5 Dec, 2021

Trending: #Parag Agrawal | Technology News – The Indian Express

The world is watching us now, even more than they have before,” Parag Agrawal wrote in a note to the staff of Twitter on November 29, the day he was named Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the microblogging platform.

As Agrawal, 37, takes over from Jack Dorsey — the embattled founder of an embattled company that has struggled to keep pace with contemporaries such as Facebook — the IIT Bombay (IIT-B) alumnus will be acutely aware of the spotlight he finds himself in as Twitter negotiates the free-speech line with governments around the world, including in India.

While this is probably the first time Agrawal has stepped into the media glare, he has been a key force at Twitter as Dorsey himself acknowledged. “(Parag) has been my choice for some time given how deeply he understands the company and its needs. Parag has been behind every critical decision that helped turn this company around…. My trust in him as CEO is bone deep,” Dorsey wrote, announcing Agrawal’s appointment and his own stepping down.

Parag, who joined Twitter as an engineer in 2011 and went on to become the San Fransisco-based company’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO), has been responsible for driving most of the path-breaking projects at the company, the most crucial being the successful monestisation of the company’s advertisement-based revenue models. Under Agrawal, the ads team used machine-learning to analyse data and target advertisements to users.

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He has also worked to accelerate user growth by improving ‘Home timeline’ relevance, reworking the company’s technical strategy, and overseeing machine learning and AI across the platform. In 2019, Dorsey leaned on Agrawal to launch Bluesky, an ambitious Twitter-funded initiative to create a decentralised social media, where users can apply their own algorithms to moderate and promote content.

While the industry and the media reacted with surprise and curiosity at Agrawal’s appointment, with Twitter’s India timelines flooded by a rush of memes on “Agarwal ji ka beta”, his friends and teachers say they are not surprised at the meteoric rise of this “brilliant”, “focused”, “creative” mind — traits that seem to have led him all the way to Silicon Valley and onwards to Twitter.

His wife Vineeta Agrawala, who holds a B.S. in biophysics from Stanford University and has MD and PhD degrees from Harvard Medical School/MIT, is a General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm. The couple have a three-year-old son.

News of Agrawal’s appointment brought in a rush of memories for Praveen Tyagi, 47, who coached Agrawal for his Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) — from the time Agrawal and his friends fell off a cycle they were “riding triple” while on their way to class, to when the boys would escort him to the gate when a back pain left him using crutches, to the gold medal Agrawal won at the International Physics Olympiad.

“Parag was a bright student… got a high JEE rank. He would have ranked better but I remember, during his examination, he asked for supplement sheets and due to a misunderstanding on the part of the examiner, he lost valuable time,” said Tyagi.

Dr Jennifer Widom, professor at Stanford University who guided Agrawal through his PhD thesis on ‘Incorporating Uncertainty in Data Management and Integration’, says his analytical skills and ability to collaborate will help him in his new role at Twitter.

“Parag is incredibly smart and creative. As a PhD student, he was equally adept with theoretical concepts as building software systems. He was also a wonderful sounding board and collaborator with other students and their research, very generous with his time. He is also analytical, curious, and patient — all of which will help in his new role,” she told The Sunday Express, signing off with an advice to the new Twitter CEO: “Don’t lose your fun-loving, light-hearted, down-to-earth personality. You kept it during many challenging years as CTO and I’m counting on you to keep it as CEO as well.”

Supratim Biswas, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at IIT-B, who taught Agrawal, said in a recent video address, “Parag is from the 2001 batch and graduated from our department in 2005. We all know we only get the toppers from all over India into our department, and to top within that itself, requires special calibre and Parag definitely had it. He was extremely bright, focused, and hence it is no wonder that at such a young age he has earned this distinction. He was also honoured with the Young Alumnus Award from the institute three years ago, so he was in the news as far as the department is concerned.”

Anand Kumar, now principal of Atomic Energy Junior College in Mumbai’s eastern suburbs of Anushakti Nagar where Agrawal studied, said, “From what I have heard from his teachers, he was very intelligent, focused, creative and always to the point. We were very excited (about the appointment)… He will be a talking point when we give speeches in our college to inspire our students.”

Prof Subhasis Chaudhuri, Director of IIT Bombay, said, “The significance of a university is often judged by the collective achievements of its alumni… Parag Agrawal is one such alumnus that IIT-B is proud of.”

Agrawal’s contemporaries at Stanford University and earlier at IIT-B, where he spent hours hanging out with friends near Vihar Lake, behind the institute’s Hostel No. 4, too talk of him as a man who learned fast.

Devdatta Gangal of Facebook Reality Labs recently wrote a post on Agrawal, his Computer Science contemporary at IIT-B, and how their friendship was cemented during Gangal’s frequent visits to Stanford, where his wife studied, and later after he moved to Silicon Valley. “The living room of Parag’s home at 50 Dudley Ln, Stanford, was our unofficial ‘Community Center’ and we have spent hours chatting, playing games, cooking, eating, celebrating Diwali etc, and crashing there. And using it as a base for various treks, hikes, and weekend ski trips to Tahoe,” he wrote, before listing Agrawal’s winning traits — that he is well-read, logical, hyper-efficient, has clarity of thought, and that he loves Twitter.

“Parag is deeply knowledgeable about almost every topic he cares about. And there are many — sports, finance, Indian and American politics, travel, and unsurprisingly consumer electronics and tech. If there is something he doesn’t know, he is quick to say ‘jyada idea nahi’, ‘I haven’t followed it recently’, and follows up with ‘bata what’s the deal with XYZ’, with the right set of questions to get informed on it. Maybe this is what Jack Dorsey meant when he wrote about Parag’s curiosity,” wrote Gangal.

Vijay Krishnan, CTO of the Silicon Valley-based Turing.com, who graduated from IIT- B and Stanford University, said, “My first overlap with Parag at IIT-B was when we were in a geometric algorithms elective course. It was taught by a professor trying to solve the ‘P vs NP’ problem, which is one of the toughest open problems in Computer Science. Only students who did extremely well in other mathematics and algorithms classes at IIT would opt for it. I vividly remember that Parag seemed to easily understand the material while most others found it hard and would lean on him for questions and clarifications after the class.”

But one of the biggest challenges awaits Agrawal back in India, where Twitter is increasingly finds itself caught in the free speech vs censorship debate.

While tensions between the company and the government, which peaked earlier this year, have eased considerably, Agrawal’s appointment, say officials of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, is expected to douse the fire further.

“The ministry is much more than just about social media intermediaries or Internet regulation. We are hopeful that with this (appointment), things will be more positive in coming times,” said the official. Twitter India refused to comment on Agrawal’s appointment or his role in the company.

Like the current crop of Indian-American tech bosses — among them IBM Chairman and CEO Arvind Krishna; Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella; Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai; and Adobe Chairman, president and CEO Shantanu Narayen — Agrawal too will have to be “smart and clever in his meetings and dealings with the Indian government”, said an industry executive who has worked in the Silicon Valley.

However, as CEO of the company, Twitter’s India operations will only be a small part of what Agrawal surveys. He will be watched for how he steers the company and its policies while focusing on the company’s financial performance and technological innovations.

A big test will also be how he navigates hot-button issues — including “misinformation” on the platform — in a highly polarised political environment. Across the world, while some want Twitter to do more to address misinformation and hate speech on the platform, others have accused it of censorship.

Agrawal got a taste of what awaits him when, soon after his appointment as CEO, an old tweet of his was dug out by conservatives who accused him of racial bias.

A relatively more innocuous tweet of his is from 2018, when an employee of the platform had quoted him as saying, “For most problems you encounter someone else has encountered a similar problem and has probably built a solution that you can re-use, modify or be inspired by. So try to be lazy and make use of those solutions.”

3 Dec, 2021

Blockchain HR technology: 5 use cases impacting human resources – TechTarget

By all accounts, blockchain is barely making a scratch in HR at the moment, but it still promises to play a role in the long-term future of work.

Adoption of blockchain in HR may be low now, but blockchain applications are increasingly prevalent in financial management, which overlaps with HR in areas such as payroll, according to Dana Daher, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group. 

Besides this steady encroachment of blockchain in closely related functions, interest in blockchain HR technology has been building for quite some time.

In a December 2019 report, “Trending Tools and Technologies in HR,” from the benchmarking association APQC, 82% of organizations were already at least somewhat familiar with blockchain, but only 11.7% were implementing blockchain HR technology. However, interest was growing, with 74% either considering, experimenting with or piloting blockchain.

Top use cases for blockchain in HR

A blockchain is a distributed, shared digital ledger technology in which transactions are verified and recorded in a way that makes it virtually impossible for someone to tamper with information. That means people who don’t already know each other can share data and conduct transactions, including financial ones, without an intermediary. The main benefits are trust, privacy, security, data integrity and transparency.

According to APQC, the top three adoption drivers of blockchain in HR are the need to increase transactional transparency, increase transaction speed by reducing clearing and settlement time, and automating or simplifying business processes.

“In the last few years alone, blockchain has progressed beyond hype and into practical applications in all areas of the business,” Daher said. “For HR, the strongest applications of blockchain address critical HR management issues, including payroll, recruitment, employee verification and contract management.”

5 promising uses for blockchain in HR

Here’s how each of those applications of blockchain in HR play out, according to Daher:

1. Payroll. This is perhaps the strongest use case. Blockchain can streamline the payroll process by automating and securing payments to employees, contractors and vendors. An early application, first offered a few years ago by several startups, is cross-border payments, which contractors and “gig economy” workers often require. In some cases, they lack bank accounts, which is usually a requirement for automatic deposits from a payroll system. Traditional electronic payments can be stymied by local regulations and IT security schemes that blockchain payroll systems overcome. Major HR software vendors are getting involved. For example, ADP, one of the biggest payroll providers, has a blockchain application in development.

2. Recruitment. Candidates can use blockchain to tokenize their identity and provide virtual credentials, such as college transcripts, training certificates, resumes and work histories that recruiters and hiring managers can trust have not been tampered with. Chasing down and securely transmitting documentation is a big part of a recruiter’s workload that blockchain HR technology could streamline significantly. Organizations often hire outside companies to perform background checks and verify information, another recruiting expense that could be reduced by blockchain verification. While this HR application of blockchain is still nascent, universities have begun providing students with records in blockchain format.

3. Employee data. Personal information can be encrypted and stored on the blockchain, providing immutability and a secure governance system for private information. However, as with educational records, the veracity of information stored on the blockchain depends heavily on the methods and honesty of whoever creates the initial record. Therefore, some experts say, it is more realistic for blockchains to be the database of record for employee data going forward than a reliable repository of past information.

4. Contract management. The smart contracts that blockchain enables can transform paper contracts into immutable, transparent digital contracts. Employers can use them to enforce the terms and penalties outlined in agreements with employees and contractors.

“Employment contracts is one of the areas where blockchain can be utilized, as well as background and reference checks,” said Scott Hirsch, CTO and co-founder of TalentMarketplace, an AI-powered recruitment platform for tech companies. “The best use cases are ones where external verification and immutability are required.”

Improving the speed and efficiency of benefits administration processes is another potential use of blockchain’s contract management features.

“Blockchains also can be used to execute benefits, events or payments,” wrote HR expert Riia O’Donnell in a post on HR Dive. “When an employee becomes eligible for health coverage, [blockchains] could be used to initiate the benefit; when a probationary period is satisfied, the blockchain can trigger an increase in wages. It could even be used to administer employee contracts, like non-competes.”

5. Personal blockchains. While blockchain seems destined to be pinned to HR’s internal functions, an unexpected twist is appearing on the horizon.

A very different and significant use of blockchain in HR will come from employees themselves, according to the APQC report, which predicted that employees will soon control personal blockchains that “encompass their entire professional identity, including academic transcripts, credentials, work history, employee review data and training.”

Employers would need permission to access and add to an individual’s private blockchain. Employees could provide access keys to employers and then rescind the keys when they leave the organization to maintain control over their personal records. Blockchain HR technology used in this way would effectively function as “value passports” that employees could take anywhere and continue to build throughout their careers, according to the report’s authors.

“HR would be able to verify employee data within hours or even minutes rather than days, which would reduce costs and cycle times for processes like onboarding and recruiting,” they wrote.

blockchain business benefits
Blockchain’s overall advantages in trust, immutability and traceability have numerous benefits in such HR processes as recruitment, employee records management and background checks.

Challenges for blockchain adoption in HR

Given the clear advantages, what do HR experts think is holding back adoption of blockchain in HR?

“For starters, HR is typically a bit of a laggard when it comes to technology adoption, and if you add that to the complexity of blockchain implementation, you have one major obstacle,” Hirsch said. “As of now, blockchain still isn’t a widespread solution for many business applications, so the infancy of the technology could be an obstacle as well.”

Beyond these broad opposing forces lie other obstacles and resistance. The operational risks can be broken down into the following four categories, according to Daher:

  1. Cyber security. Blockchain is still vulnerable to data vulnerabilities from endpoints that hackers can exploit to intercept data during transmission, which poses risks to HR professionals who deal with personal information and financial transactions.
  2. Compliance risk. Blockchain still lacks regional regulatory standards, which exposes organizations to financial losses and legal penalties for failing to respect employee data rights and comply with legal frameworks, such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.
  3. Counterparty risk. Third-party vendors often have to be enlisted to facilitate blockchain transactions. The trust provided by a blockchain is thus extended to those vendors’ applications and websites, which may not be as secure as the blockchain.
  4. Data privacy. For HR, the biggest internal risk factor is the human component. Employees may not yet feel it is safe to store personal information on a distributed ledger.

The bottom line on blockchain in HR

While blockchain packs a lot of promise for employers and employees alike, it is still very much in its infancy.

“Blockchain has the potential to radically transform the HR function, touching everything from benefits administration to control over sensitive employee data to the way that HR transactions are carried out,” said Elissa Tucker, APQC’s principal research lead for human capital management.

Nevertheless, “in spite of these benefits, blockchain is still an emerging technology for HR, with few HR leaders reporting that their HR function was already using blockchain,” she said.

1 Dec, 2021

Tech Trends in Higher Ed: Metaverse, NFT and DAO – Inside Higher Ed

The pandemic has served to accelerate tech changes in higher education. Certainly, remote and the more refined online learning modes have been advanced through adversity. Meanwhile, other important technologies have continued to develop. They will play an ever-increasing role in enhancing the efficiency, engagement and outcomes of learning.

Although the term “metaverse” has been around for 30 years, since the publication of the science fiction novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, it has become the buzzword of this autumn. Facebook is morphing into Meta, with promises from CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Almost immediately thereafter, Microsoft announced that it was launching Mesh, an immersive platform that enables presence and shared experiences from anywhere—on any device—through mixed-reality applications.

Most of what we see in these announcements has existed previously in Linden Labs’ Second Life and also in Minecraft and Roblox, among a host of other immersive platforms. However, Roblox has already announced a commitment of $10 million in grants dedicated to developing a set of classes at the middle school, high school and college levels. As they state in The Wall Street Journal, “One of the games the company is funding will teach robotics, another will focus on space exploration, and the third will help students explore careers and concepts in computer science, engineering and biomedical science.”

What is new in enabling the metaverse is powered by the rollout of broadband through 5G, Starlink, high-speed 10G cable and analogous networking. These low-latency technologies enable the use of real-time augmented and virtual reality. I expect that the metaverse in higher education will soon become the platform of learning management systems that leverage the persistent platform, range of communication possibilities and deeply immersive characteristics to bring about better learning outcomes. The ability to virtually engage in (and repeat) physical tasks while immersing oneself in virtual or real-time augmented environments will add a deep dimension to the physical or virtual classroom—far beyond mere textbook narratives, illustrations and videos.

