January 17th, 2014 | By Contributing Writer | Posted in Art & Society, Innovation | Comments Off

The Future of Pregnancy

pregnancy pic

Image source: iamnotthebabysitter.com

By Guest Author Alex Pejak

Pregnancy and the process of childbirth have come a long way in the past century or so, and huge advancements are happening more and more frequently that make pregnancy safer for the mother and the baby. In the mid-1800s, the mortality rate of women during childbirth was greater than 1 in 10, even at some of the world’s top hospitals at the time. With modern medicine and hospitals, that number is closer to 1 in 10,000 now. The entire process of pregnancy and giving birth will undoubtedly get even safer as technology and medicine advance further, and pregnancy is also going to change and evolve in other ways besides just safety.

Let’s take a look at the future (and present) of pregnancy, including such topics as choosing the sex of your baby, prescreening for diseases, and fertilization techniques that allow couples to have babies though they wouldn’t have been able to in the past for numerous reasons.

Current Achievements in Pregnancy

You don’t have to look far into the future to find some very interesting advancements that have taken place when it comes to pregnancy. Before we start to look at what’s coming up on the horizon, let’s discuss what’s currently taking place with PGD.

PGD stands for pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, also known as embryo screening, which is a process that has been practiced since the 1990s. You can think of this as a type of filtering process in which a three-day-old embryo has its six cells tested to see if it contains any genetic markers that would indicate the potential for disease. Only the embryos that have tested negative for signs of disease would be implanted into the womb of the mother. As such, the likelihood of the baby being born with disease is reduced. This process has been improving, and it opens the doors to all sorts of other options for selective reproduction in which parents could choose other traits for their children as well, such as gender, height, and a lot more.

Let’s not forget the 3/4d ultrasound, which gives us a much clearer image of the baby. It wasn’t that long ago that there weren’t any ultra sound photos at all, but the level of detail we can see today is very impressive.

What’s In Store In The Future for Pregnancy?

Undoubtedly, pregnancy is going to become even safer as time passes. Even though it’s become much safer than it was, becoming pregnant remains the single most dangerous thing a woman can do, statistically. According to ABC News, approximately 1000 women die each day giving birth, mostly due to bleeding or infections.  Safety isn’t the only thing that’s going to change as the future draws nearer, however, so let’s take a look at advancements when it comes to being able to “design” your baby, artificial wombs and more.

Designer Babies

In this day and age it’s possible to customize everything from a cellphone case, to a t-shirt, to a home. What’s next, designer babies? Yes, quite possibly, but it doesn’t quite work how many people might imagine. It’s not a matter of filling out a checklist that says “I want a male baby that grows up to be six feet tall, with blonde hair, a lean body type, and a fondness for mathematics and science.” That’s just not how genetics work, however if you recall the process of “filtering” embryos to select the ones that are disease free, the process of choosing other traits could work similarly.

We aren’t there yet, scientifically, and it poses a lot of moral questions as well. Some argue this is creating even more of a barrier between the haves and the have-nots, where wealthy people will be able to selectively design “premium” babies that have all sorts of advantages, essentially rigging the genetic lottery in their favor. In general, people are a lot more comfortable with screening for diseases than screening for blonde hair or pretty eyes.

In some countries, a similar process can be used to help ensure that the mother gives birth to whichever gender she chooses for her child. Many people from Australia and around the world will travel to California, where this in vitro fertilization process costs roughly $30,000, but the price tag doesn’t matter for parents who are desperate to choose the gender of their baby. It’s worth nothing that there are no guarantees that this process will work.

Easier To Get Pregnant

Many couples still struggle with fertility. They’re not concerned with pre-screening for diseases or choosing exactly how they want their baby to look, their major concern is simply to bring new life into this world. When one partner suffers from infertility, it can cause a major strain on even the healthiest of relationships. Here’s what Alan Trounson has said on the topic, “I think it will be possible that we’ll be able to extend the fertile period for women by producing germ cells from iPS technology, or by a variant of nuclear transfer, so somatic cells [which make up most of the body’s cells] become germ cells and are refreshed genetically.”

This will make the fertilization process easier for some couples who are struggling with it, but as with most things when it comes to changing how nature intended pregnancy to work, there are moral concerns. On the topic of morality and ethics, Mr. Trounson says, “Ethics keeps moving. What was once seen as dangerous goes on to be seen as within the confines of acceptable risk. Probably the major development in the field will come from something we’ve never thought about.”

The End of Infertility – Artificial Wombs, Eggs and Sperm

As we blaze trails medically and scientifically in the 21st century, parenthood and raising their own children is becoming a possibility for couples who previously wouldn’t have had the opportunity. Homosexual couples, for example, currently have to find a woman who is willing to carry their child for them, however the idea of artificial wombs is making a huge splash. As you can imagine, similar to most of the things we’ve discussed thus far, this is a controversial topic. However, when you bear in mind the fact that pregnancy is the most common cause of death amongst women, and the fact that an artificial womb offers a solution for women with fertility difficulties, it’s likely only a matter of time until this concept is widely accepted in society.

