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World Economic Forum lists top 10 emerging technologies for 2012


February 15, 2012

The World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies has drawn up a list of the top 10 emerging technologies for 2012 (Image: Shutterstock)

The World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies has drawn up a list of the top 10 emerging technologies for 2012 (Image: Shutterstock)

Our goal here at Gizmag is to cover innovation and emerging technologies in all fields of human endeavor, and while almost all of the ideas that grace our pages have the potential to enhance some of our lives in one way or another, at the core are those technologies that will have profound implications for everyone on the planet. For those looking to shape political, business, and academic agendas, predicting how and when these types of technologies will effect us all is critical. Recognizing this, the World Economic Forum's (WEF's) Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies has compiled a list of the top 10 emerging technologies it believes will have the greatest impact on the state of the world in 2012.

Betting on the right technologies can allow schools to produce graduates better qualified to deal with a rapidly changing world, governments to more efficiently meet the needs of the populace, business to generate profits, and scientists to better allocate resources.

The list draws on some of the brainpower residing within the entire GAC Network, covering the top ten technological trends that the Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies believes will have the biggest social, economic and environmental impacts this year.

Here's the list as presented on the World Economic Forum Blog in order from lowest to highest in terms of the potential to provide solutions to global challenges.

  • 1. Informatics for adding value to information
  • The quantity of information now available to individuals and organizations is unprecedented in human history, and the rate of information generation continues to grow exponentially. Yet, the sheer volume of information is in danger of creating more noise than value, and as a result limiting its effective use. Innovations in how information is organized, mined and processed hold the key to filtering out the noise and using the growing wealth of global information to address emerging challenges.
  • 2. Synthetic biology and metabolic engineering
  • The natural world is a testament to the vast potential inherent in the genetic code at the core of all living organisms. Rapid advances in synthetic biology and metabolic engineering are allowing biologists and engineers to tap into this potential in unprecedented ways, enabling the development of new biological processes and organisms that are designed to serve specific purposes - whether converting biomass to chemicals, fuels and materials, producing new therapeutic drugs or protecting the body against harm.
  • 3. Green Revolution 2.0 - technologies for increased food and biomass
  • Artificial fertilizers are one of the main achievements of modern chemistry, enabling unprecedented increases in crop production yield. Yet, the growing global demand for healthy and nutritious food is threatening to outstrip energy, water and land resources. By integrating advances across the biological and physical sciences, the new green revolution holds the promise of further increasing crop production yields, minimizing environmental impact, reducing energy and water dependence, and decreasing the carbon footprint.
  • 4. Nanoscale design of materials
  • The increasing demand on natural resources requires unprecedented gains in efficiency. Nanostructured materials with tailored properties, designed and engineered at the molecular scale, are already showing novel and unique features that will usher in the next clean energy revolution, reduce our dependence on depleting natural resources, and increase atom-efficiency manufacturing and processing.
  • 5. Systems biology and computational modelling/simulation of chemical and biological systems
  • For improved healthcare and bio-based manufacturing, it is essential to understand how biology and chemistry work together. Systems biology and computational modeling and simulation are playing increasingly important roles in designing therapeutics, materials and processes that are highly efficient in achieving their design goals, while minimally impacting on human health and the environment.
  • 6. Utilization of carbon dioxide as a resource
  • Carbon is at the heart of all life on earth. Yet, managing carbon dioxide releases is one of the greatest social, political and economic challenges of our time. An emerging innovative approach to carbon dioxide management involves transforming it from a liability to a resource. Novel catalysts, based on nanostructured materials, can potentially transform carbon dioxide to high value hydrocarbons and other carbon-containing molecules, which could be used as new building blocks for the chemical industry as cleaner and more sustainable alternatives to petrochemicals.
  • 7. Wireless power
  • Society is deeply reliant on electrically powered devices. Yet, a significant limitation in their continued development and utility is the need to be attached to the electricity grid by wire - either permanently or through frequent battery recharging. Emerging approaches to wireless power transmission will free electrical devices from having to be physically plugged in, and are poised to have as significant an impact on personal electronics as Wi-Fi had on Internet use.
  • 8. High energy density power systems
  • Better batteries are essential if the next generation of clean energy technologies are to be realized. A number of emerging technologies are coming together to lay the foundation for advanced electrical energy storage and use, including the development of nanostructured electrodes, solid electrolysis and rapid-power delivery from novel supercapacitors based on carbon-based nanomaterials. These technologies will provide the energy density and power needed to supercharge the next generation of clean energy technologies.
  • 9. Personalized medicine, nutrition and disease prevention
  • As the global population exceeds 7 billion people - all hoping for a long and healthy life - conventional approaches to ensuring good health are becoming less and less tenable, spurred on by growing demands, dwindling resources and increasing costs. Advances in areas such as genomics, proteomics and metabolomics are now opening up the possibility of tailoring medicine, nutrition and disease prevention to the individual. Together with emerging technologies like synthetic biology and nanotechnology, they are laying the foundation for a revolution in healthcare and well-being that will be less resource intensive and more targeted to individual needs.
  • 10. Enhanced education technology
  • New approaches are needed to meet the challenge of educating a growing young population and providing the skills that are essential to the knowledge economy. This is especially the case in today's rapidly evolving and hyperconnected globalized society. Personalized IT-based approaches to education are emerging that allow learner-centerd education, critical thinking development and creativity. Rapid developments in social media, open courseware and ubiquitous access to the Internet are facilitating outside classroom and continuous education.

