Science and technology in 2017: Some predictions
Fragments of Reality
Published : Saturday, 31 December, 2016 at 12:00 AM Count : 526
A prediction is what someone thinks will happen. Physicist Brian Greene once said, "The real reason why general relativity is widely accepted is because it made predictions that were borne out by experimental observations." Greene suggests that a prediction becomes valuable if observation could validate it. I am aware about the complexity of any prediction, as Albert Einstein puts it, "When the number of factors coming into play in a phenomenological complex is too large scientific method in most cases fails. One need only think of the weather, in which case the prediction even for a few days ahead is impossible." However, considering some scientific and technological research that has already been happening around the world and some of their outcome so far, I can safely predict some further outcome that we might see in 2017.
First consider physiology or medicine, where a new gene discovery gives hope to Crohn's disease patients. Crohn's disease is a long term condition that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive system. The exact cause of the disease is unknown. Research suggests a combination of factors may be responsible, including genetics, the immune system, smoking or environmental factors. University of British Columbia scientists have identified recently that a gene mutation is responsible for stimulating the body's immune response and prevent the build up of fibrosis. Fibrosis is in fact the hardening and thickening of connective tissue that is one of the major complications of the disease. A drug has been developed for this disease and I am hoping that its test on human will be successful this year.
Diabetes has proven to be a dangerous disease that greatly affects the life of patients who have it. The risk of death for adults with diabetes is greater than 50 per cent, according to the National Diabetes Report. MannKind Corporation, a company in USA has released an oral insulin inhaler by the name of Afrezza. The small pocket-sized oral inhaler can be used as a substitute for insulin injections among diabetes patients. By regulating high blood sugar levels, this can assist a patient in living a normal life with diabetes. Mann described "We mimic what the actual pancreas does, we peak insulin in 12 to 14 minutes in the blood... it's essentially gone in three hours". I am hoping that this will come to our pharmacy this year. In general, the idea of precision medicine, where treatment will be individualised, will happen this year. This means that the genetic and molecular information of a patient will get more importance in any treatment. However, challenge is that every patient's genetic and molecular needs to be evaluated at the first place.
Second, a Canadian based company has developed an Ammonia-producing machine which can power planes, freight trains, and automobiles with Ammonia. It has been estimated that a retrofitting vehicle will costs approximately thousand dollars for using this technology. Roger Gordon, an inventor of the technology said "A large truck or plane won't run on a battery," a limitations of electric cars technology. "But they can run on ammonia. Ammonia is energy dense." Ammonia is manufactured where it's used, meaning that there's no transportation involved, and it's not volatile like hydrogen, which is sometime considered as a future potential fuel. Ammonia cars require their own filling stations. I am hoping that the Ammonia vehicles using Ammonia as a fuel will be running in our road soon.
Third, recent data suggests that there are about 60 billion cows supplying food for the current 7 billion people on Earth. Even if we were to maintain this rate of consumption, we would not have enough food for the coming generations. As it stands, livestock currently take up 70 per cent of available land and they also produce methane gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And with the world's population set to expand to 9.5 billion by the year 2050, the projected number of cattle will proportionally jump to 100 billion. So, it would be difficult by consumers and farmers to maintain present agricultural practises and related ecological cost. Small farmers will not be able to keep up with the growing demands for milk and so will be forced to sell their land to farm factories. So there is a need for alternative. Sustainable agricultural practises, more specifically genetically modified organisms (GMO's), are an imminent talking point these days. Some companies are trying to produce genetically synthesised milk such as a company named Muufi has created a strain of yeast culture that is identical to the yeast cell cows produce. The strain makes milk proteins taste and structurally behave in a same way. I hope that such product will gradually capture our market in order to meet the demand.
Fourth, the scientists from British Columbia made a revolutionary discovery, a 'plastic eating bacteria' that could change the state of plastic pollution in our oceans, which is responsible for the deaths of countless marine animals. Generally the main chemical found in plastic is phthalate, which is added to plastic to increase its durability and transparency. This chemical can contaminate air, water and soil. Scientists have discovered that bacteria specifically targets and breaks down phthalate. Along with the bacteria, they added enzymes to the solution which further breaks down the phthalate. The end products are carbon dioxide, water, and alcohol. The newly discovered bacteria could change the current, depleting state of our oceans and marine ecosystems. Instead of collecting plastics, which is time consuming, a mobile cleanup stations can be used, which can digest plastics. Currently work is in progress to get this commercially and I am hoping that this year we would be able to see its implementation.
Fifth, augmented reality (AR) is a live view of real-world environment. Environmental elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or geographical positioning system data. It will get more importance than virtual reality (VR) in 2017. VR is currently using for gaming. However, AR will give a taste of how information and images can be superimposed on any kind of images. As an example currently Pokeman Go game has taken up such approach. It is a location based augmented reality game developed by a company named Niantic based in San Francisco. Apple Company is interested to expedite this matter further in 2017.
Sixth, a new computer system will take a peak this year. PC makers are putting most of their attention on innovating around what the industry calls 2-in-1s, which feature a tablet-style design with an attachable keyboard. Microsoft product is in the market. However, this idea has now taken up by others.
Seventh, according to Intel Security, there were around 707 million cyber security breaches in 2015. Therefore, some development is in progress for robust responses to such attacks and we are hoping to see some development in alarming system of such attack this year.
Eighth, some agricultural farms in Japan are operated by robots. Because of the shortage of farm labour at certain time of a year this robotic technology will be seen as useful in some European countries this year. Idea of robot as a maid servant is taking its place in families. As an example, humanoid robots are becoming increasingly popular in China. A Chinese tycoon took humanoid robot maid recently for shopping, so that they could carry his bags.
Ninth, space technology will take a different shape with new objectives this year. The European Space Agency launches Aeolus, a pioneering wind tracking satellite and CHEOPS (Characterising Exo Planets Satellite), an exo planet hunting prove. In addition to these projects, a new project for international cooperation for animal research using space will be implemented this year, which can track animal movement and behaviour from space using satellite. Billions of animals are constantly on the move, responding to the environment they experience on earth surface. These data will inform the researcher about animal behaviour and also earth's environment from space and hoping to answer bigger question about the global climate change.
Lao Tzu, a Chinese poet from 6th century BC wrote, "Those who have knowledge, don't predict. Those who predicts, don't have knowledge." We do not knowledge about everything in present time about the future, so we predict. Lao Tzu was right in that sense. I am also careful of using any statistics for my prediction, as Andrew Lang said, "An unsophisticated forecaster uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts - for support rather than for illumination." However I think about the future because future is the time and space when and where we are going to spend rest of our life and time. So why not use prediction as a tool to help illuminate our future.r
Dr Kanan Purkayastha teaches Chemistry and Environmental Sciences in United Kingdom. He is a Fellow of the Institution of Environmental Sciences in UK