Sci Am: World Economic Forum unveils top ten emerging technologies for 2019!

By: Tom Nov. 27,2019

Recently, an international steering group composed of the popular science journal Sci Am and leading technical experts organized by the World Economic Forum, selected "Ten emerging technologies" in 2019.

1. Environment: Bioplastics can solve serious pollution problems

According to data from the World Economic Forum, 311 million metric tons of plastic waste was generated in 2014 alone and is expected to triple by 2050. However, less than 15% of the plastic is recycled and most of the rest is incinerated, buried or discarded in the environment.

Biodegradable plastics can alleviate pollution and help achieve the goal of a “recycling” plastic economy. Biodegradable plastics are derived from biomass and converted into biomass. The production of plastics from cellulose or lignin (dry matter in plants) is the latest research trend.

2. Engineering: Social robots live in harmony with others

Advances in artificial intelligence enable robots to recognize sounds, facial expressions and emotions, interpret speech, gestures, eye contact, respond appropriately to complex verbal and non-verbal cues, and learn to adapt to people's needs through feedback, rewards, and criticism.

Social robots fill a variety of roles, offering services like hotel check-in, airport assistance, shopping assistance, and fast food checkout. It can also play a role in relieving disease and taking care of patients. It is expected that by the end of 2025, the size of the robot market is expected to grow to $ 19 billion, with more than 65 million robots sold each year.

3.Engineering: Meta lenses make micro-optics possible

Scientists have discovered the possibility of "meta lenses". A "meta-lens" consists of a flat surface that is less than one micron in size, covered with a series of nanoscale bumps. The "meta-lenses" are very thin and can be stacked on top of each other without any significant increase in overall volume.

Researchers have demonstrated optical devices such as spectrometers and polarimeters that are stacked with "meta-lenses". These lenses can further reduce the size of microscopes and other laboratory tools as well as consumer products such as cameras, virtual reality headsets and optical sensors for the Internet of Things.

4. Engineering: Medical and biotechnology, special proteins are hope for cancer and dementia drugs.

Decades ago, scientists discovered "disordered proteins" (IDPs). When they don't work properly, diseases follow. The disorderly proteins that cause cancer, including c-Myc, p53, and k-ras, have proven to be difficult to cure because most drugs target stable structures.

But that is changing. New drugs such as protein inhibitors for the treatment of multiple myeloma and small cell lung cancer, and small molecules targeting the tau protein disorder in Alzheimer's disease continue to emerge. Perhaps in the next three to five years, "disordered proteins" will eventually become the target of targeted therapeutic drugs.

5. Environment: Smart fertilization can reduce environmental pollution

To feed the world's growing population, farmers need to increase crop yields. Traditional fertilization is inefficient and harmful to the environment. People have developed fertilizers that can be “controlled release”, allowing fertilizers to precisely change the rate of nutrient release with changes in soil temperature, acidity, or moisture.

In addition to combining data analysis, artificial intelligence and various sensor systems, you can also deploy automated vehicles to deliver nutrients in specified quantities and locations to increase crop yields and minimize the release of excess nutrients.

6. Computing: "collaborative remote" makes distance meaningless

Video calling applications such as Skype and FaceTime, as well as massively multiplayer online games, have fundamentally changed the way people interact on the Internet. "Collaborative telepresence" may change the way people interact virtually in business and other fields.

Telecom companies are rolling out 5G networks that use advanced sensors to process massive amounts of data to avoid delays. Innovators are perfecting technology to enable people to physically interact remotely, including tactile sensors.

7.Public health: food tracking will save lives and reduce waste

According to WHO data, approximately 600 million people are food poisoned every year, and 420,000 of them die. When the condition breaks out, investigators need to track the source for days or weeks. During this time, more people will become poisoned, and large amounts of uncontaminated food may be discarded along with the contaminated food.

Blockchain technology is beginning to be used to solve food tracking problems. New food packaging also provides new methods to determine whether foods are stored at the right temperature and whether they are beginning to spoil. Small sensors are being developed to monitor the quality and safety of trays, boxes or individually packaged foods.

8. Energy: Safer nuclear reactors are coming

Controlling carbon in the atmosphere requires a combination of multiple energy technologies, including nuclear reactors, but this technology is considered to be more risky. This risk can now be greatly reduced, and manufacturers are accelerating the development of "accident-resistant fuels" that are less likely to overheat and produce little or no hydrogen.

Manufacturers are developing "fourth-generation" models that use liquid sodium or molten salt instead of water to transfer the heat generated by fission and eliminate the danger of generating hydrogen. China has fully grasped the core technologies in this new field at the laboratory scale, and the basic shape of the relevant industrial chain has basically formed. It is expected that it will be the first to achieve commercial application globally after 2030.

9. Medicine and Biotechnology: DNA data storage is closer than you think

By 2020, every person in the world will generate 1.7 megabytes of data per second. That is to say, assuming that the world's population is 7.8 billion, it will generate approximately 418 billion terabytes of information a year. Current magnetic or optical data storage systems can only hold this amount of information for a century.

A new storage method that replaces the hard disk has made new progress: DNA-based data storage. DNA is the information storage material of life, consisting of long chains of nucleotides a, t, c and g. Data can be stored in the order of these letters, transforming DNA into a new form of information technology.

10. Energy: Utility-scale energy storage makes renewable grids possible

Wind, solar and other non-hydroelectric renewable energy sources will be the fastest growing part of the power mix over the next two years. However, the intermittent nature of these energy sources means that power companies need a way to store energy when the sun is not shining and the sea is calm.

This demand has increased interest in lithium-ion batteries. Since 2012, the battery's electricity costs have fallen by 76%, and lower prices have enabled it to compete with power plants powered by natural gas. The lithium-ion battery energy storage market is expected to quadruple by 2020.

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