By this date, the countries of Iceland, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and Serbia have all joined the ranks of the EU member nations.** This follows several years of negotiations in order to bring these countries in line with the rest of the Union, in terms of economics and law.*
The process a country must undergo in order to join the European Union may take several years, often involving a long series of debates over the economic and political costs versus benefits. In order to become a recommended candidate, a country must be located in Europe and must be a stable, humane and democratic nation. According to the Copenhagen Criteria, a candidate must have a democratic government with respect for human rights and minorities, a functioning and secure market economy, as well as the ability to take on the obligations of membership concerning political, monetary and economic union.
Iceland was among the first to enter the Union. Prior to the 2008 economic crisis, public support for joining was low, with many viewing it as unnecessary. At the time, Iceland was only a member of the European Economic Area. Following the global economic downturn of 2008, the Icelandic economy crashed, with three of the country's largest banks failing and unemployment rates and debt levels spiking.* Because of its well-established democracy and market economy, Iceland was made a priority in regards to the next EU expansion.* Although some issues persisted – such as whale hunting, fishing and agriculture* – it was eventually welcomed into the EU.
Around the same time, Macedonia succeeded in joining too. This came only after tensions with its neighbour Greece were finally resolved. Greece had blocked Macedonia's accession for some time, over an issue concerning the country's title.* The country had also been criticised for its treatment of the Albanian minority, something it was required to immediately reform. As with most new members, negotiations over economic issues were also required upon Macedonia's adoption of the euro.
Croatia was another early addition to the Union, entering in mid-2013.* It became the second ex-Yugoslav country to join after Slovenia. Croatia was also made a priority, with heavy support coming from its neighbour Hungary. Before its accession, Croatia was required to settle its ongoing border dispute with Slovenia, which had for ten months blocked the country's EU negotiation. There were also several issues regarding cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia over prosecuting crimes against humanity. Crackdowns on government corruption had to be carried out too. Regarding the global financial crisis, Croatia had fared relatively well, though large portions of its economy were still under direct control of the government, something which had to change in order to meet the EU's stringent requirements. By 2017, it is also dealing with a high level of international debt, showing that Croatia was just slower to be affected by the crisis. Complex negotiations were required once the euro was introduced as the country's currency.
In a similar situation was Bosnia and Herzegovina, also located in the Balkan Peninsula. The country joined in 2015,* shortly after joining NATO.* One of its largest concerns was the ongoing ethnic quarrels that were remnants of the Bosnian War. In fact, the EU had maintained a peacekeeping force in the country for over a decade. For some time, the nation had also received stabilising loans from the EU. Corruption and organised crime were major problems too. Before joining the EU, Bosnia was forced to make drastic changes to its domestic and political policies. By 2017, however, the country has made significant strides towards becoming a fully developed country. Although it still faces challenges, these are more easily handled now through the advantages of EU membership.
The same year that Bosnia and Herzegovina joined, both Albania and Montenegro entered the European Union and the eurozone. Albania was, like Bosnia, plagued by organised crime and corruption.* Alongside this, it was home to significant ethnic discrimination – a symptom of residual tension left over from past racial and religious conflicts. With regards to its economy, Albania had to overcome the remnants of communism and establish a truly free market system in order to comply with the EU's standards. This meant going through a period of reforms to the government, justice system and media in the early 2010s, inhibiting ethnic bias and political disorder.
Montenegro was in a similar position, itself being a haven for trafficking and money laundering. It had only recently moved to a market economy, having become independent in 2006. Before its accession, it was required to increase protection of freedom of expression, strengthen diplomatic relations with Serbia and comply with other membership criteria. The country made good progress, however,* and was later admitted. An important milestone on its path to EU membership was reached towards the end of 2009, when its citizens were granted the right to visa-free travel within the Schengen zone.
The last country to join at this time was Serbia. For a prolonged period, Serbia's progress towards membership had remained sluggish, made worse by the long history of ethnic conflict between it and certain other EU candidates. Many members were wary of letting Serbia join and applied strict conditions for it to do so – including justice over the atrocities committed by certain Serbs in the Bosnian War. Despite this, appeals to the West eventually pushed Serbia's application forward.* A number of barriers were removed during the accession process.* Of the many problems facing Serbia, unemployment and a high trade deficit were the most pressing. A series of financial reforms, many of which would continue through 2017, were begun. Serbia was also forced to compromise on the issue of Kosovo's independence, which had also begun to apply for EU membership.*
Although a long-time candidate, Turkey is still a few years away from gaining full EU membership. Despite bringing a huge population and strong economy to the table, lack of compliance with EU laws and a conflict over Cyprus have slowed its progress considerably.
These seven countries are some of the last new members to enter into the EU. Recent economic turmoil has made the Union increasingly cautious in allowing new economies to join. As of 2017, it has a total of 34 member states and a population of more than half a billion. It remains a leading world power for now – but with ongoing economic issues that have yet to be resolved.
crisis in Yemen
the turn of the 21st century, Yemen was already the poorest and least
developed nation in the Arab world. Nearly 45% of its citizens were
living below the poverty line, unemployment was running at 35% and its
literacy rate was just 58%. It had dwindling natural resources and a
ballooning population. Its economy was heavily reliant on hydrocarbons,
which accounted for almost 75% of government revenues and 90% of foreign
peak oil production in 2003 and witnessed a steady decline thereafter.
In 2011, a popular uprising erupted due to worsening economic conditions,
rising unemployment and government corruption. This was sparked by simultaneous
protests in other Middle Eastern countries.
next few years, the situation continued to deteriorate. Power blackouts
and food shortages became a daily norm, while motorists were forced
to queue their vehicles for hours at petrol stations. The country had
no apparent way of transitioning to a post-carbon economy. Its neighbour,
Saudi Arabia, attempted to stabilise the political and economic situation
by donating oil. By the middle of the decade, however, Saudi Arabia
itself was experiencing shortfalls, meaning it could no longer offer
this support. Yemen's push into the gas sector had also failed to revive
its economy significantly.
this, a new and even greater threat was emerging. Yemen's groundwater
levels had fallen sharply in recent decades. Around the capital, Sana'a,
borehole drilling was now reaching down to water that fell more than
8,000 years ago, with groundwater levels decreasing by 4-6 metres a
year. Additional wells and water mains were desperately needed to service
the region, but these for the most part had been lost among the nation's
various other problems. Yemen had been battling Shiite Muslim rebels
in the north and a separatist movement in the south, whilst contending
with a resurgence of Al Qaeda and the scourge of piracy in the Gulf
a calamity is unfolding. Oil and gas reserves have now dwindled to zero* and Sana'a has become the first capital city in the world to completely
run out of water.* The situation has been made
worse by rising fuel prices. Trucks bringing supplies from outside are
no longer able to make up the shortfall – resulting in widespread looting,
rioting and violence. This soon gives way to starvation, a mass exodus
of refugees and a rapid decline in the country's population which continues
into the following decade. The state collapses into anarchy, with a
zone of lawlessness expanding into Saudi Arabia and the Horn of Africa.
world watches, powerless, as this tragedy unfolds. Though assistance
is offered by other countries, including some military intervention,
it cannot prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Yemen now faces a very
uncertain future, threatening stability across the region.
2017: Yemen's water crisis and oil shortages have left
the country in chaos.
establishes the largest megacity in the world
now, China has merged nine of its cities into one, creating the largest
metropolitan area on the planet. This new megacity has a population
of 42 million – over 7 million greater than Tokyo, the previous record
being merged include Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the second and third largest
cities in China with populations of 11.7 million and 8.9 million, respectively.
This region covers much of China's manufacturing heartland, accounting
for nearly a tenth of the Chinese economy.
150 major infrastructure projects have meshed the transport, energy,
water and telecommunications networks of these nine cities together,
at a cost of some 2 trillion yuan ($304 billion). An express railway
line connects the hub with nearby Hong Kong.*
end of the decade, even larger megacities are emerging, with city zones
of up to 100 million people.
The world's first kilometre-high skyscraper
After a six year construction period, the Kingdom Tower opens in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.* Standing at over 1,000m (3,280 ft) high, this takes the title of world's tallest building from the previous record holder – the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which stands at 830m (2,772 ft).
