Looking Forward

Human civilization, its various parts (including its technology), and its environmental context may be described as complex. The most reliable prediction possible is that this complexity will continue to increase. The great opportunity of the convergence of nanotechnology, biomedical, information, and cognitive sciences is an explosive increase in what is possible through combining advances in all areas. This is, by definition, an increase in the complexity of the systems that will be formed out of technology and of the resulting behaviors of people who use them directly or are affected by them. The increasing complexity suggests that there will be a growing need for widespread understanding of complex systems as a counterpoint to the increasing specialization of professions and professional knowledge. The insights of complex systems research and its methodologies may become pervasive in guiding what we build, how we build it, and how we use and live with it. Possibly the most visible outcome of these developments will be an improved ability of human beings, aided by technology, to address global social and environmental problems, third world development, poverty in developed countries, war, and natural disasters. At an intermediate scale, the key advances will dramatically change how individuals work together in forming functional teams that are more directly suited to the specific tasks they are performing. In the context of individual human performance, the key to major advances is recognizing that the convergence of technology will lead to the possibility of designing (or, more correctly, adapting) the environment of each individual for his or her individual needs and capabilities in play and work.

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