“Human actions could become more accurately predictable, thanks to neuroscience. Nano-sized robots will deliver cancer-fighting drugs directly to their targets. And though many recently lost jobs may never come back, people will find plenty to do (and get paid for) in the future,” according to forecasts you’ll find in this roundup of the most thought-provoking possibilities and ideas published in The Futurist magazine over the past year.
I’ve extracted the following Health & Medicine forecasts from the World Future Society’s special report, Outlook 2013. It’s a promotional piece to attract new members who then get a subscription to The Futurist.
- Better health, but fewer doctors.
A projected shortage of more than 90,000 doctors by 2020 will drive technological innovations such as low-cost, point-of-care diagnostics—i.e., Lab-on-a-Chip technologies. A cell-phone-sized device could analyze your blood or sputum while you talk to a health provider from the comfort of your home. —Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, “The Abundance Builders,” July-Aug 2012,p. 17
- Robots may become gentler caregivers.
Lifting and transferring frail patients may be easier for robots than for human caregivers, but their strong arms typically lack sensitivity. Japanese researchers are improving the functionality of the RIBA II (Robot for Interactive Body Assistance), lining its arms and chest with sensors so it lift its patients more gently. —Tomorrow in Brief, Nov-Dec 2011, p. 2 (mHealthTalk has other articles tagged Robots here.)
- Smart helmets will rapidly detect brain injuries.
Contact sports will become smarter and less dangerous, thanks to helmets that detect concussions. By 2015, high-school football players could be wearing smart helmets that rapidly detect abnormalities in users’ brain-wave activity. The EEG-reading helmets, under development by Villanova University engineering professor Hashem Ashrafiuon and others, would alert medics on the sidelines if there are signs of concussion. —World Trends & Forecasts, July-Aug 2012, pp. 12-13
- Humans could one day reach longevity “escape velocity.”
Continuous rejuvenation therapy that focuses on repairing cell damage before it accumulates, causing pathologies, may one day allow people to live for a thousand years. As these technologies continue to improve, each new round of rejuvenation therapy will improve upon the previous treatments, and we will stay young indefinitely. —Aubrey de Grey,“A Thousand Years Young,” May-June 2012, pp. 21-23
- Cancer survivorship may strain future health-care systems.
More people are beating cancer and surviving longer and healthier—that’s the good news. The bad news is that elderly cancer survivors will still need more medical services. In the United States, the aging population is growing while the number of oncologists and geriatric specialists is declining. —Future Scope, Jan-Feb 2012, p. 4
- Drug-delivering nanorobots built from DNA could be approved for use in humans within 20 years.
Medical nanorobots that carry molecule-sized payloads and can detect and attack cancer are being developed by Shawn Douglas and researchers at Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. The bots are like complex pieces of fabric, with hundreds of DNA pieces wrapped around a scaffold. When the bot encounters a protein indicating cancer, the nanostructure unlocks itself to release a cancer-fighting antigen. —World Trends & Forecasts, May-June 2012, pp. 15-16
- Full-body firewalls will be necessary to prevent hackers from tampering with your implants.
Wireless medical devices designed to manage and monitor drug-delivery systems and other implants are vulnerable to interference. Researchers at Purdue and Princeton universities are developing a medical monitor (MedMon) designed to identify potentially malicious activity. —Tomorrow in Brief, July-Aug 2012,p. 2
- Disease detection may soon be but a breath away.
A Single Breath Disease Diagnostics Breathalyzer under development at Stony Brook University would use sensor chips coated with nanowires to detect chemical compounds that may indicate the presence of diseases or infectious microbes. In the future, a handheld device could let you detect a range of risks, from lung cancer to anthrax exposure. —Tomorrow in Brief, Sep-Oct 2012, p. 2
- The future Internet could connect the world at the neural level.
Advances in neurotechnology will make it possible for us to link our minds, share our emotional experiences, and even feel changes in the collective state of mind. This “telempathy” would, for instance, enable leaders to gauge public anxiety during a catastrophe. —Michael Chorost, “A World Wide Mind: The Coming Collective Telempathy,” Mar-Apr 2012, p. 22
- Communication will become increasingly image-driven.
Thanks both to the proliferation of video and to smaller screens for computing and communication devices, graphics and images will be more heavily relied on for ordinary communication. This will foster faster comprehension and possibly stimulate new ways of thinking, but at the cost of eloquence and precision. —Lawrence Baines, “A World of Fewer Words? Five Trends Shaping the Future of Language, Mar-Apr 2012, p. 46
- Neuroscientists may soon be able to predict what you’ll do before you do it.
The intention to do something, such as grasp a cup, produces blood flow to specific areas of the brain, so studying blood-flow patterns through neuroimaging could give researchers a better idea of what people have in mind. One potential application is improved prosthetic devices that respond to signals from the brain more like actual limbs do. —World Trends & Forecasts, Jan-Feb 2012, p. 10
- Genetic engineering could make us superheroes.
While we may not become Batman, we may one day find it useful to incorporate specific animals’ traits (such as bats’ sonar-based “vision,” perhaps). —Jeffrey Scott Coker, “Crossing the Species Boundary: Genetic Engineering as Conscious Evolution,” Jan-Feb 2012, p. 27
- Soldiers will communicate via telepathic helmets by 2020.
Abandoning radio transmissions, microphones, and hand signals, tomorrow’s military will rely on helmets that read and communicate soldiers’ thoughts, according to biomedical scientist Gerwin Schalk. —“The Best Predictions of 2011,” Jan-Feb 2012, p. 30
- Career “paths” will become patchwork pieces.
Baby boomers’ future career trajectories will more resemble a lattice than a ladder, with more lateral moves on the way up. For younger generations, it will be more of a patchwork quilt: multiple jobs stitched together to form a more flexible work environment. —James H. Lee, “Hard at Work in the Jobless Future,” Mar-Apr 2012, p. 35
Other forecasts from this publication are grouped by:
- Business & Economics,
- Environment & Resources,
- Food & Agriculture,
- Information Society,
- Science & Technology, and
- World Affairs.
Other forecasts from previous The Futurist issues include:
- 10 Forecasts for the Future of Healthcare
- Forecasts for the Future of Healthcare
- World Future Society presents 20 Forecasts for 2011-2025
And we include several other articles tagged Future here.