The disruption of synthetic biology and metaverse: optimism or catastrophe?

One of the most anticipated presentations of the South technology and innovation festival by   Southwest (SXSW)    is that of futurist Amy Webb. Professor at NYU Stern School of Business and CEO of Future Today Institute, with each edition of the event she brings an analysis of the technological trends for the coming years gathered in the    Tech Trends Report , already in its 15ª edition.

This year was no exception. She made compelling predictions about what technology will change over the next 15 years, presenting the scenarios for 2027, 2032, and 2037. The expansion of the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the most varied areas, the exploration of opportunities in the metaverse, and the risks and benefits of synthetic biology, a controversial aspect of technology, were the main topics, also going through the internet of things (IoT), blockchain, and network decentralization.

According to her, over the next decade, AI will reshape the knowledge economy, automating, even more, the tasks currently performed by people. Companies are investing in their employees learning the basics of AI and machine learning, and in new platforms that make it possible, for example, to develop applications without the need to know a specific code. It also predicted that we are approaching the day when AI systems will make their own decisions.

 

Metaverse and Web3

Metaverse will expand beyond the boundary between the physical and digital worlds. We can use gestures to move in the virtual world, a more immersive and human experience. We will spend less time typing and looking at the screen and more time communicating through our bodies and movements. At the same time, it will be possible to have several digital versions of ourselves, each according to a specific purpose and this will create a gap between who we are in the real world and on the various virtual platforms.

By linking the metaverse profiles to personal information, such as biometrics, we will be even more exposed. This greater ease in the collection and use of personal data will make it essential to create a regulation to ensure transparency, digital security, and respect for privacy.

 

Synthetic biology

The Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating the use of genetic surveillance technologies: DNA test kits offer personalized health recommendations. While endangering privacy, synthetic biology will bring more solutions and treatments to the diseases that arise with aging  .

Webb predicts that in 10 years synthetic biology will make it possible to program biological systems as we do with computers, including being able to print new DNA molecules. But it warns that, at the same time, access to the genetic code can lead hackers to create harmful viruses.

Regarding the projection of scenarios, Webb pointed out that this exercise leads to what she defined as reperception, exercising curiosity, and awakening us to the possibility of a future different from current expectations.

 

Optimistic and catastrophic scenarios

For each of the themes, the futurist predicted the effects in an optimistic but also a catastrophic scenario, with the estimate of the probability that they will become reality.

 

AI in the next 5 years:

Optimistic scenario in 2027 (20% chance)

  • Transparency about the objectives and use of AI-based technologies.
  • Invisible forms of biometrics, such as identification by breathing or heartbeats prohibited in public places.
  • Better, more intuitive, and inclusive search tools.
  • AI Coaches helping people learn new skills.

Catastrophic scenario in 2027 (80% chance)

  • Disseminated disinformation, including images and videos.
  • Information and data collected without transparency on how they will be used.
  • Impossibility to maintain anonymity and creation of devices to block reading of bodily patterns.

 

Metaverse and Web3 in the next 10 years:

Optimistic scenario in 2032 (30% chance)

  • The blockchain technology allows more control over our data.
  • Building trust between users and technology companies, with full transparency on their part.
  • Web3 will go beyond the “cute” avatars and NFTs: it will bring accessibility, operability, and trust to the digital world.

Catastrophic scenario in 2032 (70% chance)

  • Meeting people online will be a nightmare – not only in relation to personal safety but also digital.
  • With different profiles in the metaverse, managing the many versions in the digital world will be exhausting.

 

Synthetic biology in the next 15 years:

Optimistic scenario in 2037 (50% chance)

  • With the advancement of this technology, biological death becomes something more optional.
  • Everything will be genetically modified.
  • The regulations regarding the use of technology will advance with global collaboration.

Catastrophic scenario in 2037 (50% chance)

  • Governments ignoring scientists in relation to the climate crisis.
  • Global warming will exceed the current 2ºC, with harmful effects worldwide.
  • Hackers will do biological terrorism thanks to accessing the DNA of substantial portions of the population.