Emerging Digital Technologies That Will Change The World

In electronics, advances take the form of faster computers, flexible and printable electronics, and smaller and better sensors. In networking, the trend is towards more interoperability between networks, higher bandwidth and more virtual services. In human interfaces, we see change converging on more portable devices and enormously improved telepresence between people.

We have included predictions based on consultation with experts of when each technology will be scientifically viable (the kind of stuff that Google, governments, and universities develop), mainstream (when VCs and startups widely invest in it), and financially viable (when the technology is generally available on Kickstarter).


Digital currencies: Electronic money that acts as alternative currency. Currently, alternative digital currencies are not produced by government-endorsed central banks nor necessarily backed by national currencies. It differs from virtual money used in virtual economies due to its use in transactions with real goods and services; not being limited to circulation within online games.

Scientifically viable today; mainstream in 2016; financially viable in 2017.

Botsourcing: The assignment of physical and online tasks traditionally performed by human agents to an autonomous software agent.

Scientifically viable in 2017; mainstream and financially viable in 2020.

Smart dust sensors: A system of many tiny microelectromechanical systems such as sensors, robots, or other devices, that can detect, for example, light, temperature, vibration, magnetism, or chemicals.

Scientifically viable in 2022; mainstream in 2024; and financially viable in 2027.

Printed electronics: A set of printing methods used to create electrical devices on various substrates. Electrically functional or optical inks are deposited on the material, creating active or passive devices, such as thin film transistors or resistors. Printed electronics is expected to facilitate widespread, very low-cost, low-performance electronics for applications such as flexible displays, smart labels, decorative and animated posters, and active clothing that do not require high performance.

Scientifically viable in 2021; mainstream and financially viable in 2022.

Memristors: The reason why the memristor is so different from the other three basic circuit elements is that it retains memory without power. It is a new material that promises computers two orders of magnitude more efficient from a power perspective than traditional transistor technologies, contains multiple petabits of persistent storage, and can be reconfigured to be either memory or CPU in a package as small as a sugar cube.

Scientifically viable in 2018; mainstream in 2022; financially viable in 2025.


MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses are a type of online course aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the web.

Scientifically viable and mainstream today; financially viable in 2021.

5G: A predicted future fifth generation of mobile telecommunications, expected to be the next major phase of mobile telecommunications standard as well as a proposed single global standard.

Scientifically viable in 2016; mainstream in 2017; financially viable in 2022.

WiGig: Wireless Gigabit will deliver up to 6 Gbps [6,000 Mbps] connections between devices in interior spaces. This will enable wireless displays, much like Wi-Fi did for wireless networking.

Scientifically viable in 2016; mainstream in 2021; financially viable in 2022.

High-altitude stratospheric platforms: A quasi-stationary aircraft that provides means of delivering networking to a large area while flying at a very high altitude (17–22 km) over cities for several years. They are effectively low-orbit regional communication satellites.

Scientifically viable in 2022; mainstream in 2026; financially viable in 2027.


Context-aware computing: Computers that can both sense and react to their environment. Devices will have information about the circumstances under which they operate, and based on rules and sensor inputs, react accordingly. Context-aware devices may also learn assumptions about the user’s current situation.

Scientifically viable today; mainstream and financially viable in 2017.

Annotated-reality glasses: Much like Google’s Glass project, these allow contextual information to be overlaid on the user’s field of vision.

Scientifically viable today; mainstream in 2019; financially viable in 2020.

Wall-sized screens: Tileable and interactive screen-wallpapers are expected to dominate all types of surfaces for domestic and professional uses. Wrap-around screens recruit the peripheral vision and create a truly immersive experience

Scientifically viable in 2017; mainstream in 2022; financially viable in 2023.

Telepresence: A set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance of being present, or to have an effect, via telerobotics, at a place other than their true location.

Scientifically viable today; mainstream in 2024; financially viable in 2025.

Immersive multi-user VR: A fully immersive Virtual Reality environment to which the user connects through direct brain stimulation. All senses would be stimulated, diffusing the boundary between reality and fiction.

Scientifically viable and mainstream in 2026; financially viable in 2027.

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