An expert panel looks into the future

13 November 2020 | Muriel Cozier

Virtual patients could make drug discovery quicker and safer.

The World Economic Forum has released a list of the ‘top 10 emerging technologies to watch in 2020.’ The technologies making the list, which was compiled by an international steering group of experts convened by the World Economic Forum and Scientific American, are said to be ones that are ‘most likely to impact the world in the next three to five years.’ However what is evident is that many of the technologies are making an impact now, coming of age as they help deal with the covid-19 pandemic.

The list includes digital medicine, a collection of apps that can detect and monitor a patients mental and physical health. As the pandemic has unfolded, a multitude of medical apps and bots have been developed expanding the digital medicine landscape. The steering group asserts that as covid-19 continues to impact our live these emerging technologies could fill gaps created by the pandemic.

Staying the area of health, the steering group has highlighted ‘virtual patients’ as in important development. As clinical trials for covid-19 vaccines continue, virtual patients could be used to help identify successful vaccine candidates, reduce costs and speed up research. The technology would lead to a reduction in the number of people needed to test new drugs.

In the area of environment the steering group highlighted low-carbon cement, indicating that researchers are working on changing the way that the most widely used material in the world is made. Sun-Powered Chemistry is also expected to make a big impact in the coming years using sunlight to convert carbon dioxide waste into useful chemicals. This approach makes use of a greenhouse gas and reduces the need for fossil-based raw materials. Looking to alternative energy sources the steering group has highlighted green hydrogen produced by electrolysis as the route to producing a high-energy fuel that industries require.

Quantum sensors could cement autonomous vehicles into the future transport landscape. The sensors would allow vehicles to ‘see’ around corners as well as providing early-warning systems for volcanic activity and earthquakes.

While focusing on the opportunities that these emerging technologies present, consideration is also given to the possible risks posed.

The full report: Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2020 Special Report November 2020

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