Cell-Phone Tie Clasps? Artificial Intelligence? Technology: The Next 20 Years

By Schmitt, Anne | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 27, 1998 | Go to article overview

Cell-Phone Tie Clasps? Artificial Intelligence? Technology: The Next 20 Years


Schmitt, Anne, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Anne Schmitt Daily Herald Business Writer

In the next year, we'll see better digital cameras, more powerful disk drives, better voice-recognition software and the introduction of Windows 98.

But what technologies will the next 20 years bring? How will our lives be changed by the technology of the future?

As last week's Comdex Spring Computer Show presented some of the technologies and gadgets that will go on the market within the year, three futurists spent an evening last week at the Field Museum of Chicago talking about the long term, the next 20 years of technology.

Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, independent futurist Hazel Henderson, and Jean-Louis Gassee, chairman and chief executive of Be Inc., gave their visions of the future, tempered, at times, by thoughts on our human frailties, the potential ethical dilemmas and the boundaries of science.

Talking jewelry

The defining difference between technology today and technology 20 years from now will be the availability of very low-cost computer chips, predicts Michio Kaku, an author and professor of theoretical physics at City University of New York. Twenty years from now, a computer chip will cost one penny, making the technology cheap enough to put in endless new devices.

So how will our everyday lives be different?

We still won't have robots because artificial intelligence will not have advanced enough, but jewelry will have the power of a personal computer, Kaku says.

We will have a wristwatch that accesses the Internet. We will wear a cell phone as small as a tie clasp. Earrings will link to global positioning satellites that know our location within 20 feet, Kaku said.

The practice of health care also will change.

"Your ring will monitor your heartbeat, and if you have a sudden heart attack, your clothes will alert the ambulance," Kaku predicts.

A visit to the doctor's office in 2020 will involve talking to a virtual holographic doctor. The "doctor" will take and analyze a piece of skin, collecting information about every single gene in your body on a credit card.

Science will eradicate some of the thousands of genetic diseases that still plague us today; a shot in the arm will cure diseases such as cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia and Tay-Sachs disease, Kaku said.

Technology even will change the way we age.

Already, a company has successfully doubled the life of human skin in a petri dish, Kaku said. In just five to 10 years, scientists will be able to grow livers in the laboratory.

All these advances, however, pose new ethical quandaries for us as we move forward, Kaku said. For, if we know and can change the genes that cause disease, what's to stop us from choosing the physical attributes and abilities of our children?

"We're going to have to control this technology. It is powerful, it is the power of a god. But do we have the wisdom of Solomon to control this power?"

More bartering

Besides the ethical dilemmas, evolving technology will change international economies and challenge governments, said Hazel Henderson, who has written articles in 250 journals, magazines and newspapers, including The Harvard Business Review.

Nations will work together in the next five years to hammer out an international treaty on Internet standards, she said. …

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