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The Future Is Wow

The future is clear to me. It’s the present that I don’t understand. Although it seems hard to imagine, listening to the daily, hourly, and minutely breaking news stories on the collapse of capitalism and the complete breakdown of civilization, a bright and amazing future will soon be upon us. The bridges and schools will get fixed, windmills and solar arrays will be built, your car will plug in to your cell phone charger, and your cell phone will learn to fly.

As Professor Jim Dator says, “Any useful idea about the future should appear to be ridiculous.” Here are some ridiculous things that will be happening soon, according to the latest forecast from The Futurist magazine: By the year 2030, everything you do and say will be recorded. I’m not talking about just the people that the NSA or the CIA have the hots for. I mean everybody will be under constant surveillance by a network of “ubiquitous, unseen nanodevices.” But the good news is you’ll never have to search for a wi-fi hotspot. Using nanoimplants, humans will have their own built-in wi-fi capabilities to interact endlessly with the entire world-wide-web of humanity. And “since nano storage capacity is almost limitless, all conversation and activity will be recorded and recoverable.” So you’ll never have to worry about forgetting something you said or did. Instead, you’ll have to worry about being reminded of every stupid thing you ever said or did for the rest of your life.

Not only will you be wired, but so will your clothes. The fashion industry will create the latest styles out of SFIT (smart fabrics and intelligent textiles). Products such as jeans that change color to match your shoes or nail polish will become common, as will shirts that monitor your heart and other vital body functions. Yes, your shirt will know you’re getting sick before you do and nag you to go home and have some chicken soup. There will also be wristwatches that double as digital wallets and running shoes that watch where you’re going, to help keep you from smashing into things while you’re preoccupied with your iPhone or iGlasses. There are also startling military applications for SFIT. By 2020, nanomachines, controlled by on-board computers in soldier’s uniforms, will be able to change the properties of fabric from flexible to bullet-proof, to treat wounds, and to filter out chemical and biological weapons. Clothes might also be able to spray tear gas at an assailant or, if you’re in a friendlier mood, perfume.

Another of The Futurist’s forecasts is based on looking at the increase in enrollment of unusual college majors. Increases often foretell a growth in new career specialties. For example, instead of majoring in business management, many students are now choosing such majors as sustainable business and entrepreneurship. Perhaps these students realize that with large corporations laying off thousands, they won’t be hiring as many managers to boss around the few employees that are left. Instead, kids with an interest in business will have to figure out how to start and sustain their own companies. Other unusual majors on the upswing include nanotechnology, computer forensics, and comic book art. That’s right, while the sales of many print publications have collapsed, the market for comic books and graphic novels has grown 12 percent since 2006. So don’t force your kid to finish his Latin or trigonometry homework, make him draw some cartoons!

Or, possibly, kids might want to work in a different segment of the publishing industry that is also on the upswing: The development of sophisticated new scanning technologies is expected to lead to a significant boon for currency counterfeiters. As a result, many countries are moving toward cashless technologies. The banks in the U.S. are at the forefront of this, as their vaults are now almost entirely empty of cash.

A disheartening trend for those of us who thought we were finally done with school after we graduated from college is that professional knowledge will soon become obsolete almost as quickly as it’s learned. Most professions will require that practitioners have continuous instruction and retraining, in order to keep up with the expanding knowledge base. I’ll state this simply: In the future, you will have to go to school for your entire life. So let me be the first to say, “We want more recess! And less homework!”

As the 20th century was dominated by the nuclear arms race, the future is likely to become a human enhancement race, with rival governments, corporations, and criminal organizations working feverishly to leapfrog each other’s abilities to create biomedically and genetically superior human beings. The good guys and bad guys (the winners get to decide who is who) will race to create bigger, stronger, smarter, more disease-resistant soldiers, politicians, and other true believers in their systems. Some of the side benefits of this race will be things like drugs that can improve your intelligence, over-the-counter methods for repairing and regenerating malfunctioning internal organs, and the holy grail for all us bald guys – hair.

For those of us who always hoped that the future might include more help around the house, another technology race is already taking place between South Korea and Japan. South Korea has mandated that there be a robot in every home by 2020, while Japan hopes to accomplish the same goal by 2015. “I say, Jeeves, bring me another gin and hair-growth tonic, and make it snappy!”

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