25 Future Technologies Set to Change the World
Let’s imagine what the world will look like 10, 20, or 30 years from now.
Though there’s no crystal ball that can reveal what’s in store for us, we can pay close attention to the trajectories of today's technologies to explore what’s on the horizon.
While we may not be commuting in flying cars or giving orders to robot butlers, technology continues to radically reshape our lives and our societies.
Notably, the pace of innovation is still accelerating. Which means the future is closer than it appears.
These are the 25 future technologies that could change our world.
1. Synthetic Biological Intelligence
A microscopic view of DishBrain with cells highlighted in fluorescence. Source: New Atlas.
Synthetic biological intelligence (SBI) involves hosting brain cells on a dish or a chip, connecting them to electrodes, and then harnessing the resulting processing power.
An Australian-led team of researchers recently created a system called DishBrain that learned how to play the classic game Pong. Just as our brains seek out order and predictability, DishBrain naturally got the hang of Pong by following a tendency to act in a way that increases predictability and decreases randomness. When it successfully returned the ball, it could better predict where it would go next.
In addition to providing research opportunities for neuroscientists, such as creating better treatments for certain neurological conditions, SBI could also prove a key technology for the next generation of “smart” machines.
Digital AI—at least in its current incarnation of machine learning (ML)—is severely limited in many regards, such as its inability to adapt to novel situations or extrapolate learning from one domain to another. In the future, intelligence systems may combine neurons with transistors to unlock greater capabilities for problem-solving, analytics, and optimization.
2. Self-Healing Materials
Self-healing concrete contains live bacteria. Source: The Institute of Making at UCL
Self-healing materials, like living building materials (LBMs) and self-repairing fabric, are fusing the organic and the artificial.
By combining advanced materials engineering with live microorganisms, scientists are creating everything from textiles to self-healing concrete that can regenerate on its own, just as our skin heals from a cut.
Research published in Cell explains how “an inert scaffold provides structural support for a living component that, together with the structural scaffold, endows the LBM with structural and biological function.”
Such materials may prove key to building the resilient infrastructure of the future. Instead of having to rebuild or fix bridges or roads, for instance, self-healing materials may fill in their own cracks, fix their own potholes, and increase a structure’s lifespan while simultaneously removing much of the maintenance burden.
Self-healing textiles also show promise, and not just for their ability to eliminate the need to sew repairs or acquire fresh clothing. These materials can also neutralize harmful chemicals, making them particularly attractive, at least in the near-term, for protective suits.
The wool in your sweater today may have come from a live organism, but the wool in your future sweater may actually be alive when you wear it.
3. Quantum Computing
The intricate design of a quantum computer. Source: Yale Quantum Institute
The quantum computer will be a key enabler for many of the technologies in this article, just as the traditional computer has led to countless breakthroughs in science, technology, and beyond.
Rather than having bits—ones and zeroes—quantum computers have qubits, which can be one, zero, or both at the same time. This ability to be in both states simultaneously is a result of the quantum mechanical property of superposition. It’s one of the biggest challenges to harnessing quantum computing but also one of the biggest advantages of this next-generation hardware: they can hold more possibilities.
Quantum computers may never replace your personal computer. Their most likely application is powering complex problem-solving that involves many variables and permutations, such as finding the most efficient route for a delivery driver to traverse a crowded urban area or simulating new proteins. Quantum computing will likely be pivotal for spawning the next era of artificial intelligence (AI).
Major players ranging from IBM to Google, in addition to countless quantum computing startups, are working on developing quantum hardware, firmware, and software. For instance, ColdQuanta is creating quantum hardware that reaches temperatures so low that it’s colder than anywhere else in the known universe. This enables them to slow down and manipulate atomic motion.
4. Artificial General Intelligence
Artificial general intelligence may open the door to rapid technological progress. Source: Wonderful Engineering
Also known as AGI, this technology expands AI beyond the narrow scope of today’s machine learning algorithms to create a system that is much closer to genuine intelligence. The most widely accepted metric for whether a computer has attained general intelligence remains the Turing test, which specifies that a human evaluator cannot reliably tell a machine and a human apart in a natural language conversation.
