Culture

TED Radio Hour takes a look in the crystal ball

Posted by: Elizabeth Jacobs

predicting_the_future_rTake a trip back to the future with this week’s TED Radio Hour, as six TED speakers share their prophecies for what lies ahead. From curing cancer to self-driving cars, these TEDsters offer exciting visions for the future, but not without cautionary warnings.

The episode starts with a walk down memory lane with Nicholas Negroponte, who made several spot-on predictions at the first TED Conference in 1984. Thirty years later, as he guessed, we are using touch screen computers and voice recognition software.

Next up is Nina Tandon, the biomedical engineer who is growing spare body parts. In her talk from TEDGloblal 2012, she discusses how her research on engineering new organ tissue might end our system of organ donation, and how it could even cure cancer. What if we could hyper personalize medicine, testing a treatment on an individual’s cloned organs to see how they react, before actually using it? As she speeds up the feedback loop between developing a medicine and seeing how it works in humans, she is turning pharmacology into an information technology.

Everyone might live an extra 10 or 20 years thanks to Richard Resnick’s work mapping the human genome. As he shared at TEDxBoston 2011, gene sequencing will allow us to detect diseases, eventually leading to a universal diagnostic exam that might help us cure cancer and malaria. It could also allow us to check a baby’s genome before it is born. Resnick acknowledges that this technology sounds like something out of the Twilight Zone, and he urges society to have a conversation about the ethics of these tools before they are put to general use.

The next speaker in the episode is Marc Goodman, who discussed the future of crime and terrorism in the digital age at TEDGlobal 2012. He describes an arms race between people who are using technology for good and those using it for ill. How might 3D printers be harmful? Can the internet be a forum for spreading dangerous ideas, like how to make the avian flu virus more potent? What are the risks of having 60,000 Americans connected to the Internet via their pacemakers? The solution, Goodman suggests, is to empower ordinary citizens to approach the problem and collectively work through it.

Following Goodman is Todd Humphreys, who spoke at TEDGlobal 2012 about the promise of GPS. We could live in a world where we never lose anything, with GPS attached to all of our objects and searchable like emails. But for all of the exciting opportunities this could offer, there is, of course, a downside. Will our government track our every move? What if we become too dependent on our location-tracking information, and are thwarted by GPS spoofers who falsify location data?

Next Sebastian Thrun shares how he wants to change your morning commute. Part of the team at Google designing the self-driving car, he spoke at TED2011 about how robotic cars could improve our lives and save more than one million lives per year. While the team is still working out how to program robots to react to the unexpected, like deer in the road and falling rocks, Thrun expects human drivers to be off the road in the next five years.

Finally, the episode returns to Nicholas Negroponte, asking him to offer some new guesses for the next 30 years.

Five years from now, this episode of TED Radio Hour might seem like an archaic time capsule from the past. The exciting and cautionary predictions shared in this episode just might come true — but we’ll have to wait and see.

Check out your local NPR schedule to find out when TED Radio Hour’s “Predicting the Future” airs, or listen via the NPR website »

You can also head to iTunes, where the podcast is available now »

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