Scientific American and the World Economic Forum’s Expert Network have published a report highlighting ten important developing technologies in 2017. The list is the result of a worldwide survey of experts, researchers, and advisers in academia, business, and government. There were three criteria for inclusion in the list:
- Uncommon technologies that are attracting increased funding and attention;
- Technologies offering meaningful benefits to both society and economy;
- Technologies bearing the capacity to change established norms.
Of course, there are always disagreements about what to include in any list, and this is no exception. The list is sure to prompt approval and criticism for what is and is not included. Regardless, I believe that we can all agree that the ten items listed are quite extraordinary and provide optimism for the future. So, without further ado, here is the list:
1) Liquid Biopsies for Cancer Detection
A liquid biopsy only requires a blood sample to test for cancer. It looks for ctDNA, circulating-tumor DNA, which is cancer cell genetic material commonly found in the bloodstream. Unlike traditional biopsies, liquid biopsies do not require cutting or tissue removal. Since no cutting is involved, it means there is no chance of infections or other post-incision complications. Also, the technique allows testing tumors in places difficult to access. Once fully developed, liquid biopsies will allow for a fast and inexpensive method for identifying cancer extremely early.
2) Solar-powered Devices to Extract Drinking Water from Dry Air
Current water extraction technology requires air with high moisture content and consumes a lot of electricity. Considering that one third of the earth’s population lives in arid environments and in poverty, such technologies are not feasible. New technologies, such as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and other propriety water-absorbing materials, are allowing for the extraction of drastically increased amounts of water from even the driest of environments. New advances in solar power technology are making solar more efficient and less expensive. This combination provides an optimistic future for providing available clean drinking water around the world.
3) Advances in AI Deep Learning
Recent breakthroughs in deep learning are allowing AI to move beyond “smart” and begin making inferences and decisions. Computers can observe and process data much faster than humans, including almost immediate differentiation of subtleties and patterns. This enables an exponentially lower error rate, meaning a reduction in the chance for mistakes. Self-driving cars are probably the most common examples exhibiting these advancements, but the technology is suited for almost anything, such as agriculture, security, medicine, and language.
4) Artificial Leaves Transforming Carbon Dioxide into Beneficial Fuels
Leaves perform photosynthesis and always move in the wind. Now, imagine a man-made tree-like structure full of artificial leaves that act in the exact same way. Go one step further, imagine a forest of these constructs. Recent technological advancements are allowing the increased capture of solar and wind energy and their conversion into useable energy. Even more fascinating is that researches have made great strides in extracting carbon dioxide and transforming it into useable liquid fuel. This technology not only harvests a naturally occurring and artificially created gas, but also helps reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Currently, the fuels produced are hydrogen- and carbon-rich, but there is current research into creating nitrogen-rich fuels for injection directly into the ground to increase crop production.
5) The Human Cell Atlas
A partnership of international research groups is developing the Human Cell Atlas. This work is an atlas of human cells, identifying everything to know about every single cell, such as location, active genes and proteins, and associated processes. The Human Cell Atlas is building on the work of the Human Protein Atlas, providing a complimentary database. The goal is to produce a knowledgebase that aids in improved health care with individual personalization. It also provides data for the development of new cures and therapeutic techniques.
6) Advancements in Precision Farming
Advancements in various technology fields, such as robotics, hardware, software, and data-analytics, provide increased precision in farming. The results include increased yields and dramatic reductions in waste, cost, and risks. Precision farming increases the ability to create management plans specific to each farm’s environment. The technique reduces cost and labor and helps conserve water. It also reduces the detrimental environmental effects of farming practices by controlling pesticide and fertilizer delivery times and quantities.
7) Platinum Reduction and Replacement in Catalysts for Hydrogen-Powered Vehicles
A primary reason that hydrogen-powered vehicles are too expensive is because the catalysts contain platinum. The extreme rarity of platinum makes it unfeasible to produce hydrogen-powered cars on a scale large enough for general consumption. Recent research has allowed for the drastic reduction in platinum content, with the ultimate goal being to develop a platinum replacement that is economically viable. Currently, there are catalysts made of nanowires with extremely small quantities of platinum, nanotubes made of cheaper metals, and a carbon foam without any metal. None of this is yet cheap enough for mass production and consumption, but it is only a matter of time before affordable hydrogen-powered vehicles are available.
8) Genomic Vaccines for Improved Treatment
One solution to improve health and fight disease is the manufacture of genomic vaccines. Traditional vaccines use killed or weakened pathogens or proteins to teach the body’s immune system to recognize a foreign element. The immune system recognizes antigens on the pathogens. Sometimes, the vaccines include additional proteins to improve the immune response. Traditional vaccines are amazing, though there is room for improvement. Viruses change requires revisions in the vaccines. Also, they require time to produce, sometimes coming too late to help. Genomic vaccines appear as DNA or RNA. They provide the coding sequence for one or more selected proteins, and once injected, the host body begins production. If a virus mutates, genomic vaccines are easily changed to fight the mutation. Furthermore, the same research allows isolation of the antibodies produced by people resistant to pathogens. Identification allows creating the gene sequence that stimulates creation of the pathogen-resistant antibodies.
9) Design of Sustainable Units Instead of Individual Houses
The movement towards sustainable living has expanded and thrived at the level of the individual house. However, advancements in sustainable technology now allow effective planning and design of sustainable structures as large interacting units. This is particularly appealing for city and suburb planning and design. Research shows that planning and design on a large scale decreases construction and operating costs, resource consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. It increases energy management and more efficient water consumption, all at a lower cost to consumers.
10) Increased Accessibility to Quantum Computing
Advancements in quantum computing have not only decreased costs, but also allowed for increasing production of quantum computers. In addition, the technological advancements are allowing for greater computational power. Increased accessibility allows more people to test more theories, and greater computational power only increases the rate of discovery of new technological advancements.