Since the industrial revolution first flickered into life a quarter millennium ago, in the small Staffordshire village of Coalbrookdale, fuelled by a (literally) toxic mix of coal, steam and steel, Emerging Technologies have never moved with the explosive pace and invasiveness they do today: a 1995 television now seems as unfamiliar to us as a Spinning Jenny or a Beam Engine, and as for VHS videos, Kodak cameras and landlines with wires and handsets attached…well, in a few short years they’ve all been carted off to the dustbin of history, along with Donald Trump and face to face meetings with a plate of hob nobs. Instead we have Zoom calls, more powerful, and ever more ingenious laptops and smart phones… and Joe Biden. Everything is changing, and it’s changing faster every day.
Too fast, indeed, to allow us to predict with any confidence what the New Year holds in store for us: if only we could, we’d all be millionaires (billionaires even) but drawing on such a feeble stock from an already outdated past seems as foolish as trying to drive using only the rear view mirror. Over the wider span of history though (dating back to the industrial revolution), some trends are clearer than others, and they can provide useful pointers for where technology may be heading next.
Lets take a look at four of them…
The Legacy of Coal
Scientists first identified an adverse environmental impact from excessive CO2 emissions more than a hundred years ago: but they weren’t taken seriously for another sixty years, when the US Senate first took expert testimony on the issue (in 1988), and even today there are still plenty of wooden headed climate change deniers, prepared to jump on the next available platform and shake their fists at the obvious (take another bow Mr Trump).
But for those of us in the non wooden headed world, it’s increasingly obvious technological innovation will have to be enlisted in the search for a solution: scaling up platforms for mass energy storage, identifying low (or no) carbon chemical sources, and delivering bigger and better carbon sequestration programmes, not to mention low emissions agriculture (responding to a growing awareness that methane emissions can be just as damaging as CO2).
It's a pretty chunky, but by no means exhaustive list: and taken together with the underlying imperative to rapidly address 250 years of industrial and environmental vandalism, it’s also a clear indicator that the New Year will see further growth in just the sort of technologies that make up the list already.
Self Fertilizing Crops
And speaking of low emissions agriculture (as we were), over the course of 2021 a staggering 110 Million tons of nitrogen fertilizer was consumed by global agri-business, all of it produced by combining air borne nitrogen with hydrogen derived from methane and CO2, and that’s not exactly climate friendly either. But what if these same crops could be made to self fertilize and capture their own nitrogen: fixing it as ammonia in the same way nature does (naturally) with soya and beans? That’s exactly what leading edge technologies are doing at the moment: emulating symbiotic molecular communication between legumes and bacterial agents to produce root nodules that act as a “home grown” fertilizer (www.earth.com/news/self-fertilizing-crops).
And that not only means less methane and CO2, which has to be a good thing in itself, but more staple crops like cereals and rice which will be easier to grow, and fewer hungry people in a world that’s hungry enough as it is.
So expect to hear more of self fertilizing crops in 2022 too…
Breathing New Life
And wouldn’t it be good, particularly after the heartache and anxiety of two years of COVID, if we could have real time disease diagnosis based on just a puff of breath? That’s exactly what scientists have done: using sensors to detect more than eight hundred different airborne compounds not only can pathogens be detected earlier, but so too (from raised acetone levels) can the early signs of diabetes mellitus (www.researchgate.com).
And if you think that all sounds like science fiction, think again: a study conducted in Wuhan last year returned 95% accuracy readings for COVID detection using the new breath test, and 100% sensitivity when it came to accurate patient differentiation. The process could be a real game changer: so again…expect to see more about it in the New Year.
Energy from the Ether
The skies above us are literally buzzing with wireless signals, the latent energy from which can now be “harvested” using a tiny antenna equipped with IoT (Internet of Things) sensors; and, once again, it's a long way from science fiction. In various locations across the globe drivers passing through toll stations can already make use of automated “tags” powered by local radio signals.
Energy straight from the skies: now that’s something to look forward to...
Red Ribbon Asset Management (www.redribbon.co) aims to harness the full potential of fast evolving and emerging technologies to meet the needs of global communities as part of a circular economy, fully recognising the compelling demands of planet people and profit.
Red Ribbon is committed to identifying and building on investment opportunities that are fully in compliance with its core Planet, People, Profit policy: not only offering above market rate returns for investors but also protecting our Natural Capital.