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VOICES OF OUR TIME:

Q: From your perspective, what have been some of the most important developments of the 20th century, and how will the world be different 100 years from now?

Over the past four or five years, the Internet has exploded from an obscure scientific tool to omnipresence in our society. Any process exhibiting such exponential growth sneaks up on you that way.

Bear this in mind when considering the impact of other emerging technologies, whose growth and development is just as explosive but still a few years farther away. The most escapist science fiction of the 1980s is on the verge of becoming everyday reality in the 2000s.

Consider the notion of (essentially) free video-conferencing via the Internet with anyone anywhere in the world, or of self-piloting automobiles that deliver you to any pre-selected destination via an optimal path at speeds beyond safe human control. Both these technologies are already available today, and within just a few years should seem as ubiquitous and mundane as e-mail.

Just slightly later will come the widespread use of human cloning, enhancement of individual genomes through DNA editing, and the common use of cybernetic augments via physical implants. Perhaps subsequent advances in the intelligence of software systems and the use of nanotechnology in modifying biological systems will lead to some sort of convergence between the electronic and the biological.

The exact implications of these technologies for human life and society are very difficult to predict, but whether for good or for ill, such changes are fast approaching.

Ron K. Unz, a theoretical physicist by training and past winner of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, is the founder and chairman of Wall Street Analytics, a Palo Alto financial-services software company. In 1994, he was a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor. He led last year’s successful campaign for Proposition 227, the “English for the Children” initiative to dismantle bilingual education in California.

(Republished from The San Jose Mercury News by permission of author or representative)
 
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