• Virtual patients, vaccines, medicine-making biomachines and microneedles are examples of tech innovation that is meeting the moment to address the global health crisis.
  • Health has been a strong focus for this year’s top 10 emerging technologies.
  • Technology can drive a Great Health Reset, but success will be determined by the willingness of all stakeholders to trust one another and to invest in a shared effort.

This year’s Top 10 Emerging Technologies, revealed in a new report produced in partnership with Scientific American, are meeting the moment to fuel a “Great Reset”: a complete redesign of how we manage the current crisis and prevent or mitigate the next one.

Tech innovation is the agent of change. The current cohort, with those of earlier editions, offer solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges – notably the global health crisis and its economic fallout, alongside the ongoing climate emergency.

COVID-19 has exposed the global cooperation gap

The pandemic persists despite the extraordinary efforts of a global medical community to contain and expunge the underlying virus. Perhaps more concerning, the absence of a coordinated global approach to containment and resolution has likely expanded and extended its impact.

Two divergent yet critically entwined issues arise: the technological resources brought to bear in addressing this pandemic, and the global international governance and coordination required to achieve best outcomes.

One of this year’s Top 10, virtual patients – which replace humans with simulations – could make clinical trials faster and safer. Microneedles that provide painless injections, another technology on the list, could speed drug delivery for the prevention and treatment of viruses like COVID-19. A third tech, whole-genome synthesis, enables researchers to design genetic sequences that could be introduced into microbes to turn them into medicine-making biomachines.

Deep technical capabilities such as these executed in isolation are likely to be ineffective, as would be well-coordinated international efforts that are absent the required technologies. In achieving the Great Health Reset, both global governance and emergent technologies will play central roles together.

Reasons for optimism – virus hunting and pandemic bashing

To avoid future pandemics, access to what is traditionally seen as protected health data is critical. Such transparency is not supported by many nations today, and the current pandemic is in part a consequence of the time lag from disease discovery to reporting. It is a systemic, global problem.

The world needs to move towards a system where local healthcare providers, and their local government leadership, recognize and report data “up the chain of command.” Sequential reporting delays, or data suppression, costs lives as the disease vector spreads unchecked. Ideally, the autonomous collection and interpretation of medical reports in real time and on a global scale would drastically improve disease discovery.