The project to build what’s billed as the world’s fastest artificial intelligence supercomputer just wrapped in May. And it’s already acing one of its first assignments: The super-speedy Perlmutter is helping create a 3D map of the visible universe—all 11 billion light-years of it—by processing data from the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, a kind of cosmic camera that can capture as many as 5,000 galaxies in a single exposure. The US$146 million project was a joint endeavor between the U.S. National Energy Research Scientific Computer Center, Nvidia and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
12th Most Influential Project of 2021
The latest innovation out of Alphabet Inc.’s moonshot factory X aims to transform how the world produces food: promising higher yields with less harm to the environment. Mineral, a project that was completed in 2020, brings together plant breeders and growers across Argentina, Canada, the United States and South Africa to test new models for sustainable farming using AI and machine learning. At Mineral’s core is an electric-powered rover that collects granular data about soil health and crop development. Software will then help food producers address issues with individual crops instead of entire fields, reducing costs and curbing the use of harmful fertilizers and insecticides.
17th Most Influential Project of 2021
Considering Clubhouse now boasts millions of users and a market value of US$4 billion, it’s hard to believe the social media app was—by design—hard to join. After the voice-based platform debuted in March 2020, its buzz skyrocketed in part because of customer craving for real conversation during pandemic lockdowns, along with a push to bring in Black creators and celebrities. As with many social media innovations, the app has inspired audio-focused clones, like Twitter’s Spaces and Spotify’s Greenroom, Reddit Talk and Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms, and sparked potential copycat moves by LinkedIn and Slack.
21st Most Influential Project of 2021
Governments and scientists have been dreaming of it for decades: a large-scale quantum internet that would open the aperture on a range of applications, like unhackable communications, cloud computing with complete privacy and warp-speed computations. In April, a team at Dutch research center QuTech—a collaboration between Delft University of Technology and TNO—made a significant leap: Using a complex system of mirrors and laser light to create a rudimentary quantum network by connecting three independent nodes across 10 to 20 meters (32 to 66 feet). The team now is working on a project to make a link between greater distances: connecting Delft and The Hague, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) apart. Researchers are also working on adding more quantum bits to their network and eventually making it more accessible.
36th Most Influential Project of 2021
How to verify a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status is a hot-button question for communities trying to open back up—safely. Creating so-called vaccine passports raises complex issues of privacy, compliance and validation. To investigate the possible unintended consequences and risks of offering such a service, the U.K.’s Arts and Humanities Research Council launched the Immunity Passport Service Design or IMMUNE project. The £170,000 initiative is slated to run through the end of the year, with the team using focus groups, design workshops and an online survey to determine how AI technologies might be used to create immunity passports that support public health without infringing on civil liberties.
Steel production is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and stands as one of the most critical—and challenging—industries to decarbonize. Undaunted, Swedish steel manufacturer SSAB teamed up with iron ore producer LKAB and Vattenfall power utility to create a new kind of steel plant—one that would deliver fossil-free steel. Located in Luleå, Sweden, the Hybrit facility uses hydrogen and renewable energy (instead of coal) to remove oxygen from iron ore. The result? Green steel, which is already pulling in customers. The pilot plant came online in 2020 and delivered its first commercial steel to car manufacturing giant Volvo in August 2021.
Physicists at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei joined Google in achieving “quantum supremacy.” The team says its quantum computer named Jiuzhang completed a calculation in a mere three minutes, a feat that would have taken the world’s fastest supercomputer 600 million years. Employing quantum technology to harness qubits’ computational power, the team sent photons, or particles of light, through a series of mirrors and optical circuits to demonstrate how photonic technology could be used to make quantum computing both feasible and practical.
The first update to Microsoft’s flagship operating system in nearly six years faces down an uncomfortable but undeniable truth: The PC is no longer dominant in an increasingly mobile world. Windows 11 allows users to run apps from Microsoft, as well as those designed for Google’s Android software, like social media app TikTok and Uber’s ride-hailing app. The apps are available through Windows’ new app store, a collaboration with Amazon.
A fully 3D-printed house, the Tecla prototype fuses cutting-edge tech with raw earth materials. Designed by Mario Cucinella Architects, the home near Bologna, Italy comprises two interconnected domes made entirely of clay from a nearby riverbed. The domes were built simultaneously on site by two massive collaborative 3D printers made by Italian machining manufacturer WASP. The project marked the first time that two printing arms were synchronized on a site, accomplished through software the company devoted years of R&D to creating. Such prototypes can be completed in 200 hours, or about eight days, using minimal energy and producing no waste.
Rembrandt’s The Night Watch is viewed as an artistic masterpiece, and has a prominent place of honor at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. But it’s incomplete. In 1715, the work was trimmed to fit in the town hall—with a full 2 feet (61 centimeters) lopped off one side. Now, for the first time in more than 300 years, it can be seen as it’s believed the painter intended. Using high-res scans, the museum’s lead scientist trained a computer to learn the artist’s unique style using convolutional neural networks, a class of AI algorithms designed to help computers make sense of images. Then, with the help of another painter’s 17th century copy of the original, the tech could recreate the missing pieces. They were printed on canvas, varnished to match and hung alongside the original in June.