The following essay was submitted by Megan Kaczanowski of University of Michigan as part of the Future of Technology Scholarship competition.
“BEEP BEEP BEEP.” The familiar high-pitched screech of my alarm clock blares in my ears. It’s time to wake up. I roll over and tell Harvey to shut up. He tells me that it is time to get up and if I snooze the alarm again I will definitely be late to work. I groan and tell Harvey I hate him. Harvey sniffs disapprovingly. I reluctantly roll out of bed and mutter under my breath. Harvey is my phone and I treat him less as an inanimate object and more like an annoying assistant. He even seems to have a personality, though I am sure that it is programmed in. I slip on some shoes, grab my coffee and a muffin, and hop in my car. I plug in Harvey and select the GPS route to work. My car merges effortlessly onto the highway and I tap the side of my glasses to activate the nearly hologram computer it contains, to review my notes before the first meeting of the day. 114 new emails. To be honest, there are times when I miss the excuse of being out of reach of cell service or not having wireless internet available. However, with the advent of new wireless transmitters and much more powerful antennae in the last decade, wifi is available everywhere, impossible to avoid. There is no excuse for not responding to emails or calls from work anymore. This mostly means longer hours, more demanding schedules, and frustrating vacations. The new fad for successful professionals in their 20s is heading to retreats where all electronic devices are banned and a “communion” with nature is encouraged. Growing up, my sister and I used to hate our enforced family vacations when my parents insisted we go on nature walks and leave our phones in the hotel, but now, I miss those days. Sometimes, it feels nice to avoid electronics for a while. As my car pulls into the parking lot, it stops by the door to let me out and then proceeds to my assigned parking space. I use my thumbprint to scan in and immediately head to the café on the first floor. I grab a protein bar and a shake for lunch and scan my thumb to pay. Since all currency is now digital, your thumbprint can be used for nearly everything. It’s actually a perfect system, as thumbprints are unique and difficult to forge. Your identity, ID, paperwork, bank accounts, everything is tied into your thumbprint. I work for a clean energy coal firm. 25 years ago, 40% of the earth’s energy came from coal. At that time, truly clean energy, at least clean energy at an affordable price which could be produced in large quantities seemed a far distance off. So instead, a few engineers discovered how to clean the process of producing energy from coal. Now, though it accounts for a mere 25% of the energy production, it is an invaluable resource. I work for the accounting division of the largest coal producer in the world. However, as truly clean, renewable energy has become available and cheap, the demand for coal has decreased. As such, my company is decreasing in size and I am in the process of looking for a new job. I think pharmaceuticals is likely the best choice. I ponder this as I head upstairs and I instruct Harvey to email an old friend from college and ask him for a meeting. Harvey checks his profile on a new social networking site, and finds that he is working on nanotechnology to cure viruses. This has become the future of science. When I was 20 and in my second year of college (2014), there was an unprecedented outbreak of Ebola in Africa. Ebola is a terrifying disease, easily spread and with and incubation period of up to a month. The fatality fate was over 90% and there was no cure. The symptoms begin with weakness and fever but later spread to include intense vomiting, diarrhea as well as external and internal bleeding, organ failure, and death. The disease began as one merely confined to the African continent but due the long incubation period, the World Health Organization was unable to successfully quarantine the area and it began to spread to other countries. This outbreak became an epidemic and it was only a symptom of the large disease. Doctors began to prescribe antibiotics in an attempt to fight the disease but the spread of the drugs only increased the ability of the diseases to mutate and to become immune to our drugs. By 2025, both bacteria and viruses mutated so quickly that the drugs we possessed no longer worked. Ebola started the panic, but in the end, what caused the most damage was simple infection. Anything can kill when even simple infections are untreatable. Suddenly, the black plague, unseen since the middle ages was dangerous, even deadly. Thus, the most important technology to have been discovered in the last few decades is in the field of medicine. Now, nanotechnology has developed ways to infiltrate the cells of viruses and most bacteria, and destroy the cell from the inside. This breakthrough caused the eventual end to the panic and actually lead to a cure for cancer. Cancer is caused by uncontrolled growth by abnormal cells in a part of the body. The difficulty in stopping the disease is that the body does not recognize it as a problem and therefore the body’s immune system cannot fight the disease. Nanotechnology allowed for tiny particles to be swallowed in a capsule or released into the bloodstream – a kind of back up, artificial immune system, which is programmed to destroy the cancer causing cells. One nanometer is roughly one-thousandth the size of a human hair. These tiny particles do not affect the body’s normal rhythms like old methods such as chemotherapy, are much less invasive than surgery, and much more effective than home remedies. While the failure of antibiotics and the epidemic of Ebola were horrible tragedies, given the rate at which antibiotics were used, and the rate at which they mutated and became immune to the drugs, this was nearly inevitable. Now, there a few diseases, which cannot be cured, and healthcare has improved for everyone. New technology has improved quality and length of life for everyone and it has become more affordable for everyone. In the last 25 years, the world has become a more safe, unified place due to the increases in clean energy, in healthcare, and in connectivity due to new technology. This is the future.