From virtual patients to pain-free needles, synthesizing whole-genomes, and digital medicine, these top 10 emerging technologies are transforming our post-COVID-19 lives. An international steering group of experts, convened by the World Economic Forum and Scientific American, singled out these and other emerging technologies as the ones most likely to impact the world in the next three to five years.
For example, a Swiss group was able to synthesize the entire COVID-19 genome by reproducing the genetic sequence uploaded by Chinese scientists. They were essentially teleporting the virus into their laboratory for study without waiting for physical samples. The ability to write our genome will inevitably help doctors to cure genetic diseases.
As we now move to clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine, virtual patients, instead of living humans, could help identify successful vaccine candidates, reduce costs, and speed up research. It would also prevent the testing of imperfect vaccine candidates on living volunteers.
While the outbreak unfolded, dozens of medical apps and bots were developed, expanding the digital medicine landscape. These apps could detect depression and provided counselling. Bots answered over 200 million inquiries about COVID symptoms and treatments. COVID-19 will continue to shape our lives, and these emerging technologies could fill the gaps created by the pandemic.
The list also includes new technologies that can help combat climate change by tackling major polluting industries. These new green technologies include innovative planes, new concrete formulations and using sunlight to power refineries.
Top 10 technologies to make the list are:
Virtual patients, instead of living humans, could make vaccine trials quicker and inexpensive. This technology would significantly reduce the number of human subjects needed for experimentation.
Microneedles for painless injections and tests
These tiny needles promise pain-free injections and blood testing. Microneedles do not touch nerve endings. Since the process does not need costly equipment or a lot of training, they can be used in areas that do not normally receive cutting-edge medical technologies.
Whole-genome synthesizing will transform cell engineering. The ability to write our genome will inevitably help doctors to cure genetic diseases.
Digital medicine is a collection of apps that detect and monitor the mental and physical health of patients. These apps and bots can enhance traditional medicine and provide support to patients with limited access to healthcare.
Electric propulsion motors would eliminate direct carbon emissions. This technology could also reduce fuel costs by up to 90%, maintenance by up to 50% and noise by nearly 70%. Currently, about 170 electric airplane projects are underway.
Concrete, the most widely used human-made material, shapes much of our built world. If cement production were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter after China and the US. Researchers are working on lower-carbon approaches by changing the recipe, using different materials, and using carbon capture and storage technologies.
This approach uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide waste into needed chemicals manufactured from fossil fuel. This approach could reduce emissions in two ways — by using unwanted gas as raw material and using sunlight as the source of energy instead of fossil fuels.
Current methods of producing hydrogen are not environmentally efficient. Green hydrogen, produced through electrolysis, has no by-product, unlike current processes. Green hydrogen could transform industries that require high-energy fuel.
Spatial computing will bring together raise reality apps and sensors to facilitate human-machine and machine-machine interactions to a new level. It combines these capabilities and controls objects’ movements and interactions, allowing a person to navigate the digital and physical world.
Quantum sensors enable autonomous vehicles that can “see” around corners, underwater navigation systems, early-warning systems for volcanic activity and earthquakes, and portable scanners that monitor a person’s brain activity during daily life.