Every year the MIT Technology Review, the magazine of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, makes predictions of disruptive technologies that will tinker with the market in the coming years. By 2019, the publication decided to call none other than Bill Gates to do this curation.
“I’m a big fan on the MIT Technology Review list, so when I was asked to create the 2019, I accepted. It was great fun working on the issue choosing which innovations to include. I believe the ten items will bring significant impacts in the coming years. I’m excited to learn more about them, “commented the founder of Microsoft in his Linkedin account.
See below the bets of the entrepreneur:
1 – Robotic Dexterity
A robot can deal repeatedly with a component of an assembly line with incredible precision without ever getting bored. But simply move the object a millimeter or change for something slightly different so that the machine gets in the way.
According to Gates, the designs for robots to have the dexterity of humans and manage to manipulate any object should become popular. If this happens, we will see a great evolution in the world of machines. Robots could carry dishwashers, assemble appliances, and even help seniors get out of bed.
In this line of thinking, Gates cites the Dactyl project, developed by a San Francisco non-profit company, as one of the most promising in the area. The startup created a robotic hand, surrounded by a series of lights and cameras, which has a neural network that learns how to tinker with objects in a simulated environment before touching it physically.
Generally it is not possible to transfer this type of virtual practice to the real world because the friction and properties of each material are different and difficult to simulate. The Dactyl team, however, bypassed this by adding randomness to virtual training, giving the robot a proxy for clutter of reality.
2 – New nuclear energy
Advanced fusion and fission reactors are approaching reality, according to Gates. Nuclear projects that have gained momentum last year have shown promise and can make this energy cheaper and safer.
Among them are the generation IV fission reactors, an evolution of the traditional, which until then seemed out of reach. To get an idea of how close we are to this new reality, developers of generation IV fission reactors such as Canada Terrestrial Energy and TerraPower have signed research and development partnerships with utilities to from 2020.
3 – Predicting Preterm Infants
In a short time it will be possible to predict whether a pregnant woman may have a preterm birth. According to Gates, Stanford University bioengineer Stephen Quake found an easier way to detect and sequence the small amount of cell-free genetic material in the blood. If before collecting this material required invasive forms, such as piercing the belly of the pregnant woman to perform an amniocentesis, now the researchers can only get a small sample of the blood.
4 – Probe of intestine in a pill
Environmental Enteric Dysfunction (EED) is an asymptomatic disease characterized by chronic inflammation in the gut that prevents the body from absorbing all the necessary nutrients. The disease is widespread in the poorest countries and one of the reasons why many people are malnourished and have developmental delays and never reach a normal height. The problem is that no one knows the cause of EED and how it can be treated and prevented. Practical screening for this disease would help the world.
According to Gates, Guillermo Tearney, a pathologist and engineer at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, is developing small devices that can be used to inspect the gut for signs of DSE and even get tissue biopsies.
Tearney capsules, which can be swallowed, contain miniature microscopes. They are attached to a flexible cord that provides power and light, and sends images to a monitor. This allows the healthcare professional to pause the capsule at points of interest and remove it when finished, and can be sterilized and reused.
5 – Personalized Vaccines Against Cancer
According to Gates, scientists are about to market the first personalized cancer vaccine. If it works as expected, the vaccine, which triggers a person’s immune system to identify a tumor through its unique mutations, can effectively prevent many types of cancer.
The German startup BioNTech is one of the pioneers in the subject. In 2008, the company provided compelling evidence that a vaccine containing copies of these mutations could catalyze the body’s immune system to produce cells prepared to search for, attack, and destroy all other cancer cells.
In December 2017, then, BioNTech started a major vaccine test in cancer patients in collaboration with biotech giant Genentech. The ongoing study targets at least 10 types of solid cancers and aims to enroll more than 560 patients at sites around the world.
6 – Laboratory Burger
The UN predicts that the world will have 9.8 billion people by 2050. By that date, humans are predicted to consume 70 percent more meat than in 2005. The problem is that raising animals for human consumption is among the worse things we do to the environment. Depending on the animal, producing one kilo of meat protein with western industrialized methods requires 4 to 25 times more water, 6 to 17 times more land and 6 to 20 times more fossil fuels than producing half a kilo of vegetable protein.
Therefore, some companies are working on the creation of meat grown in laboratories. The “hamburgers fakes” are made from the muscle tissue of animals and grown in bioreactors. The final product is very similar to the original, although the taste still does not.
According to Gates, researchers at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands believe they will have laboratory-produced meats available for large-scale production next year. It is worth remembering that the emissions in the production of “hamburgers fakes” is only 7% lower than the production of beef.
7 – Carbon dioxide collector
Even if we reduce carbon dioxide emissions, greenhouse gas can persist for thousands of years. To avoid a dangerous increase in temperatures, the UN climate panel concludes that the world will need to remove up to 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere this century.
In a recent finding, Harvard climate scientist David Keith estimated that the machines could theoretically cost less than $ 100 a ton to make a direct gas capture. But, what to do with it?
According to Gates, Carbon Engineering, a Canadian company that Keith founded in 2009, knows exactly how to use gas. The company plans to increase production of its synthetic fuels by using captured carbon dioxide as a key ingredient. It is worth remembering that the founder of Microsoft is an investor in Carbon Engineering.
8 – Wrist electrocardiogram
Fitness clocks and trackers are not serious medical devices. But an electrocardiogram – the kind that doctors use to diagnose abnormalities before causing a stroke or a heart attack – requires a visit to a clinic, and people often fail to get tested on time.
Therefore, Gates believes that smart watches with electrocardiogram will trend in the next few years. Enabled by new regulations and innovations in hardware and software, wearables should offer the convenience of a wearable device with the precision of a medical device.
Silicon Valley startup AliveCor has created a bracelet that can detect atrial fibrillation, a frequent cause of blood clots and strokes. Both she and Apple have already received authorization from the FDA (US Department of Health and Human Services) in 2017 to launch their handsets. Now it’s a matter of time to start marketing.
9 – Sanitation without sewage
About 2.3 billion people do not have good sanitation. The lack of proper restrooms encourages people to pour fecal matter into nearby ponds and streams, spreading bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause diarrhea and cholera. To get an idea, one in nine children in the world dies because of diarrhea.
Researchers are now working to build a new type of bathroom that is cheap enough for the developing world, and one that can not only discard the garbage but also treat it.
For this, in 2011, Bill Gates himself created the contest Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. Since the launch of the contest, several teams have put prototypes on the field. All projects process garbage locally, so there is no need for large amounts of water to transport it to a remote treatment plant. In addition, most prototypes do not need sewers and look like traditional bathrooms.
Currently there are two projects that stand out, according to the businessman, one from the University of South Florida, and another from Connecticut.
10 – Most natural AI assistants
We are accustomed to Artificial Intelligence assistants, but we know they will still evolve a lot. Some recent advances are about to expand the repertoire of virtual helpers, according to Gates. Recently, Google revealed a system called BERT that manages to complete sentences with missing words. In a multiple-choice test, the system performed as well as humans in the gap-filling activity.
These improvements, along with a better speech synthesis, will change our relationship with AI assistants. Let’s move from simple commands to complex conversations. Gates also bet the changes will make everyday tasks easier, such as taking notes, finding information on websites, and even shopping online.