Nonfungible tokens (NFTs) are enabled by the blockchain. As Jeffery Young describes, “That means this technology lets you create a digital file that is one-of-a-kind—and that has coded into it the proof of its authenticity as an original. NFTs use the blockchain, the same technical framework that makes bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies possible.” Much of the news around NFTs focuses on the sale of original artwork or unique digital artifacts. But the blockchain structure supports the important function of authenticating the tokens. MIT has done much in originating and promoting the associated use of blockchain for authentication of college certificates, transcripts and opening the door for a wide variety of e-portfolios owned and shared by learners and teachers, rather than universities. All of these are validated through the blockchain. Pepperdine visiting professor Beau Brennan writes in LinkedIn that NFTs will replace diplomas and résumés:

In summary, with education NFT’s a system of accrediting becomes more democratized. Education becomes more equitable and open. Teachers can be compensated in accordance with the value they provide. They start to become their own brand or “institution.” Students create demand, take more ownership of their education and can get more excited about learning and actively seek out ways to “collect” experiences. In terms of career, this system allows for a more robust and effective résumé but also allows for more opportunities to interface with companies.

DAO—decentralized autonomous organization—is another blockchain acronym that is relatively new on the education scene. Through this, technology courses, certificates and more can become automated and authenticated on the blockchain. Cathy Hackl writes in Forbes,

Can you imagine a way of organizing with other people around the world, without knowing each other and establishing your own rules, and making your own decisions autonomously all encoded on a Blockchain? Well, DAOs are making this real. Wikipedia defines DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) as an organization represented by rules encoded as a transparent computer program, controlled by the organization members, and not influenced by a central government. As the rules are embedded into the code, no managers are needed, thus removing any bureaucracy or hierarchy hurdles. Some of today’s internet users and the next generations are looking forward to starting social organizations, searching for an answer to: “How can we exchange values in a trusted environment?”

In the case of self-paced classes, a series of assessments can be embedded that are automatically graded and NFTs are issued based on the demonstrated competencies. The members of the DAO can be comprised of the faculty (and students if deemed advantageous) who establish the criteria for the NFTs. This concept can possibly be scaled to an entire university. Chinese educators have experimented with creating student-faculty collaborative content development and course structuring/sharing with minimal administrative infrastructure:

A group of top-tier Chinese universities … is planning to build a decentralized, blockchain-powered organization aimed to make educational resources more accessible and affordable. Led by Tsinghua x-lab, the innovation incubator at China’s Tsinghua University, along with several other educational institutions such as the Peking and Zhejiang universities, the initiative was revealed on Sunday … To do that, the university’s innovation center seeks to build a decentralized autonomous organization (or DAO) based on a blockchain protocol, and which universities or research institutions can join as distributed nodes. The end goal, according to x-lab, is to let participants vote for future development and applications over the platform, while students and faculties could potentially gain access to educational resources from different institutions shared over its distributed ledger.

Economist, teacher and data scientist Runy Calmera envisions “pop-up” education using the blockchain DAO in his TEDx talk.

The future of these technologies will be transformative in higher education. Who is tracking the application and development of the metaverse, NFTs and DAOs at your university? Are you preparing to use the metaverse, NFTs and DAOs to enhance the delivery of learning at your institution?

1 Dec, 2021

The 100 greatest innovations of 2021 – Popular Science

When we wrapped last year’s Best of What’s New awards, the PopSci staff wasn’t certain about what lay ahead. COVID-19 vaccines on their way into the public’s arms sparked hope, but signs of a looming supply-chain pinch left us wondering about the potential of the year in innovation to come. So, as we gathered to debate the winners, we were well prepared to be, well, underwhelmed. But what we found instead inspired quite the opposite reaction: Faced with the challenges of limited resources, a chip shortage, and an ongoing pandemic, engineers, developers, and scientists did a lot with what they had. 

Across all our 10 categories, gains in efficiency showcased our collective drive to optimize our world. A new hair-washing system creates a luxurious lather with less water, a spin on steelmaking spits out a mere fraction of the carbon, a clever AI plans airline routes for maximum efficiency, and a simple riff on a remote control zaps the need for disposable batteries. And, all the while, our push against the pandemic netted gains in prevention, testing, and treatment that will form the backbone of our resistance to the disease for years to come. 

To earn a spot among the 100 technologies on this list—a roundup we’ve argued over annually since 1988—every winner convinced us of its role on our shared path to a healthier, safer, smarter, and happier tomorrow. 

Explore the winners:

The 100 greatest innovations of 2021
Ellume

Never in recent history has the world been so engrossed by the most mundane stages of the scientific process. But for the last two years, each incremental step in science—from lab research to understand the evolution of COVID-19 and develop a vaccine to fight it, to clinical trials, to pharmaceutical approval—meant one thing: Hope. And that’s what this list of the year’s best health innovations highlights. In addition to two novel vaccines released to combat the most deadly pandemic of our time, the world also saw the first-ever drug approved to treat rare progeria, a new insulin formulation that might finally make the life-saving therapy affordable for all, and a malaria vaccine decades in the making. 

Innovation of the Year: Two groundbreaking vaccines for COVID-19

To pull humankind out of the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors and public health experts knew we would need a safe and effective vaccine. Pharmaceutical companies around the world have raced to characterize the SARS-CoV-2 virus, understand how it invades our immune systems, and develop a targeted injection to prevent it. As of November 2021, at least 28 promising vaccines have been trialed in humans, and 15 have been authorized for emergency use around the world. But two stood out enough to win our top award: Pfizer’s Comirnaty, developed in partnership with Germany-based biotechnology company BioNTech, and Moderna’s SpikeVax, which the Cambridge, Mass., company developed with the help of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease. 

The jabs are unlike any other inoculation on the market today. They are the first so-called mRNA vaccines—a technology that has been in development for decades. They work by harnessing messenger RNA, the genetic bits of code that tell our cells how to make proteins. The vaccines carry mRNA with instructions for making a protein found on the outside of SARS-CoV-2, the novel virus that causes COVID-19. Our bodies quickly destroy the errant mRNA instructions, but not before our cells build the corresponding proteins. Those proteins then attach to specialized immune cells, triggering the system to recognize them as invaders and develop antibodies against their ilk. If a vaccinated person comes into contact with SARS-CoV-2, those antibodies can spring into action, reproduce, and destroy the virus before it replicates out of control, thwarting the disease.  

This duo of shots also work remarkably well. In clinical trials, both of the two-dose regimens were at least 94 percent effective at preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19. The vaccines also fended off hospitalization nearly 100 percent of the time. While a multitude of inoculation options were crucial to curbing the spread of the virus, these two mRNA therapies are especially poised to change the course of the pandemic—and the future of preventative medicine.

A new treatment for a rare, deadly disease

zokinnvy

Eiger Pharmaceuticals

People diagnosed with Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome rarely live beyond 15 years of age, and until now treatments could only target its symptoms and complications. The disease occurs when a genetic mutation changes the shape of a protein in the nuclei of a carrier’s cells. The faulty protein, called progerin, causes cells to prematurely die. Zokinvy prevents the buildup of defective progerin, thereby minimizing the damage it can do. In addition to prolonging lifespan by several years, the new drug also reduces symptoms of heart and bone problems associated with the rare condition, which affects roughly 400 children worldwide.

A big step forward for gene therapy  

Since 2012, researchers have been tweaking CRISPR, the gene-editing tool that easily edits the human genome, to treat diseases caused by DNA mutations. But until this year, the method, which involves injecting a patient with tweaked stem cells, had only been used to treat conditions whose mutations are in the bloodstream, such as sickle-cell anemia. In August of 2021, researchers published the results of a six-person clinical trial in which doctors attempted to fix a genetic defect that causes a rare liver condition called transthyretin amyloidosis. Packaged inside a tiny blob called a lipid nanoparticle, the gene-editing tech made its way to the liver, where it went to work correcting defective cells. There’s still a long way to go before this treatment, which is still in the first phase of clinical trials, finds its way to the market. But, if successful, it could pave the way for healing a wide variety of genetic conditions.

A game-changing shot at Ebola

When infected with Zaire ebolavirus, people can experience high fevers, severe bleeding, and organ failure, which is fatal in half of cases. Researchers at biotech company Regeneron have now created monoclonal antibodies—lab-crafted molecules that mimic the work of the immune system’s natural defenses to help take down invaders—to target the illness. Inmazeb is a combination of three antibodies that target a protein on the surface of the Ebola virus. In a clinical trial, 66.2 percent of the 154 people who received Inmazeb survived, compared to only 49 percent of the 153 people who didn’t. While not a surefire cure, monoclonal antibodies have been crucial in treating many viral diseases. The FDA gave an emergency-use authorization to two monoclonal antibody therapies for COVID-19 in 2021, and approved another one to treat Ebola as well.

The first at-home test for COVID-19  

Vaccines greatly reduce the risk of acquiring and spreading COVID-19, but they’re not perfect. Breakthrough cases will continue to emerge even among highly vaccinated communities. That’s where testing comes in. The Ellume at-home COVID-19 test was the first of its kind to get FDA authorization, allowing consumers to check their COVID-19 status without going to the doctor. The test consists of a nasal swab, a dropper, processing fluid, and an analyzer. An app takes you through step-by-step instructions: Connect the analyzer via Bluetooth, empty the processing fluid into the dropper, swab both nostrils, attach the swab to the dropper, squeeze five drops onto the analyzer, and wait 15 minutes for your results. Ellume reports that the test identifies positive cases 95 percent of the time and negative ones 97 percent of the time. 

A better way to fix a torn ACL  

The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, stretches diagonally across the middle of the knee and is vital in keeping our bodies upright and stable. It’s also prone to failure; according to a 2016 report in the Journal of Clinical Orthopedics and Trauma, it’s the most common source of significant knee injury. Repairing a torn ACL requires surgery, and sometimes reconstruction—an invasive procedure where a piece of tendon and bone is taken from another part of the body, or from a donor, to rebuild the torn ligament. The newly FDA-approved BEAR Implant takes the place of that material. Made of bovine collagen, it’s secured in place between the two torn ends of the ACL to bind them together. The patient’s body absorbs the device within a few months, by which time, new, healthy tissue has grown in its place.

More precise CT scans

CT scans provide detailed images of the inside of the human body that help diagnose and track disease and injury. Conventional scanners create images by combining the total energy from several x-rays. During this process, some energy from the x-ray is lost, leading to lower resolution. Siemens’ new scanner, called the Naeotom Alpha, uses detectors that count photons to measure every particle of light that comes through, leading to sharper, higher contrast images of the inner workings of your body.  

The most affordable insulin ever

Some 34 million people live with diabetes in the United States alone. For many of them, insulin—a hormone usually produced in the pancreas that helps process glucose—is necessary for survival. Despite this, insulin remains an extremely expensive product, even for those who are fully insured. Semglee could change that. It’s an interchangeable, biosimilar insulin product—the first of its kind to gain recognition from the FDA. A biosimilar is a biological therapy (hormones and vaccines are examples) that has no meaningful difference from one that’s already FDA-approved and on the market—think of it as a generic medication that pharmacists can swap for a name-brand drug, but that doesn’t require prior approval from a doctor to make the switch. Semglee, which comes in 10 mL vials and 3 mL prefilled pens and is administered subcutaneously once daily, is medically identical to Lantus, the name brand for insulin.

The first vaccine for malaria 

By some estimates malaria kills about half a million people worldwide every year. GlaxoSmithKline’s Mosquirix—a vaccine decades in the making—generates an immune response against Plasmoduim falciparum, which is among the most deadly of the five parasites that cause malaria, and the most prevalent strain throughout Africa. The vaccine received an endorsement from the World Health Organization; a distinction that gives it the go-ahead for wider distribution and use. While the inoculation is only about 50 percent effective against severe malaria, with a significant drop in efficacy after a year, it’s still one of the best ways to prevent the deadly disease. 

A new way to banish yeast infections

According to the CDC, about 1.4 million people in the US go to the doctor for vaginal yeast infections each year. While over-the-counter treatments often work just fine, more stubborn cases can resist. Brexafemme is the first novel antifungal in more than two decades, representing an entirely new class called triterpenoids. It works by blocking an enzyme that helps create a protective coating around Candida fungi, which cause vaginal yeast infections. Without this covering, the microbe quickly dies off. The two-tablet formulation starts working within a few days, and remains in a person’s system for as long as two weeks to prevent a resurgence. 

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Best of What's New Gadgets header
Apple

In many ways, 2021 came with a question mark. The year began with an all-remote Consumer Electronics Show, an event that offered scaled-back product lines with nebulous shipping dates. Despite all that uncertainty, 2021 turned out to be an important year for gadgets, largely thanks to the big players absorbing some of the chip shortage impacts. Two of the biggest tech companies in the world—Apple and Google—revamped their hardware; Samsung released a truly mature folding device; and Microsoft refined its Surface Pen with a seemingly small change that affects the entire experience. Of course, there were still a few surprises out there, too, one of which involved illustrations of hipster apes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Seriously. 

Grand Award Winner: The MacBook’s back, baby

Back in 2019, Apple announced its intentions to break up with Intel, the company that had been supplying the CPUs for Macs since 2006. Then, at the end of 2020, Cupertino announced the M1. It’s a system-on-a-chip, which means one silicon slab contains the CPU, graphics processor, system memory, machine learning hardware, and just about everything else a computer needs to operate. Because Apple controls the software and hardware surrounding the M1, its systems can eliminate layers of inefficiency. The chip launched with refreshes to the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, laptops that obliterated benchmark tests for their classes. Apple also stuck its new silicon into the Mac Mini and the new ultra-slim iMac. They’re equally as impressive. The company has already updated the M1 with the new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, which popped in October. Laptops with those guts are already outperforming pricier Mac Pros using the old architecture. It was a big swing for Apple and, at least so far, it has been a massive achievement. 

At last, a fast, high-resolution camera

High-end digital cameras typically ask shooters to choose between high-resolution or super-fast shooting. With the A1, Sony designed an image sensor with its own onboard memory and paired it with one of (if not the) most powerful image processors on the market. As a result, this flagship body can capture 30 full-resolution 50.1-megapixel raw files per second, while performing 120 autofocus and auto exposure calculations in that same blink. For extra fun, photographers can choose to turn off the mechanical shutter and shoot in silence. 

The new art market

In March 2021, Christie’s auction house sold work by a digital artist named Beeple for $69 million. It wasn’t a painting or a sculpture, but rather a collection of non-fungible tokens, or, as they’re better known, NFTs. These tokens exist on the blockchain, public online ledgers that keep track of transactions involving digital assets. Think of them like virtual items you’d purchase in a video game, only that ownership exists IRL and can be worth thousands or even millions of dollars. Athletes and celebrities have spent big bucks buying NFTs from projects like the Bored Ape Yacht Club. Disney even made NFTs for its most popular characters, which is as clear a sign as any that the tech has outgrown the crypto bro community and hit the mainstream.

Finders of lost things  

They look like big Mentos, but Apple’s AirTags are really clever little GPS-less locator devices that help people keep tabs on stuff that’s prone to getting lost. The gadgets, powered by wee button batteries, employ a super-low-power Bluetooth connection to ping off of Apple devices on the company’s FindMy network. Each tag can ping hyper-specific location information via Bluetooth to let you use your phone like a divining rod, which turns a frustrating hunt for your keys into a fun little game of hotter/colder. The company also built in anti-stalking protections, so if someone else’s AirTag starts moving with you, it can throw up an alert on your phone. 

