Imagining the future is hard. Really hard. You can have a great time on youtube watching people from the past predicting what the world will look like in the future. Like the Dutch journalist in 1999*, asking a woman if she has a mobile phone: “Don’t be ridiculous! What if I’m on my bicycle? And someone calls me? That would be funny!”. Of course, now we know this image became reality in less than 10 years. TEDxMaastricht speaker Tim Hurson says it best in his book: “Looking forward it seems impossible, looking back it seems inevitable.” However, there are people who have the gift to think the impossible, like Henry Ford. And his famous quote** says it all: “If I had asked what people wanted, they would have asked for a better horse”. Now, my question to you: do you dare to imagine the future?
I say “dare” because I think the changes we’ll see in the future will be profound and maybe even shocking. Let’s start by looking at some very recent discoveries. For instance the technique developed by MIT that uses ordinary video footage of a human face to measure it’s heart rate. It does that by amplifying almost invisible changes in skin color caused by the flow of blood. Low tech, high impact. Or the news that an infant is functionally cured from HIV. And the possibilities and potential of a newly discovered material called graphene. Graphene is a one atom thick layer of carbon, one of the most common elements on our planet. Not only is it extremely strong but it also can be made into a battery that charges in minutes and lasts for days. Discoveries like these constantly make me think: what’s next?
Ray Kurzweil has made it his life’s work to look into the future and might point us in the right direction. By studying many aspects of human progress he has discovered a trend that will lead to what he calls the singularity. In respect to everyday life, progress may seem slow and linear. We assume that progress will go at the same pace it does now. But that’s where we’re wrong, because progress has an exponential pace. The best known examples are speed and memory of computers, doubling every two years while getting cheaper all the time. But this trend applies to almost anything you can think of. The implication is that one day computers will exceed the capacity and capabilities of the human brain, ushering in a new era of unprecedented progress. This point in time is the singularity and because of the exponential nature of progress this may be sooner than you think. Kurzweil predicts the singularity will happen somewhere near 2045.
What will this mean for medicine, health and wellbeing? Nanobots in your blood that monitor your health 24/7, warning you for the flu days in advance. Cures for cancer, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Life expectancy well beyond a 150 years while being able to do work and sports all the time. Who knows! I’m not saying this is all going to happen, but I’m very sure I will see many breakthroughs like these in my lifetime. It’s really hard to imagine what the future holds for us but I believe it’s much brighter than most people think it will be. I challenge you to think about a future with less diseases and endless possibilities, and keep this in mind while you do your part in making this future reality.
*Unfortunately, the clip was taken offline by the copyright owner after it became a little sensation on social media earlier this year.
** There is no hard evidence Henry Ford actually said those words. But I like to believe he did. At least they capture his vision very well.