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MIT Technology Review’s Top 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2018

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Each year since 2001, the MIT Technology Review has released an annual list of 10 technology advances that are having – or are poised to have – a significant impact on “the way we work and live now and for years to come.”
Here is this year’s list:
1. 3-D metal printing: While 3-D printing, typically using plastics on a small scale, has been around for decades, the next evolution of the technology will allow manufacturers to use metals to make parts that are lighter, stronger and more complex than those made by traditional metal fabrication. 3-D metal printing also has the potential to significantly impact logistics and supply chains by allowing manufacturers to print metal parts on demand rather than maintaining a large inventory.
2. Artificial embryos: Researchers at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom recently created synthetic structures that resemble mouse embryos using only stem cells. This is the first step towards creating synthetic human embryos, which, once new bioethical questions are addressed, will enable scientists to more closely study the nascent stages of human life.
3. Sensing city: Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs and the Canadian government are collaborating on Quayside, a smart-city project in Toronto that will deploy a network of sensors to monitor noise, air quality, pedestrian traffic and much more. Quayside, which is poised to be a model for sensing cities or neighborhoods across North America, will also include autonomous vehicles to be shared by multiple users and robots to perform routine tasks, including delivering mail.
4. AI for everybody: Currently, artificial intelligence is primarily within the domain of a relatively small number of big technology companies and ambitious start-ups, but the migration of machine-learning tools to the cloud will radically expand access to the technology. Widely available AI could benefit not only technology companies of all sizes, but also companies in the medical, manufacturing and energy sectors, creating significant efficiencies and benefits to the overall economy.
5. Dueling neural networks: While AI is good at identifying things, it is not so good at generating entirely new things. One emerging solution to this challenge is a generative adversarial network (GAN), which takes two neural networks and matches them against each other, with one network creating images and the other identifying whether those images are real or fake. Over time, the generating network becomes so good at producing images that the identifying network can no longer tell that they are fakes.
6. Babel-fish earbuds: Google recently developed a pair of headphones that work with the company’s smartphones and translation app to facilitate nearly real-time translation between users communicating in person. One user wears the earbuds, and the other user holds the phone, with the app identifying the languages that they are using and translating the conversation with minimal delay. The result of this process is more seamless interpersonal communication with limited language barrier impact.
7. Zero-carbon natural gas: Net Power, a 50-megawatt pilot power plant near Houston, is testing a new process to generate power with natural gas while also eliminating carbon emissions, a common concern with other facilities using natural gas. Not only does Net Power expect to recycle or capture all of its carbon emissions, but it also expects to produce its power without being more expensive than standard natural-gas plants, making the new power plant a win-win proposition for everyone involved.
8. Perfect online privacy: Zero-knowledge proof is an emerging cryptographic protocol that will help protect privacy and identity online. With its origins in the recent digital currency boom, zero-knowledge proof allows users online to prove necessary information, such as age or bank account status, without exposing the underlying details, such as date of birth or how much money is in their account.
9. Genetic fortune-telling: A large number of ongoing genetic studies, some involving more than a million people, have resulted in a sufficient amount of data that scientists can now create polygenic risk scores, which will allow DNA tests to indicate the probability that an individual will suffer such ailments as a heart attack or breast cancer, as well as if that person will have a higher-than-average IQ, among many other things. While there is a chance for genetic discrimination, this new development could have a significantly positive impact on the medical and public health fields.
10. Materials’ quantum leap: As quantum computers come online in the near future, their computational power will dwarf the capabilities of most of today’s machines. One of the most exciting applications of this new computer power will be modeling and designing molecules, which are so complex that they confound most computers currently in use. Once chemists have access to quantum computers, within the next several years, they will be able to design new molecules with far-reaching implications, especially in the pharmaceutical and energy industries.
Founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1899, the MIT Technology Review is the world’s longest-running technology magazine. For the full article, visit the publication’s website.

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