Humans making progress
December 9, 2022 9:06 PM   Subscribe

10 Top Technology Breakthroughs of 2022. It's been a good year for science and Tech says Derek Thompson in The Atlantic's inaugural Breakthroughs of the Year article.
posted by storybored (17 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Love it! Some of them seem a little more optimistic than others. But a breakthrough in geothermal would be verrrrrrrry interesting for our future. I checked into the math- we won't cool the earth, even if we go hog wild (for at least a few billion years).
posted by keep_evolving at 11:49 PM on December 9, 2022

8 of the 10 breakthroughs are actual breakthroughs: scientists have in a trial, in an experiment, in a test, done these things.

And then there is the small nuke plants, the brekthrough being a regulatory approval to try to make one....hopefully in the next decade according to the article. Lol. Is this counterfactual machine safe, the not-yet inventors of it claim it will be totally safe. Is it cheap? We don't know the sticker price of this future wish machine.... but don't worry, your money will buy it, whether you want it or not. Might as well call faster than light travel and immortality the breakthroughs of the year by these standards.

Also, the geothermal company claims it will make a drill that uses radiowaves to vaporize granite. Great, an I will use them to announce your breakthrough, when it happens, not when you need PR to raise more VC.

Otherwise cool list, biology for the win!
posted by anecdotal_grand_theory at 1:30 AM on December 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

A lot going on here. The possibility of reviving dead people was my least favorite, eradicating malaria my most. Earlier today I read an opinion piece by a scientist about the potential of CRSPRcas9 in treating so many diseases, yet the technology isn’t moving forward due to costs, mainly.
posted by waving at 2:02 AM on December 10, 2022

It’s not cheap, it’s not perfect, and it’s not even approved by the FDA; but it’s a start

Excuse me, what?

I've had plenty of beef with the FDA (*cough*aducanamab*cough*) but wholesale dismissal of regulatory bodies is how you get snake oil salesmen and homeopathy.

Especially when the condition in question (cancer) is just ripe for taking advantage of frightened, vulnerable people and their families. I mean, they even called the company "Grail." Jesus. (Pun intended.)

I went looking for their data, which does not appear to be freely available. Their publications are open access (pay-to-publish) and either opinion pieces in low impact journals or health services research (cost of care, disparities in care) -- which is certainly important, but feels orthogonal to their main drive, especially if they are charging $1000+ out of pocket for their test. (They recommend annual screening, just to milk this cash cow even more.)

The too-good-to-be-true detection rate seems to come from a single post hoc analysis, which IS NOT HOW YOU DO SCIENCE. Here's an explanation that cuts through the media hype, from a cancer advocacy org.

That's not even getting into the ethics of this or the other things in that list. (DALL-E, stem cell embryos, reanimated dead bodies, lab-grown meat). Aside from the JWST, the whole thing reads like the setup for a dystopian near-future novel.
posted by basalganglia at 2:21 AM on December 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

Their publications are open access (pay-to-publish)

There is a big difference between perfectly valid open access peer reviewed journals with publication fees and the fraudulent pay-to-publish vanity journals. Lumping them together comes across as a deceptive rhetorical ploy attempting to damn with insinuation.
posted by srboisvert at 3:57 AM on December 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

If a creeper is charged by lightning and explodes near a piglin, there's a chance for a piglin head to drop. If you power the piglin head with redstone, it's ears will flap.

Zombie pigs aside, I can't wait for the steak that's better than the rubbish nature can make, that cures malaria, cancer and MS, makes you lose weight, and comes marbled in the shape of an undiscovered Picasso.
posted by adept256 at 4:29 AM on December 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

1. Although these new AIs look breakthrough-ish, we need gigawatts of power to train them, so they're not really close to animal consciousness yet. I suspect the power consumption obstructs applications that require fresh training or on-going learning, which likely obstructs the breathless applications.

2-4,6-9. All interesting applications of nice biology work. "Reverse death" sounds like fanciest application winds up being a D&D spell "speak with dead" spell, but who knows. I suppose mRNA vaccines might help rich countries side step the plagues brought on by climate change and ecosystem collapses. Wegovy sounds interesting.

5. Yes, JWT rocks.

10. We'll see if small nukes or geothermal take off, but really humanity having more energy likely just helps us collapse our ecosystems faster, and so far more energy does not reduce our fossil fuel consumption. It'll be funny sad if mini-nukes wind up powering shale oil projects.. or bitcoin miners. We need a mechanism by which we "loose access" to fossil fuel reserves.

We know no energy source could enable continued economic growth for much longer, but yeah maybe geothermal or small nukes makes surviving in northern latitudes easier.

