Top ten emerging technologies?

MIT’s Technology Review magazine has just published its annual list of the top ten emerging technologies. Dubbed the TR10, these “revolutionary innovations” are “poised to have a dramatic impact” on computing, medicine, nanotechnology, our energy infrastructure, and more, say the magazine’s editors. This year’s TR10 appear below. Click the “more info” links for further details on each.

  • Cellulolytic enzymes — Frances Arnold, a professor of chemical engineering and biochemistry at Caltech, is taking on one of the biggest challenges of the biofuel industry: designing better enzymes for breaking down the cellulose in biomass. Breaking down this complex molecule will enable bioengineers to produce ethanol and other biofuels from grasses and agricultural waste instead of corn. [more info]
  • Reality mining — Sandy Pentland, a professor of media arts and sciences at MIT, is using data gathered by cell phones to learn more about human behavior and social interactions. Using data collected by cell-phone sensors, Pentland’s models could enable automated security settings, smart personal assistants, and monitoring of personal and community health. [more info]
  • Connectomics — Jeff Lichtman, a neuroscientist at Harvard University, is a leader in the emerging field of “connectomics,” which attempts to physically map the neural circuits that collect, process, and archive information. The “wiring diagrams” that Lichtman’s technology can generate should lead to better understanding of diseases such as autism and schizophrenia, as well as new insight into learning and other cognitive functions. [more info]
  • Offline Web applications — Developed using Web technologies such as HTML and Flash, these applications can take advantage of the resources of a user’s computer as well as those of the Internet. Kevin Lynch, chief software architect at Adobe Systems, has led the development of a platform that allows programmers to quickly and cheaply build applications that work in a broad range of devices and operating systems. more info
  • Graphene transistors — Georgia Tech physics professor Walter de Heer is creating transistors based on graphene, a carbon material one atom thick, which has extraordinary electronic properties and could replace silicon in speedy, compact computer processors. [more info]
  • Atomic magnetometers — John Kitching, a physicist at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, is developing tiny, low-power magnetic sensors almost as sensitive as their big, expensive counterparts. They could one day be incorporated into a wide range of devices, from portable MRI machines to faster and cheaper detectors for hidden bombs. [more info]
  • Wireless power — MIT physicist Marin Soljacic is working on a technology that transmits electricity wirelessly. The system could allow any low-power device, such as a cell phone, iPod, or laptop, to recharge automatically simply by coming within range of a wireless power source, eliminating the need for cables–and perhaps, eventually, for batteries. [more info]
  • Nanoradio — Alex Zettl, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, has developed tiny radios built from single nanotubes. These nanoradios could improve cell phones and allow communication between tiny devices, such as environmental sensors. [more info]
  • Probabilistic chips — Krishna Palem, a professor of computing at Rice University, is developing a microchip design technology called PCMOS that allows engineers to trade a small degree of accuracy in computation for substantial energy savings. In the short term, PCMOS designs could significantly increase battery life in mobile devices; in a decade or so, the theories behind PCMOS may need to be invoked if Moore’s Law is to continue to hold. [more info (PDF download)]
  • Modeling surprise — Eric Horvitz, head of the Adaptive Systems and Interaction group at Microsoft Research, is creating software that combines massive quantities of data, insights into human psychology, and machine learning to help humans manage surprising events. Surprise modeling could eventually aid decision makers in a wide range of domains, such as traffic management, preventive medicine, military planning, politics, business, and finance. [more info]

But before you start reading all the exciting stuff, ask yourselves (and provide comment) What do you think of these technologies?  Which of the technologies do you think are ‘already here’ and which sound like they come from a SciFi movie? Does this list spark any ideas for your future research? 

More about TR10:


2 Responses

  1. The “surprise modeling” technology is quite interesting. I’ve done some work on mindfulness, and I can definitely see surprise modeling being relevant to mindfulness, a mindset – if you will – that often characterizes high-reliability organizations (e.g., aircraft carriers, hospitals). Mindfulness entails the ongoing scrutiny of existing expectations, continuous refinement and differentiation of expectations based on newer experiences, willingness and capability to invent new expectations that make sense of unprecedented events, a more nuanced appreciation of context and ways to deal with it, and identification of new dimensions of context that improve foresight and current functioning. For more info, Karl Weick has done some fascinating work in the area of mindfulness.

  2. Whenever I read a list like this, I can’t help but wonder what percentage represents technology innovation vs. marketing innovation. Take “offline Web applications” as an example.

    That’s some great old wine in a new bottle. It’s a recapitulation of both old marketing and old technology. The question of how to partition applications across N-tiers is age-old. The solution of portability among tiers–allowing “offline” usage on a no-longer-quite-as-thin-client when the server is not available–is hardly new. Heck, even in the web-age it’s been going on for years.

    If you visited one of those “free game” sites (like, they often download an object to your browser, you play the game using only client resources, and then submit your score back to the server when you are done. I can remember similar uses of “offline Web applications” going back at least 4-5 years ago.

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