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Looking back to look forward

This magazine's 125 years of history is fascinating—but only if we use it to help us understand where technology is headed next.

January 8, 2024
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Najeebah Al-Ghadban

The start of a new year offers such a great opportunity to reflect while also thinking about what’s to come. That is especially true for us, and for this issue. This year marks the 125th anniversary of Technology Review. On the back page of this issue, you can read the original letter written in 1899 announcing the new publication. That first issue, bound up with twine in our library, is a remarkable artifact. And it’s just one of very many.

The MIT Technology Review archives bear witness to the stunning advance of technological and scientific progress across the 20th century and into the first decades of the 21st. All year, we’re going to highlight the most interesting stories and visuals found in those back issues. This fall, we plan to dedicate an entire issue to celebrating this milestone anniversary, looking back in order to look ahead to the next 125 years. We’re also launching a new monthly online series that will explore how we’ve covered key technologies over the years, how those technologies have evolved, and where they are going. 

That last bit is key. We’re not interested in revisiting our history for its own sake. We’re instead thinking about this anniversary as a way to try to understand where technology is headed next. And so it’s fitting that we kick off the year, once again, with our annual look at 10 Breakthrough Technologies

We began putting this list together in early summer. We have met, talked, and argued over it ever since. There was even one item (the robotaxi) that started out on our list of breakthroughs but wound up instead as fodder for another newsroom tradition: a story on the worst technologies of the year.

There was one technology, however, that we never doubted was having a genuine breakthrough moment: artificial intelligence. We’ve had AI on the list before, in various capacities—including last year, when we highlighted its image-making capabilities. But 2023 was the year that it truly went mainstream. AI dominated our collective public consciousness, from the time OpenAI unleashed ChatGPT on November 30, 2022, through the entirety of 2023, which OpenAI closed out in a tumult of executive and boardroom drama. 

AI was at the center of strikes and lawsuits. It raised new questions about the nature of human creativity and authorship, and it seems poised to radically alter society in fundamental ways. For this issue, rather than focusing on just one aspect of it, Will Douglas Heaven, our senior editor for AI, stepped back to take in the big picture and ask where this powerful technology will go from here.

We also have stories in this issue on the science of hunger and weight loss (featuring some truly deranged mice), the problems of greening cement and, by extension, concrete (which I learned is the second-most-used material in the world by weight), solving the issue of noise in quantum computing (where tiny disturbances = big problems), the progress toward earthquake prediction, the race to source rare earth elements, data poisoning, and much more. 

So I hope you enjoy this issue, and that you’ll keep coming back to see what new advances and challenges this year brings. 

Thank you,

Mat

mat.honan@technologyreview.com

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