International technology experts gathered together at the World Economic Forum. After assessing and agreeing to proposals and criteria, they put forward 2019’s top emerging technologies–technologies that can possibly change the world.
They listed these technologies in their report as follows.
Bioplastics For a Circular Economy
World industries created 311 million metric tons of plastics in 2014 alone. A number which is expected to triple by 2050. And less than 15% of those plastics are recycled according to the World Economic Forum.
Why is this a problem?
Plastics that aren’t recycled are abandoned in nature or sit in landfills where they wreak havoc on ecosystems, wildlife, and even our bodies via contaminated meat.
Biodegradable plastics can help minimize this problem. These bioplastics would be created from biomass and converted back into biomass–a“circular” plastics economy.
Most recently, plastics have been made from cellulose or lignin, which is the dry matter in plants. And these components can be gathered from non-food plants, agricultural byproducts, and waste wood as well.
Though in development, bioplastics still have some way to go until they are used on a world wide scale. Cost and minimizing land and water use in these new developments are among the foremost concerns. Yet the progress being made towards biodegradable plastic promises a better and smarter way for industries and consumers to interact with a different version of this common material.
Though technology has some way to go before we have the perfect AI, there have been great developments in “social robots.” And they’re expected to become more sophisticated and common in the coming years.
Robots have greater interactive and performing capabilities, which makes them more useful than ever before. Using AI, these social robots use information gathered through sensors and cameras to respond in ways that seem lifelike.
Of course, this AI is backed by research into human perceptions, social/emotional intelligence, and how to mimic it. Psychological and neuroscientific insights allow scientists to create algorithms that help robots respond to faces, voices, nonverbal and complex verbal cues among other things.
These social robots will continue to fill roles in society such as hotel check-ins, cashiers, customer service, and even assisting the elderly population.
Tiny Lenses For Miniature Devices
Shrinking optical components (lenses) to fit their smaller counterparts (phones, notebooks, etc.) has been a technology challenge.
Glass lenses are hard to shrink in size while keeping their needed properties, so engineers found out how to create metalenses. Metalenses are a smaller and lighter alternative to the glass lens.
Disordered Proteins as Drug Targets
New types of drugs are being researched for proteins that drive cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.
These disordered proteins that causes these diseases constantly change, making them difficult to treat with one type of drug.
However, scientists are researching new and promising drugs and how they can bind these proteins and treat diseases.
It’s predicted in the next three to five years these disordered proteins may meet their match in pharmaceutical progress.
Smarter Fertilizers Can Reduce Environmental Contamination
The need for food is increasing as the population increases.
Fertilizers play a crucial role in crop yields, yet are still inefficient and may harm the environment.
Many current fertilizers don’t feed the plants as well as it should, and instead release a lot of nitrogen goes into the atmosphere and contributes to greenhouse gases.
Controlled-release fertilizers, however, helps the plants get more nutrients, which in turn reduces the amount of fertilizer needed.
Slow-release fertilizers have been sold for some years now. Controlled-release fertilizer does an even better job at altering the nutrient-release rates in a better way of interacting with soil temperature, moisture, and acidity changes.
Though controlled-release fertilizers are better, they still have issues such as contributing to greenhouse gasses and global warming.
But for now, controlled-release fertilizers offer a better crop yield and minimize the impact other fertilizer would have had on the environment.
Technology research aims to make collaborative telepresence as seamless and real as possible.
This means that it will feel pretty much exactly like it would if the person was in the same room as you.
This technology would render geographical location irrelevant, kind of like Skype and other similar apps have radically changed how people interact on the internet.
Collaborative telepresence will change how doctors and patients interact, bringing them into the same room without the hassle of driving somewhere. It will change how families can get together. And how businesses manage employees and hold meetings.
AR and VR technologies are more affordable than they’ve ever been and are being widely adopted into people’s lives.
Collaborative telepresence is still very much an emerging technology and has a way to go. But the pieces are there and this technology can start to surface in 3-5 years according to the World Economic Forum report.
Advanced Food Tracking and Packaging
About 600 million people get food poisoning every year. Finding the source of the problem takes retailers and providers weeks sometimes, which increases the time the infection has to get around.
Blockchain technology allows food industry partners to see the train of actions that their partner’s take. They are able to see every participant and action in the food development process. This technology will help the supply train to be transparent, and it will allow retailers and providers to catch possible food contamination or sources of infection quicker.
Additionally, researchers and involved companies are creating small sensors that will help monitor the safety and quality of food.
Safer Nuclear Reactors
Many people hear “nuclear” and are immediately uncomfortable or scared. And after Chernobyl and Fukushima, it’s not a reaction without basis.
But while it has basis, it is unbalanced.
The World Economic Forum reports that building resilient fuels and innovative reactors could call for more nuclear energy as a means of clean energy and reducing our carbon footprint.
Carbon and other greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere are causing drastic climate change, and our common coal resources are running scarcer. Better means of energy are needed, and it is needed soon.
Nuclear energy has the potential to be one of our greatest clean energy resources. And it is 100% renewable.
Nuclear energy doesn’t emit any carbon and is infinitely renewable, yet because of a couple major tragedies, many have blacklisted it.
The risk of nuclear energy can be greatly reduced.
For decades commercial reactors have used the same fuel. As the World Economic Forum states, the fuel consists of “small pellets of uranium dioxide stacked inside long cylindrical rods made of a zirconium alloy. Zirconium allows the neutrons generated from fission in the pellets to readily pass among the many rods submerged in water inside a reactor core, supporting a self-sustaining, heat-producing, nuclear reaction.”
This is all fine and safe. Trouble comes if the zirconium overheats. At that point it might react with water and create hydrogen, which causes an explosion. In the case of Chernobyl, there was a faulty reactor design and operation.
Since nuclear energy holds so much promise, manufacturers are researching and working hard to develop accident-tolerant fuels. These fuels are less likely to overheat and would produce little to no hydrogen. These new and safer developments could easily be installed on existing nuclear reactors. These updates would also make nuclear energy even more efficient, creating a larger demand and making it cost-competitive.
Combining green energy technologies with safer nuclear energy is a promising emerging technology.
DNA Data Storage
This emerging technology takes storage to a whole other level.
It’s estimated that by 2020, each person will create about 418 zettabytes of storage in one year alone. For scale, this equates to 418 billion “one-terabyte” hard drives of information. As it stands, the magnetic data-storage we currently use that holds these volumes of 0s and 1s can’t even last for more than a hundred years–if that.
And running these data centers demands large quantities of energy, which is a high cost.
Essentially, we are about to have a major storage crisis that will only get worse as time goes by.
To combat this crisis, new and innovative means of storage are being developed. One of the top research projects is DNA data storage.
DNA consists of long chains of nucleotides (A,T,C, and G). And it stores the information of life.
This tech could allow data to be stored in these DNA letters–literally creating storage space inside DNA. And it would hold massive storage potential.
Utility-Scale Storage of Renewable Energy
A lot of renewable energy is intermittent. Sometimes the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. So there needs to be a way to back up and save energy for those times.
Lithium-ion batteries are particularly being refined for possible energy storage, but the cost of the batteries is a factor to consider as they go up. So other long-term storage possibilities, such as flow batteries and hydrogen fuel cells, are being looked at as well.
Energy storage technology is one of the top emerging technologies of 2019 because the demand for renewable energy is going up every year. Better storage means better access to clean, renewable energy.