Envisioning Emerging Technologies

Technology is one of the most reliable, persistent and underestimated drivers of future change. This technology futures map offers a detailed look at potential technological advances in six key areas, chosen for their likelihood for significant disruptive potential on work, life, firms and policy over the next 15 years.

 

This piece of research was commissioned by Policy Horizon Canada and was published in MetaScan 3: Emerging Technologies April 2014.

DIGITAL AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES NEUROTECHNOLOGY AND COGNITIVE TECHNOLOGIES HEALTH TECHNOLOGIES AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGIES NANOTECHNOLOGY AND MATERIALS SCIENCE ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES INTERFACES NETWORKING ELECTRONICS ELECTRICITY GENERATION SMART GRID STORAGE SELF-ASSEMBLING FUNCTIONAL NEXT-GENERATION ENGINEERING AUTOMATION FOOD SENSORS DIAGNOSTICS TREATMENT AUGMENTATION NEURAL INTERFACES EXTENDED COGNITION NEURAL NETWORK COMPUTING

Predictive crime prevention

The use of sociometric sensors coupled with neural networked computers to statistically determine the probability of crime (or other anti-social behavior) taking place before it happens.

Predictive group sentiment analysis

Predicting the likely behavior of large groups of people based on sociometric input variables like social tension, weather variation, pedestrian flows and degree of agitation is becoming increasingly possible.

Neural network image recognition

Using hundreds of thousands of processor cores programmed to algorithmically determine the content of a given image. Different from reverse image search, neural network image recognition has the capacity to successfully understand the photo of, for example, a cat, based on thousands of cat pictures.

Emotion tracking

Using sensors, computer vision and algorithms to correctly identify the likely emotions displayed by individuals in a crowd. Useful in airports and other high-risk facilities.

Proactive software agents

Software applications with the capacity of discerning and predicting likely future needs for whomever is being served. Intelligently scheduling meetings, sorting email and selectively notifying the user are potential usages.etworked computers to statistically determine the probability of crime (or other anti-social behavior) taking place before it happens.

Neuroprosthetics

Neural devices capable of substituting motor, sensory or cognitive modalities that might have been damaged as a result of an injury or a disease. Applications include neural enhancements, advanced cognitive features and extended physiological senses.

Next-generation neuropharmacology

Both behavioral and molecular neuropharmacology are benefitting from rapidly accelerating change. With an increase in technology and improved understanding of the nervous system, the development of drugs will continue to rise with an increase in drug sensitivity and specificity.

Micromachined ultrasonic transducers

A relatively new concept in the field of ultrasonic capacitative transducers where the energy transduction is due to change in capacitance. Can be used to remotely improve alertness, awareness in soldiers, etc.

Neural biofeedback

Biofeedback using real-time EEG or fMRI to illustrate brain activity, often with a goal of controlling the central nervous actions.

Brain-to-brain interfaces

The hypothetical implementation of brain interfaces that translate thoughts, sensations or impulses into digital signal, converting the data back into the recipient's brain to enable a certain response from both ends. Loosely interpreted as telepathy, brain interfaces would be able to transmit information from one person so another without any mediation other than the internet, allowing the brain on the receiving end to perform behavioural tasks without training.

Optogenetic implants in humans

The combination of genetic and optical methods to control specific events in targeted cells of living tissue, even within freely moving mammals and other animals, with the temporal precision (millisecond timescale) needed to keep pace with functioning intact biological systems.

Next-gen BCI

Hypothetical interfaces to be used for assisting, augmenting, or repairing human cognitive or sensory-motor functions and communicate thoughts and intentions to the Internet.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation

TMS is a noninvasive method to cause depolarization or hyperpolarization in the neurons of the brain using electromagnetic induction to induce weak electric currents using a rapidly changing magnetic field. This can cause activity in specific or general parts of the brain with minimal discomfort, allowing the functioning and interconnections of the brain to be studied.

High-resolution fMRI

The next generation of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging involves increasing the spatial and temporal resolution of the imagery. We are likely to see a 14-tesla machines becoming common (as opposed to today’s 3-tesla).

EEG Brain-to-computer interfaces

Electroencephalography remains the most feasible practice of executing and implementing brain to brain interfaces. It represents the best temporal-resolution tool for getting a picture of the brain in action, is portable, non-invasive and extremely affordable compared to other methods.

Enhanced organs

Engineered replacement organs for humans that perform better than their natural counterparts. Examples include artificial red blood cells and super-livers (via genetically engineered organs that overexpress key proteins). Respirocytes, for example, are theoretical artificial red blood cells that carry oxygen 200x more efficiently than red blood cells.

Biologically extended senses

The idea is based on the principle that the brain evolved to handle one construction of reality, yet now can overlay multiple local and remote experiences simultaneously, creating new cognitive perceptions. Biological senses can be enhanced and produced artificially, which adapt and transform to address different kinds of stimuli for specific purposes.

Machine-augmented cognition

Refers to the effective use of information technology to augment human cognition using intelligence amplifying system of tools. Information retrieved from the brain would then be used to feedback necessary stimulus to accomplish determined brain functions. for specific organisms and diseases.

Bionic Implants

Microscopic technological structures that extract biometric information from an organism to analyze its performance and improve specific biological functions with assisted feedback. In terms of personal biometry, bionic implants represent great tools to empower preventive medicine and develop customized solutions for specific organisms and diseases.

Medical nanobots

A subfield of robotics that studies how to make robots that emulate living biological organisms/functions mechanically or chemically. The main objective of this technology applied to medicine is to enhance the human body's capabilities or treat malfunctions with robots capable of re-programming and adapt to different conditions, always mimicking organic functions.

Anti-aging drugs

Breakthroughs in tissue rejuvenation with stem cells, molecular repair, and organ replacement (such as with artficial organs) might eventually enable humans to have indefinite lifespans through complete rejuvenation to a youthful condition.

Prenatal gene manipulation

The direct manipulation of an embryo/fetus genome using biotechnology.

Epigenetic therapy

The phenomena whereby genetically identical cells express their genes differently resulting in different phenotypes in, for example, the formation of cancer originating from cancer stem cells.

Organ printing

The use of a combination of cells, engineering, material methods, suitable biochemical and physio-chemical factors to improve or replace biological functions. The term is closely associated with applications that repair or replace portions of or whole tissues.

Personalized medicine

A branch of genomics where individual genomes are genotyped and analyzed using bioinformatics tools. These may eventually lead to personalized medicine, where patients can take genotype specific drugs for medical treatments.

Medical Tricorder

A hypothetical handheld portable scanning device to be used by consumers to self-diagnose medical conditions within seconds and take basic vital measurements. A common view is that it will be a general-purpose tool similar in functionality to a Swiss Army Knife to take health measurements such as blood pressure and temperature and blood flow in a noninvasive way.

Biohacking

A techno-progressive cultural and intellectual movement which advocates for open access to genetic information and defends the potential of truly democratic technological development. Biohacking can also refer to managing one's own biology using a combination of medical, nutritional and electronic techniques. This may include the use of nootropics and/or cybernetic devices for recording biometric data.

Labs on chips

Devices that integrates one or several laboratory functions on a single chip of only millimeters to a few square centimeters in size. LOCs deal with the handling of extremely small fluid volumes down to less than picoliters. They represent safer platforms for chemical, radioactive or biological studies.

Biometric sensors

The use of biometrics to telecommunications and telecommunications for remote biometric sensing. Potential applications include monitoring blood levels, infections and efficacy of vaccines.

Infrastructural health sensors

Can be used for monitoring vibrations and material conditions in buildings, bridges, factories, farms and other infrastructure. Coupled with an intelligent network, such sensors could feed crucial information back to maintenance crews or robots.

Livestock biometrics

Collars with GPS, RFID and biometrics can automatically identify and relay vital information about the livestock in real time.

Crop sensors

Instead of prescribing field fertilization before application, high-resolution crop sensors inform application equipment of correct amounts needed. Optical sensors or drones are able to identify crop health across the field (for example, by using infra-red light).

Equipment telematics

Allows mechanical devices such as tractors to warn mechanics that a failure is likely to occur soon. Intra-tractor communication can be used as a rudimentary “farm swarm” platform.

Air & soil sensors

Fundamental additions to the automated farm, these sensors would enable a real time understanding of current farm, forest or body of water conditions.

In vitro meat

Also known as cultured meat or tubesteak, it is a flesh product that has never been part of a complete, living animal. Several current research projects are growing in vitro meat experimentally, although no meat has yet been produced for public consumption.

Genetically designed food

The creation of entirely new strains of food animals and plants in order to better address biological and physiological needs. A departure from genetically modified food, genetically designed food would be engineered from the ground up.

Robotic farm swarms

The hypothetical combination of dozens or hundreds of agricultural robots with thousands of microscopic sensors, which together would monitor, predict, cultivate and extract crops from the land with practically no human intervention. Small-scale implementations are already on the horizon.

Precision agriculture

Farming management based on observing (and responding to) intra-field variations. Withsatellite imagery and advanced sensors, farmers can optimize returns on inputs while preserving resources at ever larger scales. Further understanding of crop variability, geolocated weather data and precise sensors should allow improved automated decision-making and complementary planting techniques.

Agricultural robots

Also known as agbots, these are used to automate agricultural processes, such as harvesting, fruit picking, ploughing, soil maintenance, weeding, planting, irrigation, etc.

Rapid iteration selective breeding

The next generation of selective breeding where the end-result is analyzed quantitatively and improvements are suggested algorithmically.

Variable rate swath control

Building on existing geolocation technologies, future swath control could save on seed, minerals, fertilizer and herbicides by reducing overlapping inputs. By pre-computing the shape of the field where the inputs are to be used, and by understanding the relative productivity of different areas of the field, tractors or agbots can procedurally apply inputs at variable rates throughout the field.

Vertical farming

A natural extension of urban agriculture, vertical farms would cultivate plant or animal life within dedicated or mixed-use skyscrapers in urban settings. Using techniques similar to glass houses, vertical farms could augment natural light using energy-efficient lighting. The advantages are numerous, including year-round crop production, protection from weather, support urban food autonomy and reduced transport costs.