The tower is designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, the firm behind the Burj Khalifa, and is developed by Emaar Properties. The project costs $1.2 billion, actually less than it cost to build the Burj Khalifa. The skyscraper has over 200 floors – a world first – and 59 elevators. It contains some 5.7 million square feet of retail, residential, office and hotel space and hosts the world's highest observation deck.*
Reusing the successful Y-shaped footprint of the Burj Khalifa allowed construction to reach higher than ever before. In order to handle the tremendous weight, new concrete formulas were devised. As the building rose, lighter and lighter materials were used. The sloping design, along with massive counterweights placed strategically throughout the tower, help to offset the strong winds present at such heights, which can often reach over 120 mph.*
Kingdom Tower becomes the centerpiece of the $20 billion "Kingdom City" development that essentially becomes an entirely new district of Jeddah. Public opinion is polarised. Many view it as a positive symbol of the power and wealth of Saudi Arabia. Others see it as a white elephant, believing it will ultimately prove to be a financial loss.
The skyline of Los Angeles is dramatically altered this year with completion of the Wilshire Grand Center – a new supertall skyscraper in the financial district. At 335 m (1,100 ft) and with 73 storeys, it becomes the tallest building in the Western U.S., surpassing the U.S. Bank Tower which had held the title since 1989. It comprises a mixed-use hotel, retail and office complex, intended to revitalise downtown and the area surrounding the building. High-speed elevators carry visitors to a "sky lobby" within 45 seconds, offering unparalleled views of the city and a rooftop infinity pool. At ground level, the project includes a new urban plaza and park.*
Developed by Korean Air, the Wilshire Grand Center was in the planning process for 25 years. Upon completion, its facade is illuminated at night by advertising displays, emulating the style of many towers located in the megacities of East Asia. These LED systems – along with new green building techniques and materials – significantly reduce overall energy consumption.*
The first Floating Liquefied Natural Gas (FLNG) platform begins operations
Due to the remoteness of many deepwater natural gas resources, large-scale exploitation of these areas has been next to impossible. A new project, however, undertaken by Royal Dutch Shell, seeks to overcome these barriers. The Floating Liquefied Natural Gas (FLNG) platform, as it is called, begins operations this year off the coast of Northern Australia over Shell's Prelude natural gas field.
Essentially the world's largest "ship," the FLNG is anchored over several well heads in the isolated field, in water around 250 meters deep. It pumps up natural gas continuously, storing it within several massive tanks, chilled at -162°C which compresses its volume by 600 times. Every week, a gas tanker arrives to off-load the FLNG's stores. When fully loaded, the ship contains 600,000 tonnes of liquefied natural gas. It produces at least 5.3 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) of liquids: 3.6 mtpa of LNG, 1.3 mtpa of condensate and 0.4 mtpa of LPG. It is 488 metres long – equivalent to four soccer fields laid end to end.*
The facility is operated by a crew of 120 and costs around $10 billion to build. This mega-project capitalises on the growing demand and prices of natural gas, particularly in China. Most of the advantage of a floating gas platform has to do with the lack of permanent infrastructure. Not only is it easy to move when a field runs dry (as Prelude will do in 25 years), but it is more capable of dealing with the dangerous cyclones often present in the area.
The project does have some detractors however. Environmentalists have expressed concerns over the damage the FLNG could do to the ecosystem. Despite these issues, several more such platforms are constructed over the following decades.*
The controversial Nabucco pipeline commences operations this year.* This project had been in the planning stages since 2002 and was backed by the United States and the European Union, but financial issues and a lack of definite supply contracts caused continual delays. As a result of these problems, construction did not begin until 2013, after it became certain enough gas would be available to turn a profit.
The pipeline is over 2,500 miles long. It begins in eastern Turkey and then travels up through the Balkans, through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and finally into Austria. The main supply originates from Iraq, as well as Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, both of which have opened several new fields in recent years. Once fully operational in 2017, over 31 billion cubic meters of natural gas begin to pass along the pipeline. This gives Western Europe more direct access to the energy resources of the Middle East and Caspian Sea, as well as helping to lessen the continent's dependence on Russia. In a similar manner to the new floating liquefied natural gas platform design, the Nabucco pipeline supports the growing demand for natural gas, primarily in the West.
The controversy surrounding the project is mainly political and economic. Concerns were raised over whether the actual amount of gas passing through the pipeline would make up for the high cost of construction (almost €15bn). Several countries believed that Nabucco would only benefit a few European nations. Indeed, the initial flow is less than optimal, and it will be several more years before the project can be called economically worthwhile.
