Forecasts for the Future of Healthcare

World Future Society's special report on 20 Forecasts for 2011-2025FORESIGHT may be the single most critical skill for the 21st Century.

Knowledge quickly goes out of date, but foresight enables you to anticipate and navigate change, make good decisions, and take action to create a better future. It’s why I’ve been a member of the Central Texas chapter of the World Future Society for years, where I meet interesting people with widely varied perspectives of the future. It’s also why I participate in so many Linkedin discussion groups on emerging healthcare issues.

9 Forecasts for the Future of Healthcare

The following nine forecasts came from the World Future Society’s special report, 20 Forecasts for 2011-2025. It’s a promotional piece to attract new members who then get a subscription to The Futurist magazine.

Forecast #1: The Race for Genetic Enhancements Will Be What the Space Race Was in the 20th Century. Genetic therapies and biomedical enhancements will be a multibillion-dollar industry. New techniques will enable doctors to change your DNA to revitalize old or diseased organs, enhance your appearance, increase your athletic ability, or boost your intelligence.

Forecast #4: By 2025, the Worldwide Average Life-Span Will Be Extended by One year Per Year. Only 15% of deaths worldwide will be due to naturally occurring infectious diseases.

Forecast #5: Bioviolence Becomes a Greater Threat. In the next decade, biological technologies that were once at the frontiers of science will become available to anyone with minimal scientific training. Emerging biotechnologies, such as genomics and nanotechnology, will allow bacteria and viruses to be altered to increase their lethality or make them more resistant to antibiotics.

Forecast #6: Invention Becomes Automated. Tomorrow’s inventors won’t toil away in workshops painstakingly building, testing and refining their creations. Instead, the Edisons of the next decade will spend their days writing descriptions of the problems they want to solve, and then hand those descriptions to computers to work out the solutions.

Because of the explosive nature of exponential growth, the twenty-first century will be equivalent to twenty thousand years of progress at today’s rate of progress; about one thousand times greater than the 20th century. – futurist Ray Kurzweil, noting that all of us will spend the rest of our lives in the future.

Forecast #7: Japan Dominates the Race for Personal (and healthcare) Robots. Despite the popularity of the Roomba floor sweeper, the U.S. lags behind Japan in the development of robots for the home. The Japanese are hoping to have a robot in every home by 2015. Korea is following suit and has mandated a robot in every home by 2020.

Forecast #9: The ‘Holy Grail’ of Computers Becomes a Reality. The advent of human-level artificial intelligence—a machine capable of the richness of expression and nuance of thought that we associate with humanity—promises to generate tremendous wealth for inventors and companies that develop it. Computers with artificial intelligence (AI) will be able to learn and think. They’ll be able to handle complex tasks such as navigating a car through traffic or diagnosing a complex illness.

Forecast #15: The Millennial Generation Will Have Major Impacts on Society. The millennial generation, born between 1982 and 1998, will have a huge impact on every aspect of society in ways similar to their parents, the Baby Boomers. Some futurists believe Millennials are the next “great generation” of U.S. society, exhibiting many of the heroic qualities of the World War II generation of Americans. Millennials have a strong entrepreneurial bent. Twice as many say they would prefer to own a business rather than be a top executive.

We can do nothing to change the past, but we have enormous power to shape the future. – Edward Cornish, Founder, World Future Society

Forecast #16: Quantum Computers Revolutionalize Information. A new revolution in computing may make computers exponentially faster than today. It’s based on the strange behavior of matter at the quantum level. A quantum computer could easily complete in seconds a task that would take a silicon computer billions of years. The first research prototypes are now running at Harvard University, the National Security Agency, and the Federal Reserve. These revolutionary computers may be on the market in about ten years.

MiniTrends, by John Vanston, PhDForecast #20: Genetic Research May Soon Conquer Most Inherited Diseases. Exciting research points the way to finding cures for diseases such hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, a number of cancers, and AIDS. Eventually, some 4,000 hereditary disorders may be prevented or cured through genetic intervention. One California firm has even developed techniques that allow it to rewrite the patient’s own DNA, rather than replacing it, to correct hereditary errors.

The inspiration for Modern Health Talk

These trends represent ripples of good ideas, but it’s the unnoticed intersection where opportunities lay. That’s the concept of MiniTrends, a book by John Vanston that I strongly endorse. I’ve known John for years and did consulting work for his company, Technology Futures. His book inspired the vision of Modern Health Talk, because it helped me see unfulfilled opportunity at the intersection of trends as shown below.

Trends Overlap: boomers, costs, telemedicine, sensors, wireless broadband, telepresence, mobile apps, and social mediaTHE CHART: Boomer demographics exacerbate rising healthcare costs, especially institutional care, driving the critical need for healthcare reform. Our extended recession places great political pressure on the ability to save $1 trillion per year by replacing the need for long term institutional care with home healthcare for half of the patients. This can be done with home modifications for aging in place, combined with Wireless Broadband and cloud computing, mobile apps, telepresence, telemedicine, Digital sensors that monitor biomarkers and the environment, and other related technologies.

Modern Health Talk is at the intersection of these trends, using the web and social media to help people discover and learn about these new technologies.

How fast will this happen?

Consider the labor and healthcare implicatio­ns of extending Moore’s Law out 50 years since these futurist prediction­s could all happen in our lifetime. According to Ray Kurzweil:

  • By 2013, a supercompu­ter will have the reasoning and processing capacity of the Human Brain;
  • By 2023, a $1,000 home computer will have that power, and by 2037, a $0.01 embedded computer will; AND…
  • By 2049, a $1,000 computer will have the power of the human RACE, and by 2059, a $0.01 computer will.

Next, consider that people are living longer and longer, but not necessarily healthier. Do we (will we) need them all? Google only searches and finds informatio­n today. It doesn’t interpret it or turn it into insight and initiate action on it’s own. It’s not self-aware­, yet.

If you enjoy these thoughts and want to share your own, add a comment below, connect with some of the Linkedin groups, or join visionary organizations like the World Future Society.

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