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An artificial embryo
An artificial embryo | © University of Cambridge
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Scientists at MIT Think These Breakthrough Technologies Will Change the World

Picture of Claire Lancaster
Tech & Entrepreneurship Editor
Updated: 29 March 2018
From artificial embryos to headphones capable of translating languages in real-time, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has published its annual list of tech it believes will make the most impact in the year ahead.

Artificial embryos

Without using eggs or sperm cells, researchers at Cambridge University have made embryo-like structures using only the stem cells of mice. While the researchers said the controversial experiment ‘probably’ couldn’t have supported baby mice, the project makes it easier for scientists to understand how the cells of an early embryo begin taking on their specialised roles.

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An artificial embryo | © University of Cambridge

Zero-carbon natural gas

Natural gas is used to generate nearly a quarter of the world’s electricity, but is a massive source of environment-damaging carbon emissions. Now, a power plant outside of Houston, Texas has proven it can efficiently and cheaply capture the carbon released by burning natural gas, avoiding greenhouse-gas emissions. A step in the right direction for a greener future.

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Natural gas flares in North Dakota | © Tim Evanson / Flickr

Smart cities

Integrating cutting-edge tech into all aspects of city planning, Sidewalk Labs, from Google parent company Alphabet, and Waterfront Toronto, a public agency overseeing the development of a waterside area of Toronto, are working together to create an entirely new ‘smart’ urban neighbourhood. Among other smart city innovations, the project, called Quayside, will include a fleet of shared autonomous vehicles, underground mail delivery robots and an extensive network of sensors that gather data on everything from air quality to noise levels.

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Quayside | © Alphabet

AI for all

Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform everything from medicine to manufacturing, but until now its development has been dominated by relatively few, high-tech companies. Now, open-source, cloud-based AI systems are making intelligent algorithms open to all – increasing the chance for alternative industries to create AI applications and innovations.

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Astronomers recently used artificial intelligence to spot 6,000 new craters on the Moon | © Pixabay

Real-time language translation earbuds

Google has debuted a pair of wireless headphones capable of translating languages in real time. Users simply hold down on the right earbud and say, ‘Help me speak Italian’, for example. Then, as you talk, your Pixel phone’s speaker will play the translation in Italian out loud. When your conversation partner responds in Italian, you’ll hear the translation through your Pixel Buds.

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Pixel Buds | © Google

Online identity protection tools

Computer scientists are getting closer to creating a tool to allow users to disclose personal information online – such as age verification or proving they have enough money in the bank for a financial transaction – without risking their privacy or exposing themselves to identity theft. The method, called zk-SNARK (for ‘zero-knowledge succinct non-interactive argument of knowledge’), was developed by cryptocurrency Zcash, and has already been trialled by JPMorgan Chase and ING banks.

zk-SNARK could protect online shoppers
zk-SNARK could protect online shoppers | © Negative Space/Pexels

3D metal printing

3D printing has been used by hobbyists for several years, but is now easy and affordable enough to carry out, that the tech could soon be used as a practical alternative for the manufacturing of metal parts. In Amsterdam, designer Jooris Laarman’s 3D-printed steel canal bridge is an elegant demonstration of the potential of 3D printing to create affordable and large-scale functional objects made on-site with sustainable materials.

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Jooris Laarman’s 3D-printed steel canal bridge | © Joris Laarman

Computer-modeled molecules

IBM has modeled the electronic structure of a small molecule using a seven-qubit quantum computer. Understanding molecules in exact detail will allow chemists to design more effective drugs and better materials for generating and distributing energy.

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Photograph of a quantum computing chip constructed by D-Wave Systems Inc | © WikiCommons

Media-generating AI

While AI has long been able to identify and match images its been ‘taught’, smart algorithms are now capable of generating incredibly realistic sounds and images themselves. The process, known as a generative adversarial network, or GAN, has wide-ranging potential for media generation in the future.

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AI-generated images | © Nvidia

Genetic fortune telling

Scientists can now use baby’s genome to predict their chance of inheriting diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, and even make an educated guess about a child’s future IQ. While the DNA-based prediction could advance public health, it could also increase the risks of genetic discrimination.

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Scientists can now map tell a baby’s genetic fortune | © HaiRobe / Pixabay