Timeline for the Future: Potential Developments and Likely Impacts: Designer Babies, Fiber-Optic Plants, Synthetic Celebrities, and More. a Timeline Suggests When We'll See the Evolving Technologies That Will Radically Reshape Human Life

Article excerpt

In Future Shock (1970), Alvin Toffler wrote that technology had accelerated the pace of change so much that people were beginning to lose their moorings. The old, familiar world in which they had grown up was vanishing so quickly that they no longer knew where they stood. The result was a pervasive insecurity that could only get worse as the transformation gained still greater speed. In particular, long-term planning would become increasingly difficult.

At that time, the personal computer, which would prove to be the greatest single force for change since the Industrial Revolution, had yet to be invented. Genetic engineering was barely a fantasy, and nanotechnology was even further in the future. In 1970, clearly, technology still had a lot of accelerating to do, and chances are that it still does.

In order to better understand what's happening, let's look at the product cycle. The useful life of a product goes through four stages:

* Idea (a theoretical breakthrough, such as something that would be considered for a Nobel Prize).

* Invention (a patentable prototype).

* Innovation (the first consumer product).

* Imitation (cheap competitors flooding the discount stores).

Early in the twentieth century, the product cycle was 40 years. By World War II, the cycle had shrunk to 30 years. Today, for most consumer products, it is about six months. In computers and cutting-edge electronics, it is more like six weeks. Bring out a really hot product and it is likely to be reverse-engineered manufactured in China, and available on eBay in two weeks or less.

With this rapid evolution in mind, it is worthwhile to ask what technology has in store for us. The timeline presented here offers some basic information to help with planning for the years ahead. Each of the innovations on this list represents a general kind of change. The timeline deals with emerging opportunities and their potential impacts on our lives, rather than with any particular toys.

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About the Timeline for the future

This timeline was first developed by British Telecommunications in 1991. It has been updated every two or three years under the leadership of futurologist Ian Pearson of Futurizon GmbH in Ipswich. Forecasting International's update of the 2005 timeline has been assembled form the work of six contributors. Our panelists were:

* Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at the NASA Langley Research Center.

                 2010-2014          2016-2019         2020-2024

Artificial       Behavior alarms    25% of TV         Machine knowledge
Intelligence     based on human     celebrities are   exceeds human
and Artificial   mistake            synthetic 2015    knowledge 2020
Life             recognition 2010

                 Software is                          Electronic
                 trained, rather                      life-form given
                 than written                         basic rights 2020
                 2010

                 Artificial                           Artificial insects
                 nervous systems                      and small animals
                 for autonomous                       with artificial
                 robots 2010                          brains 2020

Biotechnology,   Retinal implants   Artificial heart  Artificial liver
Health, and      linked to          (lab-cultured or  2020
Medicine         external video     entirely
                 cameras 2010       synthetic) 2015

                 Designer babies    Some implants     Nanobots in
                 2012               start to be seen  toothpaste attack
                                    as status         plaque 2020
                                    symbols 2017

                                    Artificial        Fully functioning
                                    lungs, kidneys    artificial eyes
                                    2017              2020

                                                      Artificial
                                                      peripheral nerves
                                                      2020

Business and     80% of U. … 

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