10 sectors to watch over the next decade (part 2)

With our  ’10 sectors to watch over the next decade’ series, we’re taking a brief look at a number of areas that are well worth keeping an eye on and making sure you are informed about any news or events surrounding them.  Yesterday, I highlighted nanotechnology and biometrics, so if you haven’t read that yet do go back and check it out before continuing with our next two sectors below.

Green Leaf (Image by miyukiutada, Flickr, CC)

3. Environmentalism – The recent political ruckus that was the Copenhagen Summit has sent a very strong message: in the next decade the chances of seeing drastic, co-ordinated global change to minimise how we damage our planet’s environment is looking pretty unlikely.

When it comes to focused efforts on the reduction of carbon consumption, it does seem like this avenue might become a dead-end; or at most come far too late.  Others disagree with this idea, saying that the summit represented a global recognition of the seriousness of the problems at hand and the need to overcome them within a relatively short time frame.

Over the next ten years the impact of global climate change – regardless of its cause – will become more apparent.  Beyond the political and economic solutions that are being attempted at the moment, I think what we will see occurring is a shift towards scientific innovations that allow such changes to be made without as much perceived sacrifice.

Clean and renewable forms of energy are just one such avenue that we will definitely see vast amounts of research being presented upon – for it is, after-all, an economic Holy Grail – I would also expect to see more focus begin to be placed upon what we can do when climate change occurs, rather than most discussion focusing on how we can stop climate change from occurring.  We might even begin to see some progress towards scientific solutions that allow us to directly reverse the damaging impact that we have, and will continue to have, upon our environment.

This will prove to be a field that requires a great deal of expertise from all walks of life.  Coping with the changing environment that we exist within may well prove to be the biggest challenge of the 21st century, and that’s stating it lightly by overlooking some of the more doomsday type scenarios.  Although the next decade will probably still be one of public denial, what we should be looking out for – and, indeed, encouraging – is a greater awareness of post-environmental disaster scenarios and planning.

Practically speaking, we can almost certainly expect forms of carbon/pollution tax to have a noticeable impact on personal and corporate finances.  There will also hopefully be more of a push towards increasing local food production and sourcing, an aspect of modern society that in some parts of the world is now dangerously unavailable to any significant degree.  Transportation networks will see drastic overhauls in one direction or another; the benefits of high-speed rail networks over domestic flights already being touted in places such as the United Kingdom.

Electric Neurons (image by philosophy_rebel, Flickr, CC)

4. Neural Interfacing – In the past few years we have seen some remarkable progress being made in the realm of brain-computer interface systems; literally the ability to control a manufactured object with nothing but thought.  The wide-range of applications for such a capability is truly only limited by our collective imagination (which is to say, not really limited at all), and in the last few years we have just begun to see highly successful examples of this technology emerging into the public sphere.

The most common areas of research in regards to neural interfacing surround the development of prosthetics to overcome disabilities.  A high profile example of this was seen last year when it was announced that a group of Italian scientists had run successful tests of a neural-interface hand prosthetic, a device which not only allowed for examples of fine motor control but also allowed feedback of tactile sensation to the user.  It doesn’t take much to imagine the revolutionary medical advancements that could be made to overcome disabilities of all kinds through the use of such neural interfaces.  Spinal damage leading to paralysis could be overcome; the blind and deaf could have their senses restored; even illnesses such as depression could be overcome with such technology.

Of course, the benefits of such systems can extend beyond the realms of medicine.  In a trivial sense, this year saw the release of a number of children’s toys that used basic electrodes to monitor brain states and manipulate an object to a simple degree.  What we will see over the next decade is this idea begin to be extended towards its logical conclusion.

Consumer implementations of this technology will be completely non-invasive and probably surround forms of entertainment or mental training.  However, take the idea a few steps further and you begin to see possibilities of information transfer and retention that far supersede our current global information networks.  Such implementations will of course not be available within the next ten years, but we will almost certainly have a large amount of research being done that will help see the true realms of possibility when it comes to such technology.

For example, it is known that the US government has invested money into programmes seeking to develop forms of neural-interface telepathy.  These devices will theoretically work by interpreting an individual’s brain signals that have been mapped previously to particular words, allowing these signals to be transmitted over long-distance and converted into auditory signals.  Eventually, the idea would be to allow two individuals using the technology to communicate telepathically for all intents and purposes.

I’ll just let that last idea sink in a little bit longer.  Neural-interface technologies will quite likely lead to telepathic communication capabilities.  Excited yet?  Now consider the ethical implications.  Could such technology eventually lead to a more generalised capability to read people’s thoughts against their will?  Possibilities of telepathy and the ethical questions that surround it is what makes neural-interface technology both truly exciting and absolutely terrifying.

Of course, this also means that it is without a doubt one of the most important sectors to keep an eye on in the upcoming decade.  When you add the massive medical progress that is likely to see fruition, and this is where most advancements in the next ten years will be reported, you can hopefully see why you should keep the term ‘neural-interface’ at the forefront of your future conscience.

End of Part Two

So concludes part two of the series.  With two more sectors to now begin to explore, I hope that you are beginning to become more excited about the prospects that are hovering just over the horizon.  Along with this feeling of excitement, however, I hope that you are also beginning to see the massive ethical issues that they will bring along right behind.

A common element of contention amongst all of the sectors that will be discussed is the effect that the economic gap between rich and poor will have.  Will only those in positions of financial and political influence have access to these new sectors, thereby giving them a massive advantage when it comes to the benefits that these sectors will bring with them?  It’s certainly a question worth keeping in mind…

As always, any comments or thoughts you may have would be much appreciated – if you’re reading, let us know you are there!

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