Our Fourth Annual "Winners and Losers" List

In our annual roundup of technology winners and losers, we examine five outstanding examples of high-tech breakthroughs that hold the promise of making the world just a little better and five more that offer a lot of promises but little that should make the world take notice. We hope you enjoy reading our selections — written by our talented team of technology journalists — whether they're positive or negative. And we hope you'll choose to offer us your feedback on them here in Tech Talk — even if you're from the marketing department of one of the losers.

So what metrics do we use to determine whether a certain innovation, among some 50 we scrutinized, goes in the display window or goes on the back shelf? Experience and expertise. It's that simple. For the record, here are our guidelines in a nutshell:

Ideas come from many resources: interviews with IEEE members, senior members, and fellows, including Spectrum's Editorial Board, as well as interviews with other, non-institute sources. Candidates are also chosen from published articles, news stories, Web sites, and projects the editors hear about while working on other stories. Then we discuss the lists at our weekly staff meetings. To complete the process, we use an informal board of advisors to vet our pared-down list and help guide our final selections.

To pick the winning and losing projects, we consider their feasibility and whether or not what they're trying to accomplish is commercially viable and worthwhile. We analyze projects in light of technology-related factors: regulation, competition, relevant technology and market trends, and cost/benefit analysis.

We look for specific projects, not for a company or a class of technology. The project must be in some sense novel. Its beneficial social, economic, or environmental outcomes must outweigh any negatives. The technology underlying the project also has to be proven, or at least has to appear, extremely likely to work.

Losers, too, must be in some sense novel. But in this case, the project's technology struck us as having likely negative outcomes that outweigh any possible positives. Or its poor chances of success seemed evident to us, because, for example, the project appeared to be at odds with trends in its niche. Or the project's technology simply looked suspect.

The inclusion of a project here doesn't mean that the IEEE or its organizational units or its members are endorsing the product or giving it a thumb's down.

So we do the research, we dialog with experts, we compare and contrast competitors, and we discuss them at length. Then we judge. It's a process we take very seriously. Let us know if you think we've done our job properly.

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