Home' Technology Review : March April 2012 Contents TR50 39
last year for piggybacking a video-on-demand service onto its exist-
ing DVD-by-mail subscriptions. Netflix had already disrupted the
business model of brick-and-mortar video rental stores and clev-
erly maneuvered to prevent itself from being disrupted in turn by
streaming video technology. But later in 2011, the company tried
to split the streaming side of its operations from its DVD ser-
vice, an ill-fated decision that provoked public ridicule and the
loss of hundreds of thousands of subscribers before the company
reversed course. Suddenly, Netflix wasn’t able to clearly dictate its
own agenda, let alone that of the entertainment industry.
With still other companies, it’s not the vision but the execution
that is lacking. If the selection process for the TR50 had occurred
a few months earlier, we probably would have included Amazon
on the list (as we had the previous two years), citing the release of
the Kindle Fire. The Fire initially looked like a serious competitor
to the iPad for dominance of the tablet computing market. Even
though it had fewer functions than the iPad, it cost much less and
made clever use of Amazon’s extensive cloud infrastructure. But as
consumers racked up more daily experience with the device, more
than a few of them found their initial satisfaction turning to disap-
pointment. Many of the things the Fire was supposed to do, it didn’t
do well enough; customers complained of connectivity problems
or difficulties with the touch-screen navigation. Although the com-
pany has released software patches that it claims will address most
users’ concerns, launching a product that frustrated many custom-
ers showed that Amazon is still a challenger rather than a leader
when it comes to merging consumer electronics with the cloud.
Finally, some companies fell off the list simply because they
were crowded out by others with big new ideas. Some of these
newcomers are shaking up established fields. Dropbox has made
its mark in the previously sleepy world of online storage. Babcock
and Wilcox is developing small reactors that could change the
regulatory and economic calculus of nuclear power. And Athena-
health is reinventing health insurance as an exercise in informa-
Still others are breaking into new territory. PatientsLikeMe is
transforming the notion of how a clinical trial must be conducted
by encouraging patients with chronic conditions to share intimate
details online. EADS is turning 3-D printing (originally created
for the production of prototypes) into a full-scale manufacturing
technology. And LanzaTech is turning carbon monoxide emis-
sions into fuel.
As a group, the TR50 companies represent our best judgment of
the commercial innovations most likely to change lives around the
world. Do you agree with us? Which companies that didn’t make it
onto the list should have, and which do you think didn’t deserve a
place? Let us know at www.technologyreview.com/tr50.
STe phen CaSS iS Th e S peCial pRoj eCTS e diTo R of Technology Review.
Why: its systems help doctors and
patients with the morass of medical
records and billing paperwork.
Key innovation: developed cloud-
based software for electronic health
records and practice management.
Why: Using human ipS cells in drug
screening could accelerate the
development of new therapies.
Key innovation: its new product
derived from ipS cells is meant for
use in vascular targeted drug dis-
covery, tissue regeneration, and life
Why: new sequencing projects that
the company announced in 2011
include one aimed at predicting
preterm births and another that will
sequence cancer genomes.
Key innovation: a computational
platform allows it to assemble dna
sequences into genomes more
Why: its new diagnostics exploit
a growing understanding of the
molecular basis of cancer.
Key innovation: it has developed
a comprehensive cancer diagnostic
test and is partnering with pharma-
ceutical companies to use the test
in drug development.
Why: it is using telemedicine tech-
niques to deliver health care to rural
Key innovation: its network of
eight centers brings advanced tele-
medicine systems to patients.
Why: By reducing the cost of diag-
nostic tests, it has allowed the moni-
toring of more disease markers.
Key innovation: its synthetic anti-
bodies replace more expensive anti-
bodies widely used in diagnostics.
Why: lowering the cost of dna
sequencing opens the door to more
genetically targeted treatments and
Key innovation: its benchtop
sequencer can sequence a human
genome in one day, at a cost of just
$1,000 per genome.
Why: its three-dimensional artificial
tissue structures can be used for
drug testing and are likely to find
Key innovation: a printing process
methodically deposits layers of cells
and gel material to build up new
Why: online social connections
and shared data offer a new way
to improve the understanding and
treatment of disease.
Key innovation: published a peer-
reviewed study, based on data
volunteered by site users, that coun-
tered the results of a clinical trial
assessing the effects of lithium on
alS, or lou Gehrig’s disease.
Why: its new drugs target genetic
mutations in cancer cells.
Key innovation: developed a lung-
cancer drug and a diagnostic test
for the mutation that makes some
cancers susceptible to the drug.
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