The first folding phone that makes sense 

When you’re using it, the Galaxy Z Flip3 feels like a typical high-end smartphone. Oddly, that’s what makes it so special. When closed, it’s just over a half-inch thick and roughly 3.4 inches on its longest edge. That makes it small enough to fit in almost any pocket. Unfolded, it presents a 6.7-inch AMOLED display on par with chunky flagship handhelds. It’s the usability upgrades that really make this a huge leap, though: The screen is far less prone to splitting than it was in previous versions, thanks to a protective polymer film that tucks securely into the bezels at the edges to prevent peeling. 

A savior of old photos 

Despite what you may have seen on CSI, “enhancing” a photograph typically introduces digital jaggies called artifacts that can obliterate fine details. A new feature in Adobe Photoshop called Super Resolution leverages machine learning in order to blow up photos without making them look like ancient, low-quality JPEGs. The intelligence recognizes discrete objects in the scene to fill in the gaps, without guessing blindly about what those pixels should look like. The results can modernize photos from the time when 8 megapixels—less than the resolution of a 4K screen—was a real stretch. 

A smartphone chip built for AI

For its Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro smartphones, Google built its own system-on-a-chip specifically to handle ambitious tasks like image processing and real-time translation and transcription—without needing to call the cloud. The Tensor chip includes two high-performance cores, a pair of moderately high-performance cores, and four efficient cores. The efficient ones handle most typical tasks while the more-powerful modules are free to crunch away. For instance, the Pixel 6 can apply high-dynamic range capture to every frame in a video, so the movies sport vibrant colors and no blown-out highlights. 

The most-realistic digital pen(cil)

Open the Windows Sketchable App on a Microsoft Surface Pro 8 and start drawing in virtual pencil with the Slim Pen 2. It mimics the sensation of a graphic nib dragging across paper with eerie accuracy. Switch to “chalk” and the feel changes, offering a fairly accurate—though far less unpleasant—essence of marking up a blackboard. The stylus can pull off these impressions thanks to a custom chip inside, as well as strategically placed haptic motors that subtly shake and rattle with hyper precision. 

A truly modular laptop 

Crack open most laptops, and you’re already in trouble. Manufacturers play a game of logistical Tetris every time they try to cram powerful PC pieces into increasingly trim machines. That usually involves gluing components in place, which makes the computers a nightmare to fix or upgrade. The Framework Laptop’s totally modular design expects people to swap parts as they break or become obsolete. Snap-in components make it simple to change out everything from keyboards to mainboards, memory, and ports. Ardent Right To Repair advocates iFixit gave it a 10 out of 10, which means it’ll stay out of the recycling center for way longer than the machine you’re looking at right now. 

Making computers work for everyone 

People with disabilities often modify computing devices so they can effectively interact with them. Microsoft’s accessibility kit for its Surface computers takes that kind of hacking off their hands. Textured labels for keycaps make specific buttons easier to find without having to see them; tactile port indicators do the same thing for connectivity; and adhesive tabs with rings and lanyards make it simpler to open and adjust the laptops without the use of a person’s hands. While none of these simple add-ons are engineering marvels, they represent an effort to make Surface computers accessible to more people—without sending them out into the unpredictable world of kludgy third-party accessories. 

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Best of What's new autos header
Rivian

The automotive industry came into 2021 trying to beat out some extremely tough odds, not least of which being a choked supply chain. It may seem surprising, then, just how truly revolutionary the year ended up. If you’re a fan of pickup trucks, 2021 was a banner year, with Ford bringing its super-popular F-150 into the post-combustion era, and Rivian finally delivering on its lofty promises of a versatile battery-powered truck. We even got a few pleasant surprises, such as the charming Hyundai Santa Cruz, which packs the soul of a pickup into a transformed crossover. Overall, it was a pretty good year for people who like to lug stuff around.

Grand Award Winner: A landmark electric pickup

Rivian, the Amazon-backed electric automotive startup, finally launched its long-awaited R1T electric pickup. In doing so, it beat (or at least matched) veterans like Ford and General Motors to the punch. The R1T is Rivian’s “adventure vehicle,” meaning that while it can do pretty much anything that a gasoline-powered pickup can, the company doesn’t promise the highest towing capacity or best overall bed volume. Instead, it’s more of a lifestyle truck—one capable of off-roading, overlanding, and just general outdoorsy activities, but in an EV with a roughly 400-mile range.

Rivian offers an array of add-ons that are especially handy for such adventuring. An optional three-person tent accessory enables camping on the go, and a slide-out Camp Kitchen stovetop fuels eat-what-you-catch fishing trips. And all that stuff neatly stows away in the R1T’s gear tunnel—a hollow just behind the cab—to avoid taking up precious bed space. Even with all of those features, it’s still a totally capable pickup truck. Each wheel is powered by an independent hub-mounted electric motor that together deliver a total of 800 horsepower and 900 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough oomph for the all-electric pickup to sprint from 0 to 60 in just three seconds. Yes, really.

A sports sedan that stays glued to the ground

Featuring a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 engine, the CT4-V Blackwing puts out an incredible 472-horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque—more than enough from a sedan that can hop from 0 to 60 in less than four seconds. In order to achieve those speeds, the Blackwing employs a customized spoiler at the back, as well as air-guiding fins and a molded wing under its front, all of which keep the car pressed into the pavement so that just the right amount as air rushes over it at speed. 

An unexpected marriage of a crossover and a pickup

Seemingly out of left field, Hyundai launched its all-new Santa Cruz, a compact pickup meant for urban-dwellers who need a bit more utility. The Santa Cruz has a four-foot open-top bed, but it takes its styling cues from Hyundai’s smartly designed crossovers like the Santa Fe—but with a ground clearance at a respectable 8.6 inches. The bed can’t match the total capacity found in a full-sized truck, but it can accommodate full sheets of plywood or drywall without having to angle them. 

A super-affordable, fuel-efficient truck

Coming standard with a 2.5-liter hybrid powertrain, the Maverick is one of Ford’s most fuel-efficient offerings. It scores a 42 mile-per-gallon EPA rating in the city, which is better than many sedans. And with the Maverick’s base model starting at $19,995, it also happens to be Ford’s most affordable vehicle, period. Ford also highly encourages owners to DIY just about everything; the truck accepts 3D-printed accessories like extra cup holders or phone mounts using the in-cabin Ford Integrated Tether System (FITS). 

The car that sees when you snooze

The iX is BMW’s technology flagship. For starters, there’s the electrochromic sunroof that can turn opaque at the press of a button, and the connected in-car overhead camera can live-stream the cabin to the driver’s phone in case of a theft event. Most important: Those in-cabin cameras also promise to monitor the driver’s state, so if they go unconscious, the car can automatically find a safe spot to pull onto the hard shoulder without putting other people at risk. 

A modular infotainment system to update just about any car

Bringing older cars into the world of large infotainment screens can be difficult due to space constraints. At the same time, many modern models employ phablet-style infotainment displays that protrude from the dashboard. Coupled with shallow dashboard mounting, either setup makes replacement all-but impossible for many cars. Pioneer has thought up a modular solution in the form of the new DMH-WC5700NEX receiver. The 6.8-inch screen can separate from the rest of the in-dash electronics, so the screen can mount discretely from the rest of the unit. This means that you can place the screen, which works with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, virtually anywhere.

An electric car that doubles as a power station

The Ioniq 5’s smart looks and tech-centric features make it seem like the perfect daily driver for any EV-curious driver. But here’s the coolest part: The car can use as much as 80 percent of its stored electricity to send juice to just about anything with a standard power cable—think of it like a giant battery pack on wheels. Hyundai says that its Vehicle-to-Load charging enables the Ioniq 5 to supply up to 3.6-kW of power to external devices, which is perfect for devices like a laptop or tablet. And during events like camping trips or a power outages, the Ioniq can supply small appliances or even charge e-bikes.

An interactive way to learn about a vehicle

Digital owner’s manuals have been around for a few years now, mostly in the form of static text and graphics, but that hasn’t persuaded owners to actually read through the entire handbook. Toyota decided to change that by creating a companion smartphone app for the 2022 Sienna’s already-digital owner’s manual. Called the “Driver’s Companion,” the app features a narrator, called Joya, that acts like Siri, responding to voice commands in easy-to-follow conversations. This feature allows the driver to ask questions such as “What is the height of my car” or “How does the bird’s eye camera work?” and get visual and audio-based responses in the app. And to make sure that the app gets the point across, it can even quiz the driver.

An iconic pickup goes electric

In spring of 2021, America’s best-selling pickup started the transition away from combustion. The new battery-powered truck maintains the familiar F-150 design and comes with up to 563 horsepower and 775 pound-feet of torque, enough to shoot from 0 to 60 in 4.5 seconds or tow up to 10,000 pounds when properly equipped. As for range, batteries come large enough to cover up to 300 miles on a single charge. And if juicing up from the road, a 150-kilowatt fast charger can add an additional 54 miles of range in just 10 minutes—not all that much longer than a typical pitstop in a combustion car. To top it off, the F-150 Lightning can also act like a battery pack on wheels, supplying up to 9.6 kW of power through the same charger it uses to fill up. This means that the pickup can help keep an energy bill low during peak hours when electricity rates are high, or keep a home lit during a storm.

An electric jeep with a six-speed manual

The Magneto has electric motors and a battery just like other electric vehicles, but it also has something most other EVs don’t: a six-speed manual transmission. However, one component that a manual-equipped EV doesn’t need is a clutch, so Jeep left out the Wrangler concept’s third pedal. After all, an electric motor can’t stall, and changing gears is largely optional in an EV. Drivers still have the benefit (and fun!) of gear selection to control how broadly torque is applied, but with the convenience of an automatic transmission’s clutchless operation.

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The 100 greatest innovations of 2021
Lioness

Our second year of making the most of too-much time spent at home has yielded countless products that promise to sooth our stressed minds and bodies. But the marketing around such spaces—cosmetics, skin- and haircare, and fitness, to name a few—is a minefield of meaningless buzzwords and pseudoscientific solutions. Our Personal Care winners represent some of our favorite exceptions to that woeful rule: These products harness everything from space-age physics to basic magnetism to offer genuinely innovative improvements to everyday life.

Grand Award Winner: A gym and personal trainer in an end table 

Sound familiar? In 2019, we awarded Mirror for ushering in a new era of at-home fitness, with its luxe, reflective workout screen and the promise of personal training via its built-in camera. In 2020, we spotlighted the Tempo Studio mirror-and-weights system for fulfilling that potential first—providing targeted, AI-driven strength training for folks stuck at home. In 2021, Tempo slid the needle forward yet again with Move, a weight-training setup with a footprint small enough to be practical in even wee domiciles. Move replaces a pricey mirror with the LIDAR in the front-facing cameras of any iPhone equipped with FaceID. A cradle hooks up your phone up to your TV via HDMI, so you can see your body and weight movements in real time. The Move comes with enough plates to make each of its two dumbbells a 25 pounder, and the system recognizes how much you’re lifting to tweak your workout accordingly. Coupled with data from an included heart-rate monitor, the Move’s tracking capabilities, price, and form factor put strength training within reach for anyone with enough space for a yoga mat. 

Lush lashes, thanks to magnets 

Many mascaras promise to lengthen lashes with the help of buildable dark goop, and eyelash curlers aim to shape those hairs by physically crimping them upright. They’re Real! Magnet Extreme Lengthening Mascara does both—with the power of physics. A magnet-embedded wand swipes iron-oxide-rich pigment along lashes, tapping a mechanism called ferromagnetism to evenly carry the makeup where you want it to go. The result is a clump-less lash coated for big volume and gently hoisted upward for maximum length and curl. 

Banish pesky flyaways in a single pass

When the engineers behind Dyson’s Supersonic hair dryer arrived at a photoshoot in 2018, they thought they were in big trouble. The model’s hair was damaged and frizzy. A stylist on set, though, gave them an idea: He held the model’s hair taught with a brush while blowing the nozzle of the blowdryer downward just so, and her flyaways slipped beneath longer strands. Replicating that process became a pet project of the engineers. The resulting Flyaway attachment harnesses a quirk of airflow called the coanda effect: the tendency for jets of air to stay attached to curved surfaces once they come into contact with them. In this case, the attachment’s nozzle slides down the hair shaft and draws strands toward it, which creates a downward flow that pushes frizzy bits below the main tress. The result is a smooth finish that even amateur hands can master. 

The most discreet period tracker

While the Oura Ring Generation 3 offers a fairly standard raft of health monitoring features—from sleep tracking to activity logging—it represents a significant improvement in reproductive health. It monitors fluctuations in body heat to predict when users will start menstruating, up to 30 days in advance. Based on the well-established connection between body temperature and ovulation, the Oura Ring is a major step ahead of most available period trackers, which are generally just calendars that rely on user input. In the future, a similar device could bundle fitness tracking with fertility analysis to lower or raise the odds of conception. 

A sex toy that learns what you like 

Deciphering personal pleasure can take lots of trial and error. The Lioness Vibrator 2.0 offers a potential shortcut. The toy includes onboard temperature and force sensors, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope that all work together to track pelvic floor contractions—one of the most-accurate indicators of orgasm across sexes and genders. The device analyzes those movements in an app to visualize arousal in real time, and banks that info so users can check out trends, giving them the chance to pinpoint how different kinds of stimulation affect them. 

Plant-based braiding hair

Natural hair can benefit from protective styling—the braids, twists, and other looks that tuck fragile ends away from cold winds, UV rays, friction, and other irritants that can cause breakage. For many, adding extensions to the mix is a crucial way to get length while keeping hair healthy. But human hair is expensive and can come from suspicious sources, while synthetic options are generally made of plastic, which is potentially irritating to scalps and definitely irritating to the planet. Rebundle’s banana fiber-based strands provide a great look and feel for protective styles, plus they biodegrade completely in a compost pile.

The first FDA-cleared, direct-to-consumer hearing aids 

Traditional hearing aids cost thousands and require multiple trips to audiologists for fittings and follow-ups. That’s a problem worth solving: According to the World Health Organization, some 630 million people will experience hearing loss by 2030, and that number will hit 900 million by 2050. This year, Bose released the first direct-to-consumer hearing aid. For less than a thousand bucks, adults with mild-to-moderate hearing loss can buy SoundControl directly. Even better, they can adjust fit themselves with included earbud tips, and can continually tune different frequencies using an accompanying app; a user could, for example, dial up the pitch of a conversation partner’s voice while keeping the tones of passing traffic at low. For now, the aids are more basic than medical devices—they can’t pick up phone calls or play music, for instance—but the tech marks an important step in making the world more accessible. 

A NASA-backed skincare system 

On its face, Droplette is simply an excellent addition to a skincare obsessive’s cosmetic regimen: Designed by MIT-trained female scientists, the Star Trek-esque device turns pods of treatments like collagen and retinol into a super-fine mist to help skin absorb the ingredients more quickly. Droplets 100 times smaller than the width of a human hair get that good stuff into a deeper layer of skin than a cream or serum could. With funding and support from the Walter Reed hospital, the National Institutes of Health, and NASA, the company’s ultimate aim is to use the tech to deliver drugs without needles. Research is currently underway to treat  alopecia, battlefield wounds, and a painful condition called Epidermolysis Bullosa. 

A fitness tracker you’ll never take off

The WHOOP is already a standout in the super-saturated world of fitness wearables thanks to its focus on recovery—a metric that taps sleep quality, athletic strain, and heart rate variability to identify a user’s ideal workout and rest days. The WHOOP 4.0 cements the company’s commitment to being a health-and-wellness conscience by making the device easier to wear 24/7. Its attachable battery pack is now waterproof, so users can slap it on to recharge even while bathing or swimming laps. WHOOP has also unveiled a line of tights, boxers, bras, silicone armbands, and other clothing and accessories to keep your 4.0 nestled against a useful pulse point no matter what. 

