We made it to 2021! While many may wish not to review anything from 2020, there were so many incredible breakthroughs that have pushed us further down a path to a better and more advanced techno-civilization. December was an impressive month of progress and the list for this one is a bit longer than previous months. To recap the year, I’ll also include links to all the months at the bottom for easier access to review the incredible developments made despite the pandemic hindrances.
Here are the top stories from the past month (in mostly chronological order):
Proteins are essential to life, supporting practically all its functions. They are large complex molecules, made up of chains of amino acids, and what a protein does largely depends on its unique 3D structure. Figuring out what shapes proteins fold into is known as the “protein folding problem”, and has stood as a grand challenge in biology for the past 50 years. In a major scientific advance, the latest version of our AI system AlphaFold has been recognised as a solution to this grand challenge by the organisers of the biennial Critical Assessment of protein Structure Prediction (CASP).
The United States will soon be sandwiched between two nations with federally legalized marijuana. Just days before the Thanksgiving holiday, Mexico moved forward with legislation legalizing the cannabis plant for a variety of uses. This comes on the heels of Canada’s historic legalization several years ago, which has created a viable international marketplace, channeling funds through the Canadian markets and effectively mobilizing the global cannabis industry.
Google trumpeted its quantum computer that outperformed a conventional supercomputer. A Chinese group says it’s done the same, with different technology. LAST YEAR GOOGLE won international acclaim when its prototype quantum computer completed a calculation in minutes that its researchers estimated would have taken a supercomputer 10,000 years. That met the definition for quantum supremacy—the moment a quantum machine does something impractical for a conventional computer.
China successfully powered up its “artificial sun” nuclear fusion reactor for the first time, state media reported Friday, marking a great advance in the country’s nuclear power research capabilities. The HL-2M Tokamak reactor is China’s largest and most advanced nuclear fusion experimental research device, and scientists hope that the device can potentially unlock a powerful clean energy source.
After spending more than a year studying Ryugu, an asteroid some 180 million miles away, Japan’s space agency’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft has returned samples from the space rock back to Earth.
The New York Times
An artist project offering an absurdist take on the lab-grown meat industry triggers a debate and backlash in London. The installation of steak grown from human cells at the Design Museum in London was intended to criticize the meat industry’s rising use of living cells from animals. It ended up triggering a roiling debate about bioethics and the pitfalls of artistic critique.
The tiny four-wheeled vehicle is bi-directional and has no steering wheel. It’s been almost six months since Amazon purchased self-driving startup Zoox, and today the company pulled the wraps off its first autonomous vehicle. Rather than automating a standard car built with a human driver in mind, the Zoox robotaxi is built specifically for autonomous driving in in dense urban environments.
For the first time in more than four decades, humanity has brought moon rocks down to Earth. A capsule loaded with lunar dirt and gravel landed in Inner Mongolia today (Dec. 16) at 12:59 p.m. EST (1759 GMT), capping China’s historic and whirlwind Chang’e 5 mission.
What could come next to cap off this most unusual year? An AI Santa Claus? That’s right. The team at the AI Foundation have put out a rather interesting use case of their technology to allow kids and families a way to talk to Santa, without having to deal with COVID for an in person session with the big man.
10. Chip-based Photon Source 100 Times More Efficient Than Previous Tests To “Bring Quantum Tech Out of The Lab”
The Quantum Daily
Most experts would agree quantum computers will change the technological landscape forever. Before all that, though, there needs to be an effective way to transfer quantum information — like with entangled pairs of photons, for example — to qubits. With this in mind, researchers at the Stevens Institute of Technology, a private research university located a Hoboken, New Jersey, have achieved this by producing a chip-based photon source a hundred times more efficient than what was thought previously possible. This accomplishment could make quantum device integration a real possibility.
A team of researchers claim to have achieved sustained, long-distance quantum teleportation for the first time. The research could lay the groundwork for “a viable quantum internet — a network in which information stored in qubits is shared over long distances through entanglement” that could “transform the fields of data storage, precision sensing and computing,” according to a Fermilab statement.
he biggest barriers to widespread adoption of electric vehicles are their limited range and long charging times compared to gasoline cars. But the release of test results from a startup building a new solid-state battery suggests we may soon blast past that barrier. Claims of “revolutionary” new battery technologies are a dime a dozen these days, but none so far have come close to knocking lithium-ion off its perch.
The SolarWinds cyberespionage campaign has apparently targeted a dizzying number of government and private organizations: the State, Commerce, Treasury, Homeland Security, and Energy departments; Microsoft; the cybersecurity firm FireEye; the National Institutes of Health; and the city network of Austin, Texas, just to name a few.
A group of researchers from the Network System Research Institute of the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT, Japan) led by Georg Rademacher, NOKIA Bell Labs (Bell Labs, USA) led by Nicolas K. Fontaine and Prysimian Group (Prysimian, France) led by Pierre Sillard succeeded in the world’s first transmission exceeding 1 petabit per second in a single-core multi-mode optical fiber. This increases the current record transmission in a multi-mode fiber by a factor of 2.5.
Skyrmions are small magnetic objects that could revolutionize the data storage industry and also enable new computer architectures. However, there are a number of challenges that need to be overcome. A team of researchers has succeeded for the first time in producing a tunable multilayer system in which two different types of skyrmions – the future bits for ‘0’ and ‘1’ – can exist at room temperature.
The Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR), a superconducting fusion device also known as the Korean artificial sun, set the new world record as it succeeded in maintaining the high temperature plasma for 20 seconds with an ion temperature over 100 million degrees (Celsius).
Plenty is an ag-tech startup in San Francisco, co-founded by Nate Storey, that is reinventing farms and farming. Storey, who is also the company’s chief science officer, says the future of farms is vertical and indoors because that way, the food can grow anywhere in the world, year-round; and the future of farms employ robots and AI to continually improve the quality of growth for fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Plenty does all these things and uses 95% less water and 99% less land because of it.
The logic circuits behind just about every digital device today rely on a pairing of two types of transistors—NMOS and PMOS. The same voltage signal that turns one of them on turns the other off. Putting them together means that electricity should flow only when a bit changes, greatly cutting down on power consumption. These pairs have sat beside each other for decades, but if circuits are to continue shrinking they’re going to have to get closer still. This week, at the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM), Intel showed a different way: stacking the pairs so that one is atop the other.
Here are the top futurology news stories from all past months of 2020: