1. Home
  2. tech
  3. news
  4. Wearables for plants, bacteria eating viruses, and 8 technologies in 2023 that can change the future

Wearables for plants, bacteria eating viruses, and 8 technologies in 2023 that can change the future

Wearables for plants, bacteria eating viruses, and 8 technologies in 2023 that can change the future
  • The World Economic Forum has picked ten breakthrough technologies that show promise for the future.
  • Flexible batteries, generative AI, sustainable aviation fuel, wearable sensors for plants and green computing are some of them.
  • Many other biological breakthroughs like designer phages, metaverse for mental health, brain-machine interfaces and more have made it to the list.
The world is changing fast with new dangers and permacrisis afoot. However, the good news is that a number of breakthrough new technologies are working to make it a better place. The World Economic Forum has picked ten such for 2023 — right from deep biology that can look into the cells to flexible batteries that can be twisted, bent and stretched.

To make it to this coveted list, the technologies must offer promising major benefits to societies and economies, be disruptive, attractive to investors and researchers; and expected to have achieved considerable scale within five years.

“New technologies have the power to disrupt industries, grow economies, improve lives and safeguard the planet – if designed, scaled and deployed responsibly,” said Jeremy Jurgens, Managing Director, World Economic Forum and Head of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In the past, the WEF has picked many such winners — like the genetic-engineering tool CRISPR-Cas9 which was featured in 2015, went on to win the Nobel Prize five years later. “It is now being used to create insect and drought-resistant crops in harsh growing conditions around the world,” said Jurgens.

Messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines, earned their place in the 2017 report, became the technology underpinning the majority of Covid-19 vaccines protecting lives worldwide. AI-led molecular design made it onto the 2018 list. Since then, Deepmind’s AlphaFold predicted the structure of 200 million proteins, and the first AI-discovered drugs have entered clinical trials.

Let’s look what technologies made it to this year’s list:

Flexible batteries: Bend, twist & stretch

The world is going flex – with rollable computer screens to smart clothing. And the systems that power them should be so too. Flexible batteries, made of lightweight materials that can be easily twisted, bent or stretched, will soon hit the market and make standard rigid batteries a thing of the past.

“The rapidly escalating development of wearable devices, flexible electronics and bendable displays demand power sources that match the agility of these systems,” the report says.

One study forecasts that the global flexible battery market will grow by $240.47 million from 2022-2027, accelerating at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.79%, says WEF. Several companies like LG Chem, Samsung SDI, Apple, Nokia are are actively developing and commercialising flexible battery technology.

Generative AI: Sparring partner to conventional thinking

Imagine an algorithm that can draw the image that a human holds in his mind? That’s one example of the boundless potential of generative AI which can design drugs, aid in architecture and engineering — in addition to what ChatGPT does.

NASA engineers are working to use this technology to build lightweight spaceflight instruments. But this technology needs to build something more, trust.

“To build public trust in generative AI, applications should meet agreed-upon professional and ethical standards. Care should be taken to mitigate AI bias based on training data, with a focus on including “outlier” data and novel societal conventions,” WEF says. It should also address copyright attribution and more.

With correct controls, generative AI can demonstrate the boundaries of knowledge, and act as a sparring partner to challenge conventional thinking.

Sustainable aviation fuel: Moving up, with challenges ahead

The road-bound cousins of aeroplanes – cars, bikes and more are going green at a rapid pace. However, the cost of making the aviation sector, which contributes to 2-3% of CO2 emissions annually, is enormous.

Enter sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) that’s produced from biomass, and non-biological resources. Now it makes up for 1% of the global jet fuel demand, but must rise to 13-15% by 2040, WEF says.

“Such an increase will require the creation of 300-400 new SAF plants; and airlines, manufacturers and fuel companies are working around the clock to enable this level of scale,” the report says, adding that availability and collection of raw materials, along with the need for sustainably produced green hydrogen, remain major challenges.

Designer Phages: Virus that carry ‘genetic scissors’

Viruses, as scary as they are, can be engineered to benefit humans. Key to this engineering are phages – viruses that selectively infect specific types of bacteria.

Upon infection, a phage injects its genetic information into the bacterium. With ‘genetic scissors’, these phages can execute a set of instructions – they can change a bacterium’s functions. It can be made into a therapeutic molecule or to become sensitive to a certain drug and more.

“Phages are also being designed as feed supplements to enhance the growth of livestock, treat certain plant diseases and eliminate dangerous bacteria in food supply chains,” WEF says.