We know there's nothing like a list of predictions to provoke some healthy debate, so let us know what you think of the GAC on Emerging Technologies' effort in the comments. Is there anything you think they've overlooked, or maybe something they've included that shouldn't be there?

Source: World Economic Forum Blog

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

An obvious entry which has not been listed are alternative energy sources. I guess we haven\'t got any low cost, high effeciency solar panels or nuclear fussion to look forward to this year. ;-(


Look to China where Thorium fissioning reactors will prove safer, cheaper to build, cheaper to fuel, and capable of fissioning waste from older Uranium fissioning reactors as well. Canada's CANDU rectors have had these capabilities since the 1950's but were "bullied" out of the picture by the American Arrogance. Fact is: two CANDU's run on thorium today in China!

Expect cheaper Thorium fuelled reactors to provide electricity for electric bullet trains, now being daisy - chained across the vast Pan Eurasian Alliances to resolve the high cost of oil, and to provide domestic powered, cheap, fast (320 kph), reliable, comfortable, transportation to that huge continental reality.

Look for small light cheap rechargeable battery cars for the very much shorter hops that require rubber wheeled transportation, and a rebirth of fully train trolley, subway, serviced housing schemes for city dwellers, U.S.S.R. styled communal apartment blocks complete with restaurants, shopping Malls, stores, amalgamated negating the need for the daily commute and runs to the shopping plazas.

Expect rockets to space to be reduced to practical communications and defence efforts, NASA's pictures to enter the scholastic fields the only place they have real value, and the nonsensical notions of manned bases in the heavens to be forsaken as the funds are diverted to real problems right here on earth.

Expect: Smaller privately purchased reactors, Wind Turbines, Solar installations, Small Hydro systems, On-shore Tidal and Wave powered air compressors with electric generator schemes, Smaller scale Geothermal efforts, even anaerobic digestion schemes for methane gas, All supporting communal efforts at survival of the masses of 'unemployables" created in the U.S. by the transfer of Capital and manufacturing to Asia. Expect much "Off Grid" technology, barter systems aquaponic systems, basic gardening, super insulation, Straw Bale R 60 homes, Passive Solar home heating schemes, Gray water re-use, frugal lifestyles opposite the Great Corporate American Propaganda Whore's mesmerizations, incantations, exhortations and cunning deceptions for what constitutes a "Happy Life" , and even a re-birth of religions as prior to the whore's influences upon the people.

Expect much more to be done by telecommuting, Expect businesses to be influenced greatly by the Asian models, and much of the American approach to drop away. Expect new Asian bosses installed in boughten American Corporate interests and managed as "Branch Plants" from Asia, and in Asian style, by Asian standards, and for the benefit of Asian Capitalists following some of communism's influences from China. Expect the Chinese Yuan to replace the U.s. Dollar as "international currency for exchange" shortly after the bills come in for the Iran situation and the wars there. Expect the "Feds" the deceitfully named, private, not elected, not appointed, organisation of international criminals, to proceed with Q 3, 4, 5, 6 "Easings" - money printing sessions with out any real backing - paper money printing sessions designed to devalue everything the American peon may have accumulated or hopes to attain, to balance their own books, tho churn money to gain criminal increases in dividend checks - the "skim" on American armpits, American properties.