Synthetic biology

Synthetic biology is about programming biology using standardized parts as one programs computers using standardized libraries today. Includes the broad redefinition and expansion of biotechnology, with the ultimate goals of being able to design, build and remediate engineered biological systems that process information, manipulate chemicals, fabricate materials and structures, produce energy, provide food, and maintain and enhance human health and the environment.

Closed ecological systems

Ecosystems that do not rely on matter exchange outside the system. Such closed ecosystems would theoretically transform waste products into oxygen, food and water in order to support life-forms inhabiting the system. Such systems already exist in small scales, but existing technological limitations prevent them from scaling.

Smart materials

Designed materials that have one or more properties that can be significantly changed in a controlled fashion by external stimuli, such as stress, temperature, moisture, pH, electric or magnetic fields.

Thermo-bimetals

Thermally activated bimetals would allow for panes of glass capable of becoming shades when exposed to the sun, self-regulating energy consumption throughout the day.

Aerogel

A synthetic porous ultralight material derived from a gel, in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with a gas. The result is a solid with extremely low density and thermal conductivity which feels like polystyrene (styrofoam) to the touch. Potential applications supercapacitors and shock absorption.

Auxetic materials

When stretched, auxetic materials become thicker perpendicular to the applied force. This occurs due to their hinge-like structures, which flex when stretched. Auxetics may be useful in applications such as body armor, packing material, knee and elbow pads, robust shock absorbing material, and sponge mops.

Superomniphobic materials

Inspired by water bugs that float on liquid surfaces, these materials repel both oily and watery fluids.

Nano electricmechanical systems

Devices integrating electrical and mechanical functionality on the nanoscale. NEMS typically integrate transistor-like nanoelectronics with mechanical actuators, pumps, or motors, and may thereby form physical, biological, and chemical sensors.

Graphene

A substance composed of pure carbon with atoms arranged in a regular hexagonal pattern similar to graphite, but in a one-atom thick sheet. With a 1-square-meter sheet weighing only 0.77 mg, the material is incredibly light yet strong. Potential applications are incredibly diverse, and include: Components with higher strength to weight ratios, lower cost solar cells, lower cost display screens in mobile devices, storing hydrogen for fuel cell powered cars, medical sensors, faster charging batteries, ultracapacitors, chemical sensors and many others.

Meta-materials

Materials with a precise shape, geometry and arrangement which can affect light and sound in unconventional manners. Potential applications are diverse, including remote aerospace applications, infrastructure monitoring, smart solar power management, public safety, improving ultrasonic sensors, and even shielding structures from earthquakes.

Biomaterials

Derived either from nature or synthesized in the laboratory, biomaterials can be used to enhance or replace natural functions in the body. Already used to a small degree, future biomaterials have the potential of improving drug delivery (by permitting extended drug release) or to improve grafting in transplants.

Nanofactories

A proposed system in which nanomachines would combine reactive molecules via mechanosynthesis to build larger, atomically precise parts. These, in turn, would be assembled by positioning mechanisms of increasing size to build macroscopic (human-scale) products that remain atomically precise.

Large-scale self-assembling materials

A process in which a disordered system of pre-existing components forms an organized structure or pattern as a consequence of specific, local interactions among the components themselves, without external direction. Such materials could potentially heal themselves and grow/contract on cue.

Controlled self-assembly

Machines that manipulate individual atoms with organism-like self-replicating abilities. These bottom-up, atomically precise 3D printers would be able to carefully create sequences of DNA, RNA or protein.

Self-healing materials

A class of smart materials that have the structurally incorporated ability to repair damage caused by mechanical usage over time. The inspiration comes from biological systems, which have the ability to heal after being wounded. A material (polymers, ceramics, etc.) that can intrinsically correct damage caused by normal usage could lower production costs of a number of different industrial processes through longer part lifetime, reduction of inefficiency over time caused by degradation, as well as prevent costs incurred by material failure.

Thermal storage

Often accumulated from active solar collector or from combined heat and power plants, and transferred to insulated repositories for use later in various applications, such as space heating, domestic or process water heating.

Lithium-air batteries

Advances in materials technology is enabling the advance of high energy Li-air batteries which promise an energy density that rivals gasoline, offering a five-fold increase compared to traditional Li-Ion batteries. By using atmospheric oxygen instead of an internal oxidizer, these batteries could dramatically extend electric vehicle range.

Fuel cells

Unlike batteries, fuel cells require a constant source of fuel and oxygen to run, but they can produce electricity continually for as long as these inputs are supplied. They inherently displace the need for natural gas turbines, and are ideally used for stationary power generation or large passenger vehicles such as buses (especially at energy-dense future iterations of the technology).

Hydrogen energy storage & transport

Hypothetic evolution of existing power grids, transporting and storing hydrogen instead of electricity. Could be used in combination with various kinds of energy transformation methods, minimizing loss and maximizing storage capacity.

Smart energy network

Speculative global energy & power infrastructure and set of standards which can be used interchangeably. Could theoretically mimic characteristics of the Internet in channeling heat, energy, natural gas (and concievably hydrogen) from local and distant sources depending on global demand.

Distributed generation

Generates electricity from many small energy sources instead of large centralized facilities. Centralized power plants offer economies of scale, but waste power during transmission, and are inefficient in rapidly adapting to grid needs.

