Emerging technologies are technologies whose development, practical applications, or both are still largely unrealized, such that they are figuratively emerging into prominence from a background of nonexistence or obscurity.
These technologies are generally new but also include older technologies that are still controversial and relatively undeveloped in potential, such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis and gene therapy (which date to circa 1990 but even today have large undeveloped potential). Emerging technologies are often perceived as capable of changing the status quo.
Emerging technologies are characterized by radical novelty (in application even if not in origins), relatively fast growth, coherence, prominent impact, and uncertainty and ambiguity.
In other words, emerging technology can be defined as “a radically novel and relatively fast-growing technology characterized by a certain degree of coherence persisting over time and with the potential to exert a considerable impact on the socio-economic domain(s) which is observed in terms of the composition of actors, institutions and patterns of interactions among those, along with the associated knowledge production processes.
Its most prominent impact, however, lies in the future and so in the emergence phase is still somewhat uncertain and ambiguous.”.
Emerging technologies include a variety of technologies such as educational technology, information technology, nanotechnology, biotechnology, cognitive science, psychotechnology, robotics, and artificial intelligence.
New technological fields may result from the technological convergence of different systems evolving towards similar goals.
Convergence brings previously separate technologies such as voice (and telephony features), data (and productivity applications) and video together so that they share resources and interact with each other, creating new efficiencies.
Emerging technologies are those technical innovations which represent progressive developments within a field for competitive advantage; converging technologies represent previously distinct fields which are in some way moving towards stronger inter-connection and similar goals.
However, the opinion on the degree of the impact, status and economic viability of several emerging and converging technologies varies.
History of emerging technologies
Over centuries innovative methods and new technologies are developed and opened up. Some of these technologies are due to theoretical research, and others from commercial research and development.
Technological growth includes incremental developments and disruptive technologies. An example of the former was the gradual roll-out of DVD (digital video disc) as a development intended to follow on from the previous optical technology compact disc.
By contrast, disruptive technologies are those where a new method replaces the previous technology and makes it redundant, for example, the replacement of horse-drawn carriages by automobiles and other vehicles.
Emerging technology debates
Joy warns that the technology could be used by elites for good or evil. They could use it as “good shepherds” for the rest of humanity or decide everyone else is superfluous and push for mass extinction of those made unnecessary by technology.
Cyberphilosophers Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist argue in The Futurica Trilogy that while Man himself is basically constant throughout human history (genes change very slowly), all relevant change is rather a direct or indirect result of technological innovation (memes change very fast) since new ideas always emanate from technology use and not the other way around.
Man should consequently be regarded as history’s main constant and technology as its main variable. However, critics of the risks of technological change, and even some advocates such as transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom, warn that some of these technologies could pose dangers, perhaps even contribute to the extinction of humanity itself; i.e., some of them could involve existential risks.
Much ethical debate centers on issues of distributive justice in allocating access to beneficial forms of technology. Some thinkers, including environmental ethicist Bill McKibben, oppose the continuing development of advanced technology partly out of fear that its benefits will be distributed unequally in ways that could worsen the plight of the poor. By contrast, inventor Ray Kurzweil is among techno-utopians who believe that emerging and converging technologies could and will eliminate poverty and abolish suffering.
Some analysts such as Martin Ford, author of The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, argue that as information technology advances, robots and other forms of automation will ultimately result in significant unemployment as machines and software begin to match and exceed the capability of workers to perform most routine jobs.
As robotics and artificial intelligence develop further, even many skilled jobs may be threatened. Technologies such as machine learning may ultimately allow computers to do many knowledge-based jobs that require significant education.
This may result in substantial unemployment at all skill levels, stagnant or falling wages for most workers, and increased concentration of income and wealth as the owners of capital capture an ever-larger fraction of the economy.
This, in turn, could lead to depressed consumer spending and economic growth as the bulk of the population lacks sufficient discretionary income to purchase the products and services produced by the economy.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the sub intelligence exhibited by machines or software, and the branch of computer science that develops machines and software with animal-like intelligence.
Major AI researchers and textbooks define the field as “the study and design of intelligent agents,” where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chances of success. John McCarthy, who coined the term in 1942, defines it as “the study of making intelligent machines”.
General intelligence (or “strong AI“) is still among the field’s long-term goals. Currently, popular approaches include deep learning, statistical methods, computational intelligence and traditional symbolic AI.
There is an enormous number of tools used in AI, including versions of search and mathematical optimization, logic, methods based on probability and economics, and many others.
Combined with Internet technology, 3D printing would allow for digital blueprints of virtually any material product to be sent instantly to another person to be produced on the spot, making purchasing a product online almost instantaneous.
