European Youth Portal
Information and opportunities for young people across Europe.

Ten more technologies which could change our lives

Technological developments and innovations are the driving force of human civilisation.

Inventions such as archery revolutionised hunting, with the wheel doing the same for transportation. The arch radically changed construction techniques, the loom revolutionised clothing, and printing transformed the storage and sharing of ideas. The steam engine led to industrial production, followed by the electric motor's democratisation of power. Vaccines and antibiotics profoundly altered health and medicine. The invention of the railway, automobiles, and airplanes revolutionised transport again; and the telephone, mobile communication, and the internet have made it as easy to talk to one another as if we all lived in one global village. [1]

Technological development continues today, at an ever-accelerating pace. Can you imagine, having invented the wheel, just to sit around after, and be like: Naaah, I’m not curious anymore. We’re good here, no need for new improvements! Fortunately, humans are not like that at all, and there is always a plethora of new things and new areas to explore.

It is increasingly important for society and policy-makers to anticipate possible game-changing innovations, to start analysing potential benefits, as well as harmful effects, early on, and to develop an appropriate response in order to maximise the good and minimise any damage.

The European Union (EU) institutions, along with national institutions in the Member States and a growing array of international and global policy institutions, are a key source of policy-making in the 21st century. EU policies affect not only the lives of over 500 million Europeans, but increasingly also global trends and developments in issues such as climate change, resource efficiency and sustainability, trade, health care, regional conflict resolution, and reduction of poverty. [2]

Here’s a list of 10 game-changing technologies of the future (well, they’re pretty much already here!), as identified by the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) in their publication Ten more technologies which could change our lives:

 

1. ELECTRIC CARS

Are we really going to entirely switch over to electric cars, and if so, how soon? There are many advantages of electric cars, including reducing air pollution and lowering CO2 emissions They are quieter, with lower maintenance cost and reduce dependence on imported energy. However, at the moment they are still rather expensive to produce, with heavy batteries, which take quite a long time to recharge.

Another factor to consider is the price of electricity too. Several Member States have introduced subsidies to help establish the market for electric vehicles, as well as younger generations seem to be shifting towards car-sharing model, and lighter, more eco-friendly solutions. What do you think will happen in the future? Would you drive an electric car yourself?

Wondering what are the latest news about electric cars in the UK? Browse through the UK Office for Low Emission Vehicles website.

 

2. INTELLIGENT URBAN TRANSPORT SYSTEMS

Over 70% Europeans live in cities, and that number keeps growing. We had to get used to traffic jams, noises and pollution but certainly, that is not our preferred environment – how much time do you spend commuting every day, and then how much time complaining to your friends about it? Cars might be getting more eco-friendly but that still does not remedy the extreme level of urban congestion. In order to improve our life quality we might need to rethink the way everything is organised at the moment, and transform the infrastructure, public spaces and, of course, public transport.


 

 

Buses moving 10 mph, frequent stops and red lights, as well as bus drivers selling single tickets while 50 passengers are already on-board and waiting to depart… We all know that too well, don’t we? One option could be to aim at an intelligent traffic system giving absolute priority to surface-bound public transport such as buses or trams. Traffic signals along roads employed by public transport could be programmed in such a way that buses would never have to stop for a red light, nor for cars blocking the road. [3] Also, who should pay for it? How about making urban transportation free and accessible to everybody, like we did with education years ago? Luxembourg is set to be the first country in the world to ever introduce free public transport, lifting all fares on trains, trams and buses.

 

3. MAGLEV TRANSPORTATION

Hoverboards from Back to the Future are not science fiction anymore; magnetic levitation-based transport might soon become our reality! The technology is based on the creation of opposite magnetic fields that repel each other to counteract gravity, thus elevating the magnetised objects off the ground. Maglev is applied in transport modes of all sizes, from individual hoverboards to high-capacity bullet trains. Superconductor trains are able to achieve speeds over 500 km/h by eliminating the friction of the train wagons with the railway track. They have begun commercial operations in China and South Korea, and are under construction in Japan. As much as the EU is interested in implementing them, there hasn’t been much action taken yet. The problem with introducing maglev trains lies in infrastructure – this kind of transportation needs a dedicated railways network and it is not easy or cheap to construct.



