Deep Tech

10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2020

Included on the list: digital money, anti-aging drugs and… Cow-free burgers?

MIT Technology Review, now in its 19th year, looks at break-through innovations. The list is also featured in the debut episodes of the all-new Deep Tech podcast, the outlet’s first-ever podcast

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb. 26, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Today, MIT Technology Review announced its 10 Breakthrough Technologies list for 2020, featuring 10 recent advances predicted to have a big impact on our lives. For 19 years, this closely watched list has been an early identifier of key technological developments ranging from CRISPR to deep learning to the now internationally popular cow-free burger. This year, alongside the release of the list, MIT Technology Review debuted a new podcast titled Deep Tech. The first episode, out today, is one of four that will conduct a deep-dive into some of the technologies featured on the 2020 list.

Gideon Lichfield, Editor-in-Chief of MIT Technology Review, said: “The 10 Breakthrough Technologies list is one of the most popular things we do, and I’m delighted that people will now be able to listen instead of just read about these forces shaping our future.”

10 Breakthroughs

This year’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies range in subject matter from AI to quantum computing to medicine and health care. They are:

  • Satellite mega-constellations: We can now affordably build, launch, and operate tens of thousands of satellites in orbit at once.
  • AI-designed molecules: Scientists have used AI to discover drug-like compounds with desirable properties.
  • Tiny AI: We can now run powerful AI algorithms on our phones.
  • The quantum internet: Later this year, Dutch researchers will complete a super-secure quantum internet connection between Delft and the Hague.
  • Climate-change attribution: For the first time, researchers can confidently determine whether climate change is driving a specific extreme weather event such as a hurricane, as opposed to just making such events more frequent in general.
  • Hyper-personalized medicine: Novel treatments are now being designed to treat even genetic mutations unique to a single person.
  • Anti-aging drugs: The first drugs that treat ailments by targeting a natural aging process in the body have shown success in human tests.
  • Quantum supremacy: Google has provided the first clear proof of a quantum computer outperforming a classical one.
  • Digital money: The rise of digital money—not cryptocurrencies, but digital versions of national currencies like the Chinese renminbi—will threaten people’s ability to transact in private; it could challenge America’s dominance over the global financial system.
  • Differential privacy: This cutting-edge mathematical technique precisely measures how the privacy of a dataset changes when noise is injected. Already used by consumer tech companies, it will be used in the 2020 Census to protect the identities of 330 million Americans.

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau, CEO and Publisher of MIT Technology Review, added: “People who care about technology love MIT Technology Review’s annual 10 Breakthrough Technologies list. Our journalists and editors spend the better part of a year considering which technologies will truly qualify as the year’s Breakthroughs. For 2020, in addition to a package of stories on our website and in our March/April print issue, we are excited to be reporting on these Breakthroughs in the debut episode of our new podcast, Deep Tech.”

Excerpts from the 10 Breakthrough Technologies report

Digital money

The rise of digital currency has massive ramifications for financial privacy.

Last June Facebook unveiled a “global digital currency” called Libra. The idea triggered a backlash and Libra may never launch, at least not in the way it was originally envisioned. But it’s still made a difference: just days after Facebook’s announcement, an official from the People’s Bank of China implied that it would speed the development of its own digital currency in response. Now China is poised to become the first major economy to issue a digital version of its money, which it intends as a replacement for physical cash.

The rise of digital money—not cryptocurrencies, but digital versions of national currencies like the Chinese renminbi—will threaten people's ability to transact in private; it could challenge America's dominance over the global financial system...

China’s leaders apparently see Libra, meant to be backed by a reserve that will be mostly US dollars, as a threat: it could reinforce America’s disproportionate power over the global financial system, which stems from the dollar’s role as the world’s de facto reserve currency. Some suspect China intends to promote its digital renminbi internationally.

Now Facebook’s Libra pitch has become geopolitical. In October, CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised Congress that Libra “will extend America’s financial leadership as well as our democratic values and oversight around the world.” The digital money wars have begun. 

Anti-Aging Drugs
The first wave of a new class of anti-aging drugs have begun human testing. These drugs won’t let you live longer (yet) but aim to treat specific ailments by slowing or reversing a fundamental process of aging.

The drugs are called senolytics—they work by removing certain cells that accumulate as we age. Known as “senescent” cells, they can create low-level inflammation that suppresses normal mechanisms of cellular repair and creates a toxic environment for neighboring cells.

In June, San Francisco–based Unity Biotechnology reported initial results in patients with mild to severe osteoarthritis of the knee. Results from a larger clinical trial are expected in the second half of 2020. The company is also developing similar drugs to treat age-related diseases of the eyes and lungs, among other conditions.

Senolytics are now in human tests, along with a number of other promising approaches targeting the biological processes that lie at the root of aging and various diseases.

For more information on this year’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies, visit the MIT Technology Review website and click here to listen to the first episode of Deep Tech. The March/April issue of MIT Technology Review, which includes the list, hits newsstands on March 3. The contents of the issue are online as of today.




About MIT Technology Review
Founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1899, MIT Technology Review is a world-renowned, independent media company whose insight, analysis, reviews, interviews and live events explain the newest technologies and their commercial, social and political impacts. MIT Technology Review derives its authority from its relationship to the world’s foremost technology institution and from its editors’ deep technical knowledge, capacity to see technologies in their broadest context, and unequaled access to leading innovators and researchers. MIT Technology Review’s mission is to bring about better-informed and more conscious decisions about technology through authoritative, influential and trustworthy journalism. Subscribe. Follow: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram.