Generative AI, flexible batteries, metaverse for mental health, more on the WEF 2023 Emerging Technologies List

Generative AI, flexible batteries, metaverse for mental health, more on the WEF 2023 Emerging Technologies List

A new type of AI capable of generating new and original content, design phages, flexible batteries and sustainable jet fuel are among the technologies that are expected to have the most positive impact on the world in the next 3 to 5 years, the WEF said on Monday.

Listing the top ten emerging technologies, the WEF said the list also includes wearable plant sensors, metaverse for mental health, spatial omics, flexible neural electronics, sustainable computing and AI-enabled healthcare.

The WEF’s ‘Top Ten Emerging Technologies Report 2023’ assessed how each technology will impact people, planet, prosperity, industry and equity and was produced in collaboration with Frontiers, a publisher of peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journals.

The technologies analyzed for the annual list were those that promise great benefits for societies and economies, but also those considered disruptive, attractive to investors and researchers, and that should reach a considerable scale in five years.

Since the first edition in 2011, the report has identified little-known technologies that have had a global impact. These include genomic vaccines, featured in the 2016 report and later becoming the underlying technology for most COVID-19 vaccines, and AI-led molecular design, featured in the 2018 list, two years before the first AI-discovered drugs entered clinical trials.

Speaking of the top ten shortlisted, the WEF said that standard rigid batteries may soon be a thing of the past as thin, flexible batteries – made from lightweight materials that can be twisted, bent and stretched – will hit the market.

This new generation of battery technology – which is expected to reach a market value of US$240 million (approximately Rs. 1,967 crore) by 2027 – has applications in medical wearable devices, biomedical sensors, flexible monitors and smartwatches.

On generative AI, he said that this new type of AI is capable of generating new and original content by learning from large datasets that were catapulted into public dialogue in late 2022 with the public launch of ChatGPT.

Evolving rapidly, generative AI is set to disrupt multiple industries, with applications in education, research and beyond, the WEF said.

On sustainable aviation fuel, the report states that, with 2 to 3% of annual global CO2 emissions coming from aviation and no sign of long-haul electric flights, this fuel produced from biological (such as biomass) and non-biological (such as CO2) sources could be the answer to decarbonizing the aviation industry in the short to medium term.

In engineered phages, the report said that ‘phages’ are viruses that selectively infect specific types of bacteria.

Equipped with increasingly sophisticated genetic engineering tools, scientists can now reprogram phages to infect the bacteria of their choice, allowing them to target one type of bacteria in a complex community of coexisting types of bacteria, such as in plant, animal and human microbiomes.

While many of the near-term applications are in research, there are signs that these “engineered” phages could eventually be used to treat diseases associated with the microbiome or eliminate dangerous bacteria in food supply chains.

Additionally, in response to the growing mental health crisis, product developers are starting to build shared virtual spaces to improve mental health.

“Video games are already being used to treat depression and anxiety, and VR-enabled meditation is on the rise. Combined with next-generation wearable devices that allow the user to feel touch and/or respond to the user’s emotional state, the future metaverse could be poised to improve mental health,” the WEF said.

He further said that drones and satellites have changed the game in monitoring large-scale farms that have traditionally relied on manual soil testing and visual observations.

“We now have a new generation of plant sensors – small, non-invasive devices that can be ‘worn’ by individual plants for continuous monitoring of temperature, humidity, humidity and nutrient levels. Assuming they can overcome scaling costs, wearable plant sensors can improve plant health and increase yields,” the report said.

On the other hand, ‘spatial omics’ allows scientists to “see” biological processes at the molecular level inside cells, combining advanced imaging techniques with the specificity of DNA sequencing.

By revealing previously unobservable biological structures and events, this powerful new technology is poised to accelerate our understanding of biology and help researchers develop new treatments for complex diseases, the report said.

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