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Recognising humane technology

The Millennium Technology Prize, the world’s biggest technology award, recognises and celebrates ‘humane technology’, designed to enhance people’s quality of life. The Prize is awarded every other year, and a total of 99 individuals have been nominated for the next Prize, which will be awarded in June 2008.

Finland’s tribute to life-enhancing technological innovation – the Millennium Technology Prize, worth €1 million to its recipients – has been established to help steer technological development in a more humane direction and bring technology closer to people’s everyday needs.

“The criteria for awarding the Prize do not focus on a scientist’s lifetime achievements or purely academic work,” according to Tapio Alvesalo, Secretary General of the Millennium Prize Foundation.

“Instead, the primary focus is on an innovation’s impact on the quality of human life and sustainable development. This marks off the Millennium Technology Prize from many other awards for scientific endeavour.

“The sort of new technology that we want to highlight is essential if we are to be capable of responding to global challenges, such as the lack of clean drinking water, the threat of climate change, and ever-growing energy needs.”

Recognising the world’s best innovators

The innovations that won their developers the first two Millennium Technology Prizes, in 2004 and 2006, very much reflect this goal.

The pioneering work on gallium nitride semiconductors, light-emitting diodes, and lasers done by Professor Shuji Nakamura won him the 2006 Millennium Technology Prize.

The first Prize went to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, for his work in revolutionising electronic communications through the World Wide Web; and the second to Professor Shuji Nakamura, for his work on gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and lasers, which has opened up exciting possibilities for new energy-saving sources of light.

LED lights have extremely long lives and consume far less energy than normal incandescent lamps, and have the potential to make a fundamental impact on the lives of millions of people. Lighting applications made possible by Nakamura’s inventions are ideal for developing countries; and applications for water sterilisation based on the same technology are also being actively developed.

Recognising excellence

While reflecting Finland’s own high technology success, the Millennium Technology Prize is intended to recognise excellence the world over. Selecting the winner is the responsibility of the Millennium Prize Foundation, a joint public-private initiative set up in 2002, on the basis of a recommendation of a distinguished international Selection Committee.

As part of the 2008 award, three to four finalists will be announced in April, the first time this has been done. The ultimate winner will be announced at an award ceremony in Helsinki in June 2008.

> Petja Partanen
(Published in HighTech Finland 2008)