Thursday, March 24, 2016

10 Breakthrough Technologies

Immune Engineering
Precise Gene Editing in Plants
Conversational Interfaces
“I hope to someday have grandchildren who are mystified at how, back in 2016, if you were to say ‘Hi’ to your microwave oven, it would rudely sit there and ignore you.”
Reusable Rockets
spaceflight could become a hundred times cheaper..... the future of spaceflight will be far more interesting than the Apollo-era hangover of the past 40 years.
Robots That Teach Each Other
an average experiment generates 100 gigabytes of information ..... Researchers are already working on autoimmune disorders, like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and lupus. Infectious disease is also in the sights of T-cell engineers.

Precise Gene Editing in Plants

CRISPR offers an easy, exact way to alter genes to create traits such as disease resistance and drought tolerance.
a lab in China has used it to create a fungus--resistant wheat; several groups in China are using the technique on rice in efforts to boost yields; and a group in the U.K. has used it to tweak a gene in barley that helps govern seed germination, which could aid efforts to produce drought-resistant varieties. ..... The gene-editing technique could be critical in helping scientists keep up with the constantly evolving microbes that attack crops ...... “It takes millions of dollars and many years of work to go through the regulatory process,” Kamoun says. “But the pathogens don’t sit and wait for you; they keep evolving and changing.” ....... Big and small companies alike are jumping in. ..... The big question is whether CRISPR crops will be governed by the same regulations as GMOs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has already said some examples of gene-edited corn, potatoes, and soybeans (edited using a different method, known as TALENs) don’t fall under existing regulations. But both the United States and the more restrictive European Union are now conducting reviews of today’s regulations. And Chinese authorities have not said whether they will allow the crops to be planted.

Conversational Interfaces

Powerful speech technology from China’s leading Internet company makes it much easier to use a smartphone.
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. China is an ideal place for voice interfaces to take off, because Chinese characters were hardly designed with tiny touch screens in mind. But people everywhere should benefit as Baidu advances speech technology and makes voice interfaces more practical and useful. That could make it easier for anyone to communicate with the machines around us. ...... “The best technology is often invisible, and as speech recognition becomes more reliable, I hope it will disappear into the background.” ...... they offer a glimpse of a graceful future in which there’s less need to learn a new interface for every new device. ...... There are thousands of Chinese characters, and although a system called Pinyin allows them to be generated phonetically from Latin ones, many people (especially those over 50) do not know the system. It’s also common in China to use messaging apps such as WeChat to do all sorts of tasks, such as paying restaurant tabs. And yet in many of China’s poorer regions, where there is perhaps more opportunity for the Internet to have big social and economic effects, literacy levels are still low. ....... Robots or home appliances, for example, could be easier to deal with if you could simply talk to them. ...... a powerful new speech recognition engine called Deep Speech 2. It consists of a very large, or “deep,” neural network that learns to associate sounds with words and phrases as it is fed millions of examples of transcribed speech. Deep Speech 2 can recognize spoken words with stunning accuracy. In fact, the researchers found that it can sometimes transcribe snippets of Mandarin speech more accurately than a person. ....... Baidu’s progress is all the more impressive because Mandarin is phonetically complex and uses tones that transform the meaning of a word. Deep Speech 2 is also striking because few of the researchers in the California lab where the technology was developed speak Mandarin, Cantonese, or any other variant of Chinese.

The engine essentially works as a universal speech system, learning English just as well when fed enough examples.

Reusable Rockets

Rockets typically are destroyed on their maiden voyage. But now they can make an upright landing and be refueled for another trip, setting the stage for a new era in spaceflight.
If this can be done regularly and rockets can be refueled over and over, spaceflight could become a hundred times cheaper.

Robots That Teach Each Other

What if robots could figure out more things on their own and share that knowledge among themselves?

DNA App Store

An online store for information about your genes will make it cheap and easy to learn more about your health risks and predispositions.

SolarCity’s Gigafactory

A $750 million solar facility in Buffalo will produce a gigawatt of high-efficiency solar panels per year and make the technology far more attractive to homeowners.
efficiencies in the lab are even higher: researchers have made exotic solar-cell materials with efficiencies of up to 40 percent.


A service built for the era of mobile phones and short text messages is changing the workplace.
Slack gives you a centralized place to communicate with your colleagues through instant messages and in chat rooms, which can reduce the time you have to spend on e-mail. Whether you’re on a mobile device or a desktop computer, you can upload files, get and manipulate information stored in spreadsheets or other business applications, and easily search through past conversations. But many of the core features have been around since the 1990s. And there have been other “Facebook for the office” software packages that resemble Slack and have failed to generate anything close to the same level of enthusiasm. ...... more and more people now get work done on mobile devices, in collaboration with people who aren’t always in the same office at the same time. ....... Slack funnels messages into streams that everyone who works together can see. That “allows you to ‘overhear’ what is going on in an organization, which research has shown can lead to business impact,” he says. “It’s a kind of ambient awareness that you just don’t get from e-mail.” ...... Slack messages tend to be short and casual, much more like the mobile text messages that people are increasingly favoring over e-mail in their personal life

Tesla Autopilot

The electric-vehicle maker sent its cars a software update that suddenly made autonomous driving a reality.
give drivers something similar to what airline pilots employ in flight ..... The car could manage its speed, steer within and even change lanes, and park itself. ..... Everyone wanted to know what it felt like, the strange surrender of allowing a car to take control. The only moments that seemed like magic were when the car parked itself or changed lanes, mostly because watching a steering wheel turn all on its own was unnatural and ghostly. ...... the thing that quickly becomes strange is driving a car without Autopilot. “You’ll feel like the car is not doing its job,” he said. ...... my car accelerated and slowed more smoothly than it ever could have with me in charge.

Power from the Air

Internet devices powered by Wi-Fi and other telecommunications signals will make small computers and sensors more pervasive.
energy harvested from nearby TV, radio, cell-phone, or Wi-Fi signals ..... Transferring power wirelessly is not a new trick. But getting a device without a conventional power source to communicate is harder, because generating radio signals is very power-intensive and the airwaves harvested from radio, TV, and other telecommunication technologies hold little energy. ..... weak radio signals can indeed provide all an Internet gadget needs ...... tiny passive Wi-Fi devices could be extremely cheap to make, perhaps less than a dollar. In tomorrow’s smart home, security cameras, temperature sensors, and smoke alarms should never need to have their batteries changed.

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