02 August 2019

Emerging Technologies

Welcome Back. Longtime readers of this blog know how tuned in I am to technology. Perhaps recounting my discovery of self-lowering toilet seats (Technology Update Photo Addendum) wasn’t an appropriate beginning, but over the years, I’ve highlighted many honest-to-goodness technology topics.

Today’s post is a first: Ten topics in one post. Blame it on the World Economic Forum, because I’ll be reviewing the Forum’s Top 10 Emerging Technologies 2019 report.

Searching for the next technology breakthrough (photo from campustechnology.com/articles/2019/04/25/6-key-ed-tech-developments-on-the-horizon.aspx).
World Economic Forum Report
The World Economic Forum describes itself as the international organization for public-private cooperation. Established in 1971 and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the Forum is an independent, impartial organization that engages the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

The Forum’s report was prepared by an international steering committee of leading technology experts, who also sought input from other experts. Technologies were evaluated based on their potential to produce major benefits to societies and economies; alter established ways of doing things; attract researchers, companies or investors; and make significant inroads in several years.

The Top 10 Emerging Technologies

Bioplastics--Shifting to biodegradable plastics would alleviate many of the environmental problems arising from the millions of tons of plastics produced each year; however, current biodegradable plastics lack strength and the visual characteristics of standard plastics. Look for breakthrough products that use cellulose or lignin from plant waste.

Social Robots--Robots are becoming common in industry and in different aspects of our lives. Look for advances in artificial intelligence to continue improving their ability to serve as assistants and even friends, recognizing voices, faces and emotions with eye contact and expanded social and emotional intelligence.

Eldercare (sort of) robot from 2012 movie Robot & Frank (from
spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/home-robots/where-are-the-eldercare-robots).
Metalenses--The difficulty of reducing the size of glass lenses has interfered with efforts to reduce the size of cellphones, computers and other devices. Advances in physics have resulted in smaller, lighter metalenses. Look for further miniaturization of laboratory and consumer products and possible improvements in optical fibers.

Disordered Proteins as Drug Targets--Intrinsically disordered proteins are a class of proteins known to cause diseases, including cancer. Because they lack a fixed or ordered structure like conventional proteins, they are difficult to treat. A recent breakthrough showed a way to stop the structural transformation long enough for drugs to take effect. Look for improved patient treatments.

Smarter Fertilizers--Recent advances have promoted controlled release of fertilizers tailored to specific crops and growing conditions. Delivery efficiency and yields have increased, while environmental impact has decreased. Look for fertilizers to incorporate new sources of nitrogen and microorganisms that boost nutrient uptake.

Collaborative Telepresence--Video conferencing is not new, but with advances in augmented and virtual reality, coupled with 5G networks and advanced sensors, look for remote interactions that feel physically real, from handshakes to robotic medical practice.

Advanced Food Tracking and Packaging--Globally, food poisoning affects some 600 million people each year with deaths exceeding 400,000. Technologies are addressing two aspects of the problem. Blockchain technology is being applied in tracking food items through the supply chain, allowing rapid identification of the source of food poisoning. In addition, sensors to monitor food quality are being developed and added to both bulk and individual food packaging. Look for continued advances in tracking and packaging.

Example of packaging sensor for monitoring food freshness (from www.elsevier.com/physical-sciences-and-engineering/chemistry/journals/new-chemistry-research/smart-food-packaging).
Safer Nuclear Reactors--Nuclear power can contribute to the reduced use of fossil fuels and reduced carbon dioxide. New fuels and reactors are being developed that can greatly increase the safely of nuclear power. The fuels are more resilient, and if they overheat, produce little or no hydrogen. Look for continued improvements and trials.

DNA Data Storage--Current data-storage systems are high-energy users and are reaching their capacity to store the quantities of data we generate. Alternatives to hard drives are actively being explored. Look for breakthroughs in DNA-based data storage, a low-energy alternative with a huge data capacity.

Utility-Scale Storage of Renewable Energy--Electricity from renewable sources, especially wind and solar, has increased substantially, yet storage of energy when sun or wind are lacking has been a hindrance. Although alternatives are being pursued, look for lithium-ion batteries to dominate storage technology, with advances producing 4 to 8 hours of energy.

Thanks for stopping by.

P.S.
The World Economic Forum: www.weforum.org/about/world-economic-forum
The Top 10 Emerging Technologies 2019 report: www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Top_10_Emerging_Technologies_2019_Report.pdf
Write-up on report: www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/07/these-are-the-top-10-emerging-technologies-of-2019/

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