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Technology

1998 Discover Technology Awards: Introduction

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This year, as in all the previous years, one of our biggest challenges in selecting the finalists for the Discover Awards was in making comparisons between unlike inventions from a myriad of worthy entrants. Our use of categories only partly ameliorates this problem. Is a high-tech bandage for repairing airplanes more or less ingenious than a billion-dollar fighter plane? Is a nearly frictionless coating a better idea than an energy-generating machine that consists of nothing but an empty cavity filled with sound waves? Is a fuel cell that runs on gasoline more or less worthy than a boat that propels itself with penguinlike flippers? The difficulty is resolving such questions sensibly without recourse to coins or darts.

Choosing the 45 finalists was tough, and we editors at Discover deserve all the credit or blame, whichever the case may be. But when it came to choosing the winners, we did what responsible committees have been doing for thousands of years: we punted. More specifically, we threw each group of finalists into the collective lap of a panel of handpicked expert judges. And we did so, we freely confess, with relief.

One aspect of the process, at least, was easy: finding those intriguing technologies in the first place. The pool of entrants once again demonstrated that childlike curiosity and playful inventiveness exist in great abundance. They are qualities that define us as a species, they power our economy and fuel our imagination, and they reside to some degree in each of us. They reside especially comfortably, of course, in the men and women we all recognize as the true innovators of our time. These awards represent our modest attempt to celebrate them.

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