India completes construction of the Dibang Valley Dam
Yet another energy project making the headlines this year is the Dibang Dam, in northeast India. At 288m high, this becomes the tallest concrete gravity dam in the world. It has a volume of 16.5 million cubic metres and can generate 3,000 MW of electric power.*
The project is not without controversy, however. There has been strong local opposition, due to the relocation of indigenous tribal communities, environmental damage, and questions being raised about its safety along with that of other nearby dams.* Over 100 are being constructed in Arunachal Pradesh during this time – 17 in the Dibang Valley – as hydroelectric power gains momentum.* Tensions have also been raised with China, which is building dams of its own in the region, threatening to reduce the flow of water to India's territory.*
The original M1 battle tank – a third generation vehicle – was introduced to the U.S. Army in 1980. Since then, variants of the tank, primarily the M1A1 and M1A2, have seen extensive use in battle. They first entered combat in Operation: Desert Storm, during the Persian Gulf War, and have been used in every American military conflict since. They have also become the principal tank of the Saudi Arabian, Egyptian, Kuwaiti and Australian armies, as well as the Army of Iraq following arms deals made with the United States.
The newest generation of the M1 – the M1A3 – is fielded this year.* The first prototypes were completed in 2014. Now, in 2017, they are entering the battlefield, primarily in the remaining American conflicts in the Middle East (which have dragged on in some areas for longer than expected).*
Various design improvements have been made. These include the latest in armour and ballistic shielding, of course, especially the underbelly armour, as well as hi-tech computer networking. The tank has been reduced in weight by almost one-fifth, providing more capability for crossing bridges. Its ammunition has also been upgraded, with new ultra-accurate computer guided missiles.*
This comes at a difficult financial time for the Marine Corps, which is forced to cut back their tank fleet and partner with the Army concerning the M1A3. Over the next few decades, the M1A3 will remain among the favourite battle tanks of the US and others.*
The remaining JFK files are released
The Assassination Records Review Board was created as a result of an act passed by the US Congress in 1992, entitled the "President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act". This Act mandated the gathering and release of all government records relating to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
The Act was passed following the public outcry about the assassination, after the 1991 premiere of Oliver Stone's film JFK, which proposed Kennedy assassination theories involving plots to kill the President. The ARRB collected evidence starting in 1992, then produced a final report in 1998.
The ARRB was not commissioned to determine why or by whom the murder was committed. Its purpose was simply to release documents to the public, in order for the public to draw its own conclusions. From 1992 until 1998, 60,000 documents were gathered and unsealed, consisting of more than 4 million pages. All remaining documents are released by 2017.*
A handbill circulated on 21 November 1963, in Dallas, one day before the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
solar eclipse in the USA
21st August this year, a total eclipse occurs in the United States, the first visible from the US since 1991 (just from part of Hawaii),
and the first visible from the contiguous US since 1979. Totality
occurs along a path curving from Oregon to South Carolina, lasting roughly 2 minutes and 40 seconds. The location and time of "greatest
eclipse" is on the western edge of Christian County, Kentucky at
36.97 degrees North and 87.65 degrees West, occurring at 18:25 UTC.
China launches an unmanned sample return mission to the Moon
Following the success of its first lunar lander in 2013, China attempts a more ambitious sample return mission.* Launched in 2017, this obtains about 2 kg (4 lb) of moon rock, bringing it back to Earth for study.
The robot deployed on the surface has a mission life of three months. It can choose its own routes, avoid obstacles and perform experiments with a mechanical arm. It comes equipped with a suite of sensors including cameras, X-ray and infrared spectrometers and a ground-penetrating radar. It has solar panels and a supplementary power source for night work in the form of a plutonium-238 nuclear battery – the same type of radioisotope thermoelectric generator system (RTG) installed on NASA's Mars Science Laboratory.
China has big plans for beyond 2017. The country intends to build its own space station by 2022,* send humans to the Moon by 2025* and construct a lunar base shortly thereafter.
