The Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2018


Understanding the latest innovations—and their challenges—will help society determine how to maximize their benefits

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How will technology change your life in the near future? Artificial intelligence will greatly hasten the design of innovative drugs and materials. Advanced diagnostic tools will enable increasingly personalized medicine. Augmented reality will be everywhere, overlaying information and animation on real-world images to help you with everyday tasks—and to help industry to operate more efficiently. If you get sick, doctors will be able to implant living cells in your body that will act like drug factories, treating what ails you. And you will be eating eat beef, chicken and fish grown from stem cells, greatly reducing the environmental impact of animal farming and sparing countless creatures from inhumane treatment.

These world-changing ideas, along with others that make up this year’s list of “Top 10 Emerging Technologies,” were selected by leading experts in fields such as biology, inorganic chemistry, robotics and artificial intelligence. The list is the result of an intensive selection process.

First, we cast a wide net, soliciting recommendations from innovators in the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Councils and Expert Network communities, members of Scientific American’s advisory board and editorial staff, and others. Then, in a series of virtual meetings, a Steering Group evaluated how well the candidates met several criteria. The technologies had to have the ability to provide significant benefits to societies and economies and to do so in the next three to five years. They had to be potentially disruptive, able to alter industries or established ways of doing things. And they had to be in relatively early stages of development—not yet in widespread use but being studied by many groups, generating excitement among experts, attracting increasing investment and, ideally, being developed by more than one company. The Steering Group trimmed the initial list of more than 50 submissions in its first meeting and then compiled additional information to assess the roughly 20 candidates that remained. It made its final decisions after gathering more information in two further discussions.

Of course, the benefits of transformative technologies often come with social challenges. The articles that follow delve into these issues as well. We hope you enjoy the report, and we welcome your responses. Read the full text here.

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Mariette DiChristina

Mariette DiChristina is editor in chief of Scientific American.

Credit: Nick Higgins

Bernard S. Meyerson

Bernard S. Meyerson, Steering Group vice chair, is chief innovation officer at IBM. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and a recipient of numerous awards for work spanning physics, engineering and business. He was the 2014–2016 chair of the World Economic Forum's Meta-Council on Emerging Technologies and the 2016–2018 chair of the Forum's Global Future Council on Advanced Materials.

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