Reader’s Scigest special: 2017 review

By Jack Eardley, Lucy Williams, Ewan Jones and Martha Bozic

Artificial Intelligence

Advances in artificial intelligence this year were staggering and a little scary.

The program AlphaGO defeated the world champion GO player Ke Jie, often stunning him with the foresight of its play. Additionally, the AlphaZero program beat a different, world champion chess program after teaching itself the game for only four hours.

Facebook started to employ AI to identify users at risk of suicide and direct them towards support and human counselling. Although, if a survey of 352 AI experts is to be believed, there is a 50% chance that in 120 years the Facebook AI will be sending users to AI counselling and that all human jobs will be intelligently automated.


Physics and Astronomy

As we waved goodbye to NASA’s Cassini mission in 2017, we said hello to several physics discoveries, including new Earth-like planets, an interstellar visitor to the Solar System, particle-free quantum communication and the first topological laser.

2017 will particularly be remembered for what the Journal of Science named the ‘Breakthrough of the Year’: The first observation of a neutron-star merger.

It marked the start of an age of multi-messenger astronomy, as observations were made both with light and gravitational waves simultaneously. It was found that the universe’s heaviest elements are produced in these events, and that they have implications for the rate of universal expansion.

The location of the merger was galaxy NGC4993, apparently, astronomers don’t do catchy names.


In mid-2017, scientists in the US successfully edited the genome of human embryos for the first time. A research team from Oregon Health and Science University utilised the gene-editing tool CRISPRC as 9 to fix faulty genes responsible for some inherited diseases.

Whilst the US team is not the first to modify human embryos, with three previous trials taking place in China, its application under the USA’s stringent genetic modification was is definitely a turning point. Under the USA’s stringent genetic modification laws, this is definitely a turning point.

Despite many legitimate concerns, this successful use to cure genetic diseases illustrates that the technology has undeniable merits, which will become more apparent with greater usage.



It has been a big year for our brains. Although the impacts of concussion on the brains of American Football players is no secret – so much so that Will Smith starred in a biographical film on the subject in 2015 – 2017 was a game changer.

A study released in July found that 99% of brains examined, from a sample of 111American Football players exhibited Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a form of long-term brain damage.

Meanwhile, in one of the less headline-making stories of the year, a comprehensive review of the research suggests that those ‘brain training’ apps don’t work – so no, they don’t count as revision…

Photographs: Pexels, NASA via Wikimedia Commons, Vigorini via Wikimedia Commons

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