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The Way We Will Be 50 Years from Today: 60 of the World's Greatest Minds Share Their Visions of the Next Half-Century

The Way We Will Be 50 Years from Today: 60 of the World's Greatest Minds Share Their Visions of the Next Half-Century

by Mike Wallace

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The world is an uncertain place, which is why the future and the unknown absolutely fascinate us. Veteran television journalist Mike Wallace asked the question "What will life be like 50 years from now?" to sixty of the world's greatest minds. Their responses offer a fascinating glimpse into the cultural, scientific, political, and spiritual moods of the times.


The world is an uncertain place, which is why the future and the unknown absolutely fascinate us. Veteran television journalist Mike Wallace asked the question "What will life be like 50 years from now?" to sixty of the world's greatest minds. Their responses offer a fascinating glimpse into the cultural, scientific, political, and spiritual moods of the times. Edited and with an introduction by Mike Wallace, this book provides an imaginative and thought-provoking look into our collective soul and the critical issues that underlie our hopes, prayers, fears, and dreams for life in the 21st century.

Contributors include former presidents, leading scientists, noted writers and artists, respected religious leaders, and current political figures, including:

  • Vint Cerf, Vice President of Google; known as a "Father of the Internet"
  • Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., a geneticist who led the Human Genome Project
  • Dr. Wanda Jones, Director of the Office on Women's Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Ray Kurzweil, an inventor whose developments include the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind and the first text-to-speech synthesizer
  • General James E. Cartwright, Commander of United States Strategic Command
  • Kim Dae-jung, the former President of the Republic of Korea
  • Ronald Noble, Secretary General of Interpol
  • Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize winner; called "the father of the Green Revolution"
  • Carol Bellamy, former Executive Director UNICEF, first former volunteer to serve as director of Peace Corp, and current president and CEO of World Learning
  • Gerardus 't Hooft, Professor of Theoretical Physics at Utrecht University in the Netherlands; Nobel Prize in Physics
  • Craig Newmark, Internet pioneer and founder of craigslist

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

These short meditations on the world in 50 years are overwhelmingly devoted to developments in human health, climate change and technology, with a disappointing scarcity of speculation about any social or spiritual transformations. Scientists, who make up more than half of the contributors, predict that genetic engineering will be commonplace and AIDS obsolete, although infectious diseases will adapt and prosper. Marriages will be arranged by compatible genotype; the oceans will rise; cats will no longer be kept as pets-they will have been identified (along with hamsters and birds) as transmitters of everything from Parkinson's to schizophrenia. China and India will be the new superpowers, and the U.S. will finally adopt the metric system. Although many writers note that certain species of plants and animals will be extinct in 50 years, only one laments that several languages will also be dead. This privileging of the scientific viewpoint makes the contributions from immunologist Peter Doherty and writer Michael Shermer all the more welcome as they attempt to focus on humanity rather than technology, imagination more than data. Perhaps it is easier to chart the course of climate change than social change-still the inhabitants of the planet and the future of their governments, beliefs and values deserve as much attention as the planet itself. (Apr .15)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

The apparent contradiction between the title and subtitle may confuse readers, but once they get past that, they'll find longtime 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace explaining in his introduction that the book "presents the future by people who have brought us the present." The 60 contributors (most are American, despite the subtitle) assess the world they imagine in 2058 from the perspective of their own expertise. They are men and women prominent mostly in science, medicine, the Internet, and government, with several Nobel prize winners among them. The essays are short (two or three pages) and vary from the general (e.g., predicting that the worst contagious diseases will have been eradicated) to the more specific (e.g., showing the evolution of neuro-transistors), with some written as "present-day" reports on achievements in 2058 and others as predictions. Each essay is preceded by a short introductory paragraph on the writer. The order of the essays appears to be arbitrary. The book is clearly aimed at the general public, but while Wallace's name will draw attention, the contents will likely only be of interest to larger public libraries.
—Joel W Tscherne

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THE WAY WE WILL BE 50 years from today

60 of the World's Greatest Minds Share Their Visions of the Next Half Century
By Mike Wallace

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2008 Mike Wallace and Bill Adler
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4185-6644-9

Chapter One

Vint Cerf

Vint Cerf is vice president of Google. Known as a "Father of the Internet," his honors include the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the US National Medal of Technology.

