A subtler, but even more important shift will be the use of ubiquituous sensors to allow a shift from discreet to continuous health monitoring. For example, a doc checking your pulse at the office is a discrete test, while wearing a Polar cardio monitor while exercising is continuous. There is a vast array of sensors arriving that will allow continuous unobtrusive health monitoring at low cost, and this in turn will allow for new innovations. Today, implanted defibrillators and pacemakers rely in such sensors to be effective. In the future look for systems that do site-specific delivery of drugs in micro-quantities as just one example.
But, will health care be more equitble than it is today? I hope so, but I doubt it will happen. If anything, the line between haves and have-nots will get even greater as new, exotic and expensive procedures become available. And the advent of low-cost genomic testing (the cost of reading the genome of a specific person will plummet -- imagine a cost of under $10), and of course employers and the government are going to want to look at the results. We are all likely to discover that we are all members of one genetic underclass or another.
Q: Will we see public transportation improve -- from the city to the suburbs?
Saffo: Let us hope, but the bigger shift may be an ever more restless population. Information technology has unlocked us from the tight connection that once existed between where we worked and where we lived. This allows people greater choice in where they live, and the result I think will be a migration by some to the far exurbs (think Aspen and Mendocino) and others back to the newly appealling urban core (think NYC and San Francisco). The big losers will be those suburbs being built today whose only appeal is affordable housing within driving distance of a job. I suspect these places (think Tracey Calif., Colorado Springs, Colo.) will in 20 years become the new blighted areas.
Q: Will we see a move to one world order?
Saffo: I doubt it, but I also doubt that the nation state will survive as we know it.
Q: With the development of extremely durable and strong nanotechnology and nanomaterials, i.e. carbon nanotubes and their future progeny, is it likely that some country or group of countries will invest in a Space Elevator? It almost seems like a bargain to build one considering how cheaply it will make getting payloads into low Earth orbit for every country on the planet?
Saffo: It is a fascinating idea, first described by Arthur Clark in "The Fountains of Paradise," and modest tethered systems have already been tried off the shuttle in space. Meanwhile, there are a host of innovators trying to design such a system. In theory it would be a great way to get stuff out of Earth's gravity well, but the technical challenges go way beyond the obvious problem of building the cable. For example, there are fascinating issues around static electricity, for such a system would be in effect a huge power generator. And many of these problems will be discovered only as someone attempts to build a system. Will it happen in 25 years? I doubt it, but the issue of how to get out of the gravity well will become only more and more important and frustrating.
Q: Will we be able to genetically design our pets from scratch (the perfect pet)?