The January 2011 issue of IEEE Spectrum reviews the most important innovations that came of age in the past 10 years, based on their influence, usefulness, and sheer technical coolness.
Smartphones. These pocketable gadgets combine talk, text, image, music, Internet, and a Jeeves-like advisor, allowing us to jack into the human hive and stay jacked in, wherever we go.
Social Networking. And what better way to organize our section of the human hive than through social networking services, which have spread faster than any other networked system, to encompass a fifth of the world's population?
Voice over IP. By chopping the sound waves of your voice into digital packets, sending the packets over the Internet, and reassembling them at the earpiece of your interlocutor, VoIP has made telephony as cheap and ubiquitous as the air we breathe.
LED Lighting. Light-emitting diodes are today the only semiconductors any of us ever seeth the naked eye, and they are fast replacing Edison's venerable bulb as the garden-variety source of light.
Multicore CPUs. Just when it seemed that transistors couldn't get any smaller, engineers found another way to keep computer performance on its upward trajectory: putting first two, then four, and now scores of central processing units on a single chip.
Cloud Computing. Your data can now shuffle off their too, too solid flesh by abandoning your computer for a shifting cast of servers around the world.
Drone Aircraft. Robots with wings are quietly replacing pilots in the military, and stand to do the same for the civilian aeronautics industry.
Planetary Rovers. Robots are going to Mars, asteroids, and a lot of other places where no man has gone before—or can go, given today's technological and budgetary restraints.
Flexible AC Transmission. Alternating current is a high-tempered stallion—powerful but hard to control. But now engineers have developed sophisticated ways of making it go even where it normally wouldn't want to go.
Digital Photography. Digitization has not merely made photography more immediately gratifying, it has also vastly expanded its role in our daily lives.
Class-D Audio. This wonderfully efficient yet superbly high-fidelity technology represents the biggest improvement in musical reproduction in a long time.