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Top 10 Technology Breakthroughs 2022

What new technology will we see in 2022? The folks at MIT think they’ve got it down to 10 breakthroughs that will change interactions, health, global warming, and more.

Here’s their list of what you should look for and why it matters.


The End of Passwords

Vector illustration of computer monitor with red box featuring an open log and password stars.

Computer scientists predict you’ll no longer need to remember your unsafe passwords like password123 in 2022. Email links, push notifications, and even biometric scans will be more prevalent and easier to use when accessing online accounts and apps.


Why this matters

These access modes tend to be more secure than alphanumeric passwords, which can be stolen, guessed based on password patterns/dog names/birthdates/etc., or brute-forced (trial-and-error bots that guess login info quickly until they hit). Password managers like Dashlane can track alphanumeric passwords, but the safest option is to eliminate them altogether.


You have already seen new sorts of account and app access with two-factor authentication (2FA), where you are texted or emailed a 6-digit code you must enter. Other methods include a tap notification sent to your phone or (with Apple) simply raising your phone to your face.


As cybercriminals get smarter, so should protecting your accounts and personal information.


Covid Variant Tracking

Vector illustration of red covid virus on yellow backgroung

In a perfect world, COVID would disappear, but we now know that will not happen. It may soon enter a global endemic status but will continue to evolve and spread. The pandemic has sparked an unprecedented evolution in genetic sequencing and the ability to track the development of covid variants and their spread worldwide.


Why this matters

Beyond being able to identify and rapidly develop treatments and vaccines for new COVID variants, the technology and methods being developed by researchers will help governments and health providers more effectively treat, as Bill Gates has predicted, future pandemics and isolated disease outbreaks like ebola or typhoid.


A Longer-Lasting Grid Battery

Drawing of grey battery with plus/positive symbol and green lightning bolt next to it symbolizing power

Renewable energy has been a buzzword for several years when discussing global warming. But what when the wind dies down and the sunsets? Storing the energy produced in prime conditions cost-effectively and efficiently is prompting scientists to look for new types of grid storage. One alternative in development is an iron-based battery that uses less expensive, more readily available materials.


Why this matters

In April of 2021, renewable energy accounted for 94.5% of demand (for a few seconds) in California’s main electric grid. This was a significant milestone on the path to reducing global warming. ESS, Inc. in Oregon has developed an iron-based battery being tested in Minnesota (where there is plenty of open space that allows for prolonged sun exposure and uninterrupted wind conditions). Cheaper storage alternatives will make renewable energy available to more Americans looking to lessen their carbon imprint.


AI For Protein Folding

Proteins are an essential part of how your body works, and how a protein folds (a vital cellular process) determines your health. Proteins that fold incorrectly cause diseases like Parkinson’s or cancer. Identifying this folding process has, in the past, taken months to track, limiting researchers’ effectiveness.


A new AI called AlphaFold2 (developed by DeepMind in the UK) is helping to improve and shorten this process.


Why this matters

Proteins are a part of everything your body does, from digesting food to building muscle, to thinking. When a protein folds incorrectly (which is how it produces the energy and chemical processes needed to perform), the result can be catastrophic to your health.


Speeding up the process of analyzing how a protein is folding can help diagnose diseases faster and develop treatments and drugs that can reverse symptoms or turn a deadly disease into a chronic condition.


Malaria Vaccine

More than 600,000 people die each year from malaria, most of them children under the age of five. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently approved a new vaccine that could save nearly everyone exposed to the parasite.


Why this matters

This vaccine is the first of its kind – a vaccine for a parasitic infection. All prior vaccines have been for viruses. Malaria causes terrible suffering in those affected, including anemia, kidney failure, seizures, mental confusion, comas, and death. Saving children and their families from this sort of agony is a necessary humanitarian effort.



Proof of Stake Energy Consumption

Without getting into a lengthy description of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, let’s just say that verifying their transactions takes a tremendous amount of electricity. A new system called Proof of Stake (a cryptocurrency consensus mechanism for processing transactions and creating new blocks in a blockchain) will cut the energy used by 99.5%.


Why this matters

Bitcoin mining is the process of creating new bitcoin by solving puzzles (math problems). “Mining” is a metaphor for the computational work that goes into earning new tokens (“money” used to purchase bitcoins). We know, you are rolling your eyes – TMI.


The crux of the matter is that mining a single bitcoin block consumes enough electricity to power more than 28 U.S. homes for a full day. Proof of Stake will help reduce the amount of energy needed significantly, helping lessen the process’ carbon footprint. Since most bitcoins are mined in Texas, New York, Kentucky, and Georgia, at least Texas can perhaps get through its next winter storm relatively unscathed.


A Pill for COVID

Pfizer has been the only company working on a pill that provides effective and broad protection from the covid-19 virus. This includes the latest variants.


Why this matters

This pill will help pave the way for the world to, finally, exit the pandemic. Given to people within a few days of infection, this drug decreases the chance of hospitalization by 89%. Called Paxlovid, this pill messes up the virus’ ability to copy itself and spread further throughout the body, weakening its effectiveness. So long ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, as far as covid goes.



Practical Fusion Reactors

Limitless, carbon-free electricity is what fusion power promises. One start-up plans to introduce it to the grid by the early 2030s thanks to a powerful new magnet now in production.


Why this matters

Fusion promises to be a carbon-free, inexpensive, always-on source of energy with no meltdown risk and very little radioactive waste. It is nuclear energy cleaned up.


Last Fall, MIT researchers successfully tested a high-temperature, superconducting magnet that reached 20 Teslas (a measure of field intensity), breaking the world record for the most powerful magnetic field strength ever produced. This magnet could be the key to unlocking nuclear fusion. A commercially viable fusion reactor could quickly become the energy source of the future.


Since nuclear fusion only occurs at immensely high temperatures that would normally destroy any material that humans could think to build a reactor from, the goal has been to contain the plasma (charged particles) without letting it touch anything. A strong magnetic field – such as the one this magnet creates – could do that.


Synthetic Data for AI

Synthetic data isn’t new, it’s just in higher demand. Training AI, such as that used in Teslas to navigate traffic conditions, at Netflix to recommend films, or on Instagram to show reels you’d enjoy relies on AI to function well. The organic data can be messy, however. It can contain biases or present privacy concerns. So companies are turning to synthetic AI to avoid these issues and create better user experiences.


Why this matters

Synthetic data is a whole new data set made from scratch, based on generalities found in the real world. Where data is scarce or too sensitive to use, synthetic data sets can be created to help train computer-vision algorithms to perform better. This improves your online, shopping, driving, security, and communications experiences smoother and more enjoyable.


Carbon Removal Factories

Global warming is real whether you believe it is man-made or a natural phenomenon. To avoid catastrophic future warming, carbon dioxide emissions and their presence in the air must be diminished. A new carbon removal factory in Iceland has recently opened to do just that.


Why this matters

Orca, the name of the plant in Iceland, can capture 4,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year by sucking air through a filter where materials bind with CO2 molecules. The carbon dioxide is then mixed with water and pumped underground. There it reacts with basalt rock and turns into stone. The factory runs on carbon-free electricity provided by a nearby geothermal power plant.

According to Jan Wurzbacher, “The combination of direct air capture and storage is very likely what the world will need at a massive scale if we want to be compliant with Paris climate targets.”


 

Sources: Universe Today, MIT Technology Review, TechCrunch