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Ōtautahi – The World Economic Forum’s newly-launched top 10 emerging technologies of 2023 report lists this year’s most impactful emerging technologies.

The top 10 list includes environmental innovations, such as sustainable aviation fuels and wearable plant sensors. Other emerging technologies range from innovations harnessing the power of AI to reengineering molecular biology.

Technology is a relentless disruptor. It changes the context for how we live, work and play, redefines businesses and industries, and offers unprecedented solutions for addressing complex planetary and societal challenges.

But in a quick-changing world where ideas come and go, what emerging technologies should raise to the top of the agenda for decision-makers, entrepreneurs and citizen in the years to come?

The report combines perspective of more than 90 academics, industry leaders and futurists from 20 countries around the world, to discover the technologies most likely to impact people and the planet in the next three to five years.

From sustainable solutions that help combat climate change to step-change generative AI models, here are the top 10 emerging technologies most likely to improve future lives. The top five are:

Sustainable aviation fuel

The aviation industry generates between two to three percent of global CO2 emissions, but all regions of the world are set to see big increases by 2050. Unlike many other industries, the weight-to-power ratio of batteries makes electrification a challenge. That’s where sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) comes in.

Synthetic fuels are made from biological sources like biomass or non-biological sources like CO2, and can be used with existing aviation infrastructure and equipment. Today, SAFs meet around one percent of aviation industry fuel demand, but this must increase to 13 to 15 percent by 2040 to help the industry reach net-zero emissions by 2050, the report says.

Wearable plant sensors

Global food production will need to increase by 70 percent by 2050 to feed a growing world population, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Crop monitoring is a key part of achieving this goal.

Traditional soil testing and visual inspections of crops are expensive and time-consuming, giving rise to monitoring using low-resolution satellite data and later sensor-equipped drones and tractors.

Sustainable computing

Exponential growth in AI, cloud computing and other technologies requires bigger, more powerful and more plentiful data centre capacity. Data centres consume 1% of total global electricity production, but powering our increasingly data-hungry digital society means this is set to increase.

Several technologies are emerging, aimed at making the goal of net-zero-energy data centres a reality, says the report. These include using water or dielectric liquid cooling to dissipate heat, alongside technologies that repurpose excess heat to warm buildings, heat water or for industrial processes.

Generative AI

Generative artificial intelligence models are fast becoming a part of everyday life. The models use complex algorithms to recognize and utilize patterns in data.

The recent introduction of AI-based language models, like ChatGPT, has already impacted life at schools, universities and workplaces, but if used properly, such tools can enhance productivity and creative output.

AI in healthcare

Emerging AI-based technologies and machine learning tools could help the global healthcare sector both anticipate and better prepare for future pandemics or other challenges.

Such systems could help increase the efficiency of national and global healthcare systems to tackle health crises and improve access to healthcare. Innovations like this could also reduce treatment waiting times, by aligning treatment needs with available medical resources and increasing medical outreach, says the report.