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After 2000

Writer John Lee (MA ‘96) sought out alumni from a variety of fields of expertise--from climate and politics to personal communications and women’s sports--and asked them to look ahead and share their expectations for the year 2000 and beyond.

Larissa Karnaoukhova: Genetics

In the 21st century, the human genome project will be completed, cures for some types of cancer will be found, and the cloning of human tissues and organs will revolutionize medicine, according to Larissa Karnaoukhova (PhD ‘98), a California-based genetics and biotechnology research scientist who studied at UVic’s centre for environmental health.

The basis of Karnaoukhova’s work is to help understand the causes of diseases like cancer by discovering the way genes work. Mapping the human genome is part of this project but the next step is to determine the function of proteins that control cell growth and development.

“The 20th century was the DNA century in molecular genetics, but the next one will be the protein century. Understanding the complex mechanisms of protein control and interactions is a task worth perhaps 100 years of research,” says Karnaoukhova. She expects the resulting advances in gene therapy will spark cures for some types of cancer and permit the cloning of human cells, tissues, and organs. But despite these benefits, Karnaoukhova doesn’t anticipate an end to all disease.

“It is unlikely that humans will ever be disease-free because new viruses and bacteria will continue to develop. If our DNA could be replaced by an alternative substance that would allow error-free replication and functioning resistant to outside invasion, there would be no aging and people could live forever. But this scenario is unlikely to occur in the lifetime of the human species on Earth,” says Karnaoukhova.

Andrew Weaver: Climate

Although describing himself as an eternal optimist, climate specialist Dr. Andrew Weaver (BSc ‘83) says obstacles to combating global warming will continue in the 21st century.

“Global warming is a reality over the next century. Even if we cut emissions to half their 1990 levels, we will eventually raise carbon dioxide levels to several multiples of pre-industrial times,” says Weaver, of UVic’s climate modelling group.

“Few scientists with expertise in climate dynamics question whether global warming will occur,” says Weaver. Whether climate change is already statistically detectable and attributable to a man-made (as opposed to natural) sources, as well as uncovering the regional impact of global warming are now the key areas for researchers, he adds.

“Climate, defined as ‘average weather,’ influences everything we do. For example, civilization as we know it has really developed over the last 10,000 years. Within the last 3 million years, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find a [similar] period of climactic stability.”

According to Weaver, world population growth and the lobbying power of major multinational corporations will continue to hamper attempts to address global warming in the next few decades. What is needed now is a rapid move towards developing and implementing alternative energy sources, he says.

“I am optimistic that, in 100 years, we will have developed the technology to both adapt to and mitigate further climate change. Global warming will spur all countries in the world to work together towards a global solution,” says Weaver.

Nancy Oullette: Fuel Cells

Public transit may not replace private cars in the 21st century but neither forms of transport will have combustion engines, according to a program leader at Ballard Power Systems. The B.C. company is the leading developer of “proton exchange membrane” fuel cells for transportation, electricity and portable power products.

Nancy Oullette (MASc ‘94) studied at UVic’s Institute for Integrated Energy Systems and now coordinates Ballard’s commercial product development for portable power. She says Ballard’s zero emission hydrogen-based fuel cell system will revolutionize power generation in the next century.

The cells are similar to batteries in that they store electricity but, instead of running down like batteries, they can continue to produce energy.

According to Oullette, a combination of new methods to overcome hydrogen storage problems — the current major drawback to using the fuel — and increasing environmental pressures will lead to widespread adoption of the new system in the next century.

The entire fuel infrastructure will eventually change to hydrogen. Cars will be driven by hydrogen and there will be hydrogen gas stations. Houses will have hydrogen tanks for heating and a whole range of portable consumer products will be developed, says Oullette.

“The fuel cell system is very efficient and there are virtually no pollutants. The only by-product of a hydrogen fuel cell is water vapour.”

Ballard fuel cells produce electricity by electrochemically combining hydrogen (from natural gas, methanol, or petroleum) with oxygen from the air. Anticipating what Oullette sees as the imminent replacement of the conventional engine, car companies world-wide plan to roll-out fuel cell vehicles between 2003 and 2005.

Richard Wong: Communications

While receiving New Year’s party invitations via your wrist watch communicator and personal information manager, holographic images of party hosts inviting you to their events appear before you. The PIM, which acts as your personal assistant, checks your availability and reminds you of the event when the day comes.

You are standing on a street corner lost and hungry. You ask your small wireless telephone where the nearest restaurant is. The phone relays your position to a Web server that returns a few restaurant choices. When you select the restaurant you want, the phone tells you how to get there and what the menu is.

Two predictions for the 21st century from Richard Wong (B.Eng 95, MASc 97), an engineer in the technology development group at Telus Mobility.

Wong believes both are likely future scenarios but while the first is possible towards the end of the next century, the second could be less than five years away.

“In the next few years, there will be an integration of voice and data that will enable the Internet to be used in a whole new way. The next generation of wireless phones will be part computer — so users will be able to access all the information they want wherever they are,” says Wong.

