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The one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson now has FDA support in the US

An advisory board to the US Food and Drug Administration voted unanimously in favor of the first single-shot covid-19 vaccine, clearing the path for the health agency to authorize its immediate use as soon as tomorrow. The one-shot vaccine, developed by Johnson & Johnson, has the additional advantage of being easy to store, because it requires nothing colder than ordinary refrigerator...


FRIDAY 26. FEBRUARY 2021


What is an “algorithm”? It depends whom you ask

Describing a decision-making system as an “algorithm” is often a way to deflect accountability for human decisions. For many, the term implies a set of rules based objectively on empirical evidence or data. It also suggests a system that is highly complex—perhaps so complex that a human would struggle to understand its inner workings or anticipate its behavior when deployed. But is this...

An AI is training counselors to deal with teens in crisis

Counselors volunteering at the Trevor Project need to be prepared for their first conversation with an LGBTQ teen who may be thinking about suicide. So first, they practice. One of the ways they do it is by talking to fictional personas like “Riley,” a 16-year-old from North Carolina who is feeling a bit down and depressed. With a team member playing Riley’s part, trainees can drill into...


WEDNESDAY 24. FEBRUARY 2021


10 Breakthrough Technologies 2021

This list marks 20 years since we began compiling an annual selection of the year’s most important technologies. Some, such as mRNA vaccines, are already changing our lives, while others are still a few years off. Below, you’ll find a brief description along with a link to a feature article that probes each technology in…

What does progress mean to you?

What do we mean when we talk about progress? In general terms, to make progress means to move toward something and away from something else. But where we’re headed and what we’re leaving behind are key questions that drive political movements, shape international treaties, and define our own sense of personal growth.  Our notions of…

What giving birth during a pandemic taught me about progress

The morning my first child was born, I was mostly thinking of death. It was the week before Thanksgiving as my husband and I hunkered down with our newborn in Berkeley, California, learning from cable news that hospitals—like the one where we were—would soon be overrun by covid-19 patients. I had learned I was pregnant in March, just one week before California issued its first...

What progress means

“Progress.” We take for granted that it’s a good thing. We constantly invoke it to justify change. But all the ways in which society is measured—from economic indicators to health and education metrics to markers of political development and technological sophistication—rely on long-held assumptions about what progress is. As the economic and political shocks of this still newish...

Why covid-19 might finally usher in the era of health care based on a patient’s data

Back in the 1990s, Lee Hood, a technologist and immunologist famous for co-­inventing the automated DNA sequencer, made a bold prediction. By 2016, he suggested, all Americans would carry a data card  recording their personal genomes and medical histories in vast detail. Upon arriving at a hospital or doctor’s office, they would present it to…

AI armed with multiple senses could gain more flexible intelligence

In late 2012, AI scientists first figured out how to get neural networks to “see.” They proved that software designed to loosely mimic the human brain could dramatically improve existing computer-vision systems. The field has since learned how to get neural networks to imitate the way we reason, hear, speak, and write. But while AI has grown remarkably human-like—even superhuman—at...

Decoding the CRISPR-baby stories

The conventional story of CRISPR genome editing is one of heroic power and promise with an element of peril. That peril became personified when MIT Technology Review’s Antonio Regalado revealed in November 2018 that a young Chinese scientist named He Jiankui was using CRISPR to engineer human embryos. At least three of them became living children. The “CRISPR babies” episode is now an...

The beauty of TikTok’s secret, surprising, and eerily accurate recommendation algorithms

Deven Karpelman would never have joined TikTok if it hadn’t been for the pandemic. And she certainly never expected to be famous on it. But the app has a way of rewarding good content with views, dropping new creators in front of a broad spectrum of fans. That’s how Karpelman, a 57-year-old who works in special education and started making videos to stave off lockdown boredom, ended up with...

Digital contact tracing brought tech rivals together while the pandemic kept us apart

If we’ve learned anything from covid-19, it’s the extent to which our lives are enmeshed with those of the people around us. We interact constantly, spreading our germs and picking up theirs. That’s why exposure notifications—using your phone to tell you if you’ve crossed paths with an infected person—seemed so promising.  Technology offered a way to automate...

We asked Bill Gates, a Nobel laureate and others to name the most effective way to combat climate change

Despite decades of warnings and increasingly devastating disasters, we’ve still made little progress in slowing climate change. Clean energy alternatives have secured just a fraction of the marketplace today, with renewables generating around 10% of global electricity and electric vehicles accounting for about 3% of new sales. Meanwhile, greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to climb...

