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Flash forward! Fortune magazine's top trends



Medical Research
Technology (general)
Emergency Planning
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(CNN) -- This is not your father's future.

In the last 10 years alone, major advances in medical research, energy use and even leisure activities have transformed our lives in ways our parents could never have imagined.

As CNN celebrates its 25th anniversary, we are taking stock of past trends that changed our lives, and the future trends that will transform everything -- from medical treatments to leisure activities to how we clean our homes. To help us, we asked Fortune magazine editors to name the top trends that will shape our lives for decades.

Super drugs and itty bitty technology

Remarkable medical breakthroughs in the last 10 years transformed the field of medicine, and the long-term implications of these triumphs are still becoming apparent.

In 2001, scientists mapped out the human genome, in effect handing us the instruction books to our bodies.

Having the master blueprint of our bodies decoded may make it possible to engineer drugs tailor-made for patients based on their genetic makeup, and doctors might even be able to cure or eliminate inherited diseases.

The breakthrough served up many of the secrets of life and death, but it also handed us a full plate of ethical challenges.

The possibility that insurance companies or employers could access this information and discriminate on the basis of a genetic flaw is prompting lawmakers to act.

And stem cell research, a controversial subject much debated in Congress, could help regrow damaged organs or sprout replacements for damaged limbs.

"If they can regrow a limb in a mouse today, it could very well be possible -- even in less than 10 years -- that we could be regrowing body parts on our own bodies," said Fortune magazine's senior editor, David Kirkpatrick.

In the near future, hoping for a baby girl will probably be considered passť.

Parents will most likely be able to customize the sex of their baby before it's born, and comb through their child's genome to weed out potential anomalies like Down syndrome.

The growth of nanotechnology -- the manipulation of materials at the molecular level -- is also aiding medical progress.

Someday, it may not be uncommon for folks to carry their entire genetic sequence around in their pockets in case of medical emergencies, and patients may swallow or be injected with microscopic robots that will travel around in their bloodstreams, seek out and destroy cancer cells, repair tears in tissues and dissolve plaque in their arteries.

Twenty-five years ago nanotechnology was mostly an academic research field, not the cutting-edge commercial darling it is today.

The Clinton administration gave the technology a boost in 2000 when it almost doubled the nation's investment in the research to nearly $500 million.

The implications for this type of technology are broad.

Imagine a drug that could be programmed to target only the affected areas of the human body.

Instead of chemotherapy, which has side effects that can make a patient's hair fall out and cause nausea, the atoms in a nanotechnology-enhanced drug could be programmed for a specific action: to target a tumor and attack it.

But this technology is not limited to medical breakthroughs.

"Nanotechnology means that we will be able to design, control, manipulate and construct from the smallest unit we have," said Dr. Zhong Lin Wang, director of Georgia Tech's Centers for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and Nanostructure Characterization.

In the future, nanotechnology might pop up in smarter clothes that could literally slough off a wine stain or coffee spill, or it could be part of smarter food packaging that alerts when its content has spoiled.

Winds of change

Another trend that may transform the way we work and live in the future is the way we get the energy we all need to fuel our cars, light our offices and heat our homes.

We're not running out of oil just yet: The world uses 84 million barrels of oil per day, but produces just 85 million barrels in the same time period, according to the Energy Information Agency.

But those numbers leave little leeway for nations like the United States that rely on large amounts of oil, and those countries with explosive growth like China and India.

Some point to nuclear power as a solution. It's cheap, plentiful and easy to make, but its glow-in-the-dark byproduct is a toxic waste management nightmare.

More and more, scientists are looking for answers in the wind.

Wind is the fastest growing energy technology in the world today, according to the Energy Information Administration. Wind capacity around the globe has more than doubled in the last three years, and experts predict the production from wind machines will triple in the next few years. And many European nations and India are constructing major new wind facilities, according to the EIA.

It is a cheap solution, and The Department of Energy says there is enough wind in this country to double the electricity that we use today.

How much cheaper can you get than wind?

"It's so cheap, in fact, that it could provide a whole gateway to the hydrogen economy because we could use electricity generated from wind to get hydrogen from water.

