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The 6 Greatest Software Innovations Of The Year

Popular Science logo Popular Science 20-05-2017 By Dave Gershgorn and Lindsey Kratochwill

© MicrosoftMicrosoft Skype Translator, The End of the Language Barrier

The Internet connected us all—but what good is that if we can’t understand each other? Skype’s artificial-intelligence-based Translator is our digital Tower of ­Babel. It lets us talk to anyone, anywhere, regardless of mother tongue. Made available on Windows in late 2015, Translator uses layers of machine-learning algorithms. When a user speaks, the A.I., drawing on millions of speech examples, analyzes the words and transcribes them into text. The text is then scrubbed of “ums” and word repetitions, and run through a translator. 

<span style="font-size:13px;">Sam Kaplan</span>© Provided by Popular ScienceSam Kaplan The A.I. is self-learning; the more it “hears” a regional accent or slang, the smarter it gets and the better it functions. Callers can receive audio in eight languages and see transcripts in more than 50. Can you hear us now?

<span style="font-size:13px;">Sam Kaplan</span>© Provided by Popular ScienceSam KaplanIntelligentx Brewing Company, The First A.I. Brewmaster

Humans have brewed beer for millennia. Intelligentx Brewing Company thinks artificial intelligence should take a shot. Its machine-learning algorithm reads beer recipes like any other brewmaster. But it also learns from you. After drinking one of the brewery’s four beer styles, you tell a bot on Facebook Messenger what you like, don’t like, or want more of, and the A.I. uses your comments to brew the next batch. More data, better brew. 

<span style="font-size:13px;">Courtesy WhatsApp</span>© Provided by Popular ScienceCourtesy WhatsAppWhatsApp Encryption, 1 Billion Safer People

In April 2016, more than 1 billion cellphone users gained the ability to outsmart the NSA or any third-party snoop when Open Whisper Systems released its WhatsApp end-to-end encryption protocols. Made for voice calls and texting (including photos, videos, and files), users verify their communication is encrypted by either scanning a machine-readable QR code or comparing a 60-digit code with their fellow security-obsessed communicant.

<span style="font-size:13px;">Courtesy That Dragon Cancer</span>© Provided by Popular ScienceCourtesy That Dragon CancerNuminous Games' That Dragon, Cancer: A Game That Will Break Your Heart

When game developer Ryan Green’s son, Joel, was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 1, Green turned to his medium to work through it. The result is a soul-twisting video game that lets players experience the ups and downs the Greens went through during Joel’s four-year battle—the challenge of comforting a child in pain, the joy of story time, and the grief of dealing with his death. “My favorite moments are the moments where you can be with Joel,” says Green. “To play with him, hear him breathe, or hear him laugh, those moments I like the most.”

<span style="font-size:13px;">Getty Images</span>© Provided by Popular ScienceGetty ImagesUniv. of Washington DNA Storage: The Densest Data

Instead of server farms, the entire Internet may one day be the size of a shoe box. That’s what researchers at Microsoft and the University of Washington proved in July, when they encoded 200 megabytes of digital files into the building blocks of DNA—breaking the previous 20-megabyte record. They did it using a type of enzyme called polymerase, which makes copies of DNA in a programmable way and allows any part of the DNA string to be read.

<span style="font-size:13px;">Courtesy Snapchat</span>© Provided by Popular ScienceCourtesy Snapchat Snapchat Lenses: AR’s Big Moment

It wasn’t Pokémon Go. It was Snapchat’s Lenses—object recognition and real-time special effects that let you change your on-screen eye color, superimpose faces, wear animal “masks,” and place scenes around an image.

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