Want to know what the future will bring? Forget horoscopes, here’s our forecast for the latest life-changing trends…
1. We’ll all become cyber commuters
The number of people working from home in the UK has risen to its highest level since records began. Worldwide, one in five of us is now ‘telecommuting’, and 10% are working from home every day. This is of course largely down to the internet, but also the development of smart remote-working tools like online boardrooms (Google Hangout), video conferencing (Skype) and group work platforms (Slack, Trello) that allow people to work together despite living in different towns and countries.
For anybody with a chronic condition like multiple sclerosis, a virtual office can be very welcome news. Simply avoiding the horrors of the daily commute will save valuable energy, and there’s also the fact that working from the comfort of your own home means you won’t have to worry about added obstacles like the six flights of stairs to the canteen, or the number of trips you make to the loo.
Of course, not all jobs can be done from home, but if you think yours could, speak to your employer. If he or she isn’t open to the idea, you may want to point out the recent findings of a study in China that found home-workers were 13% more productive than those who schlepped to the workplace every day.
2. Robots will revolutionise our lives
OK, so it’ll be a while before robots can wait on us hand and foot, but ones that cook dinner and mow the lawn already exist. Yes, really! So-called intelligent cookers, for example, contain specially programmed microchips, so you can select a recipe, throw in the ingredients, and press the button… et voilà! Dinner is served. If you have dexterity issues, or you’re a little forgetful, this could take some serious steam out of cooking family meals. You won’t even have to worry about sweeping the floor afterwards, either – just leave it to the robotic vacuum cleaner. Autonomous vacuums contain infra-red sensors that help them to navigate floor spaces without you having to lift a finger – a valuable energy-saver for anyone who suffers with fatigue. In fact the same technology will mow the lawn for you – you can even get a fully automated lawn-mowing robot that can be controlled by an app on your phone!
These aren’t the only robots that look set to change our lives. Doctors are increasingly relying on robot technology to do everything from zapping tumours with ultra precision, to monitoring patients remotely. There are even so-called remote presence robots, for example, which allow doctors to consult with patients without actually being physically present, as well as helping to facilitate communication between an integrated team of experts. This could potentially mean that in the future you could have access to a neurologist without a trek to the hospital. The robot will see you now…
3. Health will become a game
Taking your meds, keeping track of your diet, exercising… these can all be a bit of a drag if we’re honest. In fact the World Health Organization estimates that 50% of patients with chronic diseases like MS don’t follow the treatment prescribed for them. But the ‘gamification of health’, a hot new trend, could turn us all into better patients. We all love wasting time playing games on our phones – and now even our smartwatches – which is why more and more software developers are working with the medical profession to develop fun healthcare apps that motivate patients to make healthy lifestyle changes. There are several freely available ‘exergaming’ apps, such as RunKeeper, which encourage us to be move around a bit more by turning physical activity into a game, tracking our progress, allowing us to share our achievements and rewarding us when we reach our goals. Meanwhile, Slimkicker, a calorie tracker that turns diet and fitness goals into a winnable level-up game, is the hottest new way to shed pounds, and Ayogo, a gamified behaviour change platform, can be tailored to a number of different medical conditions. It’s only a matter of time before these become as addictive as Candycrush!
4. The gym will go hi-tech
For those of us who struggle to climb the stairs, let alone hit the treadmill, gyms can be daunting places. But a new exercise bike aimed at people with MS could change that. Researchers from the University of Sydney have designed an innovative exercise system that allows people with advanced MS to work out paralysed leg muscles. The bike works by electrically stimulating the muscles in the leg, causing them to contract and rotate the pedals. It’s hoped that by mobilising the body in this way, even users with very limited mobility can build muscle tone, maintain joint flexibility and boost circulation. Regular use could help improve many of the symptoms associated with MS and potentially even slow the progression of the disease. It’ll be a while before the bike is widely available, but in the meantime there are wearable devices that work on a similar principle by stimulating the nerves in the leg and prompting the foot to lift with every step – they can also be used for cycling. Time to dust off those trainers!
5. We could all be making our own meds… well, one day
We’ve all heard the buzz about 3D printing, but what is it actually? Well, it basically describes the process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file, usually by laying down many thin layers of a material, or by etching a solid block into the desired shape (much like a sculptor would). In theory, rather than order a product online and wait for it to be delivered, with the right technology you could simply ‘print’ the product at home and sit back as it’s produced before your very eyes. Car and plane manufacturers have been using the technology for some time, with devices that print in plastics, metals, ceramics, wax, and even food (rumour has it NASA is developing a 3D printer that can make pizza in space!). But it’s the health sector where 3D printing looks set to be a real game changer. Not only can 3D printers be used to produce medical equipment, and prostheses, for example, they have already successfully been used to produce titanium body parts like jaw bones and vertebrae. Experts predict that it won’t be long before we can print off whole new organs, or use 3D printing to create medicines! Of course it will be a while before the scientists and engineers really figure this out, but in the meantime we can dream – mainly about printing our own pizza…