MIT’s 10 breakthrough technologies

 By Peter Ward

Every year MIT, the prestigious American college, publishes a list of ten technologies that will have a profound effect on all of our lives, maybe not this year, but in the future. This year’s selections will change the way we see industries, societies, and even our energy supply…

Zero carbon natural gas

Natural gas is set to play a huge part in our energy future, as it’s cleaner and cheaper than coal. It already accounts for 22 percent of the world’s electricity, but that could be much, much higher if the promise of zero carbon natural gas becomes a reality. A company in Houston called Net Power is working on a technology that could produce clean energy from natural gas, and believes it will be able to generate power as cheaply as regular natural gas plants, but capture all the carbon dioxide released as well.

Quantum computing and materials

Supercomputers are already changing the way energy companies go about their business, but if quantum computing becomes a real thing, the world will have more processing power than it knows what to do with. One solution is to put that enormous power towards creating materials — basically designing molecules.

3D metal printing

3D printing has been around for a while, but it’s been getting steadily more sophisticated and cheaper over the years. The next step is to create parts out of metal, which could drastically speed up manufacturing times and lower costs. Researchers have found that they can create stainless steel parts which are also twice as strong as traditionally made ones.

Metal parts for power plants that were 3D printed are shown at an event hosted by General Electric in New York (Reuters)

Universal translators

Being able to understand each other no matter where we are in the world could be a massive change in the way everything works. We’re beginning to see the first products that can do this. Google has created headphones which can automatically translate speech and replay it in the listener’s language, meaning communication is about to get even easier. The world is already smaller than ever as we work across boundaries, this new technology could make it significantly smaller still.

Google demos real time language translation

Predicting the future with DNA

According to MIT, one day every baby will receive a DNA report card at birth. These reports will tell parents of the baby’s chances of suffering from different diseases, of becoming addicted to certain substances, and how smart they will grow up to be. This knowledge has the potential to improve healthcare and increase our life expectancy.

Artificial embryos

On the subject of life, scientists at the University of Cambridge in England have grown realistic looking mouse embryos from nothing by stem cells. The breakthrough may answer many questions about the way life is created, but will also provoke fierce debate on how far science should go.

Everyday artificial intelligence

AI has the potential to change the way the energy business operates, but so far the technology has mainly been used by technology giants like Amazon, Google and Microsoft. In the coming years, machine-learning tools will be available in the cloud, providing open source solutions to everyday problems. AI will become cheaper and more accessible for everyone, and the whole world will benefit.

AI sparring

Meanwhile, the sophistication of the most advanced AI is only increasing. MIT says that two AI systems will be able to become a lot more creative by effectively sparring against each other. This will mean they can go from identifying different objects, to creating objects themselves, something machines have never done before. This would make machines much less reliant on humans.

Real online privacy

This is a very relevant topic as the world debates how much data companies can take from their users. The answer to the problem may be on the horizon, as computer scientists develop a cryptographic tool which would prove identities and other things without revealing the information that underlied that proof.

Very smart cities

Most cities claim to be smart cities, but a project in Toronto called Quayside is hoping to rebuild a neighborhood from the ground up to become not just smart, but extremely intelligent. In this proposal every car would be automated and robots would operate under the city performing menial tasks like deliveries.

READ MORE: MIT process produces fuel from exhaust by RP Siegel


about the author
Peter Ward
Business and technology reporter based in New York. MA in Business Journalism at Columbia University Journalism School 2013. Five years experience reporting in the U.S., the U.K., and the Middle East.