As every year, the Massassuchet Institute of Technology delivers in its publication, MIT Technology Reviewthe ten disruptive innovations of the year. This selection should be watched carefully because MIT generally has a fine nose. Last year it cited CRISPR, Tesla's reusable rocket or autonomous car. All these innovations made the headlines in 2016. The 2017 vintage is particularly eclectic. A detailed review of the innovations that will inevitably have an impact on the economy, politics, medicine and certainly culture in the next ten years.
Paralysis finally defeated
Availability: 10 to 15 years
The MIT notes the tremendous progress scientists are making in brain implants to restore the freedom of movement that spinal cord injuries can cause.
A few years ago, laboratory animals and a few human guinea pigs were able to operate robotic arms solely by thinking through implants placed in the brain. These devices allowed the subject's "intent" to be understood. Now, these implants are connected directly to electrical stimulators placed in the body, bypassing the injured part of the spinal cord and creating a "neurological bypass". A trial at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) on a tetraplegic person showed that a patient was able to open and close his hand.
The expected progress in this field is numerous, but one of the most spectacular is certainly this compact case, the neurocommThis could collect information from the brain at the speed of the best Internet connections to trigger muscle actions for example.
Availability: 5 to 10 years
The time of trucks travelling on our motorways without a driver at the wheel is approaching. The idea is gaining ground because the largest part of a truck's journey is on the motorway. Driving on the motorway is much easier than driving in the city. In addition, the economic benefits are certain. Trucks could coordinate with each other and adopt an optimal mode of travel in relation to outdoor conditions such as weather or traffic. In addition, drivers, as there will always be one on board, will be able to recover during motorway journeys so that they are fresh and ready for more complex journeys.
Startups like Otto are already promising in the United States to equip any truck for 10,000 $. Major manufacturers such as Volvo and Daimler are taking a close interest in this technology.
The question remains, however, the impact of this type of innovation on the employment of lorry drivers. There are several million drivers worldwide who could be replaced by intelligent automatic devices.
Pay by facial recognition
Already in China, facial recognition systems are being used to authenticate payments, to allow access to secure buildings or to track down criminals. This technology is intensively processed in China by startups such as Face++. or operators such as Alibaba or Baidu. It is true that facial recognition greatly simplifies authentication compared to other existing systems. All the more so as the progress of artificial intelligence increases the potential of this technology.
120 million Chinese practice it daily and invent new uses every day, such as checking the identity of a VTC driver. These uses still leave many countries, which are more concerned about privacy, on the sidelines. But the Chinese love it, especially when they are called by name when they enter a shop or restaurant because they have been automatically recognized by the facial recognition algorithm.
Availability: 4 to 5 years
In the laboratories of Intel, Google, IBM, Microsoft and other big names in the digital world, people are rejoicing because we know that the quantum computer, which will increase the capabilities of today's machines tenfold in unimaginable proportions, is on its way. And it is not far away.
On paper, we've been talking about quantum computers for a long time. This type of machine doesn't work on bits that take either the value 1 or 0, but on qubits, quantum bits, which can take simultaneously This small difference multiplies the computing power considerably. Many fields such as encryption, materials science or artificial intelligence will then be impacted. But until now qubits were too unstable. That was without relying on the genius of Dutch researchers in the laboratory. QuTech of Delft, which were achieved through the use of quasiparticles discovered in 2012, to solve the problem of qubit instability. This breakthrough paves the way for the fabrication of quantum circuits on silicon chips, which would further increase the field of uses. The Dutch researcher at the origin of this discovery, Leo Kouwenhoven, was immediately hired by Microsoft which, like his colleagues Google, Intel and others, have resolved to invest heavily in this field.
This set of facts led MIT to decide that this year the quantum computer could enter its top 10. Up until now it was flunked with the words: "not ready yet".
The 360° selfie
According to MIT, low-cost cameras that can make spherical 360° images are opening up a new era in photography and changing the way people share their stories.
These cameras, available since 2016, give an old-fashioned look to everything that existed before and in particular the GoPro. 360° movies are becoming a standard in holiday photography. The way of shooting documentaries or photographing is changing completely. With this type of image, simply move the mouse cursor or, better still, run your finger over the image to direct your gaze to the entire scene. In front, behind, above, below.
The innovation is radical because, until now, it has been necessary to synchronize several cameras to obtain a peripheral image or to acquire highly specialized and expensive equipment. Now, the same effect can be achieved for less than 350 euros with, for example, the Ricoh Theta. Journalists from the New York Times have covered the damage of a hurricane in Haiti or a refugee camp in Gaza in 360° images using a simple Samsung Gear 360sold for 350 $.
