The Top 10 Emerging Technologies 2016 list, compiled by the Forum’s Meta-Council on Emerging Technologies and published in collaboration with Scientific American, highlights technological advances its members believe have the power to improve lives, transform industries and safeguard the planet. It also provides an opportunity to debate any human, societal, economic or environmental risks and concerns that the technologies may pose prior to widespread adoption.
“Technology has a critical role to play in addressing each of the major challenges the world faces, yet it also poses significant economic and social risks. As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is vital that we develop shared norms and protocols to ensure that technology serves humanity and contributes to a prosperous and sustainable future,” said Jeremy Jurgens, Chief Information and Interaction Officer, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum.
Nanosensors and the Internet of Nanothings
According to authors, while Internet of Things (IoT), built from inexpensive microsensors and microprocessors paired with tiny power supplies and wireless antennas is currently making waves, the next trend is Internet of Nano Things (IoNT) that could take medicine, energy efficiency, and many other sectors to a whole new dimension.
The IoNT revolution is driven by minitaturization of sensors from millimeters or microns in size to the nanometer scale, emerging tools of synthetic biology that can create nanosensors by modifying single-celled organisms, such as bacteria, and emerging materials such as carbon nanotubes, that can both sense and signal, acting as wireless nanoantennas.
Next Generation Batteries Making large-scale power storage possible
The next transformative renewable energy technology is new high capacity batteries based on sodium, aluminium or zinc that can serve whole factories, towns, or even “mini-grids” connecting isolated rural communities. According to authors, the combination of renewable energy like wind and solar and grid-scale batteries is utterly transformative for people who currently have no access to the grid—no light to work by at night, no Internet to mine for information, no power to do the washing or to irrigate the crops.
The Blockchain A revolutionary decentralized trust system
Blockchain is another transformative technology for the two billion people in the world currently underserved by financial institutions. The technology has the potential to enhance privacy, security and freedom of conveyance of data—which surely ranks up there with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, according to authors.
The technology is based on open, global infrastructure, decentralized public ledger of transactions that no one person or company owns or controls, ensures security of transfer of funds through public and private cryptology and third parties to verify that they shook, digitally, on an agreement.
Two-Dimensional Materials “Wonder materials” are becoming increasingly affordable
The new transformative materials are two-dimensional materials, each consisting of a single layer of atoms including lattice-like layers of carbon (graphene), boron (borophene) and hexagonal boron nitride (aka white graphene), germanium (germanene), silicon (silicene), phosphorous (phosphorene) and tin (stanene). Scientists and engineers are excitedly mixing and matching these ultrathin compounds—each with unique optical, mechanical and electrical properties—to produce tailored materials optimised for a wide range of functions, according to authors.
Autonomous Vehicles Self-driving cars coming sooner than expected
The next revolution in transportation are self-driving automobiles that process vast amounts of sensory data from onboard radars, cameras, ultrasonic range-finders, GPS, and stored maps to navigate routes through ever more complex and rapidly changing traffic situations without any human involvement.
Shared cars and driverless taxi would help the aged, reduce the need for local parking structures, reduce congestion by preventing accidents and enabling safe travel at higher speeds and closer following distances, and unlock numerous secondary benefits, according to authors.
Organs-on-chips Using chips instead of organs for medical testing purposes
Organ-on-a-chips are miniature models of the lung, liver, kidney, heart, bone marrow, and cornea that replicate some of the key functions of a living organ. They are made from flexible, translucent polymer and containing complex patterns of microfluidic tubes simulating blood vessels. The chips have great potential for testing new drugs and medicines and testing responses to biological, chemical or radiological weapons for Military and biodefence.
Perovskite Solar Cells Making progress towards ubiquitous solar power generation
A promising new way of making high-efficiency solar cells, using perovskites instead of silicon, could help transform the lives of 1.2 billion people who currently lack reliable electricity, according to authors.
Perovskites—a wide-ranging class of materials in which organic molecules, made mostly of carbon and hydrogen, bind with a metal such as lead and a halogen such as chlorine in a three-dimensional crystal lattice— are very light weight, with comparable efficiency of silicon, can be made much more cheaply and with fewer emissions.
Open AI Ecosystem from artificial to contextual intelligence
The interconnection of the Internet with the Internet of Things and powerful, human-like digital assistants who understand spoken conversations could unlock higher productivity and better health and happiness for millions of people within the next few years, according to authors. The secret ingredient in this technology is AI systems capable of acquiring and interpreting contextual cues about users and their states like when they are interruptible, stressed, bored, tired or hungry.
Optogenetics Using light to control genetically modified neurons
Optogenetics uses pulses of light of various colors to control individual neurons by inserting opsin genes into them to treat brain disorders like Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, vision damage and depression. With mental disorders affecting one in four people globally and psychiatric diseases a leading source of disability, optogenetic research, especially when enhanced by emerging wireless microchip technology, could offer better understanding of the brain, according to authors.
Systems Metabolic Engineering Chemicals from renewable sources’ microorganisms
Bio-based chemical production is new way of making products by brewing them in giant bioreactors filled with living microorganisms instead of through traditional petrochemicals like oil, gas, and coal. With recent advances in synthetic biology, systems biology, and evolutionary engineering, metabolic engineers are now able to create biological systems that manufacture chemicals that indefinitely renewable and emit relatively little greenhouse gases and hard to produce by conventional means (and thus expensive).