We can expect significant change in the next five to ten years in nano technology, bio-genetic engineering, information technology, robotics, pharmacology, neurology, and human-machine interface implants. Some of those changes seem today like science fiction fantasies.
But anyone born around 1970 or earlier may be able to remember technology in 1990. That year CIA personnel showed me a camera that had no film. They planned to plug it in to a satellite telephone and somehow transmit pictures from the camera in Iraq to a desktop computer in Virginia. I was amazed and incredulous: "How do you take pictures without film?" By 2000 I was sitting in a room in CIA headquarters in Virginia seeing live images from a robot aircraft flying on the other side of the globe: "Follow that red truck that's leaving the al Qaeda camp."
In 1990 few of us used the Internet in any way or imagined that we would soon be carrying a Star Trek-like personal communicator that would be connected to the Internet, yet now I cannot imagine life without my Blackberry. In 1990 if you told a cop that guilt or innocence would soon be proven by matching suspects' DNA genetic signature with microscopic evidence found at crime scenes, they would probably investigate what illegal drug you were taking. Politicians would have been even more dubious then that televised election ads would soon focus on the issue of research to use fetal stem cells.
Some people today find it hard to believe the technological advances that have already taken place. As a test, ask someone if they believe that paralyzed people have already succeeded in moving a computer mouse with brain waves. Ask them if people already have electronic devices in their bodies sending messages directly into the brain. Ask them if we have already succeeded in growing body parts like, say, a bladder.
Throughout history, radical change resulting from technological change has caused sociological, economic, political, and religious upheaval. When the Industrial Revolution took place in England, some resisted and tried to smash the new equipment. When abortion clinics were established in some communities in the US, they were struck by bombings and other violence. How will some communities in the US react to genetic engineering that creates "enhanced" babies? What will be the reaction to humans with extensive electronic and nano implants, pharmaceutical enhancement, and genetic upgrades?
A recent Scientific American cover story featured Bill Gates's belief that homes will routinely have robots a decade from now. Are you so sure he's wrong? Let's hope they don't use a Windows operating system.
Books mentioned in this post
Richard A. Clarke is the author of Breakpoint