The World Economic Forum (WEF) holds a number of meetings around the world and has many working committees/councils. The Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies is tasked to examine trends and possible impacts that various emerging technologies and to discuss strategies for dealing with the impacts on our collective future.
The Global Agenda Council has just released a list of the trends expected to have major impacts in the near future (the rest of 2012).
From the Feb. 16, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,
Below, the Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies presents the technological trends expected to have major social, economic and environmental impacts worldwide in 2012. They are listed in order of greatest potential to provide solutions to global challenges:
1. Informatics for adding value to information The quantity of information now available to individuals and organizations is unprecedented in human history, and the rate of information generation continues to grow exponentially. Yet, the sheer volume of information is in danger of creating more noise than value, and as a result limiting its effective use. Innovations in how information is organized, mined and processed hold the key to filtering out the noise and using the growing wealth of global information to address emerging challenges.
2. Synthetic biology and metabolic engineering The natural world is a testament to the vast potential inherent in the genetic code at the core of all living organisms. Rapid advances in synthetic biology and metabolic engineering are allowing biologists and engineers to tap into this potential in unprecedented ways, enabling the development of new biological processes and organisms that are designed to serve specific purposes – whether converting biomass to chemicals, fuels and materials, producing new therapeutic drugs or protecting the body against harm.
3. Green Revolution 2.0 – technologies for increased food and biomass Artificial fertilizers are one of the main achievements of modern chemistry, enabling unprecedented increases in crop production yield. Yet, the growing global demand for healthy and nutritious food is threatening to outstrip energy, water and land resources. By integrating advances across the biological and physical sciences, the new green revolution holds the promise of further increasing crop production yields, minimizing environmental impact, reducing energy and water dependence, and decreasing the carbon footprint.
4. Nanoscale design of materials The increasing demand on natural resources requires unprecedented gains in efficiency. Nanostructured materials with tailored properties, designed and engineered at the molecular scale, are already showing novel and unique features that will usher in the next clean energy revolution, reduce our dependence on depleting natural resources, and increase atom-efficiency manufacturing and processing.
5. Systems biology and computational modelling/simulation of chemical and biological systems For improved healthcare and bio-based manufacturing, it is essential to understand how biology and chemistry work together. Systems biology and computational modelling and simulation are playing increasingly important roles in designing therapeutics, materials and processes that are highly efficient in achieving their design goals, while minimally impacting on human health and the environment.
6. Utilization of carbon dioxide as a resource Carbon is at the heart of all life on earth. Yet, managing carbon dioxide releases is one of the greatest social, political and economic challenges of our time. An emerging innovative approach to carbon dioxide management involves transforming it from a liability to a resource. Novel catalysts, based on nanostructured materials, can potentially transform carbon dioxide to high value hydrocarbons and other carbon-containing molecules, which could be used as new building blocks for the chemical industry as cleaner and more sustainable alternatives to petrochemicals.
7. Wireless power Society is deeply reliant on electrically powered devices. Yet, a significant limitation in their continued development and utility is the need to be attached to the electricity grid by wire – either permanently or through frequent battery recharging. Emerging approaches to wireless power transmission will free electrical devices from having to be physically plugged in, and are poised to have as significant an impact on personal electronics as Wi-Fi had on Internet use.
8. High energy density power systems Better batteries are essential if the next generation of clean energy technologies are to be realized. A number of emerging technologies are coming together to lay the foundation for advanced electrical energy storage and use, including the development of nanostructured electrodes, solid electrolysis and rapid-power delivery from novel supercapacitors based on carbon-based nanomaterials. These technologies will provide the energy density and power needed to supercharge the next generation of clean energy technologies.
9. Personalized medicine, nutrition and disease prevention As the global population exceeds 7 billion people – all hoping for a long and healthy life – conventional approaches to ensuring good health are becoming less and less tenable, spurred on by growing demands, dwindling resources and increasing costs. Advances in areas such as genomics, proteomics and metabolomics are now opening up the possibility of tailoring medicine, nutrition and disease prevention to the individual. Together with emerging technologies like synthetic biology and nanotechnology, they are laying the foundation for a revolution in healthcare and well-being that will be less resource intensive and more targeted to individual needs.
10. Enhanced education technology New approaches are needed to meet the challenge of educating a growing young population and providing the skills that are essential to the knowledge economy. This is especially the case in today’s rapidly evolving and hyperconnected globalized society. Personalized IT-based approaches to education are emerging that allow learner-centred education, critical thinking development and creativity. Rapid developments in social media, open courseware and ubiquitous access to the Internet are facilitating outside classroom and continuous education.
Members of the Global Agenda Council had this to say about the list (from the Feb. 15, 2012 news release from Cientifica),
Many of the technology trends are currently below the radar of most policy makers. Council member Tim Harper [CEO, Cientifica] emphasized that “Technology is a very powerful tool for change. If the Arab Spring demonstrated that many governments are still unsure how to respond to mature and simple to grasp technologies such as Facebook and Twitter, then they run the risk of being absolutely powerless in the face of science-based technological change.”
Innovation in nanotechnology, biotechnology and information technology is already helping solve pressing challenges as diverse as efficient “renewable” energy sources, malnutrition and hunger, access to clean water, disease diagnosis and treatment, “green” technologies, and global climate change and sustainability.
Council Chair Professor Sang Yup Lee at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) explained that “Accelerating progress in science and technology has stimulated a new age of discovery, and many of the technologies identified by the council are critical to building a sustainable and resilient future.” Regarding job creation through emerging technologies, Council Vice-Chair Javier Garcia Martinez said, “There are no generally applicable shortcuts in the path that goes from emerging technologies to new industries and job creation. This path includes sufficient and sustained funding leaving enough incentive to the founders and real focus on scale, reliability, and safety.” The report also cautions that without new understanding, tools and capabilities, ranging from public policy to investment models, their safe and successful development is far from guaranteed. Among the trends are advances in informatics, biotechnology, medicine, materials, education, and resource usage.
Informatics for adding value to information and handling “big data” for “data to decision” is highlighted, and has been the focus of idea generation during this year’s Davos forum. In particular, the intelligent technologies for creating valuable information out of noisy data need to be developed.
In the biological domain, synthetic biology and metabolic engineering are expected to become increasingly important in manufacturing new drugs and producing chemicals and materials from renewable resources. Systems biology and computational modelling and simulation of chemical and biological systems are playing increasingly important roles in helping design therapeutics, materials and processes that are highly efficient in achieving their design goals, while minimally impacting on human health, resources, and the environment. Innovative technologies for a second green revolution that provide security in food supply for growing population and biomass for biorefineries are also selected.
Nanomaterials designed and engineered at the molecular scale are expected to continue to provide novel solutions to energy, water, and other resource-based challenges. Also listed are breakthrough technologies that potentially turn carbon dioxide from a global liability to a valuable resource.
The list also includes wireless power, high energy-density power systems, personalized medicine and nutrition, and enhanced education technologies.
Director of World Economic Forum Andrew Hagan said, “We believe that these emerging technologies to be announced annually by the council will provide a chance for all stakeholders to link technology trends to the global megatrends and solutions to the mega-challenges. The challenge will not just be the new ideas but leaving the old ones behind.”
You can find out more about the Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies here.