Would you believe? A view of what innovation will look like in 2025

Innovation is, by its very meaning, future-looking (unless you are one of that rare breed of scholar -- the historian of innovation). The question is how far out in time one should reasonably look in attempting to fashion a view regarding the future directions of innovation. Against this backdrop, this Kat recently ran across an interesting report on scientificwatch.com entitled “The World in 2025—10 Predictions of Innovation”, here. This Kat is well aware of the challenges in seeking to identify future trends of any kind (as noted by Yogi Berra, here, the legendary American baseball player turned aphoristic seer-- “The future ain't what it used to be”). Nevertheless, given the provenance of the study, Thomson Reuters, and the vast informational resources at their disposal, this Kat believes that Kat readers will find the study—its purpose, methodology, results and conclusions, to be of potential interest.

“The aim of this project was to identify 10 technologies of tomorrow that will be in use in 2025 based on research and development currently identifiable in the literature of today – both scientific literature and published patents. The innovation predictions were discovered using flagship solutions from the IP & Science business of Thomson Reuters.”
“First, broad fields were identified from recently published data (over the last two years) using Thomson Reuters Web of ScienceTM and InCitesTM, for scientific and scholarly literature, and Thomson Reuters Derwent World Patents Index® and Thomson Innovation, for patents. Analysts scoured the vast array of information to identify the themes of emerging importance from 2012 and 2013 using citation rankings, most cited papers, hot topics and research fronts, beginning in InCites. 
The top 10 fields of research based on emerging research front data were: Clinical medicine (2355); chemistry (1533); physics (1154); engineering (1059); social sciences, general (934); biology and biochemistry (933); materials sciences (823); plant and animal sciences (702); molecular biology and genetics (566); environment and ecology (554)

The most active research fronts were identified by ranking the number of citations per paper and assessing the number of core papers per front. A similar approach was used to identify the top 10 fields in patent literature, by locating the highest publishing fields and then drilling down into the essentials within these fields. Derwent Manual Codes were used to identify the patent fields with the highest number of inventions with a priority date of 2012 and onward. The International Patent Classifications with the most patents from the top 10 Manual Codes were then grouped, including family member data, to identify the emerging fields:

Computing and controls; communications; semiconductors; electric power engineering; plastics and polymers; scientific instrumentation; pharmaceuticals; refactories, glass, ceramic; food, disinfectants, detergents; electronic components

Broad fields from scientific literature and patents were then merged and compared to identify the most impactful areas. The following were the top areas identified:
Disease prevention and control; medical treatment; pharmaceutical preparation; energy solutions; digital communications; multimedia devices and lighting; instrumentation (biotech); physics (particle); novel materials (nano); genetics (fundamental research).”
“From these areas and based on further analysis of data in each field, the analysts were able to make the 10 predictions of innovation in 2025”.
In the words of the study, as listed below, the following predictions were made [there does not appear to be any significance to the order of these predictions]:
1. Dementia Declines
2. Solar is the Largest Source of Energy on the Planet
3. Type I Diabetes is Preventable
4. Food Shortages and Food Price Fluctuations Are Things Of The Past
5. Electric Air Transportation Takes Off
6. Digital Everything ... Everywhere
7. Petroleum-Based Packaging Is History; Cellulose-Derived Packaging Rules
8. Cancer Treatments Have Very Few Toxic Side Effects
9. DNA Mapping At Birth Is the Norm To Manage Disease Risk
10. Teleportation Is Tested (aka, per this Kat, “Beam Me Up, Scotty”, here)
What are we to make of this list based on the published report? Several thoughts came to mind. First, it is not clear what is meant by “innovation” and the plasticity of potential meanings is both an advantage and disadvantage. It is popularly observed that innovation goes beyond patents and, indeed, IP rights, more generally. That said, it is clear from what is reported that a primary focus of the study is patent data together with various bodies of published scientific information. The argument has been made that, as between the scientific publications and published patents, it is the former that provides much more information about cutting-edge developments that are connected with innovation. Moreover, trade secrets may also be contributing to innovative activity even if, by their very nature, it is difficult to gauge the extent of such contributions, both qualitatively and quantitatively. If so, then the degree of dependence or independence between the subject matter of patents and scientific publications (not to speak of the contribution of trade secrets to innovation), and the weightings given to patent data and scientific information, respectively, are highly material in making sense of the ultimate results of the study.

