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Beyond the agricultural and industrial revolutions of the past, a global technology revolution is currently changing the world. This book discusses the broad, mulitdisciplinary, and synergistic trends in this revolution, including genomics, cloning, biomedical engineering, smart materials, agile manufacturing, nanofabricated computation devices, and integrated microsystems. The revolution's effects on human health may be the most startling as breakthroughs improve both the quality and length of human life. ...
Beyond the agricultural and industrial revolutions of the past, a global technology revolution is currently changing the world. This book discusses the broad, mulitdisciplinary, and synergistic trends in this revolution, including genomics, cloning, biomedical engineering, smart materials, agile manufacturing, nanofabricated computation devices, and integrated microsystems. The revolution's effects on human health may be the most startling as breakthroughs improve both the quality and length of human life. Biotechnology will also enable us to identify, understand, manipulate, improve, and control living organisms (including ourselves). Information technology is already revolutionizing our lives, especially in the developed world, and is a major enabler of other trends. Materials technology will produce products, components, and systems that are smaller, smarter, multi-functional, environmentally compatible, more survivable, and customizable.
A number of significant technology-related trends appear poised to have major global effects by 2015. These trends are being influenced by advances in biotechnology, nanotechnology, materials technology, and information technology. This report presents a concise foresight of these global trends and potential implications for 2015 within and among the first three technological areas as well as their intersection and cross-fertilization with information technology. This foresight activity considered potential scientific and technical advances, enabled applications, potential barriers, and global implications. These implications are varied and can include social, political, economic, environmental, or other factors. In many cases, the significance of these technologies appears to depend on the synergies afforded by their combined advances as well as on their interaction with the so-called information revolution. Unless indicated otherwise, references to possible future developments are for the 2015 timeframe.
Some have predicted that whereas the 20th century was dominated by advances in chemistry and physics, the 21st century will be dominated by advances in biotechnology (see, for example, Carey et al., 1999). We appear to be on the verge of understanding, reading, and controlling the genetic coding of living things, affording us revolutionary control of biological organisms and their deficiencies. Other advances in biomedical engineering, therapeutics, and drug development hold additional promises for a wide range of applications and improvements.
On another front, the U.S. President's proposed National Nanotechnology Initiative projected that "the emerging fields of nanoscience and nanoengineering are leading to unprecedented understanding and control over the fundamental building blocks of all physical things. These developments are likely to change the way almost everything -from vaccines to computers to automobile tires to objects not yet imagined-is designed and made" (National Nanotechnology Initiative, 2000). This initiative reflects the optimism of many scientists who believe that technological hurdles in nanotechnology can be overcome.
In a third area, materials science and engineering is poised to provide critical inputs to both of these areas as well as creating trends of its own. For example, the cross-disciplinary fields of biomaterials (e.g., Aksay and Weiner, 1998) and nanomaterials (e.g., Lerner, 1999) are making promising developments. Moreover, interdisciplinary materials research will likely continue to yield materials with improved properties for applications that are both commonplace (such as building construction) and specialized (such as reconnaissance and surveillance, or aircraft and space systems). Materials of the 21st century will likely be smarter, multi-functional, and compatible with a broad range of environments.
THE TECHNOLOGY REVOLUTION
Advances in bio/nano/materials/info technologies are combining to enable devices and systems with potential global effects on individual and public health and safety; economic, social and political systems; and business and commerce. The emerging technology revolution, together with the ongoing process of globalization enabled by the information technology and continued improvements in transportation (e.g., Friedman, 2000), on the one hand opens up possibilities for increased life span, economic prosperity, and quality of life, and on the other hand introduces further difficulties with privacy and ethical issues (e.g., in biomedical research). It has been argued that the accelerating pace of technological change may lead to a widening of the gap between rich and poor, developed and developing countries. However, increased global connectivity within the technology revolution may itself provide a vehicle for improved education and local technical capabilities that could enable poorer and less-developed regions of the world to contribute to and profit from technological advances via the "cottage industries" of the 21st century.
The maturity of these trends varies. Some are already producing effects and controversy in wide public forums; others hold promise for significant effects by 2015 yet are currently less mature and are mostly discussed in advanced technology forums.
Rather than providing a long, detailed look, this foresight activity attempted to quickly identify promising movements with potentially significant effects on the world. The study also identified "wild card" technologies that appear less promising or not likely to mature by 2015 yet would have a significant effect on the world if they were successfully developed and applied.
The determination of "global significance" in such a foresight activity depends greatly on the level at which one examines a technology or its components. Individual trends and applications may not rise to significance by themselves, but their collective contributions nevertheless might produce a significant trend. Even the Internet, for example, consists of a large number of applications, systems, and components-many of which might not hold up individually to a standard of global significance yet combined contribute to the overall effect. These varied contributors often come from different technical disciplines. Although multidisciplinary, such trends were grouped based on a dominant technology or a dominant concept of each trend.
Note that there is always a strong element of uncertainty when projecting technological progress and implications for the future. This effort looked for potential foreseeable implications based on progress and directions in current science and technology (S&T) and did not attempt to predict or forecast exact events and timetables. Trends were gleaned from existing outlooks, testimonies, and foresights, providing collective opinions and points of view from a broad spectrum of individuals. As many of these published trends tended to be optimistic and visionary, attempts were made to provide insights on the challenges they will face, yielding a feel not only for possible implications but also for issues that may modulate their development. The goal was to obtain a balanced perspective of current trends and directions, yielding ranges of possibilities rather than a single likely future to give a rich feel for the many possible paths that are being pursued. Such ranges of possible futures include both the optimistic and conservative extremes in technology foresights as well as ranges of optimistic and pessimistic implications of these trends. Some trends that hold promise but are unlikely to achieve global significance by 2015 are also mentioned.
Although the examination of trends can yield a broad understanding of current directions, it will not include unforeseen technological breakthroughs. Unforeseen complex economic, social, ethical, and political effects on technological development will also have a major effect on what actually happens in the future. For example, although many computer scientists and visionary government program managers saw the potential for the Internet technology, it was practically impossible to predict whether it would become globally significant, the pace of its adoption, or its pervasive effect on social, political, and economic systems. Nevertheless, this trend study can yield a broad understanding of current issues and their potential future effects, informing policy, investment, legal, ethical, national security, and intelligence decisions today.
By 2015, biotechnology will likely continue to improve and apply its ability to profile, copy, and manipulate the genetic basis of both plants and animal organisms, opening wide opportunities and implications for understanding existing organisms and engineering organisms with new properties. Research is even under way to create new free-living organisms, initially microbes with a minimal genome (Cho et al., 1999; Hutchinson et al., 1999).
Genetic Profiling and DNA Analysis
DNA analysis machines and chip-based systems will likely accelerate the proliferation of genetic analysis capabilities, improve drug search, and enable biological sensors.
The genomes of plants (ranging from important food crops such as rice and corn to production plants such as pulp trees) and animals (ranging from bacteria such as E. coli, through insects and mammals) will likely continue to be decoded and profiled. To the extent that genes dictate function and behavior, such extensive genetic profiling could provide an ability to better diagnose human health problems, design drugs tailored for individual problems and system reactions, better predict disease predispositions, and track disease movement and development across global populations, ethnic groups, and other genetic pools (Morton, 1999; Poste, 1999). Note that a link between genes and function is generally accepted, but other factors such as the environment and phenotype play important modifying roles. Gene therapies will likely continue to be developed, although they may not mature by 2015.
Genetic profiling could also have a significant effect on security, policing, and law. DNA identification may complement existing biometric technologies (e.g., retina and fingerprint identification) for granting access to secure systems (e.g., computers, secured areas, or weapons), identifying criminals through DNA left at crime scenes, and authenticating items such as fine art. Genetic identification will likely become more commonplace tools in kidnapping, paternity, and fraud cases. Biosensors (some genetically engineered) may also aid in detecting biological warfare threats, improving food and water quality testing, continuous health monitoring, and medical laboratory analyses. Such capabilities could fundamentally change the way health services are rendered by greatly improving disease diagnosis, understanding predispositions, and improving monitoring capabilities.
Such profiling may be limited by technical difficulties in decoding some genomic segments and in understanding the implications of the genetic code. Our current technology can decode nearly all of the entire human gene sequence, but errors are still an issue, since Herculean efforts are required to decode the small amount of remaining sequences. More important, although there is a strong connection between an organism's function and its genotype, we still have large gaps in understanding the intermediate steps in copying, transduction, isomer modulation, activation, immediate function, and this function's effect on larger systems in the organism. Proteomics (the study of protein function and genes) is the next big technological push after genomic decoding. Progress may likely rely on advances in bioinformatics, genetic code combination and sequencing (akin to hierarchical programming in computer languages), and other related information technologies.
