The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, Aug. 24, 2014
Inspired by a cheery video describing the Champaign-Urbana of 25 years from now — zero poverty! zero unemployment! — we asked experts to gaze into their crystal balls and tell us how things will be dramatically different in their fields come 2039.
ON LIFE EXPECTANCY
University of Illinois '69 (Ph.D.); Won 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine
"Probably the most significant change that will happen over the next 25 years is a series of discoveries that will control some aspects of aging. Many of our chronic diseases are probably controlled by processes related to aging, including cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and Type 2 diabetes. Thus, solving the aging riddle will unlock many health problems.
"This will probably result in some people living to the age of 125 with a good quality of life. People now 20-30 would have a life expectancy of 100-110, with several living to 125. This, with the continued decrease in fertility rates, will generate an older population in developed countries with many challenges that will require advances in technology, where fewer workers will provide the necessary production."
UI engineering professor
"You'll see robotic replacements of humans that, in quite specialized settings, recognize and interact with us in a way indistinguishable from how humans would, in their place.
"For example: In a store, hotel or nursing home, a robot might recognize a person as (either) a regular visitor or a stranger; greet her or him in an age- and gender-appropriate way; enter into an intelligent dialogue; quickly understand the situation; and collect and do the laundry of a hotel guest, lead a customer to a specific place where merchandise is, carry a fallen senior to his room, provide first aid, shoot at an enemy soldier or disable a home intruder."
ON AIR TRAVEL
UI cross-country legend, United Airlines captain
"I foresee the possibility of pilot-less airplanes in 25 years. With the increase in the use of drones by the military, it may just be a matter of time before the technology and inclination of the industry moves commercial aviation in that direction.
"Will the public step into an airplane without pilots? Does the public now step into all kinds of driver-less public transportation — Disney-like airport trams, etc.?
"As a 777 captain, this idea is unsettling and uncomfortable. But it just might happen. Outrageous? Yes."
UI '91 (MS); Product management director, Samsung
"The biggest change will be that we will not be carrying devices to communicate. Though a combination of smart devices around us and ability to authenticate through heat signatures, we will be contactable at all times without actually needing to carry something. Privacy will become a bigger issue than it is today as people will be essentially trackable at all times.
"Some of the biggest differences will be where we are while we are communicating. I would imagine that there will be big improvements to mass transit and even space travel in the next 20 years, and communication will keep pace with these advancements."
ON COLLEGE COSTS
Assistant professor, UI College of Education
"Within the next 25 years, I think there will be no more college tuition. With an increased awareness of the value of higher education, the U.S. will shift to a funding model that ensures that sticker prices are no longer a reason for students not to attend college.
"I think students will still share in the cost of college, but they will now pay on the back end after leaving college, perhaps through some sort of income-contingent program. For the average American family, this will indicate a generational shift in the expectation that parents pay for college to one where students pay most of the costs."
UI '90 (Ph.D.); Served on climate panel that shared 2007 Nobel Peace Prize
"There are two big things that I think will happen in regards to tornado forecasting. First, we'll be able to estimate the intensity of a tornado before it forms to help craft warning messages that are more specific. Second, we'll be able to use radar data to start extremely high-resolution computer models every few minutes to estimate the probability of tornadoes and other severe thunderstorms on the scale of a mile or so out for a couple of hours.
"These forecasts will be extremely valuable for emergency managers and those responsible for a lot of people that take a long time to move — i.e. athletic events, hospitals and nursing homes."
ON VIDEO GAMES
General manager, DS Volition, Champaign
"Video games will be something akin to the holodeck from the old 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' that comes in the form of wearable hardware. Something that addresses more than the visual sense and even goes beyond the five senses — into areas like smell, pressure, balance, even pain. I think the story arcs will still revolve around being the hero or anti-hero; saving the world or some subset.
"The systems will probably be able to generate vignettes based on input from the user, but generated images of famous folks to interact with will probably be what sells to the public. I don't think we will be plugged in — like the old book 'Neuromancer' — and I bet there are limitations on length of episode and number of episodes in 24 hours so people can't overindulge.
"The focus will be on the emotional experience and I assume it will be a wild ride."
