The view from out there

Cathy Welsh-Payne is an eighth-grade English teacher at Edison Middle School, in South Bend, Ind. In a brainstorming session, her students talked about what they thought the world would be like when they grew up. This is her report on their discussion.

My class first discussed flying cars such as those seen in the movie Back to the Future. Initially, the students said that there might not be as many accidents as there are now, but then they realized that accidents could happen with cars above and below, and people could still drive into buildings. One student suggested that the use of magnetism might prevent accidents.

Others considered the possibility of "bouncy ball" cars. The class would like to see computers built into cars, so destinations could be typed in.

Then the class discussed putting chips into the brains of human beings for the purpose of inserting knowledge. The students thought that would eliminate the need for schools and acquiring knowledge in other ways. The chip would not interfere with the morals of the person. However, it might cause too many people to possess the same knowledge, which would give them all the same qualifications for jobs.

My class imagined a world in which computers would be used everywhere. The students thought they would be able to prepay for anything they would like. Currency would be unnecessary because everything would be electronic. They also decided that computers should shrink to the size of a quarter. No keyboards would be necessary, since computers would be voice activated. The communication would be hooked up to cell phones and used like E-mail. The computers could be worn as rings and also used as phones.

My class hoped to see great strides in medical technology, including a cure for AIDS and advances in genetic research leading to the prevention of birth defects. Some hoped that the technology would allow them to choose the physical traits of their children; others thought that was immoral and might interfere with and even destroy religions.

The students also discussed technology to let people see their children at various stages of future development -- what would these babies look like at age 3? Age 10? Age 30? Computers would help perform genetic changes to a fetus by manipulating its chromosomes.

The students said that they would like to see more realistic virtual-reality equipment such as headsets or suits that would allow facsimiles of any experience they would like to have. They also speculated about chip-control identity, in which a person's Social Security number and entire history could be accessed through a fingerprint.

Some worried that certain abuses could happen with technology like that. They especially feared loss of personal freedom.

The class spent some time discussing cloning. The students predicted that cloning would be quite common in the future. Some thought that it could lead to problems but that cloning certain types of animals might be desirable if it led to made-to-order pets, for instance. Many thought the technology would have drawbacks if it was used on people. Unhealthy people or animals might be reproduced. Too many of one type could be undesirable.

The students would like to be able to create any type of dinner or menu item through a computer and to have voice-activated appliances, but some thought that would create a nation of overweight couch potatoes.

Well, that's about it. I hope you find our brainstorming useful. --From an interview with Ilan Mochari

For more insight on the current state of small business, see The View From Out There.

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