What will life be like in 2030? Those who ponder such things,
futurists and other visionaries, suggest exciting and sometimes
fantastic possibilities. As we begin our trek into the world of
tomorrow, predictions of things to come rush towards us at
Experts predict that between now and 2020, we will see more
science and technology advances than we experienced during the
entire 20th century and from 2020 to 2100, developments will
outpace the last 20,000 years of human progress.
Nobody knows for sure what will happen in the future, but by
projecting present-day knowledge, we can make plausible guesses.
Hollywood creates fantastic futures, but they always talk about
worlds gone mad, or make it sound so negative that none of us would
ever want to live there.
But from research that’s underway today, and scientific
projections of things to come, we can piece together a probable
future world, and what life might be like living in that world.
Readers are invited to track me down in 22 years and tell me
whether I was right or wrong.
People: World population has climbed to 9.3 billion, and
most people look forward to a life expectancy of 200 years or more.
Advanced nanotech has eliminated world hunger in 2030 and could,
experts say, provide a comfortable life on Earth for up to 100
billion people in the future. (cont.)
The famous artist Leonardo da Vinci once offered the following
pearl of wisdom: “Study the art of science and the science of art.”
It is advice that food scientists have taken to heart in spades.
However, as a result of advances in the new emerging field of
nanotechnology – which is briefly defined as
manipulating atoms at the molecular level in order to make new
products – scientists and other food professionals will now be
required to apply their understanding of science to a level that
is so infinitesimally small that it is hard to grasp. One nanometer
is roughly 100,000 times thinner than a human hair.
But to professionals in a field where it is not uncommon that a
pinch of a spice or a few extra seconds of heat to an ingredient
can make the difference between a good meal and a great one, it
will be important to understand that at the nanoscale the weird
world of quantum mechanics kicks in and materials and ingredients
begin to manifest entirely new characteristics, and it is
scientists ability to manipulate these new and enhanced
characteristics that lies at the heart of the fields ability to
transform virtually every aspect of food. (For a good, short
primer, I recommend this recent article describing Nestle’s use
of nanotechnology to create foods with optimal stability,
nutrient delivery, flavors and aromas.)
A New Sharper Knife
Today, the food scientist must concern him or herself with
issues of health and nutrition, good and bad fats, sanitation,
packaging and, of course, pairings, aromas, textures, sensations
and flavors. The ability to apply modern science to culinary
problems in these latter areas has sometimes called “molecular gastronomy.” Nanotechnology
will require culinlogists to take this skill to a new and smaller
We often think nostalgically of our past as the “good old days,”
but projected scientific and technological breakthroughs suggest
the greatest and most exciting times are yet to come. Today,
breakthroughs in healthcare rush at us with amazing speeds, but the
golden ages of biotech, 2010-2020, and molecular nanotech,
2020-2030, promise even greater advances in human health.
Legendary biologist Leroy Hood predicts that in the next decade,
we will understand genetic predispositions for most sicknesses and
develop tools for preventing them. “We’ll move from a mode that’s
largely reactive to one that’s predictive and preventive,” he
Between 2010 and 2020, research labs will place strong focus on
regenerative medicine with its amazing prospect for re-growing
organs and tissues from inside the body. According to a recent
government report, this new technology promises to radically
improve health, restore a more youthful appearance to aging seniors
and ‘boomers, and eliminate most deaths from cancer, heart disease,
obesity, and many other illnesses.
Arthur C. Clarke once said: “Any sufficiently advanced
technology is virtually indistinguishable from magic.” Enter
mankind’s newest plunge into the future – nanotechnology.
One day soon, a small Star Trek-like replicator called a
“nanofactory” will sit on your kitchen counter and let you order up
any product you want – plasma TV, clothes, an appliance, or whatever your
dreams desire – at little or no cost.
This wild technology sounds like science fiction, but its not.
According to AI entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil and nanotech author Eric
Drexler, this nanofactory will arrive by the 3rd decade of this
century – 2020-2030.
Here’s how nanotech replicators would work: microscopic-size
machines collect raw atoms from supplied chemicals, or from
something as inexpensive as seawater, and enable those atoms to
grow or “morph” into the final product: a sweater, refrigerator,
health medicine, or even a duplicate nanofactory.
Key technologies of the past half-century – transistors,
semiconductors, and genetic engineering – all focused on reducing
size, materials and costs, while increasing power and efficiency.
We now stand poised to continue this trend into a revolution that
offers the potential to rebuild the entire physical world – our
bodies and brains included – one atom at a time.
The National Institutes of Health states that someday implanted
nanotech materials will actually become part of the body – able to
search out and destroy cancer cells before they develop into a
tumor, or precisely direct drugs to heal damaged tissues – and when
no longer needed, dissolve and be absorbed or excreted. (cont.)
Neurons made from exotic nanomaterials could one day enable
humans to survive even the most horrendous accidents, and as a
bonus, provide some amazing new abilities.
