Five Emerging Technologies to Act On Now

Jakob Graabak, Maria Koomen and Max Reddel | March 21, 2024

"Five Emerging Technologies to Act on Now" - front cover of ICFG report featuring AI generated artwork.
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Executive Summary

From the steam engine to electricity to the internet, technology has had a profound impact on the modern world. In the coming decade, five powerful emerging technologies are poised to fundamentally reshape societies.

These technologies—advanced artificial intelligence (AAI), neurotechnology, biotechnology, climate intervention technologies, and quantum computing and communication— have the potential to impact the lives of billions of people around the world, for better or worse. These five technology areas are also experiencing periods of large-scale investment prompting breakthroughs in capabilities and accessibilities. Further, they could rapidly develop in mutually reinforcing ways, presenting a particularly complex set of challenges and opportunities for society.

If harnessed for the common good, these technologies can help tackle some of the greatest challenges of our time, including climate change, disease, poverty, and more. However, without public oversight, they could lead to rampant inequality, political instability, economic upheaval, disregard for civil liberties, and threats to human life and ecosystems across the planet.

Whether these innovations are used more for good or more for harm depends to a large extent on the degree of public oversight over their development. Currently there is very little, because just a small number of primarily commercial actors control the bulk of the intellectual property, research, and development in these fields.

To limit these technologies’ harmful effects, they must be governed by democratic principles, responsibly and with public accountability. The European Union (EU) is well positioned to lead in this field. It is an international actor with the protection of human rights and democratic values – as well as support for economic development – at its very core, and has recently passed several pieces of landmark technology legislation. All this puts the spotlight on the next EU political cycle in 2024-2029, which will present an opportunity to ensure new technology is deployed while respecting the public interest, public safety, democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.

This paper reviews the current state of the aforementioned five technologies and the potential risks they pose in the absence of responsible governance. Each section then offers pointers on policy questions and ideas for EU members and institutions to take into account in their strategic planning. Here is a brief overview:


Neurotechnology devices that can read from and write into the brain—could address currently incurable medical conditions, from restoring lost eyesight to enabling paralyzed patients to walk again. It does this by using the most intimate human data, the contents of our minds. As neurotech becomes more refined and widely available, it could also be used to boost productivity or athletic performance. But technologies that steer perception, behavior and thinking open up avenues for manipulation or surveillance of the most dystopian kind imaginable. The EU must quickly address these new ethical and legal challenges by closing any loopholes in existing laws and how they’re enforced, and by adopting new laws where needed.


New applications of biotechnology, particularly gene-editing, genome-writing and computational biology tools, are used in everything from drug discovery to agriculture innovation. Rapid cost declines in recent years have supercharged their evolution. However, mistakes or deliberate misuse could release new pathogens into the wild, triggering pandemics much deadlier than COVID-19. Legislation must tighten control of DNA supply chains, laboratory safety, and research projects. Furthermore, the EU and international partners must strengthen disease detection, transmission prevention, and rapid-response capabilities across the world.

Climate Interventions

With the world on track to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, researchers are exploring tools to artificially cool the planet very quickly. Climate intervention technologies such as solar radiation modification (SRM), also known as geoengineering, may buy the human race crucial time to decarbonize the global economy and adapt to inevitable climate impacts. However, many uncertainties remain and the potential risks could harm ecosystems and the ozone layer, and trigger global conflict. The EU should take a proactive role in supporting, shaping and promoting the international governance of climate interventions.

Quantum Technologies

Quantum computers in particular promise to help solve problems that today’s computers cannot, in fields ranging from energy to logistics. But when sufficiently powerful quantum computers become commercially available, hackers could use them to strike at the security of the financial system and other critical infrastructure, leading to chaos on a global scale. The EU must develop comprehensive technical standards for future-proofing information infrastructure against attack.

Advanced Artificial Intelligence

AI has already transformed modern life and will touch almost every industry in the years to come. But governance of these systems lags far behind the pace of their evolution. Even AI engineers cannot explain their systems’ behavior. In this context, the EU’s AI Act is a groundbreaking first step towards establishing binding oversight and accountability for the developers of leading AI systems. However, it may not be sufficient to curb the risks of AI systems being developed in the near future, given the rapid pace of technological development in this field. With no current scientific consensus around how to develop AI systems safely, the EU needs to invest in a science of safe AI, and to plan for contingencies in case current efforts fall short.

This new wave of emerging technologies obliges the EU to move even faster and more effectively to govern technological progress within the rule of law and with an eye towards human well-being. Given the rapid pace and unpredictable consequences of these innovations, and the global geopolitical and regulatory landscape, the EU must take a proactive approach to secure the safety, human rights, and democratic principles of citizens now. While the five technologies unpacked here are considered the most urgently in need of governance action, there are other areas that the International Center for Future Generations is monitoring and evaluating for future efforts.

Recent measures like the AI Act are important but just the beginning. Implementing, enforcing, updating, and future-proofing such regulations will be a never-ending task. And even as it performs this task for AI, the EU needs to ensure robust frameworks along similar lines for domains such as neurotechnology and climate intervention technologies.

The EU and like-minded partners can pass laws and regulations that encourage research, development, and innovation while still protecting public safety and individual agency. Understanding the risks associated with these technologies and how they intersect with one another is an essential first step.



Thanks to the laser-sharp team at ICFG as well as the following experts for their time and thoughtful reviews of earlier versions of this paper: Connor Dunlop, Kevin Esvelt, Gideon Futerman, Borgar Jølstad, Igor Krawczuk, Virginia Mahieu, Iverna McGowan, Cassidy Nelson, Velislava Petrova,  Raman Saggu, Lee Sharkey. Thank you to Ben Yielding and Gideon Lichfield for editorial revision, and to The Content Engine for graphic design help.

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