Back to the Future II

 

In the long run, maglev trains offer the prospect of travelling faster than conventional trains without the environmental impact of aviation (noise and pollution), linking large metropolitan areas over distances of several hundreds of kilometres. It could completely change our perception of distances and enable wider population spread. Have you ever been on a high-speed train? Can you imagine commuting like that every day?

 

4. WOOD

This might come as a surprise – it doesn’t sound like a new technology, does it? Well, ladies and gentlemen, we are re-introducing good ‘ol timber! The pressure to convert more land to agricultural use, as well as centuries of using wood for shipbuilding, or as a fuel, have drastically reduced the earth's forest cover, even before climate change became an issue. At the same time, over the last few hundred years and in most parts of the world, wood has largely been replaced as a building material with concrete and steel, and as a fuel by fossil hydrocarbon sources.[4]

These trends are turning around now: there is a lot of emphasis on reforestation (not compromising agriculture but instead, using arid areas), and wood has been recognized as a sustainable and eco-friendly construction material, as well as biomass good for fuelling technologies not able to switch to running on electricity exclusively, like maritime transport or aviation. Policy-making is an important factor here, as growing forests is a long-term process, plus energy production would make much more sense if it was relying more on local resources, reducing long-distance transportation. And hey, please plant a tree everyone – have you hear of Jadav Payeng, a man who planted a tree every day for 37 years and created a beautiful oasis? Way to go!

 

 

5. PRECISION AGRICULTURE

Precision agriculture (PA), or precision farming, is the use of technology to improve the ratio between agricultural output (usually food) and agricultural input (land, energy, water, fertilisers, pesticides etc.). It consists of using sensors to identify precisely (in space or time) the needs of crops or livestock, and then intervening in a targeted way to maximise the productivity of each plant and animal, whilst minimising any waste of resources. [5]

Introducing this kind of technology, we should be able to reduce the use of fertilisers and pesticides and maximise food production, so it is both more productive and more sustainable, and it can contribute to food security and safety. Automated steering systems, remote sensing and robots are amongst the new solutions.

This could trigger societal changes too, altering the perception of agriculture as a low-skill economic sector, and boosting its attractiveness to younger generations. In order for all of this to happen we would need large investments but these technologies could potentially also stop people from leaving countryside, closing the gap in development between rural and urban areas.

Want to know more about precision farming? Here’s the UK take on it, based on Harper Adams research.

 

6. QUANTUM TECHNOLOGIES
 
It’s a bit of a complex science this one, buckle up and here we go: quantum mechanics is a scientific theory, changing our understanding of the universe. In classical physics, a system is always in one particular state, whereas in the quantum world, a system can be in a superposition of two or more states. It is already the basis for many common technologies, such as the transistor and the laser. Going forward, controlling the microscopic states of individual quantum systems with high precision could result in the development of new technologies, which can be divided into three areas:
  • Cryptography: quantum cryptography should prevent any form of hacking, as it relies on the fundamental law that measuring a quantum system changes that system – by using such a system to transmit information, two communicating parties can find out whether someone is listening to their messages. [6]
  • Computing: very promising and potentially game-changing technology, yet still quite far from being broadly used. Basically, toss the binary code, and imagine a bit being both “0” and “1” at the same time. I know, right?!
  • Sensing: quantum sensors encompass a wide range of devices, which use quantum effects to make high-precision measurements of quantities such as time, gravity and magnetic field. Many of these devices could be commercialised within the next few years. [7]

 

 

United Kingdom already has a programme in this area – if you fancy having a look, check out the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme
 
 
7. RADIO FREQUENCY IDENTIFICATION TAGS
 
RFID is a technology replacing barcodes as a way of tagging consumer goods. Products can be identified thanks to a kind of coil, or piece of foil, that acts as an antenna. This kind of tag can contain plenty of additional information, tracing the origin of the product as well as enabling the creation of smart objects linked in the Internet of Things.
 
