Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Prognosticating 50 and 100 Years Ahead

There seems to be a lot of people making predictions these days about the future.  I love this stuff. Always have.  I made a future timeline when I was maybe 13 that went a hundred years into the future.  It was fairly detailed, and I think I still have it somewhere.  I need to find it so see how we are doing.  I also did a self-portrait of me at 53.  That is almost dead on, except I thought I would have a little more hair on top. These things are fun to do and they help us science fiction writers have a baseline to project from in our worldbuilding.
Charlie Stross broke his down nicely into categories and I am going to follow suit.  So, here I go, putting on my thinking cap.  This is an extremely long post.  Just warning you now.
50 years from now … 2062
Climate 2062
It’s hard to refute the data that the globe is warming.  But if you go back even 35 years ago they thought the Earth was cooling.  I’m not completely convinced that man is having a significant impact on the change, but regardless, the climate is changing.  If we are to blame we certainly don’t appear to be on a path to change our ways.
There is a great deal of speculation about whether or not greenhouse gases are going to keep increasing and by how much.  An increase could trigger a cascading affect that will accelerate the effect.  Will it continue to rise or maybe only rise a little and stabilize?  The earth has sustained a great deal of change over the millennia, but a lot of these changes weren’t really compatible with human or mammalian life.  The natural system seeks balance, and does well to adjust to catastrophic events like massive volcanic eruptions.  But, if we really are to blame and continue to pump CO2 and halocarbons into the atmosphere we could push ourselves into a really desperate situation. 
My prediction is the global temperature will increase by a few degrees and stabilize.  There will be some geographic impact, like changing coastlines as a result of some glacial melting.  The climate in some areas will no longer be able to grow the same sorts of things, but it may become better suited for other things. 
Energy 2062
There is a global push to reduce the use of fossil fuels and it will continue.  Solar keeps improving and so do batteries.  I think we will see a major change in rechargeable batteries both in capacity and efficiency.  We will be getting close to commercial cold fusion but it will still not be viable.  I think nuclear will make a comeback.  It’s green and although the initial expense is high and probably going to increase to improve safety, once it is up and running it is a reliable source of relatively cheap energy. Coal is on the way out in most developed countries.
Transport 2062
No flying cars, yet.  I think airliners will still use the same sort of engines as they do now, although they will be much more fuel efficient.  FAA and global aviation authorities are moving to a more and more automated approach.  I think pilots will be there only as a safety measure for passenger hauling.  The aircraft will be automated from takeoff to landing.  Pilots will likely still be taxiing to and from the runway.  Cargo aircraft will be unmanned.
Piggy-backing on the improvement in batteries, automobiles will be all electric with solar adaptors for long hauling.   Metropolitan areas will continue to improve mass transit.  I think we will see trains and trucks still moving cargo cross country and automated cargo ships with minimal manning to move cargo across the oceans.
Population 2062
We’ve seen people move to the cities at the turn of the 20th century only to move to the suburbs midcentury and now the trend is reversing again.  Major city hubs will continue to grow, and some larger cities may combine.  Sprawls like Dallas-Ft Worth come to mind.  It’s almost one metropolitan area already.  I think the family farmer in the US will continue to dwindle.  Rural areas will still have populations, but the farming will mostly be done with automated equipment.  I’m not familiar enough with the European farming situation to comment on it. 
World population growth may stabilize somewhat.  The one trend I see is that education and industrialization appears to impact people’s decisions to have large families.  As the economies of China and India continue to grow I see those two massive populations stabilizing.  The big question for me is if Islam will continue to grow.  We have also seen every major religion have its day in the sun and then fade in power/popularity. 
My prediction is that the growth of Islam will stabilize also and as Arab cultures adopt a democratic philosophy we will see improvements in education and slowing of population growth.   Most of Africa is trailing but I see a spreading of education coming that will fundamentally change the political environment there.  South America will continue to improve economically, with Brazil becoming a major player.
Politics 2062
I see the rise of China and India continuing.  I don’t have a topic for Economics here but I think in the near term Europe and the US are going to continue to struggle.  I’m not sure we’ve seen the bottom yet.  I’m not convinced the Euro is going to survive and if the European economy tumbles further it will drag the rest of the world with it.  The market is truly global now and even though the world markets will still be there in 50 years we may be at the pinnacle of a global attempt to join together.  I don’t see global unity when I look ahead.  I think we are seeing that trying to force together populations of greater than 10 million starts to become unmanageable.
 From a military standpoint, the Western powers will continue to be dominant, but China and India will join them if they aren’t already there.  There will not be one world superpower, although the US will still be the most technologically advanced and strongest from a purely military ability standpoint, but it will be much smaller than now.  Gross spending for defense will be in decline I think accept for China and possibly India.  
