able to detect atrial fibrillation, a common cause of blood clots and strokes, received FDA approval in 2017. Last year, Apple released its own ECG function, built into the clock.
Shortly thereafter, Withings also announced plans to purchase an ECG clock.
In modern wearable devices are stillonly one sensor is used, whereas in a real ECG there are 12 of them. And none of the wearable devices can detect a heart attack when it occurs.
But that may change - soon.
Sanitation without sewage
Energy efficient toilets will be able to work even without sewage systems and process waste on site.
About 2.3 billion people do not have access togood sanitary conditions. The lack of working toilets encourages people to dump fecal matter into nearby ponds and streams, spreading bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause diarrhea and cholera. Diarrhea is the cause of death of one of nine children worldwide.
Scientists are working to create a new type of toilet, which will be cheap enough for the developing world and will not only be able to collect, but also recycle.
In 2011, Bill Gates created a peculiar XPrize in this area - the contest "reinvent the toilet." Since the launch, several teams have presented their prototypes. All waste is treated on site, so there is no need for a large amount of water to carry it to the sewer.
Options are also considered with heating waste to produce carbon-rich material that can fertilize the soil.
“Smooth” talking virtual assistants
New methods capable of capturing the semantic connections between words make machines better in understanding natural language.
We are used to virtual assistants - Alexaplays music in the living room, Siri sets alarm clocks on the phone - but they have not yet justified the hopes placed on them in terms of cleverness. They were supposed to simplify our lives, but they hardly scratched this soil. They recognize only a narrow range of commands and easily stray from the course.
Some recent advances should expandrepertoire of digital assistants. In June 2018, researchers from OpenAI developed a technique that teaches AI on unmarked text, avoiding the time and money spent on classifying and marking all data manually. A few months later, Google introduced the BERT system, which learned how to predict missing words while studying millions of sentences. In the multiple choice test, he handled as well as people did when filling in the gaps.
These improvements, combined with improved synthesisspeeches, let us move from simple instructions for AI assistants to conversations with them. They will allow them to cope with simple tasks like making notes about meetings, searching for information and making online purchases.
Some are ready. Google Duplex, the surprisingly "humane" update of Google Assistant, can receive calls from spammers and TV vendors. It can also make calls on your behalf to schedule a restaurant reservation or buy tickets.
In China, users have become accustomed to Alibaba's AliMe, which coordinates the delivery of packages by phone and bargains about the price of goods in the chat.
But at least the AI programs began to understand better thatyou want, they still do not understand the sentences. Strings are compiled or generated statistically, demonstrating how difficult it is to give machines a true understanding of the language. When we overcome this obstacle, we will see another revolution. From the coordinator-logistician - to the nurse, the teacher or even a friend.
What kind of breakthrough from this list do you personally expect? Tell us about it in our chat in Telegram.