Tech | February 24, 2021 11:55 am

How TikTok Landed on MIT’s List of 2021 Breakthrough Technology

The social network's algorithms rank alongside COVID vaccines and natural-language AI

TikTok iPhone app
Algorithms for social media app TikTok rank as an MIT breakthrough technology.
Anatoliy Sizov / Getty Images

For 20 years MIT Technology Review has been forecasting breakthrough and important technologies.

This is the first year TikTok makes an appearance.

TikTok recommendation algorithms rank equally with mRNA vaccines and natural language artificial intelligence in the publication’s 20th iteration of their future tech preview. Why? “Because the algorithms that power TikTok’s ‘For You’ feed have changed the way people become famous online,” as MIT notes. “The ability of new creators to get a lot of views very quickly — and the ease with which users can discover so many kinds of content — have contributed to the app’s stunning growth.”

Other than the latest social media trend, this year’s list won’t necessarily surprise you: COVID-related tech, AI and green energy all make the cut, sometimes in more than one iteration.

“As always, three things are true of our list. It is eclectic; some of the innovations on it are clearly making an impact now, while some have yet to do so; and many of them have the potential to do harm as well as good,” the MIT team suggests. “Whether or not they come to represent progress 20 years from now depends on how they’re used — and, of course, on how we’re defining progress by then.”

The top ten:

  • Messenger RNA vaccines (and not just for COVID)
  • GPT-3 (natural language computer models)
  • TikTok recommendation algorithms
  • Lithium-metal batteries
  • Data trusts
  • Green hydrogen
  • Digital contact tracing
  • Hyper-accurate GPS positioning 
  • Remote everything 
  • Multi-skilled AI

Read the full story, and the outlet’s reasoning, here.

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