The first test flight of NASA's Space Launch System
The Space Launch System, or SLS, is a Shuttle-derived heavy launch vehicle designed by NASA, following the cancellation of the Constellation Program, to replace the Space Shuttle. The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 envisioned the transformation of the Ares I and Ares V vehicle designs into a single launch vehicle usable for both crew and cargo. It would be upgraded over time with more powerful versions.
The SLS will carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, as well as important cargo, equipment and experiments to Earth's orbit and destinations beyond. Additionally, it will serve as a backup for commercial and international partner transportation services to the International Space Station. It could also be used on missions to repair telecom satellites, at orbits 36,000 km above the Earth which were previously inaccessible to astronauts.*
The rocket design incorporates technology from the Space Shuttle and Constellation Programs, taking advantage of proven hardware and cutting-edge tooling and manufacturing technology that greatly reduces development and operations costs. It is powered by a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propulsion system, including the RS-25D/E from the Space Shuttle Program for the core stage and the J-2X engine for the upper stage.*
It has an initial lift capacity of 70 metric tons; nearly three times that of the Space Shuttle. The first unmanned developmental test flight takes place in 2017, with a manned trip around the Moon scheduled for 2021. Its payload will evolve as more advanced versions are developed; it is ultimately hoped to reach 130 tons in the early 2030s.** This will enable the first manned missions to Mars.*
The first manned flight of the Dream Chaser
The Dream Chaser is a space plane being developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems. Intended to carry up to seven astronauts, it provides low-cost, commercial transportation services to and from low Earth orbit, including the International Space Station (ISS). This vehicle, resembling a mini-Space Shuttle, launches vertically on an Atlas V rocket and can land horizontally on conventional runways. It is designed for simple maintenance and quick turnaround. An unmanned demonstration occurs in 2016, with manned operations beginning in 2017 – ending U.S. dependence on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to provide an orbital taxi service.*
Launch of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is a space telescope intended to search for extrasolar planets using the transit method. It is part of NASA's long-running "Explorer" program which has been going since 1958 and involves working with a variety of other institutions and businesses. In this case, the $200m project is led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with seed funding from Google.
Equipped with four wide-angle telescopes and charge-coupled device (CCD) detectors totalling 192 megapixels, TESS conducts a two-year all-sky survey focussed on nearby G- and K-type stars with apparent magnitudes brighter than 12. Around 500,000 are studied – over triple the 156,000 that Kepler was designed to observe – including the 1,000 closest red dwarfs. The region of sky covered is also 400 times bigger.*
Several thousand Earth-sized and larger exoplanets are identified, adding to the already huge tally from Kepler. Many of these candidate worlds are later investigated by the James Webb Telescope and other future missions which enable more detailed analysis of their masses, sizes, densities, orbits and atmospheres. In this same year, Europe launches its own similar mission – the Cheops satellite (see below).
Credit: MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research
The Cheops satellite is deployed to study exoplanets
In 2017, the European Space Agency (ESA) launches a new satellite to study exoplanets. Its focus of study is nearby star systems already known to host planets. The small CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite, called Cheops, operates in a Sun-synchronous low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 500 miles (800 km) and has a mission lifetime of around 3.5 years. It is powerful and precise enough to form accurate measurements of a planet's radius, as well as determining the likely density and internal structure.* The mission also provides unique targets for more detailed studies of exoplanet atmospheres by the next generation of telescopes now being built, such as the ground-based European Extremely Large Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope.
Credit: University of Bern/CERN
world's first lunar tourist
Dennis Tito became the world's first space tourist, spending eight days
on the International Space Station and orbiting the Earth a total of 128
times. Tito paid a reported $20 million for his trip, through an arrangement
with space tourism company Space Adventures Ltd.
of startup companies sprang up in subsequent years in the hope of creating
a space tourism industry. These included Virgin Galactic, using
suborbital spacecraft designed by Scaled Composites and launched from Spaceport America in 2014. At a cost of $200,000
each, civilians could journey to a height of 110 km (68 miles), experiencing
up to six minutes of zero-G whilst looking down on the Earth.
Other plans included
an orbital hotel by Russian firm Energiya in partnership with US firm Orbital Technologies,* along with a "budget" space plane offered by Swiss Space Systems and planned to commence by 2020.*
was looking further, however, setting its sights on even more daring
and ambitious ventures. From 2017, the company offers the first lunar orbits
to paying tourists. For $150 million, passengers can travel
beyond Earth orbit, enjoying circumlunar trips and viewing the Moon
from just 100 km (62 mi) above its surface – as well as viewing the
famous Earthrise.* Prior to this service, only
24 people had ever experienced this view. Space Adventures' craft is also larger and more comfortable than those used during the Apollo program.
Sales of electric and hybrid trucks reach 100,000 annually
Electric and hybrid trucks are now surpassing 100,000 in annual production numbers worldwide.* This includes hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, battery-electric and plug-in electric power take-off variations.
Between 2011 and 2017, the overall truck market grew at roughly 4% per year. However, the market for hybrid and electric trucks grew almost 12 times as fast, at 47%. This was partly in response to oil and gas volatility, but was also due to significant technology improvements and, in particular, the falling price of batteries.
The overall cost of hybrid and electric vehicles remains the largest barrier to full market proliferation, but this has improved markedly in recent years, with new battery technology that increases a vehicle's speed and range.* Progress has also been made in the time it takes to recharge,* as well as the availability of electric charging points (now 7.7 million worldwide).* Motors are also becoming available without the need for rare earth metals.*
The largest market for these trucks is still Asia Pacific, with around 41,000 being sold each year. Slowly catching up is North America, where the number is approaching 26,000. As oil prices increase, hybrid and electric trucks will eventually become more cost-effective than fossil fuel-driven ones. Technology in general continues to reshape the shipping industry. Manufacturers are looking into the possibility of driverless, fully automated vehicles, for example.*
The environmental benefits of going electric are potentially huge, as trucking makes up a significant portion of transport emissions, which cumulatively produce over 13% of the world's CO2 emissions.*
10 nanometre chips enter mass production
In 2017, the
next generation of microprocessor technology is released by Intel, with
transistors using a 10 nanometre (nm) manufacturing process* – superseding the 14 nm process. Codenamed "Cannonlake", this family of processors is based on a die-shrink of Intel's Skylake CPU microarchitecture. More than 10 billion transistors can now be packed onto a single chip – bringing greater CPU and GPU performance, and reduced power consumption for computers, phones, tablets and other electronic devices. Moore's
Law will soon be hitting a wall, however, as the effects of quantum tunnelling begin to degrade chip performance at such tiny scales. Traditional silicon circuits will
reach their limit in the early 2020s, with a new paradigm emerging in the form of graphene and other concepts.
Web-connected video devices exceed the global population
More than 8.2 billion Internet-connected video devices are now installed worldwide, exceeding the population of the planet. This category includes a diverse range of products such as tablets, smart TVs, games consoles, smartphones, connected set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, laptops and PCs. With around 7.4 billion people it is equivalent to 1.1 devices for every global citizen, nearly double the number in 2013. The fastest growth has occurred in the Asia-Pacific region, driven largely by Chinese demand.*
paper is seeing widespread use
technology has been in development for over a decade* and is now seeing widespread use.* It works
by combining organic, thin film transistors (TFT) with organic, electroluminescent
displays. This produces flexible, paper-thin devices barely 0.3mm in
included the first e-readers, but more sophisticated products have now
emerged, some capable of running high-quality video. Ultra-thin smartphones,
clothing and textiles with electronic displays, video ID cards, video
leaflets, road signs that are self-illuminating, video instructions
on food and other packaging – these are just some of the items to feature
development leads to much greater contrast ratio – resembling printed
paper more than a screen (the latter is hard to see in direct sunlight).
This technology also marks a step towards the paperless office, which
in turn will reduce deforestation.
Traditional newspapers are becoming obsolete
The Internet has continued to erode the market share held by other forms of media. Since passing television as the primary source of news reporting in developed nations,* it has taken on more and more functions.
The vast array of sources now found online – coupled with growing advancements in mobile and other technologies – is heavily impacting the ratings for mainstream news stations. Online videos, blogs and web series are now seriously competing with the best and most watched TV shows.
Capital-intensive overheads, together with slumping ad sales, have been further contributory factors in the decline of large media companies. A number of newspaper corporations have already gone under, while others – including the New York Times and the Daily Telegraph – have been forced to transition to a digital form, in some cases at great monetary loss.*
Slowly, newspapers throughout the developed world are becoming financially unsustainable and going out of print. The United States is leading this trend, where the collapse of the traditional newspaper has been most obvious. Following close behind are several countries in Europe. The UK and Iceland are the first in which newspapers begin to fall out of use. While physical news is still present in these countries, it is very sparse.
