Technology has a pivotal role in solving the most daunting issues facing our planet and people – especially when it comes to our health and our environment. Fortunately, emerging technologies have the power to save and improve lives by transforming industries, and doing so quickly. But it’s not as easy as just finding new materials or focusing on making existing technologies more sophisticated. As Information and Interaction Chief, and Member of the Executive Committee of the WEF (World Economic Forum), Jeremy Jurgens stated while publishing the list of the 10 most important technologies of 2016, not only is it a significant and defiant task to shape such technologies, but also to find the right ones. As we enter a time where the fourth Industrial Revolution is in the oven, there is a need to agree on protocols, standards and common rules that will regulate those technologies and secure their sustainability so that future generations can take advantage of them.
Some companies are going back to basics and simplifying the most complex technologies, while other companies are further pushing the envelope on complex technologies like autonomous vehicles, new 2D materials and miniature human organ models. Regardless of the methodology, the goal is to improve these technologies in a way that solves problems on a large-scale while trying to minimize risks or side effects from previous solutions.
Here are examples of projects that have been in development for years, but only now have been able to reach a point where their impacts could be seriously significant:
Nanosensors and the Internet of Nanothings
The arrival of the Internet of Nanothings, or IoNT, means even more objects will be connected to artificial intelligence systems. Microsensors which were once a novelty, have been reduced to their smallest possible size and can now go to work for the human body – detecting and storing information that could treat rare disorders. Nanosensors can also provide us with comprehensive information about our cities – billions of nanosensors are storing information from traffic lights and surveillance cameras around the world. According to Jordi Botifoll, Cisco’s regional CEO, Latin America has everything it needs to become one of the leaders in nanosensors and nano Internet development. Latin American developers have been working on the potential of nanosensors and the IoNT with devices that will be able to show incremental changes in the environment, detect vibrations in electrical currents, magnetic fields and variations in light and chemical concentrations. It’s a thriving industry that will be crucial for the functioning of chaotic macrocities like Sao Paulo, Mexico, Santiago and Bogotá, among others. But it’s not without the implementation of new policies that provide a good environment for this sort of technology to thrive that users worldwide will benefit.
Simplifying the Complex
The Paperfuge is inspired by a centuries old toy, and consists of cardboard and plastic strung together by an entangled piece of thread that is pulled on either side. This simple contraption helps separate plasma from blood samples in less than 90 seconds. It was created by Stanford engineer Manu Prakash after his launch of Foldscope, the first origami folded paper microscope – a user-friendly and affordable technology. The Paperfuge costs only 20 cents and is therefore accessible to communities where commercial centrifuge systems are simply not affordable, or even feasible. The Paperfuge is one of the biggest impact developments in recent years for its availability, simplicity and significance in solving healthcare crises like HIV and malaria where the separation of plasma in biological samples is one of the most basic steps in diagnoses.
AI Disease Diagnose
Face2Face, a facial recognition app floored doctors who had conducted countless tests over 16 years in an attempt to diagnose a patient’s rare condition. Similar to the ‘find-your-face’ recognition tool that Facebook uses, the app was able to conduct millions of rapid calculations, analyzing the tiniest nuances on the patient’s face, comparing what it saw to specific facial characteristic and tell-tale signs that corresponded with certain disorders. Face2Face isn’t the only company using AI for diagnosis – Winterlight, is developing a tool for speech changes that can only be monitored by a machine and could detect Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage. Other developments such as The RightEye GeoPref Autism Test has also helped to correctly diagnose 86% of non-genetic conditions of Autism by monitoring the eye movement of a child, identifying whether or not the child is giving attention to shapes, rather than faces. These solutions propel us into a future where disease can be diagnosed in a matter of seconds.
Large-scale Power Storage
Recently, a new large-scale battery was put to the test by Fluidic Energy and could be the solution to the shortage, or absence, of electricity and resources for more than 1.2 billion people, globally. The batteries are built from zinc, sodium or aluminum, eliminating less safe chemicals and heavy metals that make-up traditional batteries. They are more affordable and have the potential to power small towns or big factories. Fluidic Energy has developed a bridge of technologies between the batteries and a small number of renewable energy systems and aim to help more than one million villagers in isolated areas to power their homes and business with reduced carbon emissions.
In Latin America, the task to integrate economy, technology and politics is a bit harder than for its counterparts around the world. Technology takes longer to arrive and make an impact while it adjusts to the specific economic needs of different regions. But in 2017, countries like Cuba, Colombia, Argentina, and many others, will confront important historical changes and it might be just the right time to reposition their own economies and take a chance on opportunities to use technology for the sake of social inclusion and humanity as a whole.