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Brief Published: 10 Mar 2021

MIT Announces Top Breakthrough Technologies for 2021


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has revealed the top 10 Breakthrough Technologies for 2021. We highlight three key innovations from the report set to make their mark on the year ahead.

  • Messenger RNA Vaccines: Since the outbreak of the pandemic, messenger RNA (mRNA) technology was quickly adopted by scientists at biotech companies to create a vaccine against Covid-19.
    The mRNA vaccines – such as those produced by Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna to fight Covid, work differently from traditional ones. Instead of injecting a weakened virus or a purified signature protein of the virus, the patient instead receives the genetic material, called mRNA, which encodes the viral protein and ‘teaches’ the body to produce an immune response.
    MIT forecasts this could form the basis of cheap gene fixes to sickle-cell disease, HIV, and help the body fight off cancers – it’s already been posited as a malaria treatment. For more, see The Biohacking Boom and The Brief.
  • Multi-Skilled AI: Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) have been rapid (as explored in Ethical Automation). But this new technology, unlike humans, struggles to solve new tasks and navigate unfamiliar settings.
    One way to accelerate AI’s sophistication is to combine its different ‘senses’. For example, AI with computer vision or audio recognition can’t ‘talk’ about the information it’s taking in. MIT forecasts that future AI systems could integrate these skills to achieve a multisensory approach and attain more of a human-like intelligence. 
  • Data Trusts: Our current personal data management model – where individuals are primarily responsible – is problematic and open for disruption, according to MIT.
    Governments are starting to consider data trusts as an alternative. Although still in their infancy conceptually, data trusts would be a legal entity that would collect and look after a consumer’s data on their behalf. MIT highlights some early case studies.