Newspapers will become obsolete in Australia by 2022, followed by Asia and South America, and finally Africa and the remaining countries beyond 2040.*
regeneration is transforming dental care
been demonstrated in mice,* bioengineered tooth regeneration is becoming
available to humans.* A combination of stem cells, scaffold material
and signalling molecules can be used to regrow a fully functional, living tooth in around two months – complete with roots, inner pulp and outer
enamel. Until now,
dental implant therapies had required pre-existing, high quality bone
structures to support the artificial implants. Full reconstruction
of natural, healthy teeth in patients without adequate bone support
is therefore now possible.
Another technique to emerge this year is Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralisation (EAER). This allows a decayed tooth to effectively repair and heal itself without the need for drills, needles or fillings. This breakthrough procedure uses electrical stimulation to help teeth "remineralise" by pushing minerals like calcium and phosphate back into the tooth to repair the damaged site.*
Fillings and dentures will gradually become obsolete
as a result of these and other new treatments, improving the health and well-being of millions of
Compared with 2010, the cosmetic surgery industry has more than doubled in size by now.* Aesthetic laser and light therapies remained the fastest growing areas, with rejuvenation treatments close behind. PurTox was also introduced as a competitor to Botox, which uses a purer form of botulinum toxin, can treat a wider area of wrinkles (thus requiring fewer injections) and lasts longer. A number of other procedures became available too.
China and India, where disposable incomes rose significantly during recent years, helped to boost the market,* while in developed nations, social pressures still appeared to overshadow financial ones in some circles.
This allowed the cosmetic surgery industry to do relatively well in the early years of the economic downturn. However, it is becoming more and more frowned upon now, especially in the West, as the majority of the population struggles to obtain basic necessities, let alone luxuries. Indeed, excess of any kind is being more vilified as time goes by, with such practices increasingly the preserve of the wealthy.
Wireless, implantable devices that monitor a range of health conditions in real time
After several years of testing and development, a miniature device is now available* that can monitor a range of substances in the blood, providing instant results via mobile phone. Inserted by needle and placed just beneath the skin, it can remain in the body for months before needing to be replaced or removed.
This tiny laboratory measures 14mm (0.55") and comprises five sensors, a coil for wireless power as well as miniaturised electronics for radio communication. The entire system is powered by a mere one-tenth of a watt. Each sensor's surface is covered with an enzyme that is used to detect chemicals like ATP, glucose and lactate. Data is transmitted via Bluetooth to a mobile phone, which can then be sent to a doctor, if necessary.
With direct and continuous monitoring in real time, it is particularly useful for chronic conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol, as well as tracking the impact of drug treatments such as chemotherapy. It can even be used to warn of an impending heart attack. For instance, a molecule called troponin is released by heart muscle around three to four hours before a heart attack, once the heart muscle starts malfunctioning. This can be detected by the implant before a fatal event occurs, giving the user time to seek treatment.
Although still in their infancy, these devices represent a new and emerging generation of personalised medicine that will revolutionise healthcare in the decades ahead. By 2040, such implants are commonplace – even in healthy people* – with further improvements in miniaturisation and complexity.
The world's first HIV vaccine is commercially available
HIV/AIDS was first characterised in 1983. By the early 2010s, the virus had killed over 35 million people globally and another 34 million were living with the infection. Although a cure remained elusive, antiretroviral treatments were able to slow the progression of the disease and provide sufferers with a near-normal life expectancy. However, while antiretroviral treatments reduced the risk of death, these medications were expensive and often associated with side effects.
In 2012, a vaccine known as SAV001 – which had previous success in animal subjects – began Phase 1 human clinical trials in Canada. This randomised, observer-blinded, placebo-controlled study used a ground-breaking technique involving a genetically modified, killed whole-virus vaccine. Prior to this, other experimental vaccines had either used subunits of the virus, or relied on genetically modified non-HIV viruses to carry an HIV-like genetic sequence.
