EDITORIAL

Things to Come

I n H.G. Wells’ novel, The Shape of Things to Come, the future alternates between global periods of peace and war, including a world destroying plague. Our present and the portending future appear to be not so different, even though the peace and war periods tend to overlap and have not been global since WWII. Because of this, the turbulent epochs of political dominance are more escapable and thus less harmful. Furthermore, they affect us differently depending on how close we are to the center of the storm. The halcyon interludes of scientific and technological innovation are oases we can seek out and use to our advantages.

History Told Backwards

Intriguingly, The Shape of Things to Come uses the device of a “discussion” in fictional form that presents itself as the notes of a 22nd-century diplomat. It is the future told backwards in time, contrasting with Wells’ The Time Machine, which is a future told in fast-forward.

The Shape of Things to Come was made into a movie, called Things to Come in 1936, three years after publication. It was successful, but nowhere near as much as was expected. A cultural historian called Things to Come “a landmark in cinematic design.” Futhermore, the movie also boasted superb performances by accomplished actors such as Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke, Pearl Argyle, and Margaretta Scott, along with a compelling score by British composer Arthur Bliss.

Innovation Versus Sabotage

In each of the stories, the novel and the movie (Wells wrote the screenplay), Wells grapples with the importance of science, technology, and innovation versus Luddite saboteurs who desire to destroy rather than create. Unexpectedly, Wells—though an outspoken socialist—sides with science and technology, but not with the conditions of innovation.

But something (and perhaps everything) is very different this time around here in the non-fiction world, so we may very well be the beneficiary of “things to come.” As one of principal scientists says in the movie, “It is all the universe—or nothing! … Which shall it be?”

Predicting the Future

While the movie and novel may seem outdated in hindsight, it isn’t easy to accurately predict the future. But here goes …

Overall, in keeping with the “law of accelerating returns,” an explosion of breakthroughs in genetic engineering, medical regeneration of the human body, and autonomous robotics is underway. This will go far toward opening the doors to a great leap forward.

Also contributing to a brighter future … War and politics will play a smaller role (see Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined) and that’s good for health and life.

Preventive Medicine Will Soar

The “Internet of Things” will connect devices that can support predictive medicine and products that link patients to wellness and lifestyle. This alone will enable movement from luxury to necessity. Also, as data becomes more accessible and devices smarter, entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to connect this new technology to the patient experience.

Nutritional Supplements

Supplements will continue to play a significant role in maintaining good health.

Robots Will Be Optimized for Health Tasks

Already every day’s news includes new robotic developments that will lead inexorably to technological utility.

Gene Engineering

The doors will open wide to gene engineering. Follow CRISPR gene splicing, for example.

The Great Integration

It has been 10 years since Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near was first published. He refers to this period as a singularity, when the pace of technological change is so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life transforms.

Kurzweil explains we’re already in the early stages of this transition, and within a few decades, life as we know it will be completely different.

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If you look at human longevity — which is another one of these exponential trends — you’ll notice that we added a few days every year to the human life expectancy in the 18th century. In the 19th century we added a few weeks every year, and now we’re now adding over a hundred days a year, through all of these developments, which are going to continue to accelerate. Many knowledgeable observers, including myself, feel that within ten years we’ll be adding more than a year every year to life expectancy.

As we get older, human life expectancy will actually move out at a faster rate than we’re actually progressing in age, so if we can hang in there, our generation is right on the edge. We have to watch our health the old-fashioned way for a while longer so we’re not the last generation to die prematurely.

Things to come … indeed. The future is happening now. Stay tuned.


Live long and prosper,

Will Block


Reference

  1. Kurzweil R. Celebrating the 10 Year Anniversary of book The Singularity Is Near. Celebrating the 10 Year Anniversary of book The Singularity Is Near. October 6, 2015. http://www.kurzweilai.net/celebrating-the-10-year-anniversary-of-book-the-singularity-is-near#essay-one. Accessed: November 2, 2015.

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