Last December Nature published an editorial that both looked back and also looked forward. Titled “The scientific events that shaped the decade“, it describes what the last 10 years brought and then flips that coin over to look forward to the next 10.
Yes, there is a climate punch coming. This is a multidisciplinary scientific journal that has been publishing since 1869. It is one of the world’s top academic journals and much of the very best peer-reviewed research has been published within it, hence the editors will be aware of trends.
Their Key Point: The 2010s have seen breakthroughs in frontiers from gene editing to gravitational waves. The coming one must focus on climate change.
These are the five big-ticket items they highlight …
AI and Machine Learning
… In the 2010s, artificial intelligence (AI) finally began to reveal its remarkable power and disruptive potential. Driven mainly by the advent of deep learning — the use of neural networks to spot patterns in complex data…
… Another frontier that researchers have continued to push forward in the past decade is the reprogramming of mature human cells to a stem-cell state. The ability to induce pluripotency — the capacity to transform into multiple tissue types — makes it feasible to grow new cells of almost any variety from adult cells….
… In 2008, researchers at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, switched on the Large Hadron Collider, one of the world’s most expensive scientific collaborations. In 2012, they confirmed8,9that they had found the Higgs boson, as predicted by particle physics’ standard model….
… Four years later, in 2016, the announcement that researchers had detected gravitational waves10 represented the success of a technique that many originally deemed too difficult….
… Similarly, as the decade began, quantum computing looked like a good idea on paper but a distant prospect in practical terms. Not so today: … IBM made its five-quantum-bit computer available on the cloud in 2016; the decade ends with machines from IBM, Google and others boasting quantum-bit arrays an order of magnitude larger….
This next bit should not be a surprise. They are of course the journal that has published much of the evidence. It is also the reason I’m throwing a spotlight upon this editorial …
The coming climate crunch
Environmental crises have become depressingly familiar in the past decade, and the alarming rate of global warming lies behind many of them. The latter half of the decade — 2015 to 2019 — was the warmest five years on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The pace of warming means that the window for avoiding temperature rises of 1.5 or 2 °C above pre-industrial levels is now frighteningly small. The 2020s will be make-or-break. If carbon emissions are not drastically reduced by 2030, we will be entering uncharted territory, including the possibility — albeit subject to much debate — of passing irreversible tipping points12, such as the widespread loss of Antarctic ice.
The 2010s were both remarkable but also troubling. With new knowledge, and a renewed dedication to social and environmental responsibility, the 2020s must be transformational.
It might indeed be two months since publication of that editorial. It is however still well worth a read.
With focus on the rise of AI, they also have this clip from last Jan ..
OK, one last quip. AI can now collect $200 because it has … Passed Go.
- Nature Editorial (Dec 2019) – The scientific events that shaped the decade