The year 2010 doesn’t sound like it was that long ago, but technology moves fast. A decade ago Tinder, Uber, and Instagram didn’t exist. No one wore wearables, nobody talked to their gadgets at home and Tesla was just an idea.
Back then, scientists were still looking for the Higgs Boson, Pluto was a mysterious blurry orb just out of sight and genetic editing was still just a theoretical concern, not a practical one.
The next decade looks set to move even faster. So here’s our tour of the new science and tech trends to look out for this decade.
1. Synthetic media will undermine reality
The entertainment world will literally create the next generation of stars.
You know about deepfake technology, where someone’s face is switched into an existing video scene. But deepfakes are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to synthetic media – a much wider phenomenon of super-realistic, artificially generated photos, text, sound, and video that seems destined to shake our notions of what is actually ‘real’ over the next decade.
Take a look at thispersondoesnotexist.com. Hit refresh a few times. None of the faces you see are real. Uncannily realistic, they are entirely synthetic – generated by generative adversarial networks, the same type of artificial intelligence behind many deepfakes.
These false photos show just how far synthetic media has come in the past few years. Elsewhere, China’s Xinhua state news agency has provided an insight into possible uses of synthetic media – computer-generated news anchors. While the results are a little clunky, it suggests a direction where things may be heading.
While such synthetic media has potential for an explosion in creativity, it also has the potential for harm, by providing purveyors of fake news and state-sponsored misinformation new, highly malleable channels of communication.
2. There will be a revolution in cloud robotics
A global network of machines talking and learning from one another (sound familiar?) could create Robo-butlers.
Until now, robots have carried their pretty feeble brains inside them. They’ve received instructions – such as rivet this, or carry that – and done it. Not only that, but they’ve worked in environments such as factories and warehouses specially designed or adapted for them.
Cloud robotics promises something entirely new; robots with super-brains stored in the online cloud. The thinking is that these robots, with their intellectual clout, will be more flexible in the jobs they do and the places they can work, perhaps even speeding up their arrival in our homes.
Google Cloud and Amazon Cloud both have robot brains that are learning and growing inside them. The dream behind cloud robotics is to create robots that can see, hear, comprehend natural language, and understand the world around them.
One of the leading players in cloud robotics research is Robo Brain, a project led by researchers at Stanford and Cornell universities in the US. Funded by Google, Microsoft, government institutions, and universities, the team is building a robot brain on the Amazon cloud, learning how to integrate different software systems and different sources of data.
Another one to watch is the Everyday Robot Project, by X, the ‘moonshot factory’ at Alphabet, Google’s parent company. The project aims to develop robots intelligent enough to make sense of the places we live and work. They’re making headway too – testing cloud robots in Alphabet offices in Northern California. So far, the tasks are simple, such as sorting the recycling (pretty slowly says X), but it’s the shape of robots to come.
3. Diseases will be edited out of our DNA
The gene-editing tool CRISPR could finally treat disease at the genetic level.
The birth of the world’s first gene-edited babies caused an uproar in 2018. The twin girls whose genomes were tinkered with during IVF procedures had their DNA altered using the gene-editing technology CRISPR, to protect them from HIV. CRISPR uses a bacterial enzyme to target and cut specific DNA sequences.
Chinese researcher, He Jiankui, who led the work, was sent to prison for disregarding safety guidelines and failing to obtain informed consent.