Science

2020’s Top 10 Tech Innovations


Robin Pomeroy: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to a very special episode of this podcast. Brought to you from scientific American and the world economic forum. I’m Robin Pomeroy, digital editor at the world economic forum. So your multimedia editor at scientific America. On this podcast, we’ll be telling you about the top 10 emerging technologies, 10 inventions ideas, or concepts that are set to transform the way we live and work in the next three to five years.

[00:00:29] Jeffery DelViscio: [00:00:29] So this list was compiled in a report produced jointly by scientific American and the world economic forum. And joining us to talk about that list are two people who had the work. Perhaps you can introduce yourselves. 

[00:00:41] Mariette DiChristina: [00:00:41] Thanks. A million Jeff and Robin. It’s great to be here. Mariette D Christina, I’m currently the Dean at the college of communication at Boston university. And until about a year ago, I was the editor-in-chief at scientific American. Lovely to be here. Thanks for having me. 

[00:00:56] Bernie Meyerson: [00:00:56] Hi, I’m Bernie Meyerson. I spent 40 years with IBM. I have a long history and continue to work with them as the chief innovation officer at Meritus. I worked for numerous years at this point with a Marriott world economic forum, a whole series, frankly, of other, um, governments that I’ve helped in terms of just, um, shall we say, bringing technology and innovation, uh, to a head. So I’m delighted to be here on this call. 

[00:01:22] Robin Pomeroy: [00:01:22] Thanks, Bernie. Welcome to both of you before we get stuck in and go through these 10 amazing innovations in this report. Marriott, could you just tell us a little bit about what this report is? Some of its history and your own involvement in it? 

[00:01:34] Mariette DiChristina: [00:01:34] The top 10 began, uh, as a world economic forum endeavor in 2012. And Bernie and I have been chair or co-chair and we’ve changed places a couple of times since 2016, uh, the top 10 emerging technologies of the year. Uh, we look for technologies that are fairly near term and have the potential to be in quite wide use in three to five years. There’s a, there’s a bit of art to this science.

[00:01:58] And sometimes we are, uh, you know, we really hit it and sometimes. We, we miss some things. Um, but, but it’s always a delightful conversation among a steering group of folks pulled together by scientific American and the world economic forum who are globally based this year. One of the new things we added where young scientists from the world economic forum to that steering group report is called the top 10 emerging technologies of 2020.

[00:02:22] Robin Pomeroy: [00:02:22] There’ll be links to it on the websites of scientific American and of the world economic forum. It’s 10 different. Innovations. We’re going to go through them one by one. I’m not a scientist. I’m not a science journalist, unlike the other people on this call. So some of these innovations I find quite easy to grasp.

[00:02:41] Others are a bit more esoteric and you might need to hold my hand through them. And the hands of some of our listeners is Mariette. You’re going to start this off with four out of the 10, which happened to be related to health and health care, something that’s. Uppermost in our minds because of the pandemic over to you Mariette.

[00:02:59] Mariette DiChristina: [00:02:59] Yeah. Thanks Robin. By the way, let me reassure you though. I’ve been a science journalist for 30 years. I’ve never been a scientist, although I’ve had a great privilege of working with scientists and technologists, such as Bernie here is a wonderful scientist. So yes, as you mentioned, um, the world is currently obsessed with, uh, infectious diseases such as COVID.

[00:03:20] And if we look at the list for this year, at least four of them can be applied to approaching such effect, you know, challenges of infectious diseases. One of them that’s on the list is digital medicine, you know, which I think COVID is really highlighted the importance of, um, digital medicine already is in early use as apps that help detect mental and physical disorders. So challenges that, that you and I may have, they’re especially useful in cases where healthcare access is limited. So as it’s been during the coronavirus, you know, already some of us have smartwatches. And there were tools in the works today to detect such health challenges as Parkinson’s, as Alzheimer’s autism.

[00:04:06] Um, and in the future, we’ll see others for things like cancerous DNA or gases that your gut microbiome, those are the, the microbes that live in all of our guts. Uh, And that indicated a lot of health conditions for us or other conditions for us, things like, uh, stomach bleeds, body temperature, um, and oxygen levels, which again are especially important perhaps with coronavirus that we’re thinking about today.

[00:04:34] Robin Pomeroy: [00:04:34] It seems to be a very wide category, this digital medicines. I understand the idea that your phone can monitor in some ways your mood, it can detect depression and that kind of thing. Obviously, there are heart monitors on some of these devices that a lot of people use already, um, or, or other devices that are connected to a phone or some other device, but in terms of monitoring things going on  inside your body. What type of thing are we talking about? 

[00:04:59]Mariette DiChristina: [00:04:59] You can detect a lot through gases that your body released, for example. And so it wouldn’t be just your, your phone. You phoned already by the way, can do quite a lot, even when you’re walking down the street and you’re using your, uh, your map, that’s working on GPS from satellites, but, but these digital medicines would require some additional sensors that are not in the typical phone and they could eventually provide some digital therapies such as helping support you with cognitive behavior cog, cognitive behavioral therapy. Um, you know, if, if you have substance abuse issues or insomnia issues or for children, um, there are apps that are in development for helping with ADHD, um, even lazy eye, but some of these things will require additional sensors.

