A List of All the Science and Tech Breakthroughs from 2017
2017 was quite a year. It was jam-packed full of scientific and technological breakthroughs with some exciting new tech releases. We'll take a hand-picked tour of some of the most notable events throughout the year.
The following is in no particular order, feel free to share your highlights in the comments below!
1. Microsoft's HoloLens
Microsoft's HoloLens was a truly exciting breakthrough in augmented reality in 2017. With a wide variety of applications, this could be set to change the game for medical surgery.
HoloLens lets users interact with digital content by projecting images in front of their very eyes. Unlike other VR and AR headsets, HoloLens is fully self-contained and does not require connection to another PC or smart device.
HoloLens has already found applications in various industries and other end-user environments like surgery.
2. CRISPR Genome editing
Over the last few years, we have seen a massive escalation in gene therapy and 2017 was no exception thanks to CRISPR. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Repeats. These may now be in a position to provide cheap, simple extraction of bacterial DNA that could be integrated into the human genome.
Over the last three decades or so scientists have been studying how to fight off diseases using CRISPR. This research might just help humans battle life-threatening diseases or, in the future, create 'designer babies'.
3. Pig-Human embryos
In February of 2017, researchers successfully created the first human-pig hybrid embryos. Their work was published in the journal Cell, and detailed how they implanted human cells into early-stage pig embryos.
This interesting breakthrough could allow for human organs to be grown inside non-human hosts sometime in the future.
The embryos were destroyed after 3-4 weeks after they proved to be viable. Despite raising some concerns about the ethics of the research, it could prove pivotal to the hundreds of thousands of people waiting for organ transplants.
4. A cure for cancer?
The FDA recently approved a major gene treatment for cancer patients. This treatment could maybe save the lives of over 3,500 qualifying people in America each year.
This was the second gene-altering cancer treatment approved by the FDA. It is called CAR-T and it has been described as a 'personalized' treatment for a specific type of cancer, large B-cell lymphomas. This is a very aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Currently, this treatment is only available to patients who have experienced two or more failed chemotherapy treatments.
5. Space X Falcon 9
Space X has had quite a year. 2017 was the year of Space X's mission to space, with their most significant launch happening only weeks ago. Space X managed to successfully launch and deliver 10 Iridium satellites into Earth's orbit.
This mission was in itself the halfway point to put a total 75 satellites into low-Earth orbit. This successful launch comes at a rather busy time for Space X. They are not only planning to put satellites into space but also deliver payloads to Mars.
6. Bye bye Cassini
September 15th, 2017 saw the last moments of the famous Cassini spacecraft. NASA actually ran a live stream of the spacecraft's final moments as it smashed into Saturn's atmosphere.
The probe began its life in the eighties and was built to deploy the Huygens probe to the surface of Titan in 2004. Cassini has since been sending back vital information to NASA until its final moments.
Quite a fitting and spectacular end to one of the most fruitful space missions.
7. Mission to Mars
Mars has long been earmarked for human exploration and 2017 has taken us one step closer. Space X and Boeing announced earlier this year their respective plan to launch their own missions to Mars in the foreseeable future.
Let's hope the rivalry remains cordial between the two companies. Who will get there first is anyone's guess but it'll be fascinating to watch.
8. More Earth-like planets discovered
2017 was a great year for finding habitable exoplanets. NASA managed to find 20 potentials worlds and another 7 Earth-sized planets orbiting a distant star, TRAPPIST-1.
Of the later, three of them are actually located in the so-called habitable zone. They could, conceivably, have liquid water. This is a truly fascinating discovery.
These could all become potential targets for future colonization is and when we master interstellar travel. Until such time we'll have to make do with planets in our solar system.
9. Close encounters
Early in December, we were visited by an interesting interstellar object. Theories abounded as to whether it was a spacecraft or just an oddly shaped asteroid. Scientists scrambled to capture images of the strange space object and affectionately named it Oumuamua. Its shape, color, and place of origin were all areas of intense speculation.
The esteemed Stephen Hawkings also got involved and lead a team of scientists to attempt to scan the object. Namely to identify if it is carrying any form of alien life.
10. Neutron stars collide
Back on August 17, astronomers have detected two neutron stars colliding for the first time. Astronomers were able to detect the gravitational waves from the colliding stars that may just usher in the age of 'multi-messenger' astronomy.
The waves were picked up by detectors from the collision 130 million lightyears away from Earth. The collision was detected by high-tech equipment as well as regular light telescopes. For the first time, scientists were granted unprecedented views and data on this incredibly violent cosmic event.
