Home' Technology Review : May June 2010 Contents FRO M THE EDITOR
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW MAY/ JUNE 2010
FROM THE EDITOR
Every year, the editors of Technology Review pick the 10 new
technologies we think are most likely to change the world:
the 10 emerging technologies, or TR10.
Other lists we create—and such lists are an unavoidable feature
of modern publishing, produced in large part because you, our
readers, like them—are more objective. We select the TR35, our
list of the 35 young innovators under the age of 35, after consid-
ering grades that a college of distinguished judges assign to a
long list of candidates (nominated by the innovators’ peers and
bosses). The TR50, new this year, is our list of the 50 most innova-
tive companies on the planet: they were chosen by filtering econo-
metric data—such as the ratio of a public company’s investment
in research and development to its generation of intellectual
property, or the size and sources of a startup’s funding—through
our opinions of the companies’ products and services.
But the TR10 are the 10 emerging technologies of the year
because we say so. They are fruit of the previous year’s report-
ing by the editors, and they inevitably reflect our emphases and
biases. What do they say about us?
Identifying and analyzing emerging technologies is the spe-
cial mission of Technology Review. To say all 10 technologies are
“emerging” means they are leaving the laboratory or development
and are being commercialized but are not, in most cases, widely
used in products or services. However, the novelty varies: in gen-
eral, the software has been developed most recently, the materi-
als more distantly, and biotechnology somewhere in between.
For example, Google and Microsoft’s Bing have been searching
social networks like Twitter and Facebook since late last year (see
“Real-Time Search,” p. 46), and the technology that enables them
to do so is only a few years older. By contrast, while the particu-
lar approach we describe to developing concrete that absorbs
more carbon dioxide than is released during its manufacture is
the result of relatively recent work by Nikolaos Vlasopoulos at
Imperial College, London, and at his startup Novacem (see “Green
Concrete,” p. 56), others have been tinkering with ways of creating
cleaner cement since the 1970s.
We wanted technologies whose potential impact was very
striking. Our main method for evaluating potential impact was
to find a big, persistent problem. For instance, ever since the
introduction of combination chemotherapy in 1965, doctors
have wanted to reduce the number of drugs in therapeutic cock-
tails while still hitting multiple drug targets. That’s because a sin-
gle drug that acted multiply would outwit the tendency of cancer
cells to acquire resistance to individual chemotherapy medica-
tions. In “Dual-Action Antibodies” (p. 60), we describe how last
year the biotechnology company Genentech created a modi-
fied version of its blockbuster drug Herceptin, a monoclonal
antibody that shuts down a growth accelerator protein in breast
tumors. The new version also blocks a protein that stimulates
the formation of tumor-feeding blood vessels—the mechanism
of another blockbuster Genentech drug, Avastin. Dual-action
antibodies could be a significant advance in treating cancer.
But more than anything we valued elegant solutions to persis-
Consider: today, solar energy accounts for less than 1 percent
of energy used in the United States. The main reason is cost. To
convert sunlight to electricity, we can use efficient but expensive
photovoltaic cells made from crystals of the same silicon used
in computer chips, or we can use solar cells made from films of
semiconducting materials that are cheaper but less efficient; but
we don’t know how to make cells that are efficient and cheap.
Now, by harnessing plasmons—a type of wave that moves through
the electrons at the surface of a metal when they are excited by
light—we might do both (see “Light-Trapping Photovoltaics,” p. 54).
Researchers at the University of New South Wales and other uni-
versities discovered that by depositing nanomaterials on the sur-
faces of thin-film photovoltaic cells, they could exploit plasmons
so that photons “bounced back and forth within the cell, allowing
longer wavelengths to be absorbed.” That’s a cool idea: it neatly
transcends the limitations of current technologies.
Finally, this year’s 10 technologies, beyond displaying the edi-
tors’ tastes for novelty, difficulty, and elegance of conception, are
a testament to our optimism. They expand human possibility
by supplanting established ways of doing things. For decades,
almost everyone who wanted to replace fuels made from hydro-
carbons worried about which biomass to use, even though it
wasn’t clear how we would grow the biomass or efficiently turn its
sugars into fuel. They simply asked: corn, switchgrass, or algae?
In “Solar Fuel” (p. 48), we describe an effort to engineer photosyn-
thetic microörganisms that use sunlight to convert carbon diox-
ide directly into ethanol or diesel. That is the kind of thing we like:
it has the blithe confidence of magic.
But write and tell me what you think at jason.pontin@
technologyreview.com. —Jason Pontin
A TR10 Primer
WHAT THE 10 TECHNOLOGIES TELL YOU ABOUT US.
May10 EditorLetter 14
4/7/10 12:18:08 PM
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