A Futurist’s Perspective: 10 Things to Know About the Next 10 Years (Part Two)

By Richard Worzel

This is the continuation of a three-part article looking at how the next ten years will dramatically change your life and almost everything in it. Read Part One.

4. The health care revolution

Point four is the health care revolution, starting with customized drugs and treatments. Herceptin is a drug used to treat breast cancer – but it is only used with patients that have two particular genetic markers. If you don’t have these two specific genetic characteristics, there’s no point in giving you Herceptin, because it won’t help you. And it’s the precursor of customized drugs. They will be dramatically more effective – and, at least initially, dramatically more expensive as well because the research costs will have to be spread over a much smaller population.

Meanwhile, decoding your personal DNA is rapidly becoming affordable. You can already get genetic tests that show whether you are susceptible to certain kinds of diseases, such as Alzheimers, ALS ( Lou Gherig’s disease), or Huntington’s. But whereas it took decades, and billions of dollars to decode the first human genome, within 10 years, having your personal genome fully decoded will cost about $1,000 or less, and take a few hours, bringing it into the realm of the possible. And this cascade of data about you will, gradually, allow us not only to ascertain what diseases you need to guard against, but also which lifestyle choices, including foods, will work best for you.

And a third leg of the future of health care is the wearable computer companion to monitor your health and guard against threats. There are already smartphone applications to monitor heart rate, blood sugar, calories burned, and so on. These are going to become increasingly sophisticated, and will, over time, become dedicated to monitoring your health, heartbeat-by-heartbeat, and intervening as necessary to reduce the risks of health crises, such as heart attacks or strokes, as well as to advise you on optimal health management.

These three things, combined with electronic health records, will, over time, produce the greatest tool for health treatment and research humanity has ever had: a global system to identify health risks, and find cures or treatments for them in something approaching real time. And I fully expect that they will eventually lead to life expectancies of 120 years and more, although this development will take much more than just 10 years. Which leads me to my next point.

5. Transhumanism

Like my previous point, this is going to start over the next 10 years, but will carry on into the indefinite future as we learn more, and figure out what to do with what we know. Transhumanism is the school of thought that science and technology are going to allow us to first cope with disabilities, and then to augment and exceed our natural abilities. Some of this, such as stem cell therapies, will mean using biological mechanisms to repair our own bodies. Beyond that, transhumanism also projects that we will use artificial means to augment our abilities. It has already started with devices that help us survive. Some, like heart pacemakers, have been around for decades. Others, like brain pacemakers to prevent seizures, are relatively new. Next are prosthetics. Of course, the oldest prosthetics, like peg legs and hook hands, have been around since Disney invented pirates, but I’m talking about arms and legs controlled by thoughts and nerves. Prosthetic arms and legs will act and seem natural.

As we move towards computers that can read your intentions and interpret your thoughts, we get into interesting man-machine combinations. Eventually we will be able to choose, by an act of will, to control distant machines and mechanisms by thought. We’ll be able to use the power of computers to augment the speed with which we think, and the depth of things we can “remember.” Imagine, for instance, being able to Google something on the Internet just by thinking a query, and getting the answer either whispered into your ear, or displayed on contact lenses on your eyes that act as a computer monitor. There are already prototypes of precursors of these things, from thought-controlled wheelchairs for paraplegics, to memory glasses that can remind the forgetful who the person in front of them is. As I said, this is a brand new field, so I doubt if you’ll need to worry about the Borg just yet.

6. Critical economic uncertainties

The headlines last spring centered on whether we were likely to have a double-dip recession, and the financial and fiscal crises of the PIIGS of Europe (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain). These uncertainties were caused by too much debt borrowed by consumers and governments alike.

Having too much debt is like having a rowboat that’s heavily loaded – it doesn’t take much to swamp it completely, and it doesn’t have much resilience. Moreover, it takes a long time to bail out of debt, so these problems are not going to go away overnight. Accordingly, in your plans and planning, I would strongly recommend that you be prepared for repeated, periodic shocks and crises that lead to financial upheaval, and economic slowdowns or outright recessions over the next decade. Believe me, I don’t like this prospect, but I think it’s better to be prepared for shocks than to be caught by surprise by them. You need to have plans in place for dealing with such upheavals and slowdowns, or else you’ll be flattened by them.

Read Part Three.

Richard Worzel is a plenary speaker at BC HRMA’s 49th Annual Conference, April 14-15, 2011. He will be presenting Dark Clouds & Silver Linings: Human Resources Management in BC’s Future. For more information on this and other sessions, please refer to bchrma.org/conf2011.

Leading forecaster and futurist Richard Worzel challenges organizations to examine the future and plan for the dizzying changes to come. A chartered financial analyst, he is also a best-selling author and frequent media commentator on business and economic trends. www.futuresearch.com/futureblog/

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