For more on the year’s cultural happenings, check out some more of our 2017 In Review round-ups.
A huge number of technological advances in 2017 have their roots in the United States, and Silicon Valley in particular. Self-driving cars, quantum computing, and gene therapy have all been developed in America. But other countries around the globe have made significant contributions to the technology landscape this year. Here are five fantastic examples.
One of the major technological breakthroughs of this year has been in scientists attempts to reverse the effects of paralysis through brain implants. The technology was listed by MIT as one of the 10 most important tech developments of 2017, and it’s easy to see why. Some of the most significant work in this field is coming out of Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Scientists there have successfully implanted a recording device on the skull of a monkey unable to move one leg, and placed electrodes around the animal’s spinal cord. Now when the monkey thinks about moving the leg, the leg moves. MIT expects the technology to make its most significant impact in 10–15 years time, but the work undertaken this year has gone a long way to helping paralyzed people walk again in the future.
Carbon negative power station
Climate change is one of the major threats to our existence, so it’s reassuring to know that a lot of work is being done to reduce emissions and even reverse the damage done. A geothermal power plant in Iceland, inaugurated this year, uses a concept called direct-air capture. This concept involves sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and producing energy. The power station in Iceland is now emissions negative, meaning it removed more carbon dioxide than it emits, and produces power at the same time. The project is only at the pilot stage and will have to become cheaper to utilize if it’s going to be used on a larger scale, but offers hope in a world under attack by global warming.
The new iPhone brought facial recognition into our lives in 2017, and the thought of unlocking your phone just by looking at it excited and horrified the world in equal measure. In China, the technology has been taken a step further. Another of the breakthroughs to feature on MIT’s 2017 list, facial recognition technology is improving fast in China, and can be used to make payments, access buildings, and more. Alipay, a Paypal equivalent with 120 million users, and the most popular ride hailing app in the country Didi are both offering users the chance to take action with just their faces.
Generating power from pollution
Belgium is also making strides in climate change-battling technology. Researchers at the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven have developed a process that purifies air and generates power at the same time, and only needs to be exposed to light to work. “We use a small device with two rooms separated by a membrane,” explains Professor Sammy Verbruggen (UAntwerp/KU Leuven) to the KU Leuven website. “Air is purified on one side, while on the other side hydrogen gas is produced from a part of the degradation products. This hydrogen gas can be stored and used later as fuel, as is already being done in some hydrogen buses, for example.”
Nuclear fusion has been a hope and a goal for humanity for many years. The concept involves using the same process which occurs in the sun and producing abundant amounts of clean energy here on Earth. A startup in Vancouver is attempting to bring the idea to fruition, and although it hasn’t cracked it yet, just working on the possibility of nuclear fusion changes the way we think about technology and energy.