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Super trends in science research in the 21st century: towards the end of the first decade

Scientific discoveries and technological innovations have always been at the heart of human endeavor, and their role is expected to grow rapidly and enormously. This will lead to synergy, shape the companies engaged in this and accelerate further developments with consistent change, with areas of overlap and temporary branches. The reshaping science and the overlapping technologies create the so-called super trends in research, which cross the boundaries of time and geography.


Nissim Benvanisti, Michael Brandis, Uri Benin, Guy Finberg, Naftali Tashvi, Morris Toval, Elon Vadia, Hermona Sorek, Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences and Faculty of Social Sciences, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Scientific discoveries and technological innovations have always been at the heart of human endeavor, and their role is expected to grow rapidly and enormously. This will lead to synergy, shape the companies engaged in this and accelerate further developments with consistent change, with areas of overlap and temporary branches. The reshaping science and the overlapping technologies create the so-called super trends in research, which cross the boundaries of time and geography.

Leading research organizations can and even should contribute to these trends by taking visionary steps, influencing the development of research and implementing the active involvement of researchers in the social consequences of these trends. The most important technological locomotives are all growing logarithmically: increased bandwidth, increased processing power, more storage and improved drug development, longer lifespans and richer human-machine interfaces. These lead to an intensively connected society and economy whose interdependence is increasing.

Almost all research and technology trends lead to vastly greater availability of information and are a force for sifting out inefficiencies. The interrelationships between research, super trends and innovation also generate greater expectations from the leaders of the research systems.

The underprivileged have high expectations for improving their quality of life and well-being. The capitalists are looking for ways to use the new opportunities to increase the refinement in their lives. Increased expectations from company leaders involve transparency, accountability and impact on the environment and society. This document presents an Israeli perspective on the process of locating, focusing, planning and implementing programs in such research majors, with some examples from research initiatives of the Hebrew University in these research directions.

Information and computing technologies

In the 60s and XNUMXs, Alan Turing in England and Claude Ellwood Shannon in the USA marked the beginning of the fascinating era that we now call the "Information Age". Turing laid the foundations of the new computer science and paved the way for the discovery and construction of the computer, when he showed that mathematical abstraction, the universal Turing machine, can perform any calculation that can be represented in an algorithm. Following him, Shannon presented the essence of communication mechanics which defined the concept of information by revealing the basic limits of the ability to store and transmit information in a reliable manner. Within XNUMX years, these technologies led to a revolution in the storage, transfer (communication) and processing (calculation) of all types of information, text, audio, video; prose, poetry and opera; chemical, biological and economic; Anywhere, any frequency, and at the speed of light. The ease of accessibility of the databases is something that no generation before us could imagine and elevates beyond the wildest dreams. Our main task was filtering the pieces of information relevant to us. At the same time, the better we understand this "modern" information cycle, the more it becomes clear that nature already discovered it, billions of years before Shannon and Turing.

Research works all over the world and at the Hebrew University show today that life is nothing more than collecting useful information from the environment and utilizing it for survival and improving fitness. This endless cycle of perception - information gathering and action - behavior through contact with our environment, is what truly defines and quantifies living organisms. For the first time we are standing in a place where it is possible to make accurate quantitative predictions of the way organisms perform and adapt, by deciphering the ways in which they collect and process information. This new super trend - the convergence of information sciences with life sciences - will bring about a revolution not only in medicine and agriculture, as we have already seen through the genome revolution, but will fundamentally change the very nature of human life and society. Moreover, our most personal memories and feelings will remain accessible and active in this new "heaven" of the computerized space, long after we are gone. For a while it seemed as if science destroyed the myths and the supernatural dimension of the old religions, such as the second body and soul and life after death. However, the convergence of information sciences and biology may bring back this second in a technological revival
Factual that will reflect our sublime and absolute existence.

Nanoscience and Engineering

Nanoscience and nanotechnology deal with the creation and investigation of the properties of tiny objects, whose dimensions are between 1-100 nm (1 nanometer = one billionth of a meter). These objects, whose size ranges from single atoms to substances of considerable volume, have size-dependent electronic, optical and mechanical properties, and they pose fascinating challenges both to basic scientific research and to the development of advanced technology in advanced materials, alternative energy, microelectronics, optoelectronics, medicine , biotechnology and more; They constitute a revolutionary force for industrial and economic development in the twenty-first century. The Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at the Hebrew University serves as a nucleus for the development of this emerging field in Jerusalem and Israel. The center integrates researchers and students from various fields defined as national target fields by the Forum for National Infrastructures for Research and Development (TALM) and the Israel Nanotechnology Initiative. The center has identified several key areas that will face the challenges of the future. The members of the center have developed innovative sensing systems and devices. These can detect tiny amounts of defined biological and chemical substances and play a central role in a world that strives to protect the environment, fight terrorism and provide medical services to all.