Agrivoltaics maybe more important than any of these. All lease some of the biology work should expand in really interesting quite directions of course, but agriculture still sounds more important here too, like could we reverse the nutrient reductions due to climate change? or maybe we just need to change our diets?
posted by jeffburdges at 6:09 AM on December 10, 2022

For a better future, technological breakthroughs are much less important than social reform.
posted by oddman at 6:17 AM on December 10, 2022 [7 favorites]

srboisvert, unfortunately the difference is not always that big. Even formerly respectable journals and publishers are doing sketchy things nowadays. Cf Elsevier's pricing practices, or the MDPI family, which is technically peer reviewed, but the quality of the work I've been asked to review for them has been comically bad. In one case I recommended rejection due to fundamental and unfixable flaws in study design, but they published anyway, two days later, in original form. I don't review for MDPI journals after that. Last couple journals I submitted to, very legit mid tier journals in my field but with "publication fees" higher than my allocated % effort as PI. At that point they are just holding the paper ransom. (This seems to be a pattern, with predatory journals charging a few hundred USD, but "legit" journals with fees -- sorry, "article processing charges" -- in the several thousands.)

Open access should probably just be its own FPP, but my point is, if your cancer detection test is really that great, why did you publish it in Tumori (pub fee 300 GBP), in the very bottom quartile of oncology research per SciMago with a 5 year impact factor of 2.5 (this seems like the journal where papers go to die??) and not like Lancet Oncology or something.
posted by basalganglia at 6:30 AM on December 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

As a journalist, I’m most excited by their potential to help me plow through complicated bits of writing. When I feel myself stuck on a definition or transition sentence, I could give a prompt to the AI, which, having feasted on a banquet of online writing, would generate sentences that I could edit back into my own voice.

Or in other words, “have it to do my job for me, just poorly”
posted by gottabefunky at 7:52 AM on December 10, 2022

I went looking for their data, which does not appear to be freely available. Their publications are open access (pay-to-publish) and either opinion pieces in low impact journals or health services research

Did you look at their site? They have dozens of pubs in a variety of journals including some that you will feel more comfortable with. As a side note I've found that judging the quality, and degree of reproducibility, of work based on the journal it's published in to be, well, an inexact science, at best.

Bonus points for saying their work is both open access yet not freely available!
posted by euphorb at 9:05 AM on December 10, 2022

Updated at 1:40 p.m. ET on December 28, 2022

They’ve got a time machine but it didn’t make the list?!
posted by sjswitzer at 10:30 AM on December 10, 2022 [5 favorites]

Bonus points for saying their work is both open access yet not freely available!

I hope you can understand the difference between publishing your curated post-hoc analysis in an open-access journal (be it legit or predatory) and making your actual raw datasets available to others to replicate -- or not -- your analysis.

I'm not an oncologist, just a family member of a cancer patient. But both personally and professionally I'm disgusted by media sensationalism of low-quality science, as well as for-profit entities that seek to exploit the vulnerabilities of people living with currently incurable -- and sometimes undetectable-till-its-too-late -- conditions.
posted by basalganglia at 11:41 AM on December 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

$1000 nonFDA Cancer bloodtest does smell a bit Theranos-ish.

I am guilty of hypocrisy. I claim to want and seek good news on the internet, and when OP and the Atlantic try to give it to me, all I have is criticism.

The new golden age for vaccines is amazing just in time and I am excited We have tolerated the terrible toll that Malaria, Flu and other diseases for too long. Great stuff.

I do think broad target testing could be an amazing tool. If we aren't going to remove or regulate the abundant carcinogens we pollute into our air, water, soil, food supplies and consumer-goods then we had better get cracking on how to deal with the increasing cancer among us (especially the cancers that strike the under 50 crowd because of the long span of time in which they could recure. I'm glad several breakthroughs target this.

Tax payer funded Space telescopes give me more joy than the tax payer funded sports stadiums, and I hope we keep building them.

Thank you for the mostly good news. No more nukes.
posted by anecdotal_grand_theory at 12:06 PM on December 10, 2022

The kind of question that living through the last five years has trained me to ask: Why would Derek Thompson, a career journalist with no background in science, be the right person to inform me which "technology breakthroughs" are significant, or are even credible?
posted by scasburn at 11:11 PM on December 10, 2022

a drill that uses radiowaves to vaporize granite

I'm an EE, and I was in the downhole drilling & completion instrumentation business for 17 years. I can safely say this is, and always will be, bullshit.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:45 PM on December 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'm not a "The Singularity is coming!" type, but I do have to shake my head sometimes when articles like this talk about a breakthrough - like lab grown meat - and say that it could become widespread in decades. That's way too long of a timeframe, my dude.

And ZenMasterThis, I first learned about the geothermal deep drilling from this article on Canary Media, which is admittedly a bit of boosterism. But it said the technology is nothing new: "Paul Woskov, a senior research engineer at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, developed this method over a decade ago."
So is it just the commercialization that seems infeasible?
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 7:54 AM on December 12, 2022

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