It’s often difficult to keep up with the rapidly developing technology industry, as new items and groundbreaking technologies are introduced to the market almost on a daily basis.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies identifies recent key trends in technological change in its annual list of Top 10 Emerging Technologies. By highlighting the most important technological breakthroughs, the Council aims to raise awareness of their potential and contribute to closing gaps in investment, regulation and public understanding. For 2014, the Council identified ten new technologies that could reshape our society in the future.
1. Body-adapted Wearable Electronics
The sector is shifting beyond external wearables like wristbands or clip-on devices to “body-adapted” electronics that further push the ever-shifting boundary between humans and technology.The new generation of wearables are typically tiny, packed with a wide range of sensors and a feedback system, and camouflaged to make their use less intrusive and more socially acceptable
2. Nanostructured Carbon Composites
New techniques to nanostructure carbon fibres for novel composites are showing the potential in vehicle manufacture to reduce the weight of cars by 10% or more. Lighter cars need less fuel to operate, increasing the efficiency of moving people and goods and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Mining Metals from Desalination Brine
As freshwater continues to dwindle, desalinating seawater has emerged as an option. New processes using catalyst-assisted chemistry raise the possibility of extracting lithium, magnesium and uranium, as well as the more common sodium, calcium and potassium elements, from reject desalination brine as a resource to be harvested for valuable materials at a cost, that may eventually become competitive with land-based mining of ores or lake deposits.
4. Grid-scale Electricity Storage
There are signs that a range of new technologies is getting closer to cracking. Some, such as flow batteries may, in the future, be able to store liquid chemical energy in large quantities analogous to the storage of coal and gas. Various solid battery options are also competing to store electricity in sufficiently energy-dense and cheaply available materials. Newly invented graphene supercapacitors offer the possibility of extremely rapid charging and discharging over many tens of thousands of cycles.
5. Nanowire Lithium-ion Batteries
Batteries are critically important in many aspects of modern life. Lithium-ion batteries, such as backup external battery, which offer good energy density are routinely packed into mobile phones and laptops. Over the last year, researchers have developed possible solutions that involve the creation of silicon nanowires or nanoparticles. Able to fully charge more quickly, and produce 30%-40% more electricity than today’s lithium-ion batteries, this next generation of batteries could help transform the electric car market and allow the storage of solar electricity at the household scale. Silicon-anode batteries are expected to begin to ship in smartphones within the next two years.
6. Screenless Display
This field saw rapid progress in 2013 and appears set for imminent breakthroughs of scalable deployment of screenless display. Various companies have made significant breakthroughs in the field, including virtual reality headsets, bionic contact lenses, the development of mobile phones for the elderly and partially blind people, and hologram-like videos without the need for moving parts or glasses.
7. Human Microbiome Therapeutics
Attention is being focused on the gut microbiome and its role in diseases ranging from infections to obesity, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease. It is increasingly understood that antibiotic treatments that destroy gut flora can result in complications such as Clostridium difficile infections, which can in rare cases lead to life-threatening complications. On the other hand, a new generation of therapeutics comprising a subset of microbes found in healthy gut are under clinical development with a view to improving medical treatments.
8. RNA-based Therapeutics
Developments in basic Ribonucleic acid (RNA) science, synthesis technology, and in vivo delivery i.e. in a living organism, “are combining to enable a new generation of RNA-based drugs that can attenuate the abundance of natural proteins, or allow for the in vivo production of optimized, therapeutic proteins. Working in collaboration with large pharmaceutical companies and academia, several private companies that aim to offer RNA-based treatments have been launched.
9. Quantified Self (Predictive Analytics)
Smartphones contain a rich record of people’s activities, including who they know (contact lists, social networking apps), who they talk to (call logs, text logs, e-mails), where they go (GPS, Wi-Fi, and geo-tagged photos) and what they do (apps we use, accelerometer data). Using this data, and specialized machine-learning algorithms, detailed and predictive models about people and their behaviors can be built to help with urban planning, personalized medicine, sustainability and medical diagnosis.
10. Brain-computer Interfaces
The ability to control a computer using only the power of the mind is closer than one might think. Brain-computer interfaces, where computers can read and interpret signals directly from the brain, have already achieved clinical success in allowing quadriplegics, those suffering ‘locked-in syndrome’ or people who have had a stroke to move their own wheelchairs or even drink coffee from a cup by controlling the action of a robotic arm with their brain waves. In addition, direct brain implants have helped restore partial vision to people who have lost their sight.