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12 Disruptive Technologies Changing Our World

3D printer in action

Innovate or die is a maxim that cannot be ignored in the information age. Companies that don’t pay heed are doomed to the fate of Kodak, watching bankruptcy loom as the world changes around them.

If you look back 20 years, only a few people had computers, and even fewer had cell phones. People listened to their music on cassette tapes and CDs and waited a week to develop their photos, with no idea if they would even turn out half-decent.

Fast forward to 2013, where computers and smartphones are ubiquitous, while film cameras are only collectors’ items.

Behind these new products are disruptive technologies that force rapid change of business models and consumer habits. The McKinsey Global Institute has identified 12 disruptive technologies that it claims will “transform life, business, and the global economy,” and some of them are already doing so.

Watson the computer

1. Mobile Internet

Its hard to imagine today in the world of Instagram and Snapchat that 10 years ago the development of the iPhone hadn’t even begun. Now mobile internet reaches over one billion people and in America, 30% of web browsing is done on mobile devices.  Driving this is the proliferation of ‘apps,’ small mobile computing programs that offer a range of services from the bizarre to the mundane, providing weather information to serving as a scope for your rifle.

2. Automation of knowledge work

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) may make it possible for computers to take the place of more complex roles that used to be filled by humans. It has been a while since IBM’s Deep Blue beat chessmaster Kasparov and today computers are hundreds of times more powerful than Deep Blue. In one study where individuals either chatted with a real person or an AI, Cleverbot; over 50% of individuals thought Cleverbot was human. Currently computers can be found forecasting the weather and mapping the blood stream. You can even ask Siri when humans will be obsolete.

3. The Internet of Things

The “Internet of Things” is the idea of embedding sensors in machines and on wearable devices to connect them to the web or to each other. The internet of things has an innumerable amount of uses, from monitoring the flow of products through a factory to smart watches. In the Netherlands, some cows have been equipped with sensors that send health information back to the farmer, so the farmer can treat his sick cow faster and prevent the rest of the herd from becoming infected.

4. Cloud technology

Cloud technology is another disruptive technology that is already made its impact felt. If you use Google docs at home or SalesForce at work you are using “the cloud.” With computing devices becoming smaller and more connected, there is no room or need for on-device storage, instead that work can be outsourced to the nebulous cloud. It is estimated that Amazon has 900 petabytes in cloud storage, to put that in general terms that is 943,718,400 gigabytes, enough hard drive space for approximately 1,887,437 computers.

robots in auto industry

5. Advanced robotics

The prevalence of robots in industries like mining and auto manufacturing has increased. The first robots were crude, incapable of conducting precise or varied tasks, but all that is changing. New robots have enhanced locational awareness and sensory ability, which allows them take on a more set of diverse tasks. Robots already build cars, explore space, pick fruit and vacuum your house, while giving your kittens a ride.

6. Next-generation genomics

Mapping the first human genome took 13 years and $2.7 billion to accomplish. Now for only $99 23 & Me offers to provide personalized health recommendations based on your genetic code. As researchers discover more and more about the human body, and specifically genetics, it is possible that machines could be used for routine diagnostics, and healthcare could be further personalized for patients.

7. Autonomous and near-autonomous vehicles

Almost everyone has heard about Google’s self driving cars and how the only accident reported was because another driver rear-ended the perfect driving machine. Today many aspects of plane flight are managed automatically and sensors on some newer models of cars swerve away from other vehicles. Self driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionize transport. In theory it should be cheaper and more convenient to take a driver-less taxi everywhere than to own a car; not to mention more efficient than having millions of cars sitting unused in parking lots and garages for most of their lifetime.

Tesla technology uses advanced batteries

8. Energy storage

Battery and fuel cell technology have already improved significantly over the past several years, the first iPhone only offered 24 hours of audio, whereas the newest model now offers 40 hours. Lithium-ion batteries have undergone consistent price reductions and performance improvements making portable electronics better as well as well being the driving force behind consumer-friendly hybrids and electric vehicles like the Tesla pictured above. Eventually, it may be possible for the batteries of electric vehicles to provide electricity to the grid when renewable energy sources like solar power are not producing.

3D printed gun

9. 3D printing

Currently 3D printers are mainly for hobbyists and designers, however companies like PrintrBot offer printers to the consumer for just shy of $300. Prices for printers and materials are expected to decline accelerating their rate of adoption. 3D printing is not  without its growing pains. The most popularized, and controversial application for 3D printing has been the creation of a fully-functioning printable gun that can be made at home.

eyeglasses made from advanced materials

10. Advanced materials

Most metals, like iron, that we take for granted today were at one point extraordinary inventions. They were stronger than their predecessors and gave civilizations with the technology advantages in warfare and agriculture over their neighbors. Today new materials are being invented with new properties; self-cleaning polymers, metals that can revert to their original shapes and piezoelectric ceramics that turn pressure into energy. In everyday life, advanced materials can be seen in the Flexon nickel-titanium alloy that allow eyeglass frames to bend instead of break.

11. Advanced oil and gas exploration and recovery

Unfortunately, oil and gas are likely to contribute to the majority of the world’s energy supply throughout at least the first half of the 21st century. The development of hydraulic fracking has opened up vast new deposits of oil and natural gas, although with negative environmental ramifications. For better or worse, developments such as these should keep fossil fuels as part of the equation for decades to come.

solar panels in a field

12. Renewable energy

Renewable energy sources including wind and solar may offer cheap, limitless, energy without damaging the environment and contributing to global warming. Solar is now the world’s fastest growing source of electricity and offers to continue to advance as prices decline. Mosaic is one company out of many participating in this space, revolutionizing the way projects are financed, through crowdfunding, while participating in the growth of solar as a disruptive technology.

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Gabe McHugh recently joined Mosaic’s Institutional Investor Marketing team. He has previous experience with Morgan Stanley in portfolio construction and the California Lighting Technology Center (CLTC) in lighting efficiency. He enjoys travelling, the beach and the ideas of sustainability and decentralization.