AGI could unlock countless other tech advancements by applying powerful computation to any task that requires cognition. In addition to being applicable for virtually any computationally-intensive research or development task, an AGI could also program the next generation of AI to create a successive chain of accelerated AI development.
The result would be an intelligence explosion, or “superintelligence” that far surpasses human cognitive abilities.
Nobody knows for certain whether AGI is even possible at this point. But, considering the value that today’s AI can create, both companies and governments are pouring investments into the field as researchers around the world are competing to create more advanced AI systems.
5. Smart Cities
A growing smart home industry indicates a trend that could lead to smart cities. Source: Exploding Topics
We’re already seeing a rise in smart home technology, and the next evolution will be the smart city. Smart cities are defined by the proliferation of internet of things (IoT) devices that are equipped with sensors and able to communicate with each other in real-time.
The smart cities of the future can improve quality of life in urban areas, optimize operations of public services, create opportunities for sustainability and resilience, and fuel economic growth.
Smart cities could reduce congestion through traffic management, automatically turn off street lights when it gets dark, or enable citizens to access local government services from a single convenient platform. Overall, the goal is to use digital connectivity to make life better for residents.
It’s just as important, however, for the rise of the smart city to be accompanied by an equivalent rise in data privacy and protection rights. Without appropriate safeguards in place, surveillance can restrict and infringe upon human rights.
6. Thorium-Based Nuclear Power
Thorium could be a good alternative for nuclear fuel. Source: Periodictable.com
Nuclear power has the potential to play a key role in decarbonizing our energy grids, but it’s not without serious challenges. Besides the inherent dangers and resulting toxic waste, uranium-powered nuclear reactors rely on fuel that’s expensive, rare, and hazardous.
Thorium is a contender to replace uranium as the preferred nuclear fuel because it’s about three times more abundant in nature, it produces 250 times more energy per unit of weight than uranium, and it has key safety benefits.
Spent thorium fuel rods are significantly less radioactive than normal nuclear waste. Unlike uranium, thorium doesn’t react on its own either. Since it uses an accelerator-driven system (ADS) reactor to control the reaction, stopping the ADS stops the reaction. This means a thorium reactor can’t get out of control.
India's nuclear power program is pioneering the use of thorium power reactors, while Russian scientists have also developed a concept of a hybrid thorium reactor. In addition to the advent of nuclear fusion power, thorium-based nuclear power may make nuclear an increasingly attractive option in the future.
7. Direct Air Capture of Carbon Dioxide
A CO2 removal plant scrubs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Source: Climeworks
In addition to reducing CO2 output, direct air capture (DAC) may prove an important resource in the fight against climate change. Essentially, this involves pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and sequestering it away underground.
A DAC plant in Iceland is one of the largest to date. It’s able to scrub around 4,000 tons of carbon from the air every year at the cost of $750 per ton. Major challenges going forward include getting that price down to a more scalable number—around $100 per ton—as well as ensuring that the energy that powers these plants is derived from clean sources.
Getting DAC online would require substantial investment from both the public and private sector. One of the main ways that DAC companies like Climeworks intend to scale is by centering their business model around providing carbon sequestration credits to other organizations that need to meet emission reduction pledges.
8. Molten Salt Batteries
A researcher shows a freeze-thaw molten salt battery. Source: Scientific American
The transition to a clean energy power grid will require immense storage capabilities. However, standard lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries have serious drawbacks.
In addition to lithium being relatively rare and expensive, Li-ion batteries degrade over time and, even when not in use, the battery loses energy: up to a third of their stored charge in a single month.
Molten salt batteries use a blend of readily available materials like sodium, potassium, and aluminum salts that melt into a liquid when heated to 180 C (356 F). Ions can only flow through it in a liquid state, meaning that it has to be molten when charging or discharging. When storing energy, it stays in a solid state and the charge is locked in place.
9. Large-scale Metal 3D Printing
Pedestrians cross the first 3D printed bridge. Source: BBC
Additive manufacturing that uses robotic arm welding technology could unlock massive potential for industries like aerospace, defense, and manufacturing. Large-scale metal 3D printing enables precise fabrication of large objects out of high-tech alloys.