First-generation smart grid

Electrical meters that record consumption of electric energy in real time while communicating the information back to the utility for monitoring and billing purposes. Can be used for remote load-balancing such as disabling non-essential devices at peak usage.

Space-based solar power

Collecting solar power in space, beamed back as microwaves to the surface. A projected benefit of such a system is much higher collection rates than what is possible on earth. In space, transmission of solar energy is unaffected by the filtering effects of atmospheric gasses.

Thorium reactor

Thorium can be used as fuel in a nuclear reactor, allowing it to be used to produce nuclear fuel in a breeder reactor. Some benefits are that thorium produces 10 to 10,000 times less long-lived radioactive waste and comes out of the ground as a 100% pure, usable isotope, which does not require enrichment.

Micro Stirling engines

Micrometer sized power generators that transform energy into compression and expansion strokes. Could hypothetically be 3D-printed on the fly and cover entire heat-generating surfaces in order to generate power.

Third-generation biofuels

Moving beyond today’s organisms, 3rd generation biofuels involve genetic modification of organisms to produce new fuels by unconventional means. Examples include direct production of hydrogen from highly efficient algae, and production of energy-dense furans for automotive use.

Micro-nuclear reactors

A small, sealed version of a nuclear reactor (approximately a few tens of meters in length) capable of being shipped or flown to a site. Currently able to provide 10 MW of power, plans are for 50 MW capacity in the near future.

Inertial confinement fusion

An approach to fusion that relies on the inertia of the fuel mass to provide confinement. To achieve conditions under which inertial confinement is sufficient for efficient thermonuclear burn, a capsule (generally a spherical shell) containing thermonuclear fuel is compressed in an implosion process to conditions of high density and temperature.

Photovoltaic transparent glass

Glass with integrated solar cells which converts IR and some visible light into electricity. This means that the power for an entire building can be supplemented using the roof and façade areas.

Tidal turbines

A form of hydropower that converts tidal energy into electricity. Currently used in small scale, with the potential for great expansion.

Second-generation biofuels

New biofuel technologies, such as cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel from microalgae, promise to produce conventional fuel-compatible energy at low or zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Solar panel positioning robots

Small-scale robots able to re-position solar panels depending on weather conditions. More efficient than attaching each panel to motorized tracking assemblies.

Smart dust sensors

A system of many tiny micro-electromechanical systems such as sensors, robots, or other devices, that can detect, for example, light, temperature, vibration, magnetism, or chemicals.

Memristors

The reason why the memristor is so different from the other three basic circuit elements is that it retains memory without power. It is a new material that promises computers two orders of magnitude more efficient from a power perspective than traditional transistor technologies, contains multiple petabits of persistent storage, and can be reconfigured to be either memory or CPU in a package as small as a sugar cube.

Printed electronics

A set of printing methods used to create electrical devices on various substrates. Electrically functional or optical inks are deposited on the material, creating active or passive devices, such as thin film transistors or resistors. Printed electronics is expected to facilitate widespread, very low-cost, low-performance electronics for applications such as flexible displays, smart labels, decorative and animated posters, and active clothing that do not require high performance.

Botsourcing

The assignment of physical and online tasks traditionally performed by human agents to an autonomous software agent.

Digital currencies

Electronic money that acts as alternative currency. Currently, alternative digital currencies are not produced by government-endorsed central banks nor necessarily backed by national currencies. It differs from virtual money used in virtual economies due to its use in transactions with real goods and services; not being limited to circulation within online games.

High-altitude stratospheric platforms

A quasi-stationary aircraft that provides means of delivering networking to a large area while flying at a very high altitude (17–22 km) over cities for several years. They are effectively low-orbit regional communication satellites.

WiGig

Wireless Gigabit will deliver up to 6 Gbps [6,000 Mbps] connections between devices in interior spaces. This will enable wireless displays, much like Wi-Fi did for wireless networking.

5G

A predicted future fifth generation of mobile telecommunications, expected to be the next major phase of mobile telecommunications standards as well as a proposed single global standard.

MOOCs

Massive Open Online Courses are a type of online course aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the web.

Immersive multi-user VR

A fully immersive Virtual Reality environment to which the user connects through direct brain stimulation. All senses would be stimulated, diffusing the boundary between reality and fiction.

Telepresence

A set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance of being present, or to have an effect, via telerobotics, at a place other than their true location.

Wall-sized screens

Tileable and interactive screen-wallpapers are expected to dominate all types of surfaces for domestic and professional uses. Wrap-around screens recruit the peripheral vision and create a truly immersive experience.

Annotated-reality glasses

Much like Google’s Glass project, these allow contextual information to be overlaid on the user’s field of vision.

Context-aware computing

Computers that can both sense and react to their environment. Devices will have information about the circumstances under which they operate, and based on rules and sensor inputs, react accordingly. Context-aware devices may also learn assumptions about the user's current situation.

NEUROTECHNOLOGY AND COGNITIVE TECHNOLOGIES

Neural Network Computing
  1. Predictive crime prevention

    The use of sociometric sensors coupled with neural networked computers to statistically determine the probability of crime (or other anti-social behavior) taking place before it happens.

