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     Volume 4 Issue 16 | October 8 , 2004 |

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Travelling into the Future

Tanvir Manzoor Hussain

In ancient Greece, citizens of various city-states worshipped their own gods. Communication with the gods was considered important, and therefore for advice they went to oracles, who are priests supposedly able to interpret the wishes of gods and the future. More then three thousand years ago, kings of a Chinese dynasty had polished bones heated until they were cracked, and these cracks were considered a sign for the future. Today, many Hindus still believe in pundits who can read people's palms and predict the tomorrow. In the future, technology will undoubtedly reach great speeds and transform our daily routine rapidly; the present will be the future, and the future the present.

The current generation is probably the first generation in history to have messed with the chromosomes and to have violated the uncharted territories of space. On the ground, they have produced geniuses who have challenged religion and the existence of God. In fact, the more we have progressed, the more valuable time has become: this is evident from the fact that while European powers dominated their colonies for hundreds of years, the Cold War lasted less than seventy years. A recent report showed that the Asian internet industry was just a couple of years behind Silicon Valley, and that is probably all the difference between the East and the West.

Our hopes today are mainly for our children, those who will guide our civilization through this century, instead of our children's children, who will lead us into the twenty-second century. That might sound distant, but we are not too far away from it, considering the growing threats humans face and the increasing possibilities that we are creating. If the new century is compared to a hundred metres hurdle race, to clinch the gold medal the next two generations must overcome hurdles such as population, deadly diseases, political tensions, genetic discrimination, economic crisis and global warming.

Although we always hope for a better and safer future for the coming generations, it will be important that we set the foundation for that. Presently we are forced to look at the future with apprehension and uncertainty, but our children must not have to visit oracles for prophecies. Advanced radars, satellites and smart computers should be able to issue warnings in time for natural disasters, and cyberspace could connect the world and form a more united and closer community where discrimination by gender, race and country will be non-existent. Gene therapy and animal transplants might extend people's life expectancy, and at the same time people must be able to expect a lot more from life: especially with no brutal wars and ethnic struggles.

There would definitely be lesser conflicts if today's countries are replaced by micro-nations. Thanks to the Internet, these would be non-territorial virtual states with its own governments and ideas. If most of the world's population can come under microstates like these, then world wide cooperation might increase with the introduction of virtual economies; e-cash can be the new global currency. Our grandchildren might be the Netizens of micro-nations, and their constitution would be called the Netiquette, standing for network etiquette.

These Netizens might be more accustomed to the virtual worlds than the real world. This will help people have virtual pets and partners. Sitting in a fully automated house-cum-office, with a touch-sensitive computer with virtual keyboards, a person in Bangladesh might be touring ancient Roman cities or the deserts of Mars. Virtual games could transform humans into heroes with realistic conversations and thrilling actions in mysterious worlds of cyberspace.

And it would interesting if a hundred years from now our grand-children might be enjoying brand new films of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, solely because of simulation and special effects. Ricky Martin could still be holding concerts; virtually, though.

A firmer grasp of the future could be had by our offsprings through digital life-forms. The Net's own version of life, these digital humans could be capable of thinking and deciding. They could be residing in virtual worlds with different situations such as global warming, over population, lack of resources and alien attacks. It would be important that the future generations to try and learn tactics from these equally intelligent cousins of ours. But they will not be our only companions: robots will do everything from cleaning toilets to defending satellites in space. They could change in shape in order to perform difficult tasks and adapt to distant planets. They might as well help our grand-children by building space stations and forming invincible armies. Household robots can be emotional and helpful, while battle robots might be strong and destructive.

So will be the space wars of the future. Satellites will act as surveillance units while unmanned aerial vehicles will travel at high speeds above the battlefields of distant planets; unmanned because high range anti-aircraft missiles might be developed. Submarines might act as aircraft carriers on the surface. Cyberwars will erupt with each side hacking and sabotaging supplies and production lines. Man-made super-viruses will make the 21st century's biological weapons more lethal . Soldiers will wear intelligent uniforms which will be bullet and virus proof besides being able to change its colour by detecting its surrounding. They will carry laser weapons able to affect the enemy's blood circulation. All this will make space exploration and settlement a hostile business.

Maybe not, if we manage to contact extraterrestrial beings and they happen to launch an onslaught on humans. Then, hopefully with mankind not quarreling amongst themselves, our advancements in defence will give us the edge on anti-alien wars. However, whether or not we pick up signals from outer space or not, space is the future. With overpopulation and lack of natural resources on Earth, I hope our grand-children will be capable of living permanently in space. Entire colonies could be thriving without support from Earth. They hopefully will invent ways of growing food in space and creating Earth-like gravity elsewhere. If future generations can accomplish these, then the depletion of forests and the population boom of today will be nothing more than chapters of children's history books.

Our grand-children might survive without rainforests, but we will never get them back once all the trees are logged. Similarly endangered species of wildlife will go extinct, and common animals of the present will be rarely seen. To make sure that does not happen, during the course of this century scientists will have to preserve these animals and breed them in zoos. I'm sure that even if these animals are extinct, they'll probably be alive virtually. They could also be preserved by cryogenics. If this new science can be perfected by our children, perhaps our grand-children could revive their ancestors who will probably be frozen in liquid nitrogen. And they even might resurrect extinct creatures.

New branches of science could appear as a result of mankind's efforts. Cryogenics will be one, and nanotechnology will surely be another. Nanotechnology will deal with tiny materials, almost a billionth of a meter in diameter. If these materials are used to make everything from electronic devices to space-plans, they will not only be cheap but also environment friendly. Since manufactured goods will be then processed at atomic levels, wastes will be of microscopic amounts. In this way I hope our grand-children will solve the pollution problem and revolutionize everything from space exploration to medical science.

No matter how much progress our children make, they will always have to deal with nature and its potent soldiers in the form of germs. Our grand-children will emerge at a time when there will be no threat from AIDS, and cheap transplants of animal organs will be widespread. Nanotechnology will develop tiny chips that might control diabetes and detect cancer. But new bugs are always appearing, and the viruses of tomorrow will be resistant to anti-biotics and vaccines. It seems as if they too are evolving and adapting to current prevention methods. I hope that the future generation will discover ways to survive them. If tiny robots that could be inserted into the body were made, they could act as antibodies permanently. These might have information on how certain diseases are caused, and therefore safeguard internal organs. With the help of genetic engineering, cloned humans could exist just to supply spare body parts, and the cures for cancer and AIDS will be available to everyone.

Although we can influence the future generations, there will always be a limit to it. Our grand-children will certainly be more intelligent and superior than us, just as we are to those of the 19th century. They will certainly have to adapt to the various obstacles that are already bothering their ancestors, if they are to usher in the 22nd century with celebrations similar to our welcoming of the millenium. We can still be optimistic, and can hope for a better tomorrow, because it the future generations who are heir to all our inventions and discoveries.


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