The Year 2017 In Review, by Claus D. Volko

December 21st, 2017

Direct Link to this page: http://2017.21stcenturyheadlines.com/

This is the second time I am writing an annual review. Indeed, it is necessary that such a thing is done at least once a year, facing the sheer amount of science and technology news. It is important to occasionally stop just collecting and reading news in order to reflect on what has happened in the past year and evaluate what is really important.

Contents:

Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence

Quantum Computing

Other Non-Standard Approaches to Computing

In an article at phys.org, the authors write that "scientists have built tiny logic machines out of single atoms that operate completely differently than conventional logic devices do". Quote from the article: "Instead of relying on the binary switching paradigm like that used by transistors in today's computers, the new nanoscale logic machines physically simulate the problems and take advantage of the inherent randomness that governs the behavior of physical systems at the nanoscale - randomness that is usually considered a drawback."

According to another article, scientists can now store data in DNA with 100% accuracy. As a reporter writes on ZDNet, DNA can now store 215 petabytes of data per gram - Science writes in this context: "DNA could store all of the world's data in one room". Also, the media report that "Sudoku Hints at New Encoding Strategy for DNA Data Storage".

It may also be possible to physically create a computer that "grows as it computes", a so-called nondeterministic universal Turing machine, using DNA molecules.

Regenerative Medicine

This is a huge field of modern medicine that attempts to regenerate organs either by injecting molecules into the body that make it regrow organs on its own or by creating new artificial organs and transplanting them. It also encompasses stem cells and tissue engineering.

According to the collected news items, progress in this field has been made in 2017 regarding heart, lung, kidney, bone, skin, female genitale tract and even the brain. It is difficult to sort these news items by priority since everybody will have a different opinion on that, depending on what diseases he or she has been confronted with. Therefore I will not even make an attempt to sort these news items by priority and only put them into the following categories: stem cells, cell generation, tissue engineering, artificial organs, 3D printing, organ transplantation.

Molecular Biology, Genetics and Gene Therapy

This field, which some consider a bit controversial (see the articles "Eugenics 2.0: We're at the Dawn of Choosing Embryos by Health, Height, and More" and "Do We Have the Right to Edit the Genes of an Entire Species?"), is making tremendous progress thanks to the CRISPR gene editing technology. In 2017, the first human embryos were modified in the US using this technology. There are speculations that CRISPR might cure cancer, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, and even HIV.

Artificial Life and Synthetic Biology

This field, which is related to both biotechnology and computing, is still an emerging field. The subfield of Artificial Life has been existing for 30 years now and it has focused on simulating complete organisms or ecosystems in silico, i.e. on the computer. There is still a lot of space for development. Synthetic Biology was founded by J. Craig Venter and his team in 2010 when they synthesized the first man-made bacterium with modified DNA.

There have been a couple of highly interesting publications in this field, covered by news items such as "New organisms have been formed using the first ever 6-letter genetic code", "New Artificial Chromosomes Set Stage for First Complex Synthetic Genome" and "Quantum Artificial Life in an IBM Quantum Computer". Here is a complete list of the news items mentioned in 21st Century Headlines in the course of 2017 regarding to Artificial Life and Synthetic Biology.

Neuroscience and Brain Research

This is a broad and massively diverse field, ranging from basic sciences to the treatment of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and ADHD. There have been many publications in the past year and it is difficult to determine which have been the most important ones; but probably the reports about technology to upload the contents of a brain to a computer or to download from the computer to the brain are among the most exciting ones (such as this one). Here is a list sorted into several subcategories.

Psychiatry and Mental Health

This is a field in which I have worked myself, and I am especially delighted at the publication "The role of stress-regulation genes in moderating the association of stress and daily-life psychotic experiences" and the article "Depression May Be a Physical Illness Linked to Inflammation"; which confirm some of the hypotheses my own research group adhered to. In addition, there have been several other publications speculating on the cause of psychiatric disorders. One of them suggested that some psychiatric disorders might be a pH problem. Also, the debate whether schizophrenia is really a disease entity has continued.

Immunity and Infectious Diseases

There have been several interesting publications in this field, such as "Immune and Nerve Cells Work Together to Fight Gut Infections" and "Rejuvenating the Thymus to Prevent Age-related Diseases". Here is the full list.

Endocrinology and Hormones

Some of the more interesting publications in this field are about gut bacteria, which are supposed to talk to the brain through cortisol and be able to trigger a gene that protects against type 1 diabetes. Regarding my own group's focus on the connection between steroidal hormones and the immune system, there has been a related publication about the possibility of estrogen stopping infection induced brain inflammation.

Oncology and Cancer

There have been numerous publications about cancer treatment, biomarkers and possible agents causing cancer, but nothing really revolutionary.

Longevity and Aging

Most of the articles that have been published in this field are more of speculative nature, but some have brought concrete results, such as "Fatty worms live longer, according to Stanford study" and "Eat fat, live longer? Mouse study shows a high fat diet increases longevity, strength".

Nutrition and Metabolism

2017 has brought us a couple of highly interesting inventions, such as edible water orbs that can help replace plastic bottles and a graphene-based sieve that turns seawater into drinking water.

Nanotechnology

This field has also brought some exciting news, such as "Nanochip could heal injuries or regrow organs with one touch" and "Nanoparticle-drug combo turns white fat to brown fat with potential to treat obesity, diabetes".

Physics and Chemistry

2017 has brought us a couple of exciting news in physics and chemistry, such as "Researchers create self-sustaining bacteria-fueled power cell" and "Gold chains give DNA semiconducting powers". There have also been inventions such as a spray that can turn any surface into a touch screen, a 2D magnet and a bionic lens that could push eyesight beyond 20/20 vision. Moreover, various websites reported that physicists confirmed evidence of a possible fifth fundamental force, that they discovered an "angel particle" that is its own antiparticle and that they demonstrated that 'impossible' tetraquarks can exist after all. Certainly some of these reports are to be taken with caution, but still, they are highly interesting and exciting.

Miscellaneous

Finally, there have been a couple of highly interesting general articles, some of them summarizing past events, some of them speculating about the future. I will list all of them here without further comments. Just read them.

Conclusions

In 2017, Artificial Intelligence has been the main buzzword. We have witnessed the success of AlphaGo Zero and can only wonder what is to come next year. Will Geoffrey Hinton's "Capsule Networks" cause the next paradigm shift? Is Ray Kurzweil right in that we will some day experience the "Singularity", when machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence?

Also, there has been considerable progress in Quantum Computing, threatening to render the Blockchain technology obsolete, which is currently quite popular considering the enormous increase of the value of a Bitcoin in the past few months.

In Biomedical Sciences, Gene Editing via CRISPR, Artificial Chromosomes and Brain-Computer Interfaces seem to be the hottest technologies where most progress is being made right now.

I am delighted that recent publications in Psychiatry, Endocrinology and Immunology have confirmed or at least supported some of the hypotheses that have been proposed by my own research group with Uwe Rohr.

Edible water orbs and graphene-based sieves have been some of the outstanding inventions of the past year, as well as bacteria-fueled power cells, a 2D magnet and other things I mentioned in the section about Physics and Chemistry.

All in all, it has been a decent year. See you again in 2018!

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