Each year, technology brings a wealth of advancement that could alter the future. Many of them are a long way from being viable, and some may never come to fruition, but the mere fact that each day is another chance for the world to solve the fossil fuel crisis, or cure cancer, is inspiring.
This year brought numerous, huge advancements across multiple fields. From holographic computers to a new blood test that could help aid the early detection of cancer. Everywhere you look, technology has a hand in pushing society forward, and closer to solving our biggest issues. It’s impossible to know which of these will go on to actually impact our daily lives but, at their earliest stages, the potential is enough.
It’s incredibly hard to make a list of the best advancements in science and technology for a year. Each one feels just as vital as the next, all in different ways and for different reasons. At the end of it, a few stood taller than most. These are the 10 best technology advances of 2015.
Portable computers are nothing new. Every year, laptops, tablets, even smartphones get more powerful and more capable of handling most users daily computing needs. Still, two intriguing pieces of hardware released in 2015 took the entire hardware of a computer and squeezed it into a device slightly larger than a tube of lipstick, and for a fraction of a fraction of the price. Intel’s Compute Stick and the Asus Chromebit both turn any HDMI enabled screen into a computer. Neither device will blow you away with specs, but they open a wealth of possibilities for small businesses, education and more.
Our relationship with mobile carriers has grown more terse in recent years, and the tech industry has taken note. T-Mobile is attempting to shove the idea of being an “uncarrier” down our throats, while still retaining many of the debilitating secrecies that has defined the cellular service business, but other, genuinely interesting, ideas have be born from all the tension. One of them is Google’s Project Fi, which not only offers aggressive pricing and refreshing simplicity, but is built on cool tech as well. Unlike most SIM cards, which connect to a single service provider, the Fi SIM allows a user’s phone to dance between Wi-Fi, T-Mobile or Sprint, and does so automatically, depending on what signal is strongest. It’s a powerful idea, to have optimum connectivity with little hand-wringing, but unfortunately for early-adopters and big dreamers, Google’s Project Fi still has goliath companies standing in its way. Nonetheless, the concept is game-changing.
Apple has taken flak the last several years for not providing any truly groundbreaking tech. The company has been viewed for its entire history as a barometer for the future of consumer technology. This year, Cupertino unveiled a piece of technology that is arguably the biggest innovation it’s had in years. The sensors it embedded in the new iPhone’s screen allows the device to recognize force along with the usual multitouch gestures. Apple calls it 3D Touch, which is a silly name for an important idea. The new interactions Peek and Pop are just the beginning of a slew of new ways to interact with a smartphone, and it’s hard to imagine the rest of the industry not working tirelessly to include a similar feature in their next flagship.
The future of computing has been touted as virtual or augmented reality for several years now. Microsoft took that concept a step further when it announced HoloLens, the first untethered, holographic computer. The concept completely changes how users interact with their computers, placing holograms that can be controlled by gestures in front of their eyes with navigation done with through the flick of the eye or voice command. It’s the realization of sci-fi dreams, but also a fascinating real-world development for our computing future.
Artificial intelligence has, despite the numerous warning signs from films and television, continued to get smarter. Last year, the Eugene Goostman program became the first artificial intelligence to pass the Turing test. This year, a machine learning program deciphered numerous alphabets and even created some of its own with few examples from which to learn. Computers are getting smarter and more lifelike every year, growing at a pace that is almost impossible to keep up with. It’s both exciting and terrifying. For more on the incredible machine learning program, check out the video above with from Popular Mechanics.
Drones have proven to be a useful tool in recent years, and the next step is for the unmanned aircrafts to become autonomous. That possibility became a reality this year. In June, DJI released the first consumer drone with the technology on board and then, in September, NASA announced it completed a test of a prototype system that allows drones to detect and avoid other aircrafts. The technology is the first step in integrating drones into everyday life. With the ability to avoid objects, drones could move about cities freely, check powerlines, deliver medical supplies or, even, that new pair of boots you ordered from Amazon.
The dream of a hydrogen-fueled car has been in stasis for a veritable eternity. The technology has finally advanced far enough that car companies are now formulating plans to release them to consumers. Prices will be exorbitant at first and the new fuel cell vehicles will face a similar uphill battle to create a solid infrastructure that current electric cars face, but the prospect of sustainable personal transportation is enthralling.
Much of the discussion about the intersection of cars and technology has, rightfully so, centered on self-driving cars. In 2015, though, we saw the emergence of car-to-car communication, technology that allows vehicles to broadcast speed, position, steering-wheel position, brake status and more to other cars. This lets the vehicles illustrate what’s happening around them, meaning they could potentially alert drivers to an impending collision.
An important advancement in the medical field, 2015 introduced the world to a new way of growing human brain cells that could help uncover the mysteries of dementia, mental illness and other neurological disorders. While not exactly human brains in a dish, the cerebral organoids that can now be grown in labs possess features of a human brain in the first trimester of development. They could unlock new understanding to how neurons grow and function, leading to groundbreaking answers about brain activity, but also schizophrenia and other diseases.
Early detection is the biggest asset for doctors when it comes to treating cancer. Thanks to a new test developed by Dennis Lo, a doctor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the possibility of early detection became simpler in 2015. His test draws blood from a patient and then searches for viral DNA that dying cancer cells release into a person’s plasma. The idea stemmed from Lo’s discovery that fetuses shed bits of their DNA into the bloodstream of their mothers. At this point, like with the the fetal testing that resulted from Lo’s discovery, the new cancer test is far too expensive for mainstream use, but Lo is confident the price will lower in the coming years. If it does, it could spark a revolution for cancer detection and treatment.