The Periodic Table of Disruptive Technology

Growing up, all of us learned about the periodic table of elements. We might not all have been chemical geniuses to memorize the elements with as much style and grace as Gale from the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul universe, but we are all at least familiar with the chart that was plastered in every chemistry classroom.

The reason this table is so common and upheld in the scientific community is because it is a fundamental key to understanding chemistry. When Dmitri Mendeleev first pieced together how the fundamental building blocks of matter, the elements, relate to one another, he created a means for everyone to better understand chemistry and physics.

While scientists are still discovering/creating new elements to add to the chart, the periodic table is essentially finished. But, do you know what will likely never be completed? A periodic table of technology.

A Table to Organize Our Technology On

Imperial Tech Foresight’s Richard Watson and Anna Cupani have created a model of how emergent technology of the near-and-distant future will likely impact the status quo. With its structure based on the periodic table of elements, the periodic table of disruptive technology is a means to organize realistic and imagined advents of human ingenuity.

As the table is not bound to the same unbreakable laws of physics as the elements are in their respective table, this creative innovation is not absolute or prophetic. Yet, it does offer an insightful take on how human ingenuity will play out as we walk towards the distant horizon. With 100 different technologies present on the chart, it is likely that a majority of them will have an impact on humanity.

How to Read the Table

Starting in the bottom left, we can find the “hydrogen” of this periodic table. Funnily enough, the first element on this table is “smart nappies.” Take that as you will, if you travel further right along the x-axis, the farther off into the future the technology is predicted to emerge. Traveling up on the y-axis, the greater the potential the technology has to change society.

Additionally, the table is color-coded. The green square that encompasses the bottom left corner represents the technology that already exists. This includes things like the aforementioned smart diapers and cryptocurrency. By the estimates of the creators, the latter has a greater chance of disrupting life than the former. For the record, I think that’s a safe estimate.

The yellow tier of technology are all imagined technologies that could exist within the next few years. Each of these only needs an innovation or two to work out the bugs, but their potential is readily apparent and can be easily incorporated in our lives. These include things like diagnostic tricorders and electricity-generating clothing.

Next up, the red tier technologies are unlikely to be actualized for at least a few decades. Within that timeframe, it may be possible that we could create smog-eliminating building materials, and even robots to fight in armed conflicts.

Finally, the gray items are the technology least likely to happen. Things like lightning-fast space elevators, to economically viable asteroid mining, to even ideas that seem impossible like widespread de-extinction may be possible given enough time to allow them to manifest. However, these all require advances that are far beyond our capabilities, and might not even be realistically feasible, no matter what miracles we bring to light.

While this chart is not a definitive model for how things will play out, it provides an excellent guide to illustrate what may be within the grasp of our incredible species. At the very least, it can act as a guide for inspiring science fiction writers to draw from and inspire some radically novel creations of their own.