Technological Needs of the Future

The following is an extract from a 1968 article.

The Western World, and especially the United States, has often been characterized as a "technological society". This phrase reflects the great impact that engineering, as the strong right arm of science, has had upon western society. In almost every aspect of human enterprise the activities of the engineer are playing an increasingly important role and these activities will continue to have far-reaching social, economic, and political consequences in the world of the future.

A recent report by personnel of the Rand Corporation attempts to depict the world of the future at several points in time. Using the views of experts in six major areas of human activity, an effort was made to visualize the world of 1984 and of 2000:

The World of 1984

If we abstract the most significant items for the forecasts of all six panels, the following picture emerges as the state of the world as of 1984:

The population of the world will have increased by 40% from its present size to 4.3 billion - that is, provided no third world war will have taken place before them.

To provide the increased quantities of goods needed, agriculture will be aided by automation and by the availability of desalinated sea water.

Effective fertility control will be practiced, with the result that the birth rate will continue to drop.

In the field of medicine, transplantation of natural organs and implantation of artificial (plastic and electronic) organs will be common practice. The use of personality-control drugs will be widespread and widely accepted.

Sophisticated teaching machines will be in general use. Automated libraries which look up and reproduce relevant material will greatly aid research. World-wide communication will be enhanced by a universal satellite relay system and by automatic translating machines. Automation will span the gamut from many service operations to some types of decision making at the management level.

In space, a permanent lunar base will have been established. Manned Mars and Venus fly-bys will have been accomplished. Deep-space laboratories will be in operation. Propulsion by solid-core nuclear-reactor and ionic engines will be available.

In the military arena, ground warfare will be modified by rapid mobility and a highly automated tactical capability, aided by the availability of a large spectrum of weapons, ranging from non-lethal biological devices and light-weight rocket-type personnel armament to small tactical nuclear bombs and directed-energy weapons of various kinds. Ground-launched anti-ICBM missiles will have become quite effective. Anti-submarine warfare techniques will have advanced greatly, but improved, deep diving, hard-to-detect submarines will present new problems (Ref. B-1).

The World of 2000

When we continue our projection to the year 2000, the following major additional features emerge as descriptive of the world at that time, judging from the forecasts of the six panels:

The population size will be up to about 5.1 billion (65% more than 1963).

New food sources will have been opened up through large-scale ocean farming and the fabrication of synthetic protein.

Controlled thermonuclear power will be a source of new energy. New mineral raw materials will be derived from the oceans. Regional weather control will be past the experimental stage.

General immunization against bacterial and viral disease will be available. Primitive forms of artificial life will have been generated in the laboratory. The correction of hereditary defects through molecular engineering will be possible.

Automation will have advanced further, from many menial robot services to sophisticated, high-IQ machines. A universal language will have evolved through automated communication.

On the Moon, mining and manufacturing of propellant materials will be in progress. Men will have landed on Mars, and permanent unmanned research stations will have been established there, while on Earth commercial global ballistic transport will have been instituted.

Weather manipulation for military purposes will be possible. Effective anti-ICBM defenses in the form of air-launched missiles and directed energy beams will have been developed (Ref. B-2).

These forecasts suggest (1) that large scale systems will be created for the development, control, and use of our natural resources, and (2) that development will continue (a) of automated manufacturing industries, (b) of synthetic foods to meet the needs of an expanding world population, (c) of rapid transportation systems for land, sea and air, (d) of space programs and design of more efficient and humane military defense systems, and (e) of bio-social systems having to do not only with medical advances, housing, community development, and pollution control but also with their coordination into large scale social systems such as vast metropolitan complexes that will utilize technological advances more effectively.

Each of these developments contains the promise of greater well-being for the people of the United States and the world. However, each change may also create new and probably unanticipated problems that will have to be solved in part by the engineer.

(C) Engineering Education : Goals Report, January 1968, pp. 378-379. Reprinted by permission.

Last Modified - Monday, 10-Feb-97 15:46:41 NST /