NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

January 2, 2013

As a new year dawns, a look at the future

A little known spy agency has hoisted a crystal ball to gaze into the future, determining how new technologies could lead to everything from precisely managed smart cities to battery-powered exoskeletons helping grandma get around to time-and-money saving personalized medicine.

The possibilities outlined in “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds” might sound like science-fiction, but the National Intelligence Council’s fifth report on what may come drew on global expertise to give guidance to top intelligence officials.

The report depicts a new world, predicting the rise of a global middle class, a more urban world, a power shift from dominant countries to networks and coalitions, and as much as a 50 percent growth in demand for food, water and energy.

“GT2030” offers specific forecasts about technological advances, painting a picture of smart cities tapping into information technology to create a more prosperous, better and greener place to live.

Smart-city planners will incorporate IT extensively to manage resources, communications, transportation, security, emergency services and other important functions of a healthy city. Sensors, cameras and smart phones will feed information into the smart-city system for digestion and decision-making.

The future could see mega cities built from the ground up, offering an opportunity to integrate advanced IT for smart cities. These cities could be well-run urban centers or “urban nightmares” if done badly.

Breakthroughs in health-care technologies could come from “additive manufacturing” — also known as 3D printing — which produces three-dimensional things a single layer at a time, and could translate into “bio printing” new, unclogged arteries. Even complex human organs could be produced with 3D printing, and by 2030, people might rely on human augmentation to improve vision, mobility, focus and learning ability.

Exoskeletons are now in military development to help troops carry heavier loads, but they could also help the elderly carry out the activities of daily life.

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