Dog catchers, drone swarms, anti-vaxxers, gain of function, and more: Some of our best 2021 disruptive tech stories

By Matt Field | December 29, 2021

COVID-19 vaccination in Moscow.A COVID-19 vaccination center in Moscow. Credit: CC BY 4.0.

How did COVID-19 start? What do existing weapons tell us about future autonomous warfare? Why are people so resistant to getting vaccines in the midst of a pandemic? In 2021, the Bulletin’s authors and editors may not have had all the answers to the questions they posed, but they did shed light on the issues that power the Doomsday Clock–and more.

Here are some of the best articles that we published in 2021 in the overstuffed category we call disruptive technologies.

Many Russians won’t get vaccinated against COVID-19. A dog catcher explains why

Once in a while a story comes in that explains something from an unexpected perspective. Want to know why so few Russians were getting vaccinated during a COVID-19 wave? A dog catcher has some answers.

Meet the future weapon of mass destruction, the drone swarm

What kind of damage could a drone swarm cause? Think Nagasaki or Hiroshima.

How to crush the variants that have kept the pandemic going

Looking for a little light at the end of the pandemic tunnel? This story gets at why we’re better off now than in 2020, despite COVID-19 variants and the surges they continue to cause.

The US government’s comic approach to information warfare

You’ve heard of Marvel, DC, and Image Comics—powerhouses in the comic book world—but what about CISA, as in the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency? The federal agency, part of the Homeland Security Department, is trying to raise the alarm about issues like troll farms and disinformation in a series of graphic novels. Will they work?

The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?

Where did COVID-19 come from? Science writer Nicholas Wade revived a debate about whether scientific study in Wuhan could have played a part in starting the pandemic, following which President Joe Biden and prominent researchers called for renewed investigation of the matter.

Disinformation watch: How a Bulletin story about self-spreading vaccines was used in anti-vaxxer propaganda

Looking at page view statistics is usually a mundane part of the job in a newsroom. Earlier this year, however, the internal numbers tipped the Bulletin off to a very strange COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theory.

Worried about the autonomous weapons of the future? Look at what’s already gone wrong

While fully autonomous weapons aren’t yet a mainstay in warfare, weapons with a lot of autonomy have been deployed before. A look at those experiences illuminates the terrifying ways future autonomous weapons could fail.

Creating dangerous viruses in the lab is a bad way to guard against future pandemics

Gain of function experimentation has been billed as a way to prepare for future pandemics, to keep a step ahead of pathogen evolution. But there are better ways to make the world safer from disease outbreaks than to create dangerous pathogens in a lab.

Together, we make the world safer.

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