As We May Live

It is springtime in Earth's northern hemisphere in 2058. The population of the planet now exceeds eleven billion, not counting scientific outposts on Titan and even a nascent colony on Mars. Global warming has taken its toll on the coastal areas, and the population has had to move inland in many places. Major landmarks are underwater—or nearly so—and the maps of the continental shorelines have changed, in some cases fairly dramatically. Fresh water is scarce in many parts of the world, and desalinization has become a major industry. Where once oil pipelines were laid and gigantic oil tankers plowed furrows in the ocean, now great water tankers and water pipelines take their place. Our energy comes from the sun, the wind, and the atom. The electrical grid is global, and energy is moved from places with an excess to places with a deficit using a global management system that balances the needs of the planet. Incandescent lights are museum pieces and have been replaced by solid state devices that are programmable and provide an infinite variety of colors and patterns—some of them dynamically adapting to music or other sources of changing input. Every building, vehicle, appliance, and person is on the Net, and sensor systems provide holographic, X-ray-like views of everything. Information sharing and mining provide deep awareness of the dynamic state of the world that is modeled and controlled through globally distributed computational networks.

Telepresence is holographic, and sophisticated tracking mechanisms and presentation mechanisms allow groups to "meet" in richly appointed virtual spaces. The crude avatars of the past have been replaced with holographic views of real people interacting in real time. The merger of the real and the virtual is complete. Children learn by exploring virtual spaces that are co-terminal with the real world so that when they perform virtual experiments, they often receive data from real instruments.

Nanotechnology has brought a cornucopia of products and devices from artificial muscles to ocular and spinal implants. Fabrics adapt in myriad ways to local conditions. Commonplace items like utensils and dishes disassemble after use and are reassembled after filtering foreign material. Dishwashers are museum pieces. Buildings are as aware of environmental conditions as they are of occupancy, and adapt accordingly. While teleportation is not possible, information to construct an object can be sent to a nanoconstructor, which reproduces the object faithfully.

High-energy physics and cosmology have merged, and we have long since discovered the Higgs field and detected the particle that produces it. We have learned how mass and inertia are produced, and the fictional inertialess drive invented by science fiction author Edward E. Smith now seems possible. Meanwhile, the Interplanetary Internet, initially put into operation linking Earth and Mars almost fifty years ago, has expanded as an increasing number of long-lived robotic and manned space missions have multiplied. A score of missions to nearby stars have been launched, and the one to Proxima Centauri is scheduled to arrive there in about ten years' time. A constellation of interferometric laser optical receivers in orbit around the sun has been built to detect signals from the robotic mission once it has arrived and has entered into orbit around the distant star.

We take it for granted that we can converse with each other using any language, and real-time translation takes place automatically. Even groups can interact in this fashion as long as one person talks at a time. Moreover, it is quite common to speak to appliances around the house and office and have our words converted into appropriate commands and queries through computers on the ubiquitous Internet. Of course, talking to yourself is still considered a sign of instability.

Nearly every job today involves information processing in some form because all the manual labor is done by intelligent or semi-intelligent machines. Some of the mid-21st century jobs would be impossible for an early 21st century citizen to understand. Rather like trying to explain "webmaster" to the man in the 1950s gray flannel suit! The rate of scientific advancement and discovery continues to accelerate as increasing amounts of information become accessible on the Net and can be accessed by increasingly sophisticated analytic software. We continue to speculate about the possibility that computers will become as intelligent as humans—possibly becoming the successors to the human race.

Chapter Two

Francis S. Collins

Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, is a geneticist who led the Human Genome Project, the audacious effort that read out all three billion letters of the human DNA instruction book. He continues to lead the National Human Genome Research Institute and is also a leader in emphasizing the importance of addressing the ethical, legal, and social implications of genome research. In his recent book, The Language of God, he argues that science and faith are not opposing worldviews but actually are highly complementary.

A Revolution in Medicine

For all of human history, we have essentially been ignorant of the details of our own instruction book, the hereditary material that passes from parent to child.

All that changed in April 2003, when the Human Genome Project completed its work and revealed the complete DNA sequence of our own species. All of us are 99.9 percent the same at the DNA level, but that 0.1 percent of differences also can carry with it the risk of illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. Those specific genetic risk factors are now being revealed, opening a new window into understanding the causes of illness and providing ideas about prevention.