Final Thoughts on the Future of Pregnancy

Nobody has a crystal ball and we can’t predict the future, but as the human race moves forward, there’s no doubt that the way women get pregnant and the ways that they are able to deliver their babies are going to continue to evolve and change. One hundred years ago, who would have predicted what the face of pregnancy would look like today? Now fast forward another 100 years, who knows what’s in store?

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January 16th, 2014 | By Mallory Smith | Posted in Art & Society, Science & Tech | Comments Off

The Quantified Self is Here and It’s Going Mainstream

quantified self

In case you missed it, Glen was recently interviewed by James Temple at Re/code. The result is an exciting article called Robots, Regenerative Medicine and More: Futurists Gaze Into 2014. In it, Glen mentions the coming year seeing the true mainstreaming of the ‘quantified self.’ He also talks about other things you want to know about, so be sure to read Re/code right now!

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December 31st, 2013 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Art & Society, Environment & Energy, Innovation, Science & Tech | 1 Comment

To 2014 and Beyond

Happy New Year to all our Futurist.com visitors and fans.

Looking ahead, here are some thoughts to add to the endless lists of 2014 anticipations – if you like these things see Mark Anderson’s top ten for 2014, or Thomas Fry’s 33 for 2030, or David Brin’s speculations on the year ahead. Brin is an exception but most of these kinds of articles are lists of technologies and anticipated developments. I know these lists ‘sell papers’ as we used to say, and provide a certain kind of infotainment. But I don’t take them too seriously except as brain teasers. Check them out if you want.

Me? I expect the big stories of 2014 will include…

…a shift in politics to debating how and how much to increase Social Security in the United States. This meme broke through in 2013, and moved the Overton Window over by a surprising margin, away from “how to cut Social Security” and at least to ‘how to maintain it.” This shift in the political winds cannot come too soon as we face an impending retirement crisis and looming wave of elder poverty.

…a dawning realization that fracking, however successful in the next decade or two at tapping previously hard to get oil and gas, has not fundamentally changed the longer term (21st Century) energy picture in which conventional (and thus cheaper) oil has peaked, and thus we face a mostly more expensive future in energy. Cheap gas is the exception but the energy picture still demands that civilization prepare for the fossil fuel phase out to come. Negotiating this passage will literally determine whether modern civilization is maintained.

…a continuation in the downward curve in solar energy cost per watt generated, meaning that it becomes more likely that solar will become a dominant supplier of electricity sooner than later. The electrification of the transportation fleet will gain momentum in 2014.

…space exploration and exploitation will proceed more aggressively in 2014. The success of China on the moon, and the amazing drive of SpaceX and other private companies in space will make the next half-decade a likely dawn of the next era in space, the era that leads to truly occupying space.

…it is hard to know when or if a weather event will tip the balance of public concern toward a crash effort to mitigate, slow down, and prepare for global warming. The latest, and most dire, predictions suggest that this had better happen soon.

Photo Credit: Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance and Mother Jones

Photo Credit: Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance and Mother Jones

…finally, a global struggle with and about the deep issues of privacy versus security, continued drift to richer and poorer society, and the future of employment and work, will likely heighten in 2014. There is a reason, which is more than artistic or admiration of the actors, that the Hunger Games series has already placed its first two films in the top 20 grossing films of all time and is a world-wide phenomenon. There is a hunger for change that is rumbling. The fact that life imitates art in way that reeks of parody but is all too real just adds to the pressure. (In this case activists hanging a banner to protest a proposed pipeline were charged under an absurd terrorism statute – thus precisely proving the point of the banner.)

2014 will be a year of great opportunity and great challenges – not all that different than 2013 or, I suspect, 2015.

Let’s have a great year!

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December 6th, 2013 | By Contributing Writer | Posted in Space | 1 Comment

The Future of Space Tourism and Commercial Transportation – Part Two

By Mary Ann Keeling

Space Tourism By The Numbers
To put things into perspective, a typical airplane will fly at a height of three miles above Earth’s surface. High-altitude jets fly around 13 miles above the surface. Now, multiply that figure by several times and you’re in suborbital space, about 65 miles above the surface. You’ll be able to go more than three times further than that, even, on the Space X Dragon which travels in orbital space over 200 miles above the Earth’s surface. For a suborbital space flight, passengers will be in the zero gravity zone for roughly 1 to 5 minutes, depending on the type of spacecraft they’re in. On-orbit trips can last up to a couple of weeks.

XCor, Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace and Booster Space are the primary companies competing to take consumers into suborbital space. Companies like Boeing, Sierra Nevada and Bigelow Aerospace are going further than that into what is known as on-orbit space. Space X is taking it to the next level with their Dragon spaceship, which will make them the first commercial company to dock at the International Space Station. The Dragon will take you to on-orbital space, and will allow passengers to spend up to 12 days in space.

Fun Facts about Space Tourism
The very first person to travel to space as a tourist was a billionaire from California named Dennis Tito. When CNN asked him about the experience, he said “I spent 60 years on Earth and eight days in space, and from my viewpoint it was two separate lives.”