I think there might be at least one major world event in the next 50 years -- either an even more serious financial catastrophe or a major war.  I’m betting on the former, which may push us into the later.
Space 2062
We may have a viable commercial transport to space by 2062.  The question is to what?  I can see that at that point there may be multiple projects for orbital stations and maybe a presence planned for the Moon.  We may be on the way to Mars, but there will be no permanent station yet.
Food 2062
As the population continues to grow food production will be increasingly more important.  I think people will get over their aversion to genetically altered food.  We will start to see a proliferation of vat grown meats.  I don’t see the world going vegan.  We may see improved food production globally in places that aren’t currently doing a very good job. 
In metropolitan areas, you will be able to do all your food shopping online and have it delivered.
Technology 2062
I hear talk that Moore’s Law is going to be over by 2062.  I don’t think so.  People are already working on the next great thing for computer chips, from Graphene to Molecular Molybdenum, to Bose-Einstein condensates.  Something will work to get us to an even smaller level, perhaps even subatomic.  Quantum computing may be close.  I think Nanotechnology will have improved dramatically and we will have industrial ability with new composite materials.
It means we will have faster speeds, more memory and greater capability to mimic the real.  I see video games continuing to become more and more lifelike.  I think tablets will become pervasive along with some version of the phone/wrist computer.  Many companies are working on a holographic user interface or control mechanism.  It’s been an ongoing concern for at least seven years already.  In another 50 I think they will have solved the issues.  The Xbox 360 Kinect has already shown a lot of promise and this technology will be mastered within the decade.  It will have far reaching effects for virtual or augmented reality.
Robotics will continue to improve, with more physical capabilities to mimic human manipulation and we may see some surrogates emerge that allow people to stay at home and interact with the outside world through their robot.  I think this is likely.
Internet 2062
I see a merging in the future of cellphone companies, telcos and cable providers.   They provide the onramp.   There will be ubiquitous high speed internet and most metropolitan areas will have full-coverage wireless, with a push for global wireless started.  I think the bandwidth will evolve if everything is already connected, and I don’t see it costing more, I see it costing less to get online.   Social media will be an integral part of life for everyone across the globe (of course there may be pockets they aren’t but I see those dwindling).  With the way cameras and cell phones are proliferating I see aspects of lifelogging starting to become mandatory for safety and legal issues. 
I see television programs moving to internet fulltime. Media Stations, like NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX etc will become just another source provider for the interwebs.  
 Medicine 2062
I see a “cure” for most cancers and even HIV.  By cure I mean it will be completely manageable.  Our medical scientists have developed a hubris that they think they will get to the root cause of everything within the human body by breaking down the various systems into smaller parts.  They think by understanding a small piece will allow them to solve the root cause, but the human body is so complex and interconnected I seriously doubt we will be anywhere close to this within the next 50 years.   I worry a little about the prevalent use of antibiotics at the drop of a hat.  There needs to be a lot more research done to advance our knowledge in this field and get ahead of mutating bacteria that are resistant to almost all strains of our current stock of antibiotics.  The potential is there for a major outbreak that we will struggle to control.
Scientists have mapped the human genome and will probably have mapped most of the brain and subsystems of the human body by then.  The computing power will be there.  But simply mapping the systems doesn’t give a special insight into how they are connected necessarily.  It doesn’t answer root causes for certain diseases.  I think we will be a long way to curing a lot of things that we can’t now, like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.  Life expectancy may increase by another 20 years by then.  I expect to be around to see this.
100 years from now … 2112
First off, I don’t think we have to worry about the Temples of Syrinx running the show.  But who knows, in a hundred years a lot of things can happen.
Climate 2112
Global warming may have continued to the point where it is now creating major shifts in climate.  Some parts of the world may be too warm to live in without air conditioning or living underground perhaps.  Canada and Siberia may become the breadbasket of the world.  Lower US, much of Europe, China and India will have some problems to contend with. 
My personal feelings are that sometime in the next hundred years we will figure out how to capture the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the problem will be solved.
Energy 2112
We will have commercially viable cold fusion.  For the small stuff solar powered rechargeable batteries will run everything else.  And by everything I mean everything, from doorknobs to adjustable solar panels to cars to houses to climate controlled, green, self-aware buildings that will adjust to maximize their energy input and pollution output.
Transport 2112
Flying cars might be viable now.  We have the propulsion and automation to make them safe and reliable.  You won’t be able to fly them though.  They will be completely automated.  You will get in and tell it where to go and it will calculate the safest and fastest way to get there.   Jetsons?  Maybe.  But these aren’t really designed for long voyages.  Airliners will be around for that.  I know Boeing and the other aerospace companies are working on a highflyer that is almost leaving the atmosphere with a deltawing design that is extremely efficient.  They may even be supersonic by then.  Passenger jets will have actual pilots as a failsafe, but everything else will be via drone. 
