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2018: When technology took a quantum leap to future

Finding ways
to hide information in text, unveiling state-sponsored trolls,
a plane with no moving parts, wood as strong as titanium and even efforts
to go beyond the corporeal
to life beyond death, there was seemingly no end
to tech innovations in
2018.

It was
a year that saw
technology take
a
quantum
leap
to touch virtually every aspect of our lives, and even beyond it maybe, from terrestrial
to the skies above.

In
a first,
a plane with no moving parts – no turbines, propellers or even fans –
took flight in November.

Developed
by researchers at US’ Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT), the small prototype was powered
by “ionic wind” – the flow of ions produced
by the plane that generates enough thrust
to push it through the air for
a sustained, steady flight.

“This is the first-ever sustained flight of
a plane with no moving parts in the propulsion system,” Steven Barrett, associate professor at MIT, said in
a statement.

Another development likely
to benefit the aviation industry is an autonomous flying drone that can safely herd birds away from airports.

A team of engineers at US’ California Institute of
Technology were inspired
by the 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson”,
when
a plane was forced
to land on the Hudson River after losing all its engines
to
a bird strike just after takeoff.

In February, engineers at the University of Maryland announced they have found
a way
to make wood as strong as titanium alloys.

“Soft woods like pine or balsa, which grow fast and are more environmentally friendly, could replace slower-growing but denser woods like teak in furniture or buildings,” said Liangbing Hu from the University of Maryland.

Technology also found its way into the written word.

A new font, called Sans Forgetica, can help people better remember what they read.

Developed
by
a team at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of
Technology (RMIT), the font consists of individual letters that have omitted segments, forcing the reader
to pay more attention.

Another team at Columbia University in the US found
a way
to hide information in plain text.

Their Font Code allowed for embedding hidden information in ordinary text
by ever-so-slightly changing the shape of characters in
a font. The receiver could then decipher the code
by noting the font perturbations.

The field of artificial intelligence (AI) has been constantly evolving in the last few years, making its presence felt in all fields.

A group at Shree Devi Institute of
Technology in Karnataka explored the idea of using AI
to digitally resurrect the consciousness of people, allowing one
to conduct virtual communications with departed loved ones.

At
a more tangible level, researchers at Google developed an AI application that can predict heart disease
by analysing pictures of the retina.

It focuses on retinal blood vessels that might offer hints of
a cardiovascular episode. Researchers reported that the app is 70 per cent accurate in tests, roughly equivalent
to blood tests.

Another machine learning platform was developed
by
a team at the University of California – Davis in the US which can verify multimedia rumours online.

The new tool is meant
to distinguish between real and rumour
by leveraging the semantic similarity of information sources.

The hope is that such applications will help reduce the number of rumour-based online news stories or ‘fake news’.

Another developing field of
technology – known as
quantum computing – got
a major boost this year with researchers reporting the first proof that
quantum computers would have significant advantage over traditional systems.

According
to the team at Germany’s Technical University of Munich, Canada’s University of Waterloo in Canada and IBM, scientists and engineers earlier worked on
quantum computer development based on just the belief that the research would eventually pay off in next-level computer systems.

While in the last decade solar and wind energy has seen significant advancements, the problem of storing energy harvests from these sources on cloudy days, or
when there is no wind, remains
a challenge.

A group of engineers at MIT developed what they described as
a “sun in
a box” –
a renewable energy store for the grid.

Their conceptual system stores both solar and wind power and delivers that energy back
to the electrical grid on demand. The system would also be large enough
to power
a small city during periods
when the sun is obscured or the wind is not blowing.

A collaboration between researchers from Cypress University of
Technology, University College London, the University of Alabama and Boston University resulted in an investigation of state-sponsored trolls.

By analysing data from Twitter and Reddit, they were able
to trace the activities of bad actors over time. They found the majority were from Russia and Iran, and they generally attempted
topose as legitimate users from
a host of countries around the globe.

The year also saw the end of Moore’s law –
a notion that computing power doubles every year.

A trio of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University noted that the famous Moore’s law has ended and speculated about what might come next
to increase the speed of
future computers.

Their review includes possible innovations that are likely
to make
a mark, but they note that some as-yet unknown
technology is required.

Irrespective of what the
future may have in store, the year
2018 has ushered humanity towards an era of next generation
technology, demonstrating that there is no looking back in scientific innovations.