With the field of genome research moving so quickly, it is difficult to project where we might be in just five or ten years, and trying to look fifty years into the future is truly daunting. Nonetheless, I'll give it a try.

I am quite confident that in fifty years each of us will have a copy of our own complete DNA sequence, incorporated into a highly accurate electronic medical record and accessible from anywhere in the world. Perhaps this will even be encoded on a chip that's been inserted under the skin of the forearm, along with a large amount of other medically important information. That DNA sequence information, unique to each individual, will be the bedrock of a highly effective form of preventive medicine, where most of our medical resources will be focused on keeping people healthy. Monitors in our homes and workplaces will pick up any evidence of a new environmental exposure that might be harmful. An occasional sampling of a drop of blood (or perhaps just saliva) will detect the presence of a long list of biomarkers that might suggest the very beginnings of trouble, offering the opportunity to intervene quickly. Visits to the doctor may seem a bit like Star Trek, with sophisticated imaging capabilities that allow precise assessments of any problem in any organ system. If disease occurs despite all of these preventive measures, the treatments available will be much more individualized and precisely targeted, based on a detailed understanding of the molecular basis of illness. Nanotechnology delivery methods will allow the desired treatment to go directly to where it's needed, without causing side effects in other parts of the body.

We will have learned how to reprogram our own cells to compensate for a problem somewhere in the body. If your liver is failing, cells taken from your skin will be induced to take up the slack. If your heart is weakening, new heart muscle cells will be programmed too. Barring deaths from trauma, the average normal human life span will reach triple digits. But immortality will not be in reach: the death rate will still be one per person.

All of these technical advances will run the risk of depersonalizing medicine, but the best physicians, nurses, and other health professionals will still be those who take the time to get to know the people they are caring for, and to provide a human touch. Certainly by fifty years from now, the realization that access to health care ought to be a basic right of all humans will be agreed upon. I only hope there will be significant political will across the world to act upon that principle.

Will all of this high technology result in a change of our views about humanity? Will we see ourselves as molecular machines rather than creatures capable of noble actions and concerns for our fellow human beings? I am not too worried about that. Yes, science will provide us with many opportunities. But people will still be searching for answers to the meaning of life, and most of us will continue to find comfort and joy by discovering God's love and grace.

Chapter Three

George F. Smoot

George F. Smoot, an astrophysicist, shares the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics with John Mather. He is on the faculty of the physics department at the University of California at Berkeley and conducts research in astrophysics and observational cosmology at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is co-author (with Keay Davidson) of Wrinkles in Time.

A Tiny Dot in Cosmic Time; A Big Period in Human Time

I work primarily on studying the creation and long-term history of the universe. Fifty years is just a dot on the cosmic scale; however, on a human scale, fifty years can initiate significant change. Innovations, successfully introduced, are increasing at a rapid rate. They are cumulative and build upon each other as well as through the entrepreneurial attitudes of the modern world. This makes predicting the way we will be in fifty years difficult; nonetheless, it is instructive and humbling to try.

We can safely estimate that we will weather a change in our primary transportation fuel. Oil will no longer be as dominant and prevalent as it is today. This will clearly result in several shifts of power as well as attitudes. This is not to say that there have not been shifts in energy sources—e.g., wood to coal, then petroleum and natural gas. However, it has never been on such a scale both in terms of its daily impact on society with increasing energy needs, and its global nature.

We can anticipate that this changeover will be stressful and will bring out both good and bad in our institutions and society. Forward-looking groups have now just begun to grapple with what that might mean for them and their place in society. This is mostly an economic view because predicting the full picture of how this will impact civilization and what directions it will take is very difficult. The ultimate path depends upon many factors, including technology, societal attitudes, accidents of sources, and opportunities. Economic views provide a rationale for making decisions.

One interesting example is the company called BP, formerly known as British Petroleum. Since 2004, it has been advertising itself as BP, standing for "Beyond Petroleum." This is a bold and complicated transition with several nuances. BP anticipates investing some $8 billion in BP Alternative Energy over the next decade, reinforcing its determination to grow its businesses "Beyond Petroleum."

