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IBM’s Five Year Technological Predictions

Image: Kaesler Media / Shutterstock.com

IBM has been recognized for their ability to make accurate predictions for the future of technology. The company employees approximately 380,000 people, and operates in 170 countries. It has also been responsible for many important technological items that we use every day including: UPC barcodes, ATMs and the hard drive disc. At the beginning of 2017, the company made five predictions for technology that they believe will be widely used within the next five years.

  1. Artificial Intelligence will use our words, and speech patterns, to recognize mental health problems and improve our understanding of them.

Humans can determine many things about a person’s character based on the way that they are speaking, including their current emotional standpoint. Artificial intelligence (AI) has caused a rapid advance in speech analysis, and IBM has predicted that in the near future it will use telltale signs in our speech patterns to determine both our physical and mental health. This will allow Parkinson’s and other mental diseases to be detected and treated earlier, possibly using a mobile phone app. A program that detects variations in normal speech patterns, invented by a team from the University of Southern California, is currently being used to identify when somebody is suffering from depression.

  1. Hyperimaging and AI leading to an increase in our visual capacity.

As humans, we cannot view the electromagnetic spectrum with the naked eye. IBM has predicted that technology which will allow us to see microwaves and infrared waves, will be available sooner rather than later. Variations have already been applied to several devices, including Enchroma glasses, which allow people who are colorblind to view the color spectrum.

  1. A greater understanding of our planet using macroscopes.

The most accurate description of a macroscope is a microscope which would amplify details of the Earth to much larger spectrums. This would allow us to combine all the data we receive to determine factors such as the state of the planet, the number of resources available and events in outer space that may devastate the Earth.

  1. Diseases will be traced on the nanoscale by ‘Labs on a Chip.

Nanotechnology has already played a great factor in increasing our ability to detect diseases and help to contain and cure them. IBM has predicted that this technology will continue to expand and could be applied at home by capturing and assessing bodily fluids. The earlier illnesses are detected the easier and more effective treatment is, and this application would help to significantly decrease the number of people that die from disease annually.

  1. Environmental pollution will be detected quickly and easily using smart sensors.

IBM has stated that smart sensors could be embedded in the ground, or fitted to drones, to detect pollutants and emissions. These would be extremely beneficial if placed near natural wells, pipelines and storage facilities to detect methane leaks. Methane is currently the second largest environmental pollutant, and is extremely difficult to detect. The application of the technology would significantly reduce its effect on the environment.

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Macro Grids – The Future of Renewable Energy

Global warming and the dangers it poses to the planet has many countries converting to renewable sources of energy. Research into new ways of accomplishing this has been ongoing, and the last few years have unearthed numerous possibilities. Since the problems associated with non-renewable energy sources are global, many researchers are looking into ways of adapting the resources to benefit the entire world. Previous use of renewable resources, such as solar or wind powered energy, has been restricted because of intermittent energy drops. Scientists believe that this can be fixed by using grids across continents to tap into energy sources when they are needed, not only when they are available.

Most of our current energy grids operate on alternating current (AC). Converting these renewable energy sources to direct current (DC), where energy flows in a single direction, is making it possible for high-voltage lines to be installed throughout the United States. This is beneficial because DC can transport a substantial amount of power over longer distances, while reducing energy loss often associated with AC systems. Construction has begun in Wyoming on the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Farm, which will have a DC connecting Wyoming to California, Nevada and Arizona. The line is being made from a series of steel transmission towers which can carry up to 3,000 megawatts of electricity and, in addition to transporting energy from Wyoming, would also allow energy to flow from California on sunny days.

Research into ways of transporting renewable energy has resulted in a paper being published in Nature Climate Change, which shows that a better transmission infrastructure would be benefit the entire country. The United States has sources of renewable energy throughout the country, which would be sufficient to maintain its own energy requirements at costs similar to those that currently exist. This would be possible with the current technology available and research has calculated future costs, demand, generation and transmissions and shows where greenhouse gas emissions would decrease by 78% below the levels of 1990 in 15 years.

Although the USA has just started applying this technology, macro grids are already being used by other countries. Four-fifths of the hydroelectric power in China is produced in the south-west, but most people live in eastern mega cities. The country has adapted to transporting large amounts of power over significant distances in both directions. As a leader in technology, China also plans to invest $50 trillion to transport clean energy globally. This project, known as Global Energy Interconnection would connect a wind farm at the North Pole, solar power from near the Equator, as well as other natural sources, and transport it to cities throughout the world. The technology is expected to be in place by 2050, and would significantly impact the way in which the world’s energy is acquired.

