The table of disruptive technologies: a timeline of industry-killing breakthroughs

Progress and disruption go hand in hand. The history of human civilization is characterized by periodic dances between old technologies resisting newer ones, with the latter ultimately ending up victorious — before inevitably becoming old and ripe for disruption once more. The horse and buggy made way for the gasoline-powered automobile, which is bound to be replaced by electric vehicles; the radio quickly lost ground to the television, which — along with print press and virtually every other form of traditional media — became disrupted by the internet.

What about the next wave of disruptions? Richard Watson, a leading futurist and lecturer at the London Business School, recently compiled some of the most promising technologies that seem set on shaking different industries from the ground up.

Watson teamed up with colleagues from Tech Foresight at Imperial College London, as well as an ex-BBC researcher to help list companies that are leading the way for each disrupting tech. Be it retail, finance, food, transport, computing, energy, or health, no industry seems to be spared by the waves of innovation.

“The idea for the table initially came from me stumbling upon a list of emerging technologies on Wikipedia. This felt fairly accurate, but also rather lifeless. It wasn’t especially contextual either. Other lists from MIT Tech Review and McKinsey were better, but somehow these weren’t showing the bigger picture either,” Watson wrote.

“Using all this as a good starting point I did some further research to identify candidate technologies and then spoke with Anna and academics at Imperial College to validate the thinking. This was the easy bit.”

“The tricky part was then deciding which technologies to leave out and how to rank both the disruptive potential of each technology and time (both near impossible, but we had a good go using small post-it notes that could be moved around easily). What results is far from perfect, but it’s better than anything else I’ve seen and it’s hopefully a foundation for people being wrong in really useful and interesting ways.”

Disruptive Tech Table

Watson has been kind enough to offer a high-res version of his table of disruption, which can download for free here.

Some disruptions are happening right now, while others are still incubating, waiting for the right moment to hatch. Watson highlighted the fact by dividing the nearly 100 technologies he listed into four groups. Colored in green are horizon 1 disruption — those that are happening right now, and which companies should waste no time jumping on board with. Yellow, or horizon two, are probable near-future technologies (10-20 years from now), which companies are advised to experiment with. Red, or horizon three, are technologies thought to emerge in the more distant future (20 years plus); companies should keep a close eye on their developments. Finally, the outer edge, colored in grey, are the so-called Ghost Technologies, fringe territory where you’ll find technologies that are highly improbable or downright impossible to mature with our current level of understanding.

Some items are super obvious and predictable, such as autonomous vehicles and smart energy grids, while other disruptions are extraordinarily outlandish or downright ludicrous — human head-transplants, telepathy, and artificial consciousness.

On the X-axis are technologies ranked by their potential for disruption in time, while the Y-axis ranks the probability of disruption from low to high. In this case, time relates to common usage, not initial invention.

So the next time you get your groceries delivered by an Amazon drone, don’t act too surprised. Revisit this table and prepare for the next big thing.

The full list of technologies that the team looked at:

The list 100 disruptive technologies

Smart nappies

Deep ocean wind farms

Vertical agriculture

Wireless energy transfer


Concentrated solar power

Predictive policing

Micro-scale ambient energy harvesting

Robotic care companions

Smart control of appliances

Cultured meat

Delivery robots and passenger drones

Distributed ledgers

Precision agriculture

Autonomous vehicles

Intention decoding algorithms

Balloon-powered internet

Powered exoskeletons

Computerised shoes and clothing

Airborne wind turbines (high altitude)

Avatar companions

Metallic hydrogen energy storage

Autonomous ships and submarines

Resource gamification

Water harvesting from air

Drone freight delivery

Autonomous passenger aircraft

3D-printing of food and pharmaceuticals

Medical tricorders

Smart flooring and carpets

Diagnostic toilets

Smart energy grids

Algal biofuels

Human organ printing

Artificial human blood substitute

Mega-scale desalination

Self-writing software

Public mood monitoring machines

Programmable bacteria

Peer-to-peer energy trading and transmission

Lifelong personal avatar assistants

Smart dust

Predictive gene-based healthcare

Automated knowledge discovery

Autonomous robotic surgery

Emotionally aware machines

Humanoid sex-robots

Human biohacking

Internet of DNA

Vacuum-tube transport


Smart glasses and contact lenses

Pollution-eating buildings

Broadcasting of electricity


Swarm robotics

4-dimensional materials (and printing)

New (Nano) materials

Fusion power

Low-cost space travel

Colonisation of another planet

Thought control machine interfaces

Dream reading and recording

Planetary-scale spectroscopy

Implantable phones

e-tagging of new-borns

Male pregnancy and artificial wombs

DNA data storage

Genomic vaccines

Quantum safe cryptography

Cognitive prosthetics

Data uploading to the brain

Conversational machine interfaces

Life-expectancy algorithms

Stratospheric aerosols

Battlefield robots

AI advisors and decision-making machines

AI board members and politicians

Invisibility shields

Factory photosynthesis

Transhuman technologies

Digital footprint eraser

Personal digital shields

Human head transplants

Human cloning and de-extinction

Distributed autonomous corporations

Space solar power

Space elevators

Fully immersive VR

Artificial consciousness


Reactionless drive

Whole Earth virtualisation

Shapeshifting matter

Self-reconfiguring robots

Zero-point energy

Beam-powered propulsion

Force fields

Asteroid mining



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