2017 was an eventful year for innovations in science and technology as the world started embracing Artificial Intelligence , more countries announced ambitious projects for interstellar exploration and block-chain hit banks and business.
On the flip side, a growing threat to cyber security and exposure to harmful apps kept scaring users and the sensitive sections of the society with some dubbing this year as the “Year of Blue Whale” after a suicide game in which a secret admin allegedly targeted disturbed individuals and gave them daring targets leading them to commit suicide.
But if one has to name this year, in terms of science and technology, then the year can be called “The Year of Artificial Intelligence” as the year finally saw artificially intelligent devices and robots helping humans do their daily tasks, a robot spoke at a tech summit and was granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia.
Let us take a look at the top trends in science and technology during the year 2017.
The 17-year-old who made Pakistan proud
What better way to revisit 2017’s top sci-tech stories than the one which made Pakistan proud.
Shaheer Niazi, a 17-year-old Pakistani student had his research on electric honeycomb published in the Royal Society Open Science journal.
When certain kinds of electrically charged particles travel between a pointy electrode and a flat one, but bump into a puddle of oil along the way, they form an electric honeycomb.
Physicists knew of this phenomenon decades but Shaheer managed to photograph the movement of ions that forms the honeycomb besides recording the heat found on the surface of oil. None had done this before.
As if Elon Musk’s plan to send cargo ships to Mars was not enough, United Arab Emirates (UAE) in February unveiled an ambitious new project that aimed to establish the first inhabitable human settlement on Mars by 2117.
Then in November, UAE released a stunning VR footage showing the vision for its planned colony on Mars where robots live alongside humans.
The video offered a rich simulated experience of human life on Mars, based on scientific and geographic data. It reinforces the fact that life on Mars is possible and seeks to inspire creative minds towards further innovation in the space industry.
NASA, however, had a practical plan as Six scientists have entered a dome perched atop a remote volcano in Hawaii where they will spend the next eight months in isolation to simulate life for astronauts traveling to Mars.
The study by Hawaii University was designed to help NASA better understand human behavior and performance during long space missions as the US space agency explores plans for a manned mission to the Red Planet.
The European Space Agency (ESA), however, said that the Moon was the “right place to be” if humans want to reach Mars.
THE GREAT EMBRACE
Perhaps the greatest trend in 2017 was the visible appreciation and inclusion of artificial intelligence in our daily lives and the trend was truly worldwide as it happened almost everywhere across the globe.
In May Dubai introduced world’s first “Robocop”, who in a month, joined Dubai police force.
In November, during the Future Investment Initiative, Saudi Arabia became the first country to grant citizenship to a robot named Sophia.
Sophia was presented as an example of how robot technology and artificial intelligence will make machines more human-like in the future.
The announcement was made as Sophia was taking part in a group discussion in front of a crowd. The leader of the discussion was journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin. He informed Sophia of the Saudi government’s decision.
Closer at home, a pizza outlet in Multan introduced a robot as a waiter.
A National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) student Syed Osama Aziz conceived a plan to replace humans with robot as waiters at the restaurant.
On the Medicinal Front
The development of an entirely soft artificial heart and an adhesive surgical glue can be termed two of the top scientific achievements during the year 2017.
Doctors around the world were awed by development of a highly elastic and adhesive surgical glue which quickly sealed wounds without the need for common staples or stitches.
The glue named MeTro quickly and successfully sealed incisions in the arteries and lungs of rodents and the lungs of animals, without the need for sutures and staples.
The development of an entirely soft artificial heart which beats like its natural model can be called the next big achievement of the year 2017 a doctoral student at ETH Zurich created the artificial heart from silicone using a 3D-printing, lost-wax casting technique.
“It is a silicone monoblock with complex inner structure,” explained Cohrs.
This artificial heart has a right and a left ventricle, just like a real human heart, though they are not separated by a septum but by an additional chamber.
THE BLUE WHALE SCARE
Perhaps the biggest scare of 2017, the dark web thing which shocked almost everyone on the surface web, was the Blue Whale Challenge, a game which urged a number of people to commit suicide.
The game’s reported “arrival” in Pakistan and India September 2017 was initially met with suspicion to online searches on Google and Apple app store then gradually introducing people to how some trends in the dark web operate.
So what was it?