A breakthrough innovation made possible by advances in camera miniaturization and lower image sensor costs. Jeffrey Martin, the founder of the startup Sphericam explains why these technologies are accessible to the greatest number of people: "There are sensors that now cost 1 $ instead of 1000 $ because they are used in smartphones. The economies of scale produced are incredible.
Availability: 10 to 15 years
This new solar energy collection device converts heat into focused beams of light. This cheap and continuous energy will replace the (already) good old solar panels. The latter, which are seen more and more frequently on houses or buildings, are made from silicon wafers; they are bulky, expensive and ultimately quite inefficient.
Indeed, their physical constitution allows them to absorb only a small part of the energy in sunlight.
But an MIT team has built another type of solar energy device by first converting sunlight into heat and then reconverting it into light concentrated on a specific spectrum of the electromagnetic field. While a traditional solar panel converts a maximum of 30 % of sunlight into energy, these new devices achieve a rate of 60 %. And the research is not yet complete. Scientists believe that this result can still be improved. To top it all off, the researchers have also managed to store the heat and convert it back into electricity at night.
Gene Therapy 2.0
Gene therapy is an old medical dream. It involves giving a person with a genetic disease a "gene drug". This is a healthy copy of the defective gene; it is transported to where it is needed by a vector: a virus rendered harmless.
Today this dream is becoming a reality. More and more biotech start-ups and companies are investing in this field of activity. They are called Spark Therapeutics, BioMarin, BlueBird Bio, GenSight Biologics or UniQureand their perseverance is beginning to pay off. Although we are only at the beginning, three treatments are already on the market in Europe and China. Prices are still prohibitive, as one of them, such as Strimvelis produced by GalxoSmithKline for immunodeficient diseases, costs 625,000 euros per person. However, the lab agrees to a guarantee of result and offers reimbursement of the treatment in case of failure.
More than 2,000 clinical trials are underway, pushing prices down and increasing the chances of democratization of this type of treatment.
Finally, it should be noted that this type of medicine targeting rare genetic diseases could also be applied to other more widespread diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes, cancers and certain cardiac pathologies.
The cell atlas
Availability: 5 years
The next mega-project in biology will be to understand precisely what we are made of.
In 1665, Robert Hooke pointed his microscope at a piece of cork. He was amazed to discover "little boxes" that reminded him of monks' cells in a monastery. His discovery is now taking on a new dimension, as scientists want to build an atlas of the 37200 billion cells we are made up of.
Each cell will be "geolocated" and classified according to its genetic activity. This atlas will provide doctors and researchers with a novel model that will undoubtedly help them speed up their research.
A consortium of scientists from the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Israel, the Netherlands and Japan (no French) was formed. To achieve their goal, the experts will use innovative technologies: cellular microfluidics, thanks to which each cell can be separated and analysed separately; the identification of the active genes of a single cell by decoding its genome very quickly (10,000 cells by a single scientist) and for just a few cents; the "labelling" of each type of cell thanks to a specific "zip code". In September, Mark Zuckerberg had made this cell atlas the main objective of his three billion dollar donation for medical research.
The botnets of the objects
Not everything is rosy in the world of innovation. The irresistible push to bring more and more connectivity to the smallest of our everyday objects creates dangerous side effects that foreshadow the worst.
We've known for a long time about the problems of Internet hacking. But with the multiplication of connected objects, webcams within everyone's reach, or options for automating our cars, hackers are having a field day. All these objects can be hacked, for the most part, without the slightest effort.
Last October a botnet (malicious software) penetrated more than 100,000 connected objects seemingly harmless gadgets. Result: Dyn, one of the biggest ISPs is shot down. In its downfall, an impressive list of websites including Netflix and Twitter disappear from the Internet for a while.
How was this made possible? By infecting thousands of objects at once, the botnet's power is increased tenfold. A nuisance force that can be terribly dangerous. As the fashion for connected objects is not about to dry up, hackers can thus redouble their imagination.
Availability: 1 to 2 years
By experimenting on their own, computers learn things that programmers never taught them.
A little over a century ago, psychologist Edward Thorndike locked up a hundred cats in boxes. The unfortunate creatures could only be released from their prison by the flick of a lever. Through meowing and trial and error, the cats, seeing that the action of the lever had an effect, began to repeat the gesture until a large majority of them freed themselves. This mechanism of reinforcement learning now applies to artificial intelligence.
Based on this principle, the AlphaGo computer has beaten the best Go game champions. By combining reinforcement learning with "deep learning", i.e. deep learning procedures based on neural networks, collective intelligences make spectacular progress. This is how the autonomous car can make decisions on its own or energy consumption systems can be optimised in real time.