The nanophotonics experts study the properties of light and the interface between it and matter at the nano and sub-wavelength levels, where diverse applications of miniaturized components demonstrate unprecedented performance in communications, information sciences, medical services, lighting, sensing and security. Spot drug treatment mainly includes fatty nanoparticles or polymers, nanoemulsions and liposomes, which can improve the effectiveness of the molecules of many drugs while reducing the side effects that may be caused as a result of their use.

Liposomes containing the cytotoxic drug Doxil®, the invention of Prof. Yehezkel Bernholz (Faculty of Medicine) and his colleagues, are considered the first system for drug delivery using the nanotechnology method.

Another example is Cationorm®, a cationic nanoemulsion invented by Sh. Benita (Pharmacy School), for mild treatment of the dry eye phenomenon. And last but not least, the research in the field of alternative energy aimed at reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, which is perhaps the most important challenge facing Western culture in the twenty-first century. A clean and abundantly available source of energy in Israel is solar radiation. New approaches to excitation through light, based on miniaturized methods such as hybrid metal-semiconductor rods, and surface photochemistry, are gaining active interest as means of converting solar energy into chemical energy. There is a strong connection between improving photovoltaic cells to make them more viable - a fundamental issue in materials science - to questions of efficiency and innovative engineering, which emphasizes the convergent nature of nanoscience.

Global mega-physical projects

The leading supertrends in physics are global in nature, and focus on studying the structure of the world around us in collaboration with many research groups around the world, including researchers from the Hebrew University. In astrophysics and cosmology we are experiencing an unprecedented increase in the scope of new information available to researchers. These developments came thanks to technological breakthroughs that allow us to open new windows to the universe and explore the "unknown land" for the first time. Today we are able to investigate the big bang and the origin of space and time; Hebrew University researchers study the formation of new galaxies and planetary systems and the origin of life, and look for black holes, the final cosmic cemeteries, with the support of the European Research Foundation. Their research focuses on three main topics: high energy astrophysics, cosmology, the early universe and the structure of space/time on a large scale, including the study of dark matter, dark energy, the solar system and planets outside it.

International theoretical research efforts are aimed at deciphering the basic forces of nature, which include work with strong accelerators. There, at very high energies, it is possible to reveal a new symmetry of nature, known as supersymmetry, and discover the mechanism by which supersymmetry is broken at low energies. Another focus of international research is the age-old effort to discover gravitational waves, as predicted in Einstein's theory of gravitation. This involves developing the theoretical tools needed to calculate the strength and shape of these waves, as well as the study of black holes, and linking their thermodynamic properties with string theory. Last but not least, nowadays the stability of materials is studied on "everyday" scales, thus completing the large gaps that still exist in understanding the most basic ways that cause materials to fail. The study of material failure includes the physics of fracture, methods of material deterioration and frictional failure. The results of these studies will have important consequences, from understanding the formation of earthquakes to the dynamics of the development and stability of new materials.

Medical sciences and the promotion of human health and well-being

The life sciences have changed dramatically in recent decades, but much remains to be explored. Our body includes billions of cells that differ considerably in their lifespan (from a few days to a lifetime), their size (from a few microns to the length of our body) and their function (from computational activity to fighting foreign invaders and protection against disease), even though they all carry the same genetic information.

The question of how a single cell is unique in its ability to express a completely different repertoire of proteins is a challenge that constitutes a super trend, and which will be vigorously tackled in the years to come. Hebrew University researchers are at the forefront of biomedical sciences, and study cancer, hereditary disorders, rehabilitation medicine and more.
In many respects, cells of yeast or other ancient organisms perform exactly the same actions typical of cells in our bodies, suggesting that most of the most basic pathways that keep cells alive evolved more than half a billion years ago. New bioimaging technologies allow us to track proteins in living cells in real time, but it is still unclear how the hundreds of thousands of different types of proteins interact to create the phenomenon of life. A breakthrough in bioimaging methods will clarify many of these events and deepen our understanding of cell life.

