Future focus: 2057

April 20, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Max and Tyler photoWell: back to one of my pet themes – future trends and predictions. The other night, I watched a very interesting TV programme on SBS (multicultural Australian channel) called Future Focus 2057. Recent stuff I’ve been reading and posting seems to point to a darker future – one of social unrest, squatter cities, stuffed climate – you get the picture.

So it was refreshing to see theoretical physicist, Dr Michio Kaku, comment positively on some of the medical and scientific advances that will take place over the next 50 years. Dr Kaku is one of my favourite authors – have a read of Parallel Worlds if you want to travel down a worm hole or two and come out the other end into an alternate quantum reality! When you watch a programme like this, it makes you think it might not be so bad to hang around on this planet for another 40 or 50 years. However……there was a dark side (naturally!) pointing to a future of increased societal and personal control.

Here’s a run down of what we can look forward to over the next 50 years:

  • intelligent clothing: jackets and other apparel people will wear that have inbuilt computer chips and sensors woven into the fabric. The intelligent clothing will be powered by body heat and function as your very own private nurse, uploading data about heart rates, blood pressure etc to a private health insurer. This private nurse will be able to check for disturbing symptoms, blocked arteries and any other bodily function or problem. A complete medical history will be captured and available centrally with the aim being to avoid health care costs through preventative care. Conspiracy theorists amongst us might start to utter this is pretty intrusive stuff – designed by private health insurers to gain control over our bodies. Smart clothing is known as pervasive computing, although some might say invasive would be a better adjective. Apparently, intelligent houses will also have computer chips and sensors that can detect if, for example, you’ve been drinking. Should you have an accident the next day, the insurer will be in a position to immediately cancel your health care because you contributed to the accident through your own negligence.
  • Running around decked out in clothing that monitors your every move is not that far fetched. Smart fabrics that function as information providers are here already. Over at the Georgia Institute of Technology, scientists have been testing fabric with inbuilt computer chips that carry gigabytes of information; prototype handbags tell you if you have forgotten your wallet (now that sounds handy!); and there are prototype wall hangings that will glow should someone dare to try and access your wireless internet connection. A smart shirt is here already: Professor Sundaresan Jayaraman and his team (Georgia Institute of Technology) have developed the Wearable Motherboard or smart shirt, which is said to be a flexible, wearable and comfortable garment with embedded sensors for “unobtrusively” monitoring a variety of medical vital signs. Check out the Professor wearing his smart shirt here. Mmmm….might need to be redesigned by a top fashion designer :)-
  • Superhighway in the sky: having seen innumerable reruns of The Jetsons, I’ve always wanted a sleek flying car. Would sure beat travelling 4 hours per day by train! Seems Dr Paul Moller of Moller International may be about to make my dream become a reality. His skycar prototype is already here: a very stylish red Batmobile looking thing. You can see a picture of it here complete with sound. And go here to watch a skycar hover test. Known as the XM-2, it weighs 700kg and is capable of 600 km/hr after vertical take-off and can carry 4 passengers. Dr Moller built his first prototype 40 years ago – I haven’t been able to find video of the flight of the first prototype, so leave a comment if you have a link. The Israelis are developing the X-Hawk, which you can see on YouTube. For readers who like detail, a skycar is known as a “volantor” and should you have a spare $US 1 million or so, you can already order a Skycar. Mmmmm…hope the Skycar will come in cheetah pattern :)-
  • half of the auto journeys in 50 years will be made in the air. Presumably, you can just sit back, relax or read because NASA is working on a Highway in the Sky management system that will ensure Skycars are steered by satellite systems to avoid nasty collisions or traffic jams.
  • Reversible death (aka suspended animation): should you be unlucky enough in the future to be involved in a very serious accident, doctors will be able to suspend your brain and heart function by replacing the blood with an ice-cold saline solution. Watch Dr Kaku talk about it here (be patient: there’s a 15 second ad that precedes it). Totally fascinating to watch how future operations might be conducted. Of course, philosophical questions pop up: during “suspended animation” does the person cease to be? Do they pass out of existence, only to return once blood flow is restored? and is the “new person” the same as the “old person”?
  • apparently, health care will not be cheap – it will take half your income to pay for care in the “First Class” section of a medical facility.
  • Human body shop: the medical problem of lacking human organs for transplants will be resolved by tissue engineering. Living tissue can be created by an ink-jet printer (no joke). 3D structures of living tissue are “printed” by washing out the ink-jet cartridges and filling them with suspensions of cells. Bits of tissue placed next to each other can fuse, so it’s simply a matter of providing a template so the cells can print say an entire heart. Gutenberg would sure want to be around to see this!
  • No more weight problems: well, we all know about the rise of obesity, especially in children, thanks to super-size us foods. The question is why are some people naturally slim? researching into this, scientists are developing bioengineered foods that will fool our tongues into thinking we’re eating creamy, fat-laden food (which our bodies seem to like the taste of) but no fat will be in these foods. So 50 years from now, people will be slim and there will be no need for the latest money-spinning celeb diet.
  • Human clones: Dr Kaku predicts we could see human cloning in 10 years’ time. I could devote a very long post to the ethical issues on this one! for example, should we allow parents to choose the genetic traits of a future cloned child (genetic determinism and designer babies)? is the cloned person merely a copy of someone else and is therefore robbed of uniqueness; or is the cloned person merely a delayed identical twin?? and since identical twins are two separate people, then the cloned person is also a separate and unique individual?? could clones be created without consent ie a black market in cloning? I’ll restrain myself from going on. But let’s not forget that Dolly the Sheep had to be put down in 2003 at the age of 6.5 years because she had developed progressive lung disease (usually found in older sheep) and developed arthritis. And let’s also recall Eugenics aka murder and sterilisation undertaken in the name of ‘race hygiene’ or creating a ‘master race’.
  • Surgical robots: we’ve heard a lot about this – robot arms that will be able to perform operations that are too fine for human hands. And now we have Domo, a humanoid robot (cute looking fellow!) developed by MIT, that is designed to help the elderly or people with disabilities.

Dr Kaku closed the programme by commenting that the next 50 years will be a “wild ride”. Yes…well…maybe.. but I detected a common underlying theme – the control of private health insurers and invasive technologies reporting intelligence to the insurers. 1984 anyone? The Ministry of the Health Provider?

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Entry filed under: Future trends, Society.

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