In times of uncertainty, innovation has the potential to change the stakes in favour of humanity. From more sustainable solutions in nutrition or energy to revolutionary applications of neuroengineering, the technological trends that will shape 2023 are set to provide answers to major global challenges. With the help of futurists and experts, BBVA Spark, BBVA's unit focused on helping high-growth companies, selects five technologies that will have a decisive impact in the coming months.
Throughout 2022, the world has explored in depth the applications of the internet of things, has marvelled at the possibilities opened up by quantum technology and has witnessed the unstoppable growth of entrepreneurial sectors such as proptech, edtech and HR tech. But some of the most promising trends for 2022 have suffered major setbacks throughout the year, as is the case with the metaverse: one of its main players, Meta, has been plunged into a crisis to which its firm commitment to this trend is no stranger. Although, of course, there are many other companies working to make it reach its full yet untapped potential.
"Every big trend tends to go up and down," explains Robert Altes, Global Head of BBVA Open Innovation. "You reach a point where you're forcing too much disruptive change at the regulatory, social and monetary level; and then a correction comes." David Alayón, CEO and co-founder of the consulting firm specialising in social innovation, Innuba, also highlights the distance from hype to consolidation (what Gartner calls the hype cycle): "In the world of trends there is always a gap between what is new and flashy and what finally materialises."
"In the world of trends there is always a gap between what is new and flashy and what finally materialises"
Nor can the evolution of technology be predicted without considering the socioeconomic and geopolitical context. In its special 'The World Ahead 2023', 'The Economist' identifies other kinds of trends for the coming year, such as the high possibility of a global recession, a consequence of inflation, the energy crisis or the impact of the conflict in Ukraine. "The trends that will prevail will be those that can provide answers to major problems, such as sustainability or food shortages," says Isabel Fernández Peñuelas, Director of Futures Studies at the think tank The Futures Factory.
A year full of possibilities
Based on contemporary challenges, the pulse of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, investment flows and expert opinion, these are the trends for 2023 identified by BBVA Spark, an essential ally of the companies that are defining the future:
Innovation in nutrition, food production and management is called upon to respond to some of the major crises facing humanity, such as hunger—with up to 2 billion people expected to be in this situation by 2050—or the loss of natural resources (almost 90% of deforestation is the result of agricultural expansion). The foodtech sector will be a trend, says Isabel F. Peñuelas of The Futures Factory, "because it responds to a real and urgent need: in November we surpassed the 8 billion mark". Also, "foodtech is linked to a global movement related to food and health awareness," explains David Alayón from Innuba. "In addition to the movement linked to plant-based food, we will see commercial lab-grown animal-based food solutions."
"The entrepreneurial ecosystem is the protagonist of the sustainable revolution," says Robert Altes of BBVA Open Innovation. "There are two megatrends, decarbonisation and technological disruption, that have the potential to transform all industries." Leading the change are cleantech startups, which use clean technologies and innovation to make a positive impact on the environment. From more efficient energy carriers to new fuels and to the circular economy, there are many fields of action. "Electric mobility is going to be very strong, as well as multiple renewable energies that are going to become more important," Altes predicts. With milestones such as that recently announced by the U.S. Department of Energy in the area of nuclear fusion (a process that for the first time has generated more energy than was used to initiate it), or growing sectors such as the production of green hydrogen, clean innovation will undoubtedly be the talk of 2023.
"The entrepreneurial ecosystem is the protagonist of the sustainable revolution"
Deeptechs develop solutions based on scientific research and technological advances like deep learning (a branch of artificial intelligence), with practical applications that seek to respond to the most relevant social problems. These types of startups offer a double advantage, according to the US deeptech fund Draper Cygnus, the ability to create market value (of 424 billion euros in aggregate by 2022) and to produce a positive global transformation. For this reason, they are an increasingly attractive option for venture capital investment. "AI is generating dramatic energy optimisations and improvements in the world of healthcare," explains Innuba's David Alayón. Isabel F. Peñuelas, of The Futures Factory, presents another use case: "Machine learning is being applied to the discovery of new enzymes that destroy plastic much faster."
"Thinking about what trend will amaze the world in 2023, I would bet on neuroscience and brain-machine interfaces," says Isabel F. Peñuelas. And while Neuralink founder Elon Musk recently declared his intention to conduct the first human trials of neural implants within six months, there is still a long way to go to gain approval from the health authorities for this type of product. But Musk is far from the only entrepreneur working on innovative solutions to improve mental health, treat neurological diseases or cure brain injuries; and neuroscience is expected to reach a market value of US$ 41.4 billion by 2030. "This year we might see the first human with a chip implanted in the brain", suggests Fernández Peñuelas.
Continuing the revolution that has been taking place in the financial sector for years with open banking, Banking-as-a-Service and fintech, 2023 could see the rise of so-called embedded finance. Based on API (Application Programming Interfaces), they will make it possible to offer financial services directly through third-party platforms. For Robert Altes, of BBVA Open Innovation, embedded finance "translates into a need to better serve and build customer loyalty". Through smart devices and commercial applications commonly used by users, this ecosystem can integrate products "from a credit or debit card to digital payments, loans, insurance or investments," explains Altes.
Innovation, an interconnected web
At this moment of technological effervescence, there are still many other trends that we could mention: gene editing, with a great potential impact in the foodtech sector; blockchain, applied to cybersecurity (for example, in the construction of secure digital identities that enable embedded finance), decentralised finance, Web3—an evolution of the Internet that promises to recover decentralisation thanks to blockchain technology—, immersive experiences, sectors such as legaltech (technology applied to legal services) and so forth.
Adaptive artificial intelligence, superapps or digital immune systems are some of the most prominent technology trends of the year that is about to begin, according to the consulting firm Gartner. For Deloitte, robotics (increasingly autonomous and precise), spacetech to conquer space or biomolecular engineering will be among the emerging technologies that will lead innovation in 2023.
But there is only one thing more difficult than predicting which trends will shape our future, and that is predicting the impact they will have. David Alayón, from Innuba, recalls the so-called Amara law: "We tend to overestimate the short-term effects of a new technology, while underestimating its long-term effect." With endless possibilities to explore and unsuspected potentials, we can't wait to see what innovation will bring in 2023.