12 August 2019 13:18:20 IST

Cool tech stuff of 2016 that could change the world as we know it

The reusable main-stage booster from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket makes a successful landing on a platform in the Atlantic Ocean about 300 km off the coast of Florida on April 8, 2016.

The year hasn’t been all doom and gloom, despite an impending Trump presidency and Brexit

Yes, there are 30 days to go before we bid goodbye to 2016. But even as we wonder at the breathless speed with which the year seems to have passed by, it saw events, discoveries and developments that might have forever changed the way we live.

No, I’m not talking about the election of Donald Trump (yes, even though he has changed our daily narrative after inventing words like ‘bigly’ and ‘braggadocious’), or even demonetisation. In fact, some have already concluded that the culling of ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes will have no medium- or long-term impact on black money. Then there was Brexit, and the ongoing spat between Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry that has divided not just the Tatas, but also the Parsi community right down the middle. The Tata brand has taken irreparable damage.

Away from these headline-grabbing events and people, the year saw some path-breaking developments in technology and science that give us a peek into our future.

Breakthrough tech

First off, here’s a list of 10 breakthrough technologies of 2016 prepared by MIT Technology Review , which has been tracking trends in this space since 1899. From India’s perspective, the breakthrough in precise gene editing in plants could be significant, as it is easier and cheaper than conventional genetic engineering; more importantly, it addresses the issues consumers might have with GMOs. The technology, called CRISPR, was recently used to correct clotting in newborn and adult mice.

Another emerging technology with a possible impact, this time on our livelihoods, is the one developed by a computer science professor at Brown University. Her Million Object Challenge might lead to robots sharing knowledge with one another to carry out tasks such as helping bedridden patients and packing items in warehouses.

While this is intriguing, policymakers in India may be alarmed as the country urgently needs to create jobs for its millions of youngsters who join the workforce every year. They may see the increasingly intelligent and efficient robots as a big threat.

Scientific discoveries

Some of the achievements on the next list are simply brilliant. Here we are talking about discoveries in just the first six months of the year. It includes the successful vertical landing of a rocket by SpaceX (which was possible only in fiction till now) and a clinical trial by Stanford University School of Medicine that allowed stroke patients to walk again after being injected with stem cells.

Equally intriguing is a storage device — in the form of a glass disk the size of an American quarter — that can hold 360TB of data and can withstand temperatures as high as 1000°C!

This list by Time magazine might not compare in brilliance with the above two, but there’s more to it than you think. For instance, take the folding helmet. One of the biggest reasons that cyclists don’t like helmets is that they abhor carrying them along. What if you could fold it and keep it in your bag? In Chennai, where I live, this might just prompt more cyclists to wear a helmet and thus, save lives.

Other inventions that stand out include football fields that fit anywhere (a solution to freeing up some of the cramped urban spaces for our children) and Ikea’s all-purpose houses that can be assembled in four hours; this could give some ideas to the Indian Government that has promised every Indian a house by 2022.

So, you see, 2016 has not been a year of only despair, if that’s what you, like so many others, felt after the news about Trump, Brexit and demonetisation. Let’s see what the remaining month has in store for us.