  2. Predictive group sentiment analysis

    Predicting the likely behavior of large groups of people based on sociometric input variables like social tension, weather variation, pedestrian flows and degree of agitation is becoming increasingly possible.

  3. Neural network image recognition

    Using hundreds of thousands of processor cores programmed to algorithmically determine the content of a given image. Different from reverse image search, neural network image recognition has the capacity to successfully understand the photo of, for example, a cat, based on thousands of cat pictures.

  4. Emotion tracking

    Using sensors, computer vision and algorithms to correctly identify the likely emotions displayed by individuals in a crowd. Useful in airports and other high-risk facilities.

  5. Proactive software agents

    Software applications with the capacity of discerning and predicting likely future needs for whomever is being served. Intelligently scheduling meetings, sorting email and selectively notifying the user are potential usages.etworked computers to statistically determine the probability of crime (or other anti-social behavior) taking place before it happens.

Extended Cognition
  1. Neuroprosthetics

    Neural devices capable of substituting motor, sensory or cognitive modalities that might have been damaged as a result of an injury or a disease. Applications include neural enhancements, advanced cognitive features and extended physiological senses.

  2. Next-generation neuropharmacology

    Both behavioral and molecular neuropharmacology are benefitting from rapidly accelerating change. With an increase in technology and improved understanding of the nervous system, the development of drugs will continue to rise with an increase in drug sensitivity and specificity.

  3. Micromachined ultrasonic transducers

    A relatively new concept in the field of ultrasonic capacitative transducers where the energy transduction is due to change in capacitance. Can be used to remotely improve alertness, awareness in soldiers, etc.

  4. Neural biofeedback

    Biofeedback using real-time EEG or fMRI to illustrate brain activity, often with a goal of controlling the central nervous actions.

Neural Interfaces
  1. Brain-to-brain interfaces

    The hypothetical implementation of brain interfaces that translate thoughts, sensations or impulses into digital signal, converting the data back into the recipient's brain to enable a certain response from both ends. Loosely interpreted as telepathy, brain interfaces would be able to transmit information from one person so another without any mediation other than the internet, allowing the brain on the receiving end to perform behavioural tasks without training.

  2. Optogenetic implants in humans

    The combination of genetic and optical methods to control specific events in targeted cells of living tissue, even within freely moving mammals and other animals, with the temporal precision (millisecond timescale) needed to keep pace with functioning intact biological systems.

  3. Next-gen BCI

    Hypothetical interfaces to be used for assisting, augmenting, or repairing human cognitive or sensory-motor functions and communicate thoughts and intentions to the Internet.

  4. Transcranial magnetic stimulation

    TMS is a noninvasive method to cause depolarization or hyperpolarization in the neurons of the brain using electromagnetic induction to induce weak electric currents using a rapidly changing magnetic field. This can cause activity in specific or general parts of the brain with minimal discomfort, allowing the functioning and interconnections of the brain to be studied.

  5. High-resolution fMRI

    The next generation of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging involves increasing the spatial and temporal resolution of the imagery. We are likely to see a 14-tesla machines becoming common (as opposed to today’s 3-tesla).

  6. EEG Brain-to-computer interfaces

    Electroencephalography remains the most feasible practice of executing and implementing brain to brain interfaces. It represents the best temporal-resolution tool for getting a picture of the brain in action, is portable, non-invasive and extremely affordable compared to other methods.

HEALTH TECHNOLOGIES

Augmentation
  1. Enhanced organs

    Engineered replacement organs for humans that perform better than their natural counterparts. Examples include artificial red blood cells and super-livers (via genetically engineered organs that overexpress key proteins). Respirocytes, for example, are theoretical artificial red blood cells that carry oxygen 200x more efficiently than red blood cells.

  2. Biologically extended senses

    The idea is based on the principle that the brain evolved to handle one construction of reality, yet now can overlay multiple local and remote experiences simultaneously, creating new cognitive perceptions. Biological senses can be enhanced and produced artificially, which adapt and transform to address different kinds of stimuli for specific purposes.

  3. Machine-augmented cognition

    Refers to the effective use of information technology to augment human cognition using intelligence amplifying system of tools. Information retrieved from the brain would then be used to feedback necessary stimulus to accomplish determined brain functions. for specific organisms and diseases.

  4. Bionic Implants

    Microscopic technological structures that extract biometric information from an organism to analyze its performance and improve specific biological functions with assisted feedback. In terms of personal biometry, bionic implants represent great tools to empower preventive medicine and develop customized solutions for specific organisms and diseases.

Treatments
  1. Medical nanobots

    A subfield of robotics that studies how to make robots that emulate living biological organisms/functions mechanically or chemically. The main objective of this technology applied to medicine is to enhance the human body's capabilities or treat malfunctions with robots capable of re-programming and adapt to different conditions, always mimicking organic functions.

  2. Anti-aging drugs

    Breakthroughs in tissue rejuvenation with stem cells, molecular repair, and organ replacement (such as with artficial organs) might eventually enable humans to have indefinite lifespans through complete rejuvenation to a youthful condition.

  3. Prenatal gene manipulation

    The direct manipulation of an embryo/fetus genome using biotechnology.

