Special Report

21 Most Important Inventions of the 21st Century

Angelo Young, Michael B. Sauter

11. Digital assistants

One of the biggest technology trends in recent years has been smart home technology, which can now be found in everyday consumer devices like door locks, light bulbs, and kitchen appliances. The key piece of technology that has helped make all this possible is the digital assistant. Apple was the first major tech company to introduce a virtual assistant called Siri, in 2011, for iOS.

Other digital assistants, such as Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa, have since entered the market. The assistants gained another level of popularity when tech companies introduced smart speakers. Notably, Google Home and Amazon’s Echo can now be found in millions of homes, with an ever-growing range of applications.

Source: Photo By Getty Images

12. Robot heart

Artificial hearts have been around for some time. They are mechanical devices connected to the actual heart or implanted in the chest to assist or substitute a heart that is failing. Abiomed, a Danvers, Massachusetts-based company, developed a robot heart called AbioCor, a self-contained apparatus made of plastic and titanium. AbioCor is a self-contained unit with the exception of a wireless battery pack that is attached to the wrist. Robert Tools, a technical librarian with congestive heart failure, received the first one on July 2, 2001.

Source: departmentofenergy / Flickr

13. Retinal implant

When he was a medical student, Dr. Mark Humayun watched his grandmother gradually lose her vision. The ophthalmologist and bioengineer focused on finding a solution to what causes blindness. He collaborated with Dr. James Weiland, a colleague at the USC Gayle and Edward Roski Eye Institute, and other experts to create the Argus II.

The Argus II is a retinal prosthesis device that is considered to be a breakthrough for those suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited retinal degenerative condition that can lead to blindness. The condition afflicts 1.5 million people worldwide. The device was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2013.

Source: Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

14. Mobile operating systems

Mobile operating systems for smartphones and other portable gadgets have enabled the proliferation of smartphones and other mobile gadgets thanks to their intuitive user interfaces and seemingly endless app options. Mobile operating systems have become the most consumer-facing of computer operating systems. When Google first purchased Android Inc. in 2005, the operating system was just two years old, and the first iPhone (with its iOS) was still two years from its commercial debut.

Source: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

15. Multi-use rockets

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk may not necessarily be remembered for his contributions to electric cars innovations, but rather for his contributions to space exploration. Musk’s private space exploration company, SpaceX, has developed rockets that can be recovered and reused in other launches — a more efficient and cheaper alternative to the method of using the rockets only once and letting them fall into the ocean.

On March 30, 2017, SpaceX became the first to deploy one of these used rockets, the Falcon 9. Blue Origin, a space-transport company founded by Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, has launched its own reusable rocket.