The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday April 13th

Column: 2020 STEM predictions

<p>Opinion writer Rajee Ganesan poses for a portrait. Photo courtesy of Rajee Ganesan.</p>
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Opinion writer Rajee Ganesan poses for a portrait. Photo courtesy of Rajee Ganesan.

The year 2019 was one of the most groundbreaking years of science yet: from imaging the first black hole to Google achieving quantum supremacy to the advancement of personalized genomics into a commercialized, at-home testing kit. If 2019 was any indication of the way science is advancing, it’s likely difficult to predict anything for the upcoming year. 

Nevertheless, here are my top three predictions for science, technology and policy in 2020, with some of these things being researched right here at UNC.

1. Science: CRISPR-based cures. 

We saw it in 2019 (although it may have been unethical), with Dr. He Jiankui, who was criminalized for his experiment involving genetically-edited babies who were now less susceptible to contracting HIV. CRISPR-Cas9 is a gene-editing tool that allows researchers to easily alter DNA sequences and modify gene functions. It is a tool that is currently being used in a variety of disease-based research projects, including cancer, blood disorders, AIDS, blindness, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy. 

These diseases all have some genetic component, which means that there is also a potential way to prevent them through genetic editing. With the advancement of the CRISPR tool, and the use of entire commercial companies being instituted to perfect and utilize the new technology, this year definitely looks bright for genomic research. 

2. Technology: Voice-assisted Artificial Intelligence will move into the spotlight. 

Everyone thought it was coming with the introduction of Siri on our phones — until we realized we might be able to type faster than repeating ourselves until she really figured out what we were asking. Then it was Alexa, and then Google Home and then Microsoft Cortana; the pursuit for a perfect voice-assisted AI has been in the works for over five years now. 

With the advancement of cloud technology and AI, as well as the huge amount of data we have been able to collect to train algorithms for speech recognition accuracy, an impressive voice assistant is likely coming our way in 2020. We’ll see it in use in customer-service applications (that person you’ll talk to when you need to return those pair of jeans that don’t fit?), in cars (finally, being able to skip that song without risking a ticket!) and in-home alarm and control systems (Alexa, turn on the coffee machine). 

It seems like a science-fiction dream to not have to type things anymore, and although a keyboard-less future may not be achieved in 2020, we can expect significant advancement towards that this year.

3. Policy: Legislation on data (biological, political and intellectual) use by privately-owned companies will be introduced by governmental bodies. 

In the words of Clive Humby, “data is the new oil.” Technology companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google have been able to monetize individual’s data to stop revenue leaks, infer customer satisfaction, and improve marketing techniques. These companies have been able to put out targeted advertisements, hide certain posts and content and push favorable products based on the data they’ve managed to collect. 

This procedure has already made strides into the political sector, with political candidates such as Andrew Yang proposing policy to prevent misuse of individual’s data. With the current state of technology and the fact that data is the one resource that we are creating exponentially, I’d say that legislation governing data privacy laws isn’t too far ahead in our future.

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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