The 5 hottest emerging technologies in 2016

The Top 10 Emerging Technologies 2016 list, compiled by the Forum and published in collaboration with Scientific American, highlights technological advances that have the power to improve lives, transform industries and safeguard the planet.

It also provides an opportunity to debate any human, societal, economic or environmental risks and concerns that the technologies may pose prior to widespread adoption.

The year 2016 represents a tipping point in the deployment of each technology. Therefore the list includes some technologies that have been around for a number of years, but are only now reaching a level of maturity where their impact can be meaningfully felt.

Next-generation batteries

One of the greatest obstacles holding renewable energy back is matching supply with demand, but recent advances in energy storage using sodium, aluminium and zinc-based batteries make it feasible to have mini-grids that can provide clean, reliable, round-the-clock energy sources to entire villages.

Open AI ecosystem

Shared advances in natural language processing and social awareness algorithms, coupled with an unprecedented availability of data, will mean that smart digital assistants will soon be there to help with a vast range of tasks, from keeping track of one’s finances and health to advising on wardrobe choice.

2D materials

Graphene may be the best-known single-atom layer material, but it is by no means the only one. Plummeting production costs mean that such 2D materials are emerging in a wide range of applications, from air and water filters to new generations of wearables and batteries.

The blockchain

Much has already been made of the distributed electronic ledger behind the online currency bitcoin. With related venture investment exceeding $1 billion in 2015 alone, blockchain’s potential economic and social impact is only now becoming clear. It could very soon fundamentally change the way markets and governments work.

Autonomous vehicles

Self-driving cars may not yet be fully legal in most places, but their potential for saving lives, cutting pollution, boosting economies, and improving quality of life for the elderly and others has led to rapid deployment of key technological forerunners along the way to full autonomy.

To compile this list, the World Economic Forum’s Meta-Council on Emerging Technologies, a panel of global experts, drew on the collective expertise of the Forum’s communities to identify the most important recent technological trends. By doing so, the meta-council aims to raise awareness of their potential, as well as help close gaps in investment, regulation and public understanding that so often thwart progress.

You can read 10 expert views on these technologies here, or download the series as a PDF.

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