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Musings on Machine Learning…

2020’s Best New Technologies

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Introduction

2020 has been a terrible year for nearly everyone due to COVID-19. People have been locked down, getting sick and losing their jobs and businesses. However, if you strip away all the COVID bad news, I think it has been quite a good year in the technology industry. Tech has the advantage that most people can work from home and in isolation. The tech industry was already set up for a mobile workforce and was able to keep its R&D going through the pandemic. Similarly as people have been locked down, they have been buying tech products like mad, including new laptops, phones, gaming equipment and all sorts of high-tech gadgets.

In this article I’m going to quickly look at a number of notable technological achievements from the last year. Many of these were years in the making, but we saw the first real results this past year.

mRNA Vaccines

Traditional vaccines inject you with weakened or inactivated germs to stimulate an immune response that will ready your body to instantly attract the real viruses or bacteria if they appear, preventing you developing the full disease. Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines train your body to produce parts of the germ and then that triggers the same sort of immune response.

Your body produces proteins from our DNA, by using a segment of DNA to produce a matching piece of mRNA, then your cells have mechanisms (ribosomes) to use this mRNA to produce proteins. This vaccine technique has been many years in the development and builds on years of genetic engineering research. We were able to quickly sequence the COVID-19 DNA, find the part that produces the distinctive spiky part on the surface of COVID-19 and then create an industrial scale process to manufacture a matching mRNA sequence for the spiky bit.

The ability to produce a vaccine within a year of a new virus appearing is a huge technological breakthrough.

A Shakeup in the CPU Market

Every year we have new CPUs being released that are faster and more powerful than last  year’s. What is notable this year is that Intel is stuck as they are having trouble moving to their new technology generation and the delays have allowed others to move ahead. AMD released a series of new CPUs that are faster and more powerful than Intel CPUs, notably the AMD 5900X. Now all of a sudden AMD is leading and commanding higher prices for their CPUs while Intel is having to offer steep discounts to keep sales going.

Meanwhile, the fierce competition in the cell phone market has spawned incredibly powerful ARM based CPUs. This year we saw these cross over to traditional laptops with Apple releasing their M1 chip powering a number of new Macintosh computers. These are notable for being as fast as all but the most expensive Intel or AMD CPUs, but using one tenth the power. Could this be the start of the end for the Intel instruction set? Even AMD is considering producing an ARM based CPU to compete.

A New Generation of Graphics Cards

Every year we see faster and more powerful graphics cards. As a result video games are becoming even more realistic with higher levels of detail. This year we saw major leaps ahead as both nVidia and AMD released the first cards in their next generation architectures. The nVidia Ampere architecture as contained in their RTX 30x graphics cards are amazing in the amount of processing power they contain. Not to be left behind, AMD released their RDNA 2 architecture and released their Radeon RX 68x graphics cards. All these cards are in extremely high demand and sold out instantly on release.

These days, GPUs are used for more than games and graphics. They are also ideal for AI processing and often the more powerful the graphics card, the more powerful the machine learning applications a computer can run. The nVidia cards are especially good at running these machine learning algorithms along with other highly parallel numerical computations.

Great New Games

With people staying home, there have been a great number of new games released. The most notable for me is the new Microsoft Flight Simulator where you can fly anywhere in the world, land and take off at any airport as well as having realistic simulations of weather, flight and controls. For pure fun, I enjoy Doom Eternal which takes Doom’s goryness to the next level.

There are now several services vying to be the Netflix of gaming, such as XBox Game Pass and these are a great way to play lots of games. Especially since games are often 100gig big these days and quickly fill up your SSD. As new versions of games are released, often the publisher first makes the older version available for free as a promotion, it was fun to play Borderlands 2 and GTA V for free for instance. CyberPunk 2077 is the current talk of the town, but I haven’t tried it yet.

Chain sawing demons in half is even more graphic.

The Privatization of Space

2020 marks the first year that a private enterprise based rocket took crew up to the ISS. Elon Musk’s SpaceX had a good 2020, in spite of their recent catastrophic landing. The US can now visit the ISS without relying on the Russian space agency. Several other billionaires aren’t far behind and we could soon see lots of private companies sending people up into space. I think we are a long way away from returning to the moon and Musk’s talk of visiting Mars soon is a good motivational stretch goal for his employees, but not happening soon.

Still I see the first private company to send people to the ISS as a major accomplishment and expect to see quite a few people up in orbit shortly.

Summary

This article is just a small selection of all the technological accomplishments of 2020. I feel it has been a good year for tech, even though it has really sucked for so many others. A lot of these technologies are foundational and we’ll see the real benefits of the coming years. Looking forward to an even better 2021.

Written by smist08

December 11, 2020 at 10:57 am

One Response

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  1. […] week, we discussed some of the remarkable technologies from 2020. This time, we are going to look at some of the […]


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