While the future of additive manufacturing may be printing spacecraft and other complex designs, the first products have already made their debut. The world's first 3D printed steel bridge opened in Amsterdam in 2021 with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting conducted by a robotic arm with scissors. It took six months to print the bridge, which comes in at 12 meters long (39 feet) and weighs 4500kg (9920 lbs).
3D printing is already common for manufacturing relatively small components that require precision engineering, such as the rotors for jet engines. Large-scale 3D printing could enable faster, more cost-effective, and structurally enhanced manufacturing of objects like self-reinforcing aircraft fuselage panels.
10. Autonomous Manufacturing
The future of manufacturing may be entirely autonomous. Source: Design World
Robotics may be the headline technology for autonomous manufacturing, but the ability for machines to manufacture objects without any human intervention will rely on a confluence of technologies. By bringing together robots with edge computing, the industrial internet of things (IIoT), artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision (CV), and others, autonomous manufacturing is all about using sensors to generate data, processing that data in real-time, then using that as an input for actuators.
Many of today’s factories already integrate some level of automation, ranging from basic pick and place robots to advanced hyperautomation setups that enable machine-to-machine communication to automate as many steps on the assembly line as possible.
Fully autonomous manufacturing that requires no or little human intervention could be the culmination of this trend. This could open the door to enabling manufacturing in hostile environments, such as on the lunar surface. Autonomous robots can also bolster industry by increasing efficiency, reducing operating costs, and improving safety conditions.
Nanobots could interact with individual blood cells. Source: Shutterstock
Up to 100,000 times smaller than a human hair, nanorobotics are microscopic machines. They range from purely mechanical nanobots that are actuated by magnetic, ultrasound, or light fields to bio-hybrids that integrate inorganic materials with living microscopic organisms.The primary focus of nanorobotics research and development are for their applications in healthcare, such as using them to detect cancer on a single-cell level, perform cell-level surgery, and better pinpoint pharmaceutical delivery to precise areas.
Another use involves a DARPA-funded study to create magnetoelectric nanoparticles that penetrate the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and transmit neural signals to a brain-computer interface (BCI) so that service members can interact with weapons systems hands-free.
A major challenge to adoption is the difficulty of fabrication. Nanomanipulation is still a nascent technology, and our ability to create suitable materials and then manufacture nanobots will need to grow substantially for nanobots to be deployed at scale.
12. AI Diagnostics
AI may assist doctors and radiologists with diagnostics. Source: Cedars Sinai
Artificial intelligence excels at pattern recognition, and soon this technology may assist doctors in diagnosing illness. By correlating data points, such as symptoms, the sound of a patient's voice, and even a breath analysis, AI algorithms may be able to diagnose conditions like respiratory disorders, neurological disorders, and mood disorders.
AI is also playing a role in diagnostic radiology by supporting radiologists with perception and reasoning tasks. For instance, the algorithm can highlight abnormalities in the scan and direct an expert in where to look.
The National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Bridge to AI program is providing more than $100 million in funding from the federal government, most of which is going towards forming massive health databases. Since machine learning requires large-scale training datasets, creating networks and infrastructure for data sharing will be pivotal to unlocking AI diagnostics.
It’s unlikely that AI will replace doctors in performing diagnostics anytime soon. What we do expect to see, however, is an uptick in AI-assisted diagnostics.
13. Swarm Robotics
RoboBees are capable of swarm behaviors like collective intelligence. Source: Wyss Institute at Harvard University
Mimicking the emergent group behavior found in schools of fish, ant colonies, and bee swarms, swarm robotics coordinate a collection of simple robots via a decentralized control mechanism.
Harvard’s Wyss Institute is developing RoboBees, miniature robots that can swim, fly, and even perch on surfaces by using static electricity. Development is broken into three parts: body, brain, and colony, which enables them to act as an effective unit. Potential uses include search and rescue as well as reconnaissance.
