Do you ever look at old movies and TV shows that tried to predict what our current times would be like? Some were way off, while others were surprisingly prescient. Sure, alien robots haven’t enslaved humanity (unless they have, and we just don’t know it because we’re all in the matrix like Elon Musk seems to believe) and hoverboards aren’t yet in widespread use (although Nike did get around to inventing those self tying shoes from Back To The Future: Part II) but there’s a lot they did get right. Wearable mobile technology that would seem like the stuff of science fiction a few days ago is no longer an awesome novelty, it’s a remarkably quotidian reality. Go to Times Square and you’ll see enormous digital billboards that look eerily similar to the kind used in Blade Runner and nobody bats an eyelid. Weird Science isn’t quite so weird now that 3D printing has become a thing and the kinds of prosthetics that are transforming the lives of real people every day make the kind worn by the likes of Darth Vader or Robocop seem almost primitive by comparison.
The kind of ubiquitous technology that we not only take for granted but rely upon for everything from buying groceries to keeping in touch with friends overseas would have been mind boggling to our parents when they were our age. Technology is moving at such a blistering pace that it can seem as though the world will seem like a very different place when today’s babies are entering the world of work. Heck, there may not even be a world of work. The means of production and industry may be so heavily mechanized that we’ll have so little to do that we’ll simply hover around on floating chairs consuming media and cupcakes in a cup like in Wall E. There’s no denying that the world will seem like a very different place in a scant few decades but we’re sowing the seeds for massive technological change right now in our time. Here we’ll look at just some of the ways in which the technology of today could completely transform the reality of tomorrow. Whether that’s a good or bad thing will be up to you to decide…
Genetic editing may make deadly diseases a thing of the past
We’re currently locked in a battle with our own mortality, but the trappings of modern living seem to be working against us rather than for us. We have so much access to high calorie, low nutrient convenience food, we spend so long sitting down every day and we seem to be getting so little exercise that we will likely have a very different set of health problems to contend with in 50 years time. Fortunately, however, thanks to huge advances in genetic editing over the past decade or so, it could be that at least we won’t have previously incurable diseases to deal with.
Take a look at Poseida Therapeutics’ website and you’ll see how genetic editing techniques have already started to become potentially life saving therapies. Medical science has been laboring to crack the cancer nut for some time now and it looks as though genetic editing may be the technology that sees us completely eliminate this horrendous disease within our lifetimes.
CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat) is a relatively recent breakthrough and while it may sound like something you apply to oven baked french fries, it has actually made genetic editing far more viable than previously suspected and holds the keys to eliminating a range of diseases previously thought to be incurable. While cancer is the highest profile target on its hit list, HIV and even herpes simplex could theoretically be cured through gene editing. Even hereditary diseases like Huntington’s or hemophilia could become a thing of the past.
While the designer babies debate will and should rage on, the prospect of preventing these often agonizing and debilitating diseases should at the very least be entertained.
It may also make our veggies tastier and more nutritious
We all know that the fastest route to health is through a healthy diet. This means loading up on lots of fresh fruit and veggies and cutting down on high fat, high sugar, high salt, low nutrition processed foods. These foods give us the fiber, protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats that are necessary to maintain a healthy body, not to mention all those phytonutrients that help to keep disease at bay. But given how hard and how long most of us work, getting our daily quota of fresh fruits and veggies can be tricky, especially in the quantities that we need to maintain peak health. Genetic editing could conceivably be used to not only produce higher yield crop plants but to ensure that the fruits and veggies grown contain more nutrients per pound.
It could also completely transform the aging process
Have you ever noticed how some people look very different to their younger selves while others seem practically ageless by comparison. While how much they smoke or drink, the kind of food they eat and even how much water they drink can all play a huge part in how well you age, genetics remains the single biggest piece of the puzzle.
Genetic editing could see us halt the aging process in its tracks, making wrinkles and gray hairs a forgotten memory.
Extinct species could walk the Earth once more
Whether by accident or by design the recently released Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom just might be more scientifically prescient than many of us would give it credit for. Genetic editing could theoretically be used to bring extinct species back into the ecosystem. In one case this has already been done with some success. The Quagga (an equine cousin of the zebra) has been extinct for centuries but was resurrected in South Africa as a result of genetic engineering and selective breeding. Needless to say this poses numerous logistical, environmental and ethical questions. Is it morally right to introduce an extinct animal into an ecosystem which has learned to get by without it? But given that we as a species are responsible for such devastation to the planet’s wildlife through climate change, habitat loss, animal agriculture and hunting, perhaps we owe the animal kingdom one?
We’ll no longer need to kill animals to eat meat
There’s no denying that we in the west have a meat addiction. The US alone will eat over 100 billion pounds of meat before this year is out. You don’t need to be an ecologist to predict that if population growth continues at the same rate this will cease to be sustainable. While few can deny the satisfaction that can be found in a juicy double bacon cheeseburger, we need more than ever to think about the ecological cost of the food on our plate. Particularly when it comes to beef. Agriculture consumes 80-90% of the US’ water consumption and around 56% of this is used growing feed for livestock. Either livestock or livestock feed occupies one third of the world’s habitable land. Animal agriculture is the world’s leading source of pollution, deforestation, animal habitat loss and species extinction. And that’s without even getting into the cruelty involved in keeping and slaughtering these animals for the meat and dairy industry.
This is a huge factor in the rising tide of veganism. It has also led to the development of plant based proteins that look, taste and even bleed like real meat. Given the choice, most of us would prefer a completely plant based burger that offers the same gratification over a burger that contributes to the slow burn through our planets finite natural resources.
Even if plant based substitutes aren’t your thing, lab grown meats are being produced in laboratories right now which could revolutionize food production on a global scale. No more animal suffering, no more destruction of rainforests… But lots and lots of cheeseburgers for all!
We may eschew real life shopping for virtual malls
The rise of digital technologies has already irrevocably transformed the world of retail. While we’re still buying and consuming products, we’re venturing outside less and less to do so. Yet, despite the rise and rise of e-commerce, the retail sector maintains that it will never be replaced by e-commerce because of the unique experience it offers shoppers.
But could that all be about to change? As we become more and more familiar with virtual and augmented reality technologies, it’s not hard to imagine how these could change the shopping experience. Retail giant Walmart has already responded enthusiastically to VR shopping and from a business point of view it’s easy to see why moving away from the in-store experience might be appealing to retailers. As drone technology becomes more refined and affordable, retailers could find that logistics offers far fewer overheads than managing a physical store. As chatbots and other consumer facing AI becomes more sophisticated, retail employees may be a quaint anachronism by the time our kids enter the job market.
For better or for worse, the world of tomorrow may well be a very different place. Are you excited?