TOP Breakthrough Technologies 2018

Dueling neural networks. Artificial embryos. Welcome to annual list of the technology advances we think will shape the way we live now and for years to come.

What we’re really looking for is a technology, or perhaps even a collection of technologies, that will have a profound effect on our lives.

For this year, a new technique in artificial intelligence called GANs is giving machines imagination; artificial embryos show how life can be created and are opening a window into the early moments of a human life; and the Texas’s petrochemical industry is attempting to create completely clean power from natural gas—probably a major energy source for the foreseeable future.

3-D Metal Printing

While 3-D printing has been around for decades, it has remained largely in the domain of hobbyists and designers producing one-off prototypes.

Now, however, it’s becoming cheap and easy enough to be a potentially practical. If widely adopted, it could change the way we mass-produce many products. Manufacturers could simply print an object, such as a replacement part for an aging car, whenever someone needs it.

Artificial Embryos

In a breakthrough that redefines how life can be created, embryologists working at the University of Cambridge in the UK have grown realistic-looking mouse embryos using only stem cells. No egg. No sperm. Just cells plucked from another embryo.

Embryologists hint that soon we could have mammals born without an egg at all.

Babel-Fish Earbuds

In the cult sci-fi classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you slide a yellow Babel fish into your ear to get translations in an instant. In the real world, Google has come up with an interim solution: earbuds Pixel Buds. These work with its Pixel smartphones and Google Translate app to produce practically real-time translation.

One person wears the earbuds, while the other holds a phone. The earbud wearer speaks in his or her language—English is the default—and the app translates the talking and plays it aloud on the phone. Response is translated and played through the earbuds.