The top 10 emerging technologies of 2017

Compiled by the World Economic Forum, this article is part of the Annual Meeting of the New Champions, June 2017. Read the full article here.

A diverse range of breakthrough technologies, including “artificial leaves” that turn CO2 into fuel, and a technique that harvests water from air, could soon be playing a role in tackling the world’s most pressing challenges, according to a list published today by the World Economic Forum.

The technologies were selected by the World Economic Forum’s Expert Network and Global Future Councils in collaboration with Scientific American and its Board of Advisors. Each technology was chosen for its potential to improve lives, transform industries and safeguard the planet. The experts were also looking for indications that the technologies have reached a level of maturity that would enable widespread take-up in the coming 3-5 years.

“New technologies are redefining industries, blurring traditional boundaries and creating new opportunities on a scale never seen before. Public and private institutions must develop the correct policies, protocols and collaborations to allow such innovation to build a better future, while avoiding the risks that unchecked technological change could pose,” said Murat Sönmez, Head of the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Member of the Managing Board of the World Economic Forum.

Bionic Leaf

The top 10 technologies to make this year's list are:

  1. Liquid biopsies

Liquid biopsies mark a step forward in the fight against cancer.

  1. Harvesting clean water from air

The ability to extract clean water from air is not new, however existing techniques require high moisture levels and a lot of electricity. This is changing.

  1. Deep learning for visual tasks

Computers are beginning to recognize images better than humans. Thanks to deep learning, an emerging field of artificial intelligence, computer-vision technologies are increasingly being used in applications as diverse as driving autonomous vehicles, medical diagnostics, damage assessment for insurance claims and monitoring of water levels and crop yield.

  1. Liquid fuels from sunshine

Can we mimic the humble leaf to create an artificial photosynthesis to generate and store energy? The prospects are looking increasingly positive.

  1. The Human Cell Atlas

An international collaboration aimed at deciphering the human body, called the Human Cell Atlas, was launched in October 2016. The project, backed by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative aims to identify every cell type in every tissue; learn exactly which genes, proteins and other molecules are active in each type and the processes which control that activity; determine where the cells are located exactly; how the cells normally interact with one another, and what happens to the body’s functioning when genetic or other aspects of a cell undergo change, among other things. The end product will be an invaluable tool for improving and personalizing health care.

  1. Precision farming

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is providing farmers with a new set of tools to boost crop yield and quality while reducing water and chemical use. Sensors, robots, GPS, mapping tools and data-analytics software are all being used to customize the care that plants need. While the prospect of using drones to capture plant health in real time may be some way off for most of the world’s farmers, low-tech techniques are coming online too.

  1. Affordable catalysts for green vehicles

Progress is being made on a promising zero-emission technology, the hydrogen-fed fuel cell.

  1. Genomic vaccines

Vaccines based on genes are superior to more conventional ones in a number of ways. They are faster to manufacture for one thing, which is crucial at times of a violent outbreak. Compared to manufacturing proteins in cell cultures or eggs, producing genetic material should also be simpler and less expensive.

  1. Sustainable design of communities

Applying green construction to multiple buildings at once has the potential to revolutionize the amount of energy and water we consume. Sending locally-generated solar power to a smart microgrid could reduce electricity consumption by half and reduce carbon emissions to zero if a project currently under development at the University of California at Berkeley Goes to plan.

  1. Quantum computing

Quantum computers’ almost limitless potential has only ever been matched by the difficulty and cost of their construction. Which explains why today the small ones that have been built have not yet managed to exceed the power of supercomputers. But progress is being made and in 2016 the technology firm IBM provided the public access to the first quantum computer in the cloud. This has already led to more than 20 academic papers being published using the tool and today more than 50 start-ups and large corporations worldwide are focused on making quantum computing a reality.

With such progress behind us, the word on people’s lips now is “Quantum Ready.”

Being 'quantum ready' is a concept that applies to all of us, especially in the IT channel, and forms part of our Network Group theme for this year of Shapeshifting and Shapemaking. Read more on these in our blogs.