Economic stakes and large sums of money are involved here. Such circumstances require careful thought and planning, as well as the marshalling of resources, for the purpose of inventing and developing innovative technologies that will address complex global energy needs. This is bringing together a generation of scientists deeply knowledgeable in all areas related to bioenergy. This includes the sciences and technology that one would normally expect and especially those that are important for the genetic modifications and viability to develop plants that are efficient and effective bioenergy sources. For this overall investment to be successful, the team must develop the capability to produce, select, and insert the genes into plants and then raise them in quantity and quality, turn them into crops, and then into biofuels. This is not an isolated science team working in the lab, but a large, coordinated effort to go beyond that and put it into large-scale practice within fifty years. This would readily meet my definition for a successful innovation.

Why will this change the way we are? Will having something like ethanol in my car's tank change my life that much? Well, yes, indirectly by the shifts in power and the longer implications for global warming. However, this same basic technology can revolutionize many things: food crops, landscape plants, even biological houses. There are already signs that this approach will first impact health and medicine. The technology to be applied here is first being used to develop a low-cost cure for malaria via genetically modified bacteria that are used to make the cure. Much more will follow in this area. I anticipate a very significant increase in human life span as a result and hope that I will be one of the many beneficiaries. It is quite possible that nearly everyone reading this essay will in fifty years be young (that is, less than 150 years old and in relatively good health). This rapid increase in healthy life span will have a major impact on society. There are already huge shocks from a relative few years' increase in life expectancy.

These are myriad changes, but underneath will we still be the same old humans simply seeking to improve and optimize our lives given the better resources available?

I think that at the same time, we will begin to see a change in the basic human being.

Given that society can routinely re-engineer plants and animals to improve them or utilize them more effectively, what about humans? Clearly, there will be some activity in this area. First, it will come through gene therapy of human genetic diseases. Parents already have some ability to choose whether to have children that have severe genetic defects. It is already partially possible to select not only the sex of one's child (e.g., see the effect of China's one child policy) but also to screen out genetic defects. Even more direct intervention and selection will soon be possible. At the beginning, people with family histories of severe genetic diseases will seek this out. Will not some parents choose a stronger selection for good looks and greater intelligence or other traits likely to make their child more successful in general competition? I think that this is likely as there is evidence that people choose their mates (genetic source for their child) based upon these traits. Every time I have talked to groups of high school or college students, at least a few percent say that if gene enhancement for their forthcoming children were reasonably affordable and safe, they would choose that advantage. It seems to me that on the scale of fifty years, we could see something on the order of 5 to 10 percent of the children being born genetically enhanced, most likely by selection, but also possibly by direct genetic engineering. Once we reach that level, then such advantages go beyond fashion and status into direct competition in the gene pool, much like mate selection. Concerned parents quite often spend large resources (money and time) to ensure that their children have a good education—private schools are a prime example. One could consider simply doubling the human genome (so it would be roughly half the size of the wheat genome), and including all the knowledge up through a great college education directly in the child. No worry about the quality of the teachers, school, or whether the child is studying and paying attention. All that knowledge is there and in place in every cell at one-tenth the cost and many times the reliability.

We may also see societies or groups that believe that the development of enhanced humans—thinkers, wise leaders, great movie stars, etc.—is the wave of the future toward a more utopian society or toward one with distinct economic and strategic advantages. Any of these motivations leads toward genetically modified humans. In fifty years we will likely be at the start of a new, rapid evolution of mankind. One of the motivations will be comparison and competition with the rapidly advancing intelligence of machines. Humans will have to advance significantly to keep pace and even be partners in relationship to machines (machines that were once man's servants). Presumably one feature that these newer humans will have is a better interface to powerful computing. This is a change that will really accelerate innovations that change society and humans. It is interesting to speculate what will mark the turning point when evolution brings us from humans toward the next level.


Excerpted from THE WAY WE WILL BE 50 years from today by Mike Wallace Copyright © 2008 by Mike Wallace and Bill Adler. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

A leading force behind 60 Minutes, CBS's seminal newsmagazine, Mike Wallace has won countless awards for his work (including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, three Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Awards, three George Foster Peabody Awards, a Robert E. Sherwood Award, and a Distinguished Achievement Award from the University of California School of Journalism) and has been inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.

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