2017 will see big technology progress
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.