Our Best Illustrations of 2016

Most current and emerging technologies can’t actually be seen. That’s why the art department here at MIT Technology Review often depicts them with illustrations.

Take deep learning: what on Earth does that look like? Not only is it a complex concept to grasp (for me at least), but there isn’t yet a common visual vocabulary for it—no symbolic shorthand, the way an apple and mortarboard can represent education or a money bag and top hat conjures the banking industry.

Thankfully, we work with a world-class group of illustrators who help us bear the conceptual load. Their imagination and hard work are what makes our jobs as art directors possible. (Not to mention it’s also what makes our magazine and site look good.)

These are our favorite illustrations from 2016. Each of these pieces strike me as being a small miracle in itself. Now finished, in retrospect, each seems self-evident. But all were tricky to pull off. How would you draw, say, the Internet of things or gene editing?

Using Patient Fingerprints to Break Down Medical Record Silos
Illustration by Aisha Franz Hot And Violent
Illustration by Javier Jaén Twitter’s Artificial Intelligence Knows What’s Happening in Live Video Clips
Illustration by Gwendal Le Bec 10 Breakthrough Technologies: Conversational Interfaces
Illustration by Tomi Um The Internet Is No Place for Elections
Illustration by Patrick Kyle The Road to Solar Fuels Hits a Speed Bump
Illustration by Jon Han As It Searches for Suspects, the FBI May Be Looking at You
Illustration by Daniel Zender Why Startups Are Struggling
Illustration by Yann Kebbi The Nauseating Disappointment of Oculus Rift
Illustration by Roman Muradov Moore’s Law Is Dead. Now What?
Illustration by Yukai Du AI Wants to Be Your Bro, Not Your Foe.
Illustration by John Malta 35 Innovators Under 35 2016
Illustration by Morgan Elliott The Decline in Chinese Cyberattacks: The Story Behind the Numbers
Illustration by Other Means Why Kickstarter’s Glowing Plant Left Backers in the Dark
Illustration by Matt Panuska Capitalism Behaving Badly
Illustration by Jay Daniel Wright Customer Service Bots Are Getting Better at Detecting Your Agitation
Illustration by Oscar Bolton Green Drone Security Guard Scolds Intruders from the Sky
Illustration by Max Litvinov Elon Musk’s House of Gigacards
Illustration by Andy Friedman Ad Algorithms Might Choose You to Be a Paid Product Promoter
Illustration by Jan Buchczik What to Know Before You Get In a Self-driving Car
Illustration by Jean Jullien Security Experts Warn Congress That the Internet of Things Could Kill People
Illustration by Nick Little Mark Zuckerberg’s Long March to China
Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson Who Will Protect You from Drone Surveillance?
Illustration by David Biskup 10 Breakthrough Technologies: Robots That Teach Each Other
Illustration by Kristian Hammerstad The All-American iPhone
Illustration by Owen Smith Customer Headaches Could Curtail Apple’s Encryption Push
Illustration by Andrea Chronopoulos WeChat Is Extending China’s School Days Well into the Night
Illustration by Marina Muun Inside Vicarious, the Secretive AI Startup Bringing Imagination to Computers
Illustration by Sophia Foster-Dimino Can We Insure the Internet of Things Against Cyber Risk?
Illustration by Tim Peacock