2017 will see big tech­nol­ogy progress

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By THE TELE­GRAPH


The rise of bio­met­ric iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy, from finger

prints to vein scan­ners: Think of a pass­word that is im­pos­si­ble for you to for­get but equally im­pos­si­ble for any­body else to guess. Too far­fetched? Not at all. As it turns out, you were born with one: your body.

From the make-up of our fin­ger­prints to the colour pat­terns of our eyes, our den­tal records, and even the struc­ture of our veins, our bi­o­log­i­cal iden­ti­ties are unique to us — and tech­nol­ogy that can tell who we are by scan­ning a thumb or iris is no longer the pre­serve of sci­ence fic­tion. Fin­goPay vein scan­ner tech­nol­ogy by Sthaler

Bio­met­ric tech­nol­ogy is not new, but it is now be­com­ing an in­creas­ingly com­mon part of our lives. Your mo­bile phone can now be un­locked by read­ing your fin­ger­prints, banks are us­ing voice-recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy as a pre­cau­tion and our pass­ports con­tain iden­ti­fi­ca­tion chips that re­move the has­sle of queu­ing at air­ports.

But this is only the be­gin­ning. Imag­ine walk­ing into a pub and putting your finger into a vein scan­ner. In­stantly, the ter­mi­nal knows what your favourite drink is, or­ders it and then takes pay­ment from your credit card.

Such gad­getry may sound years away but “Fin­goPay” tech­nol­ogy is al­ready be­ing tri­alled by Sthaler, a Bri­tish com­pany. Vein au­then­ti­ca­tion — just one ex­am­ple — is more se­cure than any PIN: the chances of two peo­ple hav­ing the same vein struc­ture is 3.4 bil­lion-to-one.

Re­li­able bio­met­ric tech­nol­ogy has the po­ten­tial to go a con­sid­er­able way towards erad­i­cat­ing fraud. It may be easy to ob­tain some­one’s pass­word or driv­ing li­cence but in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to steal their iris or fin­ger­print (although, it should be said, not im­pos­si­ble).

All new tech­nolo­gies, though, have up­sides and down­sides. As we live more and more of our lives on­line, the risks of hack­ers in­fil­trat­ing our lives grows. Just last year bil­lions of ac­counts were com­pro­mised and the need for greater se­cu­rity be­comes more im­per­a­tive. We need to be care­ful what we wish for.

Yes, the ben­e­fits of tech­nol­ogy are daz­zling, but the po­ten­tial draw­backs — if un­met — are alarm­ing. A world in which CCTV cam­eras can in­stantly recog­nise peo­ple us­ing fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy or by analysing their walk­ing gait may be as dis­turb­ing as it is re­as­sur­ing. It’s a brave new world. And we must be too. —JAMESTIT COMB, TELE­GRAPH TECH­NOL­OGY NEWS ED­I­TOR


Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence will come of age in 2017, with AI as­sist

ants and “chat bots”: Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is a con­cept that has been float­ing in the ether. Un­til now, the new tech­nol­ogy’s uses have been some­thing of a mys­tery, of­fer­ing be­hind-the-scenes en­hance­ments that are not im­me­di­ately ev­i­dent.

There is no doubt th­ese ap­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing in­tel­li­gent search on Google and Face­book’s News Feed al­go­rithms, have im­proved our in­ter­face with com­put­ers, but users would be for­given for not hav­ing no­ticed them.

This be­gan to change towards the end of 2016, which will be re­mem­bered as a break­through year for AI. The world watched as Google’s Deep­Mind beat Go world cham­pion Lee Sedol with its Al­phaGo robot, and ma­chines learned to lip-read, tran­scribe and di­ag­nose dis­eases with greater ac­cu­racy than hu­mans.

And, most im­por­tantly, it was the year that gave us the first inkling of how AI will change our daily rou­tines dra­mat­i­cally, with in­tel­li­gent com­put­ers be­com­ing an in­te­gral part of our lives.

The launch of Ama­zon’s Echo, an AI-pow­ered speaker that re­sponds to voice com­mands, marked one of the tech­nol­ogy’s first for­ays into so­cial use. “Alexa, how long will it take me to get to work to­day?” has al­ready be­come a com­mon in­ter­ac­tion in my house in the morn­ing as I dash around get­ting ready.

In­tel­li­gent as­sis­tants will face strong com­pe­ti­tion in 2017, with Ama­zon, Google, Mi­crosoft, Ap­ple and Face­book all ex­pected to have their own ver­sions re­leased. Google, whose first own-brand phone in­cludes the new tech­nol­ogy, is pre­dicted to re­lease the voice-ac­ti­vated home speaker early in the New Year. Mi­crosoft will con­tinue to add to Cor­tana’s abil­i­ties, while Ap­ple’s AirPods en­able us to call on Siri as we walk down the street.

