Tech trends change fast. Since last January, there have been a number of key developments. Below are ten tech happenings you should be aware of.
- Augmented reality: Yes, AR has been on the radar of most tech watchers, but few predicted it would so utterly overshadow its virtual reality cousin this year. Yet, thanks to a free smartphone game known as Pokémon Go, that’s exactly what has happened. It turns out that people don’t need AR goggles such as the still-in-development HoloLens in order to get addicted to an AR app. The blockbuster game raises our collective anticipation (and expectation) levels for the AR devices emerging onto the market over the next year or two. All things considered, the m-verse is emerging faster than expected.
- Machine learning and artificial intelligence: Earlier in the year, it was widely reported that the Google AI known as AlphaGo beat the world champion in the game of Go. Go is a complex strategy game that some believed could never be automated well enough to beat a skilled human being. But AI is not just for show. Google has been quietly harnessing AI to improve its searches (via something called RankBrain), while new products such as the AI assistant Viv promise to bring the power of personal AIs to the masses in slick new ways.
- Predictive analytics tech: Although predictive analytics (PA) techniques have been around a while, this year they made serious inroads into areas such as customer relationship management (CRM). PA is strongly related to machine learning (that is, they depend on a lot of the same underlying data science and analysis techniques), and it’s being integrated into an ever widening group of business functions, softwares. industries and devices. We often hear about how the Internet of Things (IoT) trend is making everything smarter. We seldom hear about how everything will become more predictive, often in ways that will seem downright spooky.
- Immunotherapy: Sometimes referred to as biologic therapy, this is a promising cancer treatment designed to boost the body’s natural defenses in order to help fight cancer. This year, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sean Parker made an enormous financial contribution to immunotherapy research, creating a collaboration among over 300 researchers from UCSF, Stanford University, UCLA, Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
- CRISPR: The acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” CRISPR generally refers to a powerful gene-editing technique/tool. It made the news recently when a team of Chinese scientists announced they would be the first to apply the technique to human subjects. This is highly controversial because there are both safety and ethical concerns associated with using CRISPR on people.
- Live-streaming: Also known as livecasting, the term refers to the process of “broadcasting” a real-time, live video feed to an audience that’s accessing it over the Internet. Live-streaming has been in the news with greater frequency this year because of Facebook’s Livestream service. Facebook will soon add advertising to its service, and businesses are just starting to figure out how to take advantage of live-streaming.
- Solar energy: This year, a number of technologies have brought solar into the spotlight. They include the development of next-gen batteries and alternative storage devices, the continuing refinement of perovskite solar cells, the success Germany has had in meeting its energy demands with solar power, and conflicting projections about how quickly the world could move to a “solar economy.”
- Self-driving vehicles: Automated automobiles had come to seem inevitable until this summer, when Tesla Motors disclosed the first known death caused by a self-driving car. The car was on autopilot mode when its sensors system failed to “see” a white 18-wheel truck and trailer crossing the highway. The car drove full speed under the trailer. Of course, this was not a self-driving car per se. The Tesla software was designed to be used by customers who are watching the road. Nonetheless, the incident demonstrates the fallibility of current auto piloting software.
- Artificial neurons and brain mimicking: Back in 2010, the collaborative Human Brain Project was launched with the goal of gaining a deeper understanding of the human brain. One method of achieving that is to build a brain simulation with computers. Recently, IBM had a breakthrough in this area (see video above), reportedly imitating large collections of neurons for the first time. “The breakthrough marks a significant step forward in the development of energy-efficient, ultra-dense integrated neuromorphic technologies for applications in cognitive computing,” the scientists stated.
- Materials science: This is an interdisciplinary field that involves the discovery and design of new materials. One interesting recent development in this area is the creation of transparent wood. Another is the fabrication of highly conductive materials made by interfacing two oxide-based materials. This could result in much more power-efficient computers, cars and other machines.
BY MARK VICKERS
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