Expect a "population Bomb" from China! They are buying soy beans from America in huge quantities, Oil from Canada, Minerals from Africa, in preparation for a rapid increase in their population to balance their economic equations, as their work force grows older and retires - all this on the backs of the rest of the world - the new blood will man the factories, maintaining China's status as "Manufacturer to the World" and the old will eat, survive to a natural death in old age. Meanwhile in America job scarcity will sky-rocket as we return to ground, live even Off Grid for survival, and watch as greed destroys all our fore fathers left us.

Expect, that in decades America will be reduced to Third World country - witness the rot already eating at the American soul. Look to the ruins in Detroit City, Remember the fantastic Oldsmobiles? Buick Electra 225's, Cadillacs? Packards? Lincolns? America only decades away from collapse now, as Honda's, Toyota's, Hyundai, rule the American roads.

Look to an America awash in humanocidal nuclear wastes from Uranium fissioning. 80 % Americans live within 40 miles of a Uranium fissioning reactor, American reactors accumulating up to four times their design capacities for humanocidal waste as we speak. We are promised, "There will be no accidents here in the U.S. of A". 9/11 then? Expect a regional disaster - it is in the odds, statistically likely and there is no solution, remedy, cure, contingency, Special Forces, no amount of bravado, strutting with guns in hand, posturing, killer missiles, secret drones, no legalese, political statement, congressional order, not even an "Emergency" plan, no special battalion, there is no humanly known way to clean up a nuclear mess! Witness: sarcophagus at Chernobyl needs replacing - no one standing in to do it, to pay for it. Fuckoshima's poisons will inevitably be dissolved, washed to sea, fed to algae and take the long run up the food chain through bio-concentrations, to humans at the top of that chain - not a solution - a disaster happening as we speak of proportions only our children's children will describe and with derision, and possibly through genetically damaged mouths.

We witness in our times: America, God's potential Eden on Earth, a biological anomaly, utterly desecrated by Vulture Capitalism in three hundred years.

Bruce Miller

We have new renewable energy (solar) third of cost three times plus more efficient...sit tight, should be consumer ready within 3 years.


The Green Revolution 2.0!!???!! Really! Has Gizmag been getting money from Monsanto? Their GM BS and chemical approach to growing actually uses much more water than organic farming. As far as claims for more production, tell that to the farmers in India who have been committing suicide en masse, because of failed crops due to Monsanto\'s Green Revolution 2.0. Undermines your credibility.

Mel Zimmer

Why don\'t we just connect Bruce Miller to a generator and solve all of the world\'s energy needs?


It does seem that while the rest of the world is busy installing consumer owned solar rooftops on their houses, that a user friendly, easily installable unit was not on the top of the list. Guess our lawmakers and sciences will keep marching to the drumbeat of the oil money.


Regarding number 3-Green Revolution-I have developed on paper only an electro-mechanical system for accelerating photosynthesis. I cannot afford to build a proof of concept mechanism. I\'ve tried to get someone to publish the concept, but have received no replies, with the exception of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The problem is, their publication publishes only in-house news on their research. Any ideas?? Origo1


Lol @ Kradak

Jay Lloyd

i don\'t need to add a damned thing to the debate....BRUCE MILLER HAS SAID IT ALL!!!! except to add that successive governments will always put a spanner in the works!


personal flying must get mention. roads destroy valuable land, multi person, slow TOL and userfriendly navigation and steering will be required. people will want to park the device on balconies or roofs.


