10 technologies from the headlines of 2019
I am a big fan of the MIT Technology Review’s annual ranking of ten Breakthrough Technologies (TR10). So when I was asked to make this year’s list, I immediately agreed. I really enjoyed working on this article and choosing innovations for the list. I believe that all ten points will become significant this year, and I am glad that you will read about them. Here is the introductory essay that I wrote for this issue.
It is a great honor for me to become the first invited compiler of the rating of ten breakthrough technologies for MIT Technology Review. It was difficult to narrow the list down to ten items. I tried not only to choose what will appear in the headlines of 2019, but also to fix this moment in the history of technology through a list. This prompted me to think about the development of innovations.
The idea of a plow came to my mind. The plow is a visual embodiment of the history of innovation. Mankind has been using it since 4000 BC, when Mesopotamian farmers plowed the soil with sharpened sticks. Since then, we have gradually improved them, and modern plows are a technological miracle.
However, what is the plow for? It is a tool to do more: plant more seeds, harvest more crops, get more food. Plow in areas where it is difficult to get food, literally prolongs life. The plow, like many other technologies, both ancient and modern, allows you to create more of something and do it more efficiently, so that more people benefit.
Growing artificial meat in a laboratory is different from plowing. This is an innovation that I have included in the list. Animal protein is not grown in a test tube in order to feed more people. There are enough cattle to feed despite the fact that the demand for meat is growing. The next generation of protein is needed not to create more meat, but to improve its quality. This will support population growth and global prosperity without compromising forests and methane emissions. It is also an opportunity to enjoy hamburgers without killing animals.
In other words, the plow increases the quantitative indicators of life, and the meat from the laboratory improves its quality. For almost the entire history of mankind, we have used the possibilities of innovation for the first, that is, we have invested in quantity. And our efforts have paid off: life expectancy in the world has increased from 34 years in 1913 to 60 in 1973, and now it has reached 71 years.
Our attention begins to shift to well-being, as we are now living longer. This transformation is slow. If we divide scientific discoveries into two categories: those that affect the quality of life, and those whose goal is to improve quantitative indicators, then the TR10 list for 2009 will not differ much from the current one. As in many other areas, progress in this area is so slow that it is difficult to track it. This is a matter of decades, not years. And, I think, we are now only in the middle of this transition.
To be clear, I do not believe that in the foreseeable future, humanity will stop trying to increase life expectancy. We are still far from a world in which everyone everywhere lives to an advanced age completely healthy. This will require many more innovations. In addition, “quantity of life” and “quality of life” are not mutually exclusive ideas. The malaria vaccine saves lives and at the same time helps children who might have developmental delays due to this disease.
We are at a stage where both of these ideas are taken into account at the same time, and that is why our moment in history is so interesting. If I had to predict what TR10 would look like in a few years, I would bet that an important topic would be technologies that alleviate chronic diseases. This applies not only to new drugs (although I would like to see new remedies for diseases such as Alzheimer’s on the list). This can be innovations such as a mechanical glove that helps a person with arthritis to maintain flexibility, or an application that helps someone who is experiencing deep depression to contact someone who will help him.
If we could look even further into the future — say, into the TR10 list in 20 years — I would hope to see technologies in it that are almost entirely focused on well-being, quality of life. I think the brilliant minds of the future will focus on more metaphysical issues: how to make people happier? how to create meaningful connections? how can we help everyone to live a full life?
I would like to see these questions in the list for 2039. This would mean that we have eradicated diseases (and coped with global warming). I do not know what, other than this, can be the best sign of progress. In the meantime, innovations are various things that prolong life and / or make it better. I chose the ones that fall into both categories. Each of them gives me a reason to be optimistic about the future. I hope they will inspire you too.
Among the things that I have included in the list, there are incredible new tools that will save many lives: from routine blood tests to diagnose cancer to toilets that destroy deadly pathogens. All other innovations from the rating are no less inspiring, because they are also aimed at improving life. Wearable health trackers, such as an ECG on the wrist, will warn patients with a heart condition about impending problems; other devices will help diabetics not only track glucose levels, but also control the disease. Advanced nuclear reactors will be able to provide the world with carbon-free energy, safe and reliable.
One of the technologies I have chosen offers a glimpse into the future, where the main goal of society will be self-realization. Among others, there are personal assistants based on artificial intelligence, who will one day take over the work with email. It sounds corny, but imagine what opportunities the time released as a result gives. Half an hour spent reading e-mail can be used for other things. I know that some people would just get busy with work at this time, but I hope that most will use it for such activities as chatting with a friend over a cup of coffee, helping a child with homework, or even volunteering.
I think this is a future worth striving for.
A source: bill Gates ‘ personal blog on LinkedIn Translated by Natalia Baulina