Forecasts given for the new world

A team of scientists and engineers at a Columbus, Ohio research institute has compiled a list of the most strategic technological trends that will shape business and the world over the next 20 years.

While some may want more crystal-ball gazing as much as another Y2K incident, they may want to consider the purpose behind the educated guesses.

“It is our responsibility to provide thought leadership which will indicate to the public the most prominent technology of the day,” said Stephen Millett, thought leader and manager of the 71-year-old Battelle Memorial Institute – a non-profit corporation that dedicates itself to serving industry and the American government in developing new technologies and products.

Millett said Battelle moves about $1 billion worth of business volume per year through its technological development, management and commercialization projects. The 21-year Battelle veteran added he regards his organization’s insights as provocative.

“I call them thought leadership,” Millett said. “We had 14 participants come together over a three hour session…we address issues or products based on three criteria: It has to be paid for by the customer; propriety, that being someone holds a patent or ownership on it; and it has to have legitimate business goals, in essence, profitability.”

Following are Battelle’s forecasts:

Genetic-based medical and health care. Over the next 20 years, the human race will bear witness to an explosion of medical technology originating from genetic research, giving us the ability to detect and correct many genetic-based diseases before they arise, possibly even starting in the womb. A wide range of pharmaceuticals deriving from genetic research will come onto the market leading to treatments, cures, and preventative measures. Battelle forecasters also say genetic research will lead to cloned human organs which will be grown for transplants.

High-power energy packages. Developments such as highly advanced batteries, inexpensive fuel cells, and micro electrical generators will make many products and appliances highly mobile. Decentralized power sources will be extensive, affordable and environmentally clean. These new, high-powered distributed energy systems will provide backup if not primary energy sources for appliances, homes and vehicles. In the transition to fuel cells, we will see further improvements in batteries – perhaps linked with solar power – and small generators fuelled by natural gas.

Green Integrated Technology. Global crowding, fears of global climate change, and mountains of garbage will thrust environmental concerns to the forefront of consumers and industry around the world. Technology will provide the answers with new systems that eliminate rather than reduce waste. GrinTech will be especially important in agriculture, mining, manufacturing and transportation systems.

Omnipresent Computing.Computers will be everywhere. We will be in constant contact with miniature, wireless, highly-mobile, powerful and highly-personalized computing. Such units may first appear on the market as watches or jewellery with the power of a computer and cellular phone. Later, we will have computers embedded in our clothing and possibly implanted under our skin.

Nanomachines Microscopic machines, measured in atoms rather than millimetres, will revolutionize several industries and perform a wide range of jobs – from heating homes to curing cancer. Battelle sees the medical industry as the most important area for nanomachine technology by 2020. Nanomachines also could be used to deliver drugs to highly localized places in the body, to clean arteries, and repair the heart, brain and other organs without surgery.

Personalized Public Transit. The continuing growth of cities will further stress our transportation infrastructure, yet Battelle researchers say an ageing population with concerns about safety, convenience and independence will maintain demand for personal vehicles. The challenge is to integrate individual cars within a coordinated and optimized public transportation network. New IT in your car will work with a central traffic control system to guide you to the quickest route to your destination. Traffic jams and road rage will decline substantially as people drive their cars to remote parking areas and take highly advanced and comfortable trains into central cities and between cites.

Intelligent Goods and Appliances. Advances in quantum computing will lead to smaller, more powerful computers and electronics that will add amazing intelligence to appliances and other products. These products will likely include telephones with extensive phone directories, intelligent food packaging that tells your oven how to cook the food, refrigerators that help make out your shopping list and tell you where to get the best price on the food you need, and maybe even a toaster that won’t burn your toast.

Super Senses. One of the hot technologies today is virtual reality. In 20 years, we will be marvelling over “enhanced reality.” Using sensors and electronic or genetic technology, we will be able to hear better or see further in the dark.

Of the forecasts that made this particular list, Millett admitted he thought the DNA-medicinal prediction to be the most likely to appear in the coming years.

“I am a great believer in human biological engineering,” he remarked. “With DNA (research), we’re on the verge of a revolution of understanding human biology…I’d compare it to (the significance of) splitting the atom in 1939.”

He did warn, however, of placing too much significance on the fore tellings. “This is a piece of thought leadership, we’re not claiming to have 20/20 foresight,” he explained. “There is no data for the future…we are open to hearing other persons’ views and discussing those opinions.”