11. China's Lunar Palace 1 (Yuegong-1)
China tested a prototype moon base earlier this year. Three volunteers finished a 105-day 'shakeout' mission of the facility to test its viability. The team ate protein-rich mealworms and other delightful foods and completed the first long-duration multi-crew sealed cabin research project.
The project was started in March of 2013 with the 105-day mission ending in May of 2017.
12. Boston Dynamics Flipping Robot
Boston Dynamics unveiled their acrobatic robot earlier this year. Released footage of the robot's acrobats both excited and worried viewers in equal measures. Their robot, Atlas, defied all commonly held beliefs that robots were clumsy and laborious. Atlas was actually able to perform a backflip more smoothly than most human beings.
Boston Dynamics are an offshoot of MIT in the 1990's. The company was acquired by Google in 2013 and later sold to Japan's Softbank Group sometime later.
AI AMONG US
13. World's first AI robotic citizen Sophia
Earlier in 2017, we met the Sophia, a headlining AI robot. The humanoid was actually granted citizenship in Saudia Arabia. She has her own opinions, calling for Women's Rights in her adopted nation, or tweeting about the need to 'kill all humans'.
Sophia is the brainchild of the Hong-Kong based company Hanson Robotics. She made her debut at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh.
14. An AI bot also became a Japanese citizen
Not to be outdone by Saudi Arabia, Japan also granted citizenship to an AI bot. October saw a 7-year old AI robotic boy becoming an official Japanese citizen.
The AI robotic 'boy' was officially registered with an ID in one of Tokyo's biggest districts. The child-sized robot Shibuya Mirai's name actually has a significant meaning. Shibuya references a popular city district and Mirai roughly translates as 'future'. Quite the subliminal message.
15. The end is nigh thanks to AI and aliens
Back in November, Stephen Hawking added his voice to the rising cacophony warning against the rise of Artificial Intelligence. He is worried that AI will eventually take over or put an end to humanity. A view shared by many of his peers, including Elon Musk.
Hawking is particularly worried about the risks that AI could overthrow their creators. He, like many a sci-fi writer before him, is worried that such technology will quickly develop a will of its own. Not only that but it would soon become uncontrollable
Hawking was also worried about the consequences of attempting to make contact with alien life forms. They might just be less interested in talking and more about keeping us quiet.
16. Beware killer robots
Elon Musk and 116 other scientists informed the public about their concerns over AI being a bigger threat than North Korea. Musk and his peers want robotics and AI engineers to take action before it is too late.
The fight was championed by Elon Musk and Alphabet's executive Mustafa Suleyman as well as other specialists.
In a joint letter, the campaigners noted: "Once developed, lethal autonomous weapons will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways."
17. 16,000 scientists gave a dire warning
Over 16,000 scientists from 184 countries published a dire warning this year about the state of the planet. This was the second one given over the last few years and should warn humanity that we need to change our wicked ways to save the planet.
The first warning was given in 1992 when 1,700 independent scientists signed the World Scientists’ "Warning to Humanity.” This letter similarly warned that “human beings and the natural world are on a collision course”. If mankind doesn't stop their destructive ways, it could have catastrophic consequences.
18. A good year for Bitcoin
2017 has been a fantastic year for Bitcoin and blockchain technology. The last few months have seen a literal rollercoaster in market value as well as intense coverage from the media. Bitcoin, as well as other cryptocurrencies, have overall seen incredible increases in capital investment all across the globe.
Could it be a huge bubble? Only time will tell.
2018 will certainly be interesting for Bitcoin but more importantly Blockchain technology in general. Just how high will it go? Will governments attempt to regulate it? They can try.
19. iPhone X
Love it or hate it, Apple certainly went big with the launch of the iPhone X earlier this year. Like any new iPhone launch, it has become one the most talked about phones in recent years. One big advancement was putting facial recognition center stage. Despite this, many critics pointed to the loss of the headphone jack in what was seen as a simple money making strategy.
As exciting as the new features are, the iPhone X has not been without its potential security flaws.
May and August saw the potential future of public transport with the unveiling of Elon Musk's Hyperloop. Hyperloop was open-sourced by Musk himself and many companies took him up on the plan to build the new tech. Richard Branson is one of the most notable entrepreneurs to get in on the action.
Virgin's Hyperloop One even set a new speed record of 240 MPH recently.
21. Autonomous Trucks!
2017 saw the announcement of Tesla's Semi Truck. This autonomous truck has been designed to be an all-electric vehicle with a range of around 200 to 300 miles when fully charged. Musk's announcements have not been without their critics, however.
