The year past was filled with happenings that surprised, delighted, amazed, confounded, frightened — and in its dying moments — enraged us. What will 2013 do? Perhaps a repeat performance, perhaps something unexpected. Whatever it is, we can put our 2013 calendars up with hope and anticipation, says Geeta Padmanabhan.
In pockets across the globe, men and women — in or without lab coats — are engaged in efforts that touch everything, from routines to rarefied fields of specialised medicine and advanced technology. "Exciting" describes the results only mildly. Yeah, 2013 may well turn out to be annus hopefulus.
1. In medicine, masked-and-scrubbed robots might greet you at the operation theatre, but more helpful is the discovery of a molecule WNT16B (Nature Medicine). Researchers at Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre will begin clinical trials of a cancer treatment that looks into proteins causing rampant cell growth. Blocking these, say scientists, will set off events that will kill lymphoma/leukemia cells, but leave normal, healthy ones unaffected. At Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute scientists have successfully reprogrammed ordinary heart cells into “pacemaker” cells, to replace electronic pacemakers. And if surgeons from Chennai-based Frontier Lifeline hospital get permission, heart patients will walk healthy with implants of veins and arteries from pigs and buffaloes. Animal grafts, how does that sound?
2. It's ancient Athens-like renaissance, but with modern tech tools. Firms like Udacity and Coursera are making first-class, low-cost, higher education accessible to all, free. All-star professors like Udacity's Sebastian Thrun (pioneer in artificial intelligence and robotics) directly engage and challenge students through online videos, and the lessons have been translated into 44 languages by students. They are also being tailored to specific industrial needs.
3. A well-connected public transport system is the answer to city chaos, but in its absence, would you settle for a completely automated, computer-driven, driverless car? Pinch yourself, it's not far away — Audi, Toyota and Google are pushing for it. Sebastian Thrun has helped build Google's amazing self-driven car, “powered by a very personal quest to save lives and reduce traffic accidents.” With no drinking, distraction (or road-rage), are these the answer to traffic woes? Check out the dramatic test-drive footage from TED2011.
4 “Smartphone is the digital technology that's going to change the entire ballgame,” says Dr. Mohan Rajan, of Rajan Eyecare. The hand-held is all you'll need to pay bills, check on kids, buy tickets, get supplies, net-work. SaaS (software-as-a-service) and the trend towards BOYD (bring-your-own-device) will give you freedom to choose your mobile software at work. Of course, companies will mine information through your social-networking and mobile ads will multiply.
5. Online retail is catching on, so expect better content, conversations on retail websites. Authors/musicians/entertainers will be their own publicists and approach you directly. Gamification will spread, and businesses will use the instant-feedback-and-awards system of video games to hook you on products and services, through your smartphone/internet. Physical retailers will boost customer experience by including coffee-shops/beauty-parlours in their stores.
6. 3-D will surely fill TV, theatre, mobile-phone and desktop screens — so make “My new TV will have 3-D facility,” your wish. Gamers can expect their favourite computer games to go 3-D. And book-readers, you'll get to view the pictures (Stephen Colbert's new book) with 3-D glasses, total fun! Life in a new dimension!
7. Digital tools are already part of painting and drawing, but with 3-D printing, can even the artist be sure of the final product? Our walls may soon boast pictures untouched by brushes, making a significant statement of the times we live in. As for appreciation, artist Ilango recommends regular write-ups/programmes on art in the media in simple words. Talk of traditional Indian art, paintings, sculpture, “also deal with contemporary expressions of art on Indian-based concepts, in a way that reaches all readers/viewers. Knowledge of art... can create some ripples in the society.”
8. As cities are proving, digitising government work will ensure transparency and accountability. City projects, put together through cloud-computing, open-source information and crowd-sourced funds will invite active citizen participation and shared responsibility in maintenance.
9. Our “march towards total connectivity” will continue with new devices/apps, but will they help us connect with ourselves, give biofeedback? Maybe. While wearable devices check your bio-rhythms, GPS for the Soul app measures heart-rate and its variability to indicate stress levels. The app then connects you to a personalised guide that offers music, poetry, breathing exercises and pictures of loved ones to help you de-stress. It also helps access guides of stress-reduction experts, other users or friends. Technology, which can contribute to stress, will give us tools to manage it as well.