Nano-engineer John Burch, co-designer of the nanofactory
video, “Productive Nanosystems: from Molecules to Superproducts,”
believes that by as early as the 2030s, we could be replacing our
brain cells with non-biological nanotech materials that process
thoughts faster, and is nearly indestructible.
“The new brain would include an exact copy of our memories and
personality that existed before we converted”, Burch says, “but it
would run millions of times faster and would increase our memory a
thousand fold. In addition, this futuristic brain will allow us to
control the speed of our thoughts; we could jump from 100
milliseconds, the response time for biological cells, to 50
nanoseconds – 20 million times faster”.
Creating thoughts at this speed would, in our mind at least,
slow the world down by a factor of 20 million. Our perception would
speed up, but physics limits how fast we can move, so to us, the
world would seem to slow as our brain ran faster. Think of what
this means. In an emergency, we would have time to think and plan.
Events that seem like hours to us would actually be happening in a
split second. (cont.)
Technology promises radical change in relationships.
We are in the midst of a sea of change, in which not only are
many traditional relationships failing, but unexpected new
arrangements are beginning to appear; gay marriages are becoming
increasingly popular, and many people are consciously choosing to
live alone. How does technology affect relationships? Telephones,
cameras, and camcorders have long been instrumental in bringing
people together. Today, many spend time chatting on the phone or
the Internet – trying to develop or strengthen friendships.
Now technology is entering a bold, but controversial new step.
In the UK, University of Redding’s Kevin Warwick, and his wife
Irena will soon link their emotions together with chip implants.
Tiny silicon chips will enable the couple to “read” each other’s
feelings wherever they are. Every feeling – positive and negative –
will be shared.
This technology will not be endorsed by everyone. Many believe
sharing every feeling is too invasive – some feelings need to be
private. But we live in a time when over half of all marriages end
in divorce, so researchers in their search to fill needs, examine
where technologies might help. (cont.)
“What you do is replace about 10% of your blood with these
respirocytes and then you would have literally 4 hours where you
can hold your breath,” lays out Fritz, “So if you had a problem
with your heart stopping you could just leisurely call the hospital
and tell them ‘Well, i’ve had a heart attack, my heart is
Or another option, as Fritz points out, is that “you could go
scuba diving without any gear.”
Check out the full Fritz interview by Dean Rotbart, Director of
the Low-Volume Manufacturers Association, here. (Would have
embedded the vid, but the youtube code is buggy.) (cont.)
From assembling cells one-by-one into artificial tissues to
creating micro-robots that swim through arteries and digestive
systems, the magic of nanotech has finally arrived. A major theme
of today’s nano-science focuses on strengthening human biology. In
fact, of the eight technology advances listed below, seven involve
systems that improve health:
1. Nanochips arrange cells to create artificial tissues. Harvard
professor Robert Westervelt’s nanochips can move cells around to
form new artificial tissues, which could be used to test efficacy
of various drugs. This system could be in use by 2010.
2. Nanowires simulate artificial synapses. Harvard researcher
Charles Lieber and his team linked silicon nanowires with axons and
dendrites of live mammalian neurons, creating artificial synapses
between the two. This technology paves the way for powerful neural
prosthetics, and opens the door for hybrid nanoelectronic and
biological information processing. Animal trials are already
3. Neural data cable connects brains with computers. University
of Pennsylvania researcher Doug Smith created a cable made from
stretched nerve cells that can connect machines to the human
nervous system, which could enable thought control over appliances
by as early as 2012.
4. Nanoparticles destroy tumors. Burnham Institute’s Dr. Erkki
Ruoslahti, in a joint effort with UC Santa Barbara, fashioned
nanoparticles that seek out and kill cancer cells by cutting off
their oxygen and nutrient supply. These nano-wonders can also
deliver drugs to a specific area without affecting healthy cells.
Human trials expected soon.
5. Micro-robots swim like bacterium through arteries. James
Friend, Senior Lecturer at Australia’s Monash University and his
team believe that by 2009 they can produce micro-robots that can
swim through human arteries and digestive systems. These ‘bots will
transmit images and deliver microscopic payloads to parts of the
body that are beyond the reach of existing technologies.
My post last week on the Demise of Death received so many thought provoking comments that I feel compelled to further the discussion in another post. The new information and perspectives contained in the the comments have transformed the way I intend to approach parts of the debate. With such a fertile discussion ground, I felt I would be remiss if I did not give attention and thanks to several of the eloquently expressed ideas.
Here’s the point-by-point update:
Nanotech & Biotech Will Not Necessarily End Death: That death may remain even if aging is cured was a point raised by a few of the commentors. If our bodies did not deteriorate into death, fatal accidents, acts of violence etc. could still bring about mortality. I realize that my rationale for thinking we may be able to conquer death altogether was somewhat obscure in my first post. One theory proposed by futurists and transhumanists, is that to truly conquer aging, we will not be able to rely merely on stem cells, genetic therapies and drugs.
These treatments can, the theory argues, only go so far to combat cellular deterioration. If we are to truly end, and not merely delay aging, we would eventually have to develop nanobots capable of precisely repairing cells. My own logic followed that if we are able to create effective cellular-repair nanobots, we will have mastered nanotechnology and it will serve a number of other functions beyond cellular repair.
