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Plant sensors to AI in healthcare: emerging technologies to watch

A new report by the World Economic Forum explores the top 10 emerging technologies that will impact people and the planet

A woman carries a robot during the Vivatech show in Paris, France, Wednesday, June 14, 2023.
A woman carries a robot during the Vivatech show in Paris, France, Wednesday, June 14, 2023. (AP)

In this rapidly developing world, new technologies are frequently sprouting with promises of making life easier or taking a big leap into the future. This week, the World Economic Forum (WEF), the international non-governmental organisation, released a new report that gives a peek into the technologies that are most likely to impact people in the next three to five years.

The WEF's 'Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2023' report, in collaboration with Frontiers, brings together the perspectives of more than 90 academics, industry leaders and futurists from 20 countries. From generative AI models to wearable plant sensors, here are some of the interesting technologies to expect in the near future.

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Sustainable computing

Data centres that power the increasing growth of artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing and other technologies consume 1% of total global electricity production, which is bound to increase significantly in the next few years.

According to the report, several emerging technologies are aiming for net-zero-energy data centres. These include using water or dielectric liquid cooling to dissipate heat, as well as technologies that repurpose excess heat to warm buildings, heat water or industrial processes. Furthermore, AI-enabled systems can optimise energy use in real-time, which increases efficiency and performance while reducing energy consumption by about 40% at Google's data centres.

Generative AI

With the introduction of AI-based language models such as Open AI's ChatGPT and Google Bard, generative AI has become part of people's everyday lives. However, generative AI technology can be used for more than producing texts, images and sound. For instance, Nasa engineers are developing AI systems to create lightweight space instruments, decreasing development time, and enhancing structural performance, the WEF report adds.

Wearable plant sensors

To ensure the world doesn't starve in the future, food production will have to increase by 70% by 2050, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. One of the ways to ensure this is through crop monitoring.

As traditional soil testing and inspections of crops are expensive and time-consuming, using technologies such as low-resolution satellite data and later sensor-equipped drones and tractors can help fasten the process. Furthermore, micro-sized needle sensors embedded in individual plants could help record data to improve plant health and increase agricultural productivity, according to the report. These devices can note temperature, humidity, moisture and nutrient levels to help optimise crop yields, reduce water use and warn about early signs of diseases.

AI in the healthcare sector

With the world realising that it is not equipped to handle a pandemic, AI can help the global healthcare sector tackle such challenges, the report adds. 

AI and machine learning tools could improve the efficiency of the healthcare sector and aid in finding solutions to health crises. For instance, new technologies could reduce treatment waiting times by linking treatment needs with available medical resources.

Such benefits can be particularly helpful in developing countries, which often lack the infrastructure to avail quality healthcare services.

Metaverse for mental health

Recently, with the increasing adoption of AI, people have been trying out AI therapists. Although there are strong views about both the pros and cons of this approach, the technology now exists. Developers are also exploring how virtual worlds can impact people. While the metaverse generated hype, it still needs advanced developments to become a reality. Currently, virtual worlds are the focus of many experts.

As gamers can tell people, the virtual world can create shared digital spaces where people can meet and interact. However, emerging technologies can open virtual environments to new opportunities, such as mental health treatments, including telemedicine applications such as prevention, diagnostics, therapy, and research, the report adds.

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