[00:05:47] Robin Pomeroy: [00:05:47] You’re looking at the report here. There’s what they call ingestible sensor bearing pills. So this is some kind of pill you would take and it would have a device inside the pill that could investigate what’s going on inside your body. Is that right? 

[00:06:00] Mariette DiChristina: [00:06:00] Yes, exactly. So there have been some of those pills in the past.  we forecast that we will see more of them in the future, and as, as we progress and use them more, they’ll become cheaper as well. 

[00:06:11] Bernie Meyerson: [00:06:11] There is a wonderful example of, um, several people I know, in fact, using smart pumps for their treating their own, um, issues of maintaining the proper insulin levels in their body to control blood sugar for diabetes, they literally have a patch on their arm, which reports sugar levels through their phone, which does the computation of how much insulin the pump needs to deliver to keep it stable. So this is something that Mariette is absolutely correct. It is something that is here now and will grow exponentially with time because it avoids going to the hospital having to make doctor visits. It’s really efficient. 

[00:06:46] Robin Pomeroy: [00:06:46] The exponential growth of digital medicines. Mariette, what’s the second of the innovations on this list that have to do with health. 

[00:06:53] Mariette DiChristina: [00:06:53] Yeah, thanks Robin. So another thing that’s on my mind, that’s on the list this year is whole genome synthesis. Um, some of us may remember early in the pandemic, if you were, uh, pouring over everything that came out in the news, like I was scientists in China uploaded the viruses genetic sequence or the, you know, the map that describes what it does, uh, biologically to gene, gene databases, and then a Swiss group synthesize that entire genome and produce a live virus from it in their labs. So that means. They didn’t have to wait for biological samples to be made available to them, those samples didn’t have to be transported in any way. They were able to say, here’s the programming for this virus. And then the, um, the, the, the Swiss folks were able to say, here’s the take that programming and make it work in their labs so that they could then figure out ways to develop therapies against it or vaccines uh, and that helped the rest of us learn about the virus. Now this is an extension of a field that’s called synthetic biology synthetic because we make it, it’s something we’re synthesizing, um, where researchers use software to design gene sequences that can then be put into microbes. Like the little, the little bugs that live in all in all of us and reprogram them on. Eventually we’re going to be turning these microbes into factories that can produce medicines for us. Um, you’re going to, uh, maybe bring up a Frankenstein concern to me, Robin… 

[00:08:26] Robin Pomeroy: [00:08:26] because what you’re saying is the, in the case of COVID 19, the data to build the data, to build the virus was sent to a laboratory in Switzerland where the virus was then created. Doesn’t this open up the risk that a virus could be created on a computer sent to another part of the world and released as some kind of weapon. Is, is that actually theoretically possible?

[00:08:49]Mariette DiChristina: [00:08:49] Let me first dissuade you and the other bond villains out there. That, you know, if you were to create a virus like that, it would not be the best weapon because you wouldn’t be able to control it. You know, as we’ve seen from the coronavirus pandemic, it goes everywhere and nobody can control it. So it’s probably not the best tool of a bond weapon, but yeah but it points you’re pointing to a broader issue, um, which is that all of science and technology, uh, provide humans with tools and it’s up to us in society to decide how we want to use those tools. So the concerns Robin that you’re rightly raising have already been, you know, understood and are considered by those who are working on whole genome synthesis since synthetic biology and they’re setting down the very kinds of guidelines that will prevent the kind of behaviors that you’re, you know, you’re describing and you’re right to raise it. 

[00:09:42] Robin Pomeroy: [00:09:42] So that was the second innovation. What’s the third of the 10 that has to do with medicine and health?

[00:09:46] Mariette DiChristina: [00:09:46] So first we’ve been talking about how do we understand the virus? You know, with the whole genome synthesis and how do we maybe track things with digital medicine? Uh, another item on the list is virtual patients. Um, you know, we’ve talked about digital medicine. So how about digital patients? The idea here, you know, and as we are all watching with baited breath around the globe, as they’ve been testing the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccines, Is that if you could replace those real humans with virtual humans and by this, I mean really calculations and a computer, uh, at some stages of those trials, you could identify problems in vaccines, potentially faster and more safely, and also cut the cost of development because it’s very expensive to work, you know, with these precious humans that we need to protect. This is from a field called in silico medicine, the testing of drugs and treatments on virtual or computer models of organs, like the organs in our body, the way they do that, uh, is you know, that you start by feeding data from real human organs and they take those readings and feed them into complex mathematical models of how these mechanisms govern the organs that we have in our bodies and these algorithms running on powerful computers do equations that help us understand what’s going on. 

[00:11:14] Robin Pomeroy: [00:11:14] So that’s our third innovation virtual patients on whom we can test medicines or other procedures. What’s the fourth innovation, which also I believe is connected to health and medicine Mariette?

