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5 Tech Breakthroughs in 2016 that Prove 2017 Might Be Surprisingly Bright

5 Tech Breakthroughs in 2016 that Prove 2017 Might Be Surprisingly Bright

It seems reasonable to say that the world’s zeitgeist significantly shifted in 2016. (“Unexpected” will probably be written down in the history books/VR archives quite a few times for this year’s chapter.) But while it’s hard to say whether that shift will lead to calmer seas or that tidal wave from the end of Deep Impact, there are some extremely impressive and — gasp! — hopeful signs from the tech space this year signaling that the near future may be surprisingly bright.

So, in the spirit of what Bill Gates would call “inventing our way out” of a whole mess of problems, here are five of the biggest tech breakthroughs from 2016 that may make 2017 a seminal year for how humankind interacts with, and benefits from, technology.

1. AlphaGo Beats World Champion Lee Sedol in $1 Million Go Match

At first glance, DeepMind’s A.I. system, AlphaGo, beating Lee Sedol in a $1 million Go match may seem like an equivalent achievement of say, DeepBlue beating Kasparov in chess in the 90s, or Watson taking home the Jeopardy! title in 2011. But there are three big reasons AlphaGo’s win is significantly different: DeepMind’s AlphaGo learned how to play Go and mastered it, Google owns DeepMind, and this year, Google launched an A.I. program dubbed “Google Assistant,” which is likely to become ubiquitous.

In the near future, it seems that the depth of DeepMind’s A.I. and the breadth of Google’s domination as a search platform are going to dovetail, and soon millions and millions of people will have access to an A.I. assistant that’s going to learn how to interact with humans. Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, said at this year’s Pixel keynote that Google’s goal is “to build a personal Google for each and every user.” And while something like Siri may not be all that world changing, a “personal Google” means we could be in for a genuine J.A.R.V.I.S.-like assistant in 2017.

2. SpaceX Lands a Reusable Rocket on a Drone Ship

One of the biggest highlights in the tech world this year was SpaceX’s landing of their reusable orbital class rocket, the Falcon 9, on a drone ship out in the middle of the sea. And if that sounds like it was amazing to watch, that’s because it absolutely was.

Heading into 2017, we can plan on a lot more moments like that one, but more frequent, and much bigger. This is because SpaceX will be, for the first time, attempting to launch and re-land its Falcon Heavy rocket. While a single rocket stage landed on the drone ship earlier this year with the Falcon 9, the Falcon Heavy will attempt to land three rocket stages after returning from Low Earth Orbit.

3. Magic Leap Demos “Mixed Reality”

In terms of potential near-term disruptions in the social and gaming spaces, 2017 is going to be all about the continued rollout of VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and Playstation VR, right? Maybe… but maybe not! Augmented Reality (AR) is just around the corner, and this year’s Magic Leap demo of its “Mixed Reality” demonstrates why this tech may soon change the way we interact with computers in a fundamental way.

The Magic Leap demo highlights the potential of near-term AR because the “Mixed Reality” it offers aims to give users “a neurologically true perception” of the world with its graphics. The graphical objects generated with Magic Leap will aim to be indistinguishable from real objects unless you touch them. Magic Leap’s CEO, Rony Abovitz, told TechCrunch that Magic Leap, which he referred to as a “baby Apple,” already has a billion dollars in funding and, in terms of production, is in “go mode” rather than research mode; 2017 could be consumers’ first time to test out a new type of reality.

4. Unveiling of the Tesla Model 3

If we’re going to combat global warming and switch over to a renewable source of energy, why not look good while doing it, right? That’s the Model 3 in a nut shell, but there are so many other reasons to get excited for Tesla’s first mass market vehicle.

The Model 3, set to roll out at the end of 2017, was unveiled this year, and is likely going to stand as a turning point in the adaptation rate of electric vehicles. The Model 3 has a relatively reasonable price tag of $35,000, and once Tesla has demonstrated that this is the kind of car the public wants (Tesla’s already received at least 400,000 pre-orders), other car manufactures will have to follow suit.

5. Solar Impulse Flight Around the World

While the idea of a plane totally charged by its own solar panels probably won’t catch on as a mainstream form of aviation, Solar Impulse’s successful flight around the world was a halo moment for solar power, and the movement toward renewable energy in general.

Note: most awkward high-five in human history at the end of this video.

It’s undeniable that climate change is one of the central risks facing humanity, and the Solar Impulse flight, while not directly a game changer for renewables, does signal a shift in the attitude toward them. In 2017 we’ll likely see SolarCity (now owned by Tesla) begin to roll out their solar roofs, and Google says that by 2017 it will run entirely on renewable energy. Bill Gates (and a bunch of other super rich people) has also launched a $1 billion entity, the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which will be investing in a future of “emission-free innovation.” All of this means that 2017 will likely see a big surge in renewable energy innovation, and hopefully a (literally) brighter future.

What do you think about these five technological breakthroughs? Were there other big moments from 2016 that you think will bring about big changes in 2017? Let us know in the comments below!

Images: SpaceX 

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