NBC News
updated 5/15/2007 8:23:29 PM ET 2007-05-16T00:23:29

It’s not exactly “The Jetsons” — not yet, anyway — but the world is getting closer.

Thanks to some truly incredible technology, the world will look very different in 10 years:

  • Advances in miniaturization and wireless communication mean technology will be almost invisible but threaded throughout bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms and workplaces, the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies predicts. “All family members will be occupied with different activities, from playing piano to making cheese, brewing beer and designing clothes, to painting, backyard golf and fitness,” it says.
  • When everything is connected like this, the details of your life will be flying around the air. In that world, security becomes paramount. Forget face-recognition software; in 2017, it will be all about the eyes. “I think it’s possible to free us completely from our wallets and keys using biometric technology if that’s what people want in 10 years’ time,” said Don Monro, a professor at the University of Bath in England.
  • In 2017, more of us will be living with cancer, but the good news is that a cancer diagnosis will be quicker and easier — as simple as taking a breath. And when a frightening diagnosis comes in, effective treatments will be at hand. “We will start to see successful treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease that actually treat the disease process, not just the symptoms, like current drugs do,” said Dr. Rudolph Tanzi of Massachusetts General Hospital.

In short, it will be a world run by technology, and that means finding the people to oversee all that technology is the most critical task facing educators in the next decade. Shifting demographics mean many children will not be going to school but learning at home, instead, at a cyberschool.

The networked classroom
Tiny Branson, Colo., is proof that the information highway can take you anywhere. Faced with declining enrollment at its traditional schoolhouse, Branson started offering an online public school education to students in far-flung areas of the state.

Branson’s population may be just 100, but via the Internet, 850 children go to school there. One of them is Riley South, an eighth-grader who “attends” class from his family’s ranch 165 miles away in Penrose.

Riley gets up on his own and is on the computer between 6:30 and 7 a.m. everyday. “The best part is I can get my school work done earlier and I can get my horse exercised and rode every day,” he told NBC’s Kevin Tibbles.

“Good teaching is good teaching,” said Troy Mayfield, Branson’s school superintendent. “The only difference is how we do it.”

Christina Narayan of Colorado Springs has taught online for five years, even though she has never been to Branson.

“No matter which city my students live in, how far they are from me in terms of distance ... they feel like they’re part of a classroom, part of a family,” she said.

Some experts agree, saying students can get more one-on-one attention than they would in a traditional classroom.

“Online teachers actually report that they know their online students better than they know their classroom students, because they’re constantly interacting by e-mail, by phone [and] in discussion boards,” said John Watson, a consultant with Evergreen Consulting Associates, a network of professionals in online education.

According to Mayfield, the future of education is a lifeline in the present in Branson.

“I think it would be realistic to say if the school wasn’t open, the town would probably no longer exist,” he said.

‘A whole new range of talents’
Halfway around the world, they have a different philosophy. In China, more and more parents are stretching their thin budgets to find intensive personal tutoring for children as young as 3 years old.

“Talking about the future, the biggest word I’m concerned about is ‘competition,’ ” said Joseph Tan, an automotive executive in Shanghai, who spends $160 every month to send his daughter, You-See, to what are called “early MBA” lessons.

At a learning center in Shanghai, 3-year-old boys line up to have their fingerprints scanned into a computer. Parents pay up to $60 to have their sons’ prints and brain waves analyzed to figure out what subjects they should specialize in.

“Society demands a whole new range of talents,” Li Yue Er, a child education specialist, told NBC News’ Mark Mullen. “It’s more fierce than any time in the past 20 years with a market for jobs that never even existed in the past.”

Water, water anywhere?
All that change points to what some analysts fear could is the triumph of the consumer society.

Looking ahead, the Copenhagen Institute projects that “consumption is found everywhere.”

“Once, we were people. In 2017, we are primarily consumers,” it warns. “ The modern person — and not least the modern family — consumes constantly,” particularly natural resources.

Australia is in the midst of another searing summer drought. Without significant rain, the government will turn off irrigation lines to farmers in the Murray Darling Basin, Australia’s food bowl, in July to keep water flowing to cities and towns.

In Sydney, water police are already enforcing restrictions, NBC News’ Anne Thompson reported, looking for signs of forbidden car washing and collecting evidence of gardens’ being watered on Monday, when it’s allowed only on Wednesdays and Sundays after 10 a.m.

The drought has been a wakeup call for Australian leader, making them do that they already knew they had to do, but with a greater sense of urgency. And It could be a glimpse of what is coming in other parts of the world.

The 2006 U.N. Human Development Report found that more than a sixth of the world’s population has inadequate access to water. Access to piped water in the home averages about 85 percent for the wealthiest fifth of the population, it found, compared with 25 percent for the poorest fifth.

The world population tripled in the 20th century, but its use of renewable water resources grew six-fold, the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development reported in 2002. In 2006, the United Nations reported that more than a sixth of the world’s population had inadequate access to water.

“Overcoming the world water crisis — achieving water, food and environmental security simultaneously — is one of the most formidable challenges to achieve sustainable development,” it said.

The problem is so acute in the rural Australian city of Goulburn that water is strictly rationed. Steve and Belinda Baxter and their three daughters are limited to 40 gallons a person a day, enough for little more than a five-minute shower.

Belinda Baxter washes her daughters in one bath, then Steve reuses the tub water to water the flowers.

“When I wash my hands, I will run the tap to get them wet, get my soap, lather up, wash it off, rather than keep the tap running the whole time,” Belinda Baxter said.

It is not enough. Already, Goulburn has to spend $1 million a week to bring in usable water by truck. Mayor Paul Stephenson wants to build a $40 million pipeline.

“It’s the lifeblood,” he said. “Without water, this place doesn’t go anywhere. Without water, you don’t do anything.”

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