Our Most Popular Technology Stories from 2012

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The most-read posts of the outgoing year.

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I think the best way to review what happened here on The Atlantic's technology pages is to take a look at the e-book we put out of our best work. But I respect the wisdom of the crowd, and I figure you might want to know what your fellow readers liked the most. So, here are our most popular stories of the year: 



"This post, which will be updated over the next couple of days, is an effort to sort the real from the unreal. It's a photograph verification service, you might say, or a pictorial investigation bureau." -- Alexis C. Madrigal

2. Behold, the Toothbrush That Just Saved the International Space Station.

It was a little like Apollo 13 -- if its mission to the moon had been saved by a tool of good oral hygiene, that is. Yesterday the International Space Station, having battled electrical malfunctions for over a week, was repaired by a combination that MacGyver himself would have been proud of: an allen wrench, a wire brush, a bolt ... and a toothbrush. -- Megan Garber

3. When the Nerds Go Marching In.

"By the end, the campaign produced exactly what it should have: a hybrid of the desires of everyone on Obama's team. They raised hundreds of millions of dollars online, made unprecedented progress in voter targeting, and built everything atop the most stable technical infrastructure of any presidential campaign. To go a step further, I'd even say that this clash of cultures was a good thing: The nerds shook up an ossifying Democratic tech structure and the politicos taught the nerds a thing or two about stress, small-p politics, and the significance of elections." -- Alexis C. Madrigal

4. How Google Builds Its Maps--and What It Means for the Future of Everything.

"As we slip and slide into a world where our augmented reality is increasingly visible to us off and online, Google's geographic data may become its most valuable asset. Not solely because of this data alone, but because location data makes everything else Google does and knows more valuable." -- Alexis C. Madrigal

5. Why Sandy Has Meteorologists Scared, in 4 Images.

"For many, the hullabaloo raises memories of Irene, which despite causing $15.6 billion worth of damages in the United States, did not live up to its pre-arrival hype. By almost all measures, this storm looks like it could be worse: higher winds, a path through a more populated area, worse storm surge, and a greater chance it'll linger. The atmospherics, you might say, all point to this being the worst storm in recent history." -- Alexis C. Madrigal

6. We're Underestimating the Risk of Human Extinction

"Unthinkable as it may be, humanity, every last person, could someday be wiped from the face of the Earth. We have learned to worry about asteroids and supervolcanoes, but the more-likely scenario, according to Nick Bostrom, a professor of philosophy at Oxford, is that we humans will destroy ourselves. Bostrom, who directs Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute, has argued over the course of several papers that human extinction risks are poorly understood and, worse still, severely underestimated by society." -- Ross Andersen

7. Google's Self-Driving Cars: 300,000 Miles Logged, Not a Single Accident Under Computer Control

"Legally -- and ethically -- we will need to grapple with the questions about safety standards for autonomous machines. As Stanford Law School's Bryan Walker Smith said to me over email, "How well must these vehicles ultimately perform? Perfectly? Or something less -- an average human driver, a perfect human driver, or a computer with human oversight? And how should this be measured?" And, perhaps toughest of all, how will we make those decisions, and, really, who will make them?" -- Rebecca J. Rosen

8. How the Professor Who Fooled Wikipedia Got Caught by Reddit.

"Each tale was carefully fabricated by undergraduates at George Mason University who were enrolled in T. Mills Kelly's course, Lying About the Past. Their escapades not only went unpunished, they were actually encouraged by their professor. Four years ago, students created a Wikipedia page detailing the exploits of Edward Owens, successfully fooling Wikipedia's community of editors. This year, though, one group of students made the mistake of launching their hoax on Reddit. What they learned in the process provides a valuable lesson for anyone who turns to the Internet for information." -- Yoni Appelbaum

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Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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