10 technologies of the future

The world around us is changing–fast. New technologies are disrupting the market environment and paving the way for a different kind of future. In this engaging read, Falling Walls provides you with a glimpse of the ten technologies that will govern the world in the next few decades. These technologies have already arrived, but their true potential is yet to be harnessed.

1. Artificial Intelligence: Everyone’s seen at least one movie where robots take over the world. Though sci-fi movies can take this a little too far, it’s true that artificial intelligence–basically smart robots and software–are already revolutionizing the workforce. According to Boston Consulting Group, automation will replace one-fifth jobs globally over the next decade. A great example of artificial intelligence in action right now is the robot Baxter. With only 25 minutes of training, it can be taught to perform various mechanical jobs like packaging and material handling. Take that: Recently, AlphaGo, a software developed by Google’s artificial intelligence branch, DeepMind, defeated a human in the popular boardgame called Go. The news made headlines across the world. Watch Demis Hassabis, the founder of DeepMind, talk at the Falling Walls Conference 2015.

2. Solar power: Right now, solar power is more expensive than coal or gas. However, things are likely to change. A report by Thomson Reuters IP & Science titled, The World in 2025: 10 Predictions of Innovationspredicted that solar energy would be the largest provider of power in the next 10 years. The sun has enough energy to power the planet. It produces 6,000 times more power than our consumption needs. The report says that all it needs is removing hurdles such as cost and difficulty of transportation to make it the technology of the future. A renewable and clean source like solar power will change the face of energy. The Ivanpah Project in California is the world’s largest solar thermal power plant. It already provides electricity to around 140,000 homes in the state.

Falling Walls Conference 2013

3. Self-driving cars: Cars with self-driving features are already on the road. Driverless and fully-automated cars are expected to be a norm by 2040. About 90% of road accidents happen because of human error—driverless cars could potentially help reduce that. There is a lot of buzz surrounding Google’s self-driving car. It’s being tested across roads in the US. However, self-driving cars are a work in progress right now. A recent study found self-driven cars are five times more likely to be in an accident than a human-controlled car. However, auto experts will continue to strive to make these cars better and safer.

4. 3D printing: 3D printing has existed for more than three decades. It’s only now that people are coming to know about the wonders of this technology. By 2019, 3D printers are expected to be 50% cheaper and 400% smarter. In the future, 3D printing could be used for a variety of things. Last year, doctors reconstructed the brain of a Chinese toddler with the help of 3D printing. The kid was born with a brain deformity, and had to undergo a brain transplant. In the future, this technology could be used in the prosthetic and food industries.

09. November 2015, Berlin, Deutschland, Falling Walls 2015 [Foto: KAY HERSCHELMANN]

5. Drones: When people think of drones, they think of planes used to drop bombs during war. But these mosquito-like flying objects can be used for many constructive purposes as well. Last year, Switzerland and Singapore started testing drones for mail delivery. After a powerful earthquake rocked Nepal last year, relief workers used camera-equipped drones to take pictures of affected areas. This helped them determine which areas needed aid.

6. Gene editing: Gene editing is the new kid on the genetic engineering block. It involves making small changes to DNA. CRISPR, a revolutionary gene editing technique, has taken the world by storm. Gene editing is already being used to prepare better varieties of crops. For example, gene-edited barley is already here. Chinese scientists have already produced gene-edited pigs. Even Bill Gates has invested in this technology: it is easy to assume it holds promise. However, CRISPR attracted controversy last year when Chinese scientists used the technique on human embryos. The ethical use of this technology will likely be debated for many years to come. Watch Emmanuelle Charpentier, one of the two women behind CRISPR, talk at the Falling Walls Conference 2015.

7. Personalized Medicine: Imagine walking into a clinic, getting a diagnosis for a disease and getting prescribed medication suited to your body’s unique molecular and genetic composition. Most drugs are manufactured keeping in mind the average person. But there are a lot of different variations among people, and that calls for medicines to be tailored toward the individual. For example, the breast cancer drug trastuzumab (Herceptin) is targeted at women with a certain kind of tumor. It is an example of how cancer and other drugs are being made to target narrow subsets of populations. Barrack Obama’s $215 million Precision Medicine Initiative is supposed to accelerate developments in this field.

8. Brain-machine interface: Brain-machine interface systems allow humans to control machines through their brainwaves. Current research focuses on getting patients with spinal cord injuries to move prosthetic arms, etc. In September last year, a University of California, Irvine, team succeeded in getting a paraplegic man to talk using their new BCI technology. This system takes instructions from the brain and transfers them directly to electrodes strapped to a patient’s knees, bypassing the spinal cordSimilarly, University of Houston researchers were able to help a man use a prosthetic hand with his thoughts.

9. Virtual Reality: Most of us have had some taste of virtual reality in our lives. But this technology is getting serious. Facebook recently purchased the virtual reality (VR) game Oculus Rift. You can put on your VR headsets and be transported on to a beach or the inside of a Smithsonian museum. There are some clinical applications as well. Researchers around the world are using virtual reality to treat mental illness. For example, Duke University’s psychiatry division has been using virtual reality to treat phobias. Patients come face to face with their fears in virtual reality settings. This paves the way for treatment. In fact, companies are building virtual reality games that aim to treat anxiety. Deep is an example.

10.Brain mapping: Scientists know little about the intricate world of neurons. Several initiatives across the world are looking to map out the anatomy and structure of the brain in great detail. European Commission’s Human Brain Project is an ambitious plan to build a computer model of the brain. Detailed brain mapping is of great use to neurosurgeons. They can pin down the exact area to be operated, whilst minimizing injury to healthy tissue. America’s BRAIN Initiative is another such big project. Knowing more about the brain’s inner workings will help devise treatments for brain-related disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

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