The Future is here: Technology and Medicine in a “New Age”

   DNAThose that are most adaptable to change survive
~ Charles Darwin
“What is now proved was once only imagined” ~ William Blake

Ever since humans had tools, the idea of controlling our environment (probably?) 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.

changetagThe great advantage the human species has is our 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 up everywhere and everything moves faster. The global explosion and availability of information, technology and “big data” give people the opportunity to take personal control of their health. Genetics makes it possible to see what health conditions you are predisposed to, before they develop. Some common medical procedures like check-ups, no longer require office visits. Health professionals can videoconference with patients in their own home. In some cases surgeon’s using advanced robotics and nanotechnology, can conduct operations remotely, even if you’re in the Antarctic-its already happened!

Ffrankensteinrom the story of Frankenstein to the Star Trek cult classic “Borg” episode, we find a (recurring) fantasy of creating life and a fear 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 fantasy or science fiction is becoming a routine part of life. Now its even possible to grow body parts in a laboratory. The boundary between fiction and life is more fluid then ever. Star Trek: The Next Generation 365 (Star Trek 365)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 (100%?) subjected to the capriciousness of non-human nature. Creativity and imagination, coupled with consumerism are 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. (Remember the story of Faust?) The two wild cards are: earth’s weather patterns and human violence (conflict?). Both could easily destroy (undo?) our creations. 

watchactivityappThe release of the Apple iWatch was more than just another consumer event or a regular watch. With it you can monitor your own bodily states and share that information instantaneously. Physicians can remotely monitory vital signs 24/7 from any location. By objectively monitoring emotional and mental states, its 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 makes changes and verify the results. This technology enables people to connect to a computerized living environment in such a way that it automatically changes (lights, climate, music, etc.) to fit your mood.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death. 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 tests trails, conducted at Duke University in 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.virus This procedure moves biomedicine closer to natural medicine, which bases much of its success on using the body’s (own?) 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.

The countless benefits of applied science and technology like the Internet and computers are obvious, but how will this transform humankind and society? The power of creation gives us the illusion of control, but in reality it is the unintended consequences that hold the most danger. We cannot control everything nor include the all consequences in our calculus.

HABITUS-9-medium-1024x682Humans are the first earth species to achieve this kind of power and worldwide dominance. How we use it will determine our fate. 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 a monster (that we cannot control?)? Time will tell.

© Keyvan Golestaneh