One of the most respected technical journals, MIT Technology Review, polled experts and in February published a list of the most promising technologies of the year. Some of them are already applied, others are at the stage of successful experiments.
Rejection of passwords
Hacks and leaks of personal data have become a real epidemic in cyberspace. Under these conditions, relying on a regular password becomes increasingly dangerous. It can be stolen, obtained with the help of spoof sites and extorted with the help of cunning manipulations. Password managers like Dash lane and 1Password are half the solution. A more radical solution is to completely eliminate passwords.
Now companies are increasingly moving to biometric identification methods. Apple’s facial recognition system was one of the first to be introduced an masse. In March 2021, Microsoft announced that some of its customers could opt out of passwords entirely, and in September suggested that users remove the option altogether.
There are already about a dozen options for a unique signature that are used or are being developed. In addition to the face, this is the iris of the eye, voice, fingerprint or palm print, vein pattern, or even DNA. However, not everything is perfect here. Firstly, such a password cannot be transferred to another if necessary. Secondly, there are already programs that can reliably imitate voice or facial features. Thirdly, attackers can switch from hunting for passwords to direct blackmail of a person – the owner of the necessary biometric data.
Another concern concerns how the collected data will be used by governments. The main argument of parliamentarians is that the introduction of such systems can lead to the establishment of total control over people, including their loyalty.
And what a particular protein does is determined, among other things, by its three-dimensional shape. An improperly folded protein can trigger pathological processes in the body, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
By understanding how a particular protein works, scientists can develop precisely targeted drugs and study the effects of diseases. But in the past, determining the three-dimensional structure, and therefore the function, of a protein took months of painstaking work in the lab. It was the most accurate way.
Everything changed at the end of 2020 when DeepMind introduced AlphaFold2. The results of the program were considered “amazing” by the experts.
Research teams around the world have begun using AlphaFold2 for cancer research, antibiotic resistance, and Now it has about 800 thousand records, and DeepMind promises to add more than 100 million already in 2022. It’s almost every protein known to science.
The true meaning of AlphaFold2 will only become clear in a year or two, but this year may be decisive.
Monitoring new variants of SARS
The SARS-CoV-2 genome has already become the most studied of all organisms in history, leaving influenza, HIV, or even our own human genome behind. Over the past two years, approximately 2% of all positive swabs have gone into gene sequencing machines. Goal: to create a complete map of the SARS virus genome – about 30 thousand nucleotides – and see how it changes.
Rapid genome sequencing allows you to follow how the virus evolves. Such monitoring allowed scientists to warn about the emergence of new strains in time. Almost instantly, computers in Seattle, Boston, and London used their data to make predictions about how dangerous this option would be and what to expect from it.
Perhaps that is why the “omicron” wave turned out to be fast, but generally short-lived and controllable. The main questions now are exactly how SARS will evolve and where to wait for new variants to appear. But, one way or another, thanks to the spread of sequencing and data sharing, humanity is much better prepared for new attacks than at the beginning of the pandemic.
Economical cryptocurrency mining
Cryptocurrencies work on the blockchain, a system for recording and distributing digital information that allows you to exchange data anonymously and without intermediaries. This is its advantage over traditional currencies. But there is a catch: cryptocurrencies are not issued by the bank, they appear as a result of the computational work of computers. This is very energy intensive. For example, bitcoin mining now requires more than 120 terawatt-hours per year – almost as much as the whole of Norway consumes. Therefore, the blockchain industry is looking for ways to reduce energy consumption.
The most energy-intensive part of cryptocurrency mining involves the operation of an algorithm known as proof of work. Each transaction on the blockchain begins with data entry, which is copied to all computers on the network. The transaction is confirmed by each individual computer, as a result of which it is impossible to falsify data or change an already made record. Proof of work provides protection against abuse, but increases the cost of the entire process. The need for energy is growing along with the growing popularity of bitcoin.
One of the ways to optimize the energy consumption of the blockchain infrastructure was proposed by the programmer Vitali Butlerin, the creator of the Ethereum network. In this case, miners do not have to compete by spending large sums on energy and computing equipment. Instead, depending on the units of cryptocurrency in their account, they can participate in a lottery.
Critics believe that this may adversely affect the decentralization of the network, but a more energy-efficient procedure has not yet been invented. So far, proof-of-stake from major networks has only been using Ethereum. But if successful, other networks can implement it.