[00:11:28] Mariette DiChristina: [00:11:28] So let’s say we came up with those medicines and then we’re going to want to give people vaccines and no one likes to needle. Uh, so one of the other, uh, items in the list this year is microneedles, which will give painless injections and also maybe do tests to patients. Um, you know, there’s been some really news from, from the vaccine suppliers and we’re probably all get regular needles, but someday soon, these microneedles will work for us. They are the length of a sheet of paper, you know, I’m just trying to take them note. The sheet of paper up, I got a few here and when they are on your skin, they go just past the skin, but not deep enough to reach the nerve endings that give you that ouchy feeling when you get a shot. Uh, so you wouldn’t have those.

[00:12:15] And they’ll not only be able to use views to put vaccines in. They also could draw blood or something that’s called interstitial because it’s in the spaces between the skin fluid. That’s sometimes needed for medical tests and even better, you might be able to use them at home. 

[00:12:33] Robin Pomeroy: [00:12:33] So to be clear, a microneedle is as long as a piece of paper is thick. Now billions of people around the world will be hoping to get a vaccination against COVID-19 in the coming months or years will be, will we be able to use microneedles for that? Do you think? 

[00:12:49] Mariette DiChristina: [00:12:49] Um, in theory you could Robin, but we, I don’t think we will have them at scale. Yeah. Is this why I said you’ll probably get them in the regular shots. But when we are able to use microneedles, there’ll be a little more effective and efficient, then those transdermal patches that you’ve seen, like nicotine patches and so on, but they’re not always, I don’t want to make it sound like it’s all a, you know, a party they’re not always going to be an advantage to not, not all drugs are going to be able to pass through those teeny tiny needles and not all kinds of tests will be run, but they’re going to be a great tool for medicine.

[00:13:22] Robin Pomeroy: [00:13:22] Did you say they can, or they can’t draw blood with one of these? 

[00:13:26] Mariette DiChristina: [00:13:26] They can, um, they can draw blood. And also that fluid I was telling you about between the spaces interstitial fluid. 

[00:13:33] Robin Pomeroy: [00:13:33] Great. I have a multi-generational interest in this question. My six-year-old daughter, I just told her it wouldn’t hurt to when she had blood taken and it happened a few weeks ago and it really did hurt. Um, so that could help in this, I suppose. And then also my father has type two diabetes and has to pierce his thumb to take blood, uh, several times a day. Also. That could be an application. 

[00:13:56] Mariette DiChristina: [00:13:56] Well, I hope it could… 

[00:13:58] Bernie Meyerson: [00:13:58] What they will be doing is, um, because these are wafer thin, these are extraordinarily microscopic or sub microscopic, you can integrate on top of it a sensor. In other words, you wouldn’t draw…. It’s not that you would draw macroscopic sample of blood, where you get a test tube of blood by pin these tiny holes. But what’s delightful is, you know, again, Mariette is correct. If you take this tiny sample of blood from this device, you would have to have the sensor built into the actual device. So you would just have this little patch you put on and the entire process, including the chemical analytics are all solid States sitting right there. So instead of having to do draw blood, you send it to a laboratory, you have an analyzed, it is quite conceivable to have the entire set of analytics in one integrated device that you just push into the arm. They don’t feel anything. And it’s done. So you can assure your daughter by the time she’s an adult she can actually look for this. We’re probably past that point, right? 

[00:14:57] Robin Pomeroy: [00:14:57] Yes. I’ll look forward to that conversation. I’m sure she’ll be delighted to hear it. She’ll forgive you in 28 years. You’re listening to the top 10 emerging technologies of 2020 from the World Economic Forum and Scientific American. We’ll be right back after this. 

[00:15:12] ADVERTISEMENT: [00:15:12] What if the next time you needed to be in the hospital? The hospital could be brought to you. That’s the idea behind medically home, a company that offers the services, the Naval hospital level care, where you live scientific American custom media chatted with medically homes, founder, Rafael Rakowski about how the program works.

[00:15:33] Long before Raphael Rakowski started medically home. He spent years setting up factories, designing workflows for manufacturing, transmissions, soda bottles, and ice cream containers. But in his heart, he’s always been a healer. He’ll proudly pull up his shirt sleeve and show you the colorful religious tattoo that covers half of his arm.

[00:15:52] Well, what’s that? 

[00:15:54] Saint Rafael the healer. I changed my name to fel from Richard. Yes, because of all this. 

[00:16:00] All of this started decades ago when Raphael was seven years old, his mother was violently ill until the family doctor made a house visit. He walked in the room, she saw his face and she was already better just seeing him. And it was the most amazing thing. And I never forgot that. 

[00:16:24] Years later after his father experienced a series of medical errors and died in the hospital. Raphael had an epiphany. Why not use his knowledge of workflows to design a way to heal people in their homes? 

[00:16:37] The idea is you’re home. Now, you’re in a sanctuary, your dog, your couch, your bed, your husband, your wife, your carpet, your pictures of your family. Whoever comes into your home, they have to adapt to you. 

[00:16:52] The idea made financial sense as well. After doing some digging, Rafael realized that much of the money spent on hospital care goes to overhead costs like maintaining the buildings and running the cafeteria. 

