Tom Standage | January 11th 2013 | @Technology
As the editor of Technology Quarterly it’s my job to keep up with promising new technologies, and to help me do that I maintain a list of emerging technologies that are worth watching. Items are added to the list if I think they are worth keeping an eye on, and removed if they either become widely accepted, or fail to deliver on their promise. Enterprise social networking was on my list for some time, for example, but I removed it last year because I felt it no longer counted as an emerging technology. At last year’s Technology Frontiers Summit I shared my list with the audience.
In my top 10 at that point were wireless payments/mobile money; 3D printing; low-cost genomic sequencing; asset-sharing schemes such as Zipcar and Airbnb; wireless charging; integrating crowdsourced human workers into software processes; personal drone aircraft; new approaches to low-cost solar lighting; augmented reality; and spaceflight start-ups.
In the past year many of these technologies have made notable progress. Square, a mobile-payments firm, did a landmark deal with Starbucks, which may make the use of mobile payments far more widespread, and catalyse the market for other retailers. The launch of the MakerBot 2 was hailed as the “Macintosh moment” for 3D printers, in the sense that it makes a promising new technology easier to use, and more reliable, than ever before, as the Macintosh did for graphical computing. The cost of sequencing a genome continues to decline and may fall below $1,000 this year. Avis just acquired Zipcar, and Mary Meeker, a technology forecaster, coined the term “asset-light lifestyle” to describe the popularity of paying for access rather than ownership. Apple patented a clever new approach to wireless charging that does not require a special mat, which it may incorporate into future models of the iMac. Twitter started using a blend of machine and human intelligence, an approach called real-time human computation, to identify trending news topics. Personal drone aircraft got cheaper and cleverer, and more people started to worry about their use by the police and by private citizens. The cost of solar-power plants fell below $1 per watt of capacity. Google showed off Glass, its computerised spectacles, which display information that appears to float in space in front of the wearer. And SpaceX, a private company, flew two successful cargo missions to the International Space Station, and tested a new design in which the first stage of a rocket returns to the launching pad, rather than being discarded.
Many of these technologies will also feature in this year’s list, but I’ll be removing a couple of them and adding some new entries that have recently come up the field. Also, I realised there was a common theme between several of the items on my new list, so I might treat them as a single entry, which would allow me to sneak some more new things into the Top 10. All will be revealed at this year’s Technology Frontiers event in March!