In the year 2015, babies barely able to talk will attend school, checkbooks could be a not-so-fond memory, doctors might have the ability to zap cells gone awry, and cars will drive themselves — or maybe even fly.
Most Americans have a hard time embracing the future beyond 2005 New Year’s resolutions, but for some, contemplating what lies ahead is a full-time job.
These are the futurists, the trend-spotters, strategists, forecasters or visionaries. They will tell you about flying cars and miracle cures, but they also focus on the subtle aspects of life, or alert you to the possible use of DNA technology for nefarious purposes.
Denver’s Kim Long, for example, has given a lot of thought to what he sees as the next development in education: packed preschools.
“The echo boomers in the leading edge of Generation Y are getting out of college and going into their prime child-bearing years, and this coincides with the tail-end of the baby boomers still having babies,” says Long, founder and editor of the American Forecaster, an annual publication that goes to reference libraries, schools and businesses.
Given the widespread support for early childhood education, Long foresees an era in which kindergarten could become mandatory and children might routinely be placed in preschool as early as age 2, “when kids are just learning to talk.”
Thomas Frey, a former IBM researcher, follows demographic trends, too. But his passion is anticipating the emergence of new products and services — and the corresponding disappearance of old ones.
“When you can predict that something will happen, you can extrapolate back and figure out what kind of breakthroughs are needed to make it come to pass. Out of this process, entrepreneurial opportunities arise,” says Frey, the founder of a Louisville-based think tank known as the DaVinci Institute.
Among his predictions for the next 10 years: the end of checkbooks, fax machines, AM-FM radios, cable TV, home phone lines, drill-and-fill dentistry and invasive surgery. And the beginning of — what?
“I always tell people that the next big thing is already out there. It was invented 25 years ago,” Frey says. But as was the case with the Internet (invented in 1969) and cell phones (1973), “it takes an entire generation for things to kick in.”
Louis Hornyak, a University of Denver physicist who is spearheading a fledgling effort to promote nanotechnology in Colorado, says engineering at the molecular level may enhance everyday life in numerous ways: tennis balls that don’t lose their bounce, car finishes that can’t be scratched, mattresses that can’t be stained.
But the most satisfying advances, he suggests, may come in medicine, through the use of microscopic sensors that help doctors spot diseased or errant cells, then zap them with heat or chemicals.
“The drawback of a regular drug is that it goes through your whole body. That’s why you have these terrible side effects, with huge headaches and nausea,” Hornyak says. “If you can deliver a nano-sized particle to an individual cell, you avoid all this, and it can be eliminated through regular bodily processes.”