Updated · Dec 03, 2022
10 Breakthrough Technologies That Will Shape Our Future
Updated · Oct 16, 2022
When you daydream, you need a topic.
At the very least, you need a starting point. After that, you just allow stuff to get weird.
That’s why most people keep their daydreaming mental video materials to themselves…
The topic of our daydream for today is a practical one - the top 10 breakthrough technologies of 2021.
Toilets that don’t leave any waste behind.
Tetraplegic patients that can not only move but also perform all kinds of tasks with their limbs using robotic gloves and long socks.
Or machines that suck the carbon dioxide out of the air!
Maybe personalized cancer vaccines?
The future of humanity does seem bright (and daisy fresh)!
The thing is:
All those innovations in technology already exist in engineering labs and medical research centers. The moment they will become accessible to the public is right around the corner. In other words, no future technology, we’ll talk about real-time breakthroughs that already exist.
When we hear the term tech breakthrough our minds go straight for topics like AI, computer sciences, or advances in engineering and transportation. That said, the list of top 10 technological advances of 2021 is surprisingly diverse. Stay tuned.
Two years ago they invited none other but Bill Gates to be the curator of the breakthrough technologies of MIT.
And let me tell you in advance - the list is GREAT!
Why Bill Gates?
Our team got excited when Bill Gates was the one who chose the list of top 10 breakthroughs in technology for the year.
(In his own words, he got super excited as well.)
He is a world-famous entrepreneur, the founder of Microsoft, and the Gates Foundation.
As you may already know:
Bill Gates is the third most wealthy man on Earth. He has a second career as a philanthropist and he is super successful at it. What he does is, he invests and supports the next generation of innovators, and he is an avid reader (yup, he posts reading lists several times per year!).
In the year 2000, he launched the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Alongside his wife, he fights extreme poverty in third world countries, invests millions in ways to improve global health, to diagnose and prevention of Alzheimer’s, and eradicate malaria from the face of the earth. Oh yes, and he is one of the people who care about climate change.
On his blog, you can find a wide variety of information - from the state of research on Alzheimer’s and the ways to early diagnose and prevent the disease, to the latest book of Jared Diamond and his optimism for the future of humanity.
Nowadays, he is retired from Microsoft. He is a full-time philanthropist (and reader!), and a good friend of Warren Buffet. In fact, back in 2006 Buffet donated a large amount of his fortune, $44 billion, to the Foundation. Every year the Gates Foundation gives away $6 billion for various fields of research. Some of them you’ll hear about before the end of this article.
In a TED talk interview, Bill and Melinda said they were looking for ways to give the vast amount of money they accumulated during their lives back to the people. The Foundation has over 1,500 employees and it focuses mainly on global health.
Bill Gates is involved, curious, and wants to make sure that the world is becoming a better place.
And the results of his efforts are amazing.
OK, let’s get down to business:
Top 10 Breakthrough Technologies in 2021
We used Bill Gates’s list, sorted things into categories, and are now presenting you with a bird’s eye view of what he thinкs awaits us in the future. The names of the top 10 list we kept exactly as Bill Gates dubbed them.
Let’s make one thing clear before we begin:
Gates picked the 10 technological innovations, which will affect the future of humanity the most. Naturally, a great portion of them is related to healthcare.
All of those breakthroughs in technology will eventually change our world.
Here we go:
Since the dawn of food production, somewhere around 11,000 BC, humanity struggled with the question:
How do we conquer famine?
Yup! Scarcity of food is a monster you don’t think about when you are back home after grocery shopping and you put so many things in your fridge that it barely even closes.
But what do we do when there are almost 10 billion people on Earth? Because that’s the prognosis for 2050, you know.
To make things even more complex - the more people escape poverty - the more meat they consume.
One of the biggest problems out there is the production of meat. And that’s where technological breakthroughs make an entrance:
The cow-free burger
Here is a brain teaser for you:
How are meat production, fossil fuels, and climate change related?
Animal agriculture gulps a lot of energy.
Why? Crops are produced and transported to animals. Then animals are transported to the slaughterhouses. And their carcasses are transported elsewhere.
Meat production also leads to deforestation and emitting methane into the atmosphere.
According to Gates, the percentage of extremely poor people has drastically reduced in the last 30 years. In 1990, 36% of the global population was extremely poor.
Poverty reduction is down to 9% of the global population.
We also need to consider that:
The average life expectancy has made a mind-blowing jump from 34 years in 1913, to 78.99 years in 2021.
If in the future:
- there are more people on the planet
- with a longer life expectancy
- and the number of those who barely make ends meet is going down
then we are back to the question from 11,000 BC.
How do we get food for all those people?
And more specifically - protein?
The need for an alternative to animal protein can hardly come from the surplus that comes from vegetarians and vegans. (Good job though, guys!)