[00:17:04] So if an average hospitalization costs the insurance company, $10,000, that $10,000 6,500 is bricks and mortar overhead. And if you’re as good as math as I am, that leaves $3,500 to actually care for you. 

[00:17:18] Raphael thought that if you didn’t have to pay for a building, you could spend more of that money on patient care. And that’s how medically home was born. 

[00:17:26] We bring literally all of the services that are done in the hospital to the home, through the patient at bedside. 

[00:17:31] Medically Home also provides backup power, backup cell service, and easy to use technology to help patients talk remotely to their doctor and their care team. Meanwhile, there are people coming in and out of the house to give hands-on care. But not too many people. 

[00:17:46] So we don’t want twenty people running in and out of the house all day long, particularly in the winter when there’s snow and there’s dirt and all that other stuff

[00:17:53] To prevent that medically home designed a way to offer in-person care with a few people, instead of dozens with technology, your doctor can monitor your vital signs remotely. And by combining tasks the person who draws your blood can also deliver your breakfast. 

[00:18:08] And it’s coordinated with the, you know, with the service team that is really focused on service customer service. As if you were a guest in the, you know, the Ritz Carlton hotel, that’s how we think about you. 

[00:18:17] Raphael says all of this is still cheaper than a typical hospital stay.

[00:18:21] All of the things that I went through that we do for the patient in the hospital, after everything is said and done cost 25% less than if you were going to the hospital, because the costs of the hospital are so high in overhead. 

[00:18:34] Raphael spent years building this model, but for a long time hospitals, weren’t that interested. And then COVID-19 happened. 

[00:18:42] It was like, you know, not being the attractive person at the bar, no one would talk to you. And all of a sudden everyone’s buying you a drink. 

[00:18:50] And suddenly Rafael was getting calls every day. The company also got a big boost in June when a formed a partnership with the Mayo clinic, one of the largest not-for-profit academic health systems in the U S 

[00:19:03] Everyone scratches their head says, wait a minute, wait a minute. Mayo clinic, seriously, Mayo clinic. Who is all about the most incredible, powerful quality of care for serious and complex patients? What the heck do they know that we don’t know? So now the phone’s ringing off the hook again. 

[00:19:19] Medically Home services are now available in States across the country, including Massachusetts, Ohio, Florida, and Wisconsin. The company is also big enough that it’s starting to see significant results from its program, including a 75% reduction in hospital readmissions, but the results Raphael loves the most are the stories from patients.

[00:19:39] Saying I had my infusion on my porch and my friends and neighbors came over and asked to sing to me. And that doesn’t happen at the hospital. You know, um, it was the middle of the night. I needed to talk to my doctor that doesn’t happen in the hospital. Everybody knows my name, that doesn’t happen in the hospital. Just basic human story confirmations. 

[00:20:02] Rafael says treating patients this way is just so obvious. It’s a way we’ve been caring for people for thousands of years. It’s what most of us want. And it might’ve taken a pandemic to get this vision into motion, but he believes the idea has some true momentum now. The goal is to have the Medically Home model available in every state by 2022. And to work towards his larger vision, a future where healing, not just medicine is at the core of our approach to healthcare. 

[00:20:29] This podcast was made possible with the support of medically home. Rafael Rakowski is the founder of medically home. 

[00:20:37] Robin Pomeroy: [00:20:37] Welcome back. You’re listening to the top 10 emerging technologies of 2020 with me, Robin Pomeroy, digital editor at the world economic forum and Jeff Del Visio, senior multimedia editor at Scientific American.

[00:20:48] Our expert guides to the top 10 tech are Mariette DiChristina of Boston University and Bernie Meyerson of IBM. We’ve heard of four innovations related to health and healthcare. Here’s Jeff to talk us through innovations related to a different issue. 

[00:21:01] Jeffery DelViscio: [00:21:01] So as we’ve all been glued to the news about the pandemic there’s been another issue that hasn’t gone anywhere. That is the issue of climate change. This is a subject that should be forever on our minds because it will be an issue throughout our whole lives. And so a whole section of this list really revolves around climate. And how we use energy and how we might change that if these innovations come to pass.

[00:21:26] So Bernie, perhaps you could walk us through these core innovations innovations that really take aim at the entire life cycle of how humans create greenhouse gas emissions. 

[00:21:36] Bernie Meyerson: [00:21:36] Well, all right, let’s start from the top. Um, one of the things that you’ve heard a huge amount about is you’ve heard enormous amount about the carbon footprint associated with aviation. However, um, if you go forward 10 years, 15 years, not that far out, there’s a decent chance that the actual propulsion of this system will be electric. Now, you know, people at the beginning of the sale of electric vehicles had various cars that were, how should I put this politely? Sloths. Um, they were just awful.

[00:22:08] I drove one of the very first electric vehicles. I won’t I’ll mercifully I won’t even name who produced it and the large us corporation. And to say that it was slow. Let me put it this way. If somebody who hocked it locked their fingers under the rear bumper and pulled it would go backwards under full acceleration. Okay. However, it’s come dramatically from that point because battery technologies have advanced very significantly and really been well done by of course, the initial leader in this space. Uh, Tesla. Now the interesting thing about general aviation and about, uh, commercial aviation is there is a very large carbon footprint associated with it.