Swanlund Chair, the UI's highest endowed title
"Over the next 25 years, we will see an intimate melding of man and electronics. Monitoring and treatment of disease will occur via electroceutical devices, sometimes used in conjunction with traditional pharmaceuticals, integrated on or in the body.
"Individuals and physicians and their computer systems will be deeply informed on health status in a continuous, real-time fashion, such that interventions will be conducted, sometimes autonomously, qualitatively earlier and more effectively than is possible today."
ON BEING A FAN
UI '90 (BS); Northwestern Athletic Director
"Fans will have full control of every camera angle and replay in the palm of their hand, producing their own customized television broadcast in real time in their seat."
UI finance professor
"In 2039, kids watching 'Mary Poppins' — yes, classic movies will still be available on the Internet — will ask, 'Daddy, what's a bank?' Banks will still be around for large corporations, but individuals will no longer be aware of them.
Payments? Checking accounts will have disappeared into PayPal, digital wallets, smartphone apps and Wal-Mart loyalty cards. Loans? Crowd sourcing on the internet. Savings? After decades of non-existent interest rates, people just put any savings directly into mutual funds. Safe deposit boxes? They disappeared when Congress finally passed the Planetary Digital Records Act, moving all paper records into the cloud, using Bitcoin technology."
UI '78 (BS); Known as "The Father of DSL"
"Humans across the planet will be so connected that many of their needs and desires will be anticipated by Internet-connected devices on, in and around them. Their health, locations and situations will be monitored — probably with some self-election for some privacy — and improved and optimized from enormous cloud-based data and systems, as well as from the computing devices on, in and around them."
ON WORLD PEACE
Taught at UI, 1974-82; Won 2012 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences
"Today, we've started to make some progress on fixing market failures for matching markets, like labor markets, in which you can't just choose what you want but also have to be chosen. We're getting better at being matchmakers, in areas from organ transplantation to school choice.
"It would be great if in 25 years — or 100 — we could use game theory and market design to help us become effective peace makers."
ON GETTING INTO COLLEGE
UI President, 1979-95
"Maybe we'll have an I-SMART app students can put on their phones — we're close to that already. Or maybe genetic engineering will have given all kids smart genes.
"Whatever the innovation, the focus will shift more toward what students 'know and can do,' with less attention as to how they acquire that knowledge. Whatever the shift, one way or another, the cost will need to come under control."
UI professor; Won 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics
"My guess is that there is an even-odds possibility that 25 years from now we will have robust room-temperature superconductivity, with as a consequence 'routine' magnetic levitation. This would permit all sorts of everyday-life applications, such as personalized non-internal combustion engine transportation systems, as well as revolutionizing medical instrumentation technology."
ON MOBILE BANKING
President, Fisher National Bank
"I think the changes will be more gradual over the next 25 years and the current trends in the industry will continue. Those trends are consolidation of the industry, which has been taking place for the past several decades, and utilization of technology.
"When I started working at a community bank 39 years ago, there was talk of a checkless and cashless society. I remember not even being able to comprehend that concept, but look where we are today. That trend will continue as more and more consumers adapt to electronic and mobile banking.
"Whatever the changes are in the next 25 years, my hope and prayer is there will still be a place for well-run community banks. They are vital to the industry, the small businesses they provide capital to and the communities they serve."
Assistant Professor, UI Department of Kinesiology and Community Health
"As a social scientist who works with numbers, I feel stretched to make any bold prediction for the next 25 years as I must run into the curse of extrapolation. But I simply can not resist the temptation to say something that otherwise will have no chance of being published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
"My prediction is that in the next 25 years, people will grow out of the obesity problem mainly due to two reasons:
"First, some major scientific breakthroughs and continuous advancement of medical technology will dramatically increase the longevity of human beings in major developed countries, and we know that for the oldest people, weight loss rather than obesity is their No. 1 enemy.
"Second, even in absence of the aging phenomenon, the obesity epidemic will level off in the next decade or so as most people who could have become obese due to genetic reasons have already been obese, and those who would not become obese anyway remain not obese. So the obesity epidemic reaches its potential or so-called steady state. And when the aging phenomenon kicks in, the trend will be reversed.
"Notice that I talked nothing about population-level policy interventions — fighting against food desert, sin food tax, healthy food subsidy, etc. — as none of them is likely to be super effective in winning the war against obesity."