Three relevant technologies for 2022

Even in the unexpectedly turbulent 2020s, already challenging the 1920s for the Roaring Twenties, progress is not going to stand still. Technologies are moving further and further, and not all of them are as well-known as conversational and graphical neural networks, neural interfaces, or self-guided combat drones. However, many of them can affect our lives. In particular, these three.

▍ 3D printing of bone and cartilage implants

Additive technologies are finally close to revolutionizing medical prosthetics. Experiments and developments in this area have been going on for more than a year, but perhaps it is in 2022 that the systematic production of prostheses from 3D-printed bones and cartilage will be launched.

So, the Danish startup Particle3D expects to fully implement 3D printing of bones suitable for human implantation this year. Calcium orthophosphate (aka tricalcium phosphate, TCP) is used for printing. This material is already used in prosthetics, but in the past, the process of making artificial bone to replace a damaged one was complex, time-consuming and expensive. After all, orthophosphate implants are made individually to order based on computed tomography of a particular patient.

Moreover, 3D printing, unlike “sculpting”, allows you to reproduce the porous structure of natural bone tissue. It is very important. It is the implant printed with the help of additive technologies that the body perceives very “correctly”.

The human body not only does not reject such an orthophosphate bone implant: already eight weeks after the operation, blood vessels grow into the prosthesis, and in less than a year the substance of the bone implant printed on a 3D printer turns out to be completely identical to the natural one. At least, this is what experiments on animals and human volunteers show. Orthophosphate “stucco” implants take root much worse and more slowly.

So far, only one noticeable “but” has been identified: until the implant completely “transforms” into bone, the material remains noticeably more fragile than nature suggests. And you will have to apply loads to the repaired parts of the skeleton with extreme caution so as not to earn a new complex closed fracture.

3D printed cartilage implant from Nanochon

It’s not just bones that go into 3D printing. 3D bioprinting company BICO announced a $1.5 million contract with regenerative joint replacement startup Nanochon at the very end of 2021. The partners are developing 3D printed regenerative joint implants that the developers claim will enable faster patient recovery and lower costs for healthcare providers.

In the US alone, up to 7 million joint replacement surgeries are performed annually, mostly for the elderly. However, existing technologies make it possible to ensure regular operation of the implant only for 15-20 years due to the fact that such prostheses do not grow, do not recover and wear out much faster than natural ones. 3D printing will make this “pleasure” not only much more accessible, it will change the very physiology of the process: special polymer implants promote the growth of natural cartilage tissue on them.

All this will be a real revolution in prosthetics.

▍ 3D printing of residential buildings

Experiments with 3D printing of residential and non-residential buildings have also been going on for years, but 2022 could be a breakthrough time in this area as well. If earlier construction printers were mainly used for individual orders, since the end of last year we are increasingly talking about large orders for tens and hundreds of buildings.

Back in the fall of 2021, in the Mexican city of Nacajuka, Tabasco, in just 24 hours, specialists from the Texas-based Icon printed ten buildings at once. This is how the world’s first 3D-printed residential quarter, Icon Vulcan II, appeared. All houses are about 46 square meters, have two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, internal plumbing, and are built to withstand earthquakes that are not uncommon in those places.

Mighty Buildings in California has been building 15 “energy independent” solar-roofed residential units since last year in the Rancho Mirage resort near San Jose. More than a thousand people have already expressed their desire to settle in them.

At the same time, we are increasingly talking not about the luxury segment for wealthy lovers of innovation. Icon focuses primarily on mass 3D printing of low-cost social housing, including in the US itself, where the housing crisis has taken on impressive proportions in recent years.

The company plans to roll out serial printing of hundreds of homes in Austin, Texas in the near future, in collaboration with local developers. According to Icon management, the main problem and limiter to growth now is primarily the low production rate of their construction printers.

The pace of progress in the industry is spurred on by the impressive rise in the cost of building materials and housing, which has dealt a strong blow to the construction industry in many countries of the world – and is fraught with great social problems. But according to modern calculations, mass architectural 3D printing can reduce the cost of building walls by 30% or more. In the United States, already in 2021, there were precedents for putting up for sale “printed” houses for a price up to two times lower than those built in the same area using traditional methods – such as, for example,

It happened

with one of the houses from the New York SQ4D on Long Island.

