With the first three months of 2009 behind us, it is time to look back at the best stories of the quarter. These last three months have brought a fantastic stream of innovations and breakthroughs that will improve our lives, make us healthier, and bring new meaning to the human experience. Best of all, the rest of the year and beyond looks to bring more of the same. Now, without further delay, here are the stories in no particular order:
1. Robots, robots everywhere
One of our earliest and most successful stories of the quarter was a review of the best robot videos of 2008. The story presented a long list of robot videos, each more impressive than the last. Robots were dancing, self-assembling, using multiple modes of locomotion, playing music, and even playing soccer. The age of the robots is definitely here. The availability of off the shelf parts and software means that people in their garages are making amazingly capable robots that only a few years ago required the best minds and million dollar budgets to create. Check out some of the other robot coverage we had during the quarter as well:
2. fMRI based mind reading takes off
Are researchers really reading people’s minds with an external brain scanner? Indeed they are! At Carnegie Mellon, the epicenter of this amazing work, researchers are using a technology called fMRI to scan a person’s brain and determine in real time what object a person is thinking of, such as a hammer or a house. As mind reading matures in the coming years the impact on human society will be enormous. Already companies are trying to use this technology to develop truth machines that can be used to corroborate evidence in US courtrooms. Here are the stories we covered this quarter about fMRI based mind reading:
3. Designer babies – like it or not here they come
We all know that news likes controversy, and this was certainly the case with our most viewed story of the quarter,Designer Babies – Like it or not Here They Come. As embryo scanning technology PGD matures and as tools for genetic manipulation continue to expand, it is only a matter of when – not if – we will create some seriously customized babies. A company called The Fertility Institutes tested the waters early in the year with an announcement to offer parents the ability to choose basic traits for their babies such as eye color. After immense public pressure the company was forced to retract its offer, but there is no doubt that these waters will continue to be tested.
4. Sight given back to the blind
Giving sight back to the blind is a miracle that is increasingly becoming reality. The Department of Energy estimates that 6 million Americans are blind because their retinas have been damaged by diseases like macular degeneration. Worldwide they estimate that 25 million people have been made blind and that this number will rise to 50 million by 2020. These people need help, and help is on the way!
This quarter we saw not one, but two completely different approaches that have achieved major success in bringing some amount of vision back to blind people: gene therapy and artificial implants. Check out the stories below to learn more:
5. Brain computer interfaces take off
Reading minds externally with fMRI is making great progress, but if you really want to know exactly what is going on inside someone’s brain there is no substitute for going straight to the inside. Brain computer interfaces, or BCI, are really taking off and there have been some incredible examples during the quarter. Monkey’s and humans are controlling wheel chairs, prosthetic arms, and computers simply by thinking. These interfaces are just scratching the surface of what can be done and we can expect some big stories to crop up later this year. Check out these BCI stories from the quarter:
6. Genetic sequencing gets cheaper…way cheaper
In 2003, after more than a decade of effort in which hundreds of millions of dollars were spent, man achieved the sequencing of the first whole human genome. In 2007, only 4 years later, the entire genomes of not one, but two people were sequenced for a cost of roughly $1 million each. Now in 2009, Complete Genomics has continued this trend, stunning the genomics community with its plans to sequence up to 1,000 whole human genomes this year for as little as $5,000 apiece! The breaking of the barrier to $1,000 genomes, and then $100 genomes shortly thereafter is breathtakingly close at hand. A new age of human health and possibilities awaits. Check out the stories below:
7. Gene Therapy Achieves Legitimacy, Cures Real Diseases
For decades gene therapy has fallen short of its promise to deliver cures to genetic disease. In recent years this has started to change, and in the beginning of 2009 we have seen multiple successes with gene therapy. Using vectors, usually viruses, researchers are now finding success in systematically modifying the genes in target cells within the body, changing their defective behavior and restoring health to individuals. Blindness and bubble boy disease are each terrible afflictions that have seen real cures for patients sing gene therapy. Lets take a look:
8. Singularity University launches
With Singularity Hub’s Keith Kleiner as one of the founding members of Singularity University we can’t help but be fans of the institution. During the quarter Singularity Hub has proven to be the web’s number one source for information regarding the birth of Singularity University, and readers can expect this to continue moving forward. Singularity University is bringing together some outstanding minds to learn, teach, and think about futuristic technologies and the future of mankind. This summer the University will launch its inaugural summer session. Singularity Hub will be on the front lines to tell you all about it. Here is our coverage from the quarter:
During the daily grind it is easy to take the advances we report on here at Singularity Hub for granted, but when looking at all of them across an entire quarter it is hard not to be impressed with the incredible things that are happening in our world today. We can’t wait to see what is coming next!