Change is Coming: Six Predictions for Technology in 2018

Rising support for geoengineering

We’re predicting President Trump will continue to make foolish statements on climate change. No shit, I hear you say, but while Trump drags his feet on the subject, the planet is getting warmer and extreme weather events are becoming more and more common. Perhaps, then, 2018 will be the year we see increased support for more controversial methods of reversing climate change, such as geoengineering.

Geoengineering refers to different techniques that could be used to artificially engineer the climate’s temperature. The concept isn’t a new one – the ideas were first kicked around in the 1960s – but given the current political climate and the pessimism over whether we can meet the targets set out in the Paris Climate Agreement, it’s certainly a term we’ll be hearing a lot more in 2018.

CRISPR-driven medical breakthroughs

Gene editing technology CRISPR has already had a dramatic impact on the bioscience community, and has shown promising medical results in Chinese trials, but 2018 will be the year it truly comes to humans, with the first in-human trials in Europe and the US set to start this year.

With the ability to make precise adjustments to genes in living humans, the technology will likely initially be used to transform the treatment of rare but lifelong conditions, paving the way for large-scale treatment of more common ailments several years down the line. However, the technology will also present deep moral questions, and will no doubt see some form of backlash as its possibilities become more widely discussed.

Image courtesy of Impossible Foods

Meat that isn’t meat goes mainstream

The efforts to minimise our environmental impact will continue in 2018, with an ever-greater focus on what we eat. One area that is set to see increasing discussion is meat consumption, with increased efforts to get us to ditch beef and other meats in favour of more sustainable protein sources. Which is why 2018 will be the year that foods that look, cook, taste and bleed like real meat but are really made from plants are going to enter the mainstream consciousness and food supply.

Leading the way will be Impossible Foods’ Impossible Burger, which saw a limited launch last year and is likely to be available in many more places over the next 12 months, but other food manufacturers are no doubt working to develop their own rival products.

On the way towards artificial general intelligence

Artificial intelligence had a good 2017, putting the game Go in the same category as chess and Jeopardy, as games AIs are now better than humans at. Unfortunately, while we now have AI that can excel at a specific task, they’re not so good at multitasking, and to paraphrase Matthew Mcconaughey in the coming-of-age movie Dazed and Confused, ‘it’d be a lot cooler if they did’.

Sorry to burst your bubble, especially in a list of 2018 predictions, but this won’t happen in 2018. The days when AI can call itself an expert in Go, Russian theatre and why Marvel can make films but not TV shows is decades away, but we’ll see momentum shift towards making this a reality in 2018, so expect AI to appear a little smarter by the end of the year.

Image courtesy of Waymo

Driverless cars get real

2017 was a fantastic year for driverless cars, with Waymo announcing the start of tests without a driver behind the wheel on public roads and companies such as Audi announcing the inclusion of partial AI on current models. 2018, however, will see the driverless car race go into overdrive, with many counties beginning to seriously tackle the legal side of the technology in readiness for a full rollout in the early 2020s.

However, more of a legal focus will bring more public discussion, and a fair amount of it won’t be positive. Automotive companies will need to step up their efforts to ensure a positive image for driverless cars in 2018.

Image courtesy of Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson’s New Year planning for space travel

Hopefully you’ve all made your New Year’s resolutions that you fully intend to stick to. What are they? Go to the gym more? Make more of effort with your friends? Do some centrifuge g-force training so you can be as acclimatised as possible for the journey to space?

That last one probably only applies to Richard Branson, who wants to get as fit as possible before his private space program Virgin Galactic goes into space. Last October, Branson said he was about six months away from going to space, which would take him up to around March, so hopefully he has a few more resolutions to tide him over until 1st January 2019.

Additional reporting by Daniel Davies

China uses facial recognition to monitor ethnic minorities

China has been criticised for adding facial recognition to an already obtrusive surveillance system in Xinjiang, a Muslim-dominated region in the country's far west. The "alert project" matches faces from surveillance camera footage to a watchlist of suspects, and supposedly is designed to thwart terrorist attacks.

Source: Engadget

Microsoft execs say the ultimate form of AI is a digital assistant

In an interview with Business Insider, Microsoft president Brad Smith and EVP of AI and research Harry Shum have said the ultimate manifestation of AI in 20 years will be in a digital assistant that will serve as an "alter ego." The two argue that we need to set ground rules for our AI assitants while we still can.

Facebook’s head of AI isn't impressed by Sophia the robot

Facebook's head of AI, Yann LeCun, isn't happy with Sophia the robot. Following a Business Insider interview with Sophia, LeCun took to Twitter to call the whole thing “complete bullsh*t”. He went on to say Sophia masquerading as a semi-sentient entity was "to AI as prestidigitation is to real magic”.

Source: The Verge

Drone saves the lives of two swimmers

Two teenage boys were rescued by a brand new lifesaving drone in Australia, while lifeguards were still training to use the device. When a member of the public spotted them struggling in heavy surf about 700m (2,300ft) offshore the drone was sent out and dropped an inflatable rescue pod, which allowed the pair to make their way safely to shore.

Source: BBC

Google defends the right to not let people be forgotten online

Google is going to court to defend it's right to not abide by "the right to be forgotten", which it says “represent[s] a serious assault on the public’s right to access lawful information. Two anonymous people want the search engine to take down links to information about their old convictions because search engine results attract “adverse attention”.

Source: Bloomberg

UK Police delivering daily briefings via Amazon Echo

Lancashire police have begun streaming daily briefings straight to peoples' homes through Amazon Echo. Users will get hourly updates as well as pictures of wanted and missing people sent directly to their devices. "Alexa works alongside traditional policing methods to inform the public about the important issues in their neighbourhoods," said PC Rob Flanagan.

Source: BBC

A quarter of ethical hackers don’t report cybersecurity concerns because it’s not clear who they should be reporting them to

Almost a quarter of hackers have not reported a vulnerability that they found because the company didn’t have a channel to disclose it, according to a survey of the ethical hacking community.

With 1,698 respondents, the 2018 Hacker Report, conducted by the cybersecurity platform HackerOne, is the largest documented survey ever conducted of the ethical hacking community.

In the survey, HackerOne reports that nearly 1 in 4 hackers have not reported a vulnerability because the company in question lacks a vulnerability disclosure policy (VDP) or a formal method for receiving vulnerability submissions from the outside world.

Without a VDP, ethical, white-hat hackers are forced to go through other channels like social media or emailing personnel in the company, but, as the survey states, they are “frequently ignored or misunderstood”.

Despite some companies lacking a VDP, the hackers surveyed in the report did say that companies are becoming more open to receiving information about vulnerabilities than they were in the past.

Of the 1,698 respondents, 72% noted that companies have become more open to receiving vulnerability reports in the past year,

That figure includes 34% of hackers who believe companies have become far more open.

Unlike a bug bounty program, a VDP does not offer hackers financial incentives for their findings, but they are still incredibly effective.

Organisations like the US Department of Defence have received and resolved nearly 3,000 security vulnerabilities in the last 18 months from their VDP alone.

India (23%) and the United States (20%) are the top two countries represented by the HackerOne hacker community, followed by Russia (6%), Pakistan (4%) and the United Kingdom (4%).

The report revealed that because bug bounties usually have no geographical boundaries the payments involved can be life changing for some hackers.

The top hackers based in India earn 16 times the median salary of a software engineer. And on average, top earning hackers make 2.7 times the median salary of a software engineer in their home country.

In terms of which demographics are attracted to a life of ethical hacking, the report found that over 90% of hackers are under the age of 35, and unsurprisingly the vast majority of hackers on the HackerOne platform are male.