TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
Over the course of the next 30 years, what changes do you think will
have the most profound impact on how we live our lives?
Will we all be living in smart houses, where the refrigerator reads the
expiration date on the milk carton and places an online order for another
gallon? Will bathroom scales send our weight directly to our doctors or even to
the refrigerator, which will refuse to open if we've gained too many pounds?
Will the bathroom mirror display the morning's headlines as we brush our teeth?
Will small computers embedded in our clothing send a signal to our smart cars,
with directions to our destination and road conditions?
Here at the White House Millennium Council, we asked several experts
what changes they think will most affect the way we live in the next century.
With resounding unanimity, they replied: genetic research and information
technology. So, at this week's eighth Millennium Evening at the White House, we
decided to take a peek into the future in a program we called "Informatics
Spurred on by the computer chip and rapidly expanding computing
capacity, information technology has revolutionized our lives -- from the
workplace to personal communication -- in a very brief time. Today, there are
nearly 200 million Internet users around the world, and in the United States
alone, more than 1,000 new households join each hour.
In 1999, nearly 10 million children used the Internet, a number
projected to triple in the next four years. In one recent poll, 28 percent of
teenagers reported that they could live without their TV, but only 23 percent
acknowledged that they could get by without their computer. Last year, 33.8
million people used the Internet to make travel plans, and 17 million shopped
At the White House this week, Dr. Vinton Cerf, one of the architects of
the Internet, described his vision of the future: "One thing is for certain,"
he said. "We will be serving ourselves increasingly on the Internet. From
ordering books and groceries to choosing cars and configuring insurance
policies, the World Wide Web is stimulating a fresh and creative look at
customer service across all sectors of our economy."
Dr. Cerf shared one very personal example of the important link between
computer technology and medicine. His wife, Sigrid, has a cochlear implant,
which, using a pager-sized computer, connects a sound source directly to her
auditory nerve. After her implant was activated, Mrs. Cerf, profoundly deaf
since the age of 3, and her husband enjoyed their first-ever telephone
conversation. Now, Dr. Cerf says, "I have a real problem: a 56-year-old
In the area of genetic research, increasing computer capacity has
opened the door to a dramatically expanded understanding of the human genome.
The Human Genome Project, which will soon identify all of the estimated 100,000
genes in human DNA and determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical bases
that make up that DNA, has the potential to radically alter the way medicine
will be practiced in the 21st century.
According to Dr. Eric Lander, one of the leading genome researchers in
the country, "We are in the midst of one of the most remarkable revolutions in
the history of mankind -- a revolution whose consequences will be so
far-reaching that they will touch every aspect of society."
In the next century, Dr. Lander says, genomic research will lead to the
treatment and prevention of common human diseases -- such as Alzheimer's and
breast cancer. "We will look back on cancer," he predicts, "as a treatable and
often preventable disease -- a distant scourge, much like we today regard
Along with such once-unimaginable scenarios come profound ethical
questions: Who owns the explosion of information on the Internet? How will we
protect our privacy even as personal data is broadcast around the world? How
will we make sure that genetic information is used to heal, and not to deny
health insurance or jobs?
In one of his short stories, Ray Bradbury's vision of the year 2030
included windows that washed themselves, food that cooked itself, and a voice
machine that announced birthdays, anniversaries and bills to be paid. But there
were no people. The world's population had been completely wiped out -- leaving
We have been given the chance to imagine and create a very different
future -- a future where revolutions in information and biology benefit, rather
than eclipse, our humanity, and where our ethics keep pace with our science.
Unlike the clever scenarios described by science fiction writers, the key to
this story's outcome lies in all of our hands.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past
columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at
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