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Emerging technologies and converging technologies are terms used to cover various cutting-edge developments in the emergence and convergence of technology. Emerging technologies are those which represent new and significant developments within a field; converging technologies represent previously distinct fields which are in some way moving towards stronger inter-connection and similar goals.
Over time, new methods and topics are developed and opened up. Some arise due to theoretical research, others due to commercial research and development or new tools and discoveries.
Technological growth includes incremental developments, and disruptive technologies. An example of the former was the gradual roll-out of DVD as a development intended to follow on from the previous optical technology Compact Disc. By contrast, disruptive technologies are those where a new method replaces the previous technology and make it redundant, for example the replacement of horse drawn carriages by automobiles.
Emerging technologies is a general term used to denote significant technological developments that in effect, broach new territory in some significant way in their field. Examples of currently emerging technologies include nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Neurotechnology, Brain-computer interfaces, human enhancement, strategies for engineered negligible sensescence, artificial intelligence, robotics, and cognitive and information sciences.
Converging technologies are a related topic, signifying areas where different disciplines are converging and to an extent merging or developing broad links, towards a common direction. Thus as computers become more powerful, and media becomes digitized, computing and media are described as being converging technologies.
Many writers, including computer scientist Bill Joy, have identified clusters of technologies that they consider critical to humanity’s future. Advocates of the benefits of technological change typically see emerging and converging technologies as offering hope for the betterment of the human condition. However, critics of the risks of technological change, and even some advocates such as transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom, warn that some of these technologies could pose dangers, perhaps even contribute to the extinction of humanity itself; i.e., some of them could involve Existential risks.
Much ethical debate centers on issues of distributive justice in allocating access to beneficial forms of technology. Some thinkers, such as environmental ethicist Bill McKibben, oppose the continuing development of advanced technology partly out of fear that its benefits will be distributed unequally in ways that could worsen the plight of the poor. By contrast, inventor Ray Kurzweil is among techno-utopians who believe that emerging and converging technologies could and will eliminate poverty and abolish suffering.
NBIC, an acronym standing for Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information technology and Cognitive science, is currently the most popular term for emerging and converging technologies, and was introduced into public discourse through the publication of Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance, a report sponsored in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
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