City-to-City Transport via Rockets

Since the inception of Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, its inventions have slowly been transforming the way in which we travel, both around the globe and into space. After describing his plan to proceed with the colonization of Mars, Musk surprised those at the most recent meeting of the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, by announcing his intention to use the same rocket to launch city-to-city travel. The innovator announced his intention of replacing all the company’s current hardware with new technology by the early 2020’s, in September 2017, and describing this as the quickest way to travel between two places on Earth.

The rockets, known as the BFRs (short for Big F*cking Rockets) would be able to take passengers from any city in the world to another, in less than an hour. Each would be at least 350 ft with the ability to travel at 17,000 miles per hour, which is ten times the speed of the Concorde Supersonic Jet. Musk is planning to begin these journeys within the next five years, and believes that the flights could operate at the same price as a full fare economy trip, on a commercial aeroplane.

The new rocket designs include reusable launch vehicles and spacecrafts, ground infrastructure for rapid launch and relaunch, and zero-gravity propellant transfer technology which can be deployed in low Earth orbit. Musk referred to this type of travel as ‘Earth-to-Earth’ transfers, and outlined how it would be achieved by the spaceship travelling through orbit around the earth and arriving close to major cities, touching down on floating landing pads. Each BFR would be able to transport between 80 and 200 passengers, per trip.

Several details of the passenger experience are still unknown including: the percentage of overall travelers that the rockets would carry, as well as the way in which journeys would be regulated. There have also been concerns expressed about the way in which the experience would affect the human body, such as the weightlessness when the rocket is in orbit and the difference between launching a rocket and a plane taking off. The flight in the spaceship is anticipated to be like that of an intense roller coaster ride where the rocket would shoot directly into the air for a few minutes, and then descend rapidly for the next 1/2 hour to the desired destination. Other well respected individuals in the field have commended Musk on his previous contributions and they, along with the general public, anxiously await the results of this new development in the future of flight.

Google’s Artificial Intelligence – Cementing the Bond between Man and Machine

Google’s work in artificial intelligence has resulted in a ‘new paradigm,’ which is believed to be the next step in uniting humans and machines. The company has invested greatly in research about AI development and expansion, and is aware of the potential that the technology has to change the way in which the world operates and develops. Google has already incorporated artificial intelligence in their products and services, such as Google Photos and Maps. Parent company, Alphabet, made it clear in a recent earnings call that their investment in AI capabilities will continue, as they believe that the future of technology is now based on artificial intelligence.

Alphabet’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, highlighted ways in which Google is utilizing machine learning in their products, even though the technology is still in its early stages. One of these is the new Google’s Clips camera, which is powered by artificial intelligence and uses this knowledge to decide the best time to take photos. The camera is designed to be positioned in the home, and programmed to decide when conditions are ideal for taking pictures. These photos would be hard to capture manually because of how fleeting these moments are, or a need for somebody to be behind the camera.

Pichai also mentioned the advances in Google Assistant, since the inclusion of AI technology in its design. The Assistant’s intelligence level is currently equivalent to that of the average fifth grader. The system is, however, is gaining more knowledge each day and using it to assist people in getting things done. DeepMind, Google’s artificial intelligence researcher, is the world leader in the field and is dedicated to applying the technology positively. The company’s recent advances include adding imagination to machine learning, as well as expanding the ability of artificial intelligence to accomplish real life tasks.

Google Cloud’s Chief Scientist, Fei-Fei Li, has noted that AI needs to be more human centred, which will allow for better communication between ourselves and machines. Google isn’t the only company that has recognized the benefits of artificial intelligence, and other business have started incorporating the technology in their expansion. As they embrace the changes in technology, these businesses develop the ability to thrive in a constantly expanding field.

Google’s artificial intelligence has advanced to the point that it is capable of creating more artificial intelligence, which is of better quality than human engineers can produce. The CEO stated that because of its integral part in business, these advances are being met positively. There have been concerns expressed, however, and many industry leaders have admitted that artificial intelligence has the potential to affect humans negatively including the loss of jobs and income. Pichai maintains that the world’s technological future lies with machine learning, once it can be kept under control, and Google will continue to expand and embrace its sources.