[00:22:47] Many of the complainant, of course, it’s at high altitude. So there was an imperative, as you can imagine. To cut down on the CO2 load produced by such devices. We are not at the point that you will be flying transcontinental and electric aircraft, but stunningly as a huge, huge market for short haul aircraft in the commuter spaces.

[00:23:08] The fact that the matter is the battery technology has advanced to the point that there on our commercially certified aircraft for short haul. That can do this. Now you’re talking about at least give or take 500 mile range. Um, with small passenger counts, five, 10 people. It is incredibly efficient and inexpensive to do it that way if you’re powering using a, uh, electric motor. It’s very important to remember that the, uh, electric motor has essentially one moving part. You, you would have, let’s put it this way. You’d have to take your socks off of multiple people to count up the parts in a conventional engine. It’s important to understand that this is an enormous advance, but it will come slowly.

[00:23:48] The power density of batteries is still nothing compared to what you get from a liquid fuel. So there’s a lot of work to be done, but you’ve got to start somewhere. And although I make fun of the guys who built this vehicle that I drove many, many years ago, where, like I said, it was a slug using conventional lead acid batteries.

[00:24:06] And it was awful. The reality is we’ve come so far, it’s come a very long way and you will see progress in aviation as well. So it’s very important. Uh, initial step and that I’m delighted to say is underway now. So that for that particular area, I would say good start long way to go. 

[00:24:25] Jeffery DelViscio: [00:24:25] It seems like the airline industry is in the midst of a disruption born off the pandemic. And perhaps that might make space and even more sense for electric aviation in the coming years. Another innovation revolves around the basic building block of well, how we build. And that is concrete. It’s often overlooked, but nonetheless, critical to the mission story. Bernie, can you tell us about Whoa, carbon cement 

[00:24:51] Bernie Meyerson: [00:24:51] Let’s begin with cement is a dramatic contributor, unfortunately, to the carbon footprint on the world. I mean, I, there are various estimates, but you’re talking give or take something on the order of the current estimates, I believe are on 8% of the world. Uh, Carbon footprint is due to cement. That is an incredibly large number. And if you could mitigate that, it would be fantastic. The folks who produce roughly 30% of the world’s, uh, cement form the group saying, look can we please try to cut down that footprint? In other words, this is one of those wonderful things where it’s called the global cement and concrete association is really working as a team to say, what can we do to mitigate our footprint, which is what needs to happen globally, because no one organization is going to fix it.

[00:25:39] If you took all the, uh, carbon emissions of aircraft out, it wouldn’t matter. You have to go across all of them, all of the big footprints and take them out as well. And so here, what they’re doing is they’re looking at different ways of producing sustainable cement, e.g. cement with a much lower carbon footprint.

[00:25:56] And some of them are very ingenious. Some of the folks are actually basically saying they can take out about 30%. Of the actual carbon footprint by simply utilizing different materials, such as clave and substituting that in for other materials in traditional cement. That’s just one of the approaches.

[00:26:14] The other one is carbon capture where you actually take the carbon and you calcify into the actual, um, you basically include it in the cement you’re making, I mean, there, there are countless ways of doing this, but the bottom line is there needs to be a concerted global attempt to make this happen because at 8% of the world footprint, it is an enormous contributor to the carbon that we’re currently producing. 

[00:26:39] Jeffery DelViscio: [00:26:39] That’s a fundamental change to how we built, but what about the carbon waste we create right now? There’s an innovation that takes that one on too. Right? What is sun powered chemistry? 

[00:26:49] Bernie Meyerson: [00:26:49] Yeah, sun powered chemistry is kind of an interesting one. There are a lot of ways, as you can imagine of driving chemical reactions and many of them unfortunately involved the use of enormous amounts of energy.

[00:27:01] And where do you think the energy comes from? Well, in, in some areas of the world, believe it or not, it still comes from coal fire plants, which produce emissions, which are nightmarish. It’s not just the carbon dioxide, it’s the Ash and all the other metal heavy metals that are inclusive. You need to mitigate that again.

[00:27:18] What you’re talking about in some power chemistry is a lot of a tremendous amount of chemistry of driven by catalysis. What the catalysts are, is really think about, um, putting a chemical reaction. And taking the energy required to do it, which looks like this. And somehow reducing the energy required to produce that reaction.

[00:27:38] That catalysis is one way of significantly reducing the energy to do a wide variety of things. It turns out there are ways of making catalysts vastly more efficient, and one of the ways is solar literally using the photo effect. You know, sunlight throws out, give or take about a really high intensity about a kilowatt thousand Watts of energy per square meter.

[00:28:02] If this is basically put into the catalytic solution where you have a catalyst and you shine this light on it, the photon flux that strikes the catalyst actually produces a much stronger catalytic reaction than otherwise. So people are not saying, look, there are lots of areas in the world. We have essentially enormous, uh, sunshine we can make use of that, so that these chemical plants that are normally driven through thermal and other means or electric means all of which are produced by essentially carbon producing efforts, we can improve them dramatically by using these sort of catalytic, uh, approaches that you sun power as the energy source, and this is something being  pursued broadly across the board. There’s no one area. It turns out because catalysis is so common, a methodology and making chemicals.

