Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) founder Bill Gates is no stranger to identifying big structural changes. The billionaire business magnate correctly predicted that home computers, desktop operating systems and the internet would become a big part of our everyday lives.
MIT Technology Review invited Gates to compile its annual list of breakthrough technologies. It was the first time the list was curated by a guest editor.
"Bill's list reflects his belief that we're approaching a tipping point in humanity's technological development - from technologies that mostly make life longer to those that mostly make it better. His choices highlight some of what he considers the most important challenges and opportunities of our time," said Gideon Lichfield, Editor-in-Chief of MIT Technology Review, in a press release.
Here’s what Gates came up with:
1. Robot Dexterity
Robotics and automation tools have been popping up in factories across the world, but still operate in carefully controlled environments because they are "clumsy and inflexible." Robot dexterity is designed to iron out those issues. By building mechanical devices such as robotic hands and applying artificial intelligence software, these machines should be better equipped to deal with unfamiliar devices and environments in the future.
2. New-wave Nuclear Power
Fusion is being billed as the favored future power source because its reactors can’t melt down and it doesn’t create high levels of waste like conventional nuclear energy. New designs, including generation IV fission reactors, small modular reactors and fusion reactors, are getting closer to a breakthrough and promise to reduce carbon emissions and make power sources safer and cheaper.
3. Predicting Preemies
Among his healthcare choices, Gates threw his support behind a new blood test that can identify the likelihood of a baby being born prematurely. This breakthrough could potentially save the lives of many children.
4. Gut Probe in a Pill
Swallowable capsules are able to project images inside the human digestive system and even perform biopsies. The devices, which can also be used to treat infants and children, should help to prevent costly diseases such as environmental enteric dysfunction from spreading.
5. Customized Cancer Vaccines
A treatment is being developed to kill off tumor cells using the body’s immune system. Scientists are reportedly on the cusp of commercializing the vaccine, which if successful could prevent many people dying from cancer.
6. The Cow-free Burger
Lab-grown and plant-based alternatives are said to create the nutritional value of meat without destroying the environment. As the population grows and there are more mouths to feed, scientists are working hard to find an affordable solution that reduces the globe’s reliance on the polluting meat industry. Gates has invested in a company that grows animal tissue from stem cells called Memphis Meats.
7. Carbon Dioxide Catcher
Technology that aims to trap carbon before it enters the atmosphere is now steadily becoming available at a reasonable price. Experts reckon carbon capture and storage tools can slash CO2 emissions from power stations by up to 90%. Gates and two oil and gas companies, Occidental Petroleum Corp and Chevron (OXY), have invested in Canada's Carbon Engineering.
8. Wrist-worn Electrocardiogram (ECG) Monitors
Easing regulation and technological breakthroughs mean it is now possible for people to monitor their hearts with wearable devices. Apple Inc. (AAPL) is one company that has already received clearance from the FDA to develop an ECG feature on its watches.
9. Sanitation Without Sewers
Around 2.3 billion people don’t have access to good sanitation, according to MIT Technology Review, causing potentially deadly bacteria, viruses and parasites to spread. Energy-efficient toilets that operate without a sewer system and deal with waste on the spot could help to fix this issue.
10. Smooth-talking AI Assistants
AI assistants, such as Amazon.com Inc.’s (AMZN) Alexa and Apple’s Siri, are still incapable of simplifying our lives, said MIT Technology Review, because they recognize only a few directives and are easily confused. Recent advancements that capture semantic relationships between words are being developed to make machines more capable of understanding language and become more autonomous.