The proliferation of capacitive touchscreen technology should not be overlooked when it comes to predicting what current technologies will impact the world of tomorrow. Because Paumanok tracks ubiquitous components across multiple platforms, we see capacitive touchscreens migrating from smartphones into multiple end-markets, such as HVAC thermostats, home appliances (especially cooktops and refrigerator doors); and of course \"smart walls\" and \"Smart surfaces\" that will enhance smartphone interaction on a grander scale. Is not the \"iWall\" a logical future extension of the iPhone? \"A man;s reach should exceed his grasp, or what\'s a heaven for?\"

Dennis Zogbi

@ Bruce Miller, thanks for the concise post after poking around looking into the CANDU, You are spot on, perhaps we could use the emissions from Kradak to charge his \"smart\" phone battery?

Bill Bennett

There is a reaction variously called \"Cold Fusion\", LENR (Low Energy Nuclear Reaction), CANR (Chemically Assisted Nuclear Reaction) or LANR (Lattice Assisted Nuclear Reaction).

This reaction is between hydrogen and one or more nickel isotopes, with copper as a by product. Reactors facilitating this reaction will probably be the ones most in use in the near future. The reactors for this phenomenon are small and cheap to build with virtually no by products..

Nobel Physics Laureate Brian Josephson (and others) at NASA support(s) the idea that this phenom is indeed real. Although there is no consensus on precisely how the mechanism works (LOL much less what to call it), there is substantial evidence from multiple sources that it works.

By the end of the year we will see proper validation of the reactor(s) and of the reaction itself.

For further information, search on LENR, CANR, LANR or COLD Fusion.


I remember when I was at school we could not setup and do some experiments due to time and costs and avilability of materials or level of danger of the experiments.

I think that if schools could be provided with a virtual labratory where the students could where VR headsets and the experiments run in a simulated space they would be able to quickly setup and run experiments and learn a great deal more as the danger, time and costs normally associated with scence experiments would no longer apply.


The future is ours to create or to destroy. Everyone of us can choose our path!

Mark Hedtke

The \"Green Revolution\" was a mistake. The crops were less healthy and less nutritious, and the soil less fertile. Monsanto\'s solution: Pour on more, i.e., if our product does not work, don\'t ask why, use more. At first it might have been an honest mistake, but as the decades went by and the organic movement grew, Monsanto has lost all credibility and moral standing.

As for India\'s plight, this is more a function of government central planning. It failed for 74 years in the USSR and still is the most destructive superstition holding back humankind.

See: \"The Natural Way of Farming\" by Masanobu Fukuoka for a scientific explanation.


Another thing in the future will be deep sea mining, we are mining just a fraction of the earth\'s resources, plus without doubt there is plenty of oil and gold.

Dawar Saify

Green Revolution 2.0 is a farce. The quality is going down, as well as nutritional value.

I'm hoping that smaller modular nuclear reactors will take hold in India, then maybe here in the US 10 years later, as the regulatory agencies are political and ridiculous.

You've forgotten the prediction that is most important - politics. The politics of the next four years will determine the course of human history. Either freedom will reign, or it won't.

Also, I can now buy a 7" Android pad for $55. With that, I can affordably create a console to control pretty much anything electrical. Dials and switches are too expensive, touchpads will rule, because of the convenience, connectivity, low power, and advantages.

Expect a touchpad in every room to control things, all linked and accessible via the internet.

Jeff Winkler

@Jeff: Yes, please! I know micro-controller homes exist, but I don't want to mess around with my house and leave a high energy use computer running 24/7. I just want a few USB powered devices (as a side note, why aren't ALL computer peripherals aside from large screen TV's and high powered amps on USB or Power-over-ethernet already?) with one touch screen that allows me to control my lights, heat, and home theater via smart phone.

Charles Bosse

An issue you may be interested in is wiser utilization of the energy we have.

40% of all energy we use is for heating and cooling our homes, another 40% is for transportation. It is a wise Goal to integrate ultra energy efficient homes with solar and both primary and recreational electric vehicles to achieved a combined overall energy strategy. That combination can save a family thousands of dollars a year in energy cost, eliminate tens of thousands of tons of CO2 and other pollutants from being released into our environment and be a boon to the community as a result of all those families with all that extra discretionary cash being available.