A water-saving hair-washing system 

The salon experience would be nothing without a luxurious scalp massage—and the hosing down that comes with it. L’Oréal’s new washing system aims to make that ritual a little more eco-friendly. A showerhead cartridge injects shampoos and conditioners by Kérastase and L’Oréal Professionnel directly into the waterstream, which ups the efficiency of the washing and lathering process. The sprayer also produces small, fast-moving droplets that make it feel like more H2O is flowing, allowing stylists to rinse clients out with less. The result cuts down on the wet stuff by 80 percent compared to a standard showerhead. A similar product for at-home use should roll out in the near future. 

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The 100 greatest innovations of 2021
Boeing

Augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and autonomy are just some of the technologies that elevated our air and space game in 2021. AI algorithms are helping route aircraft in more efficient ways, virtual enemies are training pilots mid-flight, and autonomous wingmen are scouting the skies ahead. Meanwhile, up in space, a NASA probe is going to sail beyond Earth’s orbit on sunlight. It might all seem like flashy, futuristic stuff, but one winner represents a small but impactful perk for passengers: On some United flights, you can now use wireless headphones to connect to the seatback entertainment system via Bluetooth. Finally! 

Grand Award Winner: A smarter system for creating flight plans

Take a flight between any two airports, and a dispatcher at the airline also serves a key purpose: They decide in advance what route the aircraft will take along the way, filing a flight plan with the FAA before takeoff. These humans working on the ground must consider variables like weather, restricted military airspace, and more. Often, they just go with a pre-existing option. Now, at Alaska Airlines, the dispatchers have an AI helper. Created by startup Airspace Intelligence, the software can suggest bespoke routes between cities, which the dispatcher can then accept or not. The suggestions result in an efficiency boost: Alaska Airlines says that since they started using the system, more than 28,000 flights have had their routes optimized, saving an estimated 15.5 million pounds of fuel and thus 24,490 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The flights tend to land a couple minutes sooner, and not only that, the airline also has a more precise sense of when a plane will actually touch down. Passengers, meanwhile, will hopefully spend less time just circling the airport, waiting to arrive. 

A giant reusable rocket system

SpaceX is betting its future on one very large vehicle. The approximately 165-foot tall stainless steel Starship aims to reach Earth’s orbit, the moon, or even Mars, and then return in one piece by landing vertically. In the future, the fully reusable spaceship could even ferry people and cargo across the globe in less than an hour. Elon Musk’s science-fiction dreams have been slow to achieve lift off—the first handful of test flights ended in spectacular fireballs. But in May, a Starship prototype finally nailed its landing, showcasing a complex “bellyflop” maneuver that involved a horizontal free-fall from miles in the sky before the craft righted itself just above the launchpad. In the following months, the company began building colossal booster rockets to prepare for the first orbital test of what could become the world’s most powerful and affordable launch system.

A Bluetooth connection in the sky

Plugging in headphones while trying to catch Frozen II on your seatback entertainment system is very last-century. No longer: Starting this past summer, passengers on any United 737 MAX 8 aircraft could simply connect to the Panasonic system in front of them via Bluetooth with their own headphones (AirPods or otherwise). A metal tube full of competing wireless signals represented a complex problem to solve, but in the end, those Disney songs never sounded so good. 

Augmented reality training for fighter pilots

Military pilots train in simulators on the ground or in real aircraft in the sky, but new technology from a company called Red 6 blends those two ideas. A fighter pilot can don a helmet with an Airborne Tactical Augmented Reality System (ATARS) while flying in real life, and see virtual adversaries or airborne friendlies alongside them on their visor. That creates a much more realistic scenario than simply simulating the presence of a fictional aircraft on a plane’s radar: Fighter pilots can have the benefit of training in simulated multi-plane exercises in the sky. The tech also avoids the cost and logistical complexity of getting multiple real aircraft airborne. Red 6 is in the process of retrofitting a T-38 training jet with ATARS for the Air Force, and could do the same with an F-16 next. 

Truly solar-powered space exploration

To navigate space, probes fire their thrusters and spew a trail of hot gas behind them. But the shoebox-sized Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout, which NASA engineers readied for launch in July, will traverse tens of millions of miles pushed along almost entirely by sunlight. The spacecraft’s school bus-sized solar sail is made from a tough, Saran-wrap-like plastic that catches sunbeams as the probe leaves our planet behind. This tech builds upon previous prototype demonstrations in low Earth orbit, such as LightSail 2. Over the course of two years, NEA Scout will adjust its speed by 5,000 mph or more, enough to match the pace of an asteroid, map most of its surface, figure out what it’s made of, and determine if it’d be a good target for human exploration. It costs around $30 million, roughly a tenth the price of a bigger, fuel-laden mission.

Bricks made from ‘moon dust’

If humans ever build dwellings on the moon, the secret to affordable lunar construction might lie in three gray, palm-sized bricks, whose humble appearance belies their extraordinary roots. The slabs emerged from a 3D printer aboard the International Space Station, which squeezed them out in near-zero gravity about 250 miles above Earth. They are made largely from simulated moon dust, or “regolith,” which includes compounds like silica and alumina. Astronauts installed custom attachments to the printer, which let the device fuse regolith rather than its usual plastic—a first for 3D printing in space. The simulated moon bricks splashed down on the pale blue dot in September and are being tested for strength. Researchers hope that supersized versions of the machine will someday turn real moon dust into essential infrastructure, such as lunar roads and landing pads.

The brains for a robotic wingman

Losing a drone flown by an AI is much less costly than losing an F-35—and the person in it—which is why the Air Force’s vision for the future includes fighter-jet-like drones partnered up with traditional aircraft. These robot planes could fly ahead of the ones with pilots to send back intel or carry out a weapons strike in dangerous territory. The Air Force’s Skyborg program doesn’t want to wed the intelligence to any specific hardware, so it’s developing the Autonomy Core System, or ACS, to pilot different makes of drones. The system has already been used to fly a drone from a company called Kratos, as well as multiple General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger drones. 

A plan to safely usher satellites to the afterlife

More than 3,000 dead satellites circle the globe today. Astroscale, a company founded to combat this growing challenge, is demonstrating one way to drag future satellites out of the sky when their time is up, pulling them down into the atmosphere to burn up in a controlled way. In March, it launched its ELSA-d spacecraft, which features a magnetic ring that can snap onto any other satellite equipped with a matching component; in August, it released a nearly 40-pound box and captured it during a test run. Next, mission controllers will task ELSA-d with a much more daunting job: using sensors to semi-autonomously chase down and snag the same box while it’s spinning out of control. If it succeeds, the vehicle will pave the way for a larger model capable of dealing with compatible satellites weighing up to 1,750 pounds.

A drone that refuels fighter jets 

When one of the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets needs more fuel while it’s in the air, another Super Hornet does that job. But those jets are designed to fight, not be gas pumps in the sky. Enter the MQ-25 Stingray. Already in tests this year, the 51-foot-long drone has refueled an F/A-18, F-35C, and an E-2D, making history as the first uncrewed aircraft to fuel up another aircraft. Eventually, these drones should be able to take off and land from aircraft carriers, freeing up the fighter jets that had helped with refueling in the past for their primary mission. The Navy may buy as many as 70 of them. 

A new space station with ion-drive thrusters 

A new state-of-the-art outpost now orbits the Earth. China launched the core module of what will become the Tiangong (“heavenly palace”) space station on April 29, and the floating habitat is currently hosting its second group of occupants. Tiangong will measure about one-sixth the size of the International Space Station’s when it’s completed in 2022, but it already features bells and whistles missing from the aging ISS: The three-person crews can now enjoy hot meals during their months-long stays, courtesy of a custom microwave designed for use in space. And, in a first for a crewed vehicle, the module is equipped with four ion drives—hyper efficient thrusters that use electricity to expel charged particles.

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The 100 greatest innovations of 2021
Hybrit

From deadly floods in Queens, New York, to a deep-freeze in Texas, the climate crisis is banging on the US’s front door. This year’s top engineering innovations reflect a growing awareness that crucial industries like construction and shipping can no longer conduct business as usual. These honorees answer some of the burning questions about the future of a burning planet, including how to address tough-to-decarbonize realms like food and energy production. Outside of just green tech advancements, these technologies reveal safer ways to mine, introduce AI that can untangle hidden mysteries of DNA’s structure, and provide a much-needed dose of high-flying fun. 

Grand Award Winner: Steel with a smaller footprint

Steelmaking yields between seven and nine percent of the world’s carbon emissions, mostly due to a specially processed type of coal called “coke.” At temperatures as high as 3,000°F, coke reacts with oxygen in iron ore, purifying the metal into a form needed to make steel—but belching carbon dioxide in the process. To reduce the footprint, a Swedish industrial consortium developed Hybrit, a steel whose production taps hydrogen, rather than carbon, to transform iron ore. The hydrogen, freed from water, reacts with the oxygen in ore in a machine called a shaft furnace, heated to 1,500*F with fossil-free wind energy and hydropower. The scheme releases hydrogen and water, instead of carbon dioxide, and the resulting “sponge iron” melts in an electric arc furnace with a small amount of carbon to create steel. Hybrit says the process has carbon dioxide emissions less than 2 percent of those from the standard coke-fueled regimen. This past summer, Volvo took delivery of the first batch of this “green steel” and used it to make a mining and quarrying vehicle.

A cleaner way to ship

Container ships fuel our economy of cheap consumer goods, but create almost three percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Electric batteries don’t have the energy density to efficiently power the massive vessels—and plunking chargers in the middle of the ocean is pretty much impossible. This year, Finnish engine maker Wärtsilä teamed up with the Norwegian logistics giant Grieg to bet on carbon-free ammonia to propel future ships. Powered by a Norwegian wind farm, engineers will use electrolysis to create hydrogen gas that reacts with nitrogen in a factory to create ammonia.  Wärtsilä already completed an engine burning a mix of 70 percent ammonia, and is planning a pure ammonia version to deploy in a tanker in 2024.

Your downtown sustainable seafood farm

Global hunger for farmed shrimp has destroyed some 3.4 million acres of mangrove forests since 1980, mostly in Southeast Asia. Tearing apart those carbon-absorbing ecosystems gives the practice a footprint higher than dairy cattle, pigs, or chicken. Disease outbreaks and waterways choked with waste also plague the industry. The “Vertical Oceans” model takes the whole operation indoors. The shellfish live in modular school-bus sized tanks, and algae, seaweed, and bottom-feeding fish filter out waste. This way, nearly 100 percent of the water gets recirculated, and there is no need for a sewer. A prototype in Singapore delivered 10 harvests of shrimp this year, totaling more than a ton of crustaceans.

A bridge that spots its flaws

It’s not entirely clear what caused the 2018 collapse of the Genoa bridge in Italy that killed 43 people. Experts theorize that heavy traffic loads, and corrosion from salty air, factory pollution, and high-rising river waters all played a part. So after Genoa-born architect Renzo Piano designed a replacement, a variety of automatic sensing features were added to detect faults. A pair of two-ton inspection bots traverse the bridge on a carbon composite track, taking 25,000 photos of the undercarriage every eight hours, which allows machine vision software to spot any anomalies. Solar panels meet 95 percent of the bridge’s energy demands, including for lighting and sensors that check for dangerous joint expansion.

The first sea-bound floating rollercoaster

Normal roller coasters use gravity to send thrill-seekers zooming and looping. But if you want to build a ride on a cruise ship—where stable, level ground is far from guaranteed—you have to get creative. Carnival Cruise Line’s BOLT coaster uses electricity to power its wee motorcycle-esque cars along a long, looping track. Riders control the speed, up to 40 mph, and travel 187 feet above sea level. Using the motor for propulsion, rather than steep freefalls, prevents the experience from reaching unsafe speeds.

Batteries that could make dirty electricity obsolete

To maintain fully renewable grids, utilities need big, inexpensive batteries to meet peak demand when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. But, the lithium-ion cells inside laptops and EVs are expensive. So Form Energy has pioneered a new and highly efficient battery chemistry based on one of the most abundant metals in the Earth: iron. The company’s “Big Jim” prototype discharges electrons by reacting ambient oxygen with iron, creating rust. Inbound electrical current turns the rust back into iron, releasing oxygen, and recharging the battery. Environmental engineers say a battery that runs at $20 per kilowatt-hour is the magic number for utilities to say goodbye to coal and natural gas—which is where Form Energy hopes to price Big Jim’s final product.

AI that predicts the 3D structure of proteins

Before this year, science knew the exact 3D shape of only 17 percent of the proteins in the human body—essential components of life responsible for everything from cell maintenance to waste regulation. Understanding how these chains of amino acids pretzel themselves into unique configurations has been something of a holy grail for 50 years. AlphaFold, a machine learning algorithm, has now cracked the structures of more than 98 percent of the 20,000 proteins in the human body—with 36 percent of its predictions accurate down to the atomic level. DeepMind has put its source code and database of predictions in the public domain, opening up new possibilities for those developing new medications, doctors trying to create inhibitors for pathogenic mutations, or designers developing new materials.

Using the sky as an air conditioner

Air conditioners and fans already consume 10 percent of the world’s electricity, and AC use is projected to triple by the year 2050, sucking up more energy and pushing heat back into the surrounding landscape. SkyCool is breaking this dangerous feedback loop with rooftop nanotech that reflects light. Coated with multiple layers of optical films, the aluminum-based panels bounce radiation at wavelengths between 8 and 13 micrometers, a specific spot that allows the waves to pass through Earth’s atmosphere and into space. In doing so, the panel temperatures decline by up to 15°F, offering emissions-free cooling to a building’s existing systems. A prototype installed last fall on a grocery store in Stockton, Calif., cooled water pipes beneath the panels to chill the store’s refrigeration system—saving an estimated $6,000 a year in electrical bills.

A pair of robotic hands for laying explosives

Mining is one of the world’s most dangerous industries, but those who have to blast the tunnels are particularly vulnerable—not necessarily from explosives, but from seismic activity or rock falls that occur while laying the charges. Like a jumbo version of Ripley’s power loader from Aliens, the Avatel robot allows a single employee to place explosive charges to access to the gold, copper, and iron ore. From a protected cabin, the miner manipulates a pair of arms to place explosives, while engineers and geologists back at the control room remotely offer real-time advice as conditions change. Once the charges are set, the driver moves the Avatel clear and wirelessly sends a signal to detonate.

A look into the eye of a hurricane

To understand how hurricanes intensify and better forecast future disasters, scientists need data about barometric pressure, air and water temperature, humidity, and wind conditions inside a raging storm. Powered by the sun and wind, the autonomous 23-foot Saildrone became the first-ever robotic vehicle to navigate into the eye of a hurricane this past September, when it entered the category 4 storm Hurricane Sam. With its instrument wing shortened to better endure extreme conditions, the Saildrone vessel offered first-of-its-kind footage and readings, all amid winds hitting 120 mph. Labs across the country are already putting this floating Swiss Army Knife, which offers data from the ocean’s surface missing from satellite imagery, to work: NASA to augment imperfect satellite readings and study climate change, and NOAA to survey the health of Alaskan pollock.   

