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The top 10 emerging technologies of 2016


The World Economic Forum highlights technological advances that have the power to improve lives, transform industries and safeguard the planet.


Getty/PASIEKA/SPL

The World Economic Forum published this diverse list of breakthrough technologies which could soon play 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," chief information and interaction officer Jeremy Jurgens said.

"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.”

One of the criteria used by council members during their deliberations was the likelihood that 2016 represents a tipping point in the deployment of each technology. That means the list includes some technologies that have been known for years but are only now reaching a level of maturity where their effects can be meaningfully felt.

The top 10 technologies to make this year’s list are:

1. Nanosensors and the Internet of Nanothings

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 Nanothings could have a huge effect on the future of medicine, architecture, agriculture and drug manufacture.

2. 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, aluminium and zinc-based batteries makes mini-grids feasible that can provide clean, reliable, round-the-clock energy sources to entire villages.

3. The Blockchain

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.

4. 2-D materials

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.

5. Autonomous vehicles

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 rapid deployment of key technology forerunners along the way to full autonomy.

6. Organs on chips

Miniature models of human organs – the size of a memory stick – could revolutionise medical research and drug discovery by allowing researchers to see biological mechanism behaviours in ways never before possible.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. Optogenetics

The use of light and colour 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.

10. 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.

Learn more about the World Economic Forum Meta-Council's latest report here.

Cosmos reporter is a contributor to Cosmos Magazine
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