With our industry still trying to recoup from the dot-com detonation amidst the rush to offshore outsourcing, the China/India impact, and the U.S. engineering graduate falloff, one can't help but wonder what the future holds.
Such prognostication is a key element of our Megatrends-themed State Of The Industry issue. Of course, we're not the only ones peering through the telescope. A team of top scientists and engineers at Battelle, a world-renowned technology organization based in Columbus, Ohio, compiled a list of the 10 most strategic technological trends that will shape business and our world over the next 20 years.
Making such a list isn't new to Battelle. The 2020 technology forecast follows a series of 10-year forecasts the company initiated in 1995. The company has predicted technologies such as multifuel automobiles and flat-screen, high-definition television.
So in what can be considered a prologue to our issue, Battelle says the following will be the top 10 strategic technologies for 2020:
1. Genetic-based medical and health care. Over the next 20 years, we'll witness an explosion of medical technology originating from genetic research, making it possible to detect and correct many genetic-based diseases before they arise—maybe even in the womb.
A passel of new pharmaceuticals originating from genetic research will come onto the market in the next 20 years, treating everything from life-threatening diseases to psychological disorders to cosmetic problems. Some of these treatments will be personalized to meet the unique needs of an individual's genetic makeup. Battelle forecasters say genetic research also will lead to cloned human organs within 20 years, for use in transplants.
2. High-power energy packages. Developments such as highly advanced batteries, inexpensive fuel cells, and microgenerators of electricity will make many of our electronic products and appliances highly mobile. Decentralized power sources will be extensive, affordable, and environmentally clean.
These new high-power, distributed-energy systems will provide backup if not primary energy sources for appliances, homes, and vehicles. In the transition to fuel cells, we will see further improvements in batteries—perhaps linked with solar power—and small generators fueled by natural gas.
3. GrinTech (Green Integrated Technology). Global crowding, fears of global climate change, and mountains of garbage will thrust environmental concerns to the forefront. Technology will provide the answers, with new systems that eliminate rather than reduce waste. GrinTech will be critical in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and transportation.
4. Omnipresent computing. We will be in constant contact with very miniature, wireless, highly mobile, powerful, and highly personalized computing that has network access. Such computers may first appear on the market as watches or jewelry with the power of a computer and cell phone. Eventually, computers will be embedded in our clothing and possibly implanted under our skin.
5. Nanomachines. Microscopic machines will revolutionize several industries and may perform jobs ranging from heating our homes to curing cancer. Battelle sees the medical industry as the most important area for nanomachine technology by 2020.
"We may be able to develop nanomachines that will go into your body and find and destroy individual cancer cells while not harming healthy cells," says Battelle senior research scientist Kevin Priddy. Other potential functions include delivering drugs to very localized places in the body, cleaning arteries, and repairing the heart, brain, and other organs without surgery.
6. Personalized public transportation. To combat traffic density, new information technology in your car will work with a central traffic control system to offer the quickest route to your destination. Traffic jams and road rage will decline substantially as people drive their cars to remote parking areas and take highly advanced trains into central cities and between cities.
7. Designer foods and crops. Battelle predicts that most food sold in supermarkets will come from genetically engineered fruits and vegetables, as well as livestock. Through genetic engineering, researchers will develop crops that resist diseases and pests, greatly reducing the need for pesticides and other chemicals.
8. Intelligent goods and appliances. Advances in quantum computing will lead to smaller, more powerful computers and electronics that will bring a quantum leap in intelligence to appliances and other products. Potential products include telephones with extensive phone directories; intelligent food packaging that tells your oven how to cook the food inside; and refrigerators that help make out your shopping list and tell you where to get the best price on food.
9. Worldwide inexpensive and safe water. Within the next 20 years, clean drinking water could become an expensive commodity around the world. But before water shortages become a crisis, technology will answer the challenge with advanced filtering, processing, and delivery of drinkable water. Desalination of water and water extraction from the air are two possibilities.
10. Super senses. Today, the hot technology is virtual reality. In 20 years, we will be marveling over "enhanced reality." Using sensors and electronic or genetic technology, we will be able to implant devices that will allow us to hear better than ever before, or see farther or in the dark.
For more information on Battelle and its technology forecasts, go to its Web site at www.battelle.org.