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This is how to find out which emerging technologies will next revolutionize our world

Close up of a blue and purple DNA structure: The Top 10 Emerging Technologies Report has accurately identified revolutionary technologies in the past.

The Top 10 Emerging Technologies Report has accurately identified revolutionary technologies in the past. Image: Unsplash/Sangharsh Lohakare

Greta Keenan
Lead, Strategic Impact and Communications, World Economic Forum Geneva
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Tech and Innovation

This article is part of: Annual Meeting of the New Champions

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  • The Top 10 Emerging Technologies Report serves to help decision-makers and the public anticipate the next key technologies to harness their opportunities and mitigate their risks.
  • Our latest annual report lists this year's most impactful emerging technologies and launches on 26 June.
  • Past editions of the Forum’s “Top 10” have proven true with many revolutionary technologies transforming education, agriculture and medicine in just a few years.

For over a decade, the World Economic Forum has been surveying academics, industry leaders and futurists on emerging technologies set to transform industries, economies and societies. Consolidated in the annual Top 10 Emerging Technologies Report, these expert insights and predictions help decision-makers and the public anticipate the next technologies and how to seize their associated opportunities and mitigate any risks.

No matter how many intelligent minds you get in a room, no one can predict the future. But by following the scientific literature, tracking investment trends and speaking to the scientists and entrepreneurs at the forefront of innovation, it is possible to make educated guesses about the technology trends likely to shape at least the next three to five years.

Reflecting on the past 10 editions of the “Top 10,” the group of experts behind the report were, in many cases, spot on, with technologies going on to revolutionize education, agriculture or medicine within just a few years. In other cases, technologies heralded as the next big thing failed to live up to their full potential – perhaps due to ungrounded hype or financial or regulatory barriers to scaling.

Ahead of the launch of the 2023 edition of the Top 10 Emerging Technologies Report next week, in collaboration with Frontiers, I looked back at the 100 technologies we featured over the past decade and pulled out some of the biggest success stories.

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Genomic vaccines

When genomic vaccines made it onto the 2017 list – despite being years in the making – they were barely known outside of research and pharmaceutical circles.

Traditional vaccines trigger an immune response by introducing an attenuated pathogen, or pathogen protein, into a person’s body. However, this new class of vaccines, made up of DNA and RNA, promised to deliver the “instructions” for how the body could make its own immune-triggering protein.

Fast forward a few years, and the COVID-19 pandemic brought genomic vaccines – specifically messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines – into the public eye and people’s arms, with the majority of life-saving vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) relying on this technology.

Their use extends beyond infectious diseases into gene therapy, anti-cancer therapy and regenerative medicine.

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Precise genetic-engineering techniques

The 2015 list featured CRISPR-Cas9 – a precise gene editing tool that researchers were increasingly using to add, delete or swap DNA and observe the outcome – to determine the exact function of specific genes.

The development of the technology was deemed such a game-changer in the world of genetic research and for potential downstream applications that the scientists behind it were awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Though its applications cut across medicine, agriculture and research, back in 2015, the “top 10” steering committee was excited about the potential applications in editing the genetic code of plants to make them more nutritious or better able to cope with a changing climate.

Thanks to societal engagement in the rollout of the technology, CRISPR-Cas9 is now being used to create insect and drought-resistant crops in harsh growing conditions around the world and even capture CO2 from the air and store it better in the soil.

AI-led molecular design

Today, you can barely turn on the news without reading about artificial intelligence (AI). But back up to the 2010s, researchers were experimenting with the problems AI could tackle. One of the biggest challenges is drug discovery – pre-clinical stages typically take three to six years and cost hundreds of millions to billions of dollars.

Recognizing that AI tools could revolutionize nearly every stage of the drug discovery process, the “top 10” steering committee gave AI-led molecular design a spot on the 2018 list.

In the few short years since, there have been many breakthroughs in this space, with DeepMind’s AlphaFold managing to predict the structure of 200 million proteins and the first AI-discovered drugs entering clinical trials.

Generative AI has taken this to the next level, enabling researchers to design new antibodies to bind specific targets without using any training data of antibodies known to bind those specific targets. In other words, the AI generated a new antibody, undiscovered by humans. Looking ahead, this approach could potentially unlock treatments for traditionally “undruggable” diseases.

New technologies have the potential to change industries, grow economies, improve lives, and help restore and protect the planet – if leaders are primed to seize the opportunities and prepare to mitigate risks.

We hope that the upcoming Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2023 Report will build on its 10-year legacy of helping business leaders and policy-makers shape the direction of travel.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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