  4. Epigenetic therapy

    The phenomena whereby genetically identical cells express their genes differently resulting in different phenotypes in, for example, the formation of cancer originating from cancer stem cells.

  5. Organ printing

    The use of a combination of cells, engineering, material methods, suitable biochemical and physio-chemical factors to improve or replace biological functions. The term is closely associated with applications that repair or replace portions of or whole tissues.

  6. Personalized medicine

    A branch of genomics where individual genomes are genotyped and analyzed using bioinformatics tools. These may eventually lead to personalized medicine, where patients can take genotype specific drugs for medical treatments.

Diagnostics
  1. Medical Tricorder

    A hypothetical handheld portable scanning device to be used by consumers to self-diagnose medical conditions within seconds and take basic vital measurements. A common view is that it will be a general-purpose tool similar in functionality to a Swiss Army Knife to take health measurements such as blood pressure and temperature and blood flow in a noninvasive way.

  2. Biohacking

    A techno-progressive cultural and intellectual movement which advocates for open access to genetic information and defends the potential of truly democratic technological development. Biohacking can also refer to managing one's own biology using a combination of medical, nutritional and electronic techniques. This may include the use of nootropics and/or cybernetic devices for recording biometric data.

  3. Labs on chips

    Devices that integrates one or several laboratory functions on a single chip of only millimeters to a few square centimeters in size. LOCs deal with the handling of extremely small fluid volumes down to less than picoliters. They represent safer platforms for chemical, radioactive or biological studies.

  4. Biometric sensors

    The use of biometrics to telecommunications and telecommunications for remote biometric sensing. Potential applications include monitoring blood levels, infections and efficacy of vaccines.

AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGIES

Sensors
  1. Infrastructural health sensors

    Can be used for monitoring vibrations and material conditions in buildings, bridges, factories, farms and other infrastructure. Coupled with an intelligent network, such sensors could feed crucial information back to maintenance crews or robots.

  2. Livestock biometrics

    Collars with GPS, RFID and biometrics can automatically identify and relay vital information about the livestock in real time.

  3. Crop sensors

    Instead of prescribing field fertilization before application, high-resolution crop sensors inform application equipment of correct amounts needed. Optical sensors or drones are able to identify crop health across the field (for example, by using infra-red light).

  4. Equipment telematics

    Allows mechanical devices such as tractors to warn mechanics that a failure is likely to occur soon. Intra-tractor communication can be used as a rudimentary “farm swarm” platform.

  5. Air & soil sensors

    Fundamental additions to the automated farm, these sensors would enable a real time understanding of current farm, forest or body of water conditions.

Food
  1. In vitro meat

    Also known as cultured meat or tubesteak, it is a flesh product that has never been part of a complete, living animal. Several current research projects are growing in vitro meat experimentally, although no meat has yet been produced for public consumption.

  2. Genetically designed food

    The creation of entirely new strains of food animals and plants in order to better address biological and physiological needs. A departure from genetically modified food, genetically designed food would be engineered from the ground up.

Automation
  1. Robotic farm swarms

    The hypothetical combination of dozens or hundreds of agricultural robots with thousands of microscopic sensors, which together would monitor, predict, cultivate and extract crops from the land with practically no human intervention. Small-scale implementations are already on the horizon.

  2. Precision agriculture

    Farming management based on observing (and responding to) intra-field variations. Withsatellite imagery and advanced sensors, farmers can optimize returns on inputs while preserving resources at ever larger scales. Further understanding of crop variability, geolocated weather data and precise sensors should allow improved automated decision-making and complementary planting techniques.

  3. Agricultural robots

    Also known as agbots, these are used to automate agricultural processes, such as harvesting, fruit picking, ploughing, soil maintenance, weeding, planting, irrigation, etc.

  4. Rapid iteration selective breeding

    The next generation of selective breeding where the end-result is analyzed quantitatively and improvements are suggested algorithmically.

  5. Variable rate swath control

    Building on existing geolocation technologies, future swath control could save on seed, minerals, fertilizer and herbicides by reducing overlapping inputs. By pre-computing the shape of the field where the inputs are to be used, and by understanding the relative productivity of different areas of the field, tractors or agbots can procedurally apply inputs at variable rates throughout the field.

Engineering
  1. Vertical farming

    A natural extension of urban agriculture, vertical farms would cultivate plant or animal life within dedicated or mixed-use skyscrapers in urban settings. Using techniques similar to glass houses, vertical farms could augment natural light using energy-efficient lighting. The advantages are numerous, including year-round crop production, protection from weather, support urban food autonomy and reduced transport costs.

  2. Synthetic biology

    Synthetic biology is about programming biology using standardized parts as one programs computers using standardized libraries today. Includes the broad redefinition and expansion of biotechnology, with the ultimate goals of being able to design, build and remediate engineered biological systems that process information, manipulate chemicals, fabricate materials and structures, produce energy, provide food, and maintain and enhance human health and the environment.

  3. Closed ecological systems

    Ecosystems that do not rely on matter exchange outside the system. Such closed ecosystems would theoretically transform waste products into oxygen, food and water in order to support life-forms inhabiting the system. Such systems already exist in small scales, but existing technological limitations prevent them from scaling.