Efficient mass transit in all cities.  But here’s the thing.  There won’t be as much need to travel.  The world can come to you “virtually”.  Have you seen the movie Surrogates? It won’t be quite like that but I don’t see anything stopping us from having Robots that can travel for you and you will be able to see and hear everything they could.  Everything else can be brought to you.
Population 2112
I’ve seen a few predictions that the future will be filled with old people living in huge cities afraid of the sky.   Perhaps, but it will be because we’ve solved a lot of aging issues that have allowed the life expectancy to go well past 100, maybe pushing 150.  The real questions are how will virtual and augmented reality, the use of surrogates and ubiquitous social media affect the psychology of our society?  We will become like Asimov predicted in his robot novels and stop having human interaction?  That will have a huge impact on population growth. 
I think that the basic family unit will still interact with each other.   I don’t think we will all be sitting in a recliner slurping our dinner through a straw like in WALL-E.  People like to go the local watering hole for a drink or out to see a sporting event.  I think stuff like this will still be a part of our culture.  People will still play sports; the internet stuff will just be another part of their life like watching TV is now for most people.  The majority of people will still go to work, because, let’s face it the employer wants to know what you’re doing.  You will be monitored also.  A lot of professions may telecommute though.  Obviously it will depend on the industry you work in.  Restaurants will still be around.  The restaurant has to have cooks and servers and a supply chain.  You get the idea.
Insurance and police/legal system will require everyone be lifelogging from birth.
Politics 2112
HellifIknow.  I imagine a few wars will have changed the face of a few areas of the world.  The only constant is change.  I still think the major players, like Britain, France, Spain, United States, Australia, Japan, China, and India will all be around in some form or fashion.
Space 2112
I hope to God we have a lunar base by then and maybe a fledgling base on Mars.  Assuming we can get stuff to orbit cheaply it will open up the entire solar system.  Time and acceleration are still the big barriers.  You can only push a human body so hard before it becomes jelly.  I think 30 Gs is about the max you could withstand for any length of time if you lay in your back in an acceleration coach.  How long though?  A few hours at best, and I honestly think that is pushing it.
Food 2112
We will get more efficient with what we have.  The world will be producing food in most areas of the globe that will support it by then.   Urban farming will become common, inside and on rooftops.  Genetically altered food will be the norm.
Technology 2112
People will be monitored either by their own equipment or by someone else’s pretty much 24/7.  Augmented Reality is pervasive.  Voice control for everything in your home.  Your couch will know how soft or hard you like it and recognize you.  Your house will know all your preferences and be completely automated, unless you just don’t like it that way.  Your “computer“ system will have a voice and  holographic interface and display, and it will cover all your multimedia needs.  You will also be able to do most of your multimedia anywhere with a portable device that will display in holographic 3D.
We will see neural interfaces starting to become common.  Basic integration with either an implant in the eye or glasses. 
We will have the technology to get personal invisibility devices, but they will be outlawed for most uses.
Nanotech is making major breakthroughs.  We will be expanding 3D printing into new areas and developing basic matter teleportation, but only inorganic material.
Internet 2112
It will be so pervasive as to be like the road in front of your house.  It’s part of the landscape.  We are connected through neural implants or our house/appliances.  It will be effectively free.  Revenue for the providers will come through advertisements and the sales generated through your preference package they have been able to build, based on everything you do or like.
Medical 2112
We will have solved a great many diseases.  People will still get the flu and common cold though.  We will have a workaround for blindness and hearing impairment.   Nanotech will have little monitors for the bloodstream and other major organs that will report to your lifelog, for preventative care.  At birth you will have monitors installed. 
We will have solved a great deal of the issues with aging.  The decline at the end will be fast.
We will have the ability to grow organs for replacement.  We have the technology to clone humans, but I seriously doubt it will be allowed.
This seems very pie in the sky to me.  I’ve left out so much.  There will be terrible things that happen along the way I’m sure.  Catastrophes of every sort -- hurricanes, floods, food shortages, wars, plagues, who knows what.  We will overcome all of these things along the way though.  Our population is so spread out now and so large that we can absorb a lot of damage and keep on truckin as a species.  None of the major events of the past century have really slowed down progress, no more than a speed bump.  Only a global disaster of unprecedented proportions will slow down our development.  I pray that doesn’t happen.

I hope you enjoyed it.  Clear Ether! 


  1. Hey Todd. Thanks for the drop-in. I never stopped writing, I just started writing a cookery book with intent to publish.

    Hope you're having a groovy day and eating lots of nummy nummy things.


  2. I'm trying to cut down on the nummy things after the holiday =) Good luck on your new cook book!

  3. Cutting down? Oh, well, I suppose many are in the same boat. Here, we eat the same way year round.