Governments are entrusted to manage a programme of “softer globalisation” to provide society with the opportunity to adapt to technological advances and secure future economic sustainability. They have worked together to introduce regulated data collection about individuals, ensuring it is used transparently and ethically. High levels of international, industry and cross-industry collaboration are encouraged through government incentives.
By 2025 migrating populations have significantly increased owing to conflict and the expected large-scale impact of climate change. Together with global population ageing, this has exerted unprecedented pressure on public services. Civil society is also threatened by the large-scale replacement of professional workers by machines. Nations are coming together to address these big, global issues.
An international treaty enshrining the right to work is signed in 2027. A combination of regulation and taxation have encouraged a diverse and highly collaborative research ecosystem including technology corporations, academic research institutions, patient groups, venture philanthropists, charities, smaller biotech companies and crowd-funded labs. National governments sign up to a joint research framework prioritising areas that will make the biggest difference to global population health such as infections, dementia, and chronic disease prevention. Curiosity-driven research is also common, particularly in Africa where innovative local and international start-ups are attracted to the relatively low research costs.
In 2037 an open science culture prevails in which international, cross-industry and interdisciplinary collaborations are the norm, and research data and software are freely available. Researchers progress their careers by producing high quality data sets in areas prioritised by governments, which are assessed in accordance with international outcome measures. Most researchers combine scientific qualifications with advanced engineering, programming or policy and communications expertise. A large proportion are employed by international health agencies.
Global surveillance and laboratory systems continually monitor data to detect outbreaks, analyse epidemiological trends and predict the spread of diseases. Patients donate their live data via implanted sensors to the International Health Service, which is managed using proven and trusted technology pioneered at England’s Digital National Health Service. Research institutions pay to access this data on behalf of researchers transparently and ethically.
Machine learning allows computers to analyse and interpret huge datasets in real time, rapidly reaching influencers of the world’s most costly diseases. Dementia incidence, for example is plummeting. DNA analysis to inform clinical management and research is possible at the point of care. Behaviour change tools using virtual, augmented and mixed reality technology are rapidly making lifestyles healthier, even in remote regions.
However, the replacement of human-to-human interaction by pervasive technology is exacerbating mental health problems associated with social isolation and loneliness. Ever increasing life expectancy raises a new ethical question: at what point do longer lifespans yield diminishing returns for society?