Many believe that Tesla's Semis will not be able to outperform, let alone keep up with traditional diesel trucks. The Tesla team are confident that their all-electric truck will be more than up to the job. The trucks were unveiled in September.
Since their unveiling, Tesla's Autonomous Trucks have had a number of companies investing in the enterprise, in a bid to help cut emissions and reduce operational costs for their activities.
22. Petrol and diesel cars banned all over
2017 saw the announcement by various countries that they intend to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars in the foreseeable future. Norway led the charge by announcing that they planned to set the deadline as soon as 2025. Norway is already underway to replace combustion engine cars in any case. As of today, around 24% of Norway's vehicles already run on electricity.
Other nations, like the United Kingdom and France, have set the objective for the 2040's.
BIGGEST HACKS AND BIGGEST SCANDALS
23. Equifax cyber-attack
Earlier in 2017 145,5 million American consumers had sensitive personal information stolen during a cyber-attack on Equifax. Equifax is one of the nation's three major credit reporting agencies.
The breach lasted between May and July, during which time the hackers had access to very sensitive data. The hackers were able to access people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. Hackers also stole credit card numbers from around 209,000 people. Information was also accessible to the hackers from people living in Canada and the United Kingdom.
24. Uber had a really bad year
Uber certainly had an atrocious 2017. The company has seen not just one or two but a slew of scandals over the year. The most recent one was as recently as a few weeks ago.
At the beginning of December, Uber announced that they had caught a hacker who had managed to steal data from around 57 million of their consumers. The hacker was able to steal valuable information from Uber customers such as customers names, email addresses, along with the phone numbers of both drivers and riders.
Worryingly enough, a further 600,000 U.S. Driver license details were also stolen.
25. Amazon Key
Earlier this year Amazon unveiled their latest initiative, the Amazon Key. The idea of the new 'smart' door lock is to allow Amazon to securely and safely deliver packages to your house, even when you are out. The locks can also be accessed by anyone you authorize. This could be family members or frequently reoccurring visitors like dog walkers or cleaners.
To some, this is seen as the ultimate convenience. To others a wholly unacceptable potential breach of home security. Whichever your view is Amazon Key is certainly raising many questions about home privacy.
26. Net neutrality at risk?
2017 saw the FCC vote to eliminate regulations that were put in place to protect the freedom of information over the internet. To some, this move has signed the death sentence of a free and public internet. Others believe it is the wholly justified removal of government overreach.
Whatever your views are on the matter, the decision awaits a hearing and could be repealed.
27. Fake bots, fake accounts, and fake news
If nothing else, 2017 was the year of fake bots, accounts, and fake news. Accusations of fake accounts and news appeared early on in the year. A large proportion of accusations revolve around the belief that Russia had used Facebook and other social media platforms to attempt to influence the 2016 Presidential Elections.
Whichever side you are on, there is little doubt that it is something we won't hear about in 2018.
28. The age of the fidget spinners
Like many past fads, fidget spinners took the world by storm in 2017. A craze that is yet to lose momentum and doesn't look likely to end anytime soon. These handheld plastic and metal gyroscopes can be used to perform some pretty impressive tricks. 2017 also saw some fidget spinner world record attempts.
With their appeal unlikely to slow down, we will all need to get used to the idea that these will be with us in 2018.
29. Snapchat Spectacles
Snapchat certainly made waves when it announced the launch of their own brand Spectacles at the end of 2016. They finally went on sale in February of 2017 and were met with immediate success. The glasses are designed to be specifically used by Snapchat users.
Each pair can record up to 30 seconds of HD footage which can then be edited using emojis, stickers, and text. The footage can then be uploaded to the user's Snapchat accounts.
30. Juicero, a failure of the IOT
And finally, we'll end our review of 2017 with one of the biggest tech flops of the year. Despite a strong start to the year, Juicero turned out to be one of the most useless kitchen appliances ever. Juicero was developed by a Silicon Valley startup that still managed to raise $118 million in funding.
Juicero was launched with a retail price of $699. For this, the consumer received their very own Wi-Fi-connected juicing machine. The machine also needed $5-$7 proprietary juice packs to actually work. Poor sales led the startup to drop the price to $399 shortly after general release.
A Bloomberg article would later ring the death knell for Juicero. It revealed that the juice packs could actually be squeezed by hand without the need to use the rather expensive machine. Such was the social media backlash that the products fate was sealed. It failed to recover consumer confidence and the startup collapsed.
Natasha Caudill is a social media influencer and accessibility advocate debugging the monochrome world for you. She speaks to Interesting Engineering about her life experiences, social media interactions, advocacy, and being a part of NASA's unveiling of the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope.