New technologies are constantly emerging to try to solve humanity’s largest challenges, and many promise to dramatically change our world for the better. While some of these innovations will be expensive, many will become more affordable as costs go down and production ramps up. From making global travel easier than ever before to improving human health, here are 15 ways technology will make our lives better over the next decade.
Let’s start with one that we’re seeing today.
- 1 Genome Editing
- 2 Immunotherapy
- 3 Wearable Tech
- 4 Virtual Reality
- 5 Robots
- 6 Renewable Energy
- 7 Big Data
- 8 Electric Vehicles
- 9 Low-Cost Space Travel
- 10 Mobile Payments & Digital Currencies
- 11 Blockchain Technology
- 12 Artificial Intelligence
- 13 Self-Driving Cars & Trucks
- 14 Drones and delivery robots
- 15 Bottom Line
Genome editing is the ability to make changes to a living organism’s DNA. The possibilities are endless: you could use it to target and treat diseases, or you could engineer crops to be more resistant to drought, pests, and other threats. In fact, genome editing has already been used in agriculture for about seven years.
The technology comes in many forms, but CRISPR is by far the most popular. It stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.” It’s cheap and easy; some say it can be done with lab equipment that costs less than $150. All you need is a transportable set of molecules that locate the specific spot in a strand of DNA where they’re supposed to make modifications.
Immunotherapy is an exciting and emerging field of cancer treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight certain types of cancer. These therapies can be particularly effective because they teach the body to fight cancer in a very specific way. Unlike chemotherapy, which uses toxic chemicals in an attempt to destroy cancer cells, immunotherapy treatments build up the body’s natural defenses against disease by stimulating the immune system. The most common forms of immunotherapy work by introducing man-made proteins into the bloodstream, then allowing them to attack cancerous tumors.
The side effects are minimal compared to chemotherapy, but symptoms like fatigue and nausea can still occur from time to time. If you do develop any side effects while undergoing immunotherapy treatment, be sure to contact your doctor right away as they can sometimes signal more serious problems (although this is rare).
Wearable technology is one of the most exciting and fastest-growing sectors in tech, expected to hit over $70 billion by 2025. These devices have been steadily getting smaller and less expensive, which has opened up the market to more users. Not only are they making “geek” fashion cool, but increasingly innovative forms of wearable tech promise to assist us with everything from fitness and health monitoring, to everyday needs such as communication, payments and navigation.
Some of the most common forms include smartwatches that sync with your phone or computer; health trackers that measure steps, heart rate or calories burned; or sleep trackers that measure your sleep cycles throughout the night. But wearable technology goes far beyond those standard devices—and many advancements are pushing past our wildest science fiction fantasies for what’s possible through wearable tech.
Virtual reality is a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world. Applications of virtual reality can include entertainment (i.e. video games) and educational purposes (i.e. medical or military training). Other, distinct types of VR style technology include augmented reality and mixed reality. Currently standard virtual reality systems use either virtual reality headsets or multi-projected environments to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual environment. A person using virtual reality equipment is able to “look around” the artificial world, move around in it, and interact with virtual features or items. The effect is commonly created by VR headsets consisting of a head-mounted display with a small screen in front of the eyes, but can also be created through specially designed rooms with multiple large screens.
Forget about the autonomous cars that are coming soon to a lane near you. There are some other, more idiosyncratic robots in development—ones that drive themselves only around your house, say, or ones that use their own intelligence and sensors to find the best way to clean up after your kids’ latest dinner party.
Here are 4 robots already being developed and tested:
- Humanoid robots: These human-shaped bots walk, talk, feel emotions and even have personalities of their own. One company has even developed a bot called Sophia who can hold lifelike conversations with humans.
- Robotic surgery: Doctors at several hospitals around the world have begun using robots in surgeries to control instruments with greater precision than can be achieved by hand.
- Robotic butlers: You’ll never need to lift another finger once these robot butlers get rolling. When they do hit the consumer market (which is still several years off), they’ll be able to clean your floors, change your sheets and load your dishwasher without you having to lift a finger.
- Robotic cars: Google’s driverless car project has already logged more than 1 million accident-free miles on public roads since 2012. Tesla is also developing its own self-driving car system that will let drivers turn it on when they want—and take over when they don’t.
