12 Most Disruptive Technologies of the Future

June 4, 2013

The McKinsey Global Institute doesn’t do small things. When they set out to examine technological advancements, they found a way to put a dollar figure to every technology imaginable all the way out to 2025. In so doing, they hoped to separate the technological buzzhounds from the real breakthroughs so that business leaders can plan accordingly.

What do they find? For one thing, the mobile internet is the single most valuable and disruptive technology we know of today—by far. With the potential to generate nearly $11 trillion in economic impact, mobile is going places.

    1. Mobile internet ($3.7 trillion–$10.8 trillion in potential economic impact)
    2. Automation of knowledge work ($5.2–$6.7 trillion)
    3. Internet of things ($2.7–$6.2 trillion)
    4. Cloud ($1.7–$6.2 trillion)
    5. Advanced robotics ($1.7–$4.5 trillion)
    6. Autonomous and near-autonomous vehicles ($0.2–$1.9 trillion)
    7. Next-generation genomics ($0.7–$1.6 trillion)
    8. Energy storage (~$0.1–$0.6 trillion)
    9. 3D printing ($0.2–$0.6 trillion)
    10. Advanced materials ($0.2–$0.5 trillion)
    11. Advanced oil and gas exploration and recovery ($0.1–$0.5 trillion)
    12. Renewable energy ($0.2–$0.3 trillion)

 

What I find even more surprising than the overwhelming value of the mobile internet is the very low place given to energy, whether in the form of fossil fuels or renewables. We’re talking about significant advancements in an industry that contributes over $1.1 trillion to the economy every year. The McKinsey report itself found that North American oil production could increase production upwards of 200% between now and 2025 thanks to advancements in fracking technology. I’d be interested in seeing substantive responses to this projected economic impact from experts in the energy industry. Judging from McKinsey’s explanation of its research on page 13 of the full report, it seems that technology’s impact in this sector is limited by the “value of additional output that could cost-effectively be produced.”

Another interesting finding from McKinsey came in the form of a chart of the most over (and under-hyped) technologies. Energy again comes on the radar, this time with a finding that, relative to economic potential, renewable energy is the most over-hyped technology. Mobile internet, on the other hand, seems to have its hype and impact perfectly aligned. What doesn’t seem perfect is McKinsey’s measure of hype. Media attention is used as a proxy here, with the “number of relevant articles” being the key data point. It’s unclear what the surrounding context for these references was, whether positive or negative.

 

As a bonus of sorts, McKinsey also profiled the 5 technologies that nearly made their list of the most disruptive and impactful technologies. Here they are, with my own summaries next to them:

  1. Next-generation nuclear – unlikely to generate significant impact by 2025
  2. Fusion power – unlikely to mature in the report’s timeframe
  3. Carbon sequestration – cost constraints remain high
  4. Advanced water purification – more cost-effective approaches aren’t scaleable yet
  5. Quantum computing – too much uncertainty about its applicability and impact