Secondly, this Kat wonders whether the results published in the study are more for navel-gazing and product promotion, or do they provide useful and usable information. Will this Kat digitally file away this list, resurrecting it only a decade hence to see how accurate it was, or do these results merit ongoing engagement by those interested in innovation? In this regard, the reliance on what appear to be proprietary Thomson Reuters database services cannot help but be noticed. There is, of course, nothing in principle untoward about using one’s own products. That said, given the goal of the project, namely to identify objectively major trends in innovation that will help define our world 10 years from now, the question has to be asked—would the results have differed if different sources of data had been used?

This Kat leaves the answers to these questions to the Kat readers themselves.
Would you believe? A view of what innovation will look like in 2025 Would you believe? A view of what  innovation will look like in 2025 Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Wednesday, September 24, 2014 Rating: 5


  1. Neil,

    In 2025 Solar is the largest source of energy of this planet?

    That's a weird statement. Firstly, the sun is not on Earth. The Earth circumnavigates the Sun (or from an Earth-centric perspective, the Sun goes around the Earth. As wind, coal, natural-gas, biofuels, hydraulic power and crude oil are all solar driven, the Sun is already the power generator of the Earth.

  2. Thanks very much for this post. I am not sure about the reliability of the methodology used in this study, but I do find it interesting as it at least attempts to impose a degree of objectivity. It is probably too much work to contemplate, but I should be even more interested if the authors applied exactly the same methods to scientific publications and published patent documents etc. dating from 10 years back to see if they would have successfully predicted the 10 top innovations with which we now find ourselves (whatever they may be – and I would suggest that one of them is the rise and rise of “social media”).

  3. I once saw a tree diagram based on the claims of patent cases. It showed how the technology developed and how the patent cases were 'related' in a technology field. I figured if one could extend the tree into the future (based on how claims developed from the first filing) one could derive the claims of future filings!

  4. I haven't done any searches in the Derwent databases for years, but our searcher always spoke highly of their effectiveness. They only used to be avaialable to subscribers to the hard-copy Derwent abstracts in the 1990's. More reliable than simply relying on IPC terms, particularly for US patents. USPTO-applied IPC terms were a bit of a lottery as they used to be applied by clerks working from a concordance with the US classification scheme: fine if the US scheme matched to IPC, but "interesting" if it did not.

    I for one am sceptical about electric aircaft. The energy density of storage batteries is orders of magnitude lower than hydrocarbon fuel, and when you fill up your car, the energy transferred is comparable to the output of a medium-sized electricity power station.

    In the 1950's many predicted atomic-powered everything, but that is clearly not an option these days.

  5. In response to Michael,I suspect 'Solar' in item 2 refers to photovoltaics or solar thermal power plants.

    I would argue that items 4 and 9 will depend at least as much on economic factors and social acceptance, as to any particular innovations in the field.

    Item 10 seems highly unlikely (to put it politely) - at least in the 'beam me up, Scotty' sense.

    Item 6 is pure navel-gazing and product promotion. I shall spare you from my standard internet-of-things rant.

  6. The first sentence of my post seems to have got corrupted: unfortunately the preview function does not work for me, as the text wanders off to infinity and only the start can be seen. It should have said " ... our searcher always spoke highly of the effectiveness of the Derwent manual codes. "

  7. Ron, an electric aircraft would not necessarily require batteries. A suitable fuel cell could potentially be used to supply the necessary electrons. How about a hydrogen filled airship with the hydrogen being used to power the motors - Hindenburg mark II?

  8. Nell, Thanks for the Beautiful Article!

    I agree with you that the article about 2025 predictions is quite pretentious. Why? Simply because I believe, Innovation is a manifestation of the Darwinian evolution process.
    As such, Innovation results from changes in the environment; and the environment changes because of Innovation. The innovation process is a dynamic process.
    I explain this, and more, in this recent article The Ultimate Innovation Process.


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