Top 10 Tech Stories of the Decade
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
10. iPod Crushes Internet Music Piracy
This has been the decade of portable electronics: the Blackberry, the digital camera, the GPS device. But the digital music player, the iPod, has steamrolled the market and put a stranglehold on Internet piracy. It was released on Oct. 23, 2001, and by the end of 2002, Apple had sold 376,000 units. Around the same time, online music was becoming popular, with people sharing or downloading digital music for free. In 2003, one million tracks were illegally downloaded. But then came Apple’s iTunes Store in April 2003. It made downloading music legal and inexpensive, with royalties going to the appropriate recording companies. The only catch was that a person needed to own an iPod, since the digital music player was the only one compatible with iTunes. By January 2009, 6 billion songs were sold on iTunes and by September, more than 220,000,000 iPods were sold worldwide, making it the best-selling digital audio player series in history.
AP Photo/Tony Avelar
9. YouTube Goes from 0 to 60 in a Click
In December 2005, Chad Hurley (left), Steve Chen (right) and Jawed Karim, former employees of PayPal, launched YouTube.com, a Web site for uploading and sharing video clips. Suddenly, people of all ages had a place to post homemade music videos, video blogs, home movies and, with the proliferation of the camera phone, criminals caught in the act and news events as they happened. By the summer of 2006, people were uploading more than 65,000 new videos every day and logging more than 100 million video views per day. The term “viral video” went viral. A year after launch, Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock. Shortly after, Time magazine voted “You” as the Person of the Year, based in part on the success of YouTube. In 2008, YouTube hosted the CNN-YouTube presidential debates and asked YouTubers to submit questions. The large range of topics shared on YouTube has made video an important part of our culture. As of October 2009, YouTube had more than 1 billion views per day.
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
8. Wi-Fi Takes to the Skies
The wireless Internet radio standard, also known as IEEE 802.11, was introduced in 1999. Within a few years, Wi-Fi hotspots were sprouting up everywhere, from coffee shops, libraries, airports and university campuses to entire cities. In December 2001, the United States' Federal Communications Commission issued its first-ever license – to Boeing -- to operate in-flight wireless broadband data services. Other countries quickly followed suit. By 2005, Boeing had Wi-Fi on commercial air carriers, though they were from Europe to Asia. U.S. carriers seemed reluctant. Boeing never made any money on the venture and discontinued the service at the end of 2006. But airborne Wi-Fi didn’t die. In 2008, a handful of companies got into the in-flight Internet ring, and by the end of 2009, nine domestic airlines offered a range of Wi-Fi services. With Wireless Gigabit service just around the corner, surfing the Internet from a plane will get 10 times faster.
AP Photo/Martin Mejia
7. Laptops Get Smaller and Super Cheap
When in 2005 Nicholas Negroponte, then the cofounder and director of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, described his plan to develop a laptop that would cost $100, he raised a few eyebrows. At the time, the average price for a notebook computer was around $1,100. Negroponte developed a smaller, lighter laptop -- named the XO -- suited for basic computing and accessing the Internet. The laptop relied on a simple operating system from Linux and flash memory (the same in USB memory sticks) that kept the machine power-efficient. It also came with a full-color screen, wireless capability, video and still cameras, and without any hazardous material. Ultimately it cost $199, but One Laptop Per Child has distributed 1.2 million computers to children in 31 countries. In 2006, Intel introduced the Classmate PC, a laptop similar to the XO, for $250. Cheap laptops weren’t just for kids. In mid-2007, Taiwan-based Asus mass-produced the Eee PC, which retailed for under $300. In four months, it sold more than 300,000 units and immediately Dell, HP and Acer got on the bandwagon. Even in a slow economy, consumers bought about 25 million netbooks in 2009.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
6. Humans Meld with Machines
Cyborgs are becoming reality. In the last decade, much progress has been made with brains controlling robotic limbs and computers. In 2000, researchers at Duke University Medical Center implanted electrodes in monkeys’ brains and then trained them to reach for food using a robotic arm. Such a neurochip could one day restore motor function in paralyzed patients. A team from the MIT Media Lab Europe developed a non-invasive method for picking up brain waves and, in 2004, used those signals for the first time to control the movements of a video game character. Robotic limbs operated with nerve signals debuted in 2001 at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. There, Jesse Sullivan, a double amputee, used the method to control both of his robotic arms. And in 2009, amputee Pierpaolo Petruzziello learned to control a biomechanical hand connected to his arm nerves with just wires and electrodes. Petruzziello became the first person to make complex movements -- finger wiggling, a fist, grabbing objects -- with a robotic limb, using just his thoughts.
