I’ll look years out. And, for the sake of convenience, I’ll keep this post to five changes, one for each level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Physiology – [Body Parts While You DON’T Wait] We are already growing simple replacement organs (bladder, trachea) using the patient’s own cells and biocompatible scaffolding, and research is underway to print complex organs in 3-D and even to help them develop for transplant from other species. Regenerative medicine will continue to move ahead in the body parts business, but I’m guessing things will move a step further. I suspect, more and more, the burden of regeneration and repair will shift largely to more natural approaches, within patches and replacement organs developing with a patient’s body, thanks to priming cells, self-assembling scaffolds, and possibly nanodevices that provide feedback, monitoring, and guidance.
Safety – We need to be protected from ourselves. Too much about us, in terms of who we are, what we have to offer, what we care about, and how we can be manipulated, is out in the public domain. We search, buy, forward memes, take surveys, visit sites, connect with people and organizations, and leave breadcrumbs for hundreds of our choices. Certainly, privacy and privacy rights need to be reinvented, but we also need guidance. We need to understand the implications of what we do publicly, and we need to be warned against being visible and open when it is not in our own best interests. Guides, for everyone in terms of automated characters and probably with regular human input for those who can afford it, will be necessary to avoid disastrous consequences. This is doable in primitive form now, but it is not top of mind for most people, even those who have suffered stalking, identity theft, and other crimes. NSA record collection and spying gets a shrug from most people. It will probably take a privacy Chernobyl before a large number of people take action, something the recent Heartbleed security flaw only hinted at. But (to keep things positive) this issue will probably be dealt with in a way that improves identity control for most people and reduces anxieties about online security, including those related to bugs, viruses, and controls like passwords.
Love and Belonging – [Blended Identities] We are in a time where social changes to families — in terms of gay marriage, one-parent families, a return to multi-generation households, and international adoption – are visible and points of discussion (and sometimes controversy). But technology is also facilitating changes as online systems allow new ways to affiliate (think of cosplay). Social networks are shaping relationships and creating blended identities (blurring the physical and the electronic). Online dating statistics are provocative. About 41 million of the 54 million single people in the US have tried online dating. And, for more than one out of three marriages, the couple first met online. As online video communications becomes more pervasive, the power of electronic relationships and trust between people who haven’t met is likely to grow. At the same time, continual participation in the datastream (through more subtle forms of technologies like Google Glass), will add a layer of electronic identity to face-to-face encounters. People will have the opportunity to curate wit and knowledge in real-time, invisibly. Personalities will reflect our choices as much as expressions of our inner selves.
Esteem – [Extreme Performance] If you’re born into wealth, fame, or aristocracy, a certain amount of honor and respect comes along with that accidental advantage. Most people, however, earn esteem through their actions, based on talent, determination, hard work, and values. But a new dimension is emerging. In fact, it is already there in sports. Technology lends a hand in the form of performance drugs, artificial parts, and tools for training. And, less obviously, technology already plays a key part in education and business success through tools like computing and communications. But expect more in the form of more selective chemical, biochemical, and mechanical augmentations to our bodies. These will reach beyond fixing problems to raising potential above what nature offers. Any high end field of endeavor that offers esteem will have, as a matter of course, technological enhancements that will expand thinking, sensitivity, endurance, and possibly even creativity. We are likely to go through times of controversy where some of these will be suspected and even forbidden. And we will also be making choices as to which remain invisible and which are displayed (perhaps for status).
Self-Actualization – [Alien Life] We are regularly finding extra-solar planets now, and some of them are starting to look a lot like Earth. I suspect we’ll have compelling evidence of alien life within the next two decades. This probably won’t be intelligent life (though that would really shake things up), but even finding microbes on another planet would reshape the thinking of enlightened people. (Any evidence short of E.T. probably would simultaneously fail to convince evolution skeptics and make them more anxious, but I’m trying to stick to positive ideas here.) Just as moving away from a geocentric view of the universe humbled us as a species and helped us find more truths, a new perspective on our less than exceptional a host for life should excite people and stimulate new thinking. Most people credit Apollo photographs of Earth from space for igniting the environmental movement – though all educated people knew we lived on a limited planet beforehand. So, yes, educated people today believe Earth is not the sole venue for life in the universe, but sure knowledge will have a big impact anyway.