Which one will change more lives?

On the same day the world is mourning the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who started the green revolution that transformed Asia and saved billions of lives, the Wall Street Journal is also honoring the 2009 Technology Innovation winners. The Gold goes to a sensor that can instantly identify pathogens, even ones it hasn’t encountered before, potentially spotting and staving off the next pandemic. And there’s software that enables remote health workers to track health statistics via cell phone, potentially catching AIDS or Ebola early enough to stop it. There are solar stations for cell service, borrowing Ikea’s easy packaging and assembly techniques to make cell service a reality in villages reached by donkeys. There’s an artificial hand that actually works like a hand, and drywall with a small environmental footprint. There are speakers as thin as a credit card and a patch that uses electromagnetic energy for drug-free pain relief. There’s even a once-theoretical memory resistor that could make electronic devices so small and powerful we can’t even imagine them. The fascinating thing about all the winners, launched during a worldwide recession, is that any of them could be—or could lead to—a world as different from ours as the world pre-auto, pre-tv, pre-airplane, pre-internet, pre-cell world was from the place we live today. And we have absolutely no way of predicting which of these, or something else lurking behind the sparkling eyes of the inventor on the laptop next to you at the coffee shop, will be the one.

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About Lynda Lawrence

Lynda Lawrence is an innovation consultant with Ideaworks Consulting. She teaches Strategic Innovation and Design Management at the Merage School at UCI, and is an advisor to the Beall Center.