NANOTECHNOLOGY AND MATERIALS SCIENCE

Next Generation
  1. Smart materials

    Designed materials that have one or more properties that can be significantly changed in a controlled fashion by external stimuli, such as stress, temperature, moisture, pH, electric or magnetic fields.

  2. Thermo-bimetals

    Thermally activated bimetals would allow for panes of glass capable of becoming shades when exposed to the sun, self-regulating energy consumption throughout the day.

  3. Aerogel

    A synthetic porous ultralight material derived from a gel, in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with a gas. The result is a solid with extremely low density and thermal conductivity which feels like polystyrene (styrofoam) to the touch. Potential applications supercapacitors and shock absorption.

  4. Auxetic materials

    When stretched, auxetic materials become thicker perpendicular to the applied force. This occurs due to their hinge-like structures, which flex when stretched. Auxetics may be useful in applications such as body armor, packing material, knee and elbow pads, robust shock absorbing material, and sponge mops.

  5. Superomniphobic materials

    Inspired by water bugs that float on liquid surfaces, these materials repel both oily and watery fluids.

Functional
  1. Nano electricmechanical systems

    Devices integrating electrical and mechanical functionality on the nanoscale. NEMS typically integrate transistor-like nanoelectronics with mechanical actuators, pumps, or motors, and may thereby form physical, biological, and chemical sensors.

  2. Graphene

    A substance composed of pure carbon with atoms arranged in a regular hexagonal pattern similar to graphite, but in a one-atom thick sheet. With a 1-square-meter sheet weighing only 0.77 mg, the material is incredibly light yet strong. Potential applications are incredibly diverse, and include: Components with higher strength to weight ratios, lower cost solar cells, lower cost display screens in mobile devices, storing hydrogen for fuel cell powered cars, medical sensors, faster charging batteries, ultracapacitors, chemical sensors and many others.

  3. Meta-materials

    Materials with a precise shape, geometry and arrangement which can affect light and sound in unconventional manners. Potential applications are diverse, including remote aerospace applications, infrastructure monitoring, smart solar power management, public safety, improving ultrasonic sensors, and even shielding structures from earthquakes.

  4. Biomaterials

    Derived either from nature or synthesized in the laboratory, biomaterials can be used to enhance or replace natural functions in the body. Already used to a small degree, future biomaterials have the potential of improving drug delivery (by permitting extended drug release) or to improve grafting in transplants.

Self-assembling
  1. Nanofactories

    A proposed system in which nanomachines would combine reactive molecules via mechanosynthesis to build larger, atomically precise parts. These, in turn, would be assembled by positioning mechanisms of increasing size to build macroscopic (human-scale) products that remain atomically precise.

  2. Large-scale self-assembling materials

    A process in which a disordered system of pre-existing components forms an organized structure or pattern as a consequence of specific, local interactions among the components themselves, without external direction. Such materials could potentially heal themselves and grow/contract on cue.

  3. Controlled self-assembly

    Machines that manipulate individual atoms with organism-like self-replicating abilities. These bottom-up, atomically precise 3D printers would be able to carefully create sequences of DNA, RNA or protein.

  4. Self-healing materials

    A class of smart materials that have the structurally incorporated ability to repair damage caused by mechanical usage over time. The inspiration comes from biological systems, which have the ability to heal after being wounded. A material (polymers, ceramics, etc.) that can intrinsically correct damage caused by normal usage could lower production costs of a number of different industrial processes through longer part lifetime, reduction of inefficiency over time caused by degradation, as well as prevent costs incurred by material failure.

ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES

Storage
  1. Thermal storage

    Often accumulated from active solar collector or from combined heat and power plants, and transferred to insulated repositories for use later in various applications, such as space heating, domestic or process water heating.

  2. Lithium-air batteries

    Advances in materials technology is enabling the advance of high energy Li-air batteries which promise an energy density that rivals gasoline, offering a five-fold increase compared to traditional Li-Ion batteries. By using atmospheric oxygen instead of an internal oxidizer, these batteries could dramatically extend electric vehicle range.

  3. Fuel cells

    Unlike batteries, fuel cells require a constant source of fuel and oxygen to run, but they can produce electricity continually for as long as these inputs are supplied. They inherently displace the need for natural gas turbines, and are ideally used for stationary power generation or large passenger vehicles such as buses (especially at energy-dense future iterations of the technology).

  4. Hydrogen energy storage & transport

    Hypothetic evolution of existing power grids, transporting and storing hydrogen instead of electricity. Could be used in combination with various kinds of energy transformation methods, minimizing loss and maximizing storage capacity.

Smart Grid
  1. Smart energy network

    Speculative global energy & power infrastructure and set of standards which can be used interchangeably. Could theoretically mimic characteristics of the Internet in channeling heat, energy, natural gas (and concievably hydrogen) from local and distant sources depending on global demand.

  2. Distributed generation

    Generates electricity from many small energy sources instead of large centralized facilities. Centralized power plants offer economies of scale, but waste power during transmission, and are inefficient in rapidly adapting to grid needs.

