December’s biggest tech stories

I’ve been writing a lot of one-topic essays over the last few weeks. So today I’m doing something a bit different.

Today I’m bringing you a roundup of the biggest tech stories from the past couple of weeks.

Starting with…

A ten-minute test has been developed to detect cancer anywhere in the body

From The Guardian:

Scientists have developed a universal cancer test that can detect traces of the disease in a patient’s bloodstream.

The cheap and simple test uses a colour-changing fluid to reveal the presence of malignant cells anywhere in the body and provides results in less than 10 minutes.

While the test is still in development, it draws on a radical new approach to cancer detection that could make routine screening for the disease a simple procedure for doctors.

“A major advantage of this technique is that it is very cheap and extremely simple to do, so it could be adopted in the clinic quite easily,” said Laura Carrascosa, a researcher at the University of Queensland.

The test has a sensitivity of about 90%, meaning it would detect about 90 in 100 cases of cancer. It would serve as an initial check for cancer, with doctors following up positive results with more focused investigations.

So, how does it work?

It’s actually very simple. Or at least the way they describe it is.

The team of scientists worked out that cancerous DNA and normal DNA react very differently to metals. Then they developed a test that would take advantage of these differences.

The suspect DNA is added to water containing tiny gold nanoparticles. Though made of gold, the particles turn the water pink. If DNA from cancer cells is then added, it sticks to the nanoparticles in such a way that the water retains its original colour. But if DNA from healthy cells is added, the DNA binds to the particles differently, and turns the water blue. “The test is sensitive enough to detect very low levels of cancer DNA in the sample,” Carrascosa said.

5G is launching in the UK next year

From The Verge:

The United Kingdom’s biggest cell carrier, EE, announced plans today to launch proper 5G mobile service throughout parts of the region, with a 16-city rollout planned for 2019. The first phase of the rollout will begin with capital cities across the UK, including Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and London. Two other England cities, Birmingham and Manchester, are also included in phase one, which is scheduled for sometime next year.

EE is focusing its efforts on high-volume centers in those first six cities, including Hyde Park in London, the Manchester and Belfast airports, Edinburgh’s Waverley train station, the Welsh Assembly, and Birmingham’s Bullring shopping center. EE joins other European carriers, like Vodafone and Three UK, with plans to make 2019 the big launch year for mobile 5G.

After the initial rollout, EE is planning to bring 5G to 10 additional cities in the UK. Those include Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry, and Bristol.

This is all well and good, but without 5G-capable phones, it’s not really going to amount to much.

So I guess it’s good news that 5G phones will also be launching next year.

From The Register:

The next top-end addition to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor family, which powers millions upon millions of Android smartphones, will be the 855.

And as you’d expect, this 64-bit Arm-compatible system-on-chip is heavy on the 5G and AI hype. It is due to arrive in phones in the first half of 2019. Your 5G network may arrive some time later.

We’re told the chipset will feature multi-gigabit 5G connectivity, hardware acceleration for trained neural networks in apps, and suitable graphics oomph for running virtual reality software.

The arrival of 5G is a massive development for most tech industries – even if they don’t yet realise it.

It will be substantially faster than your home broadband, and likely substantially cheaper. We will see people finally do away with home phone lines and home broadband.

In fact, 5G is so fast that it is predicted to replace a large number of Wi-Fi networks, too.

And it is essential to the driverless car revolution. Without 5G, driverless cars can’t really talk to each other fast enough to smooth out traffic, decrease journey times and increase safety.

If you want to know more about how 5G will affect our lives, you can read my article about it – “Cancel your broadband subscription” – here.

VW says it won’t be making any more combustion-powered cars

From Bloomberg:

Volkswagen AG expects the era of the combustion car to fade away after it rolls out its next-generation gasoline and diesel cars beginning in 2026.

Traditional automakers are under increasing pressure from regulators to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions to combat climate change, prompting Volkswagen to pursue a radical shift to electric vehicles.

“Our colleagues are working on the last platform for vehicles that aren’t CO2 neutral,” Michael Jost, strategy chief for Volkswagen’s namesake brand, said Tuesday at an industry conference near the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany. “We’re gradually fading out combustion engines to the absolute minimum.”

The world’s largest automaker has started to introduce its first wave of electric cars, including next year’s Porsche Taycan. The rollout across its stable of 12 automotive brands is forecast to comprise about 15 million vehicles, as the company earmarks $50 billion over the next five years to spend on its transformation to self-driving, electric cars.

Baby born via transplanted uterus

From STAT:

For the first time, a woman has given birth after receiving a uterus transplant from a deceased donor, researchers reported Tuesday. Until now, only uterus transplants from living donors have led to successful births.

The whole field of uterus transplantation is in its early days. But researchers said that if transplant teams can reliably use uteruses from deceased donors, it could expand the availability of organs and reduce living donors’ risks during surgery to remove the uterus.

Experts hope uterus transplants will one day be more widely available for women without uteruses or with damaged organs — or potentially even transgender women — seeking to become pregnant. In Sweden in 2014, doctors for the first time helped a woman with a transplanted uterus give birth; since then, there have been about a dozen such babies born around the world.

There was a film in the 90s called Junior, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger – why do all my anecdotes relate to Arnie films? – where Arnie got pregnant.

Here is a plot synopsis:

A research scientist becomes the world’s first pregnant man in order to test a drug he and a colleague have designed for expectant women. To carry out the trial, he has an embryo implant, believing that he will only carry the baby for three months – hardly expecting to face the prospect of giving birth.

It’s amazing to think that an idea so outlandish in the 90s that they made a comedy film about it could soon become a reality. It is pretty remarkable how far medicine has come in the last few years.

EY develops zero-knowledge proofs for Ethereum

If you’ve been following my writing on the latest data breaches from Marriott, Quora and others, you’ll know that one of the best solutions comes from zero-knowledge proofs.

If not, take a look at my article from last week – “This week’s biggest news story is not being reported” – which explains it all.

Well, it seems some major players are finally starting to cotton on to just how important blockchain and zero-knowledge proofs could be.

From Coindesk:

“Big Four” accounting firm EY has announced a tool that it says will bring private transactions to ethereum – that’s the public blockchain, not a permissioned, enterprise version of the network.

The firm announced in a press release Tuesday that its EY Ops Chain Public Edition prototype (“with patents pending”) is the “world’s first” implementation of zero-knowledge proof (ZKP) technology for ethereum.

ZKPs are a cryptographic method that allows two parties to prove that a secret is true without revealing the actual secret. In the case of cryptocurrencies and blockchains, this is most often data about transactions.

EY’s privacy prototype is aimed to allow companies to create and sell product and service tokens on the public ethereum blockchain while keeping access to their transaction records private. The firm said that the prototype supports payment tokens that are “similar” to ethereum’s ERC-20 and ERC-721 token standards.

“Private blockchains give enterprises transaction privacy, but at the expense of reduced security and resiliency.” said Paul Brody, EY’s global innovation leader for blockchain, adding:

“With zero-knowledge proofs, organizations can transact on the same network as their competition in complete privacy and without giving up the security of the public Ethereum blockchain.”

It’s also good that companies that originally wanted to go down the “private blockchain” route are realising the massive benefits of using the main public chain.

As I, and many others, have said before, a private blockchain is nothing more than an inefficient database.

The key benefits come from decentralisation. And for that, it needs to be on the public chain.

That’s all for today.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Genetics and Biotechnology

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