These are the top 10 emerging technologies of 2019
A glimpse into what a sustainable, inclusive future will look like.
Which of today's technologies will shape tomorrow's world? A new report compiled by the World Economic Forum reveals some of the breakthrough innovations that are expected to radically impact the global social and economic order.
"From income inequality to climate change, technology will play a critical role in finding solutions to all the challenges our world faces today," says Jeremy Jurgens, Chief Technology Officer at the World Economic Forum. "This year's emerging technologies demonstrate the rapid pace of human innovation and offer a glimpse into what a sustainable, inclusive future will look like."
Making the list involves more than promising major benefits to the world. The emerging technologies must positively disrupt the existing order, be attractive to investors and researchers, and expect to achieve considerable scale within the coming 5 years.
These are the top 10 emerging technologies for 2019:
1. Bioplastics for a circular economy
Less than 15% of the world's plastic is recycled, with the rest incinerated, abandoned or sent to landfill. Biodegradable plastic offers a solution, but lacks the strength of conventional materials. A breakthrough idea promotes the circular economy by using cellulose or lignin from plant waste, which increases material strength without using crops that could otherwise be used for food.
2. Social robots
Today's robots can recognise voices, faces and emotions, interpret speech patterns and gestures, and even make eye contact. Droid friends and assistants are becoming part of everyday life, and are being used increasingly to care of the elderly, educate children and undertake all sorts of tasks in between.
Making the lenses used by mobile phones, computers and other electronic devices smaller has been beyond the capabilities of traditional glass cutting and glass curving techniques. But advances in physics have led to miniaturised, lighter alternatives to established lenses, called metalenses. These tiny, thin, flat lenses could replace existing bulky glass lenses and allow further miniaturization in sensors and medical imaging devices.
4. Disordered proteins as drug targets
"Intrinsically disordered proteins" are proteins that can cause cancer and other diseases. Unlike conventional proteins, they lack a rigid structure so change shape, making them difficult to treat. Now scientists have found a way to prevent their shape-shifting long enough for treatment to take effect, offering new possibilities for patients.
5. Smarter fertilizers
Recent improvements in fertilizers have focused on their ability to slowly release nutrients when needed. However, they still contain ammonia, urea and potash which damage the environment. New fertilizers use more ecologically friendly sources of nitrogen, and microorganisms that improve take-up by plants.
6. Collaborative telepresence
Imagine a video conference where you not only feel like you're in the same room as the other attendees, you can actually feel one another's touch. A mix of Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (AR), 5G networks and advanced sensors, mean business people in different locations can physically exchange handshakes, and medical practitioners are able to work remotely with patients as though they are in the same room.
7. Advanced food tracking and packaging
About 600 million people eat contaminated food each year and it's essential to locate the source of an outbreak immediately. What used to take days or even weeks to trace can now be tracked in minutes, using blockchain technology to monitor every step of a food item's progress through the supply chain. Meanwhile, sensors in packaging can indicate when food is about to spoil, reducing the need to waste whole batches once an expiry date is reached.
8. Safer nuclear reactors
Although nuclear power emits no carbon dioxide, reactors come with a safety risk that fuel rods can overheat and, when mixed with water, produce hydrogen, which can then explode. But new fuels are emerging that are much less likely to overheat, and if they do, will produce little or no hydrogen. These new configurations can replace existing fuel rods with little modification.
9. DNA data storage
Our data storage systems use a lot of energy and can't keep up with the vast - and ever-increasing - quantities of data we produce. In less than a century they are set to reach capacity. But breakthrough research is using DNA-based data storage, as a low-energy alternative to computer hard drives, with huge capacity: One estimate suggests all the world's data for a year could be stored on a cube of DNA measuring just a square metre.
10. Utility-scale storage of renewable energy
But storing energy generated by renewables for when there is no sun or wind has been a barrier to increased take-up. Lithium-ion batteries are set to dominate storage technology over the coming decade, and continuing advances should result in batteries that can store up to eight hours of energy – long enough to allow solar-generated power to meet peak evening demand.
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Step inside the unlikely friendship of a former ACLU president and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice.
- Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were unlikely friends. They debated each other at events all over the world, and because of that developed a deep and rewarding friendship – despite their immense differences.
- Scalia, a famous conservative, was invited to circles that were not his "home territory", such as the ACLU, to debate his views. Here, Strossen expresses her gratitude and respect for his commitment to the exchange of ideas.
- "It's really sad that people seem to think that if you disagree with somebody on some issues you can't be mutually respectful, you can't enjoy each other's company, you can't learn from each other and grow in yourself," says Strossen.
- The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Learn how to redesign your job for maximum reward.
- Broaching the question "What is my purpose?" is daunting – it's a grandiose idea, but research can make it a little more approachable if work is where you find your meaning. It turns out you can redesign your job to have maximum purpose.
- There are 3 ways people find meaning at work, what Aaron Hurst calls the three elevations of impact. About a third of the population finds meaning at an individual level, from seeing the direct impact of their work on other people. Another third of people find their purpose at an organizational level. And the last third of people find meaning at a social level.
- "What's interesting about these three elevations of impact is they enable us to find meaning in any job if we approach it the right way. And it shows how accessible purpose can be when we take responsibility for it in our work," says Hurst.
Erik Verlinde has been compared to Einstein for completely rethinking the nature of gravity.
- The Dutch physicist Erik Verlinde's hypothesis describes gravity as an "emergent" force not fundamental.
- The scientist thinks his ideas describe the universe better than existing models, without resorting to "dark matter".
- While some question his previous papers, Verlinde is reworking his ideas as a full-fledged theory.
TuSimple, an autonomous trucking company, has also engaged in test programs with the United States Postal Service and Amazon.
PAUL RATJE / Contributor
- This week, UPS announced that it's working with autonomous trucking startup TuSimple on a pilot project to deliver cargo in Arizona using self-driving trucks.
- UPS has also acquired a minority stake in TuSimple.
- TuSimple hopes its trucks will be fully autonomous — without a human driver — by late 2020, though regulatory questions remain.