What are the Technologies that Will Reshape our World?

Quantum computers, optoelectronics, and bioprinting are among the technologies in the new report “100 Radical Innovation Breakthroughs for the future.”


От Marin Marinov, публикувана на 8 август 2019

Have you heard about swarm intelligence? Do you know what exoskeleton is? Have you ever used hyperspectral imaging? 

All these inventions have been named as part of the list of technologies that will reshape our world in the report 100 Radical Innovation Breakthroughs for the future.” The analysis has been made by an independent expert group under the umbrella of the European Commission. The study includes potentially important cross-cutting, disruptive technologies that can influence the global process of product and services creation and offer solutions to societal challenges. 

The report, which also makes several policy recommendations, is part of the EU radical innovation scanning in a bid to prepare the new scientific program Horizon Europe, the successor of the current Horizon 2020. The 100 technologies are divided into two groups of Radical Innovation Breakthroughs (RIBs): 87 are emerging technologies and 13 upcoming social practices. Some of them are already used in the business and society, while others are only in the experimental phase.

Radical Innovation Breakthroughs have two main characteristics, the experts explain in the report: an unusually high impact potential, as well as the potential to disrupt technical, economic, and social structures. RIBs are constantly developing and result from cumulative processes of multiple inventions and innovations, and their diffusion and adaptation to different circumstances. 

“Many of the innovations in this report sound like science fiction, but are on the way to becoming science fact,” Carlos Moedas, the EU Commissioner for Research, Science, and Innovation, has said in a statement

“It is fascinating and refreshing to get such a broad overview of potential future innovations together with an analysis of Europe’s relative position on the world stage. This report will help policymakers across Europe prepare for the future and will intrigue anyone interested in what that future will look like.”

The list was created after a multiple-step procedure, including machine learning and human evaluation. The expert group conducted an analysis of 150,000 news items from 200 platforms and made an initial list of 130 inventions. After that, special consultations with a broader group of European experts and Ph.D. students led to the creation of the final list.

“Breakthrough innovations are needed to boost the quality of our science as well as to address the many challenges faced by people today, individually as well as collectively,” Jean-Eric Paquet, Director-General for Research and Innovation at European Commission, writes in the report.

“[The analysis] provides a strategic resource to all those concerned with decisions on science, technology, and innovation...The collection of radical innovation breakthroughs can create common references between different policies and facilitate interactions.”

Classification

The 87 emerging technologies are divided into eight thematic groups. For example, some of the most interesting examples in the category Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robots are: 

  • Augmented Reality (AU): overlaying computer-generated imagery or sound on our perception of the real world. The AU is used in synchronization with the physical world, interactive manuals giving live instructions to people working directly with machines, and in improving human health by new methods of therapy.
  • Automated Indoor Farming: AI-based machines carry out classical farming tasks, including raising seedlings, replanting, and harvesting. Automated indoor farming is used in regions with high levels of radioactivity like Japan after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster or in places with water shortages, such as the Middle East.
  • Blockchain: a decentralized network of nodes where smart contracts are used to manage the operation between partners. Blockchain underpins cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH) but is also used in other sectors including logistics, healthcare, and financial services in a bid to lower the cost and improve efficiency.
  • Exoskeleton: “An exoskeleton is an external, artificial structure designed to be worn in order to compensate or enhance natural (i.e., biological) physical abilities. It is built using robotics and biomechatronics and consists of a wearable device that works in tandem with the user. Being placed on the person’s body and acting as an augmenting amplifier, it reinforces or restores human, mechanical performance,” the report reads.
  • Hyperspectral Imaging: a technology that aims to catch the spectrum for each pixel in an image so that it can find objects, identify materials, and detect processes. It is used in the healthcare system for treatment and diagnosis and in the food industry to analyze the product quality by giving information about freshness level or determination of nutritional content, fat, and protein content. 
  • Speech Recognition: this technology has made significant progress in recent years, and it is more than the speech to text (STT) from the 90s. It is implemented in the home and intelligent personal assistants and speech-based biometric systems for multi-factor authentication. Moreover, several big automakers prepare voice-powered virtual assistants that should be released this year, the report claims.
  • Swarm Intelligence for undertaking practical tasks: “Swarm intelligence refers to the collective behavior of various objects, each performing a number of simple functions and interacting with others in the process. Like insects or a flock of birds, information systems designed based on this principle manage processes in a decentralised way, through self-organising operation of all their elements,” the report reads.This technology has become popular in the multi-billion military industry. For example, China implements swarm intelligence in pilot unmanned aerial vehicles.

The category of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robots also includes driverless technology, warfare drones, chatbots, computational creativity, advanced AI, holograms, humanoids, neuroscience of creativity and imagination, precision farming, soft robots, touchless gesture recognition, and flying cars.

According to the report, the AI domain is populated by many RIBs with a low maturity today, but with a high potential to influence various businesses. Therefore, the new AI wave rushes forward into many application arenas and may change established value generation patterns in several sectors, the experts claim.

