Written by: Karl Maslo
There’s no doubt that we live in an exciting time. Our scientific and technological advances allow us to know - more and more - the best kept secrets of the universe and of the human being. The possibilities are endless. We speak of innovation applied to ourselves, of innovations that will affect human life as we know it today.
A few weeks ago, I read an interesting article in the newspaper, El País, that revealed some of the inventions that we would see in the year 2050. Although these innovations are amazing, I also began to think about the challenges and questions that will be associated with these great changes.
Privacy in danger
The first controversial issue will be privacy. Rafael Yuste, the mind behind BRAIN (the largest research project launched in the US), says that it is very likely that, in 20 years, we will have deciphered the "brain code", something like the equivalent of the human genome. After centuries of unanswered questions, we will finally know how 85,000 million neurons interact with each other in our heads.
As with the human genome, understanding how emotions, memories, imagination and behavior are generated will allow us to "read" the human mind and even alter it. We can expand the capabilities of the brain, access the minds of other people, and clearly know what they’re thinking. We can even modify the way their brains work.
Are we ready for this? Who will set the limits? If we know that this knowledge is the power to achieve the possible with the right information at the right time, an inherent risk would be that of a potential systematic violation of our privacy and integrity. This power in the wrong hands could generate real catastrophes. Yuste says that "we would need to protect our cerebral rights, as if they were a human right". It seems like a fiction, but it is a situation that is just around the corner.
Genetics on demand
Today, it is already possible to edit the genome of living beings, including humans. A tool developed in 2012, named CRISPR, allows this edit to be done so simply, that some specialists compare it to a text editor.
In 2050, we will almost certainly have "made-to-measure" human beings. Genetically modified to meet medical and aesthetic standards chosen by their parents or society, in general. We will have, on the one hand, a population that will approach 10 billion inhabitants, and on the other hand, uncontrolled climate change that will ultimately affect the food supply. However, genetic editing will allow us to create crops resistant to these issues of a far more hostile world. This is a positive, but it is necessary for humanity to talk about the unintended consequences of the genetic revolution. Yuste recalls that "in 1992 we needed - for example - more attention from the people, before the Internet revolution took off".
Another detail is that innovation has an effect on the income gaps in a society. Why is this? The answer lies in specialization. Ramón López de Mántaras, director of the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute of the CSIC, points out that "higher-level workers earn more and more money (...) and people with lower salaries, although they still have a job, those salaries are deteriorating increasingly". There are technological companies that pay half a million dollars a year to new doctorates in artificial intelligence ...
In Silicon Valley - the mecca of technological innovation - there are already actions of social resistance on the part of the population of California. They show their discontent by stoning the buses of an elite whose richest 1% reaches 4.2 million dollars a year, equivalent to almost 50 times that of the poorest 99%.
This will be a painful process. Many jobs will disappear with the automation and the demand of increasingly specialized professionals. Administrative employees with average education will be relegated to a second or third place. But innovation also brings new jobs. The key is to analyze if we are making the necessary efforts so that more people are able to assume these new forms of work.
The challenge of an elderly population
With life expectancy growing exponentially, the number of chronic diseases associated with advanced age also increases: cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. However, such chronic diseases will no longer be a problem. The early detection of cancer and the biological customization of treatments are alternatives that are already successfully applied today. The challenge is to reduce the exorbitant prices of these innovative treatments that, in some cases, can reach even half a million dollars per patient.
On the other hand, projections estimate that by 2050, the number of people over 65 in developing countries will increase by 250% compared to 2010. There will be 10 times more people with 100 or more years in the world. We will probably see more cases of maternity at age 60 or older, because by increasing the length of life, a woman that age would probably have the physical conditions of a 40-year-old woman today.
When do Peruvians expect to include these new scenarios into the public agenda? Are we ready to face them and take advantage of the innovation of the future? Are we ready to live in the world of 2050?
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