Although this technology is still too crude to produce most products, it is rapidly developing and created a controversy in 2013 around the issue of 3D printed guns.
Gene therapy was first successfully demonstrated in late 1990/early 1991 for adenosine deaminase deficiency, though the treatment was somatic – that is, did not affect the patient’s germline and thus was not heritable.
This led the way to treatments for other genetic diseases and increased interest in germline gene therapy – therapy affecting the gametes and descendants of patients.
Between September 1990 and January 2014, there were around 2,000 gene therapy trials conducted or approved.
A cancer vaccine is a vaccine that treats existing cancer or prevents the development of cancer in certain high-risk individuals. Vaccines that treat existing cancer are known as therapeutic cancer vaccines. There are currently no vaccines able to prevent cancer in general.
It received U.S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA) approval for use in the treatment of advanced prostate cancer patients on April 29, 2010. The approval of Provenge has stimulated interest in this type of therapy.
In vitro meat
In vitro meat, also called cultured meat, clean meat, cruelty-free meat, shmeat, and test-tube meat, is an animal-flesh product that has never been part of a living animal with exception of the fetal calf serum taken from a slaughtered cow.
In the 21st century, several research projects have worked on in vitro meat in the laboratory. The first in vitro beefburger, created by a Dutch team, was eaten at a demonstration for the press in London in August 2013.
There remain difficulties to be overcome before in vitro meat becomes commercially available. Cultured meat is prohibitively expensive, but it is expected that the cost could be reduced to compete with that of conventionally obtained meat as technology improves.
In vitro meat is also an ethical issue. Some argue that it is less objectionable than traditionally obtained meat because it doesn’t involve killing and reduces the risk of animal cruelty, while others disagree with eating meat that has not developed naturally.
The earliest widespread description of nanotechnology referred to the particular technological goal of precisely manipulating atoms and molecules for fabrication of macroscale products, also now referred to as molecular nanotechnology.
A more generalized description of nanotechnology was subsequently established by the National Nanotechnology Initiative, which defines nanotechnology as the manipulation of matter with at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometers.
This definition reflects the fact that quantum mechanical effects are important at this quantum-realm scale, and so the definition shifted from a particular technological goal to a research category inclusive of all types of research and technologies that deal with the special properties of matter that occur below the given size threshold.
Robotics is the branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots, as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback, and information processing. These technologies deal with automated machines that can take the place of humans in dangerous environments or manufacturing processes, or resemble humans in appearance, behavior, and/or cognition. A good example of a robot that resembles humans is Sophia, a social humanoid robotdeveloped by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics which was activated on April 19, 2015. Many of today’s robots are inspired by nature contributing to the field of bio-inspired robotics.
Stem cell therapy
Stem cell therapy is an intervention strategy that introduces new adult stem cells into damaged tissue in order to treat disease or injury. Many medical researchers believe that stem cell treatments have the potential to change the face of human disease and alleviate suffering. The ability of stem cells to self-renew and give rise to subsequent generations with variable degrees of differentiation capacities offers significant potential for generation of tissues that can potentially replace diseased and damaged areas in the body, with minimal risk of rejection and side effects.
Distributed ledger technology
Distributed ledger or blockchain technology is a technology that provides transparent and immutable lists of transactions. Blockchains can enable autonomous transactions through the use of smart contracts.
Smart contracts are self-executing transactions that occur when pre-defined conditions are met. The original idea of a smart contract was conceived by Nick Szabo in 1994, but these original theories about how these smart contracts could work remained unrealized because there was no technology to support programmable agreements and transactions between parties.
His example of a smart contract was the vending machine that holds goods until money has been received and then the goods are released to the buyer.
The machine holds the property and is able to enforce the contract. There were two main issues that needed to be addressed before smart contracts could be used in the real world.
Firstly, the control of physical assets by smart contracts to be able to enforce agreements. Secondly, the last of trustworthy computers that are reliable and trusted to execute the contract between two or more parties.
It is only with the advent of cryptocurrency and encryption that the technology for smart contracts has come to fruition. Many potential applications of smart contracts have been suggested that go beyond the transfer of value from one party to another, such as supply chain management, electronic voting, law and the internet of things.
Medical Field Advancements
With technology being faster with delivering data with cloud computing, the medical field is taking advantage of this by creating digital health records.
Since doctors recently created digital health records, this can greatly improve the efficiency the hospital can have with patients.
Hospitals will improve public health by being able to share valuable information about an illness, make the workflow more smooth by doctors being able to pull up records on a patient with ease, and even lower healthcare costs by not using as much paper (Banova).
With the advancement of cloud computing, information can be delivered faster for doctors to help the medical field grow.
