The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently released a report detailing the ten “world-changing technologies that are poised to rattle the status quo.”

Let’s see for ourselves what these technologies have to offer.

Top 10 Emerging Technologies for 2019, Adapted from “Top 10 Emerging Technologies 2019”, by Institute for Economics and Peace, 2019, retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/

1. Bioplastics for a Circular Economy

Some developments in the bioplastics industry allow lignin, a component of wood, to be broken down into its simpler components using engineered solvents.

With this possible, plastics can then be made from it. Lignin is found in wood waste and agricultural byproducts which otherwise doesn’t have any other function.

Eventually, lignin in the bioplastics can then be broken down back into its components using special enzymes.

With this, we are forming a circular plastic economy where plastic comes from waste and is capable of being completely degraded and recycled for other uses.

2. Social Robots

Incorporating social behavior in robots will be the mark of a new generation of robot assistants for this year. Robots which can recognize human emotions and gestures as well as learn from previous interactions can provide better services:

  • Hotel check-ins
  • Airport customer service
  • Shopping assistance
  • Fast-food checkout
  • Assisting the elderly

3. Tiny Lenses for Miniature Devices

Engineers have recently figured out the physics of metalenses, which are the smaller counterparts of traditional lenses. With this possible, microscopes and laboratory tools can be miniaturized.  For consumers, this means, smaller cameras and other optical sensors.

Aside from reducing size, the further development of these lenses will also entail a lower cost in lens production.

Right now, the costs are still high for metalenses. With companies such as Google and Samsung investing in this kind of technology, this should be less of a problem in the next few years.

4. Disordered Proteins as Drug Targets

Intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs), a class or proteins that drives illnesses like cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s has been so far undruggable. This means drugs cannot be used to inhibit these proteins.

Recent discoveries found multiple drug candidates which have the potential for clinical application. With this, we might soon have better solutions for the aforementioned  diseases.

5. Smarter Fertilizers

2019 is also witness to the development of controlled-release fertilizers, those that have their shells tuned to alter nutrient-release rates depending on the soil’s conditions (temperature, acidity, moisture changes). This kind of fertilizers will play a huge eliminating the excessive release of nutrients.

6. Collaborative Telepresence

The simultaneous development and rolling out of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and 5G technologies will eventually render physical location irrelevant in business meetings.

Technologies are being developed to allow collaborative telepresence participants to interact with remote environment and even feel what their robotic avatars touch. The pieces that will make this kind of long-distance collaborations are slowly coming into place.

7. Advanced Food Tracking and Packaging

Blockchain technology in conjunction with enhanced food packaging technologies will bring food industry to another level.

Blockchain will allow a reliable tracking of food items to prevent outbreaks from being out of control. Meanwhile, food packaging improvements will be making it easier to prevent food from being spoiled or contaminated in the first place.

8. Safer Nuclear Reactors

The primary concern with nuclear reactors is the potential for it to explode when power plants overheat. Developments to make cooling of the nuclear reactors even more reliable will make it easier for the public and the government to invest on the carbon-free nuclear energy.

9. DNA Data Storage

Every second, massive volumes of data are being generated and stored. The constant development we are experiencing globally will make data storage an ever-present problem.

Right now, the prospect of DNA being used as a means to store data is being explored.

WEF states that “all the world’s current storage needs for a year could be well met by a cube of DNA measuring about one metre on a side. “ This is given how even simple bacteria were found to be capable of storing large volumes of information within small spaces.

10. Utility-Scale Storage of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy storage is constantly being developed. This year saw some significant development in some potential viable candidates:

  • Flow batteries
  • Hydrogen-fuel cells
  • Gravity storage

Investment in energy storage will prevent the excess energy production of renewable energy sources from going into waste. This will also lower energy storage costs in general. On the whole, this will make renewable energy sources even more attractive to companies, apart from the fact that it will greatly propel the decarbonization of the world’s energy production.

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