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Best of What's new Entertainment header
Samsung

It’s been a banner year for enjoying high-end content at home. Many of the biggest blockbusters debuted on streaming services like HBOMax and Netflix at the same time they showed up in theaters. Those big-budget flicks make us crave new TV tech, and this year met the challenge with two impressive new screen schemes. In music, several of the largest streaming services started offering spatial audio, which adds an impressive 3D effect to tracks, and Sony answered the call with a new portable speaker. And of course, there are also plenty of new content creation tools, like Shure’s broadcast-quality USB microphone and Panic’s black-and-white-only handheld game system, which is every bit as innovative as it is adorable. 

Grand Award Winner: A new way to make on-screen images pop

Since the dawn of flatscreen TVs, most displays have relied on an LCD panel with colored filters in front of a backlight to create the pictures we see. Manufacturers have done some truly impressive things with this same basic setup, but the tech’s ever-present glow is not great for producing deep, inky blacks that maximize contrast and make the image really pop. That’s because the light can bleed through the LCD panel where it shouldn’t. In order to solve this problem, Hisense developed a simple, but ingenious, solution that adds another layer called a luminance control panel. In addition to the typical 4K LCD panel, a second 1080p LCD layer creates an extra barrier to stop bright areas from bleeding into the shadows. As a result, Hisense squeezed roughly 40 times more contrast out of this TV than it could on a typical screen. It even boasts brightness advantage over pricier OLED sets that can sometimes suffer from screen-ruining burn-in after heavy use. 

The anti-next-gen gaming console

This adorable little console looks like a chubby Game Boy. Panic’s lo-fi device even has the monochrome, non-backlit screen which harkens back to Nintendo’s handheld. Playdate’s simplicity makes it the antithesis to the brightly-colored eyeball onslaught and microtransactions that can make smartphone games feel like a grind. The gadget uses built-in WiFi to download new games—two per week for 12 weeks keep things fresh. Future titles will be part of release “seasons,”  and Panic plans to release a free SDK so anyone can make their own games. Some titles require the crank on the side, which adds a unique tactile element to the experience. 

A high-end gaming PC in a handheld

With a 7-inch, 1,280-by-800-pixel screen nestled between two sets of controls, Valve’s handheld looks reminiscent of a Nintendo Switch. In reality, though, the Steam Deck is a full-on, portable gaming PC that can run even the most power-hungry titles from Steam’s online catalog. Valve teamed up with PC hardware maker AMD to create a custom CPU and GPU to handle the computing demands that come from AAA titles like Red Dead Redemption 2 or Team Fortress 2. It also comes with 16 gigs of RAM and super-fast SSD storage on-par with what you’ll find in the latest generation consoles. 

Smaller backlights, massively better picture

Rather than relying on light sources around at the edges of the TV, displays with a feature known as local dimming tap arrays of LEDS directly behind the panel. This gives screens much better control over contrast and detail. Samsung’s Neo QLED line uses teeny tech to amplify that potential. Its miniature versions of the now-common diodes—roughly 1/40th the height of typical LEDs—don’t require a lens over their tops to disperse light. That allows Samsung to cram more of them onto its panel and bring them closer to the surface, creating a dense array with minimal light bleeding where it shouldn’t go. Paired with an AI-driven image processor, Neo QLED images fill an 8K screen with bright detail—even when it’s upscaling lower-res content, which, for now, is always.

A wireless speaker built for 3D audio

Spatial audio adds a 3D element to music, simulating a true surround sound experience that makes it seem as though you’re sitting in front of the band. It was a big year for this type of immersive audio, as it landed on large streaming platforms including Amazon Music, Tidal, and Apple Music. Sony’s SRS-RA5000 Bluetooth speaker drastically rearranges its internal components to support those multi-dimensional recordings in a single device. Its seven speakers fling notes and voices throughout the room: three fire upward, three go straight out from the sides, and a woofer points downward to create booming bass.

An mini control room for high-end streaming

Live-streaming content has come a very long way from someone simply holding up a smartphone camera. Blackmagic’s switcher gives content creators a scaled-down version of a big-wig broadcast control room. The board pulls in up to 8 channels of content via HDMI and allows a director to adjust levels and switch between signals on the fly—just like in a pro studio. The board can connect through a smartphone to stream over a cellular connection, or can output to a recorder. It does all this for a very small fraction of what a huge production board would set you back. 

A single lens to shoot VR 

Shooting VR or even 3D content typically requires at least two cameras capturing images from slightly different angles. Instead, Canon has integrated two lenses into one housing. Each 12-element lens creates an image that covers half of the image sensor in a full-frame camera. A super-wide focal length enables a 190-degree field of view, which means the setup can see slightly behind itself. Once the footage goes through an editing tool like Adobe Premiere, viewers can get the full VR or stereoscopic 3D experience through a headset like the Oculus Quest 2.

A remote that ditches AAAs

Many TV remotes still rely on alkaline batteries, which feels like an anachronism in 2021. So Samsung developed a controller with a solar panel built into its backside. Like your old high-school calculator, the remote can pull all the power it needs from any kind of indoor illumination. In the off chance it needs a little extra juice due to heavy use or lots of time spent in the dark, a USB-C port on the bottom provides another charging option. Samsung estimates that its plans to include these remotes with its TVs will eliminate the need for roughly 99 million AAA cells over the next seven years. 

An iconic pro microphone for anyone

The original Shure SM7B microphone is a staple for podcasters and audio broadcasters thanks to its relatively compact size and superlative quality. Unfortunately, its XLR-only connection meant creators needed a mixing board and some audio know-how to use it. The MV7 has the same recording components and voice-isolating pickup pattern as its pro sibling, but it can also plug directly into a computer via USB. Shure’s companion desktop app provides all the essential settings normally found on a mixing board, including gain, mix, and an EQ limiter. (Simplified EQ and tone presets like “natural” and “bright” give an assist to anyone who isn’t quite sure what all that means.)

A guitar amp that fits on a keychain

About the size of the average car key fob, the Mustang Micro is a full-fledged guitar amp in a package small enough to toss in a pocket. The wee device plugs straight into any electric guitar or bass and sends riffs to a pair of wired headphones. Musicians can toggle among 12 amp-mimicking tones and 12 effects pulled from Fender’s full-sized Mustang line of amps. Connect it to a smartphone or other device via Bluetooth to pull in audio and jam along with any song—without driving the neighbors nutty. 

Turn a smartphone into a portable console

Whether players choose to stream games from Xbox, PlayStation, or Steam, the Backbone controller helps provide a consistent, high-end experience a smartphone alone can’t touch. Plugged directly into an iPhone’s Lightning port, the controller offers all the familiar buttons and analog sticks of a full-fledged console’s interface—while the hard connection drastically cuts down on game-ruining lag. And, thanks to the telescoping brace that runs across the back of the device (from which Backbone gets its name), players don’t have to worry about accidental drops or disconnects.

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The 100 greatest innovations of 2021
Ring

One of the things we think a lot about here at Popular Science is how to do more with less. That often means repurposing scraps, finding out-of-the-box solutions, or simply stocking our homes with products singularly capable of making our lives easier. This year, the best home products include a utility knife that turns into a scraper, a robotic vacuum-mop that knows how to avoid wetting your carpet, and shingles that very well could contain recycled asphalt from your neighbor’s old roof.

Grand Award Winner: A tangle-proof vacuum head

Anyone living with a long-haired person or pet knows all-too-well the struggle of clearing a vacuum brush head after a thorough cleaning. Those formerly luscious locks love to loop, loop, loop around the rotating cylinder until it’s so clogged you have to wield scissors or a utility knife to free it—barely able to tell which bristles are built in and which used to be on someone’s dome. Dyson solved this modern woe by eschewing the standard tubular brush head shape for a cone inspired by the ancient design of Archimedes’ screw. Pop one of these onto the end of a compatible Dyson vacuum (including the V8, V10, V11, Outsize, and V15) and those obnoxious hairs will find it harder to hang on. As the screw spins, it funnels follicle-grown filaments off its skinniest end, where the bristles are also softer to shake off any hairy grasps. There, they’re helpless against the suction of the vacuum—leaving more hair in the dustbin and less cleanup when you should be done cleaning.

A transforming utility knife

A utility knife is a toolbox must-have. A scraper is much more specialized, but there are plenty of jobs—say cleaning up paint on and around a window—that demand both. ToughBuilt’s first-of-its-kind cutter morphs into a scraper. Press the button on the side of this 6.5-inch-long tool and push it forward to unsheathe the razor; keep going and the blade will flick 90 degrees, locking in place for scraping. There’s also a paint-can opener on the back for when you need it.

Any frozen ingredient can be ice cream

Traditional ice cream makers can spend 20 to 40 minutes churning ingredients into the tasty treat we all love. The Ninja Creami spits out its chilled desserts in just 5 minutes. Drop frozen ingredients like fruit into one of the machine’s pint containers, and the appliance shaves them into fine ice particles that match the creamy texture of a well-made dairy delight. When it comes to recipes, you’re essentially limited only by your imagination—if you can freeze it, it’s dessert.

No mistakenly mopped carpets

If your floors are a mix of carpet and wood—or any other hard surface—it can be risky to buy a cleaning robot that vacuums and mops. Without significant babysitting, a bumbling device can easily soak a shag by dragging its wet, dirty sponge into the wrong room. Not the Roborock S7, which can detect carpet and lift its mopping attachment to avoid making a mess. It knows what’s underfoot thanks to an ultrasonic sensor that blasts sound at the floor, reading the echo to determine what’s soft and what’s not. We like to think it screams so you don’t have to.

The lightest, quickest cookware

More than six years of metal research turned into seven patents and one line of All-Clad pans. The stainless steel and aluminum bodies have pyrolytic graphite cores that heat up faster than copper thanks to the arrangement of the carbon atoms inside. They’re also 80 percent lighter, making these pans good for tossing onions and flippin’ pancakes. Not only will the pans withstand the highs of your oven or broiler, but they’re so eager to take on heat that they work well at even the very low temps that delicate foods like fish demand.

A lighter, more powerful tool battery

DeWalt’s new Powerstack pouch battery represents a whole new approach to energizing cordless tools. While standard lithium-ion bricks are stuffed with vertical, cylindrical cells—and have only been getting bigger as manufacturers look to add more power and runtime to their products—DeWalt’s batteries use stacked cells, so there’s no wasted space. This both reduces weight and boosts output: They’re 25 percent smaller than the previous generation and 50 percent more powerful. They also fit existing 20V Max tools and use the same charger as all DeWalt lithium-ion batteries, so you won’t have to buy new gear to add them to your kit.

The first shingles to contain recycled asphalt

An asphalt shingle with some recycled shingle granules and packed asphalt briquettes on top of it, part of GAF's shingle recycling process.

Discarded roofing shingles typically end up tossed in landfills or incinerated. Those that do get reused are usually melted down and packed into roads. GAF, however, has figured out how to turn about 90 percent of this demolition scrap into usable material for new shingles. Once the discarded sheets of asphalt are cleaned of construction debris, they’re cut into 4-inch squares and two carpet beater-like machines remove any grippy granules that may degrade the quality of the mix. The clean 4-by-4s get ground into a powder, sieved, and separated to get the asphalt in one place, packed into briquettes, and tossed back into the standard shingle manufacturing process. The new ones contain up to 15 percent recycled material.

Two types of washing in one machine

Some top-loading washing machines have an agitator in the center—a bulky rod that jostles clothes around to get them clean—while others rely more on your garments rubbing against one another to scrub themselves clean. Whirlpool’s new top-loaders do both. Leave the 1.15-pound agitator in place for heavy washing jobs (say, all your jeans) and pull it out for a gentler cycle. A spring-loaded cap plugs the hole so your clothes won’t get snagged and torn.

A doorbell camera that won’t bug ya

Most home security sensors are passive, in that they gather information from the environment and try to interpret it. This can lead to frequent false positives, like if a motion detector clocks a curious crow as a potential intruder. Ring’s newest video doorbells and camera-equipped floodlights have gone the active route, becoming the first home security devices to use radar to visualize the world. These little gadgets broadcast waves up to 30 feet (you set the distance). Radar excels at tracking motion, and the cameras’ computer vision is good at identifying objects. Combined, the technologies make the system better at interpreting what’s actually in front of it.

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U.S. Army tank firing artillery in a grassy field in Afghanistan with PopSci Best of What's New 2021 logo stamped over a red, black, and purple background
Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Allen/U.S. Air Force

Year two of the pandemic brought a new flood of security concerns—domestically, internationally, and, of course, digitally. But companies and researchers stepped up their game. The US military demonstrated its most comprehensive anti-drone technology to date in the New Mexico desert; the Los Angeles Fire Department put the first robot firefighting vehicle in the US on the streets; and a router maker launched a partnership to bring top-shelf anti-virus tech to smart devices. It may not be enough to outright guarantee that you’ll sleep peacefully at night, but at least there’s less of a threat of being hacked through the Bluetooth on your alarm clock.

Cookies make the internet work a little more smoothly by remembering a user’s browsing habits, but when the data trackers follow individuals across different sites, a useful tool becomes a privacy liability. Firefox, the browser by Mozilla, introduced an optional feature called “Total Cookie Protection,” which in a meaningful way limits the trails of crumbs you leave behind online. Instead of storing all of an individual’s information together, this new approach makes each site keep its tracking in a separate “cookie jar” without pulling data from others. That means you can click “accept” with more abandon when you get pelted by the cookie disclaimers that are now the norm across the Web.

Defeating drones with directed energy

Small, expendable drones can spy on soldiers, or worse, attack them with explosives. Fighting these machines, many of which are built cheaply or with commercial parts, means looking for a cost-effective countermeasure that can disable multiple drones at once. With the Air Force’s THOR, the military has a new tool to fry an entire swarm. The system emits high-powered microwaves that hurt electronics, but not people or wildlife. Compact enough to fit on in a shipping container or a C-130 cargo plane, this electrically powered weapon can be set up in a few hours—ready to protect anyone nearby.

Letting robotic firefighters tackle the toughest blazes

Howe & Howe/Textron Systems

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Firefighters rush into danger to extinguish dangerous blazes. But what if they didn’t always have to? Newly adopted by the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), the Thermite RS3 is a robot ranging from 5 to 7 feet tall and 3,000 to 4,000 pounds (depending on the equipment it’s packing) that can help put out flames without risking the lives of firefighters. The remotely operated RS3 rolls on tank treads, sports thermal and optical cameras, and can blast 2,500 gallons of water a minute. In December 2020, the LAFD used its new prize to beat back a blaze from inside a building—after human firefighters had been called to safety outside.

Encrypted biometric security at your fingertips

Physical security keys offer an option for password-free logins or two-factor authentication that don’t require punching in codes or relaying text messages. YubiKey, which has made this kind of useful and buttoned-up hardware since 2008, launched its first biometric fobs in 2021. The key reads a fingerprint, a personalized marker that it stores securely and locally on the device itself. Using the gadget, which comes in both USB-A and USB-C models, for password-less authentication allows it and the fingerprint to work together as a multi-factor check on logins.

Turning bomb craters into better armor

Analyzing the debris left over after a bomb blast can lead to a better understanding of the explosive, and inform the design of better armor. Fragmentation Rapid Analysis Generator using Computed Tomography, or FRAG-CT, is a tool made by the Army’s Development Command that can process data from a test range 200 times faster than the current method, which involves painstakingly collecting shrapnel and mapping explosions by hand. By collecting 3D images of fragments, the tech can lead to armor designs more capable of resisting blasts, among other vital ballistics insights.

A boat on treads that’s a real amphibian

What has a top speed of 50 knots and two sets of retractable treads? A morphing craft called the IG-PRO 31. Built by Iguana Pro, the 32-foot-long vessel is an amphibious motorboat that can pull itself up on beaches and into hiding. Sold to the US Navy in October 2020, the Interceptor offers special forces more options for where to land—and how to get their boat to a safe shelter space once ashore. On terrain, the tracks can pull the craft forward at more than 4 miles per hour. The machine also offers a useful tool for rescue work on sea or the beach.

