With such a tough and exhausting year soon to be behind our backs, we are more than ready to welcome 2021 with our arms wide open. While we’re all anxiously waiting to see what the next year has in store for us, I couldn’t help but do a quick scan of 2020 in my mind, and boy — wasn’t that a physical and emotional roller coaster. Although covid-19 still makes its wheels go round and round, this roller coaster is coming to the end of its ride: More than 556,000 people have already received a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with the UK due to get 40 million doses. When Pfizer released their results in November 2020, they showed the vaccine is up to 95% effective. Other covid-19 vaccines are also showing their high potential in terminating the pandemic (link). Soon, mankind will be able to get back to the way we lived and socialized before coronavirus.
Luckily, this is not the only good news this year. There have been many technological breakthroughs recently, which will truly change the way we function, and they might just be the ones that will help us get through the echoes of damages and heartbreaks caused by the pandemic in the next few years. Today, we will talk about technology’s quantum leap in 2020 — followed by the most promising developments, discoveries, and improvements.
Roadmap Leader of the Quantum Internet and Networked Computing initiative at the Delft University of Technology, Stephanie Wehner together with her team is making a significant contribution to the way we use the Internet. This team is building a network connecting four cities in the Netherlands entirely by using the method of quantum technology. Every single message sent over this network will be unhackable.
This advanced technology depends highly on the quantum behavior of atomic particles called entanglement. Entangled protons are extremely difficult to create, especially to construct them to transmit over long distances. Wehner’s team has demonstrated that the technology can send them over more than 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles), and hopes to demonstrate the quantum link (Q-link) between Delft and Hague by the end of 2020. However, establishing a quantum internet connection between these 2 cities has proven to be more difficult than expected, and the team now aims for realization by the end of 2021.
When this technology proves effective, it will have not only gigantic impacts on security but economic benefits as well. Ingrid Romijn, Program Manager at QuTech, explained this in an interview: “A quantum computer can, for example, calculate the various states of large molecules extremely quickly. This enables researchers to simulate the interaction between substances and cells much more accurately. This enables medicinal drugs to be developed specifically for any given individual who has a particular disease. In addition, quantum technology can contribute to advances in batteries and solar cells. It can also clarify and solve logistical problems much more swiftly. The quantum computer can, therefore, have a major impact on the healthcare, energy, and logistics sectors, to name but a few. But that’s not all. Every sector can benefit from a computer with more computational power. Consequently, the economic impact is bound to be enormous.”
Drugs tailored to an individual’s genes
The pharmaceutical industry has been giving another fighting chance to people who suffer from diseases caused by particular DNA mistakes — A unique drug tailored to a person’s genes. Located in Boston Children’s Hospital’s freezer, Milasen is a drug that has been already tested on and named after a little girl: now 8-year old Mila Makovec. Mila was diagnosed with Batten disease, also known as neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis, which refers to a group of rare inherited neurological conditions that can cause vision loss, progressive motor and cognitive decline, and seizures. There are different forms of the disease but all of them are fatal, usually by the late teens or twenties.
Milasen is the first drug designed to treat unique genetic mutations, and the drug was tailored for Mila specifically. Although she still isn’t cured, her health improvements after receiving the drug were the foundational and promising steps ahead in crafting hyper-personalized medicinal solutions. I truly believe that we’re yet to see what the future holds when it comes to these types of drugs.
Although they are still not making people live longer, their aim (for now) is to treat a particular illness by slowing or reversing the process of aging. The drugs are named senolytics, after the cells they remove — senescent cells which pile up in our body as we age.
The pioneers of this new treatment are prof. James Kirkland and his team at Mayo Clinic, who created senolytics.
With human testing already begun, senolytics are already showing their promise. Subjects to the trials, patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, showed significant improvement of their physical state over the course of 3 weeks.
The scientists are now learning if other diseases caused by aging such as heart diseases, arthritis, cancer, and dementia could be delayed and treated via senolytics.
Molecules brought to light by Artificial Intelligence
The drugs made from compounds or a particular combination of molecules that then produce a specific medical effect on a patient are another promising step forward for the healthcare industry. The real heroes of this quest are machine learning tools, which are working around the clock to search for new molecule compounds, by using the information to generate the new probabilities and deeply investigating the enormous database of existing molecules.
AI algorithms haven’t disappointed yet — so far, the researchers found around 30,000 new molecules, extracted 6 of them to test on animals and one of them was found deeply propitious!
The scientists are estimating about 10^60 new compounds yet to be found, quote “more than all atoms in the solar system.”
Nowadays, the latest researches show that around 50 non-cancer drugs showed their potential in positive medical effects when it comes to treating cancer.
The impact of information technology on healthcare is more than fascinating. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!
Satellite Internet Constellations
We are all familiar with SpaceX’s Starlink — the satellite internet constellation located in Low Earth Orbit providing satellite internet access. The first two prototypes were launched back in February 2018 and showed promising results — as of November 2020, SpaceX has launched 955 Starlink satellites, with a plan to launch up to 60 more satellites via Falcon 9 flight as often as every 2 weeks in 2021!
Starlink’s first operation consisted of 60 satellites which launched on May 23, 2019, carrying only Ku band electromagnetic spectrum antennas, including the range of frequencies between 12 and 18 GHz.
In June 2020, SpaceX applied for the use of the E-band, the range of radio frequencies from 60GHz to 90GHz in the electromagnetic spectrum, in the Generation 2 constellation, which is expected to include up to 30,000 satellites — and provide complete global coverage by including 71–79 GHz and 81–86 GHz operational frequencies.
This revolutionary technology appears to be closer to a practical application than ever before — at the Q2B conference that took place in December 2020, IT giants such as IBM, Google, Honeywell, IonQ, and Xanadu detailed their hopes for placing quantum computing close to commercial practice by the end of 2024.
Seth Lloyd, an MIT professor who was one of the pioneers in the quantum computing field, said that “we’re in the early industrial era of quantum computing, and that the huge advances are comparable to the early use of steam engines to power factories, ships, and trains.”
One important step forward was major advancement regarding error corrections — which are designed to control difficulties of qubits caused by external forces.
If quantum computer scientists succeed, quantum computers won’t replace classical machines, but they could reach beyond today’s limitations to design new solar panels, lower airplane fuel consumption, speed up AI, improve financial investing, and cut delivery costs.
Carbon emissions, being one of the major issues caused by the computing power, was one of the many reasons that triggered the idea of crafting Tiny AI, which represents smarter data usage by reducing the size of the algorithms.
And what does it mean? It means that it can make it possible for the tech community to deploy any complex algorithm from an edge device (such as a smartphone), which will ultimately result in revolutionizing many industries.
By building more powerful algorithms, engineers are utilizing more data and computer power, which not only limits the tempo and solitude of AI apps but is also releasing large amounts of CO2. According to a paper by Emma Strubel and colleagues, an average American is responsible for about 36,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year; training and developing one machine translation model that uses a technique called neural architecture search was responsible for an estimated 626,000 tons of CO2.
One of the promising improvements is the new generation of AI chips, which will run the AI apps much faster than larger transistors but will also consume much less energy, therefore acting positively on climate change.
Although it sounds truly astonishing, other concerns have been raised along the way, such as privacy, latency, storage, etc. Before the engineers manage to bring Tiny AI to life, they need to establish some technical and policy checks together with the researchers and policymakers.
Tatjana Lukic, Project Assistant at Bridgewater Labs