Self-healing materials; energy-efficient water purification; drug delivery through nanoscale engineering—these are just a few of the top ten technologies to watch in 2013, according to the World Economic Forum. The WEF believes these ten innovations are almost at the point where they can be widely distributed and used, transforming all our lives dramatically. David King over at the Forum’s blog has the whole list (h/t Tyler Cowen). One of our favorites is OnLine Electronic Vehicles:
Wireless technology can now deliver electric power to moving vehicles. In next-generation electric cars, pick-up coil sets under the vehicle floor receive power remotely via an electromagnetic field broadcast from cables installed under the road. The current also charges an onboard battery used to power the vehicle when it is out of range. As electricity is supplied externally, these vehicles need only a fifth of the battery capacity of a standard electric car, and can achieve transmission efficiencies of over 80%. Online electric vehicles are currently undergoing road tests in Seoul, South Korea.
Read the whole thing, and marvel at mankind’s endless creativity. But it’s important to remember the main thing about innovation: that it can’t really be predicted and is almost always surprising. Technologies that look like sure bets to transform the future sputter along (like solar power, which was confidently predicted to be the Next Big Thing as far back as the 1970s); other ideas come out of nowhere and transform our lives.
Governments and big institutions want to plan the future; the unpredictable nature of innovation is one of the big reason such efforts usually fail. Lists like this one are useful when they open our minds to possibilities; they get in the way when we mistake them for road maps.