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.