Technology experts at Battelle think they have 2020 vision. They don't mean perfect eyesight today. They're talking about the ability to see the world of 2020. ED leaders must have a vision of where driving technologies are headed in the future. Here is a place to start.
Battelle's list of the Top Ten strategic technologies for 2020:
1. Genetic-based Medical and Health Care. Over the next 20 years, we will witness an explosion of medical technology originating from genetic research, giving us the ability to detect and correct many genetic-based diseases before they arise-possibly even in the womb.
A wide range of new pharmaceuticals that originated from genetic research will come onto the market in the next 20 years, leading to treatments, cures, and preventive measures for a host of ailments. They may range from treatments for life-threatening diseases to psychological disorders to cosmetic problems.
Most incredible, some of these treatments will be personalized to meet the unique needs of an individual's genetic makeup.
"Your doctor might have a record of your genetic makeup," says Eric Majewski of Medical Products, "and he or she might be able to prescribe medications, diets, or other treatments to fit your own particular needs. It will really be the ultimate in individualized care."
Battelle forecasters say genetic research also will lead to cloned human organs within 20 years. These organs will be grown and used in transplants. Top
2. High-power energy packages. Developments such as highly advanced batteries, inexpensive fuel cells, and micro-generators of electricity will make many of our electronic products and appliances highly mobile. Decentralized power sources will be extensive, affordable, and environmentally clean.
These new, high-power, distributed energy systems will provide backup if not primary energy sources for appliances, homes, and vehicles. In the transition to fuel cells, we will see further improvements in batteries-perhaps linked with solar power-and small generators fueled by natural gas. Top
3. GrinTech (Green Integrated Technology). Global crowding, fears of global climate change, and mountains of garbage will thrust environmental concerns to the forefront of consumers and industry around the world. Technology will provide the answers, with new systems that eliminate rather than reduce waste.
"The integration of a variety of technologies is the key here," says Gerry Stokes, Associate Director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "We'll be using advanced sensors, new materials, computer systems, energy systems, and manufacturing technologies to eliminate waste and make our products completely recyclable." GrinTech will be especially important in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and transportation systems. Top
4. Omnipresent Computing. Computers will be everywhere. We will be in constant contact with very miniature, wireless, highly mobile, powerful, and highly personalized computing with network access. Such computers may first appear on the market as watches or jewelry with the power of a computer and cellular phone. Later, we will have computers embedded in our clothing and possibly implanted under our skin. Top
5. Nanomachines. Microscopic machines, measured in atoms rather than millimeters, will revolutionize several industries and may perform a wide range of jobs for us-from heating our homes to curing cancer.
Battelle researchers see the medical industry as the most important area for nanomachine technology by 2020. "We may be able to develop nanomachines that will go into your body and find and destroy individual cancer cells while not harming healthy cells," says Battelle Senior Research Scientist Kevin Priddy. Nanomachines also could be used to deliver drugs to highly localized places in the body, to clean arteries, and to repair the heart, brain, and other organs without surgery. Top
6. Personalized Public Transportation. The continuing growth of cities will further stress our transportation infrastructure. Yet, Battelle researchers say an aging population with concerns about safety, convenience, and independence will help maintain a high demand for personal vehicles. The challenge is to integrate many individual cars within a coordinated and optimized public transportation network. "Realistically, public transportation systems like trains and subways are the most efficient way to move people around in a dense urban setting," says Millett. "But many of us don't want to give up our cars. So, technology will help us turn our cars into what will almost be personalized public transportation."
New information technology in your car will work with a central traffic control system to guide you through the quickest route to your destination. Traffic jams and road rage will decline substantially as people drive their cars to remote parking areas and take highly advanced-and comfortable-trains into central cities and between cities. Top
7. Designer Foods and Crops. Grocery store shelves will be filled with genetically engineered foods that are environmentally friendly and highly nutritious. Through genetic engineering, researchers will develop crops that resist diseases and pests, greatly reducing the need for pesticides and other chemicals. Battelle predicts that most food sold in supermarkets will come from genetically engineered fruits, vegetables, and livestock. Nearly all cotton and wool for our clothing will be genetically engineered.
Even lawns could be genetically engineered to need less fertilizer and pesticide and-best yet-grow more slowly. Top
8. Intelligent Goods and Appliances. Advances in quantum computing will lead to smaller, more powerful computers and electronics that will add amazing intelligence to appliances and other products. These products will likely include telephones with extensive phone directories, intelligent food packaging that tells your oven how to cook the food inside, refrigerators that help make out your shopping list and tell you where to get the best price on the food you need, and maybe even a toaster that won't burn your toast.
9. Worldwide Inexpensive and Safe Water. Within the next 20 years, clean drinking water could become an expensive commodity around the world. However, before water shortages become critical, technology will answer the challenge, with advanced filtering, processing, and delivery of potable water. Desalination of water and water extraction from the air are two possibilities.
"Our most important technological challenge of the next two decades may be developing new ways to make clean water plentiful and inexpensive around the world," Kopp says. Top
10. Super Senses. One of the hot technologies today is virtual reality. In 20 years, though, we will be marveling over "enhanced reality." Using sensors and electronic or genetic technology, we will be able to implant devices that will allow us to hear better than ever before or see farther or in the dark. Gerry Stokes says the technology will first be used to enhance hearing. "Baby boomers have lived in a very noisy world-with rock music, airplanes, construction equipment, lawn mowers, and other assaults to their hearing. And as they age, we'll see a rash of hearing problems," Stokes says. "We'll be able to repair that damage, but why stop there? Why not make their hearing better than it's ever been?"
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