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International report on emerging technologies highlights ASU's role in supporting direction, development

June 28, 2023

ASU researcher helps identify emerging technologies with transformative potential for World Economic Forum

In 2015, the World Economic Forum named the gene-editing tool CRISPR as one of the top 10 emerging technologies of the year. Five years later, its inventors won a Nobel Prize.

In 2017, the World Energy Council foretold the importance of mRNA vaccines, the technology that delivered COVID-19 vaccines to billions worldwide.

Since 2012, the World Economic Forum's Top 10 Emerging Technologies Report has identified technologies that are poised to positively impact society over the next three to five years. This week, they released the 2023 report, with significant input from Arizona State University Professor Andrew Maynard, also a senior global futures scholar, who explores the benefits and risks of emerging technologies through his work in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

The annual report identifies a number of specific technological innovations and concepts that might otherwise be overlooked as part of broader global development, especially to nations and regions in need of such innovation. 

“With the development of new technologies comes a responsibility to consider the impacts they will have and could potentially have on society. The role of a university is to facilitate understanding of these complexities and work across disciplines to help navigate the best outcome for our local, national and global communities,” said Sally C. Morton, executive vice president of ASU Knowledge Enterprise.

“To me, ASU has a critical role to play. We can draw on technologists, scientists, engineers, social scientists, artists, philosophers, policy experts — a whole bunch of people — and we don't necessarily have an economic stake in the game. But we do have a social stake in the game, and I think that that's where an institution like ASU can actually pull together our very, very deep expertise and be part of making a difference.”

— Andrew Maynard, ASU senior global futures scholar

“Additionally, transitioning to new technologies requires critical thinkers and strong leaders. ASU is developing the kind of talent needed to address these complex social issues,” she said.

The report includes a number of technological approaches to sustainability and health care, such as flexible batteries, wearable plant sensors, AI-facilitated health care and a metaverse for mental health, all innovations that Maynard says require broad, transdisciplinary approaches that cannot occur under traditional or siloed circumstances.

“The purpose of this report is to raise awareness around potentially transformative technologies that are likely to have a substantial impact on global society over the next five, 10, 20 years,” said Maynard, an expert on advanced technology transitions and the potential risks and benefits of transformative technologies.

“There has long been a tendency to latch on to the biggest, loudest innovations, so this report helps us break away from those very big stovepipes of technology trends to look at the intersections between different technologies that are going to be transformative.”

Maynard is a member of the report’s steering committee and a collaborator on two chapters: “Sustainable Computing” and “AI-facilitated Healthcare.” Maynard notes that the World Economic Forum, which is holding its annual meeting this week in Tianjin, China, is one of a handful of organizations positioned to convene global influencers and stakeholders to shine a light on these emerging technologies and help bring them to where they are needed most.

“There is an important need for independent thought leaders who can bring a breadth of perspective to how you actually navigate these technologies to those in need,” Maynard said. “To me, ASU has a critical role to play. We can draw on technologists, scientists, engineers, social scientists, artists, philosophers, policy experts — a whole bunch of people — and we don't necessarily have an economic stake in the game. But we do have a social stake in the game, and I think that that's where an institution like ASU can actually pull together our very, very deep expertise and be part of making a difference.”

Neal Woodbury, vice president and chief science and technology officer at ASU Knowledge Enterprise, also sees the university as a moderating force in the use of emerging technologies — one that examines their societal implications, both positive and negative. 

“Artificial intelligence is a perfect example of one of the technologies where we can play a really big and impactful role,” Woodbury said. “How can we apply this technology in ways that are equitable? How can we develop it in the direction that is of public good, according to our charter? How is it going to benefit our community as a community rather than benefiting the bottom line? The other side of that is studying what AI is actually doing to society. In order to understand the benefit, we first need to understand the impact, so that we can help guide the way that technology will go.”

ASU’s strength in facilitating these conversations is inherent to its structure as an interdisciplinary problem-solving engine.

“There are very few places where the social scientists who are exploring the potential good and bad of a technology really sit down in a regular and integrated way with the technologists who are creating it. It’s become more common, but we've been kind of the vanguard of that approach,” Woodbury said.

By design, ASU has proactively established a robust infrastructure and developed strong community and industry partnerships that support rapid mobilization of emerging innovations.