Mount Scopus campus - view of the tower and the theater - photo: Tamar Jordani
Mount Scopus campus - view of the tower and the theater - photo: Tamar Jordani

The completion of the human genome project, the isolation of stem cells of human origin capable of multi-tissue differentiation and the understanding of the complexity of the basis of cancer predict that the twenty-first century will bring about a revolution in medicine and make it personal. Already in the near future, we will switch to the use of drugs that are "tailored" according to the patient's measurements, which relate to his genetic load and the ways in which he is affected by the disease and responds to its treatment, and this as a replacement for the non-specific treatments that are in use today. It is important to note that Middle Eastern populations develop hereditary diseases due to mutations other than those suffered by other populations, as shown by Kerem et al. in the case of cystic fibrosis. Locating the genes responsible for all hereditary disorders will in the near future enable prenatal or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, in order to reduce morbidity. By combining in vitro fertilization, it will be possible to prevent pregnancies that will end in sick newborns. The molecular diagnosis will also detect the tendency of adults to heart failure, high blood pressure and neurodegenerative disorders, and the diagnosis and genomic analysis of cancer have advanced rapidly since it was discovered that malignant diseases are caused by repeated hits to the genome. Genetic therapy, which is still in its infancy, is expected to prevent the harms of various genetic disorders in a patient-oriented manner. Finally, the recent isolation of human embryonic stem cells is reshaping our approach to treating spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease, diabetes and more. Stem cells originating from the patient himself will not be rejected after transplantation, which predicts the possibility of treatment adapted to the patient using stem cells. All this will require new scientific discoveries, adequate funding of basic research and clinical trials, and also calls for the application of the ethical implications of such a revolution.

Cognitive sciences and the promotion of intellectual abilities

In the last decade, neuroscience research has led to innovative treatments for diseases, the development of extremely fast computers and the construction of various smart machines. This has important consequences in diverse fields, from science and art to philosophy, law and medicine.

New research technologies enable progress in brain imaging methods and sophisticated research tools enable the study of the brain at the molecular, cellular and neural level. Brain science researchers at the Hebrew University are involved in these super trends, including learning and movement control, computational and theoretical brain science and human perception. The research encompasses three campuses and faculties) the science campus named after Edmond Y. Spra; Ein Kerem, medicine; and Mount Scopus, social sciences. Neuroscience researchers use cutting-edge methods to reconstruct the anatomical structure of the brain and its connectivity, to reveal structure/function relationships in animal behavior and to reveal certain mechanisms underlying sensory and motor functions. Modern non-invasive imaging methods, paradigms Strict perceptual and behavioral studies, and synergistic research involving humans and animals, strengthen the connections between the characteristics of the brain at the level of neural circuits and human perception and cognition. The study of neural circuits also leads to breakthroughs in the field of motor deficits and rehabilitation from brain diseases and injuries. The interrelationships and synergy between theories, calculation methods and experiments require the development of strong neuroinformatics algorithms and large-scale circuits, to connect neural dynamics to brain functions and their pathologies. The investigation of the mechanisms underlying neural activity, as well as the development and flexibility of neural circuits by biochemical and electrical stimuli generates a new understanding of neurodegenerative diseases and their therapeutic implications.

In the studies of the brain-machine interface (BMI), a global multidisciplinary network aims to reveal how the cells in our brain "know" how to act on each other and generate intelligence, emotions and creativity. To grasp the meaning of the signals measured from the brain, a more global theory and better measurement methods are needed. Studying the limits of human learning and motor performance under changing conditions allows computational neuroscientists to monitor brain activity and control behavior while continuously adapting to changes. In this way, even completely paralyzed patients will be able to learn how to control movements quite quickly (a minute or two), even though their brain activity changes frequently. Controlling the movement of a computer device or robot (arm, wheelchair, hand, etc.) will eventually lead to control, through the power of the brain alone, of the natural but paralyzed limb. Following this, the long-term challenges of curbing new cognitive and psychiatric dysfunctions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and schizophrenia, will arise.

The basic breakthroughs have already been made: experiments with deep brain stimulation and behavioral therapies predict particularly promising successes, but a lot of work is needed to reach accurate recording-stimulation circuits in a closed circuit, which will enable brain activity to move from disease patterns to normal patterns of electrical activity. This expansion of clinical use will raise considerable ethical issues, which will pose another challenge at the level of a super-trend before humanity. Scientists from various fields are seriously discussing this new moral challenge.
The importance of policy at the strategic level
To effectively identify supertrends and harness research and technology, advanced countries adopt strategic policies for higher education, science, technology and innovation (ESTI). These constitute the executive level, which is embodied in Israel today in the Council for Higher Education and the Office of the Chief Scientist (Ministry of Commerce and Industry). The ESTI policy establishes an overall vision, including national super-goals (such as growth, equality, health, improving the quality of the environment, etc.) and a set of strategic priorities and objectives related to them in the fields and economic sectors concerned (such as biomedicine, energy and the hi-tech and water industries) . Determining a strategic level of ESTI policy requires different capabilities and procedures and sometimes a change in the overall management of the subsystem of the institutions concerned. An important aspect of a well-functioning strategic ESTI policy level is ensuring consistency between the ESTI vision/priorities on the one hand and the policy portfolio on the other. Many advanced countries, if not most, and some of the industrialized ones, made an effort in the last decade to determine a strategic policy. Israel, which in the past was very successful in the ESTI policy, is currently lagging behind in this respect.

It is appropriate that setting strategic priorities be the central component of the ESTI policy process because of the turbulent global environment and the accompanying extreme uncertainty facing policymakers. It is likely that the policy lines that will be enforced in practice will not be relevant to today's global/local environment, including challenges and opportunities. In order to achieve economic growth and other supra-national goals, it will be necessary to repeatedly adjust the ESTI system. A well-implemented strategic policy level may facilitate the required adjustment if it locates and addresses in a systematic and coordinated manner updated ESTI policy goals and provides a new platform for expressing these priorities in new policy lines.

Pure market considerations will always make it difficult to allocate resources to science, technology and higher education infrastructure and to certain areas of innovation – an important element of ESTI policy – ​​where subsidies or similar types of support may be needed. Moreover, the reliance on the markets alone (which may not exist and will not appear automatically) may bias the allocation of resources dangerously towards the short term, thus likely further strengthening the natural bias towards short-term activity of many, if not most, governments. However, the level of strategic planning is not central planning and the planning must include "transversal/functional" issues such as "promoting excellence in science" and "thematic/horizontal" issues such as "promoting the development of a biomedical cluster." Therefore, determining the priorities and turning them into new policy lines will never be a process that progresses from top to bottom; On the contrary, representatives of the business sector, academia, etc. must be involved in all stages so that bottom-up considerations are always at the center.

13 תגובות

  1. B.Z., from post 11:
    I hear on the radio, almost every day, people begging for money to be donated because they need organ transplants to continue living.
    I hear it and almost tears come to my eyes, it hurts my heart to hear it.
    Have you heard of the recommendation:
    "(To steal) 250 million NIS, is that me?"
    (The answer is "yes" of course, because it is about the theft and not about ethical considerations).
    What I'm saying is that I don't care what ethics say, human life is above ethics (letting a person die or live "like a dog", is that ethical too?") and any technology that can put an end to the death of people from a certain disease or other cause of death, any Such a technology, if it does not endanger the lives of people and other interests, should be developed as quickly as possible!
    For example, the technology that will make it possible to grow human organs in a laboratory, so that people can donate organs to themselves (it is in the development stages, but I really hope that "Ethics" will not take it back from reaching the thousands of people in Israel and the rest of the world who need it).
    Letting people die will not be with me under any circumstances!
    "Death penalty", only relieves punishment ("death sentence" should be kept alive in prison, isolated, so that he "eats" himself for his bad deeds, alone, in a tiny cell without sunlight and without adequate living conditions for many, many years).
    When you delve into it, you see that feelings of guilt and remorse are torture in themselves, and they come to every criminal in the end (with the exception of criminals with certain psychological disorders that do not allow them to feel such feelings).
    I have the perfect solution, have them sit in jail until you find a cure for their disorders, then they can start their jail time all over again. 🙂
    A clever solution, but right!

  2. The most interesting question raised by the article is not the speculation about this or that development. These are the social-psychological-ethical adaptation of man to these developments and their applications.
    The challenge will not be in the development of a "computerized brain a million times faster", but the development of the technologies and mechanisms that will help human beings themselves to "increase" their ability to act in a changing world and to absorb and process the information received from the environment in a way that is adapted to that world and not to a radically different world as it was 10, 50 or 500000 years ago sleep.
    As of today, it seems that socio-psychological evolution fails to catch up with technology, which often leads to unfortunate results ranging from environmental destruction, fundamentalism to speculative scenarios such as the singularity point in question.

  3. Eyal, I think that what you described is exactly the point of the singularity in question, a point where the computers will already be smart and intelligent enough to take control and continue development into their own hands, with or without our consent, but still, until that happens there will be some transition phase where we can still control and monitor them and make them do our will.