What exactly is the hydrogen economy?

It means that hydrogen, a much cleaner fuel source, could become the oil of the future.

Home, hearth and modem?

Don't plant a wind farm in your backyard anytime soon, though.

If Fortune magazine senior editor Cait Murhpy's trend predictions are correct, the home of the future will provide its own energy.

"The house of the future goes to work. ... It's going to provide its own energy, it's going to process its own waste, your carpet is going to suck up stuff where it's dropped," Murphy said.

"Your counters are going to be self-cleaning. And it's going to be very interactive in the sense that your refrigerator is going to talk to your stove. Some of these things are already happening, but I think those are the things that really mark out the house of the future," she said.

As our lives become more automated, so do the places where we spend most of our time.

The move toward creating "smart" homes that do the thinking for us is a major trend, according to the editors at Fortune magazine.

Today, robotic vacuums zoom around our homes unattended, but in the future our smart homes may be able to cook our dinners and deliver piping hot food to the table just as we arrive through the door.

Or perhaps your smart home's security system is connected to your lights, so when you pull up to the house the security system disarms itself and turns on the lights in the hallway and kitchen.

"It's kind of lighting your path ... it's coordinating those activities for everyday life," said Tim Woods, vice president of Internet Home Alliance.

"Whether it's your sprinkler system being attached to your local weather service in the area (so you know) whether we're going to water today ... it's looking at day-to-day activities ... and connecting them together. It provides a whole new benefit for the consumer," he said.

Our homes are where our hearts are, and it seems we are insatiable for technology that fosters our leisure time, according to Fortune magazine editors who name this shift as a major trend.

American adults have an average of 19 hours of leisure time per week, according to a recent Harris Interactive Poll.

More and more, Americans are spending that time in their homes watching movies, surfing the Internet and playing video games.

We used to crowd into arcades to play Pac-man. Today, we relax with our wireless PlayStation 2 controllers when we want to save the universe.

"One of the overarching themes with leisure time is that because people work so hard, they want to ensure that when they're not working, they're really having fun," Kirkpatrick told CNN.

Some argue leisure trends such as Internet dating, chat rooms, online gambling and blogging keep us out of the real world and stuck in a virtual one.

But AOL online advisor Regina Lewis thinks there's no going back.

"As for the future," she said, "the lasting effects of computers and the Internet on our leisure time seem to be here for the long haul."

Turbulent oceans, powerful storms

While we are busy formatting our homes to fit our individual needs, the world outside may grab our attention in ways it has never done before.

Environmental trends -- everything from global warming to overfishing the world's oceans -- are beginning to affect the quality of our lives, according to the editors at Fortune magazine.

Since the last ice age about 13,000 years ago, the earth's surface has been warming.

While some say it's nature's course, others argue that humans are speeding up the process by burning fossil fuels that release warming gasses. These gasses, in turn, get trapped in the atmosphere.

Whatever the cause, we're already seeing the signs of serious change.

Hungry polar bears have been caught sniffing around human areas for food because the rising temperatures have shortened their icy hunting season, and for the first time in recent history, transport ships sailing to the North Pole did not need the assistance of ice-cutters.

The ice melt from Antarctica is swelling rivers and oceans. And scientists say the next quarter century could see ocean sea levels continue to rise, flooding low-lying areas and islands and knocking on the doors of millions of people now living along the coasts.

As scientists debate whether humans can slow global warming by burning less fossil fuels, research suggests we are fishing the oceans to death.

For more than a billion people on this planet, seafood is more than a popular choice on a menu.

"Many of the poor in Third World countries critically depend on the protein of fish for their survival," said oceanographer Ransom Myers, who has studied the disappearance of vast quantities and varieties of marine life.

"We can continue with business as usual and fish our favorite species out of existence," Myers said, "or we can stop overfishing."

To restore the oceans' bounty will require international agreements, enforced fishing limits, and it will mean creating ocean preserves where sea life can grow and multiply.

Fortune editors' trend spotting highlights how the future can be transformed by technology, human ingenuity and planning. Check back with as we unveil other Top 25 lists in celebration of CNN's anniversary.

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