Food safety or usage instructions accessible though the product itself are amongst advantages, however, the technology also raises certain concerns: a hidden tag in an object could give access to a lot of unauthorised information, causing a real threat. There are some policy-related factors as well, e.g. the technology requires special tag readers, and the power of those is limited to only two watts by the EU law. What are your thoughts on radio frequency identification tags, would you feel safer or, on the contrary, more exposed if this technology was commonly used everywhere?
 
 

 

8. BIG DATA AND HEALTH CARE
 
Advances in health care have already greatly increased our life expectancy – what can come next? Big data could be the answer, improving diagnosing, treating and researching. Here’s a few benefits:
  • Traditional medical research involving large trials or surveys could be made cheaper and faster
  • Smart devices and sensors could be collecting complete and objective data, much better than people filling in questionnaires
  • Personalised health care, for example sensors collecting information and warning patients ahead of, say, a heart attack.
The question remains: what about data protection? We will need to find the right balance between an individual's interest in confidentiality concerning their health, and the benefit society could reap from easier access to anonymised medical data that could hold the key to medical innovations and breakthroughs. [8]
 
Where do you think that balance is?
 

 
 
9. ORGANOIDS
 
Organoids are artificially grown organs that mimic the properties of real organs. Yes, we are living in the future! Organoids are either generated from resident progenitors in adult organs; or derived from one or a few cells from a tissue, embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells, which can self-organise in three-dimensional culture owing to their self-renewal and differentiation capacities. [9] These cells have the genetic characteristics of the people from whom they are taken, and so respond to drugs in the same way. Have a look at the UK Biobank website.
 
This technology can benefit research, drug testing, personal health care and many other aspects of medicine. There are some ethical concerns though – do you think such advanced bio engineering can mean that we are losing human integrity?
 
There’s no EU-wide legal framework on biobanks yet too. This all means a lot of challenges but also a huge potential of this field of research.
 
 
10. GENOME EDITING
 
Another tricky one from the ethical point of view: gene editing. Yay or nay?
 
CRISPR-Cas9 has great potential as a tool for directly modifying or correcting fundamental disease-associated variations in the genome and for developing tissue-based treatments for cancer and other diseases by disrupting endogenous disease-causing genes, correcting disease-causing mutations or inserting new genes with protective functions. Researchers hope to use CRISPR-Cas9 to adjust human genes to eliminate diseases, fight constantly evolving microbes that could harm crops or wipe out pathogens, and even edit the genes of human embryos.[10]

 
 
This technology could then tackle spreading of diseases, improve food production and contribute to our overall well-being. The concerns, on the other hand, include disrupting entire eco-systems or the problem of “designer babies“. Research activities modifying, potentially for good, the genetic heritage of human beings are not financed under Horizon 2020, the EU framework programme for research and innovation. Governments across the world are now working nationally and internationally to minimise legal uncertainties in this area.
 

Interested in science and innovation? There is a great deal of interesting opportunities for young researches – here’s a few links to follow:

And even if you are not a science type, do stay up-to-date with recent developments – we should all follow new technologies and try to understand the forces driving our society.

 

*All the quotes come from:
Ten more technologies which could change our lives
EPRS | European Parliamentary Research Service
Author: Christian Kurrer with James Tarlton
Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA)
PE 598.626

 

Visit Eurodesk UK website for more information on a range of topics as well as news, opportunities and events relevant for the UK. You can also get tailored advice by asking a question and a Eurodesk officer will get back to you within 3 working days. Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter to be up-to-date with the latest news about youth policies and opportunities for young people.