Embracing change

Humans find it difficult to adapt to change and this is evident in how technological advances are viewed. This is nothing new because even Socrates, the architect of Western philosophy, wasn't too excited about the introduction of writing, as he felt people would become more forgetful.

It may be natural to fear change, but we have to realize that by nurturing this kind of fear, we are resisting innovations that could improve our quality of life, productivity and connectivity. 

The fear of technological change shows a lack of trust. As it stands, Americans don’t trust each other, our corporations or our public institutions. The absence of trust means a lot of damage has been done and the only way to fix this is to ensure everyone has the information that is essential to building trust back up.

Is biohacking a major concern?

Gene-editing technology known as CRISPR is becoming more and more widely available. CRISPR is the name of a family of DNA sequences, parts of which can be used like a pair of molecular scissors capable of cutting strands of DNA. However, many in the scientific community have sounded the alarm because doing this activity outside of professional laboratories could be quite dangerous.

In the near future, biohackers may be able to upgrade or optimize their physical and cognitive performance with gene editing. Some other biohacking techniques include implanting a small computer chip into your hand to use as ID, or taking "smart drugs" called nootropics.

But in California, where in Silicon Valley biohacking really took off, a new law is making it illegal to sell a do-it-yourself genetic engineering kit unless it comes with a warning that it’s not for self-administration.

The Xupermask

Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas has designed a high-tech face mask that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. Called Xupermask, it has three dual-speed fans to keep you cool, and a design to keep you looking cool. The real money-grabbers are noise-canceling headphones, LED lights for nighttime, and Bluetooth capability. You can listen to music, take and make calls, and put on your own light show while wearing this thing. It doesn't come cheap, but at $299, it costs less than a set of Bose headphones, and a lot less than a mobile phone! And you can use the Xupermask for both, with a bonus face mask thrown in.

The look of the Xupermask was designed by Jose Fernandez. He created Elon Musk's spacesuits, and Marvel characters' costumes in the Avengers, Black Panther, and X-Men 2. So you know it's going to look out of this world.

Which 2020 predictions came true?

The year 2020 has served as a benchmark for many predictions, from business markets to technological advances to climate change. In 2015, Factor magazine published a list of ten predictions for 2020, most of which have come true.

  1. Same-day cancer treatment: YES

  2. Self-driving cars on the road: YES

  3. Cannabis market legalized and booming: YES

  4. 4 billion internet users: YES (almost 4.5 billion)

  5. Virtual reality market worth US$15.89 billion: YES (over US$18 billion; current predictions suggest it will reach US$120.5 billion by 2026)

  6. Mars 2020 rover mission: YES

First, do no harm

Mathematicians, computer engineers and scientists in related fields should take a Hippocratic oath to protect the public from powerful new technologies under development, says Hannah Fry, an associate professor of mathematics at University College, London. The ethical pledge would commit scientists to think deeply about the possible applications of their work and compel them to pursue only those that, at the least, do no harm to society.

“We need a Hippocratic oath in the same way it exists for medicine,” Fry said. “In medicine, you learn about ethics from day one. In mathematics, it’s a bolt-on at best. It has to be there from day one and at the forefront of your mind in every step you take.”

Origami of the future

Recently, the ancient art of origami has begun to merge with modern engineering. Origami principles have inspired novel ways of packaging airbags, fashioning heart stents, folding solar sails designed to propel spacecraft, and even collapsible bullet-proof shields. 

Modern research in origami began in 1970 when an astrophysicist named Koryo Miura came up with a simple but elegant fold. Known as the Miura fold, or Miura-ori, he later repurposed the fold as a way to package large, flat membranes for deploying into space. In 1995, a Japanese satellite used the fold to store its solar panels for launch and unfurl them once in orbit.

The World Wide Web turns 30

In 1989, physics researcher Jim Berners-Lee began writing code for what would become the World Wide Web. Thirty years on, and Berners-Lee’s invention has more than justified the lofty goals implied by its name. But with that scale has come a host of troubles.

Every year, on the anniversary of his creation, he publishes an open letter on his vision for the future of the web. This year’s letter, on the 30th anniversary, expresses a rare level of concern about the direction in which the web is moving.

“While the web has created opportunity, given marginalized groups a voice and made our daily lives easier,” he writes, “it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred and made all kinds of crime easier to commit.

Squid skin inspires new material

“Ultra-lightweight space blankets have been around for decades, but the key drawback is that the material is static," said Alon Gorodetsky, UCI associate professor of chemical & biomolecular engineering. "We've made a version with changeable properties so you can regulate how much heat is trapped or released."

The researchers took design cues from various species of squids, octopuses and cuttlefish that use their adaptive skin to thrive in aquatic environments.

The skin cells can instantly change from minute points to flattened disks. "We use a similar concept in our work, where we have a layer of these tiny metal 'islands' that border each other," said Erica Leung, a UCI graduate student in chemical & biomolecular engineering.

3D printed models for surgery

Bernice Belcher needed an artificial aortic valve replacement. Her surgeons decided to use a new 3D modeling technique.

Using CT scans that are manipulated via special software, a team of engineers creates a model fashioned from flexible materials that re-create the texture of the aorta and its surrounding structures. Then the model is loaded into a heart simulator: a box filled with pumps and bloodlike fluid.