As you may already know, renewable energy is energy that comes from natural resources. In other words, it’s energy found in nature that can be replenished over time. Unlike fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), renewable energy sources are always being replenished. This means they can continue to be used indefinitely and are more sustainable than non-renewable fuel sources like coal and oil.
You’re probably using big data right now, even if you don’t know it. Big data refers to the vast quantities of information that are collected by companies and governments—and though the name might imply that this data is physically large (like a giant stack of papers), big data is actually something that can be analyzed on computers and turned into meaningful information.
In fact, big data is just like any other kind of data in some ways. However, whereas traditional databases are designed for specific purposes, big data often comes in an unstructured form and is used for a variety of purposes—including marketing research and health care. The field has been growing more quickly than ever as well in recent years, as advances in technology have allowed us to collect more information than ever before.
And what exactly do we mean when we say “more” information? The amount of digital information produced each year has been growing exponentially: it’s estimated that the world produced 7 exabytes (that’s 7 billion gigabytes) of digital content in 2011 alone! That number will likely keep rising too: while some estimates suggest that there was less than 1 exabyte total until 2003, we could be creating as much as 35 zettabytes (that’s 35 trillion gigabytes) by 2020!
- Electric vehicles (EVs) are vehicles that run on electricity instead of gasoline. Most EVs are 100 percent electric and create zero tailpipe emissions, making them an environmentally-friendly alternative to gasoline-powered cars.
- EVs are significantly quieter than non-electric vehicles because they don’t use an internal combustion engine. However, EVs still make some noise—usually from the sound of tires against the road or wind resistance—and so the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a standard that requires each vehicle model type to make a minimum amount of noise when traveling under 18.6 miles per hour so that pedestrians can hear approaching traffic.
- Since most electricity is generated through burning coal and natural gas, EVs generally cost less to use than gasoline-powered cars, which can be beneficial for owners’ wallets as well as for the environment.
- Compared to conventional engines, electric motors are known for being more efficient mechanically because more of their fuel input is converted into kinetic energy while they’re operating. Electric vehicles also have regenerative braking systems that convert some of the kinetic energy from stopping back into stored energy in their batteries, which increases their efficiency even further, even though it doesn’t make up for all the lost energy during braking like a hybrid vehicle’s regen system does.
Low-Cost Space Travel
In order for the future to be awesome, it’s important that space travel becomes less prohibitively expensive. As it stands now, it costs upwards of $10,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) to launch a payload into space—but there are new players in the aerospace industry who’re aiming to change that. Companies like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and Blue Origin have already begun offering trips into suborbital space; however, their sights are set on more ambitious goals like colonizing Mars and developing hypersonic passenger aircraft. Though these companies will probably never bring down the cost of space travel to the point where you can fly out of this atmosphere for just a few hundred bucks, they will likely make it cheaper than it is today.
Most low-cost space travel technologies involve reusable rockets—rockets that don’t disintegrate during reentry and can be used multiple times. SpaceX’s Falcon9 is one example: It launches satellites into orbit before returning home so the company can use it again later on another mission. This advances two main objectives: It decreases cost by reducing how many rockets need to be constructed over time and reduces waste by eliminating how much scrap metal ends up in landfills after a rocket has been used once.
If humans hope to colonize other planets or distant moons in our solar system (or beyond), then low-cost space travel will be key in making those journeys feasible. After all, you wouldn’t want your trip from Earth out to Saturn (for instance) to cost more than your house!
Mobile Payments & Digital Currencies
The technology in this section refers to the ability to pay for goods and services using your mobile phone or other mobile device. Although this is not yet a mainstream process, as it requires merchants to have compatible payment systems, it’s catching on quickly.
Technologies similar to this one include digital currencies, like Bitcoin. Like mobile payments, digital currencies allow users to make transactions without cash or credit cards. However, whereas mobile payments are typically backed by traditional banks and credit card companies (and are therefore subject to those institutions’ rules), digital currencies are created by their users and operate independently from traditional financial institutions.
In the future, both technologies will likely become more widely used and accepted: mobile payments may become ubiquitous within the next few years; increasingly-dominant ecommerce retailers will encourage customers to use them as an alternative to cash or credit cards. Digital currencies may become more prevalent too—though their long-term viability remains uncertain at best due to numerous practical challenges they face (e.g., security concerns).
Blockchain technology, like the internet, is a decentralized network. Just as the internet allows people from around the world to communicate with one another and share information, blockchain allows disparate parties to make transactions directly with one another without needing to involve an intermediary. Blockchains are public ledgers of data that can be accessed by anyone; the data it contains cannot be changed or tampered with.
Blockchains are used in Bitcoin (a form of cryptocurrency) and many other types of programs (e.g., Ethereum). If you’re interested in learning more about blockchains, here’s a great article explaining them in simple terms!
Using artificial intelligence (AI) to automate business processes and provide recommendations for your customers is not a new concept, but it has gained momentum in recent years. Companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple are already using AI to help with things such as product recommendations or route suggestions based on past behavior and other data points. For example, if you search for “winter jacket” on Amazon.com, the site will remember that search term and use it to make product recommendations the next time you visit. But this is just one application of AI; in a lot of ways, AI is transforming our world by making it easier to do tasks we used to do manually.
The global market for AI products and services is projected to grow from $1.4 billion in 2016 to more than $59 billion by 2025 according to Mordor Intelligence reporting—that’s 42 percent compound annual growth rate! Chatbots are common examples of AI in use today; they allow companies to be available 24 hours a day without the need for human involvement. Other examples of machine learning include facial recognition software used by Facebook and Google Photos, predictive text features that complete your sentences before you finish typing them, streaming services that recommend shows based on viewing habits of people with similar interests, self-driving cars that can detect obstacles in real time, ride hailing apps that can predict demand at specific times during the day based on history and location data, targeted advertising based on Internet browsing habits or purchase history—and so much more!
Self-Driving Cars & Trucks
Imagine a future in which cars drive themselves, taking you to your destination while you rest or read. Self-driving vehicles promise to revolutionize transportation and make the roads safer—but there are plenty of technological and legal hurdles to overcome before they become commonplace.
A future in which cars drive themselves is closer than you might think, according to experts like Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk and Google cofounder Sergey Brin. In September 2013, Musk predicted that self-driving cars would be available by 2028; Brin said they’d be ubiquitous even sooner, while speaking at a TED conference in March 2014.
Autonomous vehicles will make driving easier for people who can’t do it well—or at all. They’ll also increase productivity: drivers could use their commuting time for work instead of sitting at the wheel. Better yet, self-driving cars could reduce accidents by eliminating human error—currently a factor in about 90 percent of wrecks—and potentially save thousands of lives each year. Their ability to communicate with other vehicles on the road also means that traffic flow will improve dramatically; as many as 1 billion gallons of fuel could be saved every year (PDF). And since self-driving vehicles minimize fuel consumption through better route planning and shared rides, air pollution caused by vehicular emissions could drop significantly too.
Drones and delivery robots
Whether or not you’re a fan of the oft-maligned mail carrier, it’s likely that we have reached peak human delivery person. As technology advances, we’re seeing an evolution of what it means to ship a package, and drones and delivery robots are the future.
Currently, the most advanced drone delivery systems are being implemented in places like Iceland, where sparsely populated spaces make them especially efficient. Where they fall short is in densely populated areas or regions with inclement weather. Another hurdle is bestowing enough intelligence onto these machines to allow them to safely navigate around trees and buildings.
Robots may be more adept at maneuvering through city streets than drones due to their ability to move on four legs instead of one. The most prominent example is Starship Technologies’ six-wheeled autonomous robots that can carry up to 40 pounds for miles on end (though one wonders how secure their cargo would be from thievery). A startup called Dispatch has also developed a three-wheeled robot that can traverse sidewalks and crosswalks; the company has created several prototypes but not yet begun testing programs for consumers The future of drones and delivery robots will likely incorporate both forms depending on the environment — flying models are better suited for delivering over long distances while ground vehicles will work well within city limits — but such a system is still years away from becoming mainstream due to technological limitations and regulatory hurdles (the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has yet to approve drone package delivery).
In the end, each of these technologies will become more prevalent. The rate at which they expand and grow could vary widely, however, as could the individual reach of each one. It’s impossible to say for sure which technologies will rapidly change our world and which ones will slowly find their ways into our everyday lives. That said, it might be worth paying attention to these 15 technologies—even a few of them could have a dramatic effect on your life and those around you.