Every December, the magazine Nature choose ten protagonists of some of the most relevant stories in science that year. In the selection presented today for 2023, it includes for the first time an entity that is not human. ChatGPT, a robot capable of answering questions and maintaining conversations in a more or less intelligent way, contributed to the writing of academic articles, the synthesis of scientific articles and the preparation of documents which were used for apply for research grants. Additionally, it has intensified the debate around the limits of artificial intelligence, the nature of human intelligence and how these new technologies should be regulated.
In addition to the potential of this technology for knowledge management or even the generation of new knowledge, publishers of Nature They emphasize the need for transparency in the management of such a powerful tool. “The size and complexity of large language models (on which programs like ChatGPT are based) mean that they are inherently black boxes, but it is more difficult to understand why they produce what they produce when their code and their training materials are not public, as is the case. this is the case with ChatGPT,” they warn. Although it is unclear what these models will produce or what limits will be placed on available computing capacity or databases, the generative artificial intelligence revolution is unstoppable.
The human brain after artificial intelligence
Although a machine is recognized as the protagonist, in the selection of Nature one of its creators is also included. Ilya Sutskever, chief scientist and co-founder of OpenAI, the organization that created ChatGPT, is one of the minds at the forefront of generative artificial intelligence. He saw in this company, filled with billions of euros by Microsoft, an opportunity to develop general artificial intelligence, capable of surpassing that of humans and developing its own consciousness. In recent months, he has focused his efforts on creating a method to direct and control artificial intelligence systems that are smarter than humans.
Sutskever saw the potential of artificial intelligence as too great for the models to be accessible to anyone who wanted to use them and was among the first to realize that the systems that scientists like his mentor, Geoffrey Hinton, had begun to develop would begin to show their advantages: current capabilities with increasing computing power. A month ago, he found himself swept up in a whirlwind of human passions within the company he founded. As a board member of OpenAI, he fired its CEO, Sam Altman, for loss of trust. Three days later, he assured in a tweet that I regretted this decision. Two months before had warned that anyone who valued intelligence above the rest of human qualities was going to have a bad time.
Mice are born from the cells of two males
Katsuhiko Hayashi of Osaka University announced in March that he had created mouse pups from cells of two males. Hayashi and his team had already succeeded in creating functional mouse eggs from stem cells in 2016. This time, they took cells from male mouse tails, along with their X and Y chromosomes, and converted them into stem cells. During this process, 3% lost their Y chromosomes and were selected by the researchers, who then applied a treatment to cause errors during cell division. Some of these failures produced cells with two X chromosomes, like female cells, and continued the process of converting these stem cells into oocytes. At each stage of this painstaking work, many cells are lost. Ultimately, they were able to create 630 embryos to implant into mice. Among them, seven babies were born. Researchers are considering applying these techniques to humans, who have more complicated, distant cells to work with, but they want to apply it to save the northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni), species of which only two females remain.
Forgotten diet pills
One of the scientific innovations of the year was the widespread use of GLP-1 analogues to combat obesity. These medications, originally created to treat diabetes, mimic the hormones that naturally make us feel full after eating. Their effectiveness in losing weight has made them a bestseller. The magazine Nature remember that this product was possible, in part, thanks to the pioneering work of Svetlana Mozhsov, researcher at Rockefeller University in New York (United States), who identified and characterized the hormone and created peptides and antibodies that made possible the experiments that showed that GLP-1 could reduce blood sugar levels. Despite the success of drugs like semaglutide, which sells about $1 billion a month, Mojsov has long been ignored. After years of struggle, the researcher managed to obtain magazines like cell And Nature introduced changes to their publications to reflect their work on these molecules while at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (USA).
Progress against malaria
The big players in global science tend to concentrate in rich countries, where the resources to buy the brains and equipment are found. In this year’s list, Halidou Tinto, director of the Nanoro clinical research unit in Burkina Faso, comes from a place where, until his arrival in 2007, there was no electricity. This year, thanks to its clinical trial work, the R21 malaria vaccine was recommended by the World Health Organization. This is the second vaccine against this disease, which causes half a million deaths per year in Africa, mostly children under the age of five. The institute led by Tinto has played a key role as a testing site for these vaccines, and the researcher is working on more than 30 clinical trials against diseases that mainly affect poor countries.
Nature celebrates the return of Marina Silva to the government of Brazil. The Brazilian Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced in August this year a 43% decrease in alerts for deforestation in the Amazon rainforest compared to the previous year. During the years of Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency, the magazine notes, “the government imposed 40% fewer fines for environmental crimes and logging in the Amazon increased by around 60%.”
The second environmental protagonist is Eleni Myrivili, the first head of the UN Heat Department. After years of raising awareness about the effects of global warming on citizens’ lives as a city councilor in Athens, he is now taking this work to a global level. It is also seeking funding to make cities more sustainable and more resilient to rising temperatures. At the Dubai climate summit, he called for support for cooling technologies that do not produce greenhouse gas emissions.
Making progress against bladder cancer
Progress against certain tumors has not followed the overall positive trend in the fight against cancer. This year, Thomas Powles, of St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, saw results that he considered incredible. A two-drug combination, a sort of Trojan horse comprising a targeted drug that delivers a chemotherapy payload to the desired site, was successful in increasing the average survival of bladder cancer patients from 16 months to two years and half. Powles, another of the scientists of the year for Naturesays this step is the most important for advanced bladder cancer in the last four decades and the only one capable of improving the standard treatment used since the 1980s.
Harness the energy of the Sun
One hope for obtaining abundant energy without too many harmful effects on the environment is to control nuclear fusion, the phenomenon that illuminates the Sun. Last summer, American scientists, in a $3.5 billion laser facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, successfully compressed hydrogen nuclei to convert them into helium nuclei and produce more energy required to produce this fusion. Annie Kritcher, an engineer at the National Ignition Facility, played a key role in this success by creating the capsule that traps the atoms on which to direct the laser beam to start the nuclear reaction. Kritcher believes it will be possible to increase the energy produced to the levels needed to create the first prototype laser nuclear fusion reactor.
Change plan to “Nature” for superconductivity
Science, when applied correctly, has the ability to correct its own errors. This is evident in the case of James Hamlin, a physicist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, who detected problems in scientific papers claiming to have found a superconductor of electricity at room temperature. These articles, now retracted, were signed by the physicist Ranga Dias, who spoke, when included in Nature’s Top Ten Outstanding Scientists of 2020, of a “Holy Grail” that could change the world as we know it. This material would make it possible to design high-performance engines and transport networks without energy losses, but it seems that the dream will have to wait.
A prize for finishing fourth
When Chandrayaan-3 After successfully landing on the Moon, India became the fourth country, behind the United States, the Soviet Union and China, to achieve this feat. Kalpana Kalahasti, Associate Project Director, played a leading role in this mission. His job included revamping the project after Chandrayaan-2 destroyed the crashed probe on the Moon in 2019. Working with project director Palanivel Veeramuthuvel, they reduced the mass of the orbital module so that the lander could have more fuel. and more robust landing legs. Building on this progress, India wants to send its astronauts to the Moon in the 2040s.