Gates is fighting to solve the problem of malnutrition.
For the purposes of providing meat for the global population of this planet, scientists came up with the new technology:
What is lab-meat?
Lab-grown meat, a.k.a clean meat, acts as a substitute for animal meat and is basically cultured out of cells in a lab.
It’s eco-friendly and slaughter-free. It uses way less land, water, and energy. To most people, it sounds difficult to get past the fact that it’s not real meat. In the light of the growing population though, that sounds like a solution.
Companies like Just are experimenting with the production of artificial meat that will ultimately lead to the production of tons of product. All of this without the environmental devastation or animal cruelty. There is also the fact that lab-grown meat is 100% clean and disease-free.
If you think about it, that sounds way better than eating insects. Bug-based food production is also growing. In 2019 it was already worth around $1 billion. By 2030 it will reach a market size of $8 billion. It is a sustainable source of protein and it is cost-efficient.
Now, let’s move on to the part of technological innovations that Bill Gates dedicated to:
Four out of the top 10 technological breakthroughs of 2021 are healthcare-related.
Gates’s choice hasn’t been an easy one. And it doesn’t come as a surprise he used almost half of his 10 slots for breakthroughs in healthcare. Most of the work of his foundation is dedicated to studying illnesses, eradicating diseases, and in general - making people healthier.
The four take different shapes - devices, tests, medicine, and all of them, without a doubt, will change the lives of millions of patients.
These four healthcare breakthroughs really are game-changers:
An ECG on your wrist
At first, there were the fitness gadgets. They kept track of the calories burnt, and acted as pedometers.
New technology and healthcare took a step forward, hand in hand, and came up with a couple of different innovations in the health sector.
Those devices basically monitor your vital signs. They put power ON in the patients’ wrists and allow them to live their lives without going to the doctor's office every so often.
The invention of such devices was a massive jump for healthcare.
Many people wear them on their wrists and enjoy the benefits. They tell the time, sure. But they also measure blood pressure and pulse. Some of them measure glucose levels as well and are a life changer for diabetics.
You can get an ECG in under a minute while you are waiting for the subway, or make sure your blood sugar is in the norms.
Next, we move on to the baby section:
It is not a topic that we hear a lot of, but it deserves attention.
Premature birth is one of the leading causes of death for children under the age of five. Being able to predict them will be a game-changer for medicine.
How many babies are delivered prematurely?
About 1 in 10 babies are born that way. Giving birth more than three weeks before the term is considered premature. Half of the women who deliver preterm show no symptoms.
The good news is scientists have come up with a simple blood test that can predict whether there is a risk of delivering prematurely. Today you can even get a DNA test kit to see if you are predisposed to any illnesses. This new innovation in technology will potentially save millions of lives.
The test measures the levels of certain proteins and identifies women at risk. Once the risk is recognized, measures are taken to prolong the pregnancy. This gives the child a better chance of survival.
Number three on the healthcare list is:
Gut Probe in a Pill
The disease in question is called environmental enteropathy. Also known as environmental enteric dysfunction (EED), or tropical enteropathy.
It is caused by intestinal infections.
Not many people have heard of this disease, but it is widespread in low socio-economic conditions.
Scientists from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have made a breakthrough technology that will allow medical staff to diagnose and treat EED. The method includes inserting a pill-looking device that is connected to a thin cord into the stomach of the patient. They swallow the device, which is powered by the cord, and then it scans the intestines and can even take a biopsy.
After the device has done its job, it gets pulled out. The inventor, Guillermo Tearney, claims it does not induce vomiting or any unpleasant feeling.
This revolutionary method is considered way more effective than the classic endoscope down the throat. The endoscopes, the pill-in-the-gut method is easy to use. The device gets sterilized quickly and used again and again.
The new method will also provide medical workers with knowing when and how to intervene. After the test is complete, medical workers can evaluate the cause and treatment of the disease.
Last but not least:
Custom Cancer Vaccines
This type of vaccine is used as a treatment, not prevention. Each instance has a personalized target and is designed for a particular tumor.
Through the years, humanity has fought diseases and eventually came up with vaccines. Thanks to that invention that changed the world, diseases like smallpox exist only in laboratories. Vaccines for polio, measles, rubella, and mumps have saved the lives of millions.
The next step is cancer!
The custom made cancer vaccine can potentially be used for any particular strain.
How does the vaccine work?
The process goes like this:
During a surgical procedure, a small part of the tumor is removed and taken to the lab. They divide it into 3 isolated pieces. The first one is analyzed for DNA in order to establish the mutations in the tumor. Information about RNA comes from the second piece. It tells scientists which parts of the mutations are expressed at the protein level.
The final step is to enter all the data into laboratory software, which will ultimately design the vaccine itself. They use the third piece of the tumor for experiments.