The main telecommunications advances in the next few decades will be in helping people to use technology that has already been developed: voice recognition computers are useless, for example, if they don’t understand what is said to them, says Wong. Along with improved voice recognition technology, he predicts advances in artificial intelligence to better process voice commands, improved rechargeable batteries to improve the stability of portable equipment, and the introduction of low-cost flat panel video displays.

Eric Jordan: E-commerce

Bricks and mortar stores, the traditional intermediaries between manufactures and consumers, may not survive the transition to a world of e-commerce but a new class of “middlemen” will replace them, according to Eric Jordan (BFA ‘93).

More and more manufacturers will begin selling directly to consumers on-line, cutting out the need for traditional retail outlets, says Jordan—president, CEO, and co-founder of UWI.COM, the Victoria software firm whose products enable secure, paperless e-commerce transactions. The company was started by Jordan and partner David Manning while the two were attending UVic.

“It is a mistake to say that the Internet or Web commerce will totally eliminate the middleman. Rather, there will just be new middlemen, from payment processing centres to industry-specific portals,” he says. Once some of the barriers to Internet usage have been overcome, including cultural fears of technology, resistance to change, and the feeling that on-line transactions are less secure, there are no limits to how far e-commerce will develop, says Jordan. He predicts the main growth area will be in businesses dealing with each other.

Although difficult to predict growth rates, current projections point to a “phenomenal increase” in business-to-business transactions over the next few years. A recent study suggests a 99 per cent annual growth rate until 2003, when the sector will be worth $1.3 trillion. In 1998, total e-commerce transactions were estimated to be $43 billion.

“Although a lot of attention is paid to consumer e-commerce, the real revolutionary impact will be in business-to-business transactions, where much more is being spent on software,” Jordan says. And where will e-commerce be in a hundred years? “Come and gone and replaced by the next big thing,” he says.

Barbara Arneil: Politics

The 20th century saw the end of old-school socialism and the rejection of left-right divisions but political ideology is not dead, according to University of British Columbia assistant professor of political science, Barbara Arneil (BA ‘83).

Arneil, who specializes in political theory and gender politics, believes questions around identity (including race and gender) and globalization (including regionalism and environmentalism) are already creating new agendas. Old ideologies will have to adapt to these issues and new ideologies will likely emerge. But whether these are reflected in everyday politics and government depends on the will of the people.

“There is apathy combined with hostility towards politics and politicians, especially in B.C. This is a danger. We have to convince people that politics is not about a bunch of crooks,” says Arneil.

She believes politics in the next few decades will have to be more inclusive if the ideal of democracy is to be preserved. And to overcome late 20th century issues like falling voter turnout, governments may turn to technological solutions.

“I don’t think we need to poll everyone on every decision made by governments but some form of ‘electronic town hall’ would enable people to talk to each other and bring the average person into the decision-making process,” says Arneil.

Whatever happens, she expects the next millennium to be a time of great political and ideological change. “After what’s happened in South Africa and Russia and with the increasing role of women in society, I’m optimistic that swift change can take place.”

Kelly Boucher: Sports

The unprecedented commercial success of the 1999 women’s World Cup of soccer and strong interest in women’s professional basketball in the U.S. and Europe seems to signal a trend toward greater gender balance in the sports world.

It’s a change that former Vikes basketball star Kelly Boucher (BSc ‘92) has been a part of: she was the first Canadian to play in the Women’s NBA.

Spending the 1998 season with the Sting of Charlotte, North Carolina, gave her a sense of just how big the women’s game can be. “I don’t think people (in Canada) understand the impact of the WNBA. They have practically doubled the league size in three years. In Charlotte, we’d have 18,000 fans out for our games.”

Boucher has also played extensively in Europe and Israel, where there’s a “mania” for women’s basketball. “Everyone knows the players. The games are packed. It’s a great atmosphere to play in.”

UVic women’s basketball coach Kathy Shields looks to the future of the women’s game in Canada and takes a cautious approach. “Time will tell. We haven’t seized the opportunity that has been presented to us by the U.S. They have developed the game since 1996, when they marketed it for the Olympics. They put the money into it.”

However, from years recruiting in B.C. high schools, Shields sees growing interest. “I’m seeing more young girls in the stands, supporting it. That’s exciting.”

--with files from Alisa Smith (MA ‘97)

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Alumni Profiles
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Keeping in Touch

Larissa Karnaoukhova:

Andrew Weaver:

Nancy Oullette:
Fuel Cells

Richard Wong:

Eric Jordan:

Barbara Arneil:

Kelly Boucher:

Millennial Feedback

Why not share your thoughts on the future with other readers of the Torch? Write to the Torch, c/o UVic Communications Services, P.O. Box 1700 STN CSC, Victoria, B.C., V8W 2Y2. Or send an e-mail to mmcneney@uvic.ca. Responses will be included in the Torch Spring 2000 issue.


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