The US Department of Defense is also developing swarming Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), with individual initiatives emerging from the Air Force, DARPA, and the Navy. These devices use collective intelligence and self-healing group behavior to autonomously act within certain parameters. “I can draw a box and make sure they don’t leave that box,” says Will Roper, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics. “We have to shift from ‘you need a flight plan’ to, ‘no you need a box, you need a boundary.”
Besides the cost of at-scale production, there are other major hurdles to adoption. These include deploying tiny drones in real-life situations outside the lab as well as achieving the necessary levels of connectivity to enable consistent real-time communication between individual robots, especially in remote areas.
14. Powered Exoskeletons
The Guardian XO Exoskeleton in action. Source: Exoskeleton Report
With a powered exoskeleton, lifting a 50 pound weight could feel as effortless as grabbing a pencil.
Stepping into a robotic suit could make humans faster, stronger, and less likely to sustain injuries. The powered exoskeleton augments human mobility by providing better mechanical load tolerance, counteracts overstress, and gives human operators machine-like precision.
The Sarcos Guardian XO is a leading example of just what may be possible with this technology. After almost two decades of DARPA funding, this full-body powered exoskeleton hit the market in 2020. The suit is powered by hot-swappable battery packs and can amplify an operator’s strength by a factor of up to 20x.
While it may not be ready for the battlefield yet, the Sarcos exoskeleton is already used for construction, manufacturing, and military logistics—anything that requires heavy lifting. The company leases their suit as a Robotics as a Service offering for about $100,000 per year.
15. Autonomous Weaponry
Heated debate surrounds the ethics of autonomous weaponry. Source: Australian Strategic Policy Institute
Weapons systems that can apply lethal force without any human intervention are already under development. While it is unlikely that global superpowers like the US and Russia are going to halt their R&D efforts, there’s a lively debate surrounding the potential use of autonomous weaponry and how this technology should be governed by international law.
On one side of the argument, automated weapons would create a battlefield advantage because it lessens the need to deploy soldiers. A weaponized rover also costs about 1/3 to deploy compared to a human. They could also move into otherwise inaccessible fronts, remove emotion from the decision-making process, and take human soldiers out of harm's way.
On the other hand, giving a computer program the ability to make life-and-death decisions creates major ethical concerns. Accountability becomes much more nebulous when nobody pulls the trigger or gives an order. Dehumanizing the tragedy of warfare could lead to widespread destruction and humanitarian crises. An open letter from Boston Dynamics and other leading robotics companies outlines their opposition on these grounds.
A recent UN conference failed to agree on any governance for these so-called “slaughterbots.” A majority of the 125 countries on the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons wanted to introduce new laws regarding autonomous weaponry, but opposition from the US, Russia, and several others prevented the convention from taking definitive action.
16. Brain-Computer Interfaces
A brain-computer interface developed by Neuralink. Source: ITPro.
One day you might use your thoughts to control a computer instead of relying on a mouse, keyboard, or touchscreen. After installing brain-computer interface (BCI) hardware into their skulls, users may be able to use their brain signals as input for digital systems.
Today’s rudimentary BCIs are mainly applied in a medical context. For instance, they have helped patients suffering from paralysis regain sensation and aided people with language and wheelchair use after suffering a stroke. Researchers have even developed a BCI controlled robotic arm for patients with a neurological disability.
The future of BCIs, however, may prove much more expansive. Elon Musk’s Neuralink is working on a direct link between the brain and everyday technology for the general public. The company has raised $363M since its first round of funding in 2017.
17. Metal Foam
A metal foam features an intricate structure. Source: Bremeninvest
With properties such as low density, high porosity, high strength, and good energy absorbency, metal foam is a cutting-edge material that’s useful for aerospace, biomedical, and other future technologies, like cryogenic tanks and life support CO2 scrubbers.
Metallic foams are commonly made from aluminum alloys, especially for airplanes and spacecraft that require a high strength-to-weight ratio, but they can also feature metals like nickel, copper, and titanium.
Using metallic foam for bone replacement therapy is a particularly compelling use case because the properties of the foam are more closely aligned to actual bone than solid metal, which was the previous standard for bone replacements.
Metal foam is also useful for reducing aircraft noise, a definite improvement for those who live near airports. This property of high absorbency also means that metal foam can stop a bullet better than conventional military armor made of solid steel.
