The Top Ten Technology Breakthroughs
A diverse range of breakthrough technologies, including batteries capable of providing power to whole villages,
“socially aware” artificial intelligence and new generation solar panels, could soon be playing a role in tackling the world’s most pressing challenges.
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. The Top 10 Emerging Technologies list, highlights technological advances that are believed to have the power to improve lives, transform industries and safeguard the planet.
The list includes some technologies that have been known for a number of years but are only now reaching a level of maturity where their impact can be meaningfully felt.
Here are the top 10 technologies to make the list:
NANOSENSORS AND THE INTERNET OF NANO THINGS
With the Internet of Things expected to comprise 30 billion connected devices by 2020, one of the most exciting areas of focus today is now on nanosensors capable of circulating in the human body or being embedded in construction materials. Once connected, this Internet of Nano things could have a huge impact on the future of medicine, architecture, agriculture and drug manufacture.
NEXT GENERATION BATTERIES
One of the greatest obstacles holding renewable energy back is matching supply with demand, but recent advances in energy storage using sodium, aluminum and zinc-based batteries makes mini-grids feasible that can provide clean, reliable, round the clock energy sources to entire villages.
Much already has been made of the distributed electronic ledger behind the online currency Bitcoin. With related venture investment exceeding $1 billion in 2015 alone, the economic and social impact of blockchain’s potential to fundamentally change the way markets and governments work is only now emerging.
Graphene may be the best-known, single-atom layer material, but it is by no means the only one. Plummeting production costs mean that such 2D materials are emerging in a wide range of applications, from air and water filters to new generations of wearables and batteries.
Self-driving cars may not yet be fully legal in most geographies, but their potential for saving lives, cutting pollution, boosting economies, and improving quality of life for the elderly and other segments of society has led to the rapid deployment of key technology forerunners along the way to full autonomy.
Miniature models of human organs – the size of a memory stick – could revolutionize medical research and drug discovery by allowing researchers to see biological mechanism behaviors in ways never before possible.
PEROVSKITE SOLAR CELLS
This new photovoltaic material offers three improvements over the classic silicon solar cell: it is easier to make, can be used virtually anywhere and, to date, keeps on generating power more efficiently.
OPEN AI ECOSYSTEM
Shared advances in natural language processing and social awareness algorithms, coupled with an unprecedented availability of data, will soon allow smart digital assistants help with a vast range of tasks, from keeping track of one’s finances and health to advising on wardrobe choice.
The use of light and color to record the activity of neurons in the brain has been around for some time, but recent developments mean light can now be delivered deeper into brain tissue, something that could lead to better treatment for people with brain disorders.
SYSTEMS METABOLIC ENGINEERING
Advances in synthetic biology, systems biology, and evolutionary engineering mean that the list of building block chemicals that can be manufactured better and more cheaply by using plants rather than fossil fuels is growing every year.
Unlike fossil fuels, chemicals made from microbes are indefinitely renewable and emit relatively little greenhouse gas— indeed, some could potentially even serve to reverse the flow of carbon from Earth to the atmosphere by absorbing carbon dioxide or methane and incorporating it into products that are eventually buried as solid waste.
Systems metabolic engineering has also been used to create strains of yeast that make opioids for pain treatment. These drugs are widely needed in the world, and in particular in the developing world, where the pain is insufficiently managed today.