10 Breakthrough Technologies in 2017 - MIT Ranked

These technologies have a staying power and will affect the economy and politics, improve medicine, or influence our culture. Some of them are ready to be applied into action now, some still need a few years to develop further.


Reversing Paralysis:

By using brain implants, scientists are able to make remarkable progress in restoring the freedom of movement after the suffering of spinal cord injuries. For people this medical service is available in ten to 15 years and will change the way paralysis is treated completely. How does it work at the moment? A recording device is installed below the skull, touching the motor cortex of the brain and a sutured pad of flexible electrodes are placed around the spinal cord, below the injury. A wireless connection joins these two electronic devices. The system installed in the brain reads the intention to move and transmits immediately this information to the spine in the form of bursts of electrical stimulation.

Self-driving trucks:

Multiple companies are now testing self-driving trucks. Many technical problems still remain unresolved but proponents claim that self-driving trucks will be safer and cheaper. Autonomous trucks can coordinate their movements to platoon closely together over long stretches of highway, cutting down on wind drag and saving on fuel. Testing the trucks and letting them drive themselves part time help truckers complete their routines sooner too. The mechanics still need to figure out and demonstrate that the sensor and code can match the situational awareness of a professional trucker in the face of confusing road hazards, poor surface conditions and unpredictable car drivers.

Paying with your face:

China is currently using face-detecting systems to authorize payments, provide access to facilities and track down criminals. When will other countries follow? In the past few years computers have become very skilled at recognizing faces and the technology is expanding quickly. The technology used in China automatically captures faces from countless angles, the software can track up to 83 different points on the face simultaneously. This type of face recognition might transform everything from policing to the way people interact with banks, stores and even transportation services. The same technology is also already being used in several popular apps as a paying method. The software can be used to utilize your face as credentials. The software has a “liveness” test to ensure that the systems can’t be duped by using a photo, so the person using the recognition has to move their head or speak while the app scans their face. This type of software will also disrupt surveillance and security industries.

Practical Quantum Computers:

In a few years these computers could rewrite encryption, materials science, pharmaceutical research and artificial intelligence. This year a raft of previously theoretical designs of these computers are actually being built and the increased availability of corporate funding from Google, IBM, Intel and Microsoft has helped both the research and the development of assorted technologies needed to built a working quantum machine: microelectronics, complex circuits and control software.

Quantum computers will be particularly suited for factoring large numbers, solving complex optimization problems and executing machine learning algorithms. Applications of these aforementioned functions are numerous and yet to be envisioned.

The 360-Degree Selfie:

Inexpensive cameras are making spherical images and opening a whole new era in photography and changing the way people share their stories. These types of documentations have been used to visualize how we experience the world, its’ sights and sounds: for example, how climate change is affecting our surroundings, hurricane damages, surveillance, war zones and refugee camps and even utilizing these types of spherical videos in educational videos for surgeons.

Hot Solar Cells:

MIT scientist have built a type of solar energy device that uses inventive engineering and advances in material science to capture the sun’s energy far more effectively then the solar panels we see on the roofs of many houses now. The technology first turns sunlight into heat and then converts it back into light but focuses the light within the spectrum that solar cells can use. This MIT device is the first to absorb more energy that its photovoltaic cell alone, which proves that this approach will dramatically increase the efficiency of solar power. Normal solar cells can’t turn more than 32% of the energy into electricity, but the MIT device could be twice as efficient.

Gene Therapy:

Scientists have been able to solve some fundamental problems that were holding back cures for rare hereditary disorders and now they’re seeing if this approach can take on cancer, heart diseases and other common illnesses as well. The doctors are able to infuse the therapy into the patients body to replace the gene that is causing the disease. The researches use an engineer virus to deliver healthy copies of a gene into patients with defective versions of that gene. Fixing rare diseases could just be the start. Researchers are studying and doing clinical trials for about 40 to 50 different diseases and expanding their research into engineering these therapies for more common diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart failure and cancer. More daring envisions even state that someday we might be able to fight the effects of aging with gene therapy.

The Cell Atlas:

“Biology’s next mega-project will find out what we’re really made of.”

Scientists are working on a scheme to individually capture and scrutinize millions of cells using the most advanced tools in modern genomics and cell biology. Their object is to build the first map of human cells and to comprehensively reveal what human bodies are actually made of for the first time. This would provide the scientists a new model of biology that could speed up the process of research for drugs. Three technologies are enabling this research: Individual cells are separated, then tagged with tiny beads and manipulated in droplets of oil that are then shunted down the narrow artificial capillaries and etched into a tiny chip to be corralled, opened and studied one by one. The genes that are active in single cells are identified by decoding them in super sequencing machines that are so efficient that a single scientist can process up to 10,000 cells a day. The third technology uses novel labeling and staining techniques that can locate each type of cell on the basis of its’ gene activity.

Botnets of Things:

Botnets have existed for at least a decade but now due to the massive growth of IoT, the problems with hackers and their website attacks are getting much worse. Because IoT devices typically have little or no security, hackers can take them over with little effort. This makes it easier than ever to build huge botnets that can take down much more than one site at a time.

Reinforcement Learning:

Computers are able to figure out how to do things that no programmer could ever teach them by experimenting. Reinforcement learning may soon inject greater intelligence into much more than just games, like previously. This technology can, for example, get a robot to grasp objects it has never seen before and figure out an optimal configuration for the equipment in a data center. This type of learning copies a simple principle from nature: learning to associate behavior with the desired outcome. Reinforcement learning works because researchers found out how to get a computer to calculate the values that should be assigned to the choices between each “right” or “wrong” decision it makes. Each value is restored to a large table and are updated as the computer learns.




For a more thorough read: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603500/10-breakthrough-technologies-2017-botnets-of-things/