The MIT magazine has chosen a series of tools, services and applications that could soon enter our lives, changing them.
The MIT Technology Review of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the most authoritative and well-known US universities in the world, has listed a number of technologies whose applications could have important implications for our lives in the short term. The magazine’s first compilation of such a list dates back to 2001, “a period in many ways glorious for science and technology.” Since then, every year a new list has pointed out the emerging areas of innovative research that could “change the world”: the first on the 2021 list is already doing so.
The mRNA vaccines
The first two vaccines authorized in the West against coronavirus, those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, were developed thanks to a technology that researchers have been working on since the 1990s. They are vaccines based on messenger RNA (mRNA), the molecule that encodes and carries the instructions contained in the DNA to produce proteins. Those proteins stimulate the immune system to produce specific antibodies, which in turn prevent the proteins from entering the cells when exposed to the virus.
As early as January 2020, based on the first information then available on the virus discovered in China, the German biotechnology company BioNTech and then others judged messenger RNA as a potentially very useful technology to fight COVID-19 outbreaks around the world. A little less than a year later, drug regulators approved the first vaccines.
MRNA-based vaccines have never been used in therapeutics before, let alone on such a large scale, but according to MIT Technology Review, they could enable medicine to make great progress against various infectious diseases, including malaria. The ability to modify them easily and quickly could also be an important advantage against coronavirus variants in the future. Other potential uses for messenger RNA are currently being identified and deemed promising for the ‘low-cost correction‘ of diseases such as cancer, sickle cell anemia (a genetic blood disorder) and possibly HIV.
GPT-3 is a language model that uses deep learning techniques to generate written texts that are potentially indistinguishable from those produced by a human being. It is based on a large amount of data, which it uses to complete a text starting from human input. Last September the Guardian published an article entirely written, with amazing realism, by GPT-3. In October, the same language was used to allow a fake user on Reddit to interact for a long time with other real users, before being discovered due to the speed with which he produced very long texts.
This technology requires a tremendous amount of computing power, data, and training money, which is essential to reduce the likelihood of the results being meaningless. GPT-3 is believed to be the most impressive language model ever produced using machine learning, but because it uses data from thousands of books and largely from texts on the Internet, it often inherits elements of misinformation and prejudice from that data.
The TikTok Algorithms
The algorithms that determine the “For You” section of TikTok, one of the world’s first fastest growing social networks from 2016 to today, “have changed the way people become famous online,” writes MIT Technology Review Unlike other platforms that tend to highlight content of broader interest, TikTok has stood out for its ability to give huge prominence to creators of relevant content for small and numerous niches of users who share particular interests.
The technology employed by TikTok has allowed thousands of unknown users to become content creators and get many views in a very short time. It is believed to be one of the main factors in its enormous success, and for this reason its algorithms have long been the subject of attention and attempts at imitation by other social media companies.
The batteries are considered by experts to be one of the main weaknesses of many high-tech industries, starting with that of electric cars, of which they represent in a certain sense the very premise. The difficulties in developing lithium-ion batteries that are powerful and with long autonomy and duration over time are reflected in a market characterized by still relatively high costs.
A promising technology is that of lithium metal batteries developed by the Californian company QuantumScape and intended for electric cars. They are particular “solid state” batteries in which the electrolyte the substance, usually liquid, which allows the passage of electric current is precisely a solid material. The main advantage is the significant extension of both the life and the duration of the batteries, which are non-flammable. According to early QuantumScape tests with prototypes, these batteries should increase the range of an electric car by 80 percent. Under an agreement with Volkswagen, QuantumScape’s first lithium metal battery cars could be on the market by 2025.
If in recent years it has happened that the information available on our online account were violated, sold and resold, writes MIT Technology Review, perhaps the problem lies with the privacy model that we have long adhered to as individuals responsible for our data. Data trusts represent one of the most recent and developing approaches to data protection. The idea behind it is similar to that of the governance model that establishes coalitions of firms and companies trusts to protect their interests (by reducing production costs, for example). Or to that of land trusts, agreements that allow an owner to transfer title to a trustee acting on behalf of and for the benefit of the owner and a wider group of interested parties.