A double-mirror trick for email tracking

Some email marketing techniques rely on invisible pixels—hidden code that lets the sender know if you’ve opened a message or not. A privacy feature included in the iOS 15 update introduces a novel behind-the-scenes process that blocks those sniffers in their tracks. Once the feature is activated, Apple opens the email on its servers first, and then forwards the message to the user, effectively stopping the tools from knowing when (or even if) the recipient opened the email. It’s a clean way to build privacy back into inboxes normally teeming with data collection.

Flood risk from the past and present, mapped for the future

In the face of climate change, knowing where and when water levels have already risen is an invaluable resource. The World Flood Mapping Tool, made for the United Nations, runs in a browser and can show where past floods have occurred, down to the street level, in any given spot on the globe. The tool draws from Google Earth and Landsat data collected since 1985, is accurate within 30 meters, and includes both population and land use filters—both of which should help planners mitigate harm from future deluges. Later versions will include AI-generated risk maps.

A mega router with total smart-home protection

Every new internet-connected device in a home has the potential to be a new path around security for a malicious actor. NETGEAR Armor includes antivirus protection in a router, ensuring protection at the connection point between a growing army of smart doo-dads and the outside internet. In addition to using algorithms to learn a user’s normal behavior and flag unusual activity, the system’s security tools also scan outgoing data for logins, social security numbers, and banking info, and block those from reaching prying eyes.

A mobile network and disaster response center, all in a pickup truck

After a natural disaster, most Americans have to rely on ad-hoc infrastructure to remain connected. Verizon’s THOR is a mobile all-in-one vehicle built for disaster response. The rig can restore cell service on its own 5G or LTE mobile network, which is powered by a small retractable cell tower and satellite uplinks. To help first responders, THOR can also launch a tethered drone or a fleet of winged robots to see the surrounding area, capturing useful real-time information about what is and isn’t passable terrain.

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The 100 greatest innovations of 2021
Atomic

The past year and a half have taught us all how important it is to get outside and stay active—whether that means an easy hike or an epic day of mountain biking. The year’s top new gear makes those adventures better, safer, more comfortable, and more inclusive. We’ve chosen killer new shades for your next run, hiking pants designed to fit more bodies, and a helmet that will let you know when it (or you) have had one too many bad bumps. Plus, there’s even a kit made just to help your bathroom breaks in the woods leave less of a mark.

Grand Award Winner: The best e-mountain on the planet

When Yeti Cycles set out to build its first electric mountain bike, the company needed to do better than just slapping a battery and motor to an existing ride. The race-driven brand wanted a cycle that would scream uphill and bomb downhill at record-setting speeds, but do it with the same feel of other analog Yetis. Having a motor on board increases the whip’s acceleration and tire torque, meaning the ride could lose traction and spin out when traversing gravel, rocks, and roots if the team didn’t correctly manage that extra power. To keep a grip, they designed an entirely new suspension platform, called the Sixfinity linkage, specifically tuned for mountain-climbing e-bikes. One essential piece lies in how the rear triangle of the frame moves with the back wheel; a unique joint under the seatpost dynamically adjusts the geometry of the frame as cyclists crank over obstacles. This, and a series of other suspension modifications, result in a carbon-fiber ride that, when pedaling and climbing, reacts to the trail without too much springiness or the tires losing their connection to the ground.

Frameless sunglasses from the future 

Put these new shades on your face, and you’ll instantly feel a bit like Doc Brown from Back to the Future. That’s because, instead of frames, the lenses on Oakley’s Kato sunglasses act as the frame themselves. The curved piece of polycarbonate has a lip at the top and a curvature for your nose, both of which lend it structure. Without a top or bottom frame, the wraparound specs give the wearer a sweeping, unencumbered field of view. Designed mainly for athletes like cyclists or runners, the sunglasses weigh just 34 grams, sitting in front of the face like a snug, sweeping visor. 

A collapsible backpack that’s anything but flimsy 

These two mountaineering backpacks have a unique trick up their nylon sleeves: they can compress down into a small package, but still retain structure in their expanded forms. The Beast18, for example, becomes a roughly 10-inch disc, but unfolded it is about 20 inches long. A loop of hardened, yet springy stainless steel runs along the pack’s perimeter to create a semi-rigid frame shaped something like a peanut. The pack collapses similarly to a nylon windshield sun screen: Flip it in half at the middle (creating a figure-8 shape with the metal loop), then fold it over on itself. The metal’s strong memory helps it snap back into shape. 

A soft fabric that repels rain 

Waterproof, breathable jackets are typically a little crinkly, because their moisture-blocking prowess relies on a special membrane sandwiched and glued between other fabrics. The Core Construction material from Voormi does it differently: Instead of laminating fabrics together, the company knits yarn through the membrane itself. The new material nets hoodies and a range of other garments—such as cycling jerseys or running wear—that’ll provide rain protection, but feel as soft and breathable as a sweatshirt. 

Hiking pants for every body

Clothing companies typically approach plus-size offerings as simply scaled-up versions of smaller sizes, an approach that fails to recognize that a person’s proportions may not simply be a larger version of a size six. The Ponderosa Pants not only come in sizes 14 to 24, but offer two distinct fits for plus-size body types. One, called mountain, is best for bodies with broader hips than waists, while the river model works better for folks with hips and waists that measure about the same. Made from nylon and elastane, the garments dry quickly, offer two-way stretch, and have five roomy pockets. 

A better way to bury your business

Sometimes when you’re on a hike, ride, or other adventure, you just gotta go. If you’re carrying this kit, you’ll have everything you need to bury your business. Dig a hole with the aluminum trowel, do as nature intended, and drop in three of the included tablets of mycelium. The fungi will break down poop ten times faster than the ground would on its own. Combined with included biodegradable wipes, the system also zaps e-Coli and other pathogens by an average of 66 percent, reducing the likelihood that those baddies will get into water sources and make people sick. 

A helmet that tracks its own health

A helmet is essential when skiing, but a damaged one will do you no good. Atomic’s Redster CTD brain bucket lets you know when it’s spent. A built-in impact sensor measures blows in five different zones—whether that hit is from a tree (or just dropping it in the parking lot)—and an accelerometer records and evaluates the location and force to determine if the helmet still has the integrity to provide full protection. Atomic’s smartphone app provides a green, yellow, or red indicator on its health. In the event of a severe fall, the app can also notify an emergency contact to your coordinates.

Fast-drying, non-drooping tent toppers

Most backpacking tent flys—the tarp-like portion that goes over the shelter to protect it from rain—are made from lightweight nylon coated with polyurethane. But if you’ve ever woken up to a wet, saggy mess, you’ve experienced the material’s shortcomings. It’s stretchy, absorbs moisture, and takes what can feel like forever to dry. Nemo’s new Osmo fabric is made from a checkered weave of durable, weather-repelling nylon and moisture-wicking polyester. The result is that it dries much faster than other tent flys, and doesn’t sag. The material will debut in three Nemo tents in 2022. 

Syncing underwater with sound

Scuba divers typically use radio transmitters to monitor their tank pressure. But those waves don’t travel well in water. Sound waves, or sonar, can move significantly farther through the wet stuff. Garmin’s Descent T1 transmitter taps those audio frequencies, allowing groups of divers to keep closer tabs on one another. The beacon reliably delivers tank pressure data, air time, and gas consumption rates for up to five divers to Garmin’s Mk2i dive watches from up to 30 feet away. 

The smartest mountain bike suspension

For mountain bikers, pedaling on smooth terrain with a bouncy suspension wastes energy, but a soft springiness is welcome when cranking over rocks and roots. The battery-powered Flight Attendant suspension automatically adjusts itself on the fly. Accelerometers in the shock and fork and a sensor in the crank feed motion and force data to an algorithm that decides how to tweak the suspension to suit the terrain. In fact, the Flight Attendant makes 200 decisions per second, sending signals to a pair of motors in the suspension to make it softer or firmer (or keep it the same). For now, it’s only available on bikes from YT Industries, Canyon, Trek, and Specialized, but someday you may be able to retrofit it onto an existing ride. 

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Credits:

Package Editor: Rob Verger
Judging Panel: Rachel Feltman, Stan Horazcek, Corinne Iozzio, Rob Verger
Category Editors: Sara Chodosh, Rachel Feltman, Stan Horazcek, Corinne Iozzio, John Kennedy, Claire Maldarelli, Purbita Saha, Sara Kiley Watson, Rob Verger
Researchers: Kelsey Atherton, Jordan Blok, Berne Broudy, Andrew Rosenblum, Rebecca Sohn, Rob Stumpf, Terri Williams, Charlie Wood
Design Director: Russ Smith

29 Nov, 2021

What is The Great Resignation and what can we learn from it – World Economic Forum

  • The Great Resignation is a phenomenon that describes record numbers of people leaving their jobs after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
  • Companies now have to navigate the ripple effects of the pandemic and re-evaluate how to retain talent.
  • Dr . Isabell Welpe explains what we can learn from this recent trend in the workforce.

The Great Resignation is an idea proposed by Professor Anthony Klotz of Texas A& M University that predicts a large number of people leaving their own jobs after the COVID outbreak ends and life returns to “normal. ” Managers are now navigating the ripple effects from the pandemic, as employees re-evaluate their careers and leave their jobs in record numbers. Companies have a record number of open positions in the US, and to explore what has been driving this recent shift, a recent in depth analysis by Ian Cook and his team of more than 9 million employee records at 4, 000 global companies revealed two trends:

  • Resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees
  • Resignation rates are highest in the technology and healthcare industries

At the onset of the pandemic, the job market was full of uncertainty and mass layoffs: millions of people lost their work, and those lucky enough to remain employed remained put in their roles for survival. However , as we now turn towards recovery, workers in privileged positions who don’t live paycheck to paycheck are now finally moving on. Most in non-developed economies with the absence of social security and unemployment benefits cannot afford this luxury but may still be undergoing duress and pent-up frustration from the disruption caused by the pandemic.

These trends highlight the importance to understanding why people are leaving and what can be done to prevent The Great Resignation. It also calls for a data-driven approach to determine not just how many people are quitting, but who exactly has the highest turnover risk.

Given the buzz generated around the term “The Great Resignation”, we turned to Professor Doctor Isabell Welpe at the Technical University of Munich. Dr . Welpe conducts research in the area of leadership, innovation, and organization from a behavioural science perspective, with a focus on the selection of managers, managing teams, the role of emotions within managing processes as well as incentive systems and performance measurement. Doctor Welpe also curated the particular Forum’s Strategic Intelligence briefings on “ Workforce and Employment ” and “ Education, Skills, and Learning ” which highlight the key trends and emerging issues relating to the future of work, education, upskilling, and innovation in these fields.

Behind the buzzword ‘The Great Resignation’

Your research gravitates around strategic leadership, work motivation, and the future orientation of organizations. What drew you to develop your expertise in this domain?

The study of organizations is fascinating because many things we hold dear are the result and product of organizations and the leadership therein. When things don’t work out, when services fail, or products lack a certain quality – it is all the result of organizational failure. What I find fascinating is that the role and shape of organizations is constantly shifting, often in response to technological developments. I expect organizations to become more marketized in the future with younger generations not holding 6 jobs in their lifetime anymore but 6 jobs at the same time, as workers offer their particular skills to different companies in different projects.

Technology development usually moves in waves and we will soon witness the dawn of the decentralised economy that enables a blockchain based way of makers and creators directly interacting with customers and users without the need to go through platform companies and intermediating firms. DAOs (Decentralized autonomous organizations) will be the next stage for organizations with this decentralised economy.

As the global workforce prepares to enter the post pandemic reality, what would you consider the most pressing challenge that organizations must address to sustain work inspiration?

We have yet to see what a post pandemic world plus workplace will look like. What we may already see is that how we organize work and work together will not return to the way it was before the pandemic. Many businesses have announced that their employees never have to return to the office fulltime. I would expect to see a post pandemic work business as one that moves away from an one-size-fits-all approach towards one that allows individual and asynchronous organization of work and work settings. For example , I expect that companies will allow a part of their labor force to work fully remote most of the time and allow another part of their workforce to come to the workplace only on 1-2 days a week.

The use of office buildings will change as they become cultural touchstones and meetings places for recruiting, meeting customers, plus holding bootcamps to facilitate interpersonal exchange. This new way of organizing work requires a different leadership style and also demands new skills from workers. Self leadership will gradually replace leadership through leaders and control. Workers who are able, willing, and motivated to take on responsibility will certainly thrive and enable greater agility in their organizations. Managing the transition to this brand new way of functioning organizations requires two measures: Selecting the right talents and socialising them in the right way.

What’s causing the Great Resignation?

There’s been a lot which has been discussed relating to healthcare worker exodus after facing the brunt from the pandemic. However , service industries such as retail, hospitality, food service, etc are continuing to see the highest number of workers quit in any sector. Why is the demand for these careers and retention fading from the labour market?

Industries with low location and time independence were among the sectors that suffered most during the COVID pandemic work crisis. These are business models that are characterized by close proximity associated with location and time, which implies that providers and receivers of a product or service are at the same place at the same time. These are businesses like dine in restaurants, ship cruises, sporting events, music concerts, passenger airlines, etc .

All these business models suffer severely from such a crisis due to the nature of their business model which has cascading effects on employees, their participation, motivation, plus wellbeing. Services provided at a specific place, but where provider and receiver don’t need to be there at the same time have done slightly better. Typical examples are self service stations and independent nature tourism with providers like bergfex or komoot .

As these businesses can be done independent from in time service provision, they have a high survival probability. Businesses that are characterized by a high location independence of the service and a low independence of time, such as businesses that need provider and receiver to do business at the same time but not at the same location have a high survival probability, where you might see lower incidents of the ‘The Great Resignation’. These are business models like live streaming, delivery dining places, online counseling, and tele medicine.

What we now see is that businesses that offer their products or services independent of time and location, like streaming services, online retailers, remote work service providers, and other multisided platforms are where talent is moving to given their potential and their successful emergence from the pandemic.

Overall, virtual and remote work is mostly here to stay.

—Dr. Isabell Welpe, Technical University of Munich

For white-collar workers, the pandemic afforded many new perks such as the ability to work from home, greater flexibility, a more balanced work-life balance – which were unheard of pre outbreak. Would you foresee companies plus organisations offering and expanding such perks being the most talent competitive in the future?

I think Stewart Butterfield, the CEO of Slack, has a point in asking: “If all of us say that everyone must return to the office, or we expect people to, and one of our competitors says you can work remotely, who wouldn’t take the second option there? ” We already know from surveys before the pandemic started that an overwhelming majority of knowledge workers would like to work from home and would even be willing to quit a job to work remotely. This is one of the major reasons for The Great Resignation.

During the pandemic, some of the most popular employers have announced that their workers never have to come back into the office regularly again, so it certainly will become an issue associated with employer attractiveness. There are many benefits of remote working, as employers can save on real estate costs and tap into global talent flexibly. The degree of remote work will also depend upon how well firms manage the challenges that come with remote function: overcoming communication silos particularly between the weak ties between workers and across departments, as well as sharing non-codified information and knowledge. Overall, digital and remote work is mainly here to stay.

How should organisations become reevaluating their future orientation given the new world of work? What factors should be considered so that our systems are usually geared towards ensuring decent and dignified work for all?

