Smart Thoughts

About Designing the Future

The Design Space of the 21st Century: Me (And You)

Written by: Gary Marchant

If you could create The Guide, what would be in it?  What would be important elements to be included?

Innovation over the past few centuries has given us marvelous equipment, devices and materials that make our lives more comfortable, productive and entertaining.  These technologies of the past primarily consist of external things – things that interact with us from outside of our bodies. 

The technologies of the future will largely focus internally, to understand and change who we are.

This transformation to the self has begun.  New technologies already monitor your body with much more precision and data –such as whole genome sequencing, microbiomics, epigenetics, brain imaging, blood biopsies, wearables, digital phenotyping, and nanorobotics.  These monitoring technologies have given us unprecedented power and insight, especially combined with machine-learning artificial intelligence, to understand what is happening inside our own bodies.

And what we understand we can the start to fix and improve.  The next technology wave just coming into view will modify our bodies – and our children’s – with gene therapy, CRISPR gene editing, brain-machine interfaces, nootropics, anti-aging drugs, molecular surgery, regenerative medicine, smart prosthetics, and cyborg technologies.

These human monitoring and modification technologies will initially focus on our diseases and injuries.  Not just treating such adverse effects after they occur, but moving towards a preventive and participatory health model rather than disease model.   You stop things from going bad days, weeks, months and years before symptoms show up. 

But this focus on better health will quickly slide into enhancement, making you stronger, more resilient and durable, smarter, more creative, and maybe more empathetic.

Here is where the design space of the 21st century will become one of the major policy battlefields of the 21st century.   There is enormous disagreement within and between countries about whether, how and when we should enhance ourselves.

But make no mistake about it.   That road to your enhancement is now open.  It will increasingly widen.   Some of us are chomping on the bit to race down that road.   Others will proceed more carefully and slowly.   Some will try to resist and object.   

But designing the future is now about designing you.


About Gary Marchant

Gary, a Regents’ Professor, is director of the Center for Law, Science and Innovation – the oldest and largest such in the nation -- at ASU's Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.  His research interests include legal aspects of genomics and personalized medicine, the use of genetic information in environmental regulation, risk and the precautionary principle, and governance of emerging technologies such as nanotechnology, neuroscience, biotechnology and artificial intelligence.  Gary sports a PhD in genetics in addition to his Harvard Law degree.