In the case of data trusts, whose structures and functions are still being defined by governments and competent authorities, the protected parties are specifically the users. These legal entities a kind of user unions would require internet companies interested in users’ personal data to comply with a set of clear and general conditions regarding privacy protection, once and for all. Users could thus avoid adhering to the individual terms of service specific to each platform, terms, as we know, rarely examined thoroughly.
This model would also involve sharing the same personal data of users between rival companies, since no company would have access to that data that is not mediated by data trusts.
Hydrogen has been indicated for decades as an eco-sustainable alternative to fossil fuels because it does not cause the emission of carbon dioxide (CO 20. It has never been very widespread mainly because the production has always required huge resources and initial investments to be eco-sustainable in turn. But for some years there has been talk of “green” hydrogen precisely in reference to production that uses only energy produced from renewable sources, such as solar or wind power. The Moorburg coal-fired power plant in Hamburg, Germany on February 24, 2021. It stopped operating in early 2021 and will be converted into a hydrogen production and storage facility.
The rapid decline in energy costs of this type means that hydrogen may now be cheap enough to be practical. Most car manufacturers have given up on producing hydrogen vehicles, turning instead to the electric. However, “green” hydrogen could find multiple uses in transport in general (airplanes and ships), and in industrial and domestic sectors. Contact tracing
The Contact Tracing
System for COVID-19 cases has proved to be largely ineffective in combating epidemics in many countries that have tried to use it. One of the main problems emerged from the difficulties of governments and authorities in convincing the population to use this system. But that doesn’t mean the technology is ineffective per se, remembers MIT Technology Review. The ability to use GPS or Bluetooth to create recently crossed people records remains one of the potentially most effective tools for improving countries’ response to pandemics. In general, contact tracing is one of the areas from which greater benefits for the population in terms of health care and services could derive in the future.
Hyper-Accurate Location Systems
New location technologies ensure greater accuracy than traditional systems such as GPS Global Positioning System used in smartphones. The margins of error are in the order of a few centimeters, while in the case of the smartphone’s GPS the position can vary in a space between 5 and 10 meters. Last June, China completed BeiDou, a satellite navigation system that provides an accuracy of 1.5 meters anywhere in the world. The use of BeiDou satellites was, for example, crucial for the surveys that have recently made it possible to measure the height of Everest more accurately.
In the future, the new localization systems could make it possible to identify accidents and requests for assistance more quickly and precisely. They could also improve the safety of self-driving cars as well as the accuracy of the robots used for deliveries. And in the meantime, GPS, which has been around since the 1990s, will also receive important updates by 2023 with the launch of new satellites into orbit, after those already launched last November as part of the GPS III project.
The measures introduced by governments to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections in many countries of the world have indirectly extended and intensified the use of remote services by the population. Two areas that have been heavily affected by these changes are education and health care. Both distance learning and telemedicine, albeit with very variable degrees of success depending on the contexts, have made available services hitherto used mainly in person.
Hong Kong-based student mentoring company Snapask has more than 3.5 million users across nine Asian countries. Byju, an Indian school learning app, has nearly 70 million users. Similarly, efforts in Uganda to strengthen the technological infrastructure needed to support telemedicine have extended health care to millions of people during the pandemic. Which in many cases can mean saving lives, especially in a country plagued by a chronic shortage of doctors.
Multi-Sensory Artificial Intelligence Systems
Despite conspicuous and celebrated advances, in recent years artificial intelligence has still shown significant limits when it comes to solving problems that require the use of human skills already present in young children. Difficulties, MIT Technology Review writes arise when there is to “learn how the world works and apply that general knowledge to new situations.” One of the most promising approaches to solving these problems involves expanding the “senses” of artificial intelligence.
At present, artificial intelligence systems equipped with artificial vision, for example, are able to collect visual information about the environment but not to “talk” about what they see, at the same time, using algorithms for natural language processing An integrated system of artificial intelligence based on multi-sensoriality could acquire a greater understanding of the world around it and become more “flexible” and adaptable to a constantly evolving context.
On the other hand, it would be a way of imitating a fully human model, according to Karen Hao, data scientist and journalist expert in artificial intelligence for MIT Technology Review. It is when they begin to associate words with images, sounds and other sensory information, writes Hao, that children begin to build a sophisticated model of the world that can describe increasingly complicated dynamics and phenomena.