[00:28:52] Jeffery DelViscio: [00:28:52] Finally, let’s turn to the dream of zero emissions fuel. That is if we power our society with emissionless energy, we’ll never have emissions to scrub out of the air to start with. Can you tell us about so-called green hydrogen?

[00:29:06]Bernie Meyerson: [00:29:06] Green hydrogen. It’s interesting. It’s just hydrogen, by the way. It’s not that it’s got this funky green color and it turns you strange things that could stand by the exhaust. Green hydrogen is literally hydrogen produced in a way that is environmentally responsible. Let’s just be blunt. Um, there are ways of making hydrogen, which are incredibly irresponsible. One of which is you do straight electrolysis powered by a coal fired electric plant. This is my worst nightmare. Um, because the person who gets the hydrogen says, wow,  I’ve got a Mirage, which is a very nice, done a Toyota product. It’s a car that is run using a fuel cell. And it has a great ad, which is you could literally run along behind the car with a cup in your hand and capture the water dripping out of the tailpipe. It’s about as clean as it will ever get. And theoretically, you could drink it. I’m not suggesting you do that, but it is in theory possible because the only thing that comes out of the tailpipe, but that vehicle is ultra pure water. Okay. Nice theory. But if you look at how the hydrogen was made, if it was made using a coal fire plant, the average impact on the economy on the ecology would be nightmarish.

[00:30:14] The environmental damage would be massive. Okay, green hydrogen is the way you get around that, which is you say, look, here’s the rules, guys. You can’t make it net worse in producing what looks like a great fuel so we could fool the consumer. And the way they’re going about it is you are now have large tronches of wind power, solar power.

[00:30:35] These are becoming fairly standard and available energy sources that are completely green and renewable. The thing about electric energy, as you well know, as you get up in the morning, you flip on your toaster. You then get done, then you go to work. There’s going to be a period during which you do not have the availability of uh, you know, load to use all the electricity you’re producing. Now, obviously you could do storage if you want it. The other thing you could do is you could take that excess capacity and use it to electrolyze, uh, basically break, do through electrolysis, create hydrogen. And so that is basically what’s being done.

[00:31:12] Robin Pomeroy: [00:31:12] Could you just remind us what. Electrolysis is. 

[00:31:16] Bernie Meyerson: [00:31:16] Thank you. Good. Sorry about that. Shouldn’t take that for granted. It’s not to do with hair removal, basically when you, when you, you do this process, what you’re doing is if you run a electric current across, uh, to an anode and cathode in a bath of, let’s say a water, that’s got some ions in it, so it conducts you actually will split the bond between the hydrogen and the water. H2O splits and the hydrogen, literally bubbles off as a gas, separated from oxygen, essentially. You’re simply running a large electric current through water to split the, uh, you know, the water molecule. Producing hydrogen that way typically does take a tremendous amount of energy. But like I said, the good news is nowadays with the advent of larger and larger wind farms, larger and larger photovoltaic systems, you actually are getting to the point where there are points in times of excess. And so the green hydrogen movement says any time that you’re not consuming a hundred percent of your green capacity why aren’t you making hydrogen? And it’s a damn good question. 

[00:32:18] Robin Pomeroy: [00:32:18] Thanks Bernie. Now, I think we’ve been through eight of the 10 innovations. That means there are two left in the top 10, and these are ones where my hand really may need holding. Bernie, do you want to try to explain to us or explain to me what quantum sensing is?

[00:32:32] Bernie Meyerson: [00:32:32] Certainly, um, by the way, handholding in the year of COVID explains why we’re all on zoom. 

[00:32:37] Robin Pomeroy: [00:32:37] Yes, but virtually I meant.

[00:32:38] Bernie Meyerson: [00:32:38] We’re not going to we’ll go there later some other time, but, um, absolutely. Quantum sensing is really the use of how put this the most sensitive way of detecting literally anything. Remember that quantification I’m always amused. You know, people talk about the quantum leap being this huge thing. And of course the quantum leap is the smallest, measurable amount of energy you can possibly have the thing that people don’t realize. I think as we do this now, Commonly, you would just take it for granted. You literally have your, it doesn’t matter. I mean, I’ll pick Citizen as an example, a company that makes watches and you take your Citizen watch and you put it down on the table and you come back in the morning and it’s accurate to one, 1000th of a second. You go, that’s amazing. No, that’s quantum. What it does is it actually links through a radio signal to a oscillator that basically takes an atom Caesium, uh, and basically looks at the number of times the thing jiggles in a second, which is incredibly finely quantized. It is an exact number. And by using the exact number in what they call the atomic clock as to how many times that little, uh, you know, atom jiggles, basically what you’re then finding is the exact time give or take nothing.