Prolific poster Dick Pelletier has pointed out a few times that if nanobot technology were mastered, we could, in theory, surround ourselves in a sort of thin nanobot shield that could, in theory, protect us from violence and accident. Perhaps I have taken this rationale too far. It does not logically follow that by ending aging we will necessarily end death by accident or violence, but I think it is at least a reasonable possibility.
Taking Control of Your Fate Opens Pandora’s Box: Let us consider my original conjecture is incorrect and that we will be able to bring an end to aging, but not death by accident or violence. If this becomes true, we will, in effect be gaining a greatly extended life at the expense of knowing that death will certainly come either by violence, violent accident or suicide. I cannot help but think these are all troubling ends.
Admittedly, most deaths now are troubling. Death by disease and aging is most often the end of a long, painful, degrading, messy battle. But, at present, we can at least hope to be one of the lucky few to die comfortably, unknowingly in their sleep. This hope will be eliminated if aging is defeated.
Even to me the benefits outweigh the downsides, but it is deeply disturbing to know you will one day kill yourself if you aren’t hit by a bus or murdered first. This is in part what I meant when I wrote that I considered myself a part of nature and do not wish to be removed from the natural process. Taking your fate out of the hands of nature results in some very difficult decisions.
Accepting Suicide? This idea of death occurring either by chance or choice is tied to another point raised in the comments. Johnfrink said, “I’m pretty sure if we conquer death eternal life will not be forced on anybody.” And I am inclined to agree. It is unlikely that in a future without aging, omniscient police will parole the streets taking into custody all those thinking of ending it all. But that doesn’t mean suicide will be any more desirable than it is today.
In the not too distant future cancer will be eradicated, clean
and powerful new forms of energy will be the norm and people all
across the globe will have access to clean drinking water. While to
some such predictions may sound like narrative straight out of a
utopian sci-fi novel, according to best-selling author and futurist
Uldrich those are realistic possibilities in a world driven by
A global futurist, speaker and proprietor of well respected
consulting firm Nanoveritas, Uldrich advises a
variety of businesses on nanotechnology
developments and, more broadly, how to keep ahead of the curve of a variety of
rapidly advancing technologies. On July 10, 2008, I had the
opportunity to interview Mr. Uldrich and discuss a host of
interesting issues including robots in hospitals, solar panels
mixed into wallpaper and paint, and the potential for low-cost
solar cells to uplift underdeveloped regions around the world. In
the days that followed, Mr. Uldrich announced his bid for the U.S.
Senate which, if successful, would make him the first professional
futurist to hold national office.
Here’s the full text of the audio interview with the man who
could become the next U.S. Senator from the great State of
Minnesota, chock full of wisdom and also some great advice for both
students and lay persons looking to get a leg up on the future:
M: What do you do and how is that related to the
JU: I am a writer and a public speaker and all of my books focus
on the future. Really since my first book on nanotech 5 years ago,
I have broadened out to looking at all emerging technologies and
all of my speaking engagements are around trying to prepare
business and trade organizations to prepare for the future.
At the First Conference on Advanced Nanotechnology held in Washington DC, researchers discussed the possibilities expected of this new wonder science, including glittering visions of abundance and long, healthy life spans.
Within 20 years, a small Star Trek-like replicator called a “nanofactory” could sit on your kitchen counter and let you order up any product you want – food, clothing, appliances, or whatever your dreams desire – at little or no cost.
Nanofactories work by collecting atoms from something as inexpensive as dirt or seawater, and using software downloaded from the Internet, directs those atoms to “grow” into the final product. A nanofactory can even “grow” another nanofactory.
This wild technology sounds like science fiction, but its not. Foresight Institute sociologist Bryan Bruns said nanotech will provide solutions for some 2.7 billion people now living on less than $2 per day, and eliminate poverty worldwide.
Bruns envisions a “2025 Whole Earth Catalog” which would offer economic water filtration systems that purify 100,000 gallons of water a day; inexpensive solar roofing panels that come in rolls like Saran Wrap; powerful inexpensive computers that fit inside eyeglass frames; and suitcase-size nanoclinics with a full range of diagnostics and treatments.
“Turn trash into treasure”, could become the slogan of the 2020s. Nanorefineries will break down unwanted consumer items, sewage sludge, and other waste materials, and re-build them into food, clothing, or household items.
Institute for Molecular Manufacturing’s Robert Freitas added, “not only will nanotech provide us with a lot of cool stuff and eliminate global poverty; it will also help us live a really long time”. Freitas predicted by 2015, nanoproducts will diagnose illnesses and destroy cancer cells – and by mid-2020s, tiny cell-repair mechanisms will roam through our bodies keeping us strong, youthful, and forever healthy.
Among the talk of thin-film solar, nano self-assembly, among other ideas at NanoTX’08 conference in Dallas, TX, was a researcher talking about his work with paper batteries. Dr. Mangilal Agarwal of Louisana Tech University talks about how paper batteries work and what problems they solve.