As we cozy up by our virtual fireplaces during this holiday season, let’s take a whimsical journey back through the year 2023, a time when remarkable and sometimes downright bizarre tech developments were all the rage. So, while you sip on your hot cocoa and embrace the holiday spirit, join me as we embark on a lighthearted adventure through tech tales that’ll warm your geeky heart and push the boundaries of human ingenuity in a way that only tech can.
Wi-Fi imaging through walls
To start us off, a question: have you ever wanted to be a superhero with X-ray vision? In January, we heard about scientists from Carnegie Mellon University who are making it happen. They’re using Wi-Fi routers to see through walls and image a human’s 3D shape and pose. It’s like something out of a sci-fi flick, and it has the potential to monitor the well-being of elderly folks or spot suspicious behavior. Let’s just hope they leave a note for anyone who obtains this superhero tech, reminding them that with great power comes great responsibility!
De-extinction with genetic engineering
Back in January, the news crossed my desk about Colossal Biosciences planning to bring back the extinct dodo bird using genetic engineering. That’s right, the dodo could be making a comeback, along with the woolly mammoth and the Tasmanian tiger. They’re not exact copies but the closest analogs science can produce. It sounds cool, but it does raise ethical and ecological questions about the “de-extinction” process and its potential impact on ecosystems. Either way, hold onto your feathers, folks — we’re in for a wild ride!
WordPress breathes new life into prison journalism
Imagine a world where WordPress, the go-to platform for bloggers and website builders, is not just for your personal musings but also for prisoners trying to make their voices heard. Well, that’s exactly what happened with the Prison Newspaper Project, courtesy of the Prison Journalism Project (PJP). In February, they launched their news portal on WordPress, giving incarcerated individuals a platform to share their stories and connect with a global audience. The PJP’s innovative move to modernize these newsrooms with WordPress not only gives prisoners a chance to express themselves but also opens doors for educators, researchers, and readers worldwide to engage with their narratives. It’s a story that shows technology’s power to break down barriers, even the ones made of steel bars.
Mushroom computers in Bristol
Now, let’s get a little wild with this one. Picture this: mushrooms, yes, those fungi you put on your pizza, teaming up with motherboards. In Bristol, at the University of the West of England, some brilliant minds embarked on a quest to integrate oyster mushrooms into computer infrastructure. As we discovered back in February, these mushrooms have a memory and can send and receive signals. In fact, they have a communication system that’s often compared to the Internet. The idea is to combine the powers of Mother Nature with the prowess of silicon chips, creating computers that are part biological and part artificial. Imagine a future where our computers and networks are intertwined with the natural world, much like the Matrix but hopefully without the dystopian mayhem.
AI deciphers animal communication
Ever wanted to have a heart-to-heart chat with your furry, feathery, or scaly friends? The Earth Species Project is taking a leap towards making it happen. This non-profit, founded by some big shots from Mozilla Labs and Twitter, is on a mission to use artificial intelligence to decode non-human communication. In May, we learned how scientists are working to decipher the bioacoustic data collected from our animal pals and translate it into human languages. Large machine learning-based language models, similar to the ones powering ChatGPT and Google Bard, are working to understand the relationships between words and meanings in various languages. The potential here is staggering, especially for wildlife conservation and scientific research. Imagine understanding the secret language of animals, from dolphins clicking beneath the waves to birds chirping in the treetops. It’s a story straight out of a science fiction novel, but it’s happening right before our eyes.
NASA’s talking spaceships
It’s not just animals! In the world of space exploration, NASA is taking a page from your favorite chat app and developing talking spaceships. Back in June, we learned that these spacecraft will feature a ChatGPT-style interface to converse with astronauts and mission controllers. Imagine astronauts having a casual chat with their spaceship, discussing the mysteries of the universe over a cup of cosmic coffee. This could revolutionize space exploration and make lonely space voyages a thing of the past!
AI and the final Beatles record
Now, for the music lovers among us, the Beatles are back, thanks to AI! News broke back in June that Sir Paul McCartney and a team of sound engineers used artificial intelligence to create the “final Beatles record.” They extracted John Lennon’s voice from an old demo to complete the 1978 Lennon composition “Now And Then.” It’s a blend of old and new, a musical reunion transcending time and technology. And despite his reservations, even McCartney admits that AI is the future of music. The song dropped in November to the delight of Beatles fans around the world. Rock on, AI!
NFTs take a dive
Remember NFTs, the once-red-hot craze that had everyone losing their minds during the pandemic? Now, the tradeable digital image fad is looking more like a flash in the pan. As we learned in September, 95% of those NFTs are now as valuable as a screen door on a submarine. dappGambl’s analysis of over 73,000 NFT collections revealed that most folks holding these digital treasures are now stuck with virtual dust collectors. Only 21% of these collections were fully sold, signaling a declining demand for what was once the talk of the town. It seems like the NFT bubble has burst — and I’m not shedding any virtual tears for it.
AI diagnoses chronic pain
Now, let’s talk about a heartwarming story that we learned about in September. A boy named Alex was in chronic pain for three long years, visiting 15+ doctors with no luck. That’s when his mother, Courtney, decided to turn to artificial intelligence for help. She provided detailed MRI notes to ChatGPT, and the AI chatbot suggested tethered cord syndrome as a possible diagnosis. Turns out, the AI was spot on! This story underscores the potential AI tools have to improve and even save lives, and it’s a testament to how technology can bridge gaps in healthcare. Kudos, AI, you’re a lifesaver!
Wrapping up our look back at technology in the news, we’ve got Disney taking the stage with a showstopper at the 2023 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems. Disney Research unveiled a robotic character with personality. Imagine R2-D2’s sass, WALL-E’s charm, and the Terminator’s moves all rolled into one. Thanks to some genius work by Moritz Bächer’s team, they streamlined the fusion of animator vision and real-world robot motions using reinforcement learning. The result? A 3D-printed robot that’s full of equal parts charisma and mobility, boasting a four-degree-of-freedom head and five-degree-of-freedom legs. Disney’s stepping into a whole new world of robotics, and I’m here for it!
The year 2023 will be one to remember
Ah, what a ride it’s been! These are a few of the stories I found to be the most compelling over the past year because they remind me that the tech world is anything but predictable. As we look forward to 2024, I’m excited to see what the future holds. I bet it will be filled with surprises and innovations beyond our wildest dreams. Next month, we’ll look at some of my predictions about where tech could be headed.
Until then — keep your curiosity alive and stay geeky, my friends!