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MIT’S Technology Review Identifies Ten Technologies Set to Transform our World

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., April 21, 2011 -- The editors of MIT’s Technology Review have announced their annual list of the 10 emerging technologies that have the greatest potential to transform our world. These innovations—each represented by a researcher whose vision and work is driving the field—promise fundamental shifts in areas from energy to health care, computing to communications. Each TR10 winner is drawn from the editors’ coverage of key fields, and the ultimate criterion is straightforward: is the technology likely to change the world?

This year’s TR10 includes high-energy batteries that could make cheaper hybrid and electric vehicles possible and a new class of electrical transformers that could stabilize power grids. Other innovations will alter how you use technology: you’ll be tapping into computationally intensive applications on mobile devices, or using gestures to command computers that are embedded in televisions and cars. Still others could improve your health; for example, understanding the genetics of individual tumors could lead to more effective cancer treatments. The 10 technologies are:

    * Social indexing. The “likes” of Facebook’s millions of users provide signals about what is valuable online. Bret Taylor, Facebook’s chief technology officer, is leading efforts to use that information to give websites a sense of what is likely to interest you—even if you’ve never been there before.

    * Smart transformers. Alex Huang, a professor of electrical engineering at North Carolina State University, is working to revamp aging power grids. He has pioneered the development of a transformer that would reduce our reliance on fossil fuels by making it easier for small-scale sources of cleaner energy to contribute to the grid. By directing the flow of energy more precisely, Huang’s transformers could make grids more resilient and efficient.

    * Gestural interfaces. Alexander Shpunt of PrimeSense has designed a 3-D vision system that that lets anyone control a computer just by gesturing in the air—a technology that Microsoft adopted to power its popular Kinect controller for the Xbox 360 game console. The Kinect is only the beginning of what he believes will be a gestural-interface revolution that will change the way we control televisions, cars, and information displays.

    * Cancer genomics. Elaine Mardis, codirector of the Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, is decoding cancer by deciphering the genetics behind the disease. Her work on sequencing the DNA of cancer cells is leading to new ways to treat patients, and her findings have opened new avenues of research.

    * Solid-state batteries. Sakti3 is leading one of the approaches competing to power a new generation of cars. The company’s founder, Ann Marie Sastry, is developing ways to mass-produce lighter and cheaper lithium batteries that could make electric vehicles more competitive.

    * Homomorphic encryption. IBM’s Craig Gentry is working on an encryption system that could eliminate the security risks currently keeping many organizations from using cloud computing to analyze and mine data. Gentry’s system makes it possible to analyze encrypted data without decrypting it, meaning that companies can send information to cloud providers in a secure form.

    * Cloud streaming. OnLive’s Steve Perlman is bringing high-performance software to mobile devices. OnLive’s technology allows mobile devices to access movie-editing software, architectural-design tools, and other powerful graphical applications running in data centers. With this technology, streaming movies could be fast-forwarded and rewound in real time, and schools anywhere could gain easy access to software.

    * Crash-proof code. June Andronick of NICTA, Australia’s national IT research center, is making critical software safer. Andronick and her colleagues use mathematical analysis to crash-proof the core of an operating system, which means more reliable computers in systems such as medical devices.

    * Separating chromosomes. Stephen Quake, a biophysicist at Stanford University, is working on a more precise way to read DNA that will change how we treat disease. Using a microfluidic chip, Quake is able to separate the 23 pairs of chromosomes in the human genome so they can be analyzed individually. Technology that makes it easier to identify the variations between chromosomes could have a huge impact on fundamental genomic research and personalized medicine.

    * Synthetic cells. Daniel Gibson of the J. Craig Venter Institute is designing and creating genomes from scratch—a feat that could expand the possibilities of genetic engineering. Gibson’s work could speed the creation of vaccines and biofuel-producing bacteria.

The 2011 TR10 is featured in the May/June edition of Technology Review and is posted on the Web at

About Technology Review, Inc.

Technology Review is an independent media company owned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). More than two million people around the globe read our publications, in five languages and on a variety of digital and print platforms. We publish Technology Review magazine, the world’s oldest technology magazine (established 1899); daily news, analysis, opinion, and video; and Business Impact, which explains how new technologies are transforming companies, disrupting markets, or creating entirely new industries. We also produce live events.

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