Emerging technologies

In the history of technology, emerging technologies are contemporary advances and innovation in various fields of technology. Various converging technologies have emerged in the technological convergence of different systems evolving towards similar goals. Convergence can refer to previously separate technologies such as voice (and telephony features), data (and productivity applications) and video that now share resources and interact with each other, creating new efficiencies.

Emerging technologies are those technical innovations which represent progressive developments within a field for competitive advantage;[1] converging technologies represent previously distinct fields which are in some way moving towards stronger inter-connection and similar goals. However, the opinion on the degree of impact, status, and economic viability of several emerging and converging technologies vary.



Over centuries, innovative methods and new technologies are developed and opened up. Some of these technologies are due to theoretical research, others commercial research and development.

Technological growth includes incremental developments and disruptive technologies. An example of the former was the gradual roll-out of DVD as a development intended to follow on from the previous optical technology Compact Disc. By contrast, disruptive technologies are those where a new method replaces the previous technology and make it redundant, for example the replacement of horse drawn carriages by automobiles.

Emerging technologies in general denote significant technological developments that broach new territory in some significant way in their field. Examples of currently emerging technologies include information technology, nanotechnology, biotechnology, cognitive science, robotics, and artificial intelligence.[2]

Debate over emerging technologies

Many writers, including computer scientist Bill Joy, have identified clusters of technologies that they consider critical to humanity's future. Joy warns that the technology could be used by elites for good or evil. They could use it as "good shepherds" for the rest of humanity, or decide everyone else is superfluous and push for mass extinction of those made unnecessary by technology.[3] Advocates of the benefits of technological change typically see emerging and converging technologies as offering hope for the betterment of the human condition. However, critics of the risks of technological change, and even some advocates such as transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom, warn that some of these technologies could pose dangers, perhaps even contribute to the extinction of humanity itself; i.e., some of them could involve existential risks.[4][5]

Much ethical debate centers on issues of distributive justice in allocating access to beneficial forms of technology. Some thinkers, such as environmental ethicist Bill McKibben, oppose the continuing development of advanced technology partly out of fear that its benefits will be distributed unequally in ways that could worsen the plight of the poor.[6] By contrast, inventor Ray Kurzweil is among techno-utopians who believe that emerging and converging technologies could and will eliminate poverty and abolish suffering.[7]

Some analysts such as Martin Ford, author of The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future,[8] argue that as information technology advances, robots and other forms of automation will ultimately result in significant unemployment as machines and software begin to match and exceed the capability of workers to perform most routine jobs.

As robotics and artificial intelligence develop further, even many skilled jobs may be threatened. Technologies such as machine learning[9] may ultimately allow computers to do many knowledge-based jobs that require significant education. This may result in substantial unemployment at all skill levels, stagnant or falling wages for most workers, and increased concentration of income and wealth as the owners of capital capture an ever larger fraction of the economy. This in turn could lead to depressed consumer spending and economic growth as the bulk of the population lacks sufficient discretionary income to purchase the products and services produced by the economy.[10]


NBIC, an acronym for Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information technology and Cognitive science, is currently the most popular term for emerging and converging technologies, and was introduced into public discourse through the publication of Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance, a report sponsored in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation.[11]

Various other acronyms have been offered for the same concept such as GNR (Genetics, Nanotechnology and Robotics). Journalist Joel Garreau in Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies — and What It Means to Be Human uses "GRIN", for Genetic, Robotic, Information, and Nano processes,[12] while science journalist Douglas Mulhall in Our Molecular Future: How Nanotechnology, Robotics, Genetics and Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Our World uses "GRAIN", for Genetics, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Nanotechnology.[13] Another acronym coined by the appropriate technology organization ETC Group is "BANG" for "Bits, Atoms, Neurons, Genes".[14]

See also

Further reading

  • Giersch, H. (1982). Emerging technologies: Consequences for economic growth, structural change, and employment : symposium 1981. Tübingen: Mohr.
  • Jones-Garmil, K. (1997). The wired museum: Emerging technology and changing paradigms. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.
Law and policy
  • Branscomb, L. M. (1993). Empowering technology: Implementing a U.S. strategy. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Raysman, R., & Raysman, R. (2002). Emerging technologies and the law: Forms and analysis. Commercial law intellectual property series. New York, N.Y.: Law Journal Press.
Information and learning
  • Hung, D., & Khine, M. S. (2006). Engaged learning with emerging technologies. Dordrecht: Springer.
  • Kendall, K. E. (1999). Emerging information technologies: Improving decisions, cooperation, and infrastructure. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications.
  • Cavin, R. K., & Liu, W. (1996). Emerging technologies: Designing low power digital systems. [New York]: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.


  1. ^ International Congress Innovation and Technology XXI: Strategies and Policies Towards the XXI Century, & Soares, O. D. D. (1997). Innovation and technology: Strategies and policies. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.
  2. ^ other examples of developments described as "emerging technologies" can be found here - O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference 2008.
  3. ^ Joy, Bill (2000). Why the future doesn't need us. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy_pr.html. Retrieved 2005-11-14. 
  4. ^ Bostrom, Nick (2002). Existential risks: analyzing human extinction scenarios. http://www.nickbostrom.com/existential/risks.html. Retrieved 2006-02-21. 
  5. ^ Warwick, K: “March of the Machines”, University of Illinois Press, 2004
  6. ^ McKibben, Bill (2003). Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age. Times Books. ISBN 0-8050-7096-6. 
  7. ^ Kurzweil, Raymond (2005). The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. Viking Adult. ISBN 0-670-03384-7. 
  8. ^ Ford, Martin R. (2009), The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, Acculant Publishing, ISBN 978-1448659814, http://www.thelightsinthetunnel.com. (e-book available free online.) 
  9. ^ "Machine Learning: A Job Killer?"
  10. ^ "Will Automation Lead to Economic Collapse?"
  11. ^ Roco, Mihail C. and Bainbridge, William Sims, eds. (2004). Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance. Springer. ISBN 1402012543. 
  12. ^ Garreau, Joel (2005). Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies — and What It Means to Be Human. Doubleday. ISBN 0385509650. 
  13. ^ Mulhall, Douglas (2002). Our Molecular Future: How Nanotechnology, Robotics, Genetics and Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Our World. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1573929921. 
  14. ^ ETC Group (2003). The Strategy for Converging Technologies: The Little BANG Theory. http://www.etcgroup.org/upload/publication/169/01/combang2003.pdf. Retrieved 2007-02-09. 

External links

*Collaborating on Converging Technologies: Education and Practice

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