As well as in­ter­act­ing with us through voice, AI will also pop up as a robot — a “chat bot” — you can mes­sage in apps such as Face­book’s Messenger and Google’s Allo. It will also help you by scan­ning mes­sages and apps to sched­ule meet­ings, pri­ori­tise to-do lists and of­fer you in­for­ma­tion you’ ll need ahead of time, such as travel in­struc­tions.

Th­ese ad­vance­ments will work in tan­dem with a growth in AI for busi­nesses, with law firms, se­cu­rity com­pa­nies and mar­ket­ing agen­cies out­fit­ting them­selves with in­tel­li­gent com­put­ers. This in­cludes com­puter se­cu­rity soft­ware that can fight cyber at­tacks au­to­mat­i­cally, con­duct le­gal re­search and an­a­lyse a pa­tient’s symp­toms, all with­out hu­man in­put.

With th­ese de­vel­op­ments — and more — in the pipeline, the AI in­dus­try is set to grow 300 per cent in 2017. If 2016 will be re­mem­bered as a break­through year, what will 2017 mark?

It could be when AI comes of age: the power be­hind every­thing from in­tel­li­gent toast­ers that know when we would like break­fast to ma­chines that can pin­point dis­ease with more ac­cu­racy than doc­tors. —CARAM C GOO GAN, TEL EGRAPH TECH­NOL­OGY WRITER


2017 will see big break­throughs in sci­ence, from the first hu­man head trans­plant to new

can­cer re­search: In a tu­mul­tuous year that saw opin­ion turn against “so-called ex­perts” and Brexit threat­en­ing re­search fund­ing, it is not sur­pris­ing that sci­en­tists are un­cer­tain about the fu­ture.

There are, how­ever, hints that 2017 could prove an out­stand­ing year for dis­cov­ery and in­no­va­tion. Ba­bies with the DNA from three par­ents could be born for the first time in Bri­tain as the Hu­man Fer­til­i­sa­tion and Em­bry­ol­ogy Author­ity be­gins to li­cense clin­ics. The tech­nique, pi­o­neered by New­cas­tle Univer­sity, uses donor DNA from a sec­ond mother to cure ba­bies of dis­eases such as mus­cu­lar dys­tro­phy.

Prof Ser­gio Canavero, an Ital­ian neu­ro­sci­en­tist, is also pre­par­ing to carry out the first hu­man head trans­plant within a year. Valery Spiri­donov, 31, a Rus­sian who suf­fers from Werd­nig-Hoff­mann dis­ease, a mus­cle-wast­ing con­di­tion, is to be the first pa­tient.

New drugs to com­bat Alzheimer’s dis­ease are also en­ter­ing fi­nal tri­als, mean­ing there could be treat­ments for de­men­tia. The an­ti­body drug Ad­u­canumab is a con­tender af­ter early re­sults showed it clears sticky plaques from the brain and im­proves mem­ory.

Large-scale tri­als, mean­while, will be­gin in the US and China to ge­net­i­cally edit the DNA of can­cer pa­tients, which could her­ald a new era of “cut and paste” hu­mans wherein dis­eases are erad­i­cated by rewrit­ing ge­netic code.

Last year, Mi­crosoft an­nounced it was open­ing its first lab­o­ra­tory de­signed to find a cure for can­cer by crack­ing the code of dis­eased cells so they can be re­pro­grammed. The first re­sults could be ready in 2017.

The re­searchers are work­ing on a com­puter made from DNA, which will live in­side cells and look for bod­ily faults, then es­sen­tially reboot the sys­tem.

Ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied wheat could also be grown in Bri­tain. Sci­en­tists hope to be­gin tri­als which could boost grain yields by up to 40 per cent.

In South Amer­ica, mil­lions of mos­qui­toes will be in­fected with bac­te­ria and re­leased into Brazil and Colom­bia to com­bat the Zika out­break. The hope is that the in­sects will mate with lo­cal mos­qui­toes and spread the Wol­bachia bug, less­en­ing the risk of them be­ing able to trans­mit dis­ease.

And Bri­tish ex­plorer Sir Ran­ulph Fi­ennes is aim­ing to com­plete “The Big One” by May, at­tempt­ing to be­come the first moun­taineer to climb the high­est moun­tains on ev­ery con­ti­nent.

He’s 72. There’s hope for us all. —SARAH KN APTON, TELE­GRAPH SCI­ENCE ED­I­TOR


Eye on the fu­ture: Tele­graph writ­ers share their sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy pre­dic­tions for 2017.

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