From flexible batteries to generative artificial intelligence (AI) and designer phages, the top ten emerging technologies of 2023, as identified by Frontiers and the World Economic Forum Collaboration, promise to revolutionize various aspects of our lives.
These technologies, ranging from sustainable aviation fuel to the use of the Metaverse for mental health, are set to impact people, the planet, prosperity, industry, and equity.
This report, compiled from insights of 90 experts across 20 countries, underscores a future shaped by innovations like wearable plant sensors, spatial omics, and sustainable computing, poised to redefine healthcare, environmental sustainability, and digital realms.
A peak at the new technologies that can disrupt industries, grow economies, improve lives, and safeguard the planet – if designed, scaled, and deployed responsibly:
Flexible batteries are used in wearable medical devices, sensors, flexible displays, smartwatches, and textile-based electronics. They are made of lightweight, bendable materials.
These rechargeable batteries include lithium-ion or zinc-carbon systems that can be bent, twisted, and stretched. The flexible battery market will expand with the greater demand for miniaturization and elasticity. Several companies are already developing and commercializing related technology.
Generative Artificial Intelligence
Generative artificial intelligence (AI) has been the technology story of 2023. Used for text, code, images, and sound, it will also be applied to other areas such as drug design, architecture, and engineering. This technology can create new and original content by learning data patterns using complex algorithms and methods inspired by the human brain. AI will be increasingly deployed to develop educational materials and in the workplace. However, this technology may challenge ethics by mitigating bias imputed into underlying AI systems or causing infringement of copyright or data privacy issues. With the necessary controls in place, generative AI has the potential to boost creativity and successfully challenge conventional thinking.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel
Aviation accounts for 2-3% of global emissions. With a net-zero carbon emission goal by 2050, the aviation industry is looking to adopt several strategies, including sustainable aviation fuel produced from biological and non-biological resources. Sustainable aviation fuel accounts for less than 1% of global jet fuel demand. The American Society of Testing and Materials has approved nine fuel varieties for blending with conventional jet fuel as new sustainable options are developed. These blends are produced from captured CO2 and green hydrogen wrought from renewable energy.
Phages or viruses that can selectively attack specific types of bacteria present a ray of hope in treating microbiome-associated diseases and boosting agricultural productivity, with their strategic deployment to engineer the human microbiome- the microbes living on and within the body and which is crucial for human health. By reprogramming phages using laboratory tools, synthetic biologists can target individual bacterial species and induce them to produce therapeutic molecules or become sensitive to specific drugs. Early research has piqued the venture capitalist’s interest in clinical testing to improve human, animal, and plant health.
Metaverse for Mental Health
Excessive screen time and social media use can impact psychological health, but its responsible use can boost mental health. Immersive technology, Metaverse, has the potential to support mental health. Using gaming platforms and non-invasive technologies like electrode-enabled headsets are being explored as a tool for treatment.
Wearable Plant Sensors
Wearable plant sensors are small devices that can attach to crops and continuously monitor temperature, humidity, moisture, and nutrient levels. These sensors provide real-time data and can aid in optimizing yields, reducing waste, detecting early signs of disease, and minimizing environmental impact. This technology can help increase food production as the UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that food production must increase by 70% by the year 2050 to feed the expanding global population.
Spatial omics combining advanced imaging techniques with DNA sequencing have the potential to aid therapeutic discovery, the characterization of tumors, and the study of infectious diseases. Spatial Omics can map out biological processes at a molecular level. This emerging technique enables the visualization of previously unobservable cell architecture and natural events—which can be used to develop molecular-level “cell atlases” of different species. The market for spatial omics solutions is expanding; however, for this technique to realize its full potential, several technical challenges must be addressed, like data acquisition, processing, storage, and standardized reporting.
Flexible Neural Electronics
When traditional probes cause discomfort and lack signal accuracy, brain-machine interface (BMI) systems are being used to treat epilepsy and in prosthetic devices. BMIs could deepen our understanding of brain diseases, provide greater control of prosthetics, and boost the development of brain-monitoring devices and brain stents. Recently, researchers have developed flexible BMIs that conform to the brain. Future advances may eventually lead to accurate human-artificial intelligence interfacing; though ethical issues must first be considered before that becomes widely implemented.
Data Centers account for an estimated 1% of global electricity consumption. Innovative computing solutions to promote sustainable energy use are being developed to prevent rising electricity consumption from turning into the worst environmental crisis. Energy efficiency techniques such as liquid cooling systems repurposing excess heat are used. Achieving net zero data centers will require integration and co-designing technologies for electricity generation, storage, and management.
Artificial Intelligence Facilitated Health Care
The Covid-19 pandemic exposed weaknesses in global public health systems; AI-based healthcare solutions could significantly benefit developing countries with currently inadequate healthcare procedures. The inadequacy of the public health system impeded the growing incorporation of AI and machine learning into healthcare to address future health crises and reduce wait times for medical care. In the next few years, AI-based healthcare solutions will be prevalent after overcoming the concerns related to data privacy norms, uncertain public acceptance, and patient compliance. For these solutions to become widely accepted, ethical frameworks for processing enormous amounts of data are needed.