Tonawanda News

January 27, 2013

DUVALL: Taking a look into the future

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I really like it when people make predictions about the future — mostly because they’re never actually right.

No one ever seems to predict the really important things that happen, like a major financial collapse or the entire Middle East turning into a seething cauldron of riots and xenophobia. It would have been helpful, to say the least, if we’d seen those two things coming.

Still, I read with interest the story on page 12 of today’s paper, the predictions large and small made at the hoitey toitey Davos World Economic Forum. It’s the annual gathering of a bunch of really smart people who can afford to fly to Switzerland to hear other people — and also themselves — talk.

Read the AP’s account and make judgments for yourself on whether any of these things will happen. But if you don’t, I’ll do it for you:

The weather

On this topic it would seem all smart people can agree the world will continue to get warmer and the number of freakish weather events will become common enough that only a football-sized meteor smashing into earth and blocking out the sun for 40 years will seem really weird.

Helpfully, one of the Davos people has put a number on the odds of total global annihilation due to climate change: “Oxford University physicist Tim Palmer — who said as a scientist he preferred probabilities to prediction — noted there is a 10- to 15-percent chance that the Earth will warm by 6 degrees Celsius within a century, leading to ‘catastrophic consequences for humanity’ ranging from extreme weather to rising seas.”

So, don’t make too many plans for 2113. There’s a 15 percent chance the earth will be rendered uninhabitable. And a much higher chance we’ll all be dead by then anyway.

Traffic

Another bold Davos prediction? We’ll all be sitting in self-driving cars in a few years.

I’m inherently skeptical about any transportation-related predictions ever since we were promised flying cars in by sometime in Ronald Reagan’s second term. This is by far the most let down I’ve ever been by a prediction. I WANT MY FLYING CAR! WHERE IS IT?!

But there’s an actual question I’m willing to consider: Would self-driving cars be safer? Seriously, most GPS units can’t ever seem to figure out when to say I should turn. I picture myself lounging in my car, sipping coffee and reading the paper while it drives me to work, only to look up and realize I’m about to careen into a McDonalds drive thru because the car thinks it’s my office instead.

Upside? Old people aren’t in control of vehicles and no one will ever need a designated driver. Drinks on me!

Health care

Doctors and researchers agreed research into genetics will continue to unlock clues to a multitude of illnesses, particularly mental illnesses. Scientists envision being able to alter improperly formed or performing cells to address such things as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

I have a cynical prediction: No one is really going to pay enough money to fix problems we presently address by sticking the mentally ill in state wards. The research is certainly interesting, but where’s the financial motive for companies to profit from helping people with no means to repay them?

Technology

Another bold prediction from Davos: A huge increase in 3D printing.

Or, as we used to call it, making stuff.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com.