  3. First-generation smart grid

    Electrical meters that record consumption of electric energy in real time while communicating the information back to the utility for monitoring and billing purposes. Can be used for remote load-balancing such as disabling non-essential devices at peak usage.

Electricity Generation
  1. Space-based solar power

    Collecting solar power in space, beamed back as microwaves to the surface. A projected benefit of such a system is much higher collection rates than what is possible on earth. In space, transmission of solar energy is unaffected by the filtering effects of atmospheric gasses.

  2. Thorium reactor

    Thorium can be used as fuel in a nuclear reactor, allowing it to be used to produce nuclear fuel in a breeder reactor. Some benefits are that thorium produces 10 to 10,000 times less long-lived radioactive waste and comes out of the ground as a 100% pure, usable isotope, which does not require enrichment.

  3. Micro Stirling engines

    Micrometer sized power generators that transform energy into compression and expansion strokes. Could hypothetically be 3D-printed on the fly and cover entire heat-generating surfaces in order to generate power.

  4. Third-generation biofuels

    Moving beyond today’s organisms, 3rd generation biofuels involve genetic modification of organisms to produce new fuels by unconventional means. Examples include direct production of hydrogen from highly efficient algae, and production of energy-dense furans for automotive use.

  5. Micro-nuclear reactors

    A small, sealed version of a nuclear reactor (approximately a few tens of meters in length) capable of being shipped or flown to a site. Currently able to provide 10 MW of power, plans are for 50 MW capacity in the near future.

  6. Inertial confinement fusion

    An approach to fusion that relies on the inertia of the fuel mass to provide confinement. To achieve conditions under which inertial confinement is sufficient for efficient thermonuclear burn, a capsule (generally a spherical shell) containing thermonuclear fuel is compressed in an implosion process to conditions of high density and temperature.

  7. Photovoltaic transparent glass

    Glass with integrated solar cells which converts IR and some visible light into electricity. This means that the power for an entire building can be supplemented using the roof and façade areas.

  8. Tidal turbines

    A form of hydropower that converts tidal energy into electricity. Currently used in small scale, with the potential for great expansion.

  9. Second-generation biofuels

    New biofuel technologies, such as cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel from microalgae, promise to produce conventional fuel-compatible energy at low or zero greenhouse gas emissions.

  10. Solar panel positioning robots

    Small-scale robots able to re-position solar panels depending on weather conditions. More efficient than attaching each panel to motorized tracking assemblies.

DIGITAL AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES

Electronics
  1. Smart dust sensors

    A system of many tiny micro-electromechanical systems such as sensors, robots, or other devices, that can detect, for example, light, temperature, vibration, magnetism, or chemicals.

  2. Memristors

    The reason why the memristor is so different from the other three basic circuit elements is that it retains memory without power. It is a new material that promises computers two orders of magnitude more efficient from a power perspective than traditional transistor technologies, contains multiple petabits of persistent storage, and can be reconfigured to be either memory or CPU in a package as small as a sugar cube.

  3. Printed electronics

    A set of printing methods used to create electrical devices on various substrates. Electrically functional or optical inks are deposited on the material, creating active or passive devices, such as thin film transistors or resistors. Printed electronics is expected to facilitate widespread, very low-cost, low-performance electronics for applications such as flexible displays, smart labels, decorative and animated posters, and active clothing that do not require high performance.

  4. Botsourcing

    The assignment of physical and online tasks traditionally performed by human agents to an autonomous software agent.

  5. Digital currencies

    Electronic money that acts as alternative currency. Currently, alternative digital currencies are not produced by government-endorsed central banks nor necessarily backed by national currencies. It differs from virtual money used in virtual economies due to its use in transactions with real goods and services; not being limited to circulation within online games.

Networking
  1. High-altitude stratospheric platforms

    A quasi-stationary aircraft that provides means of delivering networking to a large area while flying at a very high altitude (17–22 km) over cities for several years. They are effectively low-orbit regional communication satellites.

  2. WiGig

    Wireless Gigabit will deliver up to 6 Gbps [6,000 Mbps] connections between devices in interior spaces. This will enable wireless displays, much like Wi-Fi did for wireless networking.

  3. 5G

    A predicted future fifth generation of mobile telecommunications, expected to be the next major phase of mobile telecommunications standards as well as a proposed single global standard.

  4. MOOCs

    Massive Open Online Courses are a type of online course aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the web.

Interfaces
  1. Immersive multi-user VR

    A fully immersive Virtual Reality environment to which the user connects through direct brain stimulation. All senses would be stimulated, diffusing the boundary between reality and fiction.

  2. Telepresence

    A set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance of being present, or to have an effect, via telerobotics, at a place other than their true location.

  3. Wall-sized screens

    Tileable and interactive screen-wallpapers are expected to dominate all types of surfaces for domestic and professional uses. Wrap-around screens recruit the peripheral vision and create a truly immersive experience.

  4. Annotated-reality glasses

    Much like Google’s Glass project, these allow contextual information to be overlaid on the user’s field of vision.

  5. Context-aware computing

    Computers that can both sense and react to their environment. Devices will have information about the circumstances under which they operate, and based on rules and sensor inputs, react accordingly. Context-aware devices may also learn assumptions about the user's current situation.