In fact, many vehicles including long-haul and delivery trucks may not even have human passengers. So even if there is a crash, there’s no guarantee anyone will be at risk. Given that these cars and trucks will be programmed to obey the laws — which also might be quite different in 30 years — we may be far less reliant on police to manage our roads.
Now consider food safety. The Centers for Disease Control estimates around 48 million cases of food-borne disease each year (resulting in 3,000 deaths), which inadvertently highlights decades of failed FDA and USDA regulations — but technology might finally make some long-awaited breakthroughs.
Think about what already exists. Consumers can now receive alerts from smart refrigerators, meaning fewer people eating spoiled food and smaller outbreaks. Whole genome sequencing will help manufacturers identify and track pathogens. Quick Response bar codes (those black squares that look like a puzzle map) and blockchain technology are also poised to help trace problematic foods to their sources, which will also limit the size of outbreaks.
There will also likely be fewer food-borne disease outbreaks to begin with. Food companies that traditionally rely on pasteurization — essentially high temperature cooking — are experimenting with electromagnetic waves, electric currents and infrared heating. For fruits and vegetables eaten raw and other minimally processed foods, companies are experimenting with high pressure, electricity, ultraviolet light and irradiation.
Intelligent food packaging using nanotechnology is being designed to alert us to food-safety problems inside the package and even use antimicrobial sprays to deactivate pathogens. Even that tech may be obsolete as 3-D food printers are now on the market — no, this isn’t science fiction — preparing what we need, when we need it, and eliminating the spoilage between creation and consumption.
Will all of these things come to pass? Probably not. But this is only a sampling of what we know about now. Had this op-ed been written in 1989, not quite 30 years ago, there would have been no World Wide Web with which to locate and categorize these technologies. What will tomorrow hold?
Dire predictions about problems decades out serve a useful purpose by alerting us to the serious challenges we will inevitably face. But ingenuity, invention and innovation will be on our side. Problems are instantly turned into market demands for which entrepreneurs naturally want to supply a solution. Human ingenuity nearly always finds a way. So, don’t panic.
Richard Williams is a senior affiliated scholar with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a former director for social sciences at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in the Food and Drug Administration. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.