What will be this year’s biggest technological breakthrough? The World Economic Forum (WEF) and Scientific American recently tackled that question, releasing a list of the top ten emerging technologies of 2016.
To compile the list, the Forum’s Meta-Council on Emerging Technologies considered criteria that examined the technologies’ potential to improve lives, revolutionize industries, and protect the planet, while recognizing the likelihood that 2016 is a turning point in the development of these technologies. Below are the WEF’s top ten, from first to last.
Nanosensors and the Internet of Nanothings
From the human body to machines, nanosensors allow us to monitor, measure, and quantify how a system functions, according to WEF. The Internet of Nanothings takes that one step further by networking these sensors to provide a comprehensive and interconnected overview of the system.
Renewable energy is stuck in a struggle between supply and demand, writes the WEF. Luckily, progress in energy storage in batteries packed with compounds like sodium, aluminum, and zinc has the potential to support mini-grids that can energize villages.
Bitcoin isn’t necessarily new, but the blockchain technology that support it is big news in 2016. Last year, venture investment in Bitcoin exceeded $1 billion, according to the WEF. Global markets will soon feel the effects of decentralized cryptocurrencies.
Although graphene is the star when it comes to single-atom-layer materials, the WEF says decreased production cost have made a number of other 2D materials emerge, which may find application from wearables to water filters.
Fully autonomous cars are still some years away but the WEF notes that self-driving cars have the potential to save lives, curb emissions, and improve economies and society as a whole.
By making miniature artificial organs, researchers can observe their mechanisms and behaviors in the laboratory without having to maintain the precious real things. Though the technology is still in its infancy, the Forum’s Council is enthusiastic about its potential to revolutionize biomedical research.
Perovskite Solar Cells
These new solar cells have three advantages compared to traditional photovoltaic material, according to the WEF. They’re easier to make, they can be used practically anywhere, and they generate power more efficiently.
Open AI Ecosystem
It won’t be long before smart digital assistants like Siri and Cortana become more prevalent in our lives, says the WEF. Thanks to natural language processing, social awareness algorithms, and increased data stores, these smart bots are getting even smarter.
Recent advances in optogenetics — the use of light to control neurons in living tissue — enable researchers to reach deeper into the brain, with the potential to improve treatment of brain disorders, according to the WEF.
Systems Metabolic Engineering
Scientists are beginning to unlock the building blocks of biology in ways that enable them to recreate nature and replace fossil fuels with renewable chemicals derived from plants, says the WEF.