Batteries made of molten salt, fusion energy, 6G networks, synthetic biology, and quantum computing may become as familiar as taking pictures with your phone.
These technologies are already reshaping the global economy, according to a new report from the Special Competitive Studies Project, a bipartisan nonprofit organization based in the US.
For the U.S., staying ahead on the technology of the future is essential to creating a climate of uplifting privacy laws and maintaining human rights rather than encouraging surveillance and interfering with democratic governance. Attention to emerging technology also impacts the U.S. economy–the country where the platforms are created is where many of the jobs will be.
Some key technologies that will be battlegrounds for the next decade include:
Artificial intelligence: Simply put, artificial intelligence (AI) is a computer that mimics the human brain, but answers questions and solves problems faster than a person. To lead in AI, the U.S. needs computing power, strong algorithms (programming), large high-quality data sets, effective applications and integrations, and the talent to create it all. Right now, the U.S. leads in developing algorithms and in developing talent.
Next generation networks: Most American phones don't work on 5G, but sixth generation, or 6G, broadband is here and potentially 100 times faster. Low-earth orbit satellites could also bring wireless—without the cell towers—to millions of people and remote areas. The People’s Republic of China currently has the most next-gen wireless patents of any country.
Synthetic biology: No single definition of synthetic biology exists, but most experts define it as the concepts, approaches and tools that allow organisms to be created or changed, whether to make rice more vitamin-rich or to create a new medicine. The U.S. continues to make advances in this field with companies conducting research and producing publications and patents.
Advanced manufacturing: Advanced manufacturing involves an integration of cutting-edge hardware, networks, robotics, and AI to create products more efficiently at home. On the global level, current data give the U.S. a slight edge in robotics.
Fusion energy: While usable fusion—the clean energy used to power the sun—doesn’t exist yet, the U.S. is home to the majority of fusion companies and could be the world leader in this area if commercial fusion energy becomes available in 2024 and goes on the power grid after 2030.
Quantum computing: A completely theoretical concept even 30 years ago, quantum technologies have entered practical reality, completing tasks in minutes that would take older generations of computers 10,000 years to finish. Although the U.S. leads the world in quantum computing patents and papers, China is dedicating significant government funding to the field.