Life-changing innovations vie for top global tech honour

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS,

Helsinki (Finland) : Few would know that it is an algorithm that helps us use the mobile phone technology that has made our lives simpler. Or that an optic fibre cable that couldn’t send a communication one metre across is now a basis for the global information super highway of over 10,000 km.

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These are just two of the four top innovations developed by six scientists and inventors in the last few years, which are in the fray for this year’s Millennium Technology Prize – the highest prize in the world of technology and considered Nobel Prize in this area.

The one-million-euro prize winner will be announced Wednesday and Finland’s President Tarja Halonen will give away the award at a ceremony here.

The mobile telephony algorithm discovered by Southern California-based researcher Andrew J. Viterbi is named Viterbi algorithm. The erbium doped fibre amplifier was invented by three scientists – Emmanuel Desurvire, Randy Giles and David N. Payne.

Also in the competition is DNA fingerprinting invented by Sir Alec Jeffreys of Britain’s University of Leicester, which today allows countries, courts, crime-busting agencies and others to resolve issues related to immigration, paternity disputes and even keep a database of millions of criminals worldwide.

The fourth invention in the top four list is that of Harvard-based Robert Langer who created innovative bio-materials for controlled drug release and tissue regeneration that is helping hundreds of patients suffering from cancer and other diseases worldwide.

The winner among all these laureates takes away the euro 800,000 top prize while others will get euro 115,000 each for their contribution to the benefit of mankind.

“Our idea of the award is to acknowledge novelty, technology, innovation and the larger benefit to mankind,” Stig G. Gustavson, chairman of the board of the Millennium Technology Prize, told IANS here Monday.

The prize, started in 2004, is given every two years. It is run by the Finnish technology industry and the Finnish government. The nine-member selection committee of top experts includes Indian scientist V.S. Ramamurthy.

The first recipient of the prize in 2004 was Tim Berners-Lee of the US for creating the World Wide Web (www).

In 2006, the prize went to Japan’s Shuji Nakamura for significant contribution to global energy saving by developing highly efficient illumination systems.

“It is an honour to be selected among the top innovators of the world,” Sir Alec Jeffreys said.

He said that besides other uses of DNA fingerprinting, a database of 12 million criminals had been compiled by various countries.

All six innovators have gathered here to tell about what they have achieved and how it has changed the lives of people globally.

“Because we were able to find a solution to amplify optical fibre, the Internet has grown at such pace,” Payne said.

“Undersea optical fibre of the size of a hair now allows Internet to work at seven times the speed of sound,” Desurvire said.