CARACAS, Wednesday April 01, 2009 | Update
Stopping climate change and revolutionizing the food industry are two of the major challenges for humankind. However, there are still many answers to be given: cancer cure, human organ replacement with artificial ones and the mysteries of the Internet
Photo: Freddy Henriquez
Dreaming about the future does not entail great effort. Science-fiction, either in literature, cinema or through cathodic means, has shown hundreds of possibilities about the future, which move between two poles: a brighter or a darker future. Faced -but not amazed- with reality, be it the crudest or the kindest, one can think that medium and long-term future will be marked by technology and ecology. This is not mere romanticism; there is no future for human beings if the planet itself has no future. And without the technology to live in that planet, (comfortable) life will not be possible.
A third element, or rather concept -very close to the first one- joins this equation: interconnectivity. The future world will be one of absolute connectivity: at home, at work, in the car or outdoors, in any object of everyday's life. At the end of the day, human beings will end up being, figuratively speaking, a permanent connectivity antenna; information carriers, providers, receivers and replicators. They will surely not become a Thomas Anderson, of sorts (Neo for those that are not close to the Matrix saga), but they will certainly be the key element of a labor, personal relations and entertainment system marked by WiFi, Wimax, and the possibility of off-line and 3D surfing the Internet.
As a consequence, speed will become an issue. The future world wants to move faster, think faster, respond faster, and perform faster. Scientists, of course, are already working on this and nanotechnology seems to be the panacea to provide lighter, faster and ecologic chips.
Quantum science will also make its contribution and will take full advantage of the concept of "superposition," i.e. communication simultaneity.
While this is somehow vague to understand, the world of androids, robots and especially "nanobots" the scientists have in mind is not. If the former ones will be capable of replacing human beings in the most dangerous, though and difficult tasks, and also in others not that much, the latter ones are bound to merge humans and machine; it is what David Cronenberg called the new flesh. Among other things, nanobots will allow human beings to replace the mouse and give "mental" orders to computers, cell phones, iPods, TV's or any other electronic equipment they are close to.
Technology is trying to render homes in a more sophisticated place, where human beings are the true intelligent and interconnected brain. Furthermore, clothing will become information terminals and store energy. Therefore, it will not be strange to connect cell phones to a handbag or carry an umbrella that is charged with solar cells. The Sun will continue lighting the planet; after all, it will be one of the major energy sources in the future.
A matter of life
The world must learn to be more careful with the environment. Carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere will be reduced by 8 percent in 2009 in comparison to 2008. But this has nothing to do with the environmental agenda, but with the economic one. Today's crisis imposes previsions vis-à-vis energy consumption.
Scientists estimate that if the necessary measures are not taken, temperature could rise between 2 and 11 degrees centigrade in the 21st century.
To prevent this from happening as well as mitigate its impact on the planet's life, by 2050 the international community should reduce by 50 percent the greenhouse gases, a phenomenon that is no longer irreversible, albeit "controllable."
Otherwise, it will be common to see the collapse of the polar caps, not in ice blocks the size of Hawaii, but of larger states and countries. The Arctic zone, its inhabitants and species are the most affected by the climate phenomenon. Perpetual ices decrease at a rate of 9.6 percent every ten years. At this pace, not much will be left by the end of the century.
Worse, a group of ten thousand scientists from all over the world have concluded that the Antarctic is going to have the same fate. Chile and Argentina are two of the countries where temperatures are rapidly increasing.
If we look closer, food dilemmas are aggravated due to the global environmental deterioration. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), more than a half food production is lost or wasted.
If production chains were optimized and wastes are utilized, close to 3 billion people, additional mouths to feed, would have their food guaranteed for 2050. Today scientists are trying to take the leap from the agricultural revolution to the biotechnological revolution, but with an additional challenge: healthy food. The possibility of creating, inventing, developing or producing food with higher protein content is a challenge for scientists and the food industry. In the middle of the organic food boom, satisfying hunger also entails considering habits of contemporary societies, which are increasingly contradictory, convulse and individualist.
Today's consumers demand foodstuffs that are easier to prepare, but that are also healthier. Everybody seems willing to delete saturated fat, preservatives and colorants from food labels in favor of a proper protein and carbohydrate content. The laboratory scale must bet on that.
If food is to be healthier, human beings expect and desire to extend their life expectancy. While genetics and stem cell research are the secret to the likely cures of tomorrow, or at least the way to understand diseases, technology and science are establishing a bond with Medicine that will help today's and tomorrow's physicians make on-line consultations that will allow them to diagnose patients who are hundreds kilometers away, and, at the same time, remotely control the patient's health, for instance by inserting chips that supply the proper dosage of a medicine, to make sure that patients follow their treatment.
There is much to come from laboratories that cherish the possibility that human beings have a better future.
Robert Andrés Gómez Barrios
Translated by Alix Hernández
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