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Another View: What the Future Holds | Batavick

Frank J. Batavick Columnist | CNBNewsnet

Do you ever get the feeling that you are suddenly in the distant future, the future you used to Images-2read about all of the time but didn’t think you’d be around to experience? Well, I do. When my wife and I were undecorating the Christmas tree in early January her iPhone rang. Two of our grandkids, ages seven and four, were calling and, as it happened, they also were undecorating their tree. Using FaceTime, we could see each other as we spoke and they showed us where they had dumped their now-forlorn tree outside. For them, it was just another experience in another day. For me, it was a Buck Rogers moment.

Technological change is happening at warp speed and I never cease to be amazed by the latest gadgets. I can only guess what life will be like when our grandchildren are adults and what fantastic inventions will be commonplace. But that doesn’t mean this guess has to be uneducated. Periodicals from The AARP Magazine to The New Yorker delight in giving us a peek under the flap of the future’s tent where Disney’s Tomorrowland looks as dated as its Frontierland.

Here are some current examples:

Scientists are working on computers that recognize human emotion. This “affective computing” uses a camera to scan the face to identify a whole range of feelings— happiness, confusion, surprise, disgust, etc. Ten years from now, after an unsuccessful research effort on Google, you might hear your computer say, “I sense you aren’t happy with this response.” Retailers see affective computing as a sure way to test the public’s reaction to new car models or ads for deodorants.

Just like Tom Cruise in 2002’s futuristic Minority Report, you’ll soon be able to wave your hands over your desktop computer’s keyboard and move the cursor without clicking a mouse or touching the screen.

For some, debilitating back pain may become a thing of the past. Fine wires implanted in the spinal cord and powered by a small generator will deliver electrical signals to block out any pain.

Engineers are developing “smart” bandages that use wireless sensors and nanotechnology to monitor vitals like respiration, heart rate and temperature.

A new generation of contact lenses will measure glucose levels and detect diseases like cancer.

Apple now has a fitness app pre-installed on iPhones that can gather data from wearable devices like the Fitbit to measure calories burned, respiration and heart rate, blood sugar, cholesterol, etc.

Tech writers are predicting an Internet of Things, a time when all digital devices talk to each other without prompting. As you return home from work on a chilly night, your car will read the outside temperature, sense your behavioral and physiological data through the dashboard, and send a message to your house thermostat to turn up the heat accordingly.  

CAT scans will come to look old-fashioned when medical researchers perfect minuscule electronic devices that can be implanted in your body to monitor physiological processes, diagnose illnesses, and deliver therapies for diseases like Parkinson’s.

You are not alone if you see pattern in all of this. Computers promise to become more intimate and body-intrusive as scientists figure out ways to meld them to ourselves, including brain-computer interfaces to increase intelligence. This may bring to fruition a prediction by futurist Ray Kurzweil that he termed the Singularity. He believes that by 2045, a mere 31 years from now, humans will transcend biology and become “one” with the computer through advances in such fields as artificial intelligence, genetics, and nanotechnology. Highly developed machine intelligence will supplement the human brain so that it far exceeds anything it is capable of now. Kurzweil asserts this quantum advance in human IQ and health will trigger the dawning of a new civilization. That’s quite a heady thought. What could go wrong?

To initiate telegraph service between Baltimore and Washington in 1844, inventor Samuel F.B. Morse sent a message he borrowed and rephrased from the Bible’s Book of Numbers 23:23, “What hath God Wrought?” As we hurdle down the corridors of science to create this race of new Adams and Eves, we might well paraphrase this question by asking “What has man wrought?” I hope in 2045 the answer is one the world can live with and that will serve us well.

Frank Batavick is a graduate of Gloucester Catholic (‘63) and La Salle University ('67) with over 40 years of experience as a television writer/producer/director for public TV and media companies in IN and NJ.  He has also served as adjunct faculty and visiting professor in Communications at colleges and universities in NY and MD. Frank now lives in MD with his wife Dori (GCHS, ‘63), where he is the vice chair of the Historical Society of Carroll County’s board of trustees, editor of the Carroll History Journal, and a weekly columnist and occasional feature writer for the Carroll County Times.

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