The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, aka MIT, is an organization that enjoys an impressive reputation in near-science circles. Each year, its staff report on ten technological breakthroughs, the most promising at the time the list was compiled. The latest version of the top ten includes significant achievements by entrepreneurs, engineers, and scientists from just last year and early this year. Other topics such as best rated online casino and technology can be found on our website.
The last few years have seen the shift from science-fiction to reality in conversational control of technology. Increasingly popular voice assistants like Siri, Cortana, and Google Now are already available on a multitude of smartphones and are migrating to new types of devices. These services are still far from perfect and can be prone to bugs in their performance. But machine learning technologies are helping them to recognize speech more accurately and better understand what the user is saying.
The latest breakthrough in the field of voice interfaces, which deserves special attention from MIT, is the achievement of Chinese search giant Baidu. In November, the company announced that it had developed Deep Speech 2, a speech recognition engine based on a huge neural network. It helps the search engine successfully process verbal queries in Chinese, a language known for its complexity. According to experts, the system understands some fragments of speech even more accurately than a human.
Thanks to Baidu, Chinese people are increasingly doing without typing characters that are poorly suited to small screens. “Speech is becoming so versatile that you can use it without thinking,” MIT quotes Andrew Eun, Baidu’s chief scientist and a professor at Stanford University. “The best technology is always invisible, and as recognition progresses, hopefully, it will dissolve into the background.”
Humanity’s dreams of distant stars have always been overshadowed by the prohibitive cost of spaceflight. Engineers learned how to launch expensive rockets, but for half a century they could never figure out how to return them unscathed to Earth. The only exceptions were two systems: the Soviet Energia-Buran and the American Space Shuttle, parts of which came down on parachutes and could be reused. But the savings in both cases did not pay off – and the programs were scrapped.
Recently, however, two private companies have boasted about their jet-powered vertical landing technologies, which could make spaceflight much cheaper. SpaceX successfully landed its first rocket in December 2015. Blue Origin did so with its vehicle a month earlier, and successfully re-launched the same vehicle in January this year, making it the first reusable rocket with a vertical landing system.
Although SpaceX has yet to re-launch its rocket for the first time, it is worth pointing out that the company’s challenges are far more complex. Its vehicles fly faster, go farther into space than Blue Origin rockets, and face higher loads. In any case, the merits of each company give reason to hope for positive developments in space exploration.
Machines efficiently perform single-type, precisely predefined tasks. But they still cannot cope with the non-routine mechanical work that human hands can do. Would you trust a robot to fill a tooth or do your hair? Certainly not, because a living dentist or hairdresser would be a match for any machine. That’s because humans over the course of their lives digest a wealth of data about the things around them and their experiences with them.
If robots are to become as adept as we are, we need to improve their learning curve. That is exactly what Stephanie Telex, a computer science professor at Brown University, is doing. She is one of the scientists working with cloud-based technology to share data between robots from around the world. ROS, a robot programming framework that provides functionality for distributed operations, serves this purpose. As soon as a machine learns new operations on an object, it passes on the experience to others. And so on.
According to Ashutosh Saxena, head of robotics start-up Brain of Things, progress may seem slow for now, but the next five to 10 years could bring an explosion of opportunities for robots.
Corporate Messenger Slack
A service designed for the era of smartphones and short text messaging is changing the work environment. Those are the simple and succinct words the staff at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology use to describe Slack. Messenger has been called the fastest-growing corporate service in history. So far, in less than 3 years of its existence, its daily audience has exceeded 2 million users. Such impressive results prompted MIT experts to award Slack the status of a technological breakthrough.
The developers of the service have grasped the needs of the new era: people want to work comfortably and productively on mobile devices without having to sit in the same room as their colleagues. As a communication platform, Slack fits these goals perfectly. According to social media specialist Christina Lerman, in messenger, you work with short and informal messages, which people prefer to emails. This makes communication with colleagues unobtrusive and dynamic.
To successfully compete with fossil fuels, solar power needs cheaper and more efficient technology. SolarCity, one of the industry leaders, diligently pushes alternative energy systems to the masses. But so far, it hasn’t made the desired profit. And the overall cost of solar panels, additional equipment, connection, and configuration of all this stuff can still put off the interested consumer.
SolarCity intends to turn the market around. On the banks of the Buffalo River in Nevada, the company is building a giant factory where it plans to produce solar panels at a breakneck pace: 10,000 a day. The sheer scale and simplified manufacturing process should lower SolarCity’s costs, and, as a result, the market value of home energy systems.
