Summary: Covid-19 sucked most of the oxygen out of science this year. But we still had brilliant wins.
Original author and publication date: Shelly Fan – December 22, 2020
Futurizonte Editor’s Norte: Superhumans with unthinkable longevity will merge with AI to travel throughout space. How soon will that happen?
From the article:
The pandemic couldn’t bring rockets or humans down: multiple missions blasted off to the red planet in the “summer of Mars.” Two astronauts launched to the International Space Station—and made it safely back—in a game-changer for commercial space travel. NASA released dozens of findings on how space travel changes our bodies, paving the way to keep us healthy in orbit—or one day, on Mars and beyond.
Back on Earth, scientists scoured mud ponds and fished out a teeny-tiny CRISPR enzyme that packs a massive punch for genome editing. AI and neuroscience became even more entwined—sometimes literally. Biological neurons got hooked up to two silicon-based artificial neurons, across multiple countries, into a fully-functional biohybrid neural network. Others tapped dopamine—the main messenger for the brain’s reward system—to unite electricity and chemical computing into a semi-living computer. While still largely a curiosity, these studies take brain-inspired computers to another level by seamlessly incorporating living neurons into AI hardware. Now imagine similar circuits inside the brain—Neuralink sure is.
More abstractly, biological and artificial brains further fed into each other in our understanding—and crafting—of intelligence. This year, scientists found “mini-computers” in the input tree-like branches of neurons.
Like entire neural networks, these cables were capable of performing complex logical calculations, suggesting our brain cells are far brainier than we previously thought—something AI can learn from. On the flip side, a hotshot algorithm inspired by the brain called reinforcement learning pushed neuroscientists to re-examine how we respond to feedback as we learn. AI also helped build the most dynamic brain atlas to date, a “living map” that can continuously incorporate new data and capture individual differences.
As we leave 2020 behind, two main themes percolate in my mind, not just for what they’ve accomplished, but as indicators of what lies ahead. These are the trends I’ll be keeping my eyes on in the coming year.
- Anti-Aging Crosses Lanes
- AI Fully Infiltrates Biology
- Neuroscience and tissue engineering
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