Home Tech 20 Things That Made the World a Better Place in 2023

20 Things That Made the World a Better Place in 2023

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It’s been difficult lately to think about anything other than the wars and humanitarian crises raging around the world. Climate change has left its mark on what was almost certainly the hottest year in human history: there were unprecedented heat waves, more intense forest fires, torrential rainand floods such as those in Libya which caused devastation after two dams burst.

But this has not stopped scientists, innovators and decision makers from working – successfully – on solutions to our biggest societal challenges. Here’s a collection of uplifting news from 2023.

A powerful laser caused lightning strikes to stray from their path

In the blink of an eye, millions of volts can damage buildings, cause fires and harm people unless the lightning can be redirected. An experiment with a laser beam suggests that this is possible. The scientists behind it must now demonstrate that their multimillion-dollar laser would actually work better at critical locations such as airports and rocket launch pads than commonly used, cheap lightning rods. Read more at Science.

Asteroid rocks and dust were brought to Earth

The first US mission to collect a sample from an asteroid, OSIRIS-REx, successfully returned a capsule containing grains and dust from the asteroid Bennu. Early analyzes at NASA’s laboratory suggest the sample is rich in carbon- and water-bearing minerals, the building blocks of life on Earth. Read more at WIRED.

Scientists have grown mouse embryos in space for the first time

What would make humans a true spacefaring species? If we could reproduce and grow outside the Earth’s atmosphere. That may be possible, an experiment with mice suggests. Scientists have managed to grow mouse embryos aboard the International Space Station and return them safely to Earth. Their initial growth seemed unaffected by the low gravity and high radiation. Read more at New scientist.

A rare egg-laying mammal was rediscovered after decades

A species with the spines of a hedgehog, the snout of an anteater and the legs of a mole seems hard to miss. But the long-beaked echidna Zaglossus attenboroughi– named after British naturalist David Attenborough – had remained hidden until it was captured on camera for the first time since it was scientifically recorded in 1961. This egg-laying mammal is known to live only in the Cyclops Mountains in the Indonesian province of Papua. Read more at Mongabay.

Countries signed a historic treaty to protect the high seas

After nearly two decades of negotiations, members of the United Nations agreed to protect marine life in international waters – the two-thirds of the world’s oceans that lie beyond national borders. This legal framework allows, for example, the establishment of extensive marine protected areas (MPAs). It also states that ‘genetic resources’, such as materials from animals and plants discovered for use in pharmaceuticals or foods, should benefit society as a whole. Read more at The guard.

California National Park is bouncing back after a wildfire

Two years after California’s largest wildfire destroyed nearly 70 percent of Lassen Volcanic National Park, the ecosystem remains viable. Shrubs and grasses grow in burned areas, while fungi and insects break down dead tree trunks, leading to slow recovery. Read more at The guard.

Brazil’s Supreme Court rules on the rights of indigenous peoples in a landmark case

A powerful agricultural industry lobby tried to place time limits on indigenous people’s right to land. They would have to prove they lived in the country in 1988, when Brazil’s current constitution was ratified. But many indigenous peoples were driven from their ancestral lands during the country’s military dictatorship, which lasted from the 1960s to the 1980s. Brazil’s Supreme Court has overturned the proposed deadline for land claims. Read more at AP News.

There could be a large hydrogen reserve deep underground in France

Hydrogen could power factories, trucks, ships and planes in the future, but its production requires a lot of energy and is expensive. But the gas also occurs naturally deep in the Earth’s crust, and researchers in France accidentally stumbled upon a potentially large deposit. Next year they plan to start drilling to collect gas samples at depths of up to 3 km. Read more on the Conversation.

The world may have passed a tipping point for solar energy

A new study suggests that solar energy is on track to become the world’s leading source of energy by 2050 – even without more ambitious climate policies. Renewable energy sources are already cheaper than fossil fuels. But in the case of solar energy, obstacles such as grid integration and financing in developing countries still need to be overcome if it is to continue to grow as it has in recent years. Read more on the Conversation.

A new type of geothermal power plant makes the internet a bit greener

A pilot plant is now helping to power Google’s data centers in Nevada by harnessing the heat of the earth deep below. Engineers drilled two boreholes at a depth of 2,000 meters and then connected them using fracking, a technique traditionally used in the oil and gas industry. Water sent through one borehole moves through the fractionated rocks below and returns heated to the surface through the other borehole. Read more at WIRED.

The world’s first container ship powered by methanol completed its maiden voyage

Laura Maersk, the world’s first methanol-powered ship, arrived in England in September – a milestone for the shipping industry, which is responsible for around 3 percent of global emissions and is struggling to decarbonise. Methanol can be made from food waste in landfills. Read more on the BBC.

A cheap and effective vaccine against malaria was approved

There is now a second malaria shot that can be produced even faster than the first and can be rolled out to more children. It got the thumbs up from the World Health Organization in October, two years after the first. Malaria is the leading cause of death among children in sub-Saharan Africa. Read more at Stat news.

The largest study among migraine patients promises new treatment options

In the largest genetic study of migraine to date, researchers have identified more than three times as many genetic risk factors as previously known. This will help to better understand the biological basis of migraines and their subtypes and could accelerate the search for new treatments. Read more at Science daily.

Scientists have made a breakthrough in the treatment of cervical cancer

In a British study of 500 women, half received existing, inexpensive medications before standard radiotherapy. The results showed that the combined therapy reduced women’s risk of death or relapse by 35 percent. According to the researchers, this is the biggest improvement in the treatment of this disease in more than twenty years. Read more in the Independent.

Gene therapy showed early promise for children

Scientists in China reported that some children born deaf were able to hear after a trial of gene therapy. Meanwhile, experiments are underway in the US and France aimed at children with a rare form of genetic deafness. Read more at WIRED.

An implant restored the walking ability of a Parkinson’s patient

A man with advanced Parkinson’s disease can walk several kilometers again thanks to a special implant. The implant, placed in the lumbar region of the spinal cord, sends electrical signals to his leg muscles. The scientists behind the innovation plan to conduct further trials with other patients in the coming year. Read more at SWI swissinfo.ch.

DeepMind’s new AI can predict whether a genetic mutation is likely to cause disease

Researchers at DeepMind, Google’s AI company, have trained an AI model to detect DNA mutations, which could speed up the diagnosis of rare diseases. Just like language models such as ChatGPT, this model knows the sequences of amino acids in proteins and can detect deviations. Read more at WIRED.

AI-powered forecasts helped Chileans evacuate after floods

A Google forecasting tool can predict floods in South America and other regions using a bit of river water flow data, with impressive accuracy. Last August, many people in Chile were able to evacuate safely and with their belongings thanks to a warning issued two days before the flood. Read more at Fast company.

The battle of Hollywood actors and writers against AI is over for now

Generative AI has reached Hollywood, and after months of strikes, both writers and actors unions have managed to negotiate guardrails over how the technology can be used in film and TV projects. For example, AI cannot be used to write or rewrite scripts, and studios cannot use scripts to train AI models without the writers’ permission. Read more at WIRED.

Lego blocks teach children Braille

Thanks to the iconic studs on the Lego blocks, they can be stacked on top of each other. And now you can learn a new language while you’re at it. The company has started selling bricks with a customized number of studs that teach the Braille alphabet. The corresponding letter or number represented by the studs of a brick is printed on each brick so children can learn the code. Read more at TechCrunch.

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