The reality of economic prosperity is a vibrant middle class which has money to buy stuff. There simply are NO benevolent multimillionaires who will "create jobs" unless there is a strong possibility that there is someone to buy the widgets they might contemplate making. Once the economy begins to retract the rich hoard their money, with a "wait and see" attitude. Only economic stimulus will work to relight the fire....employ people and get money back into circulation. It would be more effective to give money to the poor than to bail out a bank. The poor will use the money to buy food, clothing, school supplies for their children and other "stuff" and then the banks would benefit from all that commerce. The only reason the banks got into trouble was their own 35:1 and 40:1 leveraging and manipulation of securities, even selling clients known bad stock and then investing in counter-stocks they knew would do well when their clients failed. AIG sold worthless insurance, the rating agencies valued known worthless portfolios at AAA, and the top level perpetrators simply made themselves richer at the country's expense. Their ill gotten gains should simply be impounded IMO!! The solution is for more regulation, not less. Help the Middle Class and you help the nation. Help the financiers and they pocket the money..."tickle down economics" is the real HOAX.

The way middle class families can have greater prosperity is to reduce the amount of expensive energy purchased from the major corporations. Stop living in a home that is hemorrhaging energy and stop driving a vehicle that is 15% efficient and wastes 85% of the expensive fuel you put into it!! Instead have a home that runs on a fraction of the energy, get as much of that energy as possible from the sun and integrate your vehicles into that smarter philosophy. That is a concept worth reporting on.

Donald Eyermann

To me the future is:

Mag-trains and Blimp-Buses (or low-energy flying) become more common as real estate values of road area increases (roof tops of large buildings double as landing pads).

Underground accommodation (accommodation for the poor)

Artificial Sea-Islands (accommodation for the wealthy)

Deep sea and Asteroid Mining becomes the new "monopoly race". Its there its glittering, some of these sites have very pristine qualities (near 100 percent of the material is what you value).

Semi-cryogenic beds (permitting one to work as "awake" while linked in matrix style).

Money changes more to something like favors of war-coupons, instead of "one money to be used for everything" there would be different types of money for different services. "Red-money used for health, "Yellow money" for necessities (both act like coupons, but can be traded), "Green-money for luxuries". Inheritance / private ownership / capitalism gets powerful via backlashes of ignoring it ...

Hyper-families: Semi-independent communities become the norm. Not quiet a cult, not quiet armish, just each have different views of "what to grow/contribute to", each of these have sister ones they associate with and help out. The initial ones will be region focus, secondary ones will be principled driven. Several types of "life-styles" become normal and more overt. (sort of a anthropological Cos-play => Cos-life).

For some drugs will be not dismissed or thought bad of but be part of culture but certain ones (made by government owned pharmaceutical companies) adopted culturally to modify behavior / happiness levels. It will be more overt - your frustrated ? Your annoyed ? Take the "Equilibrium pill", your turning up for work ? great - take your "focus pill" and then we can start the meeting ... (which would be better than coffee and probably work)

The UN will have more power / compulsive taxation to it directly will occur, they disperse it as they see fit. Exception from taxes can occur if you or your community provides on of a few services / products they are most in need of certain rate.

The UN will have increasing ability to impose what is done where. IE here creates high tech electronics, here supplies food, here and here is where research labs are ... this country will be changed to provide X for the world, but need Z ...

Those that have their own military larger than a certain size will be taxed more by the UN .. until later its imposed that anything above a certain size (what the un deem a police force for skirmish PREVENTION), is illegal (against the UN)

A universal language for the world will be pushed indirectly then imposed (removing the "confusion of languages")

The next "great breakthrough" will be social engineering, picture Scientology or something like it watered down and infusing your culture, new terms appear in the English language (ones which have more meaning for more words in "Who-why-what-when-how" than most do now. Ie a word that implies a state as well as a solution, or a problem as well as cause). Ministries overseeing how this is working / how it should be refined for everyone to be happy .. become established.

Think tanks are established that churn out policies for the UN,

People vote in ambassadors for their community, community vote / debate polices to be put into place, not on people (who make up their own policies once they are in term).