18. Asteroid Mining
An artist’s rendition of an asteroid mining facility. Source: Plaid Zebra
As the space industry takes flight to establish a human presence on the moon, Mars, and beyond, resource extraction will be a major motivator. With an attractive set of minerals ranging from rare earth metals to gold to massive quantities of iron and nickel, asteroid mining may be the key to scaling up and sustaining earth-bound high-tech manufacturing while also establishing in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) that will allow humans to live and work in deep space.
We may not be sending robots to harvest asteroids yet, but the space industry is seeing a massive growth spurt. New technology is constantly emerging that brings us closer to making this a reality.
At the same time, breeding the engineering talent to tackle the difficulties of asteroid mining is becoming a serious focus, as institutions like The Colorado School of Mines offers the world's first Space Resources program.
Ultimately, like many future technologies, the advent of asteroid mining will depend on economic incentives.
19. Pet Translators
Your dog could be able to talk back one day. Source: Wonder-life
AI-powered technology can already expertly translate between many of the world’s languages. One day it might be able to translate for our pets too.
A pet translator would turn barks and meows into human language, so our pets could tell us how they’re feeling, what they need, and how much they love us.
We’re already starting to see rudimentary forms of this technology take shape. A startup called Zoolingua is developing a tool to translate animal noises, expressions, and body language by training an AI algorithm to interpret everything from the pitch of a bark to the motion of a tail wag.
Another technology that’s already available and pointing in this direction is Inupathy. While not technically a translator, this device uses sensors to monitor a dog’s heart rate and displays one of five colors to communicate their current emotion: relaxed, excited, happy, interested, or stressed.
20. Moon Resource Harvesting
Extracting precious resources from the lunar surface could incentivize long-term colonization. Source: The Engineer
The draw of harvesting precious resources could be enough to incentivize long-term missions to the moon or even full-time habitation. In particular, extracting helium-3 (3He) from the lunar regolith holds a lot of promise.
3He is a scarce and expensive isotope on Earth. 3He is extremely useful for fusion nuclear reactors, as well as other high-tech uses like cryogenics and advanced medical imaging. The moon’s nutrient-rich soil, called regolith, has a relatively high density of helium-3.
“Helium-3, if used as a fuel in a nuclear fusion reactor, could become a significant lunar export for power generation around the world,” says Aarson Olson, a NASA Space Technology Research Fellow from the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The lunar surface also has potential for in-situ resource utilization (ISRU), such as by harvesting ice, breaking the H2O down, and creating a commercial lunar propellant architecture that could refuel spacecraft on the moon.
21. Closed Ecological Systems
A closed ecological system in Arizona is used for research. Source: Room The Space Journal of Asgardia
Also called a biosphere, a genuine closed ecological system (CES) would be able to indefinitely sustain life with a closed-loop ecology. Similar to how nature recycles waste to fuel new life on earth, a CES could create a habitable environment in outer space that would recycle vital resources like water, oxygen, and organic matter. Ultimately, it could enable long-term colonization.
Although scientists are yet to develop a large-scale CES, largely due to the sheer complexity of balancing a closed ecosystem, there is progress being made. Researchers at the European Space Agency are working on the MELiSSA program and making progressive breakthroughs in life support technologies like photobioreactors and waste treatment.
While it may not fully qualify as a CES, NASA astronauts recently successfully grew New Mexico chiles on the International Space Station (ISS). Not only was this the most complicated botany experiment to date on the ISS, but the astronauts thoroughly enjoyed tasty “space tacos'' featuring fresh ingredients that were grown in space.
22. 3D Printed Food
Foodini 3D printers create novel cuisine. Source: Digital Trends
We don’t often think about additive manufacturing and cuisine in the same context, but, one day, you might be able to download a recipe and tell a 3D printer to cook it for you.
Some innovators are already applying the concept to fine dining. Food Ink, the world’s first 3D printing pop-up restaurant, uses additive technology to create elaborate shapes and unique dishes that aren’t possible with standard kitchen equipment. Curious home cooks can also buy a Foodini 3D printer to experiment with.