From the archives

From “The Potential of Nations,” December 1961: The national potential of a country includes more than its ability to produce raw materials and consumer goods, to provide and maintain public safety, and to protect its population from internal and external enemies. A nation also has a cultural potential when promotion of the sciences and the arts is a part of the national mission. In...

Contact cravings

After months of social distancing, it’s not surprising that many people have felt starved for human companionship. Now a study from MIT has found that to our brains, the longings we feel during isolation are indeed similar to the food cravings we feel when hungry. After subjects endured one day of total isolation, looking at pictures of people having fun together activated the same brain region...

Media Lab’s new head

After a worldwide search that turned up 60 candidates, the MIT Media Lab has announced that Dava Newman, SM ’89, SM ’89, PhD ’92, an MIT professor of astronautics, will become its new director on July 1. Newman, whose work has integrated engineering, design, and biomedical research with an eye to improving human performance in space, is well known for developing the BioSuit, an advanced...

Automatic for the robots

Robot design is usually a painstaking process, but MIT researchers have developed a system that helps automate the task. Once it’s told which parts you have—such as wheels, joints, and body segments—and what terrain the robot will need to navigate, RoboGrammar is on the case, generating optimized structures and control programs. To rule out “nonsensical” designs, the researchers...

Storm force

Scientists have known for decades that thunderstorms are often stronger where there are high concentrations of aerosols—airborne particles too small to see with the naked eye. Lightning flashes are more frequent along shipping routes, where freighters emit particulates into the air, than in the surrounding ocean. And the most intense thunderstorms in the tropics brew up over land, where aerosol...

“She saw something in me”

Listening to Angelika Amon teach my cancer biology class in the spring of 2001 felt like diving into the depths of a vivid novel, with dramatic moments and elaborate bursts of detail. She somehow brought each area of the cell to life, spinning the tale of its function into a compelling story. In this pivotal period in biology’s history, just before Eric Lander and colleagues published the...

Data-driven workplace design

Diane Hoskins ’79 grew up with plenty of exposure to “beautiful, incredible buildings,” both in Chicago’s famously photogenic downtown and in the pages of Architectural Record, where her mother worked. It was only natural that she should become an architect herself. For the past 15 years, she’s been co-CEO of Gensler, the world’s largest architecture and design firm, known for its...

Extraterrestrial engineering

In the fall of 1951, about 20 MIT engineering students received a missive from a planet more than 30 light-years from Earth. Confidential documents and memos, printed on letterhead dated 1,000 years in the future, detailed the discovery of intelligent life on a planet called Arcturus IV and outlined what humans knew about their alien brethren.  The Methanians, as this alien race would be...

Guarding the welfare of wild horses

Sarah Low ’03 studied architecture at MIT, but now she spends most days either in the operating room or outdoors as a veterinarian. Her area of interest is free-roaming horses, a population that is growing in the United States: the number of federally managed mustangs in the western states is projected to reach 2.8 million by 2040 if no action is taken. “They’re competing with other truly...

Retired rear admiral equips the pandemic’s frontline fighters

Last March, Osie V. Combs Jr., OE ’77, SM ’77, called a meeting with his colleagues at Pacific Engineering Inc. (PEI), a small Nebraska-based defense contractor. “We asked how we could use our knowledge and capabilities to help wage war against covid-19,” says Combs, the company’s president, who retired from the US Navy as a rear admiral. “Because this is a war. And you...

A citizen’s guide to viruses

The deluge of news about covid-19 can be overwhelming, but chemical engineering professor Arup Chakraborty has written a guide to help: Viruses, Pandemics, and Immunity (MIT Press, 2021, $19.95), coauthored with Genentech scientist Andrey Shaw. “People who read the book will now have a conceptual framework and facts to think about how viruses emerge to cause infectious diseases, how they...


TUESDAY 23. FEBRUARY 2021


Announcing the MIT Technology Review Covid Inequality Fellowships

Early in the pandemic, some headlines argued that covid-19 was the great equalizer—because anyone, no matter their circumstance, could catch it. In reality, it was clear that the virus was affecting some groups of Americans in disproportionate, devastating ways.  Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Indigenous communities, and other people of color have been affected the most, and...