But the company will have to take its chances. The Chinese are quick to slash prices on their panels, and the technology SolarCity is betting on could quickly become obsolete. Either way, MIT believes either outcome will be positive for the industry as a whole.
App Store for DNA
A person’s genome can tell us about a carrier’s physiological traits and predisposition to various ailments. In addition, by comparing the genetic information of different people, it is possible to check for family ties between them. But unless a paternity test is involved, people rarely use a DNA decryption service. And the cost of such a procedure is not the most affordable.
Justin Kao, the co-founder of the start-up Helix, hopes to carve out a niche that has not yet been carved out. He intends to create an online repository for decrypted genome samples – a kind of DNA App Store. Customers who donate samples and buy apps from a special shop will have access to the digitized results through them. And users will be given control over their personal data and can even share it with third-party developers. For example, they can show in their applications what diseases a user is exposed to or what he or she will look like in n years.
If Helix succeeds, it will create a whole platform for services that use DNA. In that case, everyone will be able to extract more useful information from their genome. Plus, the cost of the test itself could fall due to mass demand.
Several players in the electric car market are working on autonomous driving technologies. The clearest example is Tesla. In 2014, it launched a sensor-packed sedan model. For an additional fee, its owners could buy a system of cameras, radar, and digitally controlled brakes. This hardware recognized emergency situations and helped the driver avoid damage on the road. Otherwise, the system didn’t do much.
Finally, in October 2015, Tesla updated the software of its electric cars, adding autopilot features to the firmware. The update impressed car enthusiasts and technical experts alike, including those from MIT. Some of the features like automatic parking had appeared earlier in rival cars. But Tesla was the first in the industry to teach electric cars to do complex things like change lanes on the highway by themselves. A Massachusetts Institute employee who tested the novelty called Tesla’s developments “a giant leap towards total autonomy”.
Charging By Air
Now, small devices connected to the Internet can do without batteries and wired power supply. University of Washington researchers have invented a technology that uses radio waves from phones, TVs, Wi-Fi routers, and other sources to power tiny gadgets. Developers have already shown several internet-connected sensors and a camera being charged in this innovative way.
Jeeva Wireless is already marketing a version of this technology, called passive Wi-Fi. It is based on the principle of backscattering. Receiving radio waves from the same smartphone or router, devices with passive Wi-Fi absorb some of the radiation for their own power and reflect the rest, converting it into a response signal. Test prototypes transmit data over a distance of about 30 metres. And the passive Wi-Fi waves also penetrate walls.
Researchers believe the miniaturized electronic devices developed using the new technology will be very inexpensive. As MIT concludes, innovations of this kind could fit perfectly into the concept of the smart home.
Precision Plant Gene Modification
The CRISPR gene-editing technique is the most precise and straightforward way of altering DNA. Its essence lies in the molecular impact on a selected organism using the genetic material of special bacteria. Working on this principle, scientists can unmistakably and without a lot of money in their pockets remove unwanted genes and introduce the right ones. Such manipulations give the organism new useful properties or correct existing defects.
Last year, experiments with CRISPR by various companies have shown that the technology, among other things, can improve crop yields by making plants more resistant to disease and drought. This is one of the most promising areas for CRISPR. After all, people continue to breed and multiply, and food at the rate taken, there may soon not be enough for everyone.
MIT experts stress the importance of the fact that plants modified with CRISPR do not contain fragments of other people’s DNA. It may well enable farmers to avoid the traditional hassles of government regulation and buyer phobias associated with GMOs.
Genetic modification of T-lymphocyte immune cells has been used in the fight against cancer for several years. By altering the DNA stored in them, scientists have programmed T-lymphocytes to seek out and destroy infected cells. T-lymphocytes are first extracted from the patient’s body, then modified, and then infiltrated back into the body. The procedure has proven to be effective, but has an important limitation: not all patients have a sufficient number of their own immune cells, especially children.
A recent case, however, gives hope that the immuno-engineering team has been able to overcome this drawback. Employees of the biomedical company Cellectis have, for the first time, managed to modify donor T-lymphocytes so that they take root in another person’s body and perform a therapeutic function in it. Scientists have edited the DNA of immune cells using the TALEN method (a CRISPR analog) and injected them into the body of a child with leukemia. The girl, considered incurable, has recovered.
According to MIT staff, Cellectis’ success is encouraging. Doctors see great potential in immune engineering and hope to use it to treat not only cancer but also AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other terrible diseases of our time.