Predicting how our lives will change in the decades ahead
Book review: The future of (almost) everything
“The future of (almost) everything” is written by Patrick Dixon, and is priced €14.99
The future of (almost) everything
The ambitious title for this book sets the bar high for author Patrick Dixon. A physician and former cancer specialist, Dixon started the international Aids agency ACET, which has programmes in 18 countries. He is also the founder of Global Change Ltd, a growth strategy and forecasting company and ranks giants such as Google, Microsoft and the World Bank among his clients. A prolific author with 16 books to his name, he has been ranked in the Thinkers 50 list of most influential global business thinkers.
He has a good vantage point then for the wide range of predictions that range from technology, demographics, politics, healthcare and social change as he paints a vision for how life will evolve on the planet in the decades ahead.
What is currently classified as innovations in IT is totally overblown, he says. The connection between our brains and devices is far too clumsy and slow. Our reading and typing speeds have actually fallen. Expect a lot more head-based displays and gesture controls for starters but that will be as nothing compared to the growth of digital brain interfaces.
Messages by thought aloneScientists at Harvard Medical School have already enabled people to send simple messages to each other over several thousand miles – by thought alone.
People are already part of the so-called ‘Internet of Things’, a trend that will grow. Radio frequency identification (RFID) devices are being injected under the skin by humans to gain access to secure facilities while wearable devices to monitor health indicators could become ubiquitous.
With these advances come downsides. We can expect many hacking threats around connected devices. What happens, Dixon asks, if a terrorist hacks into 100,000 driverless cars while they are on the road? The average vehicle already contains 60 processors and 10 million lines of software code.
The threat of cyber-war casts a long shadow over the book, in fact. Aside from terrorist and criminal attacks, even larger-scale mayhem could ensue in attrition between nations, paralysing government agencies for days and causing disruption to banking, telecommunications and other utilities.
The pluses and minuses theme impacts healthcare too. On the one hand, medical advances will result in longevity, with possible 140-years-old lifespans for those born today. Human cloning will be technically feasible, raising huge ethical concerns. We are now close to cloning extinct animals by using genes in frozen tissue. A child dying of cancer could be ‘recovered’, allowing parents to give birth to an identical twin.
Paradoxically, prosperity is also ruining our health. One in three children born in New York today will develop diabetes within their childhood due to obesity, Dixon claims. With 50 per cent of the world being obese in 2030, a new food industry will emerge selling anti-food, food made from molecules that the body cannot digest and which will pass through the system, allowing people to eat while at the same time starving themselves nutritionally.
Nuclear scaresLooking at the geopolitical landscape, the author predicts a massive rise in the economic power of Africa, and an increasing flexing of military muscle on the part of China and Russia. We can also expect major nuclear scares over the next 30 years as various countries or groups claim to have acquired or created their own nuclear weapons or materials.
Dixon concludes with a chapter on meaning and ethics. All the shiny new technology in the world means nothing when people lose meaning in their lives. When people have time and money this search for purpose increases and will have a huge impact on corporate life and society.
Happiness isn’t linked to high income – middle-income people with good friends, a loving partner, a career or hobby they enjoy and an extrovert nature will continue to be the most content. Interestingly, the happiest people and the most optimistic about the future are those living in Africa.