The WEF’s Top 10 Emerging Technologies 2019

1. Bioplastics for a Circular Economy

With only 15% of plastic biodegradable, an alternative is needed. Many hurdles must still be overcome before the new plastics can be widely used. One is cost; another is minimizing the amount of land and water used to produce them – even if the lignin comes only from waste, water is needed to convert it into plastic.

2. Social Robots

Like most robots, social robots use artificial intelligence (AI) to decide how to act on information received through cameras and other sensors. The ability to respond in ways that seem lifelike has been informed by research into such issues as how perceptions form, what constitutes social and emotional intelligence, and how people can deduce others’ thoughts and feelings.

3. Tiny Lenses for Miniature Devices

in the next few years the tiny lenses will probably make their way into smaller, easier-to-manufacture sensors, diagnostic tools such as endoscopic imaging devices, and optical fibres. Those potential applications are appealing enough to have attracted research support from government agencies and such companies as Samsung and Google

4. Disordered Proteins as Drug Targets

New possibilities for treating cancer and other ills.

5. Smarter Fertilizers Can Reduce Environmental Contamination

New formulations can deliver nourishment on demand.

6. Collaborative Telepresence

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies are becoming capable and affordable enough for widespread adoption. Telecom companies are rolling out 5G networks fast enough to handle masses of data from advanced sensor arrays without lag times. Innovators are perfecting technologies that enable people to physically interact with remote environments, including haptic sensors that make it possible to feel what their robotic avatars touch. The full sensory immersion envisioned for collaborative telepresence will require lag times substantially smaller than those acceptable for video calls – and they may sometimes tax even 5G networks – but predictive AI algorithms could eliminate a user’s perception of time gaps.

7. Advanced Food Tracking and Packaging

Together, a pair of technologies could reduce both food poisoning and food waste. The first, an innovative application of blockchain technology (better known for managing virtual currency) is beginning to solve the
traceability problem. Enhanced food packaging, meanwhile, is providing new ways to determine whether foods have been stored at proper temperatures and whether they might have begun to spoil.

8. Safer Nuclear Reactors

Manufacturers such as Westinghouse Electric Company and Framatome are hastening development of so-called accident-tolerant fuels that are less likely to overheat – and, if they do, will produce very little or no hydrogen. In some of the variations, the zirconium cladding is coated to minimize reactions. In others, zirconium and even the uranium dioxide are replaced with different materials.

9. DNA Data Storage

Progress is being made in an alternative to hard drives: DNA-based data storage. DNA – which consists of long chains of the nucleotides A, T, C and G – is life’s information storage material. Data can be stored in the sequence of these letters, turning DNA into a new form of information
technology.

10. Utility-Scale Storage of Renewable Energy

The way the world gets its electricity is undergoing a rapid transition, driven by both the increased urgency of decarbonizing energy systems and the plummeting costs of wind and solar technology.

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