Readers are bombarded with many "best-of" lists this time of year touting the latest and greatest in technology. Scientific American decided to broaden this idea a bit further, in search of a sampling of technologies that members of our advisory board—a group of highly accomplished scientists, engineers, educators and entrepreneurs—could not possibly live without. "Technology" was defined loosely—it could have been a high-tech personal gadget such as an iPhone or something as basic as a nail clipper. The answers [below] were at times surprising but always interesting.
Scientific American also threw the same question out to our readers. To see their responses check out Scientific American's Facebook page.
What technology do you find indispensable?
"My iPhone, my three Macs and my bike. All three embody the perfect fusion of form and function. You only get this rarely. The Le Corbusier chair, the Boeing 747, the Golden Gate Bridge, the iPhone and the Mac—these are some of the few human artifacts that embody this key principle of evolutionary design. And all three are essential to urban living in a high-tech world—to stay connected, to stay mobile and to work anywhere and anytime. Having three Macs is basic to my lifestyle—one iMac with the big integrated screen at work, a second one at home and an Air/laptop for travels."
Lois and Victor Troendle Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Biology
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.
Chief Scientific Officer
Allen Institute for Brain Science, Seattle
"AliveCor iPhone ECG/EKG…it's the hottest!!! It's absolutely transformative to cardiovascular health, has been approved in Europe and is heading for U.S. approval."
G. Steven Burrill*
Chief Executive Officer
Burrill & Company, San Francisco
"For me it's the pen, more than any other. There is no instrument more powerful than the writing instrument in my mind. Ability to communicate and 'archive' thought, enabled through writing."
Provost and Professor of Biology
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.
*Disclaimer: Burrill & Company was the lead investor in AliveCor's latest round of funding.
"For something ubiquitous that we don't notice, yet 'indispensable' and with huge recent improvements, I'd nominate 'intentional genetics' [the altering of genetic information to produce a desired effect—ed.]. This invention dates back 9,000 years and affects essentially all of our food, pets, children and medical practice. It is beginning to impact our energy and materials. It is quite likely that millions would die if we removed this invention (or even the past few years of improvements) from the earth—probably more impact than if we removed all iPhones."
Director, Center for Computational Genetics
Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Mass.
"I could not survive without a ballpoint pen in my back pocket. It's invaluable for scribbling notes on the front of my hand (my version of the PalmPilot...) to remind me to do things I used to be able to remember unaided before my age converged with my IQ while traveling in opposite directions."
John P. Moore
Professor of Microbiology and Immunology
Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York City
"Indoor plumbing! It's the most important gadget we've got—everything else is child's play."
Michael E. Webber
Associate Director, Center for International Energy & Environmental Policy
University of Texas at Austin
"The three higher-tech things that I most depend on are my couple-year-old MacBook Pro, my couple-year-old 32 gigabyte iPhone, and my several-year-old Bose wave radio. My wife's Volvo XC70 is also pretty nice."
M. Granger Morgan
Professor and Head of Engineering and Public Policy
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh