Sterilization of Young Adults and Telepathy
are Two of Many Future Predicitions
From virtual brains and Matrix-like thought connections to disease-making
bacteria, what could the next decade bring?
How about diesel-excreting bacteria, the sequencing of your entire
genome for $1,000, massive banks of frozen human eggs, space tourism,
the identification of dark matter, widespread sterilisation of
young adults, telepathy, supercomputer models of our brains, the
discovery of lifes origins, maybe the disappearance of Bangladesh
and certainly the loss of 247m acres of tropical forest.
These days, just another decade always means 10 years
of future shock. Science, technology and the contemporary mania
for change combine to stun the imagination. It is the way we live
now, in a condition of permanent technological revolution.
In 2000 -- remember? -- the internet all but died when the dotcom
stock market bubble burst. You could stand on top of the World
Trade Center. And mobile phones were just, er, phones. Today,
you still get up and eat breakfast, but, outside, its a
Next? Well, as Woody Allen said, if you want to make God laugh,
tell him your plans for the future. But, taking a punt, I reckon
the brain is the one to watch. Science has been zeroing in on
the 2lb 14oz of grey and white custard-like stuff between your
ears for some time now. Its not been easy. In spite of the
evidence of The X Factor, the human brain is very complex custard
indeed. But some people are getting very excited.
By 2020, genetics and brain simulation will be giving us
personalised prescriptions for marriage, lifestyle and healthcare.
This is Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain project in Switzerland,
an attempt to reverse engineer the brain by building one from
the ground up inside a supercomputer.
We wont need a psychologist to tell us why we feel
unhappy. All well need to do is log into a simulation of
our own brain, navigate around in this virtual copy and find out
the origins of our quirks ... Computers will look at a virtual
copy of our brains and work out exactly what we need to stop our
headaches, quiet the voices talking in our heads and climb out
of the valley of depression to a world of colour and beauty.
Gosh. But isnt there still that pesky problem of other
people and their brains? Its their quirks that tend to get
in the way of my happiness. No problem, we can climb inside each
The big thing for me is being able to link two brains together
for communication. This is Kevin Warwick, a cybernetics
scientist at Reading University. This could have great implications
for teaching. Sometimes, no matter how you explain something,
it takes forever for the penny to drop.
It would also help to avoid misunderstandings.
But, eek, what would it be like?
Well, just like The Matrix with a plug in the back of the
head into the brain, or yes, like a Bluetooth earpiece. It would
have to be bidirectional, though, so thoughts could travel from
you to someone else and back, says Warwick, who has already
implanted a microchip in his own arm so that he can open doors
without needing to use a doorknob.
James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule,
thinks gene sequencing will be the key to unlock the custard and
even stir it. Disorders like Alzheimers disease, epilepsy,
Parkinsons disease, schizophrenia, bipolar disease, unipolar
depression, obsessive-compulsive disease, attention deficit disorder
and autism will finally have their genetic guts open for all to
Some of the most impenetrable and harrowing mental illnesses
known to man will, Watson believes, be understandable and maybe
The exact location and biological function of the DNA variants
causing many depressive disease and related disorders cannot be
revealed too soon, he says.
Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at Warwick and Oxford,
agrees that brain diseases are the really big nasties. Some
leave sufferers horribly aware as they lose the ability to walk,
to talk, to swallow. Others corrupt and destroy the mind, leaving
an empty body. Some, such as CJD, are very rare, others frighteningly
common. About 700,000 people in the UK have dementia.
We are seeing more of these diseases because death rates from
cancer and heart disease are falling so people are living long
enough to develop them. Hope for cures is coming from stem-cell
research, genetic and molecular analysis.
There will be a breakthrough. My hunch is that research
on motor neurone disease will provide crucial clues and by 2020
we will know why cells die in some, perhaps many, of these diseases.
It could be another decade before we see the impact on health,
but by 2020, we must be on the way to this ultimate goal of modern
medical science, says Blakemore.
Meanwhile, sex you knew it was coming will be even
more recreational than it is now. The pill will continue to be
the primary contraceptive device, says its inventor, Carl Djerassi,
but sterilisation will be catching up.
At present, people tend to have children and then are sterilised
later on in life. In the future, sterilisation will happen earlier
on in a persons life, with gametes, male and female, extracted
and stored in a reproductive bank account... Already we know that
male sperm can be frozen for decades, but it is far more difficult
to freeze womens eggs. The problem is not yet solved
this is where research should be directed.
Baroness Deech, a lawyer and bioethicist, agrees about the freezing
thing. Women, she says, will have children later. Late child-bearing
will be assisted by advances in reproductive technology, enabling
young women to freeze their eggs in their twenties and postpone
child-bearing until it is convenient.
The other breakthrough that Deech would like to see is a
return to stable two-parent families. It should be
as acceptable to criticise a man who leaves his family as it is
to criticise a smoker, she says. We have a great deal
of law to protect children from potential abusers, but at the
moment we say and do nothing when the greatest harm occurs to
children, namely the break-up of their families. In 10 years
time Britain will no longer be at the bottom of international
tables of childrens happiness; marriage rates will rise
and divorce fall.
All very nice but, remember, humans may not be around long enough
to enjoy all this. The environment is definitely going to get
I would love to be able to predict that all tropical deforestation
would be halted by 2020, says George McGavin at the Oxford
University Museum of Natural History, but as humans cant
agree on the colour of shite, it is unlikely. My prediction is
that the world will lose at least another 100m hectares [247m
acres] of tropical forest.
James Lovelock, our greatest and gloomiest deep green, doesnt
think humans can do much about global warming. Its just
the planet saying that weve outstayed our welcome. Nobody
knows exactly how bad it will be and how quickly it will happen.
But the possibilities are clear.
As everyone is aware, one of the most threatened of places
in the world is Bangladesh, which is in danger of flooding as
the sea level rises and the sea level really is rising.
And once Bangladesh floods, there is almost nowhere else for people
there to go but India, and its difficult to see how things
like that could take place peacefully. And its things like
that, I think, which will be drivers for trouble up ahead.
Chris Rapley, director of the Science Museum and professor of
climate science at University College London, says we cannot cut
emissions fast enough, so we need to suck carbon dioxide out of
the atmosphere, perhaps using artificial trees that eat it.
If it can be achieved, it will allow us to exploit the
substantial reserves of oil, gas and coal to sustain society through
the inevitably long and hard transition to a low-carbon world,
without causing dangerous climate change. If ever there were a
technical project that humanity should invest in, this is it.
Craig Venter, the genetic maverick who first sequenced the human
genome, may have one solution. Hes working on making bacteria
that excrete diesel, leaving the Saudis wondering what to do with
all that oil. The debate on fuels and energy is blown out
of proportion. We are very close to solving the energy needs in
a way that will make our children enjoy cheaper and more efficient
energy than what we see today, he says.
We may all be in the same warming, flooded gutter but some of
us are looking at the stars. Lord Rees, the astronomer royal and
president of the Royal Society, is excited by the fact that we
have discovered that most stars seem to have planets, and planets
mean life. Possibly.
Efforts to detect a signal from ET are being
pursued, he says. A new telescope in California, privately
funded by the ex-Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, will allow
much more sensitive searches than hitherto. Im enthusiastic
about these searches. It would fascinate all of us to detect a
signal from space thats clearly artificial. Then he
adds: But Im not holding my breath.
Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin tycoon, is even more enthusiastic
about activity in space in 2020. Space tourism will have
taken off, he says, Nasa will have a clear plan to
get to Mars with a manned mission and there will be a space
station built on the moon.
Oh, and before I forget, in 2020 I will be an astronaut
along with thousands of others, he adds.
Its just another decade of future shock. So it goes. Of
course, the real shock will be what actually happens, which is
never the same as what people say will happen. But, anyway, the
shocking Noughties are over, happy new ... good grief, we havent
even predicted a name for it!
Reference Sources: timesonline.co.uk
December 29, 2009