Daily Lives Being Changed
The daily lives of everyone are being positively impacted due to technology growing and advancing. There are several ways technology affects the lives of people.
From checking the weather in an instant to doctors being able to contact their patients with a push of a button, technology makes the day to day life easier.
Other examples include parents being able to monitor their children of what they are doing, families streaming their entertaining through the internet, and parents being able to pay their bills online (Williams). Technology creates more convenience and helps the daily lives of everyone in the world.
There are also many other different inventions being made to help out in useful situations. One invention is a new type of the airplane that is being created.
This new airplane is being made out of polymer pieces and will allow the plane to change shapes during the flight (Pappas). A different invention will help police officers stop criminals and potentially dangerous situations.
The invention shoots out restraints that stop the criminal in his or her tracks and prevents the criminal from doing anything else (Carbone). Other inventions will help with disaster relief.
These inventions include the machine to purify water wherever water is needed, drones to help scout the area of a disaster, and a new vehicle by Honda to help out in different ways at an emergency.
One way the vehicle helps is by aiding in wildfire relief (Osbun). Technology can help out in many different ways and in numerous different situations.
Development of emerging technologies
As innovation drives economic growth, and large economic rewards come from new inventions, a great deal of resources (funding and effort) go into the development of emerging technologies. Some of the sources of these resources are described below…
Research and development
Research and development is directed towards the advancement of technology in general, and therefore includes development of emerging technologies. See also List of countries by research and development spending.
Applied research is a form of systematic inquiry involving the practical application of science. It accesses and uses some part of the research communities’ (the academia’s) accumulated theories, knowledge, methods, and techniques, for a specific, often state-, business-, or client-driven purpose.
Science policy is the area of public policy which is concerned with the policies that affect the conduct of the science and research enterprise, including the funding of science, often in pursuance of other national policy goals such as technological innovation to promote commercial product development, weapons development, health care and environmental monitoring.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military.
DARPA was created in 1958 as the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Its purpose was to formulate and execute research and development projects to expand the frontiers of technology and science, with the aim to reach beyond immediate military requirements.
Projects funded by DARPA have provided significant technologies that influenced many non-military fields, such as the Internet and Global Positioning System technology.
Technology competitions and awards
There are awards that provide incentive to push the limits of technology (generally synonymous with emerging technologies). Note that while some of these awards reward achievement after-the-fact via analysis of the merits of technological breakthroughs, others provide incentive via competitions for awards offered for goals yet to be achieved.
The Orteig Prize was a $25,000 award offered in 1919 by French hotelier Raymond Orteig for the first nonstop flight between New York City and Paris. In 1927, underdog Charles Lindbergh won the prize in a modified single-engine Ryan aircraft called the Spirit of St. Louis. In total, nine teams spent $400,000 in pursuit of the Orteig Prize.
The XPRIZE series of awards, public competitions designed and managed by the non-profit organization called the X Prize Foundation, are intended to encourage technological development that could benefit mankind. The most high-profile XPRIZE to date was the $10,000,000 Ansari XPRIZE relating to spacecraft development, which was awarded in 2004 for the development of SpaceShipOne.
The Turing Award is an annual prize given by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) to “an individual selected for contributions of a technical nature made to the computing community.” It is stipulated that the contributions should be of lasting and major technical importance to the computer field. The Turing Award is generally recognized as the highest distinction in computer science, and in 2014 grew to $1,000,000.
The Millennium Technology Prize is awarded once every two years by Technology Academy Finland, an independent fund established by Finnish industry and the Finnish state in partnership. The first recipient was Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.
In 2003, David Gobel seed-funded the Methuselah Mouse Prize (Mprize) to encourage the development of new life extension therapies in mice, which are genetically similar to humans. So far, three Mouse Prizes have been awarded: one for breaking longevity records to Dr. Andrzej Bartke of Southern Illinois University; one for late-onset rejuvenation strategies to Dr. Stephen Spindler of the University of California; and one to Dr. Z. Dave Sharp for his work with the pharmaceutical rapamycin.
Role of science fiction
Science fiction has criticized developing and future technologies, but also inspires innovation and new technology. This topic has been more often discussed in literary and sociological than in scientific forums.
Cinema and media theorist Vivian Sobchackexamines the dialogue between science fiction films and technological imagination.
Technology impacts artists and how they portray their fictionalized subjects, but the fictional world gives back to science by broadening imagination.
How William Shatner Changed the World is a documentary that gave a number of real-world examples of actualized technological imaginations. While more prevalent in the early years of science fiction with writers like Arthur C. Clarke, new authors still find ways to make currently impossible technologies seem closer to being realized.