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2013: The Best Long Reads of the Year

Advanced technologies are affecting everything from our sense of privacy and free speech to the types of jobs that are available to the foods that we eat. In our best features this year, we got into these highly controversial topics.
December 31, 2013

By The Editors

As the United States geared up for an overhaul of its health-care system, we asked the provocative question: just why are new drugs so expensive? In our November cover story, “A Tale of Two Drugs,” veteran journalist Barry Werth took an in-depth look at how pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies determine the price of drugs, examining a life-saving treatment for cystic fibrosis and a cancer drug with marginal benefits. His insightful analysis suggests that putting a value on new drugs will only get more complicated and fraught with ethical challenges as treatments become more effective but often targeted at relatively small patient populations.

In another probing look at a current controversy, “The Real Privacy Problem” presented a novel and nuanced argument about the danger of increased information gathering by governments and Web companies. Written by Evgeny Morozov, one of today’s most thoughtful essayists on the implications of advanced digital technology, the essay will give you new—and smarter—reasons to fret over infringements on our privacy. Likewise, you will want to read the essay by MIT Technology Review’s editor-in-chief, Jason Pontin (“Free Speech in the Era of Its Technological Amplification”), on how the Internet is raising complex dilemmas around free speech.

Advanced digital technologies are also changing employment opportunities. Indeed, there is growing—albeit still controversial—evidence that automation, artificial intelligence, and advanced software could be destroying more jobs than they are creating. In “How Technology Is Destroying Jobs,” MIT Technology Review’s editor, David Rotman, explained how economists and technologists are thinking about the future of work.

In a series of other features, we brought you to the forefront of some of today’s most exciting research. In “Repairing Bad Memories,” noted science journalist Stephen Hall profiled one neuroscientist who is working toward the creation of treatments that might help to erase traumatic memories. In “Driverless Cars Are Further Away Than You Think,” news and analysis editor Will Knight went to the test tracks of the leading German auto manufacturers to see just what is the likely future of driverless cars.  And in “Thinking in Silicon,” our San Francisco-based senior IT editor, Tom Simonite, explained how several leading research groups are reinventing the computer chip, creating powerful new ways to overcome many of today’s most difficult problems. Elsewhere, Simonite went inside the efforts to save one of the Web’s most cherished projects in “The Decline of Wikipedia.”

There are few technologies more fundamental to our lives and well-being than the ones used to grow our food. That’s why few technologies are as controversial as genetically modified foods. In our latest cover story, “Why We Will Need Genetically Modified Foods,” we argue that a growing human population and the increasing impacts of climate change will make it critical that we use genetic engineering as a tool to develop more productive crops.

Deep Dive

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Five poems about the mind

DREAM VENDING MACHINE I feed it coins and watch the spring coil back,the clunk of a vacuum-packed, foil-wrappeddream dropping into the tray. It dispenses all kinds of dreams—bad dreams, good dreams,short nightmares to stave off worse ones, recurring dreams with a teacake marshmallow center.Hardboiled caramel dreams to tuck in your cheek,a bag of orange dreams…

Work reinvented: Tech will drive the office evolution

As organizations navigate a new world of hybrid work, tech innovation will be crucial for employee connection and collaboration.

lucid dreaming concept
lucid dreaming concept

I taught myself to lucid dream. You can too.

We still don’t know much about the experience of being aware that you’re dreaming—but a few researchers think it could help us find out more about how the brain works.

panpsychism concept
panpsychism concept

Is everything in the world a little bit conscious?

The idea that consciousness is widespread is attractive to many for intellectual and, perhaps, also emotional
reasons. But can it be tested? Surprisingly, perhaps it can.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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