This interview with noted futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil is well worth reading. He talks about what he expects in the next two decades: radical health extension, including anti-aging, and radical improvements in computers and computer-human interfaces. He also addresses some issues of the societal impact of these advances:
If you jump ahead 20 years or so, we will be able to create virtually any physical product at almost no cost, just from information and fabrication techniques.
We've been saying that China is rapidly developing a capacity for cutting-edge research. Kurzweil appears to agree:
China is committed to building 50 MITs, as they put it. That's not an exaggeration. They're creating scores of world-class technology universities.
Still, I believe the United States retains an edge in terms of innovation.
Software pathogens are "going to be the profound issues civilization struggles with in the future." Of course, we would caution that micro-robots (probably not the self-replicating kind -- special-purpose ones will be more efficient) could be an equal plague, if allowed to be built and used without accountability.
I tend to agree with him that culture shock won't be natural consequence of new technology:
If I describe the world of 2030, it would seem quite different from the world today, but we get from here to there in 200 little steps. Each step is benign and conservative and makes sense and addresses some compelling need.
"Aren't you smart enough now?"
Absolutely not. Are you kidding? .... I'm a neophyte in just about every field I run across.
"No cure for AIDS. Has technology let us down?"
That's complete nonsense. We're in the early stages of biotechnology. . . I'm very confident that over the next decade we'll largely eliminate the diseases that kill 95 percent of people today. . . I believe that within 10 years we'll produce a mouse that doesn't age, and we'll translate that into human therapies within another five to 10 years after that.
We've rationalized death, which in my view is a profound tragedy and a tremendous loss of knowledge and expertise. And we have rationalized it as a good thing. I guess if there's nothing you can do about it, the best thing you can do is rationalize it, but there will be things that we can do about it.
Yes! See Nick Bostrom's excellent Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant.