2018 is likely to be the year when, in a number of fields, science fiction becomes science fact. This year, breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, genetics, space travel, and medicine have already given tantalizing hints that we’re about to enter a new era of discovery and innovation.
Plans for the first colonies on Mars and the Moon will gain momentum next year, with Nasa, the European Space Agency, Mars One and Elon Musk’s SpaceX all vying to be first to establish bases.
“2030 is the date set for a manned mission to the Moon by Japan”
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will attempt to put a “smart” lander on the Moon in preparation for a manned mission in 2030. A Jaxa probe launched in 2014 will land on asteroid “1999 JU3” in July, where it will take samples for analysis on Earth.
Nasa’s own asteroid-sample return mission, OSIRIS-REx, also arrives at the near-Earth asteroid Bennu in August and will return a sample for study in late 2023. Both projects are likely to be crucial in proving if life on Earth was seeded by asteroids.
In May, Nasa is planning to launch its InSight probe, which will study the deep interior of Mars, to help understand the planet’s origin and evolution. The US space agency is also sending up a satellite to look for exoplanets that could contain life.
Closer to home, Britain’s groundbreaking 100,000 Genomes Project will be completed next year, ushering in a new era of personalized medicine in which cancerous tumors and rare diseases can be sequenced so that specialists can prescribe the most effective drugs.
And it will not just be scientists making breakthroughs. Google’s artificial intelligence programme AlphaGo Zero is already turning its attention to solving complex medical problems such as protein folding.
Misfolded proteins are responsible for devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, so it is possible the cures for these illnesses could soon be made by computers rather than humans. Likewise, Microsoft has promised it will crack the code of cancer by hacking the human body, and the first papers from the software giant’s research lab in Cambridge are expected next year.
Trials of genetic engineering in humans are also due to report back shortly, which could herald a new era of medicine in which, instead of taking drugs to cure disease, faulty DNA is rewritten to eradicate the problem. In China, Prof Sergio Canavero has promised that the first human head transplant for medical reasons will
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