Sitting on the couch, holding my 8 day old granddaughter, my first, found me musing about the future. She had just started to use her eyes for the first time, taking in her surroundings. Our average life expectancy has increased, due to many technological advances, by around 10 years over the last 50 years. It is quite likely she will see the 22nd century and live well into her 2nd century. But with an ageing population, technological and medical advances need to cost-effectively tackle the problems of dementia and the provision of health care to all, independent of location and status.
Wearable devices and human-implanted microchips for monitoring our bodily functions and providing advice from medical applications or from remote medical clinicians are starting to tackle the health challenge. Medical research is finding new ways to assist our bodies to heal and slow down the ageing process.
Advances in technology and techniques have generally come about through specialists working tirelessly to overcome challenges, pooling their knowledge and working in multi-disciplined teams. Humans best communicate and work together when they can see, touch and smell each other. Humans best learn from first-hand experience. Humans best perform when they have tools to enhance their mental and physical faculties.
The superfast optical fibre highways and radio technologies are connecting humans to a point of presence ever closer to each one of us and our superfast processing computers and smart devices. Increasingly ubiquitous networks connect everyone to the Internet, intelligent applications, data bases, libraries of information and the cloud. These technologies have increased the efficiency of connecting humans to humans (H2H) and human to intelligent devices and information (H2I). They have increased our ability to share knowledge and work in international teams at the blink of an eye, independent of distance and location. Creative technologies and software have further enabled scientists and engineers to test theories and structures through modelling and use of virtual reality. Such tools have accelerated the pace of new developments. People the world over are better informed about what is happening to others through drawing on diverse, independent multimedia news sources and information databases.
The widespread availability of communication technologies and services has been facilitated by international standards and by governments opening up markets to competition – driving innovation in practices and technologies. We now have a greater freedom of choice, across a multitude of services, in commercially competitive global markets.
With the widespread availability of superfast, broadband communications has come convergence of services and applications. Convergence of media services and convergence of various scientific fields, such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, cognitive science, information technology and robotics.
Convergence of scientific fields and communications coupled with a growth in human-implanted devices will assist in our communication and wellbeing and tackle the growing cost of health care. In future connecting human-implanted microchips will provide people with opportunities for new business and social interactions. They will also introduce challenging legal, security, medical, ethical, and religious questions.
In my musings, I imagine that my granddaughter will be given a choice of having a human intelligent communicator, a “Humicator[i]”, implanted in her body. Our humicator, wirelessly connected to the nearest point of presence of the superhighway, will enable us to communicate with others with the quality of face to face, or access and store information at the blink of an eye, or access images as if we are looking at them physically in front of us. We will have the option to monitor our bodily functions, controlled by thought or physical stimulus – providing information to our retina and sound to our ears – and simply be better informed.
If people are informed and educated, then they are more likely to change behaviour. Government can provide advice, guidelines and an environment in which to learn from others, enabling doctors to support patients anywhere in the world without recrimination.
We require payment platforms and complaint processes to enable service providers to be fairly assessed and rated by their customers. We need to only receive information about a service or product when seeking such information. Controls must be in place to ensure all personal data is in the control of the individual, shared with others and used in a transparent manner on the terms of that individual.
The super-fast networks will be funded by the consumer, based upon the services used. However, in so called uneconomic communities, seed funding will still be required to assist in providing connection points, ITC education and humication devices. The resulting growth in economic prosperity will result in people progressively paying for services. Joined-up government, devolution of authority and more power back in the hands of the people will reduce the cost and increase the efficiency of government.
I had the great privilege to provide internet connectivity to a remote community in a distant island in the South Pacific. We worked with the community chiefs, the school and health workers. The teachers and children, who statistically have the same brain power as any other person or children in the world, experienced an information explosion. Within one year, they went from having virtually no books to becoming runners-up in a South Pacific-wide competition on the environment. On leaving, I was presented with a painting a part of which showed the exploding brain connected to the internet (see picture). This I see as an insightful look at the future.
I see in the future my new granddaughter, and every other human, no matter how remote, will have the choice to be connected to the internet, but be connected using a humication device, and connected to and from other intelligent devices, information libraries and open data sources. People will continuously use humication in education, work and play. They will be given medical advice when it is needed through remote applications or, when required, a doctor will automatically connect to them. When my granddaughter is into her second century, I expect she will be able to extend her independence through being consciously informed with the name of the person she is talking to via facial recognition, and be guided home when lost.
My granddaughter will live in a world of more independent, but connected people, able to draw on the power of working as a team in the time it takes her to open her eyes. Multi-disciplined teams, of likeminded people, drawing upon information libraries and furthering science, overcoming disabilities, connecting those in need with those who care[ii] and lowering the levels of vulnerability – simply, efficiently and intelligently connected.
Alan Horne, CEO of Broadband Pioneer and special advisor on Telecoms to the Global eHealth Foundation
[i] Humication – a newly coined word by the author meaning humans being connected through implanted intelligent devices to other humans, other intelligent devices and information libraries.
[ii] Slogan of the Global eHealth Foundation www.gehf.org