There’s a non-profit called the Mars One Foundation that has a goal of sending humans to live on Mars. Nearly 100,000 people have signed up to hopefully be chosen for this voyage, even without any guarantees that the technology will exist to get them back home. That astonishing amount of interest for a one-way ticket to Mars shows how fascinated people are with what’s out there. The reason it’s hard to get back to Earth is simply because of the amount of fuel required to get to Mars and the amount that it weights, they aren’t able to carry enough to get back home. There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered before Mars One becomes a reality, but they’re making fast strides.

A Frequent Flyer Program That Gets You Further
When you think of frequent flyer programs, you probably think of earning a few points here and there and maybe one day having enough to get a discounted plane ticket to visit the in-laws, or something else as equally unexciting. Velocity is taking that to the next level. Thanks to the Velocity frequent flyer program, Velocity is offering the prize of a lifetime, by giving one lucky traveler the chance to win a suborbital space flight on Virgin Galactic worth $250,000. The lucky winner will have a chance to do what so few people have done, to float out there in space, looking down at the pale blue dot known as Earth.

In Other Futuristic News…
Suborbital space travel for consumers is already a reality; it’s just a matter of rolling it out the final stages. Obviously, not everything that is predicted comes true and not everything that is invented ends up being practical. For example, supersonic transport looked very promising at first. Being able to travel faster than the speed of sound means you can get from one coast to the other in much, much less time. However, it wasn’t practical, it was too noisy, and it never ended up changing commercial travel the way people had anticipated.

The DaVinci Institute has some pretty interesting predictions for the future of traveling on earth. They predict that by 2015, gas powered vehicles will start to decline in favor of hybrid and electric cars. By 2020, they’re anticipating “glow in the dark” highways, which will drastically change night driving. By 2030? We’ll start to see the first flying cars. That might seem kind of out-there to imagine right now, but who thought we would be sending tourists into space?


*Mary Ann Keeling is a writer and a blogger from Brisbane who likes to share her passion for the future through her writing.

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December 5th, 2013 | By Contributing Writer | Posted in Space | Comments Off

The Future of Space Tourism and Commercial Transportation – Part One

By Mary Ann Keeling

At one point or another, just about everybody has dreamed of traveling to space. Can you imagine yourself floating out there, weightless, and looking down at planet Earth, which is now just a small blue dot in the distance? Many astronauts have come back to Earth after being in space and described how the experience of seeing Earth from space is absolutely life changing, how it puts everything into perspective, and is very humbling. Everything that used to seem like a big deal on planet Earth, small conflicts and drama, late fees on your phone bill, someone cutting you off in traffic – none of it seems as significant when you’ve seen the world from afar. This dream is getting closer and closer to reality as each day passes, and space tourism is just around the corner. Soon, you won’t have to be a celebrity or an astronaut to get the chance to travel to space; it’s going to be available to the general public.

Space Tours with Virgin Galactic
It’s been nearly a decade since Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004. They aren’t offering commercial flights just yet, but their vessel SpaceShipTwo is planned to take its inaugural voyage at the end of 2013, so it’s likely that actual space tourism isn’t that far out of reach. The latest news on space tourism is that Richard Branson himself will be taking part on the first flight into space, and really putting his mouth where his money is. This huge show of confidence in the technology and their ability to get to space is demonstrating great leadership and will undoubtedly help to ease some of the concerns that people have about space travel. Imagine being on the very first commercial flight into space? In case you’re wondering what the price tag is going to be, at least initially, to fly to space with Virgin Galactic you’re looking at a cool $250,000. Also aboard early flights will be TV and film star Ashton Kutcher, and actress Kate Winslet (who, and this is true, once saved Richard Brandon’s mother from a house fire!). To top off all this star-power (pun intended), the first flight of Virgin Galactic is going to be broadcast on NBC, which is a television network that has been struggling in recent years to bring original and interesting programming – but you can’t do much better than televising the first commercial space launch!

Other Ways To Get To Space
Virgin Galactic isn’t the only company interested in getting people into space, even though they’re the most talked-about and the closest to making this a reality. If you read the $250,000 price tag and felt your dreams slowly being crushed – there are other options! There’s a program named World View by a company called Paragon (They make equipment for the International Space Station) which aims to take a slightly different approach to getting people into space, namely using a high-tech version of the hot air balloon. You may have also heard of Paragon’s plan to send people to the planet Mars by 2018 which has been heavily discussed in the media. 2018 sounds like a very ambitious goal, but that’s how you get things done when it comes to space travel – ambition!

You may recall when Felix Baumgartner parachuted from space for Redbull, this stunt used a similar balloon system to the one that that Paragon is hoping to use as part of their World View program. They’ve still got a lot of hurdles to jump through and regularity steps to take, so hot air balloon trips to space are further out than the Virgin Galactic option, but they’re expected to be a little bit less costly coming in at around $75,000 for a trip.

If both of those options are a little too pricey, there’s a way that you can win your entry into space, too. All you need is a little luck!

NY Times Branson Space TravelInfographic source:
Richard Branson’s Space Race

*Mary Ann Keeling is a writer and a blogger from Brisbane who likes to share her passion for the future through her writing.

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