Essay: THE FUTURISTS: Looking Toward A.D. 2000

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Nearly all experts agree that bacterial and viral diseases will have been virtually wiped out. Probably arteriosclerotic heart disease will also have been eliminated. Cells have only a few secrets still hidden from probers, who are confident that before the year 2000 they will have found the secret that causes cancer. The most exciting, and to some the most frightening, prospect is the chemical and electrical treatment of the brain. Dr. David Krech, psychology professor at the University of California, believes that retarded infants will be diagnosed at birth, and chemical therapy will permit them to function as normal people. The memory loss accompanying senility will be eliminated.

In general, drug control of personality will be widely accepted well before the year 2000. If a wife or husband seems to be unusually grouchy on a given evening, says Rand's Olaf Helmer, a spouse will be able to pop down to the corner drugstore, buy some anti-grouch pills, and slip them into the coffee. Or a lackadaisical person could be dosed into a sense of ambition. Electrical stimulus of brain areas has been shown to produce responses of fear, affection, laughter or sex arousal; such techniques, says Yale's Dr. Jose Delgado, "will certainly increase man's ability to influence the behavior of man." By the year 2000, a symbiotic link between the brain and a computer-memory may also be in the experimental stage.

An even more momentous prospect is offered by DNA, the complicated molecule that contains the elements of heredity. Biologists think that before the century is out, they will have succeeded in changing the "information" contained in DNA. If so, it will become possible eventually to control the shape—or color—of men to come. Genetic "intervention" could improve learning capacity. Hudson Hoaglund, executive director of the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology, believes that thus "man will become the only animal that can direct his own evolution."

Some futurists are less sanguine; they worry not only about the social problem of who would supervise this man-made evolution, but also about unforeseen side effects, such as genetic mutations. Medical optimism is also limited by the notion that there may be an increase of accidents and the general wear and tear of urbanization. Great population density will create the "encounter problem," the fact that the effect of any event, from an accident to a riot, may be multiplied beyond control when masses of people are involved. Even the most optimistic experts see no real sign that they can learn enough about the process of aging to dramatically prolong life beyond 70 to 80 years average.

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