These Are The Transformative Technologies That MIT Says Will Shape Our Future

Dueling neural networks. Smart cities. Welcome to the world of tomorrow, according to MIT Technology Review.

These Are The Transformative Technologies That MIT Says Will Shape Our Future

Who doesn’t love a good list, especially when it’s about technologies that have the potential to shape our future?


This morning, MIT Technology Review published its 18th-annual 10 Breakthrough Technologies list, and it includes some fascinating entries. (I picked six of the more interesting ones below.) By “breakthrough,” the publication means “a technology, or perhaps even a collection of technologies, that will have a profound effect on our lives.” Simple, right? Now that we have our definitions out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the technologies that our kids will probably see as old-hat, but that we’ll consider truly innovative.

3D Metal Printing

With the possibility of using metals as well as plastic, composites, and other materials, 3D printing companies will make it easier than ever for businesses to print replacement parts, or even all-new ones. And that means they don’t have to keep huge inventories of things they might someday need. The technology also enables the creation of stronger parts, and more complex shapes than what is possible with traditional manufacturing methods.

Artificial Embryos

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have already grown mouse embryos using nothing but stem cells. Now scientists at places like the University of Michigan and Rockefeller University are looking into expanding on that work and making artificial embryos based on human stem cells. There are obvious ethical questions, but as MIT puts it, doing this would be a big step forward, as it would allow researchers to study events early in development, not to mention employ things like gene editing.

Smart Cities

Toronto is the site of what could be the most exciting digital city initiative: a waterfront neighborhood known as Quayside that is being reclaimed and rebuilt from the ground up with the latest technologies.

Things like policy, design, and technology will be based on information gleaned from a wide network of sensors–measuring air quality, noise levels, people’s activities, and more, MIT writes. Plus, all vehicles there will be autonomous and shared. Robots will do menial chores–like mail delivery–and the systems powering everything will be made open so companies can layer services on top of them.

AI for Everyone

While artificial intelligence is largely in the hands of big tech companies, cloud-based AI could democratize it, MIT believes. Ironically, though, it’s the tech giants–Amazon, Google, and Microsoft–that will develop the cloud-based AI platforms that will make it possible for smaller companies to get in on the game. The hope is that a wide variety of new industries–such as energy, manufacturing, and medicine–could take advantage of the technology.


Dueling Neural Networks

AI does a great job of identifying things out of known collections, but it can’t generate imagery on its own. That means AI systems like self-driving cars have to train on existing imagery of things, like pedestrians, rather than training themselves with auto-generated imagery.

The solution might be what’s known as generative adversarial networks, or GANs, which pit two neural networks against each other in a bid to create and parse variations on known imagery from training sets. The idea is that, over time, a GAN could auto-generate usable imagery that could help train other systems.

Babel-Fish Earbuds

While their quality is iffy, Google’s Pixel Buds showed that auto-translating earbuds are a thing of the near future. It might take some time, but before long, we’ll have access to wearables that can instantly translate that French you’re hearing into English during your next visit to Paris. Vive la future!

The rest of MIT’s list includes: Zero-Carbon Natural Gas, Perfect Online Privacy, Genetic Fortune-Telling, and a Materials’ Quantum Leap. Click here to read the whole list.


About the author

Daniel Terdiman is a San Francisco-based technology journalist with nearly 20 years of experience. A veteran of CNET and VentureBeat, Daniel has also written for Wired, The New York Times, Time, and many other publications