In 1964, Walt Disney unveiled the Carousel of Progress, a New York City World's Fair attraction that transported audience members through the innovations of yesteryear to the possibilities of tomorrow. Composed of a fixed stage of animatronic figures and a ring of revolving auditoriums, the Carousel served partly as a commercial for GE, but also as a panoramic view of our past. Among the antique items displayed were gas lamps, soda fountains and moving pictures of the 1900s, single-engine planes, sports-stadiums and radios of the 20s, and the automatic dishwashers, televisions and refrigerators of the 40s.

Now Is the Time
As each era bore down on the family of "Progress City" and their marvelous technologies, upgrades became necessary in order to keep them one step ahead of obsolescence and slightly dangling in the future. Over the years, the group received new toys, such as a satellite TV, virtual reality and voice-activated appliances. Undoubtedly, this task of choosing innovations would be a difficult one for Disney Imagineers, since some technologies fail miserably while others revolutionize daily living.

What are some industry-impacting innovations that could potentially belong in the carousel? Here are a few candidates.

The Steve Jobs Textbook
In the fall of 2010, Steve Jobs met with President Obama and expressed his views that America's educational system was "hopelessly antiquated" and structured to treat teachers as unionized, industrial assembly-line workers instead of professional educators. He suggested that schools stay open longer and found it absurd that American classrooms were still based on teachers standing at a chalkboard teaching from a textbook.

Jobs envisioned a future free from massive piles of textbooks, replaced instead by interactive, custom-tailored digital books that provide feedback in real-time. Since Jobs' passing in October 2011, Apple has continued with his vision.

An Apple for the Teacher
In January 2012, Apple hosted an education event in New York and revealed three key, iPad-centric features, designed to reinvent the textbook:

  1. A Partnership with Educational Publishers - Although Jobs originally wanted to "hire great writers" to create digital textbooks, Apple has partnered with the publishing houses that employ them: McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. These three companies combined publish about 90% of the textbooks in U.S. schools.
  2. iBooks 2 - In addition to many of the original iBooks features, the new iBooks2 app provides an enhanced interactive experience for textbooks. A biology book, for example, can present 3D, animated cell structures, in-text glossary terms and search features. The app also provides digital, "swipe" highlighting, simple note-taking features that transform into digital index cards and real-time feedback to review questions, a key Jobs' initiative.
  3. iBooks Author - This is a simple, drag and drop authoring and self-publishing app used to create the textbooks.

Industries Impacted: Education and Publishing
Educational publishing is an $8 billion industry and publishers are positioning themselves ahead of the technological sea change. iTunes helped save the music industry and it appears that iPad and iBooks are poised to do the same for publishing. McGraw Hill admitted that its "business would be altered by selling directly to the students at a lower cost," but also that it would make it up on "volume with non-transferable books that would need to be purchased by every student, every year."

The Singularity Is Near
Ray Kurzweil is an author, inventor and "futurist" who predicts that by 2045, human intelligence will be recreated in a machine resulting in a billion-fold increase in intelligence that allows humans to transcend limitations and reach immortality. This profound change, as detailed in his 2005 book The Singularity is Near, stems from a series of epochs that led to the merger of technology and human intelligence, in which, ultimately, the universe "wakes up."

Kurzweil is also the principal developer of the first CCD flatbed scanner, the inventor of the print-to-speech reading machine for the blind and a recipient of the National Medal of Technology in 1999.

Two key variables underlie Kurzweil's theorem:

  1. A Law of Accelerating Returns - An enhanced version of Moore's Law, which indicates that computing power is roughly doubling every year, leading to smarter, smaller and cost-effective technology.
  2. Nanotechnology - Epoch Five in Kurzweil's world in which technology integrates with biology and masters its methods, including human intelligence.

In 30 or 40 years, according to Kurzweil, microscopic nanobots will travel throughout human bodies, destroy pathogens, cancer cells and toxins, and repair damaged cells and organs, effectively wiping out diseases. Kurzweil believes that by 2024, instead of time running out, it will be running in as humans add a year to life expectancy for every year that passes.

Singularity Rising
Researchers at MIT are using nanoparticles to deliver killer genes to battle late-stage cancer and claim they have killed ovarian cancer in mice. Scientists at the University of London recently reported using nanotechnology to blast cancer cells in mice.

Industries Impacted: Healthcare and Technology
As medical-care methodologies shift from biological to technological maintenance, companies that make the transition will flourish while those that remain static will become analogous to a camera company that continues to make film in the face of digital cameras.

A Cure for Cancer: Molecular Targeted Therapy
In 2003, Steve Jobs was diagnosed with a rare form of islet cell neuroendocrine cancer, which if caught early, had a "real potential for cure." In lieu of surgery though, Jobs opted for a nine-month regiment of alternative, dietary restrictions and juices, which by 2004, had proven ineffective. Scans revealed that the tumor had grown and Jobs underwent a modified Whipple procedure in July to remove the right side of his pancreas, gallbladder and sections of his stomach and small intestine.

A liver transplant followed in 2009 and in August of 2011, Jobs resigned as Apple CEO, stating that, "I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know; unfortunately that day has come." Jobs passed away in October of 2011.

Jobs was only one of 20 people in the world to have the genes of his cancer tumor and normal DNA sequenced in entirety. According to biographer Walter Isaacson, "By knowing the unique genetic and molecular signature of Jobs' tumor, his doctors had been able to pick specific drugs that directly targeted the defective molecular pathways that caused his cancer cells to grow in an abnormal manner." At times, this had the effectiveness of a "silver bullet."

Although molecular targeted therapy is hardly new, Job's treatment shined a spotlight on Dr. Matthew H. Kulke, a physician at Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Dr. Kulke says that drugs such as these are "exciting alternatives to conventional chemotherapy that has been the mainstay since the early 1990s" and that "they have been shown to cut the growth of metastatic pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer in half."

In the near future, molecular targeted therapy may converge with nanotechnology to create a potential cure for cancer.

Industries Impacted: Healthcare
Healthcare will again be impacted by this innovation and as technology scales in the field of biotechnology allow manufacturers to mass-produce effective drugs, costs should diminish.

The Bottom Line
The future is difficult to predict, just as it is nearly impossible to keep the Carousel of Progress's "Family of Tomorrow" up-to-date and relevant. Although it may seem trivial to place items in the family's den, the exercise indicates to me that we stand on the precipice of extraordinary, industry-impacting breakthroughs in science, healthcare and technology that lead to a great big beautiful tomorrow.