The engineers watch as simulated blood flows through the printed heart, and they monitor blood flow, pressure and other effects using lasers and high-speed cameras. Next, they insert the replacement valves and see what changes. Computer models predict how blood flow would respond to each patient’s unique anatomy. The process helps doctors decide how to approach the surgery and which valve to use.

Foldable phones

Your next smartphone might just throw you a curve.

Picture this: You pull your phone out of your pocket and unfold it like a napkin into a tablet. You press your finger on the screen, and it unlocks. You switch to the camera app, and a spider-like array of lenses shoot simultaneously to capture one giant photo.

These are all things I’ve seen phones do—some in prototype form, others in models you can get only in China. Analysts in Korea say we might see a folding “Galaxy X” phone from Samsung as soon as 2019. When I look into my crystal ball, I’m convinced we’re on the cusp of the most significant changes to the design and functionality of smartphones since they first arrived.

The importance of liberal arts

In 2008, research teams at Duke and Harvard surveyed 652 U.S.-born chief executives and heads of product engineering at 502 technology companies. They learned that, although a degree made a big difference in the success of an entrepreneur, the field it was in and the school that it was from were not significant. YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki, for instance, majored in history and literature; Slack founder Stewart Butterfield in English; Airbnb founder Brian Chesky in the fine arts. And, in China, Alibaba chief executive Jack Ma has a bachelor’s in English.

The key to good design is a combination of empathy and knowledge of the arts and humanities. Musicians and artists inherently have the greatest sense of creativity. You can teach artists how to use software and graphics tools; turning engineers into artists is anther story.

5G: What is it good for?

5G, or 5th generation mobile, is the next big leap in wireless communications. 5G will radically improve the bandwidth, capacity and reliability of mobile broadband, and will push mobile speeds from 100 Mbps to upward of 10 Gbps.  

But the real excitement over 5G comes with new uses that simply aren’t possible with today’s networks. Many of these involve the revolution in sensors, low-cost transmitters and cloud-based software known as the Internet of Things (IoT).  

As billions more things go online over the next several years, they will be using 5G networks to send and receive massive amounts of new data. Uses for that information will scale up from the personal to the global — connecting you, your home and your community.  

Renewable energy rising

Renewable energy is set to be generating 50% of global electricity by 2050.

The New Energy Outlook (NEO) 2018 says that the continuing fall in the cost of batteries will massively increase the ability to store off-peak electricity and sell it when demand is high, which will enable renewable technologies--particularly wind and solar projects--to take an increasing share of the electricity market. 

Europe’s electricity market will be 87% renewable in Europe by 2050, while India’s will be 75% renewable, China’s 62% and 55% in the U.S., the report says.

However, U.S. President Trump’s battle to save the coal industry looks doomed, with coal-powered generation set to make up just 11% of global electricity generation by the middle of the century, down from 38% today, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Walk the talk on climate change

New Zealand hasn't been walking the talk on climate risk, finds a sweeping new analysis of hundreds of annual reports and statements.

Climate change threatens hundreds of billions of dollars of property and infrastructure, and will require an economy-wide shift toward lower emissions. However, of more than 380 large organisations analysed, just 40 recognised the risks as of serious concern—suggesting that boards either opted not to publicly disclose the implications, or didn't discuss them at all. "Both are horrific—but the latter is particularly more horrific," said Wendy McGuinness, chief executive of Wellington-based think-tank the McGuinness Institute.

Saving energy with liquid air

A pioneering project by Highview Power will turn air into liquid for energy storage to help electricity grids cope with a growing amount of wind and solar power.  

The world’s first full-scale “liquid air” plant, located in northwest England, is based on a technology that advocates say is cheaper and able to provide power for longer periods than lithium-ion batteries. The energy plant uses excess or off-peak electricity to chill air to -196C, transforming it to a liquid state to be stored inside large metal tanks. Pumping and heating is used later to turn it back to a gas, which is released to turn a turbine, generating electricity at times of need—but without burning the gas and releasing emissions.  

While relatively small at 5 megawatts (MW), compared to 50MW lithium-ion battery facilities, Highview Power said the technology could be scaled up to hundreds of megawatts.  

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

In the summer of 2019, French swimmer and anti-plastic campaigner Ben Lecomte swam through the giant floating rubbish mass known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 

The exact size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is impossible to determine, but estimates put it anywhere from 700,000 to 15,000,000 km² (or the size of Texas to the size of Russia). The patch is caused by the North Pacific gyre—a circle of currents that keep plastic, waste and other pollution trapped. According to scientists, the Patch has been growing “exponentially” in recent years.

Lecomte and his support team sampled the water they swam through every day of the journey, gauging the level of plastic and microplastic pollution. As the expedition’s first mate, Tyral Dalitz, said, “The ocean is now filled with microplastics. Rather than calling it an island of trash, it is more like plastic smog throughout the ocean.” 

ChameleonMask: AR tech

At the MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference held in Singapore this [year], Japanese researcher Jun Rekimoto presented a form of tech called ChameleonMask which he dubbed a “Human Uber” that “shows a remote user’s face on the other user’s face.”

How it essentially works is: ChameleonMask uses a real human as a surrogate for another remote user. The surrogate user wears a display as a mask which shows a remote user’s live face and transmits the user’s voice.

The remote user sends the surrogate user directions on how to act, too.

Select All report quoted Rekimoto as saying: “Our pilot study confirmed that people could regard the masked person as the right person.” 

If this is so, it could really change the way we live our lives, right down to getting someone else to go to work for us every day. Right?