Bill Gates' top breakthrough technologies to watch

From advanced nuclear reactors to custom cancer vaccines – what technologies might change your life in 2019?

Each year the MIT Technology Review puts out a list of technologies to watch. This year, the school asked billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to populate the rankings based on his futuristic perceptions.

“The innovations driving change are a mix of things that extend life and things that make it better. My picks reflect both,” Gates wrote. He added that while in 20 years he hopes the list consists solely of innovations aimed at improving well-being (quality of life), the coming year’s lists are likely to include efforts aimed at prolonging life (quantity of life).

Here’s a look at some of his picks for this year.

Robot dexterity

While robots are already used to assemble an array of items, they are only programmed to do so in a specific way. For example:

“A robot can repeatedly pick up a component on an assembly line with amazing precision and without ever getting bored—but move the object half an inch, or replace it with something slightly different, and the machine will fumble ineptly or paw at thin air,” the article notes.

There are a number of companies that are working on equipping robots with the ability to “manipulate” objects through trial and error – with the potential eventual goal of enabling them to figure out how to pick up any object upon examination.

It is estimated that this technology will be available within three to five years.

New-wave nuclear power

New designs that make nuclear power safer and cheaper – like generation IV fission reactors and small modular reactors – also rank among Gates’ technologies to watch.

Gates himself is an investor in two related companies, TerraPower and Commonwealth Fusion Systems.

Technology to predict premature babies

A bioengineer at Stanford has developed a cheap blood test for DNA and RNA in the placenta of a pregnant mother to analyze specific genes that help predict whether a child will be born prematurely. That knowledge can help doctors adapt to the situation and potentially prevent it.

About one in 10 babies are born prematurely, which is a leading cause of death of children under the age of 5, researchers noted.

Gut probe

A small, swallowable device that contains mini microscopes can help detect signs of gut disease – specifically environmental enteric dysfunction, which it is noted is prevalent – and costly – in poverty-stricken countries.

The technology, being developed by an engineer at Massachusetts General Hospital, can be used at a primary care visit, and can be used to detect a number of other illnesses, as well.

Gates, through his foundation, is passionate about combating disease and poverty in poor countries.

Custom cancer vaccines

A new vaccine is being developed that encourages the body’s natural defenses to identify and destroy only tumor cells, as opposed to chemotherapies that take a toll on healthy cells as well.

Scientists are close to commercializing this technology, which would be individualized based on each specific person’s DNA.


ECG on your wrist

While Apple launched a watch with a sensor that allows it to pick up irregular heart rhythms – like atrial fibrillation – last year, other companies – including Withings – are looking into developing wearable technology that may soon be able to detect certain types of heart attacks while they are occurring.

The remainder of Gates’ picks were: Lab-grown meat, carbon dioxide catcher, sanitation without sewers and smooth-talking A.I. assistants.