Winning the Fight Against HIV and AIDS

It is estimated that over 35 million people worldwide are currently living with HIV. The virus attacks and destroys our immune system resulting in AIDS, in its final stages. HIV weakens the immune system by destroying T-helper cells, which are a type of white blood cell. It then duplicates itself, and break down the cells completely over time. This limits the ability of those infected to fight off diseases and infections. The speed at which the virus progresses is determined by the individual’s age and health. For most people, if HIV is left untreated for 10 to 15 years it collapses the immune system. This results in an inability to fight off any infection, and inevitably death.

A significant amount of research has gone into ways in which HIV can be stopped before it begins to multiply, thus preventing it from breaking down the immune system. A study was recently conducted at Loyola University in Chicago, which suggests that this might be possible. Results were published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and showed a method which would incorporate the microtubule tracks through which the virus travels and a protein called bicaudal D2.

HIV moves through the body so quickly that the immune system doesn’t have enough time to react to its presence. The virus uses microtubules, and attaches to bicaudal D2, to transport itself to the nucleuses of the T-helpers. If the protein is missing the virus cannot find its way to the nucleus. The researchers suggested stranding the virus by creating a drug which prevents it from attaching to the bicaudal D2. It would remain in the cytoplasm, which is filled with other proteins and mitochondria. Due to its small size, in comparison to these surrounding elements, the virus could not navigate to the nucleus.

The scientists believe that this method will be essential in the creation of future treatments for HIV, and possibly coming up with a cure. Each patient reacts differently to current treatment options, which researchers are hoping to use alongside the bicaudal D2 detachment method to inhibit the progress of the virus. More experiments need to be conducted to ensure that any drug made using this process would be safe, as well as compatible with other HIV treatments. Some of the methods currently being used include: antibodies which can kill up to 99% of HIV strains, and a vaccine by Johnson and Johnson which is being tested in Africa. The vaccine would prevent those exposed from getting the virus, to begin with.

The Genesis Project – Old Organisms, New Planets

Dr. Claudius Gros is the mastermind behind the proposal of the Genesis Project, which plans to seed habitable planets in our galaxy with life. A theoretical physicist, Dr. Gros published a paper in 2016 describing possible missions equipped with gene factories, which would transport microbial life to planets with oxygen that were unlikely to give rise to life on their own. The intended outcome would be to stimulate the development of complex lifeforms in other places in the galaxy. These organisms began to develop 500 million years ago, on Earth, which was approximately 4 billion years after the planet’s birth. Introducing simple organisms to these planets will cause their development to move at a much quicker pace and, over time, they will become more complex.

It is believed that there are billions of habitable planets in our galaxy, which could become the target for Project Genesis. These planets are known as ‘oxygen’ planets, and revolve around M-dwarfs. Although oxygen is necessary for the sustenance of life, their oxygen rich atmospheres are the reason why complex organisms cannot develop. Astronomers are focused on finding planets that are around M-stars, which are relatively common but can be very dim, to introduce complex life. The planets have become oxygen rich because of the UV radiation emitted by the star during its cooling phase, which can take between 100 million to 1 billion years, which split the water on the planets into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Hydrogen will then escape the planet’s atmosphere, leaving the oxygen behind. Even though oxygen is necessary for the maintenance of life, this arise from chemical disassociation (not plant life), results in the planet becoming barren. It can, however, sustain life once it has been introduced.

The planets would be introduced to the organisms in two phases: the first would include unicellular autotrophs, mainly photosynthesizing bacteria; followed by heterotrophs, which feed on other organisms. The life initially seeded on these planets would take between 10 – 100 million years to fully unfold, and transport methods are currently being explored. One possible way of transporting the organisms would be to use laser technology to send probes through the universe, which would determine if the planet had life or not. Dr. Gros believes that this method will be possible within 50 – 100 years.

Even though many people have been supportive of the proposition, there are others that oppose The Genesis Project. Religious groups believe that sending organisms to other planets would be man ‘playing at being God.’ Others maintain that we should not interfere with the progression of these planets, as there is no real benefit to Earth from these experiments. Many scientists believe that more effort should be put into maintaining our planet, and developing space projects exclusively for the benefit of mankind, than concern with the progression of other planets.