Innovations is changing the way we do things using emerging technology. What if drinking water could be drawn from desert air easily, without requiring enormous amounts of electricity from a grid? What if a doctor could do a biopsy for a suspected cancer without a blade of any sort? What if we didn’t have to wait too long to find out?

Technologies that make these visions a reality are expected to become increasingly commonplace in the next few years. This special report, compiled and produced in a collaboration between Scientific American and the World Economic Forum’s Expert Network, highlights 10 such emerging technologies.

To choose the entrants in this year’s emerging technologies report, we convened a steering group of world-renowned technology experts. The committee made recommendations and elicited suggestions from members of the Expert Network, the forum’s Global Future Councils, Scientific American’s board of advisers and others who are tuned in to burgeoning research and development in academia, business and government.

Then the group whittled down the choices by focusing on technologies that were not yet widespread but were attracting increased funding or showing other signs of being ready to move to the next level. The technologies also had to offer significant benefits to societies and economies and to have the power to alter established ways of doing things.

IBM provided the public access to the first quantum computer in the cloud – the IBM Q experience – with a graphical interface for programming it and now an interface based on the popular programming language, Python.

Opening this system to the world has fueled innovations that are vital for this technology to progress and, to date, more than 20 academic papers have been published using this tool. The field is expanding dramatically. Academic research groups and more than 50 start-ups and large corporations worldwide are focused on making quantum computing a reality

With these technological advancements and a machine at anyone’s fingertips, now is the time for getting “quantum ready”.
People can begin to figure out what they would do if machines existed today that could solve new problems. And many quantum computing guides are available online to help them get started.

There are still many obstacles. Coherence times must improve, quantum error rates must decrease and, eventually, we must mitigate or correct the errors that do occur. Researchers will continue to drive innovations in both the hardware and the software.

Investigators disagree, however, over which criteria should determine when quantum computing has achieved technological maturity. Some have proposed a standard defined by the ability to perform a scientific measurement so obscure that it is not easily explained to a general audience.

Others disagree, arguing that quantum computing will not have emerged as a technology until it can solve problems that have commercial, intellectual and societal importance. The good news is, that day is finally within our sights.


Credit goes to World Economics Forum and Mariette DiChristina, editor in chief, Scientific American, and chair, Emerging Technologies Steering Group