A LITTLE known spy agency has hoisted a crystal ball to gaze into the future, determining how new technologies could lead to everything from precisely managed smart cities, to battery-powered exoskeletons helping grandma get around, to time-and-money saving personalized medicine.
The possibilities outlined in "Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds" might sound like science-fiction, but the National Intelligence Council's fifth report on what may come drew on global expertise to give guidance to top intelligence officials.
As a new year begins, the report depicts a new world, predicting the rise of a global middle class, a more urban world, a power shift from dominant countries to networks and coalitions, and as much as a 50 percent growth in demand for food, water and energy.
"GT2030" offers specific forecasts about technological advances, painting a picture of smart cities tapping into information technology to create a more prosperous, better and greener place to live.
Smart-city planners will incorporate IT extensively to manage resources, communications, transportation, security, emergency services and other important functions of a healthy city. Sensors, cameras and smartphones will feed information into the smart-city system for digestion and decision-making.
The future could see megacities built from the ground up, offering an opportunity to integrate advanced IT for smart cities. These cities could be well-run urban centers or "urban nightmares" if done badly.
Breakthroughs in health-care technologies could come from "additive manufacturing" -- also known as 3D printing -- which produces three-dimensional things a single layer at a time, and could translate into "bio printing" new, unclogged arteries. Even complex human organs could be produced with 3D printing, and by 2030, people might rely on human augmentation to improve vision, mobility, focus and learning ability.
Exoskeletons are now in military development to help troops carry heavier loads, but they could also help the elderly carry out the activities of daily life.
More personalized medicine is also on the horizon. Futuristic disease management might involve faster, cheaper "molecular diagnostics." That means, for instance, evaluating genetic information to find out whether a disease is present or a patient has a predisposition to one.
Cost, of course, is a significant factor in the development and spread of these "magic" new technologies. Will only the wealthy have the means to create new organs and "cure" genetic defects? Will only privileged parts of the country be able to build more livable and greener communities?
We must keep that in mind as the revolutionary new technology enters our lives.