Tech Review Top Stories
Tesla’s profitable cars, cheap LEDs, half-price nuclear, and cheaper carbon capture are highlights of this year’s progress in clean energy.
By Kevin Bullis
Fitness bands, watches, smoke detectors: what will be put online next?
By Rachel Metz
Coal could be a source of cheap, nontoxic fluorescent nanoparticles useful for biomedicine.
Coal can be turned into large volumes of glowing quantum dots, according to Rice University researchers.
Along with NSA spying revelations, 2013 brought faster wireless technologies, global connectivity expansion, and new communications business models.
By David Talbot
Many Wearable Computers and Fundamental Advances
By Tom Simonite
A push for new brain-mapping technology and a ban on some gene patents showcase ongoing advances in biomedical technology.
By Susan Young
Does humanity’s tightening grip on the fate of nature portend new sources of global conflict?
More than a decade ago, Paul Crutzen, who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his research on the destruction of stratospheric ozone, popularized the term “Anthropocene” for Earth’s current geologic state. One of the more radical extensions of his idea—that human activity now dominates the planet’s forests, oceans, freshwater networks, and ecosystems—is the controversial concept of geoengineering, deliberately tinkering with the climate to counteract global warming. The logic is straightforward: if humans control the fate of natural systems, shouldn’t we use our technology to help save them from the risks of climate change, given that there’s little hope of cutting emissions enough to stop the warming trend?
The company says it wants to wire the world. But will it do more than make its own app work better?
Last spring, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg invested in an impressive domain name: internet.org. Then, in August, he posted a video featuring snippets of John F. Kennedy’s “Strategy of Peace” speech and blogged that he would “share a rough proposal for how we can connect the next 5 billion people and a rough plan to work together as an industry to get there.” With that, Facebook and six corporate partners—including Nokia, Samsung, Qualcomm, and Ericsson—became part of a swelling movement of tech companies declaiming a commitment to connectivity, seemingly moved by the fact that only 2.7 billion of the world’s seven billion people have Internet access. In October, Google launched the Alliance for Affordable Internet (whose members include Facebook and Ericsson). It is pushing for cheaper Internet access through policy and regulatory reforms.
Are we prepared to know the genetic flaws of the unborn?
Pregnant women and their partners can already peer at an unborn child’s chromosomes: with amniocentesis, they can learn about the presence or, more likely, absence of large-scale genetic defects, often gaining peace of mind. But only a small percentage of parents-to-be take the opportunity, because the procedure is invasive and uncomfortable—a large needle is inserted into the amniotic sac—and causes miscarriage in roughly one in 400 cases.
Researcher Ewen Mullins is testing potatoes that are engineered to resist blight in Ireland.
For more on this topic, please see our recent feature Why We Will Need Genetically Modified Foods.
Climate change will make it increasingly difficult to feed the world. Biotech crops will have an essential role in ensuring that there’s enough to eat.
Signs of late blight appear suddenly but predictably in Ireland as soon as the summer weather turns humid, spores of the funguslike plant pathogen wafting across the open green fields and landing on the wet leaves of the potato plants. This year it began to rain in early August. Within several weeks, late blight had attacked a small plot of potatoes in the corner of the neat grid of test plantings at the headquarters of Teagasc, Ireland’s agricultural agency, in Carlow.
Microchips modeled on the brain may excel at tasks that baffle today’s computers.
Picture a person reading these words on a laptop in a coffee shop. The machine made of metal, plastic, and silicon consumes about 50 watts of poweras it translates bits of information—a long string of 1s and 0s—into a pattern of dots on a screen. Meanwhile, inside that person’s skull, a gooey clump of proteins, salt, and water uses a fraction of that power not only to recognize those patterns as letters, words, and sentences but to recognize the song playing on the radio.
New cardiac devices are small enough to be delivered through blood vessels into the heart.
Pacemaker surgery typically requires a doctor to make an incision above a patient’s heart, dig a cavity into which they can implant the heartbeat-regulating device, and then connect the pulse generator to wires delivered through a vein near the collarbone. Such surgery could soon be completely unnecessary. Instead, doctors could employ miniaturized wireless pacemakers that can be delivered into the heart through a major vein in the thigh.
Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd tries to puncture some myths about teenagers and the Internet.
Kids today! They’re online all the time, sharing every little aspect of their lives. What’s wrong with them? Actually, nothing, says Danah Boyd, a Microsoft researcher who studies social media. In a book coming out this winter, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, Boyd argues that teenagers aren’t doing much online that’s very different from what kids did at the sock hop, the roller rink, or the mall. They do so much socializing online mostly because they have little choice, Boyd says: parents now generally consider it unsafe to let kids roam their neighborhoods unsupervised. Boyd, 36, spoke with MIT Technology Review’s deputy editor, Brian Bergstein, at Microsoft Research’s offices in Manhattan.
With Swedish telephone numbers and a tree-bound base station, a remote Indonesian village runs its own telecommunications company.
A four-hour drive from the nearest cellular coverage in the remote highlands of Papua, Indonesia, a new kind of guerilla telecom network is operating, albeit outside the law, using a cheap base station roped into a treetop.
Twitter’s footprint is growing fast, although English speakers in the U.S. remain the largest demographic. The trick now is to turn its global presence into advertising dollars.
Novel modes of interaction are inspiring independent games companies to come up with completely new types of games.
The cliché is that technological innovation in video game development is the domain of the blockbuster studios, which have the requisite manpower and cash reserves to explore new ways for players to interact with digital games, or to ever more closely replicate the detail and texture of reality on screen. The indie developers, meanwhile, innovate in the area of game design, where they are small and agile enough to take creative risks.
Memoir, a new iPhone app, is meant to call up your digital memories at convenient times and places.
A new brain-imaging technology may reveal the true risk of repetitive head injury in contact sports.
Eight former pro football players learned this year that they have signs of a degenerative brain disorder called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition linked to depression, dementia, and memory loss. These somber findings were uncovered using a new method of brain imaging that, for the first time, enables researchers to spot signs of the condition in the living brain. Previously CTE could only be identified after a victim died.