The Blue Whale suicide game was a social media based game which was encouraging people to kill themselves. A group administrator assigns daily tasks to members, which they have to complete over 50 days. The horrific tasks include self-harming, watching horror movies and waking up at unusual hours, but these gradually get more extreme.
On the 50th day, the controlling manipulators behind the game reportedly instruct the youngsters to commit suicide. Suicide prevention helplines were formed in both India and Pakistan following reports that the “game has arrived in Pakistan”.
Blue Whale wasn’t publicly available and wasn’t the only reason behind the rising number of suicides and the livestreaming of the act on social media forcing Facebook to expand its pattern recognition software to detect users with suicidal intent.
Facebook did not disclose many technical details of the program, but the company said its software searches for certain phrases that could be clues, such as the questions “Are you ok?” and “Can I help?”
If the software detects a potential suicide, it alerts a team of Facebook workers who specialize in handling such reports. The system suggests resources to the user or to friends of the person such as a telephone help line. Facebook workers sometimes call local authorities to intervene.
OF FLYING CARS
As last year belonged to self-driving cars, year 2017 was the year of flying cars as not only a number of tech firms announced that they are working on developing flying cars but for the first time Dubai has tested a Chinese prototype of a self-driving hover-taxi, in February with the aim of introducing the aerial vehicle in the emirate by July.
The plan did not materialise and Dubai tested another such vehicle in September, this time the vehicle took a concept flight.
The flying taxi was developed by German drone firm Volocopter and resembled a small, two-seater helicopter cabin topped by a wide hoop studded with 18 propellers.
It was unmanned for its maiden test run in a ceremony arranged for Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed.
This year, blockchain hit banks, it hit business, it hit $10,000, and in its success it welcomed the masses like never before.
Bitcoin, a digital currency started in 2009 by a mystery figure named Satoshi Nakamoto (his true identity is still unknown) along with Ethereum ruled the internet.
Unlike traditional currencies, Bitcoin or Ethereum have no central bank, nation state or regulatory authority backing it up.
The “coins” are made by computers solving a set of complex maths problems. To spend them, users buy bitcoin and conduct transactions with them using exchanges such as San Francisco-based Coinbase. Rather than a central authority validating transactions, they are all recorded on a public ledger, called the blockchain.
Bitcoin don’t actually exist but are digital keys are stored in a digital wallet, which can also manage transactions. The wallet exists either in the cloud or on computers, and can be linked to bank accounts.
While many compared the cryptocurrency aspect of both Ethereum and Bitcoin, the reality is that they are vastly different projects and have different intentions.
A key difference is their monetary supply as more than two-thirds of all available bitcoin have already been mined, Ethereum raised its launch capital with a presale and only about half of its coins will have been mined by its fifth year of existence.
A tech analyst recently wrote that 2017 Was Bitcoin’s Year while 2018 Will Be Ethereum’s.
“Think of bitcoin as DOS and ethereum as Windows or Mac OS. There is nothing wrong with DOS. It came first and was an essential part of the computer’s success,” Jez San, a tech analyst and investor, wrote in his blog at Coindesk.
Total Solar Eclipse
On August 21, the moon slipped in front of the sun, blocking the light from our host star to give Americans a total solar eclipse.
Fourteen US states were lucky enough to witness it in its totality, and the other US states and Canada were treated to a partial eclipse.
The eclipse provided a unique opportunity to study the sun, Earth, moon and their interaction because of the eclipse’s long path over land coast to coast.
Scientists were able to take ground-based and airborne observations over a period of an hour and a half to complement the wealth of data and images provided by space assets.
Gravitational waves detected
In October 2017, scientists announced the first observation of its kind: the detection of gravitational waves, wrinkles in spacetime predicted by Einstein more than a century ago, thrown off by two colliding neutron stars.
Einstein predicted the existence of such waves — in this case produced by the collision of a pair of neutron stars some 130 million years ago — in his general theory of relativity. But this was further proof that Einstein was right.
The Only Death: R.I.P Counter-Strike
Counter Strike 1.6 is probably their first game with fond memories of sitting with friends playing this game on Local Area Net (LAN), shouting and cursing one another, all in jolly fun.
Before the days of PS4’s and Microsoft Xbox’s, we all relied on games such as Age of Empires and Counter Strike while taking great pleasure in playing these games.