For example, ASU recently launched six Science and Technology Centers, or STCs, that provide the expertise, facilities and infrastructure to collaborate with industry and develop future-focused technologies and science-based solutions. As part of Arizona’s New Economy Initiative, STCs are helping accelerate discovery, grow and attract new enterprises to the state, build the workforce through training and skill building, and drive entrepreneurship through knowledge translation, technology transfer and support for startups. 

Maynard also sees ASU, which was recently granted membership into the prestigious American Association of Universities, as a unique institution that can help develop future innovators and policy leaders who understand the value and importance of emerging technologies and how they may help drive healthier global futures through programs and units like the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes.

“I think this list highlights the fact that you cannot train in one particular area and develop that technology in isolation. You've got to have a broad perspective, a broad set of tools, a broad set of understanding, and that has to span both the technologies and the social sciences. If we're going to navigate the technology transitions these sorts of technologies represent, we've got to have people who can move into leadership positions that understand that breadth of perspective.”

The School for the Future of Innovation in Society, one of four academic units within the College of Global Futures, focuses on responsible innovation that creates a better future for all. Several of the school’s degree programs prepare students to work at the intersection of technology and society, including a bachelor’s degree in innovation in society, an online master’s degree in global technology and development and an online master’s degree in public interest technology

“The school has degree programs that train our students and future leaders with that depth of perspective. And, of course, this is what we're building in the College of Global Futures,” Maynard said.

The College of Global Futures and School for the Future of Innovation in Society are units of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory.

Jason Franz

Assistant Director, Strategic Marketing and Communications , Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory


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ASU announces new medical school, AAU membership and top sustainability ranking

June 2, 2023

Who said university campuses go quiet over summer break? Not Arizona State University President Michael Crow.

It’s been a big week at America’s most innovative university. ASU’s design as a New American University was in full display in the week following Memorial Day. In the past holiday-shortened week, ASU has:

A new 'learning health ecosystem'

The new medical school is intended to address the growing need for health care professionals in Arizona and is the result of the university’s own intentions and a request from the Arizona Board of Regents to expand medical education in Arizona. 

ASU’s School of Medicine and Advanced Medical Engineering headlines ASU Health, a “learning health ecosystem” being created by the university to accelerate and focus its health-related efforts to tackle the state’s urgent health care needs, now and into the future. It is the first in a series of steps that the new ASU Health effort will take to drive transformational change at the state level and is the result of more than a year of working with national industry leaders who examined the needs in public health technology.

ASU will continue to work closely with health care partners across Maricopa County and across the country to bring top talent, technology and research to the effort to improve health outcomes in Arizona.

Read more about ASU's new medical school here.

ASU joins AAU

On June 1, the AAU added ASU into its membership, applauding the university’s academic and research strength and acknowledging its place as a leader in higher education. There are now 71 universities in the association, which was established in 1900.

Members of AAU, including stalwart private universities like Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Johns Hopkins and leading public universities like UCLA, the University of Washington, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Michigan, collectively help shape policy for higher education, science and innovation; promote best practices in undergraduate and graduate education; and strengthen the contributions of leading research universities to American society.

“From deep space to deep in the oceans, we are a university designed for discovery, interdisciplinary research and innovation,” ASU President Michael Crow said. “As one of the fastest-growing research enterprises in the United States, we are focused on solving society’s greatest challenges, and we are excited to become part of the AAU.”

Read more about the AAU membership here.

ASU ranks high for sustainability efforts

On a global front, this week the internationally respected Times Higher Education Impact Rankings recognized ASU as the No. 1 institution in the United States and sixth in the world for addressing the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, a reflection of the university’s continued investment in high-impact research that tackles global needs and challenges.

The annual publication of university rankings looks at impacts made addressing 17 specific goals aimed at achieving a better world by 2030. Adopted by all 193 United Nations member states in 2015, these goals provide "a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future."

The ranking was driven by the university’s efforts on issues surrounding poverty and hunger, clean water and air, gender equality and climate change. ASU also made huge strides in water issues ranging from water security to marine biodiversity. The ranking shines a bright spotlight on the university and is also strongly influenced by partnerships across the university and beyond.

Read more about ASU’s Times Higher Education Impact Ranking here.