More than AI

The seven remaining groups also include very interesting emerging technologies. Neuromorphic chips, bionics, functional brain mapping, brain-machine interface, emotion recognition, smart tattoos, and artificial synapse are part of Human-Machine Interaction and Biometrics category.

The third group is Electronics and Computing, which includes flexible electronics, nano-LEDs, carbon nanotubes, computing memory, graphene transistors, high-precision clocks, nanowires, optoelectronics, quantum computers, quantum cryptography, and spintronics.

Biodegradable sensors, lab on a chip, molecular recognition, bioelectronics, bioinformatics, and plant communication are part of Biohybrids category.

On the other hand, the related group of Biomedicine consists of gene editing, gene therapy, antibiotic susceptibility testing, bioprinting of human parts, control of gene expression, drug delivery, epigenetic change technologies, genomics vaccines, microbiome, regenerative medicine, reprogrammed human cells, and targeting cell death pathways.

2D materials, 3D printing of food, 3D printing of glass, 3D printing of large objects, 4D printing, hydrogels, metamaterials, and self-healing materials are part of Printing and Materials. 

The category Breaking Resource Boundaries includes bioplastic, carbon capture and sequestration, desalination, geoengineering and climate engineering, hyperloop, plastic-eating bugs, splitting carbon dioxide, technologies for disaster preparedness, underwater living, wastewater nutrient recovery,  and asteroid mining. 

The last category, Energy, unites thirteen emerging technologies: bioluminescence, energy harvesting, harvesting methane hydrate, hydrogen fuel, marine and tidal power technologies, microbial fuel cells, molten salt reactors, smart windows, thermoelectric paint, water splitting, airborne wind tribune, aluminum-based energy, and artificial photosynthesis.

Reshape? When?

The EU expert group evaluated the emerging technologies by three indicators:

  • Likelihood to reach the market or significant use by 2038: the indicator shows whether the technologies would become mainstream in the next twelve years;
  • European position: the indicator analyses the EU research and innovation capabilities. The evaluation is based on expert consultations and the Union share in patents and publications;
  • Maturity: it explains the current status of the RIBs, based on five rates. One (1) means that a particular technology is in its first steps, including speculations and proof of concept phase while five (5) shows high maturity, meaning that real products are already in the market.

Recommendations

The experts wrote several policy recommendations to the European Union. According to the group, the bloc should position itself strategically for the new wave of Artificial Intelligence as AI is a cluster of innovations that will have an enormous influence on the global economy and society in the future.

The EU should put a special focus on the 45 technologies that currently are with low levels of maturity but have the potential to enter the business and everyday life in the next 20 years. Biodegradable sensors, warfare drones, energy harvesting, and 4D printing are among those inventions.

“4D printing adds an additional element of time to 3D printing/additive manufacturing. 4D-printed objects can change shape or self-assemble over time if exposed to a stimulus – heat, light, water, magnetic field or other form of energy – that activates the process of change,” the report states.

“Among the ground-breaking applications expected are drug devices reacting to heat changes of the body, shape memory materials allowing solar panels to auto-rotate towards the sun, and self-repairing infrastructures.”

According to the expert group, the EU should not ignore highly speculative technologies, namely neuromorphic chip, neuroscience of creativity and imagination, plant communication, spintronics, bioelectronics, aluminium-based energy, airborne wind turbine, artificial photosynthesis, 4D printing, asteroid mining, thermoelectric paint, artificial synapse/brain, and flying car. In those areas important economic and societal innovations can unfold very fast and therefore, they should be under the radar of the new scientific program Horizon Europe.

The experts recommend the EU to review regulatory and legal frameworks so that the bloc can explore the potential of all RIBs. Moreover, the Union should analyze whether an industry policy is needed to foster the European position in the weaker mature areas such as carbon nanotubes, nanowires, and hydrogels.

The last advice is for a particular focus on the technologies associated with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the experts, there are two waves of change: the first is information and communication wave, which relies more on private and business activities while the second is related to social innovations that would underpin SDGs. The second wave is far less clear in its technological scope and depends on broader demand factors, such as the political and social imperatives, the experts claim.

“European strength in science, technology and industry is necessary to ensure that Europe is competitive and able to achieve its objectives for its future. To be competitive, Europe needs to maximise the value and productivity of its investments in R&I, and this requires appropriate intelligence and coordination between relevant policies and strategies at EU, national and regional levels,” authors of the report explain.

“We hope that the RIBRI study will nudge Europe’s authorities to further develop their intelligence efforts, to identify key innovations of the future and to debate their usefulness and possible trajectories with maximum benefit for its citizens.”

MOVE.BG and RIBs

MOVE.BG constantly works to promote projects in Bulgaria that implement emerging disruptive technologies. Our project The ChangeMakers of Bulgaria identifies, connects, and unites the drivers of change from the country into a national network. 

Bulgaria has talents who address challenges from around the world. We want to show their faces, in order to stimulate the change coming from Bulgaria to the world.

We are making our tomorrow together!

What about the 13 upcoming social practices? Read here!

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