Emerging Technologies

How the Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2024 will impact the world

Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2024: AI-powered scientific discovery and elastocalorics are among the 10 listed technologies. Image: World Economic Forum

Sebastian Buckup
Head of Network and Partnerships; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
Stephan Kuster
Head of External Affairs, Frontiers
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This article is part of: Annual Meeting of the New Champions
  • The World Economic Forum's Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2024 report lists this year's most impactful emerging technologies.
  • The list includes ways artificial intelligence is accelerating scientific research with a focus on applications in health, communication, infrastructure and sustainability.
  • AI-powered scientific discovery, carbon-capturing microbes, and elastocalorics are among the 10 listed technologies.

In a fast-changing world of transient ideas, which emerging technologies should be on the agenda of decision-makers, entrepreneurs and citizens in the years to come?

The World Economic Forum's latest Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2024 report – launched today and produced in collaboration with Frontiers – unveils a future teeming with possibilities. A wider lens was employed for this year's report, now in its 12th edition, leveraging the expertise of over 300 world-leading academics and experts from the Forum’s Global Future Councils, the University & Researcher Network and the Top 10 Emerging Technologies Steering Group members.​

Their insights, combined with data analysis, ensure a robust understanding of each technology's potential impact in addressing multiple global challenges: from advancements in materials science to transformative technologies in healthcare.

Have you read?

Here are the technologies that feature in the report:

Connectivity technology

In a world that needs to use less energy, and with 6G on the horizon, how can we make this growing demand for, and delivery of, instant data access more sustainable?

Reconfigurable intelligent surfaces (RIS) optimize wireless communications links by changing shape dynamically, combining meta-materials, smart algorithms and advanced signal processing to control and manipulate electromagnetic waves.

Engineered for enhanced capacity and connectivity and with a strong focus on environmental sustainability, RIS can turn ordinary walls and surfaces into intelligent components in a wireless network.

How could the technology impact everyday processes? Telecoms is the major area of use. This could mean more reliable and efficient radio-wave communication in smart factories and vehicular networks, as well as improved coverage in agricultural settings, the report predicts.

Harnessing the latest in solar, battery, lightweight composite material and avionic technology, high altitude platform station (HAPS) systems potentially offer new levels of communications and observation capabilities. Operating at around 20km above the Earth – typically in balloon, airship or fixed-wing aircraft form – they can beat the connectivity, coverage and performance of terrestrial towers and satellites, particularly in remote parts of the world.

HAPS' innovative infrastructure is poised to bring internet access to over 2.6 billion people in 100 countries without connectivity, creating opportunities for education and economic growth.

In addition to improving digital inclusion, HAPS are quick to deploy so could be of vital use in emergency situations.

In a world awash with sensing and communications devices, there is inevitably some functional overlap. Integrated sensing and communication (ISAC) combines these capabilities in a single system that can collect and transmit data simultaneously, enabling cost and hardware efficiencies while opening up new application possibilities.

ISAC makes wireless networks environment-aware, enabling functions such as localization, environmental mapping and infrastructure monitoring. Sensors and data analytics can be used to monitor air and water quality, soil moisture and weather conditions, for example. Real-world applications include monitoring systems for smart agriculture, environmental conservation and urban planning, as well as smart grids that optimize energy generation and consumption.

AI-enabled discoveries

It’s no surprise the speedy acceleration of artificial intelligence (AI) – and what it means for scientific research – tops this year’s list of major tech developments. While scientists have long been experimenting with how AI can advance their knowledge and capabilities, recent breakthroughs in deep learning, generative AI and foundation models are changing the game when it comes to rates of discovery and prediction.

With AI expanding the world of data like never before, finding ways of leveraging it without ethical or security concerns is key. Enter synthetic data, an exciting privacy-enhancing technology re-emerging in the age of AI. It replicates the patterns and trends in sensitive datasets but does not contain specific information that could be linked to individuals or compromise organizations or governments. Building on advances in AI, synthetic data makes it possible for scientists and others to share data globally and work collaboratively on research related to biology and health by removing identifying information.

AI for Scientific Discovery is transforming how new knowledge is discovered and used. AI systems such as Deep Mind’s AlphaFold can accurately predict the 3D models of protein structures. AI has also been applied in research that discovered a new family of antibiotics and created materials for more efficient batteries. According to a recent report from the United States President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, “AI has the potential to transform every scientific discipline and many aspects of the way we conduct science.”

The building and construction sector is responsible for almost 40% of carbon emissions, according to the United Nations. Immersive technology for the built world and AI-driven blended reality tools could have critical parts to play in its cleaner future, helping anticipate challenges and optimize projects for delivery in the real world. Digital twins, for example, can be used to simulate complex outcomes, increasing efficiency, while virtual prototyping and experimentation can help improve accuracy.

Business may be booming, but global labour shortages persist. In the metaverse, this could be mitigated, the Top 10 Emerging Technologies report says, through immersive learning and training environments that bring together architecture, engineering and construction professionals from around the world.

Tech to tackle climate change

Technologies that address, and provide solutions for, the climate crisis feature heavily in this year’s top 10.

Elastocalorics is a rapidly advancing field, described as “powering heat systems to work like muscles”, which could offer more sustainable ways to keep cool. With a warming climate and growing data demands, this has never been more important. Heat pumps using elastocaloric materials such as nickel and titanium – which emit heat when mechanical stress is applied and cool down when the stress is relaxed – are proving more energy-efficient than traditional heating and cooling systems.

Another benefit is they do not require the use of environmentally harmful refrigerant gases, and can be used for cooling in areas with limited or no electricity grid infrastructure, according to the report. A study by the US Department of Energy ranks these heat pumps as the most promising alternative to current systems.

In the midst of a climate crisis, microorganisms are proving a valuable resource. Able to capture greenhouse gases from air or exhaust gases, they are converting emissions into valuable products like biofuels, which have the potential to reduce global warming.

There are two main types of microbial carbon capture. The first uses organisms like cyanobacteria and microalgae that “eat” carbon through photosynthesis, the second employs microorganisms that use renewable energy sources – like hydrogen or organic waste streams – to capture CO2, which is then converted into new products, including biodiesel and protein-rich animal feed.

Animal agriculture relies on the production of proteins like soy, which can lead to deforestation, biodiversity loss, over-fertilization and greenhouse gas emissions from land-use changes. Alternative livestock feeds, or protein feeds for livestock sourced from single-cell proteins, algae and food waste – could be viable, sustainable substitutes for such products, especially as demand increases, says the report.

Advances in transplantation

While transplants save lives, there are not nearly enough available organs to meet demand. But recent advances in genetic manipulation, like CRISPR-Cas9, could change that.

Genomics for transplants: The successful implantation of genetically engineered organs into a human marks a significant advancement in healthcare, offering hope to millions awaiting transplants​.

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