[00:33:58] But those quantum effects are not restricted to measuring time. This is already going on. When you have a GPS, how do you think the GPS is timed. Using the same phenomena. All of these things in our lives are being done, but the thing that folks are now pointing out is they’re looking at making sensors that use quantum effects on an incredibly tiny scale. So, what they’re looking at as an example is they’re looking at the ability to use small crystals of diamond, their own small labs that are now saying, look, we can produce quantize the facts in this little chip of diamond, which could detect incredibly fine changes in pressure, all manner of other physical properties, where the measurement accuracy will become seven, eight, nine, 10 digits.

[00:34:42] You know, usually when we, when we talk about temperature, we say it’s. But whatever let’s go centigrade. It’s 25 C we don’t usually say it’s 25.1. These guys are looking for ways that are very low cost to say it’s 25.128794635. And to do that for pennies. If you tried to do that with conventional technology today, you’d be sending thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.

[00:35:06] So yeah, there is a catch quantize phenomena. They are not happy at room temperature. They generally get really happy when you make them really cold. And so there is this issue of miniaturization temperature, sensitivity, sensitivity, the small changes in the, the environment, which you may not want to be measuring, but show up anyway.

[00:35:24] So. This is not a field that is done, but it is one that’s coming. People have made progress. And it’s one that, you know, remember we say three to five years from now is when stuff gets really serious. So we believe that in that time span, people will overcome some of these limitations. 

[00:35:39] Mariette DiChristina: [00:35:39] I think one of the things Bernie and I were, and the committee were interested in is the recent MIT work with the diamond chips which point, the way toward being able to use this in, you know, in more of a room temperatures scenario, but, but just for, for Robin’s benefit. And, uh, because I, I feel you about to ask Robin, what are we doing with these sensors? They’re  great for very fine measurements like pipe pipes under, uh, the ground and seeing around the corner, if you’re an autonomous vehicle and you need to predict where it’s going, where are you going to be safe. So I think we, um, we should just emphasize these are, could be used potentially for a lot of very precise measurements that we can’t do today, but we would like to do, and to build the future. We’re looking for. 

[00:36:30] Robin Pomeroy: [00:36:30] And if we look at the report, there are a few more examples of how quantum sensing  might be put to use in the future. So that’s nine, we’ve gone through, we’ve come to the final one. They’re not in any order. This is a list of 10 technologies that the committee has decided are going to have a real impact in the next three to five years. This last one for me, it’s the spookiest one, which one of you wants to talk to us about spatial computing?

[00:36:55] Bernie Meyerson: [00:36:55] Well, I’ll start and we can both tackle this, but it is, it is spooky because it argues that at one point, um, you’re going to be elderly. Get out of bed, become unstable, begin to fall, and the bed will run to jump under, use you land on it. Um, as bizarre as that may sound, it’s not that bizarre. Um, you’ve got to keep in mind that today, as an example, we have this, you just don’t realize it.

[00:37:22] Um, if you’re sitting in your vehicle and your vehicles, uh,lidar, radar, there are a number of ways of doing it. Your infrared sensor, your a ultrasonic sensors. If they sense an impending impact before anything actually occurs, the vehicle changes itself to best protect you, either by if you can believe this.

[00:37:43] Some of them will actually tilt in a way that mitigates a side impact. Some of them. Many of them actually will intentionally suddenly tighten your seatbelt and lock it before any contact has been made. There are these things already occur and they are the beginnings. These are the really high level versions of spatial computing.

[00:38:03] But when you go forward, the argument is that you can build such density of sensors into a home and such a level of automation intelligence that the home becomes an active participant in your welfare, so that if you are physically challenged, it literally constantly mitigates your challenge by adapting to you, not you to it.

[00:38:27] And it may sound bizarre, but that’s what spatial computing is about, because it’s got to know exactly where you are, exactly where everything else is, and literally modify your environment on a dynamic level. To accommodate whatever it is that you are struggling with. And that is a truly extraordinarily, um, shall we say all encompassing capability that requires you to have a lot of the capabilities we talked about here or in prior senses, right?

[00:38:54] You know, it’s, it’s about AI being smart about moving your bed. You know, it shouldn’t move its nuclear bed far enough to run you over and leave you on the floor. But at the same time, it’s got to move at exactly the right speed. So it gets there before your head hits the ground and so on and so forth, it has to have the ability to sense position and has to have motorization that is intelligent and actually met measured so that it knows it can give an order of move 2.7 inches in that direction. And the system itself autonomously do that. So it’s, it’s really a striking capability, which is actually in use today at a low level where people don’t even realize it. 

[00:39:32] Robin Pomeroy: [00:39:32] Has it really been shown to work? I mean, I could imagine in a nursing home environment, for example, where fragile people are bumping into objects and potentially falling over, but it’s really hard to envisage that in practice, the furniture will move around that person. Has anyone actually managed to do this yet? 