One of the most important points is establishing a culture of individualized working conditions. Organizations need to know the approximate 5 areas, abilities, behaviour and rules where they cannot and will not compromise – such as high self responsibility and conscientiousness or ability for self development but remain quite flexible at working times, working places and workplace setups. We know from previous research that a lot of work has actually never happened at work due to the M& Ms “the managers and the meetings” because Jason Fried said in his famous TED talk , which usually keep people at work far from work.

So , the new normal with more possibilities for asynchronous work should enable a win-win situation for workers plus organizations alike. Research on the performance of virtual teams clearly shows that both virtual and non-virtual teams always perform better with more part clarity, task clarity, structure and handbook first policies but that all of these are associated with particular important for the functioning of virtual teams. The pandemic has also shown that companies that have focused on recruiting highly trustworthy, highly committed and performance-oriented individuals found the transition to a lot more flexible and future oriented work much easier.

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24 Nov, 2021

Banking On Technology: Tech Trends That Have Carved A Niche This Year – Forbes India

Banking-on-technology-Tech-trends-that-have-carved-a-niche-this-year

With increased consumer demand for digital banking services, artificial intelligence is also at the core of digital banking transformation. Image: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Technology has been a major disruptor in the way banking was done just a few years ago. While the pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology across industries and sectors, our dependence on these advancements has been magnified to a great extent. For example, the recent Annual Report 2020-21 of Reserve Bank of India shows, the total digital transaction volume in 2020-21 stood at 4,371 crores, as against 3,412 crores in 2019-20, attesting to the resilience of the digital payment system in the face of the pandemic.

As these technological advancements continue to disrupt the traditional ways of banking, we see a whole new spectrum of newer and faster banking solutions. Online deposits, mobile wallets, e-bill payments, and so on have fundamentally become a norm for how financial transactions are carried out nowadays. With increased consumer demand for digital banking services, artificial intelligence is also at the core of digital banking transformation. These advancements are predominantly followed by the growth of fintech and neo-banks that are making the entire banking process more convenient and hassle-free for customers.

Following are some tech trends that have defined India’s banking system this year:

Open Banking 

Open banking is an important strategy for financial institutions to compete and grow. Banks embed their financial solutions into third-party software and create a single interface for customers to access the services of their bank. By partnering with fintech, banks make their services available to their customers across apps for easy payments. Online payments while ordering food from Zomato or digital payments in Uber are possible due to open banking services.

Blockchain

To undertake risk management practices, banks are increasingly using blockchain technology that makes it difficult for hackers to extract confidential information such as customer bank details. The industry is already experimenting with the technology by replicating current asset transactions on the blockchain. It helps in improving efficiency, enhancing security, and making quicker transactions with decreased costs.

Biometrics

As consumer reliance on cash is decreasing, companies such as WhatsApp, Google, Amazon are coming up with their payment systems. Biometric payments are shaping the way consumers make payments through their mobile devices. Payments are made within seconds of scanning their finger or facial recognition technology.

Cloud banking

Most banks have started to move towards cloud-based banking. The cloud allows banks to synchronise the enterprise; break down operational and data silos across customer support, finance, risk, and more. This transforms their cost-efficiency and enables them to provide digital experiences to customers by keeping their legacy model intact.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Banks are extensively implementing AI and ML to offer just-in-time, personalised services to their customers. AI and ML automate the banking processes and facilitate better customer services, credit and loan services. They also combat fraud.

Chatbots

As voice-based interactions are becoming more popular with consumers, banks will start offering an increasingly large number of services on a voice interface. Financial chatbots are saving over four minutes per transaction. It will also allow banks to receive customer feedback easily and economically.

‘Zero Trust’ Security Model

Conventional IT models are getting outdated, making banks prone to cyber fraud. A new approach to combat this threat is the Zero Trust Security model. It is a security framework that secures the enterprise by removing implicit trust and enforcing strict user and device authentication throughout the network.

Wearables

As more technologies come into play, existing technologies adapt to create more interactive consumer experiences. Wearable devices such as smartwatches are expected to transform the digital payments experience for customers. Gaining popularity among millennials and GenZ for wearable payment devices is going to revolutionise the payments space.

Conclusion

The year has seen increased dependence on digital technologies for banking needs. There still lies a massive potential for banks to fill the gaps to meet their customer expectations. More businesses are digitising their processes and finding more agile ways of working and modernising functions by investing in the latest technologies. Modern banking technologies are helping banks collaborate and integrate their services with fintech and neo-banks to offer consumers newer and efficient technologies.

Consumers are also actively adopting these new technologies for better and convenient banking experiences. As a result, more and more consumers are transacting with their banks, building an opportunity for newer technologies to be created in the space, providing the customers with an ultimate banking experience.

The writer is CEO and Co-founder of Zeta.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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22 Nov, 2021

Future Of Work: The 5 Biggest Workplace Trends In 2022 – Forbes

Much has been written about the huge changes in our working lives during the past two years – driven of course by necessity and concerns for safety. In 2022, the pandemic is very much still a fact of life for many of us. However, it’s fair to say that we’ve learned to adapt to new behavioral patterns and expectations as we do our jobs. If we are among the millions of “knowledge workers” who find ourselves with more freedom to choose when and where we work, then hopefully, we are making the most of the opportunity to strike a better balance between home and working life.

Of course, however much there is to write about the widespread shift away from offices and centralized workplaces, there are many occupations and professions where this simply isn’t an option. To frontline workers in healthcare, retail, teaching, transport, and security – among many other industries – buzzwords like “hybrid workplace” probably have very little impact on their day-to-day lives. But they are unlikely to remain untouched by other trends on this list, as technology opens up opportunities for new ways of working and continues to redefine the relationship between us and our workplaces.

Hybrid working  

When it comes to where we work, there will continue to be three main models – centralized workplaces, decentralized remote organizations, and the hybrid “best of both worlds” approach. What’s likely to change in 2022 is that it’s more likely that we, as workers, will have the choice rather than being forced to align with whatever model your organization has chosen out of necessity.

Organizations are clearly undergoing a change in their relationship with the idea of a centralized workplace. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, 69% of large companies expected an overall decrease in the amount of office space they would be using, according to research by KPMG.  

Hybrid structures will range from companies maintaining permanent centralized offices with hot-desking to accommodate the fact that staff will more frequently work remotely, to doing away with offices entirely and relying on co-working spaces and serviced meeting rooms to support the needs of a primarily remote workforce.

A report recently commissioned by video messaging platform Loom found that 90% of employees surveyed – including workers and managers – are happier with the increased freedom they now have to work from home, suggesting that this is likely to be a trend that is here to stay as we move into 2022.

AI-augmented workforce

The World Economic Forum predicts that AI and automation will lead to the creation of 97 million new jobs by 2025. However, people working in many existing jobs will also find their roles changing,  as they are increasingly expected to augment their own abilities with AI technology. Initially, this AI will primarily be used to automate repetitive elements of their day-to-day roles and allow workers to focus on areas that require a more human touch – creativity, imagination, high-level strategy, or emotional intelligence, for example. Some examples include lawyers who will use technology that cuts down the amount of time spent reviewing case histories in order to find precedents, and doctors who will have computer vision capabilities to help them analyze medical records and scans to help them diagnose illness in patients. In retail, augmented analytics helps store managers with inventory planning and logistics and helps sales assistants predict what individual shoppers will be looking for when they walk through the door. Marketers have an ever-growing range of tools at their disposal to help them target campaigns and segment audiences. And in engineering and manufacturing roles, workers will increasingly have access to technology that helps them understand how machinery works and predict where breakdowns are likely to happen.

Staffing for resilience

Pre-pandemic, the priority was generally to have been to hire staff that would create efficient organizations. Mid and post-pandemic, the emphasis has shifted firmly in the direction of resilience. Whereas built-in redundancy or overlaps in skills might previously have been seen as inefficient, today, it’s seen as a sensible precaution.

This certainly encompasses another sub-trend, which is that employers are coming to understand the critical importance of building employee healthcare and wellbeing (including mental health) strategies into their game plan. Many are now trying to take more responsibility for helping their workforce maintain physical, mental, and financial wellbeing. A challenge here that companies will come up against in 2022 is finding ways to do this that hit objectives without being overly intrusive or invasive of employees’ privacy and personal lives.

Ensuring a workforce is healthy enough to keep a business running is clearly a critical element of resilience, but it also covers the implementation of processes that are more flexible, with built-in redundancies to provide cover when disaster strikes, resulting in operational efficiency becoming compromised. These processes are sure to play an increasingly big part in the day-to-day lives of workers as we move through 2022.

Less focus on roles, more focus on skills

Gartner says, “To build the workforce you’ll need post-pandemic, focus less on roles – which group unrelated skills – than on the skills needed to drive the organization’s competitive advantage and the workflows that fuel this advantage.”

Skills are critical because they address core business challenges, with the competencies needed in a workforce to overcome those challenges. Roles, on the other hand, describe the way individual members of a workforce relate to an overall organizational structure or hierarchy. We’ve certainly seen this trend gestating for some time, with the move towards more “flat” organizational structures as opposed to strictly hierarchical teams with a direct reporting, chain-of-command approach to communication and problem-solving. By focussing on skills, businesses address the fact that solving problems and answering their core business questions is the key to driving innovation and success within information-age enterprises.

From the worker’s point of view, focusing on developing their skills, rather than further developing their abilities to carry out their role, leaves them better positioned to capitalize on new career opportunities. This shift in focus from roles to skills is likely to be a key trend for both organizations and workers during 2022.  

Employee monitoring and analytics

Controversial though it may be, research shows that employers are increasingly investing in technology designed to monitor and track the behavior of their employees in order to drive efficiency. Platforms such as Aware that allow businesses to monitor behavior across email and tools such as Slack in order to measure productivity, are being seen as particularly useful by managers overseeing remote workforces. It builds on functionality created by earlier products such as Hitachi’s Business Microscope that tracked movements of staff around physical office blocks and could be used to monitor, among other things, how often bathroom breaks were taken, and which workers spend the most amount of time talking to others as opposed to sitting at their workstation.

Of course, it seems that it would be easy for companies to use these tools in a way that would be seen as overbearing or intrusive by their workers, and in my opinion, that would clearly be a recipe for disaster. However, ostensibly at least, the idea is to use them to gain broad oversights into workforce behavior rather than focus on individuals’ activity and use them as tools for enforcing discipline. Companies that invest in this technology have a fine line to tread, and it remains to be seen whether the net effect will be a boost to productivity or a “chilling effect” on individual freedoms. If it’s the latter, it’s unlikely to end well for the companies involved. However, for better or worse, it seems likely that this kind of technology will play an increasingly large role in the workplace during 2022.

Read more about these and other future trends in my new book, Business Trends in Practice: The 25+ Trends That are Redefining Organizations.

19 Nov, 2021

The 5 Biggest Blockchain Trends In 2022 – Forbes

Blockchain is one of the most exciting tech trends at the moment. It is a distributed, encrypted database model that has the potential to solve many problems around online trust and security. Many people know it as the technology that underpins Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general. However, its potential uses are far broader, encompassing digital “smart” contracts, logistics and supply chain provenance and security, and protection against identity theft. There are countless others – blockchain evangelists say it can potentially be used to improve security and integrity in any system that involves multiple parties sharing access to a database.

During 2022, spending on blockchain solutions by businesses is forecast to hit $11.7 billion. Here are some of the trends that will be driving this and some thoughts on how this will impact more and more lives over the course of the next year.

Green blockchain initiatives

Blockchains can potentially use a lot of energy and create high levels of carbon emissions – this fact was behind Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s decision to temporarily stop accepting Bitcoin in payment for his cars earlier in 2021. For this very good reason, during 2022, we are likely to see a great deal of emphasis on attempts to “greenify” blockchain. There are a few ways this can be done, including carbon offsetting, although many people consider that this often equates to simply patching up a wound that shouldn’t have been caused in the first place. Another is by moving to less energy-intensive models of blockchain technology – typically those that rely on “proof-of-stake” algorithms rather than “proof-of-work” to generate consensus. Ethereum – the second best-known blockchain after Bitcoin – plans to move to a POS model during 2022. Another route to a greener operating model is the one championed by Cathy Wood, CEO of tech-focused hedge fund Ark Invest. This posits the view that growing demand for energy will lead to greater investments into generating renewable energy, which will then be used for other applications as well as operating blockchains.

NFT expanding beyond online art

Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) were the big news in the blockchain scene during 2021. Astronomical prices achieved by artwork such as Beeple’s The First 5000 Days created plenty of headlines, placing the concept of unique digital tokens residing on blockchains firmly in the public consciousness. It’s also firmly taken hold in the music world, with artists including Kings of Leon, Shawn Mendes, and Grimes all releasing tracks in NFT format. But like blockchain in general, the idea has potential beyond it’s first publicity-grabbing use cases. Distillers William Grant and Son recently sold bottles of 46-year-old Glenfiddich whisky alongside NFTs, which are used to prove each bottle’s provenance. NFTs in gaming are starting to take off in a big way – monster-breeding game Axie Infinity allows players to “mint” their own NFT creatures to send into battle and currently has around 300,000 concurrent players (Fortnite, for comparison, has around 3.5 million). Dolce & Gabbana and Nike have both created clothing and footwear that come with their own NFTs. And the metaverse concept – championed this year by Facebook, Microsoft, and Nvidia – brings plenty of opportunities for innovative NFT use cases.  

More countries adopt Bitcoin and national cryptocurrencies

2021 saw El Salvador become among the first nations to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender, meaning it can be accepted across the country to pay for goods and services, and businesses can use it to pay their employees. According to many commentators, during 2022, we will see a number of other countries follow suit.

Alexander Hoptner, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange BitMEX, predicts that at least five developing countries will start to accept Bitcoin next year, driven by global inflation and growing remittance fees from financial “middlemen” organizations used to send money home by overseas workers.

National cryptocurrencies – where central banks create their own coins that they can control, rather than adopting existing decentralized coins – are another area where we will see growth in 2022. These projects typically involve digital currencies that will operate alongside existing traditional currencies, allowing users to conduct their own transactions and manage their custody without relying on third-party service providers, while also allowing the central banks to keep control of the circulating supply – keeping the value of the token pegged to the value of the country’s traditional currency. While the UK government-endorsed Britcoin is unlikely to be ready for launch during 2022, others, including China, Singapore, Tunisia, and Ecuador, have already done so, with more, including Japan, Russia, Sweden, and Estonia likely to join soon.

Blockchain and IoT integration

Blockchain is hugely compatible with the idea of the Internet of Things (IoT) because it is great for creating records of interactions and transactions between machines. It can potentially help to solve many problems around security as well as scalability due to the automated, encrypted, and immutable nature of blockchain ledgers and databases. It could even be used for machine-to-machine transactions – enabling micropayments to be made via cryptocurrencies when one machine or network needs to procure services from another. While this is an advanced use case that may involve us traveling a little further down the road before it impacts our day-to-day lives, it’s likely we will start to hear about more pilot projects and initial use cases in this field during 2022. Innovation in this field is likely to be driven by the ongoing rollout of 5G networks, meaning greater connectivity between all manner of smart, networked equipment and appliances – not simply in terms of speed, but also new types of data transactions including blockchain transactions.

