A guide to the ‘Essential Eight’ emerging technologies- our new Global tech breakthroughs report

08 August 2016

Emerging technology strategy needs to be a core part of every company’s corporate strategy. C-suites are challenged to sort through the noise to make clear-headed decisions about the most pertinent technologies that will sustain revenue growth and enhance business operations. But with the torrent of technological breakthroughs affecting businesses of all types, how can executives even begin to make sense of the individual technologies?     

To help companies focus their efforts, we analysed more than 150 emerging technologies to pinpoint the “Essential Eight” we feel organisations should consider. While the corresponding strategy will vary by company, these eight technologies will have the most significant global impact across sectors.

To arrive at the Essential Eight, we filtered the technologies based on business impact and commercial viability over the next five to seven years (and as little as three to five years in developed economies). Specific criteria include: the technology’s relevance to companies and industries; global reach; technical viability, including the potential to become mainstream; market size and growth potential; and the pace of public and private investment in them.

Artificial intelligence 

Software algorithms are automating complex decision-making tasks to mimic the human thought processes and senses. AI is not a monolithic technology; A subset of AI, machine learning, focuses on the development of computer programs that can teach themselves to learn, understand, reason, plan, and act when blasted with data. Machine learning carries enormous potential for the creation of meaningful products and services, including: hospitals creating a library of scanned images to detect and diagnose cancer; insurance companies digitally and automatically recognizing and assessing car damage; security companies trading clunky typed passwords for voice recognition and government agencies predicting weather patterns.

Augmented reality 

Augmented reality is a visual and/or audio “overlay” on the physical world that uses contextualized digital information to augment the viewer’s real-world view. AR-enabled glasses help warehouse workers fulfil orders with precision, airline manufacturers assemble planes, and electrical workers make repairs. We’re currently seeing mainstream gaming examples of AR that reach across age demographics. The power of bringing information to the point of action in a seamless, unobtrusive manner is undeniable. This blending of the physical and virtual world is cracking open a new realm for businesses across the board to explore.


A blockchain is a distributed electronic database or, more broadly, an electronic ledger that uses software algorithms to record and confirm transactions with reliability and anonymity. The record of events is shared between many parties and information once entered cannot be altered, as the downstream chain reinforces upstream transactions.


Drones vary greatly in their capacity based on their design. Some drones need wide spaces to take off while quadcopters can squeeze into a column of space. Some drones are water-based. Some can operate and navigate autonomously (via remote control) or fully autonomously (via on-board computers). Companies are using drones for wide-ranging reasons, including surveillance, survey, sport, cinematography and delivery. You can follow the hashtag #dronesforgood to track creative uses of drones. (Note: This category is distinct from autonomous vehicles, which doesn’t impact all sectors.)

Internet of Things (IoT) 

Network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, etc.—embedded with sensors, software, network connectivity, and computer capability enabling them to collect, exchange, and act on data, usually without human intervention. The Industrial IoT (IIoT) is a subset of IoT and refers to its use in manufacturing and industrial sectors. IIoT is adding sensors to people, places, processes and products across the value chain to capture and analyse information to advance the goals of the organisation.


Machines with enhanced sensing, control, and intelligence used to automate, augment, or assist human activities. (Note: Drones are also robots, but we list them as a separate technology.) The robot market, which has grown quite large for industrial applications, is poised for radical growth in a broad range of services applications. These applications are transforming manufacturing and non-manufacturing operations with new capabilities that address the challenges of working in changing, uncertain, and uncontrolled environments, such as alongside humans without being a danger to them.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality is an example of creative destruction. It abolishes logistical limitations and makes anything possible. In a computer-generated simulation of a three dimensional image or environment viewers can use special equipment to interact with the simulation in realistic ways. The Gaming and Entertainment industries are obvious proving grounds for Virtual Reality. However, VR has the potential to transform many other industries as well.

3D printing

Additive manufacturing techniques used to create three-dimensional objects based on digital models by layering or “printing” successive layers of materials. 3D printing has the potential to turn every large enterprise, small business and living room into a factory. It’s not exaggerating to say 3D printing is one of the most important inventions since the personal computer.

Most companies have laid a foundation for emerging technology with investments in social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC). The Essential Eight technologies are much broader in their impact and will require executive engagement. These breakthroughs will affect business models and influence the competitive landscape for years to come. Emerging technology is no longer the realm of IT alone. In the coming months we’ll discuss each of these technologies, and how companies can navigate the Essential Eight. Follow the blog for updates.

In the meantime, what technologies beyond SMAC do you think will be ubiquitous in 2020?

This blog was originally published on the Global Emerging Technologies blog.


Vicki Huff Eckert  | New Business Leader, PwC Global

+1 (408) 817-4136

View Vicki Huff Eckert's profile on LinkedIn



Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated and will not appear until the author has approved them.