The 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2013 According to MIT Technology Review

Every year the MIT Technology Review picks the ten technologies that represent significant breakthroughs.  Past years have included crowdfunding in 2012, gestural interfaces to computers in 2011, engineered stem cells in 2010 and low cost DNA sequencing in 2009, just to name a few. What’s on the list for 2013? Here are your top ten:


MIT Technology Review


Deep Learning – refers to machine intelligence  that simulates the human brain. We are witnessing the development of powerful software that can find a needle in a haystack of millions of images, that can do instant translation of a speaker with smaller and smaller error rates, that can fold proteins and identify how to use them to fight disease. The ultimate evolution of this technology will be the creation of an artificial brain equal if not superior to that of us humans. We are well on the way to getting there.

Temporary Social Media – refers to one of the most annoying aspects of the social media “twitterverse,” the in perpetuity nature of messages sent online. A new generation of messaging technologies can make tweets, text, pictures, audio,and video expire after being viewed. Vendors include Snapchat , a mobile phone application that sends messages and images with an expiry date. Wickr is another that promises users military-grade encrypted text, pictures, audio, and video that can be read for up to six days before expiring. Programs like these are restoring privacy to communication, something we have lost in the Internet age.

Prenatal DNA Sequencing – prenatal testing is about to undergo a revolution in 2013. Noninvasive screening from a syringe of an expecting mother’s blood can now provide a genetic map of the fetus rendering an end to amniocentesis as the means to discover whether an unborn child has a genetic disorder such as Down’s Syndrome. Four companies including Verinata have taken DNA sequencing of the fetus from the laboratory to commercial application and predict that sequencing the entire genome from a mother’s blood will be a standard and affordable prenatal test in the very near future.

Additive Manufacturing – refers to the industrialization of 3D printing. Today companies like General Electric are printing parts rather than casting them. Biomedical companies are constructing organs and other tissues. Traditional manufacturing is undergoing a revolution in prototyping and is developing new business models for doing mass customization through 3D printing technology.

Baxter: the Blue Collar Robot – if you didn’t get the chance to read my blog about Baxter access it here. Why MIT chose this for 2013 when Baxter launched last year may have something to do with industry acceptance. It seems there is a robot coming to your workplace very soon.

Memory Implants – refers to prosthetic implants that can restore lost memory caused by a stroke, Alzheimer’s and other diseases, or memory loss from a traumatic brain injury. So far the technology is working with rats and monkeys and the experimental results are impressive.

Smart watches – to me the most unlikely choice as a breakthrough technology. But if you have seen the Pebble watch on Kickstarter then you realize that this technology certainly hit a hot button raising over $10.2 million from almost 69,000 backers.

Ultra-Efficient Solar Power – we have witnessed incremental improvements to photovoltaics but efficiencies approaching 20% have yet to appear commercially. Now it appears that we are about to see a dimensional leap to 50% efficiency through the capturing and focusing of a broader spectrum of sunlight to maximize the energy that can be harvested.

Big Data from Cell Phones – tracking data to find patterns has always been an invaluable tool for researchers. Now with 6 billion cell phones in the world we have another way of studying human behaviour and derive patterns from the technology’s location and use. For epidemiologists disease transmission and spread can be correlated to cellular hot spots. Malaria in Africa, and Dengue fever in North America are just two diseases that we can analyze through cell phone traffic.

Supergrids – I’m glad to see this one making MIT’s list. I wrote about ABB and their high-voltage DC circuit breaker technology in one of my headlines some time ago.  For solar, wind, tidal and other renewable energy technologies development of a DC grid is critical as well as efficient when compared to AC. ABB’s technology could make the development of massive solar arrays extremely compelling in desert locations like the Sahara or the the U.S. Southwest.

There you have it. Nothing from space. Nothing about urban farms and other agricultural advancements. Nothing about green buildings and new construction materials. In fact mothing green in any of the technologies except maybe solar. Nothing about electric cars. Nothing about mass storage and improvements to battery technologies. Do you think MIT got it right? If not let me know what they missed and we will publish readers’ choices in the very near future.

Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...