As we get into the swing of 2017, it’s a good time to reflect on how much happened in 2016 in terms of technology breakthroughs. So much happens so quickly. Science fiction has become science fact, with reality surpassing even the imaginations of our greatest artists. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest breakthroughs in 2016, and where we are with them now.

Engineering the immune system

People will always dispute what is more or less important when it comes to picking important advances in a given year. However, almost anyone can agree that focusing on health is to everyone’s benefit. And this year saw a remarkable focus on the immune system.

As Science Daily reports, a University of Notre Dame research team chemist is developing a new type of immunotherapy. This is a treatment focused on enhancing the immune system’s function to treat or prevent disease, “as a means to more effectively target and kill cancer cells”. What makes the research important is the ability to specifically target those cancer cells that require removal. A cancer patient’s immune system tends to destroy the very body it’s trying to protect. By being more specific, the aim is to get rid of cancer without harming the person.

Though the efficacy is still being tested, the research was regarded as a major breakthrough in cancer treatment. This is what the road to a proper cure for cancer looks like.

Air power

Though this is from late 2015, it still fits into ongoing breakthroughs in 2016. A University of Washington research group managed to use the ubiquitous nature of Wi-Fi to power devices. As the school’s paper noted: “they harvested energy from Wi-Fi signals to power a simple temperature sensor, a low-resolution grayscale camera and a charger for a Jawbone activity tracking bracelet.”

This is an ongoing project that will ideally have widespread application, to help lower energy costs, while making it accessible.

Tesla autopilot

Cars are of course always the focus for emerging tech. Nowhere more so than with Tesla’s technology Autopilot. As Popular Mechanics summarized: “Autopilot gives the driver the ability to keep their hands at their sides and let the car drive itself.” This is being demonstrated now and it points toward a future where fewer people will need to drive to use a car.

Slack at work

Though the name might indicate laziness, the group chat software Slack has helped changed how offices operate. As notes, research shows: “the San Francisco-based startup boasts 25 fewer meetings, 32 percent more productivity, and almost 50 percent fewer emails within offices communicating via Slack.” It’s easy and intuitive, allowing for transparency, backup, and storage.

Rise of the robots

Machines able to perform people’s work is intriguing but terrifying. People are obviously concerned about whether they will find themselves without income because they’re replaced by something that doesn’t require a salary, sick days or sleep. But efficiency is also important and robots are being designed for all sorts of important functions, in medicine, space and so on. But one that is truly intriguing is robots teaching other robots. As MIT Technology Review notes, research is going into precisely this area. “It may take hours for a robot to figure out how to grasp a new object. But hundreds of robots could accelerate the process by sharing knowledge.”

Researchers are even discussing creating networks that simulate neural brain networks, so robots can share data right away – thus reducing the time it takes to “learn”. Efficiency would be immediate.

Today, robots in digital form are talking and helping customers navigate websites and aiding their shopping. They’re in phones helping mobile users navigate the internet and obtain information. They’re already here and will only get better.

2017 promises to be another year with some major technology breakthroughs coming our way. There was plenty to see at CES 2017 this year with a big focus on artificial intelligence. If you're interested in what's coming our way this year, have a look at our blog post featuring all of the coolest AI enabled tech and gadgets at CES 2017.