The 11th annual M.I.T. Technology Review emerging technology (Emtech) conference kicked off Tuesday with a session covering "lessons in innovation." It's not easy to sum up a day at an Emtech, particularly when the theme is something as broad as "innovation"—and calling something innovative doesn't necessarily make it so.

But if you view Emtech in the context of New York Times columnist Steven Johnson's opening presentation today about the "fourth quadrant"—how innovators build on previous progress to develop something new—you begin to see a pattern. We're already beginning to take for granted a lot of technologies many people weren't even aware of just a few years ago. This is nothing new in the world of technology, of course, yet it's still instructive to look at which technologies are moving closer to the mainstream. In ever widening circles cloud computing, for example, no longer needs to be defined. Instead, people want to know what's being done to secure data stored on and controlled by companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

IBM's approach, as described Tuesday by the T.J. Watson Research Center researcher Craig Gentry, is homomorphic encryption. The idea behind such encryption, which Gentry says is still five-to-10 years away, is to delegate the processing of your data to the cloud without actually allowing the cloud provider access to that data.

On a more personal level the key to securing data on the Web could be to entrust it to a single company that can then conduct transactions with vendors, banks and other institutions on your behalf without giving those groups access to all your personal information. That's the business model underlying, as company vice president of research Tom Dignan explained during his Emtech presentation. The approach follows a similar philosophy to IBM's homomorphic encryption—keep data safe by restricting access to it.

Image of M.I.T. Media Lab courtesy of M.I.T.