Implantable mobile phones. 3D-printed organs for transplant. Clothes and reading-glasses connected to the Internet.
Such things may be science fiction today but they will be scientific fact by 2025 as the world enters an era of advanced robotics, artificial intelligence and gene editing, according to executives surveyed by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Nearly half of those questioned also expect an artificial intelligence machine to be sitting on a corporate board of directors within the next decade.
Welcome to the next industrial revolution.
After steam, mass production and information technology, the so-called “fourth industrial revolution” will bring ever faster cycles of innovation, posing huge challenges to companies, workers, governments and societies alike.
The promise is cheaper goods and services, driving a new wave of economic growth. The threat is mass unemployment and a further breakdown of already strained trust between corporations and populations.
“There is an economic surplus that is going to be created as a result of this fourth industrial revolution,” Satya Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft, told the WEF’s annual meeting in Davos on Wednesday.
“The question is how evenly will it be spread between countries, between people in different economic strata and also different parts of the economy.”
Robots are already on the march, moving from factories into homes, hospitals, shops, restaurants and even war zones, while advances in areas like artificial neural networks are starting to blur the barriers between man and machine.
One of the most in-demand participants in Davos this year is not a central banker, CEO or politician but a prize-winning South Korean robot called HUBO, which is strutting its stuff amid a crowd of smartphone-clicking delegates.
But there are deep worries, as well as awe, at what technology can do.
A new report from UBS released in Davos predicts that extreme levels of automation and connectivity will worsen already deepening inequalities by widening the wealth gap between developed and developing economies.