3D printed food isn’t all about gastronomy though. In a collaboration between NASA and Systems and Materials Research Consultancy of Austin, TX, work is in progress on 3D printing food systems for use on deep space missions. Additive cooking could solve some of NASA’s current nutritional roadblocks. For instance, 3D printed meals would suffer less micronutrient degradation than the shelf-stable foods that currently make up an astronaut’s diet.
Wooly mammoth’s may once again roam the arctic tundra. Source: First Post
It’s a lot like the plot of Jurassic Park: scientists using ancient DNA to resurrect long-gone life forms. That’s not exactly what’s on the table, but it’s close.
American startup Colossal Biosciences has announced plans to bring wooly mammoths back from extinction in order to reintroduce herds of them to the Siberian tundra and, hopefully, create a positive ecological outcome that promotes biodiversity and protects against the effects of climate change.
The company’s aim is to leverage CRISPR gene editing technology to alter Asian elephant embryos because they are more genetically similar to mammoths than any other living animal. The company claims that these so-called “mammophants” would look and act more like mammoths than elephants.
Colossal Biosciences has raised $75M in funding. Meanwhile in Australia, researchers at the University of Melbourne are attempting to de-extinct the Tasmanian tiger.
24. Artificial Eyes
Artificial eyes may cure blindness or enhance our senses. Source: Truth Theory
Bionic eyes would restore vision to the blind, enable robots to see, and maybe even enhance our own senses with night-vision or telescopic vision. Boosting our capabilities with cyborg implants may not yet be a possibility, but scientists are already demonstrating the potential for artificial eyes.
In 2021, for instance, Israeli surgeons placed the first artificial cornea implant into a bilaterally blind man. When they undid the bandages a day later, he could read and see his family. After not being able to see for 10 years, the 78-year-old man regained his vision after receiving the CorNeat KPro synthetic cornea.
Second Sight is also developing artificial vision technology that aids the blind by bypassing the eyes altogether. Their glasses capture sight with a video camera then wirelessly transmit the data to a series of electrodes that they place on the retina’s surface. Those signals, in turn, activate the cells and stimulate perception in the brain. While this tech can’t yet fully restore sight, it does provide some visual function.
25. Green Hydrogen Powered Planes, Shipping, and Heavy Industry
The world’s first hydrogen-powered airplane may soon take flight. Source: Airline Ratings
Hydrogen fuel is potent and clean-burning, and when generated via electrolysis with green electricity, it represents a carbon-free way to power applications that are difficult to electrify. For instance, hydrogen is ideal for heavy industries like steel-making that require high temperatures of process heat.
Hydrogen is also incredibly light, making it an attractive option for weight-sensitive uses like long-haul shipping and aerospace. The Aerospace Technology Institute, for example, is developing a hydrogen-fueled plane called FlyZero that they aim to launch for commercial aviation by 2030.
In addition to overcoming the challenge of safely and effectively burning hydrogen at the point of use, major hurdles for widespread hydrogen adoption include the costs of building out hydrogen infrastructure and generating a surplus of clean electricity to be used for electrolysis. Most of today’s hydrogen production involves reforming fossil fuels and, in the process, releases just as much carbon emissions as burning them.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 allocates $8.5B for hydrogen. This includes the development of regional clean hydrogen hubs, funding electrolysis R&D, and supporting domestic equipment manufacturing.
It’s impossible to say what the future truly has in store for us, but there’s one thing that we can know for sure: our world is going to look very different than it does now.
By looking at emerging technologies and the trends surrounding them, we can envision how future technology will change our lives, for better or for worse, as well as how tech can help us overcome the climate crisis, fuel advances in medicine, and enable us to explore the stars.
Keep in mind that none of these technologies exist in a vacuum either. The connections between them will lead to even faster technological acceleration. For instance, quantum computing may be rocket fuel for artificial intelligence research, and the resulting algorithms may lead to breakthroughs in everything ranging from biotech to robotics.
Likewise, autonomous manufacturing could combine with asteroid mining to create fully automated space mining and mineral processing facilities that could give birth to a new era of space industry or fuel innovation back on Earth (for example, by advancing nuclear fusion technology.)