Automated monitoring and profiling, humans as ecosystems, personal manufacturing, and driveless cars are just some of the new technologies that have captured my interest lately. About a year ago, I mentioned technologies in healthcare and education in an article on Life Changing Technologies. It’s time for me to add to that list.
Automated monitoring and profiling seems to be entering a new age. Our virtual selves are defined and augmented with every click now. Mostly, this is being used to shape the ads we see, but it also provides a focus on what we are exposed to. Google modifies what we see in a search based on our history, and the choice it makes are largely invisible and out of our control. I suspect that our profiles will come to impact our interest rates, whom we connect with, and, perhaps, our relationship with governments.
Another odd corner of research is looking into the health benefits of treating not just patients as individuals, but as collections of organisms. Anyone who has had their gastrointestinal systems fouled up by an antibiotic knows how we depend on beneficial bacteria for digestion. Looking more deeply, this view of humans as ecosystems has implications for more personalized medical care. Perhaps the most startling area is the investigation of the relationship between parasites (largely not present for those in the developed world) with the immune system. It seems that we may be protected from contracting asthma, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s Disease and many other debilitating autoimmune disorders if we add these worms and other parasites to our personal ecosystems. Testing is underway to see if such parasites can benefit those who are already afflicted with these diseases. To be spared these illnesses would be truly life-transforming for many people.
I’ve written about personal manufacturing in the past. In the past few months, my mind keeps coming back to this emerging capability as I’ve seen the proliferation of independent publishing models. The two have many of the same aspects of putting power into the hands of creative people. Indie publishing is blazing a trail for indie manufacturing though new forms of distribution, financing (especially through Kickstarter and out crowdsourcing sites), and collaboration.
We already see the key capabilities for driverless cars coming together. I’ll go into more detail in a future post, but three potential outcomes are already evident. First, it will be possible to put many more cars on the road, meaning that traffic on highways will be less of a problem – and this will be especially important in developing countries that are being overwhelmed by a huge rise in the number of people who own cars. Second, the number of accidents should drop significantly, saving lives and reducing the toll of crippling injuries. Third, many well-paying, entry-level jobs – as taxi drivers, truck drivers, and bus drivers – will disappear.
As usual, new technology is a two-edged sword. Innovation will provide plenty of benefits, but the changes it brings will also cause dislocations.
I could continue with remarks on other technologies, but I’d love to hear what readers believe will create the biggest changes in our lives. Do you have any in mind?