Then ... Whichever the next of the following is, determines the path for the next 100 yrs

Emotive-Medical (Direct choice / control of experience / memory ) Retrospective-Bio-genetic therapy (direct choice of body) Artificial intelligence (All mundane work done be robots, no need for individuals to "do" anything for things to progress and be sustained). Free energy - that is effectively unlimited in practical terms (what was impractical before due to inefficiency is now fine, all communities can be utterly self sufficient, all have their own culture but still liaise with the UN) Dimension manipulation (to be able to store objects in "hyper-dimentional" space) Telepathic Enhancement (like/shared minds, sublime for super-project management. "New world wonders" become more frequently created and common place) Uber Spirituality ( reliable way to "be" ... well ... you can guess) FTL - this would be the worst "next breakthrough" we could possibly have as then there would be No NEED to be able to work out how to get along, be self-sustaining, resolve capitalistic / economic issues, or Eco-system stability etc, each community slowly becomes space-faring and nomadic seeing the universe is one big strip-mine) ET contact that eventuates in them wanting to overtly be part / direct our next phase of development (when effectively we would just go where they point us to, with exceptions, and become part of their culture (not our own) )

Andrew Kubicki

Let me ask you:

Thanks to our techonological advances, have our lives become better? Do we enjoy life more? We´re more secure yes, true. But how many doesn´t commit suicide every day? How many doesn´t every day, wish for a better world/place?

And yes, most people wish for another/better world - we call it part of being human. But what if it wasn´t like that a long time ago? What if we didn´t long for a better existence, but merely enjoyed our current?

Today, things that make life worth living for me - is watching new advances is science, watching nature (which is being torn down, destroyed by our greed for more safety) and being with my friends. Except for that, i flee in entertainment like most of us - day in and day out. TV, games, music - anything to make life a little less sad. Anything too avoid looking at reality. How does one change that? Well - look at what makes life worth living: Accomplishments (science, work etc.), friends (we´re isolating ourselves more and more) and nature - which is being destroyed.

How does one live a life purely like this? Go back to the old standard, live in nature - as a clan/team of people working together, accomplishing simpler feats. What could be better? Today we pay to go kayaking, to go hiking, to do anything with nature - which was a standard thing to do before. Governmental mafias force taxes on everything on us. In return for what? Security, true. But do they need that many taxes to do that? The country of the USA is extremely powerful - military wise. What does it benefit anyone? Other countries are merely driven to become more powerful, as the US has set the new standard to be a world power. Etc etc etc....

Christoffer Sperling

Very interesting, all of this confirms my own feelings about the future, no- one has a clue what the future holds, it's as if the world has gone into reverse. But I'd like to point out one thing, about money, most of it doesn't exist, it's only thin air, digits in cyberspace, only 3 percent is real folding stuff here in the UK. They can have all the junk they want, they can have my share, as soon as my pension arrives in my account, it's changed into cash.


We now installing enough solar panels on our rooftops that by about 2020 there will be more than the equivalent of TWO Nuclear facilities!!

The solution is not going to come from the scumbag politicians who represent the self centered, money hoarding, wealthy billionaires.

The reason America became a great country is because the Working Class FOUGHT for better wages by means of unions and collective demands. Rich bastards are NOT benevolent. The 1900's saw literally guns in the street and violence. Don't vote Republican and give back what our grandfathers won. All the "Right to Work" states are Republican held....and if the damn rich jerks were going to "Create Jobs" they would have done that by now as they have had 50 years of steadily declining taxes. The top ten corporations paid less than 5% in taxes, Romney avoided taxes on tens of millions in foreign accounts and only paid 15% on his +$300K income that he did declare. The only real "solution" is for people to make smarter choices at the grass roots level. Make your house more efficient so you don't need as much of their dirty energy. Demand more commercial solar installations( Like Kramer Junction, CA & Gila Bend AZ). Buy an electric cars or hybrid that uses only a fraction of the gas or none at all. Buy ultra efficient appliances, get solar installed on your home. Be more informed, go to Care2.com and sigh some petitions, such as limiting ocean species exploitation and fight mountain top removal mining and Fracking (high pressure injection of water & chemicals in oil bearing rock exploitation), demand labeling of GMO foods and FDA to check more "drugs" and other "poisons" being used in food production (Such as antibiotics fed to salmon in farms to prevent diseases), but which instead creates super strains of bacteria and viruses we then consume. Start protecting the people of America instead of aiding corporation abuse of the populace for massive profits by a few.

Donald Eyermann
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