WEF’s Top 10 Emerging Technologies for our Future

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2016 was a good year for technological innovations, and 2017 is shaping up to be even better. 

The top 10 emerging technologies according to the World Economic Forum:

1. The Importance of Nanothings

Nanotechnology is nothing short of amazing. Imagine a bunch of tiny, self-replicating machines that are small enough to exist within the human body or inorganic materials such as those used for construction and vehicle maintenance. If sufficiently advanced, those bots could do a whole host of actions, including repair, meaning that your cracked phone or fractured tibia would be good as new in a few minutes. These are the kind of emerging technologies we can get behind.

For now, nanomachines are mostly sensors. Yet, this is a crucial step in incorporating nanotech into the Internet of Things. Those sensors, without any other sort of functionality, are enough to transform the fields of medicine, environmental science, engineering, and many others.

Sensors are a crucial development to incorporating nanotech into the Internet of Things.Click To Tweet

Nanobots could be implemented in a lot of different ways, and the first step is installing a sensor to let us know that the bots are there (they can’t be seen by the naked eye, after all).

As sensors relay information about the world around them, the possibilities for this application are staggering.

My personal favorite idea? Weaving nanobots into clothes to act as a battery. I’ve always wanted to be a walking charging station, after all, and an Internet of Nanothings may be able to make that dream a reality.

2. Better Batteries = Better Grids

Sodium-ion. Zinc-air. These terms may not mean much to the layman, but they mean big things for our energy grid. We’re talking about batteries that cost little and have a long-sustained charge. That means scalability. Our largest power plants will get a major upgrade shortly.

The rush to renewable energy requires new kinds of power plants, and with Sodium-ion or Zinc-air battery storage, we have the tech that will lay the groundwork for the next generation of power.

One more thing. Scalability also means power plants aren’t the only beneficiaries. Smaller fuel cells that are more efficient have a place under the hood of your future electric car, where they will provide longer lasting power at a fraction of the price (not to mention seconds to charge fully).

We’re all waiting for electric vehicles to ‘get to that level,’ and with advances like the Zinc-ion battery, we may be seeing that happen very soon.

3. The Blockchain is Coming for the Money in Your Mattress

Bitcoin is famous, but Blockchain is what makes it interesting. Alternate currency? Yawn, that’s one for the economists. An irrefutable, unchangeable system of record-keeping? That’s more exciting, and it has applications that range from the banking world to voting processes, or to keeping corporations accountable for their decisions.

The Blockchain is a decentralized database, meaning that it is stored on more than one system. When transactions are made within that database, each system creates a record of that ledger, and if any one system has a discrepancy the others can quickly correct it, making the database almost unhackable and thus immutable.

With that kind of security, it’s no wonder that various major economic institutions are turning toward the Blockchain. In fact, the global economy will likely be held on a blockchain-enabled database.

4. 2D Printed Materials

2017, like the year before it, is a splendid time for flat surfaces. Innovative 2d materials like Graphene are being made in ways that make it more affordable, which will, in turn, improve burgeoning tech such as solar panels.

3D printing may be all the rage in the consumer market, but researchers are printing 2D surfaces that are innovating the bleeding edge of science. Just take a look at the field of Optogenetics(which we will in a bit, I promise), where a sheet of nanomaterials has blown the field wide open.

Specifically designed 2D materials are quickly becoming the glue that holds modern technological marvels together, and while you may not hear much about them, you’ll benefit from their use in many newly developed technologies.

5. Bring on the Smart Cars

There’s nothing that I want more out of a car than one I can take a nap in while driving. Autonomous vehicles could be the holy grail of the automobile industry, and their development has been proceeding rapidly. Companies such as Tesla are already producing models for the consumer market, so my dream of shaving on the way to work may soon be a reality. These emerging technologies have been a part of our imagination for decades. Soon, they’ll become reality.

6. Organs-on-Chips

What sounds like a terrible bag of Doritos is actually an excellent learning tool for the medical fields. Organs-on-chips are miniature models that emulate human organs, making drug-testing simpler without requiring animal testing. I have a personal soft spot for the laboratory rat, so we’ll be pretty happy about this one if it pans out.

7. Perovskite Solar Cells

Remember when we were talking about how 2D materials could revolutionize solar panels? Well, that isn’t the only thing innovating the peoples’ favorite renewable energy source. Perovskite solar cells are an entirely new kind of solar technology that is more efficient at generating power.

It may be too soon to tell, but the hope is that these cells can be made rapidly and could provide clean energy to the entire planet. Emerging technologies may be the only way to combat the effects of climate change.

8. Open AI Ecosystem, or, how Skynet is Going to Learn Dictation

We have to give a shout-out to the emerging technologies that have the potential to conquer us. Open AI ecosystems are advancing AI tech by providing us with machine learning algorithms that can understand speech, text, economic behavior and even our health conditions.

That being said, what we care about is having our very own virtual butler, and an open AI ecosystem is going to provide us with machines that are superior to human assistants. That sounds great, but I’d be happy if they could just teach my Roomba to take notes.

9. Optogenetics: Shining a Light on Neuroscience

As promised, here it is: Optogenetics, an entirely new field of science that has risen to prominence in the last few years. These emerging technologies require others to come to fruition. Using light, neuroscientists can turn neurons on and off selectively, which can enable an amount of control over our bodily processes.

The World Health Organization estimates that one in four people globally are affected by mental disorders, and optogenetics may provide a revolution in treating those disorders. If you have a family member (which, given the statistics, you likely do) that suffers from a mental illness, thank science for the kinds of treatments that they’ll get in the coming years.

10. Systems Metabolic Engineering

The world clamors for green energy, and significant headway may be made by systems metabolic engineering. Microorganisms that can be safely contained act as ‘biofactories’ that can produce sustainable chemicals and materials. These chemicals and materials can then be used to provide greener products without making any carbon footprint.

This innovation could also have us bioengineering microorganisms like yeasts for industrial scale production or cosmetics. Or food. Food would be good too. More efficient vertical farming would make us able to expand production levels and go beyond leafy vegetables, and SME could give us all the materials to make this happen while taking nothing from the earth.

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