The development of so-called "frontier technologies" — previously the exclusive territory of the United States, Europe and Japan — is no longer exclusive. China and South Korea have joined the list, with Korea excelling in displays and stem cell technology and China taking the lead in biotechnology and energy, according to a new report by the Seoul-based Samsung Economic Research Institute.
The ability to innovate and develop new technologies is crucial for national leadership.
According to a paper by Christopher Chase-Dunn and Thomas Reifer of the University of California at Riverside: "New lead technologies have long been important causes of the rise and decline of hegemonic core powers in the modern world-system."
"Political and military power is sustained and facilitated by competitive advantages in the production of highly profitable goods," Chase-Dunn and Reifer write. "Rising (world leaders) manage to innovate new profitable modes of trade and production that allow them to finance political and military advantages over other states. Thus the sequence of new lead technologies and their distribution across potentially competing core states is an important subject of study for understanding both the past and the future of hegemonic rise and fall."
The Samsung institute gathered opinions from experts and conducted a poll on the Internet to select 10 promising technologies. The main evaluation criteria were innovation, market prospects and the potential to be commercialized within three years. They found that software and materials technologies are leading innovation.
Of the 10 new technologies, Samsung found, nine are based on software and materials. Second, the focus has shifted from suppliers to consumers, prompting aggressive attempts to drastically improve user convenience or create new uses.
Although software and services lead the technology parade, the displays capture the imagination. These are flexible displays called AMOLED technology, which allows for the development of notebook computers that can be rolled up like a magazine and digital books like Kindle that are not fragile. Electronic newspapers are in the works whose pages can be turned over like paper, according to the report.
"All of these will be realized in a new world of flexible displays," the report says, enabling their commercial production this year — in 2012 — for wider use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet personal computers.
Among software and services, an HTML5-based application or "app" is being developed that can be used with different operating systems and can be used in various devices, including PCs, televisions, and smartphones. Currently, for games and other apps, they have to be developed separately for as many as 10 different operating systems. The new HTML-5 app will make it possible to develop just a single version.
By combining web-based apps with cloud computing, both the hardware and software industries can transform into service-based businesses, the report says. It includes a package service which provides Google’s office programs and Samsung’s Chrome-powered notebook in a bundle with a monthly fixed payment.
The second promising technology is big data analytics, which infers relations or patterns by analyzing vast amounts of unstructured data.
"This technology has high growth potential, as production of information is expected to surge at least 40 percent a year with the increasing popularity of smartphones, social media, and high-speed wireless communications like Long Term Evolution. Also, big data is useful for companies to improve management efficiency as it can help perform scientific decision making. According to research, high-performing companies use big data analytics technology more than twice as much as low-performing companies do."
The next generation of speech recognition has seen accuracy soar from 20 percent to 90 percent, according to the report. Cloud servers will replace terminals to deal with speech recognition. Thanks to this improvement, speech recognition is expected to be adopted in more areas including TVs and cars. Ford and KIA recently released vehicles equipped with a system that allows drivers to control audio devices verbally.
AMOLED technology, which allows for flexible displays with superb color quality, will be adapted this year for use in 40 inch or larger TVs, replacing LCD and PDP televisions. Previously AMOLED technology was used for screens in smartphones. Now, however, they have been developed for much larger screens. They are ultra-thin and light.
Next is healthcare, including stem cell technology, which was pioneered by US scientists. However, the country deliberately ceded development of stem cell technology during the years of the presidency of George W. Bush on religious grounds over the question of whether taking stem cells contained in unfertilized ova represented taking human life despite the fact that conception had not occurred.
Stem cell treatment allows for the regeneration of damaged organs by injecting cultured stem cells obtained from the patient’s body into damaged tissue. The development of adult stem cell research, which does not use stem cells from unfertilized ova, is "relatively free of ethical issues and has now seen significant advancement," the report says.
Pharmicell, a Korean company, has already become the first in the world to commercialize stem cell therapy for myocardial infarction in 2011. The therapy regenerates patients’ damaged heart muscles. It is expected to be developed for commercial purposes in Korea this year.
The seventh on the top 10 list, the report says is intelligent imaging technology, which helps to detect illness early through processing and analysis of medical images. It has reduced errors in breast cancer diagnosis by 20 percent. Expectations are running high also for development of new technologies including virtual endoscopy and virtual surgery simulation.
The eighth is microneedle patches, which have an array of microscopic biodegradable needles which dissolve into the skin, delivering medications into the body. Patches are currently under clinical trials. When commercialized, people who have issues with needles or who suffer from diabetes will be one of the largest beneficiaries. As no medical training is required to use the patches, they are expected to contribute greatly to preventing pandemics like avian and swine influenzas, the report says.
Lastly, in the general technology field, large capacity lithium air batteries are attracting attention as next-generation batteries. Their solid-state battery design reduces the risk of explosion, while their metallic lithium offers higher energy density than lithium compounds. IBM has developed lithium air batteries since 2009 and plans to unveil trial products by 2013. Among Korean companies, Samsung SDI and LG Chemical are developing next-generation batteries.
The tenth is small nuclear reactor technology. As these reactors do not use cooling water, they are highly reliable in preventing radiation leaks even in an emergency. China is leading the commercialization of pebble-bed reactors with technologies it acquired from the US and Germany, which had suspended research due to public opposition. When small nuclear reactors are developed, new demand will be created for ship engines, aircraft, and low-orbit spacecraft.