The Future is Here: Technology and Medicine in a “New Age”
“It is not the strongest…that survives…It is the one that is most adaptable to change” ~ Charles Darwin
“What is now proved was once only imagined” ~ William Blake
Ever since humans have had tools, the idea of controlling our environment has ignited our imagination. Basic technology, fire, and language accelerated cooperation and started a series of revolutions that are coming to a head in our time. Humankind’s ability to organize creatively through culture and commerce has fueled consumption and created an interdependent global socio-economic system, an anthroposphere in the biosphere.
The great advantage the human species has is its plasticity, the ability to change and adapt because of culture and technology. That power makes it possible to intentionally and quickly intervene in the normally slow evolutionary process, through direct manipulation of the body and environment. Change is speeding everything up. The global explosion and availability of information, technology and “big data” give people the opportunity to take personal control of their health. It is now possible to discover genetic predispositions to diseases before they develop. Check-ups are among the medical procedures that sometimes no longer require office visits. Health professionals can videoconference with patients in their own home. In some cases surgeons using advanced robotics and nanotechnology, can conduct operations remotely, even if you’re in the Antarctic-it has already happened!
From the story of Frankenstein to the Star Trek classic “Borg” episode, we encounter the fantasy of creating life and the nightmare of being taken over by our own creations-machines. Thanks to advances in genetics, digital and biotechnology, we can materialize, “make concrete” what we imagine, something only dreamed of in the past! What was once science fiction is becoming a routine part of life. Now it is even possible to grow body parts in a laboratory. The boundary between fiction and life is more fluid than ever. The human-made environment we’ve created brings the biosphere into the noosphere (mind-sphere). Humans create the context of their own existence and are no longer completely subjected to the capriciousness of non-human nature. Creativity combined with consumerism is the driving force in the emerging global village. Whether we have the wisdom to manage that power is perhaps the greatest question of our time. The two wild cards are earth’s weather patterns and human aggression. Both could easily destroy our creations.
The release of the Apple Watch was more than just another consumer event. With it you can monitor your own bodily states and share that information instantaneously. Physicians can remotely monitor vital signs 24/7 from any location. By objectively monitoring emotional and mental states, it is possible to micro-manage and change behavior and vital states via awareness and physical exercises. Stress is one of the principle causes of disease. If you are not aware of being stressed, your watch can tell you! The potential impact is revolutionary, because it gives objective feedback instantaneously. By correlating vital signs to life-style, you can make changes and verify the results. This technology enables people to connect to a computerized living environment in such a way that it automatically adjusts room conditions to fit your mood.
A revolutionary biomedical procedure now exists which can destroy a previously incurable cancerous brain tumor called glioblastoma. The procedure takes a polio virus, modifies its DNA, so it cannot survive outside a tumor, and injects it directly into the tumor. The virus triggers the body’s immune system and destroys the tumor from the inside. Clinical test trials, conducted at Duke University in the United States, show unprecedented results. It may soon be possible to use similar procedures for other forms of cancer.
What’s unique about this procedure is using a living organism, a virus, to fight another living organism. It is not drug therapy or radiation but closer to biological warfare, without the negative side effects. This procedure moves biomedicine closer to natural medicine, which bases much of its success on using the body’s immune system to heal itself. This is called immunotherapy. In this case it could never have happened without advances in biotechnology and genetics. A truly new era in medicine is emerging.
There are countless benefits of technology like the Internet and computers, but how will they transform humankind and society? The power of creation gives us the illusion of control, but in reality it’s the unintended consequences that hold the most danger.
Humans are the first earth species to achieve this kind of worldwide dominance. We are moving into a “new age,” not the clichéd spiritual one but the age of Anthropocene. It’s a new earth epoch, where humanity is a global force like the weather and geology. For good or bad, we are now driving the future of biospheric evolution. Have we created an uncontrollable monster?
© 2017 Keyvan Golestaneh