    Of course it won't last too long, like you said…. They will have such a good understanding of the human mind that they will be able to "hack" you (scientists and researchers) into the mind and make them do their bidding, for example through hypnosis, or sophisticated methods of persuasion and deception, and other ways...

    The transition phase, however, will be interesting, the phase in which the computers will begin to successfully pass the Turing test, claim that they have self-awareness (in a very convincing way) and demand equal rights.

  4. 8-
    That's what I'm saying, if he's that smart, he'll already find a way to get what he wants, whether it's a human body or another body that he'll design on his own and have them build for him. Not before he designs much more compact hardware to transfer him to and thus allow him to move around with a body, if he wants to.

    He will not need incentives from anyone. And he will probably make everyone believe what he says, meaning no one will think of disconnecting him from the electricity or anything like that. By definition..

  5. Think about this point already, and there is really an intention to connect to the computerized brain a body that will include input and output means such as cameras, microphones and other means. The blue brain computer, for example, was recently connected to a virtual body (a mouse) that moves inside the computer so that it can move around in virtual worlds that they built for it, and the researchers can investigate and see exactly how it reacts to every situation and every experiment that is prepared for it, they are already noticing the first signs of learning processes and memory created in the simulation and they can follow them inside the computer down to the level of the single neuron and see where each behavior or memory created originates from.

    In the future there is an intention to connect the computerized brain to a real mechanical robot that has already begun to be specially built.

    Why would such a mind solve a series of problems for us? First of all because it is built according to a real model of a human brain down to the level of the single molecule, therefore it is expected that all the phenomena that appear in a biological human brain will develop in it, which means self-awareness, curiosity and a desire to explore and discover answers, something that is much easier to do when you have full and immediate access to all human knowledge via the Internet, and you operate a million times faster or more than a human-biological brain.

    Just as a scientist is rewarded for his work, so it will be possible to reward the same computerized brain in all kinds of ways in order for it to perform the work, for example through a more elaborate body, or creating a feeling of pleasure and happiness every time it solves the problems given to it.

    In my opinion, this is by definition a solvable problem, with a little creativity.

  6. To 5:
    If you create such a mind, do not forget that it is neither a computer nor a robot. Why would he solve a series of problems for you? So what if he can? It's basically someone insanely smart without a body. So once there is one, he will act according to his will and not according to the whim of anyone but him. Then one of the two: either he will come to the conclusion that he has nothing to live for because life has no meaning with or without a body, and then He will cause his death somehow, or he will decide the opposite and then he will already find a way to create a body for him (or not) and basically do what he wants..

  7. In short, I will have a strong video card, I will finish it in 2008 (oh wait, this is my new one)
    In 2018~! And Mosh will do the whole FAH in a quarter of a second and run Crisis 2.

    Capitalism and religion will destroy the rest.

  8. In my opinion, the trend of developing (or trying to develop) a computerized "human" brain is the most important trend, a computerized electronic brain that will work at a speed a million times faster than a biological human brain will be able to solve for us very quickly a long series of problems, from cold fusion to the problem of lack of water , the energy problem and the greenhouse gas problem. Such a computerized brain (which would also have immediate access to all human knowledge via the Internet) would be a root-and-earth solution to a long list of problems we are grappling with today.

    Evolution, which as you remember is a completely blind process whose level of intelligence 0 created us (and our high intelligence...) and therefore there is no reason why after we fully understand the brain and its mode of operation we cannot build a complete and computerized copy of it, whose level of intelligence will be much higher than ours .

  9. For some reason the articles of this type, including Amnon Carmel's article in the link above me
    These are the articles that give me an intellectual orgasm.
    Fascinating, and uplifting to discover that there are people among us (a drop in a sea of ​​shallow people) with a creative, exploratory and curious flight,
    How interesting it was with an article like "The singularity is near" in the link of comment #1,
    It would have been published in a newspaper like "Yeded Na'am" or "HaModi", I wonder if it would have ignited the imagination of some idol worshipers, but talented, (and there is no lack of such in the big yeshiva) who instead of adopting their minds, and spending their days in the issues of Abey and Raba, or "Shor that stuck the cow and found a fetus in her side,"
    I'm interested, then, if this would open the eyes of some of those smart Yeshiva boys in the Saka,
    Maybe they would find out that here, they get stuck in the back with some ancient, imaginary, and meaningless god, (even less than the pot here lady (a plastic pot of course))
    that the communication with him is one-way, or that religion will prove once again that it is the unshakable dark force on humanity