The best ideas from 2017 … from charm particles to quantum computing, designer babies to GM humans that never age.
December 31, 2017
2017 has been an incredible year of science and tech breakthroughs. From Bitcoin’s relentless rise and final fall, to developments in gene editing technologies, to improvements in artificial intelligence and quantum computing, we made more progress than ever.
Just think of five years ago – driverless cars were still a dream, smartphones were the big new idea, Hyperloop hadn’t event entered Elon Musk’s mind.
And now we have designer babies, the end of diseases, genetically modified humans that never age. Outrageous things that used to be science fiction are suddenly becoming reality. The only thing we know for sure is that things will change irreversibly.
Here are a few of the most significant advances of the last year, that will shape all of our futures:
Article by Peter Fisk on future trends: Global shifts and technological fusion, meta intelligence and the dark side … Finding the “megatrends” to amplify your future success
Article by Peter Fisk from 12 months ago: The best 2017 trend reports … inspired by Alibaba’s Buy+, Google’s Tilt Brush and Momondo’s DNA Journey
With insights from the teams at FastCompany, Futurism, Wired and more, here is the background to some of the year’s biggest stories:
CERN advances … 5 new charm particles
As a trained physicist, understanding the building blocks of nature continues to intrigue me. The science of the “small” made some leaps forward in 2017, thanks to work done by scientists using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). On March 16, the LHC discovered a new system of five particles, all in a single analysis. With overwhelming statistical significance to back it up, the exceptional discovery can’t be dismissed as a fluke. Instead, it provides a new window into our understanding of quantum theories that govern both the physics of particles in our world and beyond it. You can read about the new particles here.
Quantum computing … the next level
Speaking of quantum theories, 2017 has been a host to some of the biggest developments in quantum technologies to date. Quantum computing, for one, has seen significant advances. Equally important are the breakthroughs in quantum communication, thanks to the efforts of researchers from China and elsewhere to build quantum networks. From demonstrations of quantum entanglement from space, to successfully sending messages using quantum cryptography, researchers have shown that a quantum internet future is on the horizon. Read more here.
SpaceX … reusable rockets
SpaceX is now leading the space race. The rocket company started by Elon Musk in 2002 cemented its hold on rocket technology and space this year, marking a number of “firsts” off of their development checklist.Chief among these is the successful launch of a previously used Falcon 9 rocket booster, signaling the end of an era of expensive space missions. On the 30th of March 2017, SpaceX showed that their Falcon 9 rockets are reusable not just in name. That, however, was just the beginning. With an updated plan for Mars and a revamped BFR rocket, SpaceX continues to work on making every part of their rockets and spacecraft completely reusable. More here.
Artificial womb … lamb in a bag
As for technology that could potentially save lives in the future, in April 2017, a team of physicians from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia published a study in the journal Nature Communications that detailed the successful use of an artificial womb. The device, a specialized transparent biobag filled with a fluid that allows it to imitate the environment inside a uterus, successfully housed a 23-week old lamb. This artificial womb can help save the lives of premature babies. The team working on the technology expects it to soon be ready for human use. Read the original story here.
GM humans … designer babies
Genetically modified human beings are no longer just the topic of science fiction. In July 2017, MIT Technology Review reported on efforts by researchers in Portland, Oregon to genetically modify human embryos using gene editing tool CRISPR. The researchers, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon Health and Science University, edited the DNA of one-cell embryos – effectively demonstrating that it’s possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that carry heritable diseases. For the full story, check out this article.
Gene editing … inside human patients
Without a doubt, CRISPR is the most efficient and effective gene editing tool we have today. After numerous experiments that demonstrated what CRISPR could do, the gene editing tool was finally applied to a living human patient on the 13th of November. A 44-year-old patient suffering from a rare genetic condition called Hunter syndrome had his genome edited using a CRISPR treatment developed by biotechnology firm Sangamo Therapeutics. You can check out the full story here.
Trappist 1 … life beyond Earth
Last but definitely not the least is one of the biggest discoveries that could affect the future of life beyond Earth. In February 2017, scientists working at the European Southern Observatory and NASA announced the discovery of seven Earth-like exoplanets situated in the habitable space or “goldilocks zone” of a star system called TRAPPIST-1. The TRAPPIST system, located some 39.5 light-years from the Sun, hosts an ultra-cool red dwarf star that’s only a bit larger — although significantly more massive — than Jupiter. Astronomers continue to debate the potential of these seven TRAPPIST exoplanets to host life, but the discovery of a collection of possibly livable exoplanets in just one system is a promising find in the quest for life outside of Earth.
Of course, the future isn’t just about technology. But it is technology that moves us forwards at incredible pace, and the applications of it that enable us to live better lives, to solve societies biggest problems, and to look forward to awe and optimism.