The vaccine boosts the immune cells affected by the tumor. After the completion of the Human Genome Project, this is the next huge step forward. DNA investigation is on the rise!
This will be akin to a miracle when they commercialize it!
Now, moving on to the next type of breakthrough technology:
The slots in this category are quite surprising. Those two technological breakthroughs may change the way people live in many areas of the globe. And save the lives of many more!
The standard for what constitutes ‘clean’ will be a lot different in the future!
Advances in Nuclear Fission
Most specifically - generation IV nuclear reactors.
It is expected that by 2040 the world’s demands for power will rise by almost 50%. Humanity will need new ways to generate that.
The generation IV nuclear reactors are one of the technological breakthroughs that humanity has been looking for. Nuclear energy is clean and does not introduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere. What’s more, it is not a subject to supply issues, and the end result does not rely on weather conditions.
As many as 10 countries are taking the plunge with generation IV reactors, and more are following suit. All countries in the generation IV international forum participate in the research and development of the new design.
The plan is to reduce waste radioactivity, decrease the storage costs, increase the reactor lifespan, and ultimately reach a stage when the reactor is economically practical and self-sustained.
Now, the next technological breakthrough is quite a rule breaker:
Sanitation without sewers
Does the world deserve a better toilet? LOL, right.
OK, how does that sound:
A toilet that will use the filtered liquid waste to produce water for the flushing. The solids will be burned and the heat from the burning is used to help dry up the next load of solids. All that comes out of the toilet is a bit of ash.
To top it off, it gets its power from solar panels.
Such revolutionary toilets are being developed by Duke University in North Carolina. The project is funded by the Gates Foundation, and they have been working on it since 2011.
Why is that important?
According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 525,000 children who die each year as a consequence of poor sanitation.
Only daisy fresh toilets in the future!
Carbon dioxide catcher
Filtrating the air we breathe. Getting rid of the carbon dioxide in the air.
What can be more urgent than air filtration?
There are already entire plants that suck the CO2 out of the air. The good news is, that CO2, once removed from the air, can be used in a variety of industries. It can also be stored underground to be used later.
During the course of this century, more than 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide will fill the atmosphere. Thanks to these machines, we can “catch” 1 ton of CO2 for around $100 and store it for future use.
The filters are designed to specifically capture CO2 when they are in contact with air.
If humanity manages to extract carbon dioxide from the air and reuse it, that will solve a lot of environmental worries? In the big scheme of things, that is one of the most significant technological breakthroughs we can hope for.
Our next category in innovation is:
We are about to see the last two technological innovations that are going to change the world for humanity.
Smooth-talking AI assistants
Maybe you’ll say:
We can already talk with Alexa, Siri, Jibo, Tapia, and all the other personal AI assistants.
The new technological breakthrough in the field of robotics will give humans the chance not only to ask the AI to take care of the pizza delivery, but we’ll be able to have a real conversation with them.
Why is that important?
Machines are getting better at understanding natural languages. There are several research projects, such as BERT, which are making significant progress in that direction.
The real-life application of this particular technological advancement is the newfound involvement of machines in our lives. Such as taking minute notes, shopping online, or finding information. Once the process starts, there is no telling what other daily tasks AI assistants might crawl into.
In this particular case, it's the dexterity of robotic hands that is a game-changer. The OpenAI Dactyl robot hand can handle objects and learning, and it teaches itself to perform various tasks. Learning dexterity is a crucial stepping stone towards a brighter future where robots (and robotic limbs) can take a big part of the workload off of humanity’s shoulders.
There are still many tech advances that will further extend the capabilities of humanoid machines. Tasks like assembling gadgets, washing dishes, helping the elderly with some daily chores, will be among the list of replacements.
Any innovation in the area of robot dexterity also means good news for people who are missing limbs or are disabled in some way. After the commercialization of robotic limbs, these people will be able to live without restrictions and enjoy the dexterity of their limbs again.
To Sum Up
Today there are a lot of technological breakthroughs the world is looking forward to. The cool thing here is that all of the innovations we mentioned are ready to be released to the public.
The list of innovations for 2019 was compiled by Bill Gates, a philanthropist in his own right. (Who has personally contributed toward a fair few of the inventions we mentioned.)
All of the inventions on the list of 10 breakthrough technologies of 2019 have the potential to change the lives of millions of people worldwide. And in the years to come - they most probably will.
Which breakthrough technology did you single out as the most important?
Darina is a proud Ravenclaw and a fan of Stephen King. She enjoys being a part of an awesome team of tech writers who are having a ball writing techie articles. She also loves board games and a pint of lager. Currently, she is finishing her second master’s degree, at Vrije University, Brussels (Linguistics and Literature!) while headbanging on quality progressive metal…and banging her head with the intricacies of progressive technologies like AI and deep learning.
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