Previously, the complexity largely consisted in the need to use special fine-grained concrete in construction printers, the development of production and application of which turned out to be not too simple tasks, but this problem is being successfully solved. Polymer concretes can become the same everyday building material of the next decades as sand-lime bricks and monolithic reinforced concrete are now, and 3D printers at construction sites can become as commonplace as construction cranes are now.

▍ Virtual Influencers

People love interesting and bright “Crowbars and Influencers”. They are even more loved by those who use celebrities with a large audience for all sorts of tasks: from marketing goods and services to political campaigning. That’s just a living influencer … alive. He is not perfect, he can change his views, burn out, get sick, drink, lose his temper, sell out to competitors and so on. But!

Virtual influencers are not new. They have been known since the 2000s: take, for example, the famous and memetic cybersinger Miku Hatsune, who was born in 2007. But then the predictions about the appearance of entire hosts of virtual stars did not come true, the vast majority of the stars of the tenth years remained people of flesh and blood. Our days can start a real era of cyberstars: the conditions for this are now much more, both technical and social.

Thanks to the improvement of CGI, technology for simulating a living person on the screen has stepped far ahead. Specialized neural networks like generate static images of human faces that are indistinguishable from photographs of real people and do not cause the “uncanny valley” effect.

With models active in the frame with movements and facial expressions, the situation is still more complicated: even today it would be difficult to implement what is described in Pelevin’s “Generation P” – but it is already clear that the emergence of fully human-like virtual models of people, each video with which you will no longer have to do a whole team of professionals, just around the corner. Even the outdated virtual fashion blogger Lil Miquela from the startup Brud with more than three million subscribers when it appeared in 2016 was not immediately suspected of being virtual.

However, full humanoidness is not always necessary. Often the audience only rejoices at the emphasized virtuality or even animeness of the object of admiration. And the demand for cyberstars is growing, and their engagement rates are often significantly better than those of real people (in the case of Lil Miquela, they say engagement of 2.7% versus an average of 0.7% for “live” influencers), especially in East Asia .

In East Asian cultures, living celebrities are pretty tricky these days. They are not especially “cancelled”, as happens in the States with their heated public discussion around the woke movement, but there are enough other difficulties and their own atmosphere. For example, in South Korea, the ruthless corporate idol industry is literally burning stars with brutal work schedules and behavioral requirements, which raises more and more questions in society about how ethical and even legal it is to treat living people in this way.

In the PRC, living celebrities are increasingly turning out to be not quite in step along the general line of the party; the country has even banned online ratings of music artists. Foreign “idols” from the same South Korea are viewed as even less trustworthy. Increasingly, there are calls for living stars to “serve as a moral model for educating the younger generation in the spirit of state values, and not just that.”

This is also why, already in 2021, the PRC experienced a growing boom of interest in virtual stars that do not conflict with the Communist Party and the government, but have a multi-million audience and entire armies of fans. The Chinese market of virtual “idols” at the end of 2021 amounted to almost 16 billion dollars against the seemingly over-optimistic forecasts of 6 billion, and continues to grow.

Carol from A-soul, a popular virtual singer from China from ByteDance Corporation

If the metaverses take off and don’t turn out to be just another fleeting fad, it’s highly likely that virtual influencers will integrate into them furiously. In fact, in the PRC behind their “Golden Shield” this is already happening quite actively, and the explosion in the popularity of metaverses among the Chinese audience is closely related to the craze for virtual “idols”.

And if virtual influencers are also paired with powerful and complex neural networks, say, the level of LaMDA, which claims to be intelligent and self-conscious, the consequences can be very difficult, but extremely interesting. They can look and be incomparably more alive and “real” than images “living” through the efforts of a whole team of people, and therefore be of much greater interest to a potential audience.

However, the correctness and controllability of their behavior can be even more unpredictable than in the case of living people. However, the behavior of “classic” virtual influencers, often backed by large corporations, can raise no less questions and create no less problems in the future. One thing is clear: with a high probability they can become a familiar and important element of the information landscape in the coming decades.

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