Despite current optimism, a number of technical issues and hurdles could moderate genomics progress by 2015. Incomplete understanding of sequence coding, transduction, isomer modulation, activation, and resulting functions could form technological barriers to wide engineering successes. Extensive rights to own genetic codes may slow research and ultimately the benefits of the decoding. At the other extreme, the inability to secure patents from sequencing efforts may reduce commercial funding and thus slow research and resulting benefits.
In addition, investments in biotechnology have been cyclic in the past. As a result, advancements in research and development (R&D) may come in surges, especially in areas where the time to market (and thus time to return on investment) is long.
Artificially producing genetically identical organisms through cloning will likely be significant for engineered crops, livestock, and research animals.
Cloning may become the dominant mechanism for rapidly bringing engineered traits to market, for continued maintenance of these traits, and for producing identical organisms for research and production. Research will likely continue on human cloning in unregulated parts of the world with possible success by 2015, but ethical and health concerns will likely limit wide-scale cloning of humans in regulated parts of the world. Individuals or even some states may also engage in human or animal cloning, but it is unclear what they may gain through such efforts.
Cloning, especially human cloning, has already generated significant controversies across the globe (Eiseman, 1999). Concerns include moral issues, the potential for errors and medical deficiencies of clones, questions of the ownership of good genes and genomes, and eugenics. Although some attempts at human cloning are possible by 2015, legal restrictions and public opinion may limit their extent. Fringe groups, however, may attempt human cloning in advance of legislative restrictions or may attempt cloning in unregulated countries. See, for example, the human cloning program announced by Clonaid (Weiss, 2000).
Although expert opinions vary regarding the current feasibility of human cloning, at least some technical hurdles for human cloning will likely need to be addressed for safe, wide-scale use. "Attempts to clone mammals from single somatic cells are plagued by high frequencies of developmental abnormalities and lethality" (Pennisi and Vogel, 2000; Matzke and Matzke, 2000). Even cloned plant populations exhibit "substantial developmental and morphological irregularities" (Matzke and Matzke, 2000). Research will need to address these abnormalities or at the very least mitigate their repercussions. Some believe, however, that human cloning may be accomplished soon if the research organization accepts the high lethality rate for the embryo (Weiss, 2000) and the potential generation of developmental abnormalities.
Genetically Modified Organisms
Beyond profiling genetic codes and cloning exact copies of organisms and microorganisms, biotechnologists can also manipulate the genetic code of plants and animals and will likely continue efforts to engineer certain properties into life forms for various reasons (Long, 1998). Traditional techniques for genetic manipulation (such as cross-pollination, selective breeding, and irradiation) will likely continue to be extended by direct insertion, deletion, and modification of genes through laboratory techniques. Targets include food crops, production plants, insects, and animals.
Desirable properties could be genetically imparted to genetically engineered foods, potentially producing: improved taste; ultra-lean meats with reduced "bad" fats, salts, and chemicals; disease resistance; and artificially introduced nutrients (so-called "nutraceuticals"). Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can potentially be engineered to improve their physical robustness, extend field and shelf life (e.g., the Flavr-Savr(tm) tomato), tolerate herbicides, grow faster, or grow in previously unproductive environments (e.g., in high-salinity soils, with less water, or in colder climates).
Beyond systemic disease resistance, in vivo pesticide production has already been demonstrated (e.g., in corn) and could have a significant effect on pesticide production, application, regulation, and control with targeted release. Likewise, organisms could be engineered to produce or deliver drugs for human disease control. Cow mammary glands might be engineered to produce pharmaceuticals and therapeutic organic compounds; other organisms could be engineered to produce or deliver therapeutics (e.g., the so-called "prescription banana"). If accepted by the population, such improved production and delivery mechanisms could extend the global production and availability of these therapeutics while providing easy oral delivery.
Excerpted from The Global Technology Revolution by Philip S. Antón Richard Silberglitt James Schneider Copyright © 2001 by RAND. Excerpted by permission.
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|Ch. 2||Technology Trends||5|
|Therapies and Drug Development||10|
|The Process of Materials Engineering||16|
|Integrated Microsystems and MEMS||28|
|Molecular Manufacturing and Nanorobots||30|
|The Range of Possibilities by 2015||33|
|Cross-Facilitation of Technology Effects||41|
|The Highly Interactive Nature of Trend Effects||44|
|The Technology Revolution||46|
|The Technology Revolution and Culture||48|
|Suggestions for Further Reading||50|