5 technologies that will transform our lives

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Karthik Krishnan, Venture Chair, Redesign Health


  • Technology is developing rapidly and innovations that were once the stuff of science fiction are now an everyday reality.
  • AI, VR, gene-editing, blockchain and nanotechnology are the five foundational technologies that will transform our lives.
  • These technologies will impact every aspect of our day-to-day lives, from learning to preventing diseases.

The speed and scale of technology-led change over the last 20 years is mind-boggling. We have shaped a world where information moves at lightning speed at a near-zero cost to the far corners of the earth. This makes connecting and collaborating possible at a scale that was previously considered science fiction.

We have developed technologies, such as mRNA vaccines and reusable space rockets, that enable us to take on challenges from combatting coronaviruses to colonizing Mars. While these changes are truly astounding, five foundational technologies are likely to propel us into a world akin to those portrayed in movies.

1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

While the internet is the foundation of information distribution, AI is the foundation of learning. Leveraging AI, smart devices have the ability to monitor, collect and process relevant data and use learned intelligence to make optimal decisions and discoveries at blazing speeds that trump most human capabilities. Much like the internet, which – in less than 25 years – has become an integral part of most industries from food to finance, AI capabilities could permeate and transform all industries. AI-based self-driving cars are familiar and relatable.

However, completely different AI-powered applications are on the horizon. There is, for example, an AI tool that analyses facial expressions and hormonal and other biological changes in students in a classroom to identify flagging interest and recommend interventions. AI-powered machines could join the healthcare labour force and play an active role in diagnosis and treatment. Google’s AlphaGo, an inexpensive programme that learnt to play the complex game ‘Go’ on its own, is a testament to the pace at which AI can learn and beat even the top players in the world.

2. Virtual Reality (VR)

We experience the world and learn about our reality via our five senses and our perception of reality can be altered by the information fed to our senses. VR creates a doorway into a world where our senses can be shown a version of reality that isn’t real but perceived. VR has had and will continue to have, a major impact on a wide array of fields from skills development to surgery to gaming. Flight simulators are common today and provide low-risk (accident-free), cost-effective and climate-friendly (no carbon emissions from jet fuel) options for pilots to acquire a critical skill.

While using virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET), patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be placed in a recreation of their traumatic event to help them develop coping mechanisms. And, imagine a surgeon being able to operate on a patient-specific simulation (complex tumour in a hard-to-reach location) prior to the live operation or children in remote areas experiencing the Great Barrier Reef and learning about the importance of coral reefs. The possibilities are endless.

3. Gene editing

CRISPR, a pair of molecular scissors that can edit or alter a target DNA sequence precisely, has shown promise. It was discovered in the bacterial immune system, where it cuts the DNA of viruses invading our body. Although in its early stages, CRISPR provides the capability to thwart a range of genetic diseases, including cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and blood disorders. It was recently used as a therapeutic and diagnostic tool for coronavirus. It even has the potential to create crops that are disease and drought-resistant and manufacture biofuels at scale to combat the climate crisis. Ultimately, gene editing could be the key to the holy grail – finally moving away from diagnosing and treating diseases to preventing them altogether.

4. Blockchain

Blockchain is a public and distributed ledger that isn’t controlled by any single person or entity. While the most well-known, yet less understood, application leveraging blockchain is cryptocurrency, blockchain has the potential to reshape everything from political (voting) to economic (digital currencies and smart contracts) systems. Smart contracts (programmatic agreements between two parties) built on blockchain make it faster, less expensive and efficient for lenders to automatically trigger actions, such as margin calls, release collaterals or locking cars (using IoT) when a car payment isn’t made in time. In today’s political context, blockchains can ensure that only those eligible can vote, votes cannot be tampered with and voting can be done securely via a smartphone.

5. Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology enables the manipulation of matter on a near-atomic scale to produce new structures and materials. It has the potential to affect a wide range of industries from healthcare to manufacturing. In the area of food science, nano-sensors in packaging can help detect salmonella-type contaminations. One of the biggest opportunities is in the area of targeted drug delivery and healthcare. In the not-too-distant future, we could treat cancer by targeting just the unhealthy cells and stimulating the growth of nerve cells using nanofibers to regenerate damaged spinal nerves. Nano-structured filters can also remove viruses and other impurities from water, creating abundant safe potable water, an insurmountable challenge for centuries.

Discover

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the metaverse?

Experts believe that the metaverse will come to represent the next major computing platform, transforming consumer experience and business models across industries.

Fashion brands are one example. Over years, apparel companies have perfected the design, manufacture, and distribution of clothing to anticipate consumers’ wants and needs in line with seasonal changes. But today, most of their revenue is surpassed by the $3bn worth of sales of digital cosmetic items in Fortnite, which have a cultural significance that extends far into the physical world.

This is one of the economic opportunities of the metaverse – the possibility to “assetize” digital content, creating a framework of digital ownership for users. If it is replicated at scale and across sectors, then entire industries will be reshaped by changes to their traditional value chains.

However, the promise relies on the advancement of several key technologies, including augmented, virtual and mixed reality (collectively known as XR), as well as blockchain, connected devices and artificial intelligence. How should these be governed in a way that promotes their economic upsides while protecting individuals’ safety, security and privacy?

The World Economic Forum is bringing together leading voices from the private sector, civil society, academia and government to address this precise question. Over the next year, it will curate a multistakeholder community focusing on metaverse governance and economic and social value creation.

It will recommend regulatory frameworks for good governance of the metaverse and study how innovation and value creation can be strengthened for the benefit of society. Updates will be published on the World Economic Forum website on a regular basis.

Imagine a world where newborns are immune to cancer and other chronic diseases (gene editing). As they grow into the school system, they have unfettered access to knowledge and skills development from anywhere on the planet (VR). They have smart devices powered by AI. Self-driving cars communicate with each other and prevent traffic jams, while transporting them safely, and health-in-a-box solutions read their bodies through daily spit samples. Targeted drug delivery capabilities and nanobots keep their bodies pristine, including scrubbing arterial plaque with nanotechnology. Their homes have self-repairing infrastructures. They can vote from anywhere, send money to anyone on the planet with the click of a button and get paid automatically as their non-fungible token-powered creative content is used, shared and traded via blockchain.

This new world will require new approaches and mindsets to prevent these technologies from going rogue. Checks and balances, in the form of ethics and regulations, must be put in place as these technologies take root. Let’s proactively work to integrate humans and technologies to not only overcome challenges from diseases to development but also create a better and more equitable world. Working together, we can proactively shape these technologies for the greater good.

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