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We asked some of the boldest thinkers what the world will be like in 50 years. Here’s what their answers tell us about the future.

Sponsored by
Vijay Pande

Vijay Pande

General partner, Andreessen Horowitz

Vijay Pande is a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, where he leads the firm’s investments in the intersection of biology and computer science, to apply science beyond healthcare. He is also an adjunct professor of bioengineering at Stanford, where he focuses on tackling challenging problems in chemical biology, biophysics, and biomedicine. He received a PhD in physics from MIT.

  • What kinds of companies will be the most important?

    • Engineering petroleum has led to the world we see around us today. Energy, plastics, chemicals—we live in a world shaped by the seemingly miraculous things chemical engineers can do with crude oil. But these processes have also created lots of problems. The future needs to be sustainable: from stopping the production of more greenhouse gases, to using materials that don’t trash the planet, to feeding 10 billion people, and keeping them healthy. 
       
      The new dominant paradigm for this will move from chemical engineering to biological engineering. The shift will be similar to the way IT has transformed our world, giving us devices that allow us to have unprecedented connections to each other—all through bits. But at the end of the day, we live in a world of atoms, and the best way to program atoms is biology. Over billions of years, Mother Nature has created the ability to make more and more wondrous creatures and mechanisms, fundamentally transforming Earth from a big rock to a garden paradise. The companies of the next few decades will not just learn many more of Mother Nature’s secrets, but will use her tools, via genetic engineering, biological engineering, and materials engineering to design, scale, and transform the world of atoms.

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  • What will we eat?

    • Food will in fact look and feel remarkably similar to what we eat today—but will come from radically different sources. There simply won’t be enough fish for sushi or cows for steak the way we’re living today. The extreme conditions currently needed to scale enough animals for our food consumption today won’t be scalable to 20 billion people, and one day will seem as cruelly barbaric as human slavery. But we won’t all be vegan either, because for many, that will be neither their preference nor what might be most healthy. We will eat meat and dairy grown in alternative forms, produced and scaled through plants and bioengineering processes. And when we have perfected the ability to create those meat, dairy, and other food products, currently sourced from animals and other natural sources, we’ll begin to design them in new ways. No longer limited by living animals, we will use nature’s own proteins and structures as building blocks for creative new forms for both our sustenance and our pleasure.

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  • How will we die?

    • We will still die. But we will die much older than we are now, by as much as one or two decades. And we will remain healthier much longer, so that when we do die, we don’t die from chronic disease. In short, we will run and run like the Energizer bunny, for the most part healthy and strong, until we suddenly stop (at perhaps as much as 120 years). We will achieve this through: a) detecting and preventing chronic diseases far earlier than we do now, before they wreak irreversible destruction in our bodies; b) a deep understanding of the processes and functions by which aging happens, which in turn makes us susceptible to chronic disease; and c) using that understanding of aging to develop key factors (like proteins or small molecules) that we will use to dramatically slow down or stave off aging for much longer. Finally, when we do die, thanks to the decentralization and unbundling of all the functions of the hospital as we know it today, we will die at home, in our own beds, peacefully surrounded by family and monitored and supported by a fabric of invisible technology woven into the home all around us.

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    • What will the biggest change to our natural world be?

      • The biggest change to our natural world will be how much the natural world will play a role in our currently “unnatural”–– i.e. man-made––world. Through biological engineering, we will build our structures with living materials, have clothes made from biological processes, and power the human world the way nature has powered itself for billions of years: harnessing sunlight into biochemical energy to power bioengineered processes. This means our houses might be “grown" instead of “built” from trees; our clothing made from spider’s silk; our tree lamps, luciferous.

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