Blockchain in vaccine manufacture and tracking

It’s now clear that tackling the Covid-19 global pandemic will continue to be a priority throughout 2022 and a key use case for many of this year’s top tech trends. Blockchain technology has several important potential use cases in vaccine tracking and distribution. In a world where counterfeiters are known to be creating and selling fake vaccines, blockchain means the authenticity of vaccine shipments can be proven, and their distribution can be traced to ensure they are arriving at their intended locations. There’s also a need to ensure integrity at every point of the supply chain – for example, to ensure batches of vaccines are consistently stored at the correct temperature, as is needed by many of them. IBM has created a system to allow coordination between the many different and varied agencies and healthcare authorities involved with vaccine distribution, using blockchain to unify recording of vaccination rates and efficacy across the various tools and platforms they all have in use. A pilot project also showed how blockchain could potentially speed up the ability to recognize where a product recall might be needed – for example, in a case where a batch seems to be causing an unusually high occurrence of side-effects – from three days to just a few seconds. Breakthroughs that come about due to the unprecedented response to this pandemic are likely to go on to enable more use cases for blockchain technology in the manufacture, distribution, and management of vaccinations in 2022.

Read more about these and other future trends in my books, Business Trends in Practice: The 25+ Trends That are Redefining Organizations and Tech Trends In Practice: The 25 Technologies That Are Driving The 4th Industrial Revolution.

18 Nov, 2021

Ransomware trends, statistics and facts in 2022 – TechTarget


2021 was a breakout year for ransomware as the cybersecurity attack vector wreaked havoc on individuals and organizations around the world. It’s a trend that will continue in 2022 and beyond.

While ransomware is not a new cybersecurity risk, it is a threat that received attention at the highest levels of government. Ransomware affected people’s ability to get healthcare, put gas in their vehicles and buy groceries.

The financial effects of ransomware also became particularly pronounced in 2021. Attacks hit supply chains, causing more widespread damage than an attack against a single individual. There has also been an increased response from government and technology vendors to help stem the tide of ransomware attacks.

Ransomware trends in 2021 and 2022

A few key ransomware trends emerged over the course of 2021 and will likely continue into 2022. Attackers realized that certain techniques yield better results and focused on those approaches. Here were some of the primary trends for ransomware in 2021:

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Ransomware trends of 2021 graphic
Here are some ransomware trends for 2021.

Ransomware statistics for 2021 and 2022

The statistics listed below provide insight into the breadth and growing scale of ransomware threats:

  • Ransomware is part of 10% of all breaches. It doubled in frequency in 2021, according to the 2021 “Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report.”
  • Approximately 37% of global organizations said they were the victim of some form of ransomware attack in 2021, according to IDC’s “2021 Ransomware Study.”
  • The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported 2,084 ransomware complaints from January to July 31, 2021. This represents a 62% year-over-year increase.
  • The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency reported in February 2022 that it is aware of ransomware incidents against 14 of the 16 U.S. critical infrastructure sectors.
  • Since 2020, there have been more than 130 different ransomware strains detected, according to VirusTotal’s “Ransomware in a Global Context” report:
    • The GandCrab ransomware family was the most prevalent at 78.5% of all samples it received, according to VirusTotal.
    • Ninety-five percent of all the ransomware samples are Windows-based executable files — or dynamic link libraries — according to VirusTotal.

Ransomware statistics by industry

Ransomware can hit any individual or industry, and all verticals are at risk. That said, ransomware attacks have affected some verticals more than others in 2021 and will continue to be an issue for years to come. Here are the top 10 ransomware targets by industry, according to cybersecurity firm Sophos:

  1. education
  2. retail
  3. business, professional and legal services
  4. central government
  5. IT
  6. manufacturing
  7. energy and utilities infrastructure
  8. healthcare
  9. local government
  10. financial services

Costs of ransomware attacks and payment trends

The costs attributed to ransomware incidents vary significantly depending on the reporting source. Different points of view from both the private and public sector provide some visibility into the cost and payment trends for ransomware attacks:

  • Ninety percent of ransomware incidents did not result in any loss, according to the 2021 Verizon report. While not every ransomware victim pays a ransom or incurs a cost, some do:
    • In 95% of the cases where there were ransomware-related costs, the median loss was $11,150, according to Verizon. However, losses ranged from a low of $70 to a high of $1.2 million.
  • Twelve percent of victims paid out on ransomware attacks in the third quarter of 2021, according to the Corvus Risk Insights Index. The 2021 figure is a decrease from the 44% of victims that paid ransomware demands in the third quarter of 2020.
  • In first six months of 2021, there was $590 million in ransomware-related activity, according to the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). For all of 2020, FinCEN only reported $416 million in ransomware-related costs.

Recent ransomware attacks

There have been many ransomware attacks in recent years that affected organizations and their customers. But, in 2021, supply chain attacks affected more than just the individual organizations that were breached. Here are some notable ransomware attacks that happened in 2021 and early 2022:

  • Acer. In March 2021, global IT hardware vendor Acer was the victim of a ransomware attack executed by the REvil ransomware group.
  • CNA Financial. In March 2021, cyber insurance carrier CNA Financial disclosed that it was the victim of a cyber attack. The attack was allegedly executed by a group known as Phoenix.
  • Colonial Pipeline. In May 2021, Colonial Pipeline was the victim of a ransomware attack that affected the flow of oil across the eastern U.S.
  • JBS USA. In June 2021, meat processing vendor JBS USA was hit by a ransomware attack that reduced the company’s ability to package meat products. The company is reported to have paid $11 million in ransom to criminals that were using the REvil ransomware.
  • Kaseya. In July 2021, remote management software vendor Kaseya was the victim of a supply chain ransomware attack. The attack was allegedly perpetrated by criminals using the REvil ransomware platform.
  • Sinclair Broadcast Group. In October 2021, Sinclair Broadcast Group was the victim of a ransomware attack that crippled the network’s broadcast operations.
  • Public services. Schools, health services and local U.S. municipal governments were hit by ransomware attacks in early 2022, including Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Jan. 13, 2022; Linn County, Ore., on Jan. 24, 2022; and New Bedford, Mass., on Jan. 27, 2022.

Ransomware predictions

Ransomware didn’t start recently, and it won’t end anytime soon either. Ransomware will likely continue to evolve in a few different ways. Here are some predictions on the direction that ransomware will take in the years ahead:

  • Governments will be more involved. Gartner predicted that nation-states are likely to enact legislation about ransomware payments. In 2021, Gartner estimated that only 1% of global governments have rules around ransomware, with a forecast for that to grow to 30% by 2025.
  • More extortion to come. Security vendor BeyondTrust predicted that there will be a variation on double extortion with ransomware in 2022, as attackers try to execute more personalized attacks.
  • Rise of intermittent encryption. In August 2021, security vendor Sophos first detected a new approach inside ransomware known as intermittent encryption. Intermittent encryption only encrypts parts of files, making them appear as corrupted data. The approach can bypass many forms of current ransomware protection and detection.

How to protect against ransomware attacks

Organizations and individuals can take steps to mitigate ransomware attacks. But there is no silver bullet that will solve or defend against ransomware. What’s needed is a multilayered approach to improve IT security overall. There are six key steps to safeguard assets against ransomware risks:

  1. Maintain a defense-in-depth security program. Ransomware is just one of many risks that IT users face. Having multiple layers of defense is a key best practice.
  2. Consider advanced protection technologies. The use of extended detection and response can help organizations identify potential risks that could lead to ransomware exploitation.
  3. Educate employees about the risks of social engineering. More often than not, it’s users clicking on something that they shouldn’t that can lead to infection. Education and vigilance are important.
  4. Patch regularly. Ransomware code often targets known vulnerabilities. By keeping software and firmware updated, a possible attack vector can be eliminated.
  5. Perform frequent backups of critical data. Ransomware’s target is data. By having reliable backups, the risk of losing data can be minimized.
  6. Consider tabletop exercises. Preparing for ransomware with a tabletop exercise can identify potential gaps and ensure the right process is in place to mitigate and recover from a potential attack.

Next Steps

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4 types of ransomware and a timeline of attack examples

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This was last published in February 2022

Dig Deeper on Threats and vulnerabilities




10 Nov, 2021

What to Watch in 2022 – Investopedia

With the markets and the economy seeing continued effects from the COVID-19 pandemic, many investors are likely turning their attention toward the next calendar year. The following trends and concerns could shape the investment landscape in 2022.

Key Takeaways

  • Going into 2022, among the key market sectors to watch are oil, gold, autos, services, and housing.
  • Other key areas of concern include tapering, interest rates, inflation, payment for order flow (PFOF), and antitrust.
  • Expect ongoing political battles over federal spending and the debt ceiling, climate change, and student debt.
  • The new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) may reshape policy.
  • President Biden has reappointed Jerome Powell as Federal Reserve Board (FRB) chair.
  • However, three other seats on the seven-member FRB will be filled with Biden’s picks.
  • Labor market issues, including the impact of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, also should be at the forefront.
  • The new global minimum corporate tax rate will start to take shape, with impacts on multinational corporations.

Market Sectors

The price of crude oil, as measured by West Texas Intermediate (WTI), surged by about 79% from start of 2021 to early November from roughly $47 per barrel to about $84. Since then, the price has declined to around $70 by Dec. 15, 2021, trimming the year-to-date rise to about 49%. The increase can be attributed partly to the economic recovery from the pandemic and partly to growing supply restrictions, as the Biden administration implements an anti-oil agenda that limits oil exploration and production in the U.S., a trend that is likely to continue into 2022.

Inflation has been rising, with the all items version of the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) recording a 6.8% increase during the 12 months through November 2021. This was the largest 12-month increase since the 12-month period ending in June 1982. Gold reached a recent peak of about $1,950 per troy ounce in January 2021 but has traded in a range roughly around $1,800 since mid-2021. Expectations of future inflation rates are likely to drive fluctuations in the price of gold in 2022.

Used cars have been a hot market, partly due to supply bottlenecks for semiconductor chips that have been limiting the production of new cars. Record high prices for both new and used cars, as well as for rental cars, are likely to persist into 2023.

The service sector—particularly travel, tourism, and hospitality—has had especially long-lasting negative impacts from COVID-19. It remains unclear whether a strong turnaround can be expected in 2022.

New home sales have been surging, even as the median price hit a new record high of $407,700 in October 2021, up by 17.5% from the same month in 2020. According to a research note, “A combination of lower rates, easier lending standards and, perhaps, a renewed bout of COVID fear in cities, has driven the turnaround.” How long these trends persist in the remainder of 2021 and into 2022 remains to be seen.

Regulation and Federal Reserve Policy

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has been considering a full ban on the payment for order flow (PFOF), as SEC Chairman Gary Gensler sees “an inherent conflict of interest.” PFOF became a hot topic in 2021 mainly in relation to Robinhood Markets, Inc. (HOOD). If the SEC restricts the practice in 2022, this will upend the business models of brokerage firms such as Robinhood and perhaps dampen the recent surge in active trading and speculation by retail investors.

Federal Reserve Board (FRB) Chair Jerome Powell announced on Dec. 15, 2021 that the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has decided to accelerate its tapering of net new purchases of bonds, in response to a strengthening economy and rising inflation. These purchases had been $120 billion per month, but are now being reduced to zero by March 2022.

Powell has insisted that, despite tapering, the Fed’s stance will remain “accommodative,” still seeking to keep interest rates near zero. Indeed, even after tapering, the Fed will continue to have a bond portfolio worth around $8.5 trillion, about twice its pre-pandemic value and nearly ten times its value in mid-2007. As a result, the reaction of the stock and bond markets has been muted so far.

The Federal Reserve System has been exploring policy responses to the rise of cryptocurrencies and digital currencies. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has acknowledged publicly that the Fed is actively assessing whether it should create a central bank digital currency (CBDC). Before making that step, the Fed will seek the views of many key constituencies. “It is important to do it right, rather than fast,” Fed Chair Powell has stated, emphasizing that such an initiative would only be undertaken with broad support from both the Congress and the Executive Branch of the federal government.

The Biden administration reportedly has assembled the most aggressive antitrust team in decades, with likely targets ranging from the technology industry to pharmaceuticals, agriculture, health care, and finance, among others. Biden also has issued an executive order encompassing 72 initiatives intended to increase competition in a number of industries, raise the scrutiny of mergers, and limit the ability of employers to force employees to sign non-compete agreements. Even before Biden took office, the world’s largest company by market capitalization, Apple Inc. (AAPL), indicated publicly that potential antitrust action has become a major business risk.

Law

With federal spending and federal budget deficits still near all-time highs and the Biden administration pushing for the passage of costly infrastructure bills, the federal debt ceiling has become a renewed matter of contention In Congress. A possible federal government shutdown and default was averted temporarily in October 2021. Another temporary funding measure was passed on Dec. 2, 2021, staving off a shutdown that loomed on Dec. 3, but leaving open the possibility of a default on or about Dec. 15, should the debt ceiling not be raised.

On Dec. 16, 2021, President Biden signed a bill into law that increases the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion, which is expected to postpone a possible default to early 2023. These issues are bound to be major topics of political contention in 2022, a year in which the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate are up for election, creating ongoing uncertainties for the markets and the economy.

President Biden’s “Roadmap to Build a Climate-Resilient Economy” is a sweeping executive order that includes a broad-based set of initiatives regarding climate change, involving many federal agencies and departments. Federal budgetary processes and procurement standards are affected, as well as disclosures by public companies, investment criteria, and lending standards. Issued on Oct. 14, 2021, its impacts are likely to be felt increasingly as 2022 progresses.

Student debt in the U.S., which now exceeds $1.7 trillion, has become a growing political issue. During his campaign, President Biden supported canceling up to $10,000 in student debt for all borrowers, and some proponents of student debt forgiveness argue that he has the legal authority to cancel all federally owned student debt. Meanwhile, opponents of a general cancelation argue that the main beneficiaries would be borrowers in high-paying professions. Additionally, cancelation would enable, rather than rein in, a continued upward spiral in the cost of higher education.

Leadership Changes in Key Federal Posts

On Feb. 5, 2022, the four-year term of Jerome H. Powell as chair of the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) will expire, though his term as a member of the FRB extends until Jan. 31, 2028. On Nov. 22, 2021, the White House announced that President Biden will renominate Powell for another four-year term as Fed chair, ending speculation that current FRB governor Lael Brainard might be his pick. Instead, Biden has chosen Brainard for the open seat of vice chair. Both nominations are subject to approval by the U.S. Senate.

Meanwhile, FRB member Randal K. Quarles has announced that, although his term extends until Jan. 31, 2032, he will resign before the end of 2021. As a result of renominating Powell, President Biden now may be able to fill as many as three seats on the seven-member FRB by the early part of 2022, giving him a key opportunity to change the direction of monetary policy and financial regulation.

Rohit Chopra enters 2022 as the new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), narrowly confirmed by U.S. Senate on Sept. 30, 2021, in a 50-48 party-line vote (Democrats in favor, Republicans opposed) to a five-year term. Chopra indicates that his top priorities will include mitigating the financial impacts of the pandemic (including foreclosures and evictions), privacy issues, and the way banks use algorithms in lending decisions.

Employment

As the economy recovers from the pandemic, labor markets have been tight, with many open positions going unfilled, partly due to “the great resignation” of workers from the workforce. Additionally, both support for unions and strikes for better pay and working conditions have been on the rise. Whether these trends persist into 2022 will have critical impacts on labor costs, supply bottlenecks, and inflation.

COVID-19 vaccine mandates at the federal, state, and local levels are becoming not only a growing civil liberties issue, but also a significant factor leading to unfilled jobs in many sectors of the economy, especially in customer-facing positions in the service sector and in government. This is likely to remain a large issue well into 2022.

Global Corporate Minimum Tax Rate

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) announced on Oct. 8, 2021, that—effective in 2023—its members have agreed to set a global corporate minimum tax rate of 15%. Key details have yet to be fleshed out, however. In 2022, announcements of these details should be forthcoming, and the impacts on the domicile choices of multinational corporations should start coming to light.