Locus Biosciences and Eligo Biosciences are using this approach to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Metaverse for mental health: Augmenting connections

The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed the mental health crisis to such an extent that the world is falling short of health providers. The conditions are ripe for metaverse-enabled mental health treatment, WEF says.

“Maturing interface technologies could further augment social and emotional connections between distant participants,” the report says. Many players are already working on it with gamification and other ways which can also reduce the stigma attached with mental health.

Noninvasive neurotechnologies can provide feedback attuned to a user’s emotional state. For example, Neurable headsets use electrodes to measure emotion and can adjust music accordingly.

Eventually, the metaverse will also connect to therapeutic neurotechnologies, such as direct brain stimulation to treat intractable depression,” WEF adds.

Wearable plant sensors: The new frontier

Traditionally, crops have been monitored via soil testing and visual inspections, both of which are expensive and time-consuming. Recent tech advancements have been monitoring crop health via low-resolution satellite data, which has gone on to sensor equipped drones and tractors which provide information.

The next frontier is monitoring individual plants – with wearables. “These sensors are small, non-invasive devices that can be attached to crop plants for continuous monitoring of temperature, humidity, moisture and nutrient levels,” the report says.

Growvera and Phytech have developed micro-sized needle sensors that insert into a plant’s leaves or stems to measure changes in electrical resistance, but challenges remain in terms of expense and the reading of the data might need specialised expertise. It needs data analytics tools that can help farmers ‘read it’ and make informed decisions.

Spatial omics: Unravelling evolutionary secrets

Humans are made of millions of cells —- but what happens inside them? Spatial omics might actually help us ‘see’ the biological processes, how they work in detail that was unprecedented before.

A spatial omics study of samples from people who died from Covid-19 revealed that SARS-CoV-2 causes widespread disruption of cellular pathways across all tissues. Scientists have also identified a set of neurons that help paralysed mice walk, sooner.

But this technology needs to be democratised, WEF believes. It had a total market value of $232.6 million in 2021 and an estimated revenue of $587.2 million in 2030.

While academic and translational research centres made up 89% of the market in 2020, the market is dramatically expanding to include pharmaceutical and biotech industries.

Flexible neural electronics: Biocompatible now

Brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) allow electrical signals the brain produces to be captured by sensor hardware – and are already being used for patients with epilepsy, and create prosthetic limbs connected to the nervous system.

But the current implants are made of hard material like chips, which can scar humans and cause substantial discomfort. They cannot bend or adapt to brain movements so, over time, they “drift” in position, decreasing the accuracy. But now researchers developed these circuits on biocompatible materials that are soft and flexible.

It can deepen understanding of conditions like dementia and autism; and can also be used to develop cardiac pacemakers and more. But eventually, it holds the potential to true human-AI interfacing – but since the data from the brain is sensitive, privacy and ethical use guidelines must be established.

Sustainable computing: Optimism ahead

Every time we search on Google, send email or use any form of AI, we are connecting to data centres — which consume an estimated 1% of the electricity produced globally. And, this will only grow.

There is no single “green data” magic bullet, but the coming decade will see strides toward net-zero-energy data centres. The first is to use cooling systems to dissipate the heat. Stockholm is using heat from data centres to heat homes.

Then, AI itself can come with a solution for the heat it is generating, but analysing and optimising energy use in real-time. DeepMind has successfully demonstrated the potential of AI-powered energy management, achieving up to a 40% reduction in energy consumption at Google’s data centres.

Crusoe Energy instals its modular data centres at sites where methane flaring occurs to enable cloud computing infrastructure to be powered by methane gas that would otherwise have been released directly into the atmosphere.

“Given the wave of innovation and investment in this area, there is reason to be optimistic about the years ahead,” WEF says.

AI-facilitated healthcare: Easing access

Ever since the pandemic governments and academic teams alike have been using AI and ML models to improve access to patient care – to cut down the long delays many patients experience.

This can aid developing nations in particular. India, for example, has a widely dispersed population of over 1.4 billion and has embraced an AI-based approach to enhance medical outreach.

“The Indian government has enabled physicians to engage remote communities through assistive technologies, with requisite privacy safeguards in place,” the report says.

However, hurdles to this system remain like patient compliance and national security concerns. “Moreover, any system that curates personal data on the health and welfare of a vast population must function within the bounds of a carefully crafted legal and ethical framework,” WEF says.


Popular Right Now