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Science | Design & Technology | Citizenship | RE

Coming soon – the day when we live forever

Should we be excited about the future? A podcast by academic technologist Balaji Srinivasan has caused a stir with its vision of how our lives will be transformed in the ultra-digital age. Balaji Srinivasan is both a successful entrepreneurA person who sets up their own business. and a highly respected academic. He has several degrees in electrical engineering and chemical engineering, and teaches at Stanford University in California. These are some of his key predictions: Living longer. Srinivasan argues that the ultimate goal of technology is to help humans live for ever - and much more progress is being made than people realise. "You're genetically wired to die - so maybe we can unwire that." In the 2020s, there will be breakthroughs in everything from curing deafness to reversing ageing. People will keep information about their genomesThe complete set of genes or genetic material in an organism.  on their computers so they can track problems with their bodies. "We can start making miracles happen with technology." Digital countries. Thanks to VR and architectural software, it is possible to build a virtual city. You would start by writing a manifestoA statement published by a person or group of people, especially a political party, or a government, in which they say what their aims and policies are. to attract people to join your community; you could then put up buildings and design a system of government. Once the city was running to everyone's satisfaction, you could buy land and build it in reality using crowdfunding. Eventually, a whole country could be created on this basis. Children working. It used to be common for children to be sent out to work until laws were passed to stop them from being exploited by employers. But Srinivasan believes that work helps children learn responsibility and grow up faster - and since they can work online from home, their parents can protect them from abuse. So, there is no reason why, say, a clever teenage coder should not earn lots of money while still at school. Maximising ideas. Humans would make much faster progress if they shared ideas more. We need to develop online communities to do this, with proper incentives, so that if someone writes an essay with a suggestion that somebody else then uses to build a business, the writer gets a share of the profits. Since people are afraid to express all their ideas for fear of social media attacks, they should use pseudonyms and take payment through cryptocurrencies. Establishing truth. At present, the internet is plagued by fake news. The way forward is to create "crypto oracles": depositories of reliable information that are safe because they are widely shared, and have digital hallmarksA quality that is typical of a certain person, organisation or being. showing who posted what, when - then nobody can falsify the record. Statistics about the pandemic, for example, would be indisputable because everyone would have access to the original data. Social-media learning. "The next generation of content can't be like the current social media, where you interact by liking and retweeting: it has to be about learning and earning." The gap between entertainment and education can be bridged by "edutainment" - textbooks should be written like novels, so that they are more exciting to read. You can already earn money online by taking part in academic exercises - with attractive incentives, people will focus more on screen activity that is useful. Should we be excited about the future? Future perfect? Some say yes. Srinivasan is right to say that the internet and technology could be put to far better use than it is now. We can achieve infinitely more than was possible in the past - advances in medicine being an obvious example. Digital cities would enable us to develop better societies, without any of the painful and costly mistakes people make in the actual world. Others argue that Srinivasan's vision is a bleak one. There is more to life than "learning and earning". Children should be allowed to enjoy themselves and grow up at their own pace, not encouraged to start work at the first opportunity - particularly if they are going to live forever. If humanity is to survive, we need to engage more with the natural world and less with the digital one. KeywordsEntrepreneur - A person who sets up their own business.

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