SAV001 was administered to infected men and women aged 18 to 50. Results from the trials showed that patients experienced no adverse effects – no local reactions from the injections, or any signs, symptoms, or reactions to any potential toxicities – while significantly boosting immunity.*
With proven safety and tolerability in humans, the experimental vaccine progressed to Phase II and Phase III trials, with similar success. By 2017, it is becoming commercially available.*
A new treatment for prostate cancer
Prostate cancer is a form of cancer that develops in the prostate, a gland in the male reproductive system. It can cause pain, difficulty in urinating, problems during sexual intercourse, or erectile dysfunction. It can also metastasize (spread) from the prostate to other parts of the body, particularly the bones and lymph nodes. Globally, it is the sixth leading cause of cancer-related death in men (in the USA it is the second). It tends to develop in men over the age of 50 and is most common in the developed world.
In 2012, a study was conducted on a potential new treatment. This used High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) to vibrate tissues the size of a grain of rice, heating them to about 80-90°C (176-194°F). This effectively killed the cancerous cells, in a highly localised area without damage to neighbouring healthy tissues. Because of the beam's extreme precision, there were few reported side effects. Although one in ten were left impotent, this was far less than traditional treatment methods, and none of the volunteers were left incontinent. 95% of study participants were free of cancer after 12 months.
A larger trial was conducted, with similar success. By 2017, the treatment is offered routinely on the NHS* and in many other countries, leading to a marked improvement in survival rates and patient comfort. The procedure is fast and most patients are back home within 24 hours.*
BioCassava Plus receives regulatory approval
Cassava is a root vegetable, high in carbohydrates, that forms a major staple food in the developing world, providing a basic diet for over half a billion people. It is among the most drought-tolerant crops, able to grow on marginal soils.
However, this vegetable has a number of downsides. With toxins including cyanide, improper preparation can lead to acute intoxication and goiters, or even ataxia and paralysis. It is also a poor source of protein and may cause protein-energy malnutrition, unless consumed as part of a more balanced and varied diet. Two diseases – Cassava Mosaic Disease (affecting the edible leaves) and Brown Streak Disease (which rots and kills the roots) – have caused devastating famines in the past. The latter is especially troublesome in coastal East Africa and around the eastern lakes, where it is the single biggest threat to food security. In addition, cassava has a poor shelf life of only two to three days.
In 2003, Bill Gates announced the "Grand Challenges in Global Health", a $200m effort to address healthcare and extreme poverty in the developing world. The following year, his charity – the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – selected BioCassava Plus, a biotechnology project to improve cassava. With genetic engineering and a range of crop breeding techniques, it would be possible to enrich the protein content, reduce the vegetable's toxicity, fortify it with vitamins A and E, iron and zinc, make it resistant to viruses and extend its shelf life ten-fold.
After more than a decade of research and development, the project would obtain regulatory approval in 2017,* radically improving the health of many millions of people. Although generating controversy, genetic engineering remains a safe and effective method in food, with no cases of illness from over a trillion meals served.*
The world's largest mud volcano stops erupting
The Sidoarjo mud flow, commonly known as Lusi, was a continuous flow of water, steam and mud erupting in Sidoarjo, a sub-district of Porong in East Java, Indonesia. The mud flow began in May 2006, after a blowout in a drilling well caused by pressurised natural gas and carbonated water. Although most of the blame was put on the company involved in the drilling, they themselves claimed that a 6.3 magnitude quake had triggered the eruption a few days earlier.
At its peak, Lusi flowed at 180,000m³ per day – destroying homes, businesses and schools, and by 2011 had left over 13,000 people homeless. Many suffered severe burns as a result of the hot mud and steam. The flow had originally been expected to last until the 2030s,* but in subsequent years it began to destabilise and form a caldera around the original drilling well. By 2017 it has finally subsided.*
35 "The JFK Act required release of all information in assassination records in the year 2017, 25 years after the passage of the act, so the Review Board employs the term 'postponed' to mean 'redacted until the year 2017.'"
See Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board, John R. Tunheim: http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0788177222
Accessed 6th September 2011.
43 "With its superior lift capability, the SLS will expand our reach in the solar system and allow us to explore cis-lunar space, near-Earth asteroids, Mars and its moons and beyond."
See Space Launch System & Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, Official NASA web page: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/index.html
Accessed 17th September 2011.