Every single year (since 2001), MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) releases a list of the 10 most important technology breakthroughs for that year. They also review why these technologies matter, who is working to actualize them, and when they will be available.
This year, the list is nothing short of jaw dropping, exciting, and maybe even a little nerve-wracking. Some of these technologies are still just being tested in the background, but some will become commercially available and perhaps pervasive in the near future.
How are these technologies chosen? David Rotman, the editor of the list, explains, “We select the list by asking each of our journalists what are the most important new technologies they wrote about this year? And which will have a long-term impact. We’re looking for fundamentally new advances in technology that will have widespread consequences.”
From artificial embryos to zero-carbon natural gas, this list is breaming with possibilities and anticipation. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the top ten most significant technological breakthroughs for this year.
10 Breakthrough Technologies for 2018
1. 3D Metal Printing
You may have heard of 3D plastic printing and you may have seen it used in a myriad of applications and industries. However, technology is advancing quickly and the potential of metal 3D printing is becoming a reality.
This could change the operating model for some companies and even industries forever.
“3D metal printing gives manufacturers the ability to make a single or small number of metal parts much more cheaply than using existing mass-production techniques,” Rotman says.
“Instead of keeping a large inventory of parts, the company can simply print a part when the customer needs it. Additionally, it can make complex shapes not possible with any other method. That can mean lighter or higher performance parts.”
Some companies that are developing and selling these technologies are Markforged, Desktop Metal, and GE.
MIT reports that these technologies are available now.
2. Artificial Embryos
To someone who is unfamiliar with the intricate science of artificial embryos, MIT breaks it down this way: “Without using eggs or sperm cells, researchers have made embryo-like structures from stem cells alone, providing a whole new route to creating life.”
This means that in the near future, mammals could be born without an egg at all. But more importantly, this allows researchers to observe the complexities of the beginnings of human life.
Of course, this also raises many bioethical debates, which are critical during the development of this type of technology.
The universities involved with this technological breakthrough are University of Cambridge, University of Michigan, and Rockefeller University. This advancement has just recently been made and will be built upon soon.
3. Sensing City
Many plans for smart cities have been made in the past and almost always are not realized. However, a project called Quayside in Toronto, Canada is aiming to break that pattern.
It plans to be the first neighborhood that “integrate[s] cutting-edge urban design with state-of-the-art digital technologies,” making “urban areas more affordable, livable, and environmentally friendly.”
The company working alongside Waterfront Toronto is Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, based in New York City. The project was announced in October of 2017 and construction is planned to begin in 2019
4. AI for Everybody
Currently, cloud-based artificial intelligence has mainly been used by tech giants like Amazon, Google and Microsoft. However, these same tech giants are aiming to make it cheaper and more accessible.
As AI becomes more and more readily and affordably available to everyone, the economy could see major changes and experience a major boost.
5. Duelling Neural Networks
In the past, AI has been developed to identify things. For instance, if you show it a million different photos and ask it to choose the photo of a banana, it can do so with great accuracy.
However, AI is not so good at coming up a with a picture of a banana by itself. In other words, AI has lacked imagination.
Now, a new technological breakthrough from the people at Google Brain, DeepMind, and Nvidia is changing though.
As MIT summarizes, “Two AI systems can spar with each other to create ultra-realistic original images or sounds, something machines have never been able to do before.”
This gives AI something similar to an imagination. They no are no longer so reliant on humans for material, but can create material itself. However, this is somewhat alarming because it increases the potential of digital fakery.
The debate about the power and potential threat of AI lives on, but it seems the technology is only growing stronger.
6. Babel Fish Earbuds
Yellow Babel fish ear buds appeared in the cult classic, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And now they may exist permanently in reality.
Google has introduced Pixel Buds, which work with the Pixel smartphone and the Google translate app to create nearly real-time translation.
This could have huge implications for the global world. Communication could no longer be a barrier between peoples of different countries and languages.
The hardware on the Pixel Buds is a little clunky, but with time and future developments, this may be the future of international communication.
7. Zero-Carbon Natural Gas
MIT is readily admitting that the world is probably going to reliant upon natural gas for the foreseeable future. However, this admission makes this technological breakthrough that much more exciting.
A pilot power plant called Net Power is currently testing a technology that could create clean energy from natural gas, avoiding greenhouse-gas emissions.
This project is a collaboration between 8 Rivers Capital, Exelon Generation and CB&I.
Since approximately 32% of the electivity in the US is produced with natural gas, which accounts for 30% of the power sector’s carbon emissions—the affects of this technology, if successful, would be big.
MIT predicts that it could become a reality in 3 to 5 years.
8. Perfecting Online Privacy
As MIT explains, “computer scientists are perfecting a cryptographic tool for proving something without revealint the information underlying the proof.”
For instance, you will soon be able to prove that you have enough money in your bank account without revealing other personal banking details.
This could be critical for reducing the likelihood of identify theft.
The main players of this technological development are Zcash, a digital currency launched in 2016, JPMorgan Chase, and ING.
9. Genetic Fortune-Telling
Recent huge genetic studies, some involving over one million people, have drastically improved DNA-based predictions. Predicting common diseases and even IQ is now easier than ever before.
As Rotman explains, “Genetic fortune telling will make it possible to predict the chances that you’ll be smart or below average in intelligence. It will also make it possible to predict behavior traits. But how will we use that information? Will it change how we educate children and judge their potential?”
Those questions have not yet been answered, but the potential for these technological advancements are absolutely tremendous.
The main organizations and companies behind this research include Helix, 23andMe, Myriad Genetics, UK Biobank, and Broad Institute.
10. Materials’ Quantum Leap
Researchers at IBM have used a seven-qubit quantum computer to simulate the electronic structure of a small molecule.
Does this sound confusing? The important point is described by Rotman like this: “This could make it possible to design all sorts of miracle materials, such as more efficient solar cells, better catalysts to make clean fuels, and proteins that act as far more effective drugs.”
The people involved in this breakthrough come from IBM, Google and Harvard.
MIT predicts that this technology could be available in 5 to 10 years.
If any of these breakthroughs piqued your interest, head on over to technologyreview.com to read more!
We cannot wait to see how this amazing technology unfolds into our day-to-day reality.