[00:39:50] Bernie Meyerson: [00:39:50] Again in the early version, I’ll give you a simple example in, uh, for instance, in a nursing home, when they’re doing drug distribution. It’s it’s hard to, you know, remember that drug distribution, nominally, somebody used to have literally stand up, walk over to a counter, get some pills, look at the dates that they’re supposed to be taken morning, noon. It became really problematic. There are now robotic systems that actually will interact with you. Come find you and say, here are your pills for today. At this time at the right mix. Now it’s, hasn’t moved. The environment basically has adapted the environment to you. It doesn’t appear that way. Until you recognize that the same individual would have had the teeter over to another location to acquire the same pills and make a personal judgment as to which ones were needed at a time yet we’re facing a crisis now, in terms of people with limited you know, capacity, because of course, as we live longer, you see the earlier onset or late onset rather, uh, dementia and of other ills that limit your mental capacity. So it’s not just even about dealing with the physical limitations, but also the emotional and mental limitations that people face and mitigating them. So yes, it is in use at that point. There are a lot of other cases where it’s at the sensing level. Not yet the reactive. In other words, there are systems that detect slip and fall so that if somebody falls, you literally have a motion sensor that can detect impacts, detect the size of the impact alert, emergency authorities, et cetera. So, yes, this is all coming in as all in the early stages. 

[00:41:28] Mariette DiChristina: [00:41:28] I think one of the things this list does is recognize the simultaneous bubbling up of a series of capabilities that will soon add up to, you know, the, the capacity we’re going to call spatial computing and the benefits that Bernie’s outlining. So that that’s at the beginning of our conversation I mentioned there’s some art to this, you know, we have fantastic, uh, scientists and technologists on the steering committee who are looking at what’s available now. And what’s the natural next step as each of these different technologies that needs to interact, you know, we’ll come together and this is, yeah, perhaps this one sounds a bit more futuristic than the others, but the seeds are already here today.

[00:42:13] Mariette makes a very important point, which, which we should emphasize, you know, Lord knows we’re not perfect. I mean, there, some we’ve just missed, but there are a lot that we’ve hit and you know, the team we work with is extraordinary. But if you go back, not that long, about three years, I believe Marriott. If I’m correct, we call genomic vaccines. In other words at that point, we said, Hey guys, you know, even though they don’t exist today, there’s never been one qualified. And within the last, uh, two last 14 days two genomic based vaccines, we’re qualified.

[00:42:43] We’re not going to get all of them, right. We can’t. But the big ones that move the needle massively for society, things like the ability to do genetic editing as an example, CRISPR CAS9. Again, you go back even further, probably back to one of our earliest, uh, sessions, I think 2014 or 15, basically you call that out as being something that will be material scientifically, ethically, and social logically within three to five years. And Lord knows it was, as you can imagine. 

[00:43:10] Robin Pomeroy: [00:43:10] Bernie and Mariette. Thanks so much. You’ve got us through the whole list of 10 top technologies of 2020. Now to accompany the report you both authored a blog on, weforum.org that looks at the wider state of technology in society. And one of the main quotes we pull out from that was this one: “the benefits of technology require the development of one critical, but so far elusive asset, trust”  Which one of you would like to talk about that? 

[00:43:36] Bernie Meyerson: [00:43:36] Yeah, this was, um, the blog we wrote regarding, uh, essentially coming out of the great reset. And the challenge you’ve got here is we’re in the midst of a pandemic that’s never like the likes of which certainly we’ve never seen in any of our lifetimes. And the challenge you’re faced with is what do you do differently? And we have all these technical things. We’ve talked about sensors and, you know, data analytics. We can see if we had the ability and the freedom to look. We can see that there are enormous numbers of hospitalizations suddenly occurring in a region, which is a large alarm bell. The trouble is getting data and acquiring it in a way that is not involve humans. Because if you involve people, they make judgment calls. Sometimes they’re wrong. The problem is when it comes to a pandemic, you want early warning and you want it now. And the only way to do that is to have a system that is autonomic, that looks constantly at all the medical records, almost on a global basis.

[00:44:31] That is doable today. Let’s be really clear. People look at that and scoff, but with the emergence of 5g technology for bandwidth, where the AI capability to analyze vast amounts of the it’s all doable, the problem is we need one thing which is trust. Around the world. People will say, I can’t give you my data. Why? Well, because you know, it’s private data. Fine. There are technologies like homomorphic encryption that lets you give me the data. But I cannot decrypt it even when I’m processing it, which was previously unheard of. There are lots of technical ways of addressing the concerns of privacy and the capabilities to avoid releasing what’s happening in your country to its detriment.

[00:45:12] But if we don’t cooperate, if we don’t develop global levels of trust and the governance around it, then we’re going to see this again. And again, and again, I don’t know if it will be more or less frequent. I’m not a doomsayer. But there is no excuse for killing hundreds of thousands of people just in my nation, us or having millions worldwide. There is no excuse for this when you could see it coming and nip it in the bud. If we work together, trust is the missing ingredient, not technology. We have the technology. Which I find appalling. We’re just not, we’re not willing to use it. 

[00:45:46] Mariette DiChristina: [00:45:46] I think Bernie’s got a great point here. And it’s one that echoes something. I was saying at the beginning, we were saying at the beginning of our conversation, that technology is a tool and it’s up to society to determine how we’ll use it. One of the reasons why the work that happens at the world economic forum and the discussions that happen on platforms like Scientific American are so important is because governance is the magic ingredient. The trust that Bernie mentions our ability to reach across borders, find solutions that work for the planet and then act on them together is vital to humans not just surviving, but thriving.


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