Junying Yu, University of Wisconsin-Madison
5. Stem Cells Found in New Sources
In 2001, President George W. Bush cut federal funding to scientists working with embryonic stem cells -- found in a tiny, hollow ball of about 70-100 human cells that could become anything in the human body -- because of ethical concerns. Embryonic stem cells were one of the most promising medical advances in years, with the potential to cure diseases from diabetes to cancer to genetic disorders, and more. In 2007, scientists from Kyoto University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, working separately, essentially turned back the clock for adult skin cells, allowing these mature cells, which were preprogrammed to become skin, to act like embryonic stem cells. The adult cells became pluripotent cells, or cells that could end up being virtually any other kind of cell. These pluripotent adult cells solved two big problems. Ethical concerns and financial restrictions could be avoided, and doctors could ultimately use cells with a person's own DNA to grow replacement organs that a patient would be less likely to reject.
4. People Take Action Via Social Networking Web Sites
When on June 12, 2009, the Iranian government announced that incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won by a landslide, even though opinion polls had shown Mir-Hossein Mousavi with a strong lead, the Iranian people took to the streets in protest. In response, the government jammed cell phone services, blocked access to Facebook and YouTube and cut off the BBC’s Persian-language station. But they forgot about Twitter, founded in 2006 by Jack Dorsey. Throughout the weekend, protesters used the site to organize demonstrations and to communicate events to the rest of the world. According to Mashable, there were 10,000 to 50,000 tweets per hour mentioning Iran. Social networking services also came into play during the 2008 presidential election in the United States. Democratic nominee Barack Obama made Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, a member of his campaign team. By using Facebook, as well as YouTube, Twitter and his own personal site, my.barackobama.com, Obama raised roughly $750 million -- more than any other candidate in history.
J. Craig Venter Institute
3. Scientists Create First Synthetic Bacterium
There are those who tinker under a car’s hood, modifying existing parts, and then there are those who machine their own engine parts from scratch. Synthetic biologists are the latter. Synthetic biologists chemically engineer DNA, amino acids and other cellular parts from the ground up. Their efforts could lead to cells that perform new functions, including making alternative fuels, drugs for treating malaria, AIDS and cancer, and even creating new forms of life. In 2003, Jay Keasling of the University of California, Berkeley, and his team engineered microbes to manufacture a synthetic version of artemisinin, a chemical compound found in the sweet wormwood plant that is 90 percent effective against the parasite that causes malaria, but is expensive to extract. His efforts garnered him $43 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to advance the research. In 2008, a team from the J. Craig Venter Institute in Chicago created the largest man-made genetic structure, a bacterium containing 582,970 base pairs of DNA. Their next goal is to transplant a synthetic chromosome into a living cell.
AP Photo/Uwe Lein
2. Google Becomes a Verb
Google has taken the last decade by storm. One of the biggest stories to come out of the Mountain View, Calif.-based company was the announcement of its Initial Public Offering in August 2004. Just four years prior, the Internet bubble had burst and with it the dreams of IPOs and overnight wealth. But then Google went public, establishing its opening share price of $85 through an unconventional Dutch auction. The search engine company, which launched in 1998 and whose name was voted the most useful word of the year by the American Dialect Society in 2003, had put the Internet startup back on the map. Google is also credited with overhauling email and online mapping services, building a variety of Web applications, a browser and for introducing content-targeted advertising. Today those shares are worth nearly $600 each, and Google has diversified the company even further, using its strengths in information and technology to drive philanthropy in global health, climate and energy.
NIH National Genome Research Institute
1. Human Genome Mapped
Coiled up inside every human cell sit 23 molecules that, if unwound and placed end to end, would stretch about three feet. Those molecules, known as chromosomes, contain all the instructions necessary to build an entire human being. It took more than 10 years and an international collaboration of scientists, but the year 2000 saw a rough draft of the entire human genome, followed by a completed version in 2003. The publicly funded Human Genome Project and its private competitor, Celera Genomics, constitutes one of the largest scientific endeavors in history, one that revealed in intimate detail just what makes up a human being. With the information from individual genome maps, scientists can uncover new clues about everything from a person's body odor to mental disease. Since decoding the human genome, dozens of other species have had their genomes sequenced, including pigs, dogs, bees, mosquitoes, puffer fish, chimpanzees, yeast, corn, and rice. With these maps in hand, scientists can and will discover new ways to heal diseases and improve crop yields.