Thursday, April 19, 2007

Predictions for 2100

There is a fascinating set of predictions I read, via boingboing, concerning the year 2000, originally published in the year 1900 in The Ladies Home Journal. It is interesting to see what they got wrong and what they got right. That Nicaragua, Mexico and Brazil would ask to join the USA seems a little strange now, but I don’t know the politics of the time.

I like the sound of delivering mail by pneumatic tube, though this has been made redundant by electronic communication. There is also the usual nineteenth century obsession with the “iron cavalry”. I think the way the Victorian-era intelligentsia saw “war in the air” and “the iron cavalry” in a way similar to how we see “nanotechnological grey goo” and “wirehead meat-puppets”.

I have decided to write my own list. It is inspired by the article from the December 1900 issue of The Ladies Home Journal and is based on what little I know of current developments in science and technology. I have tried to capture the same certainty and enthusiasm of the writer of that article (a Mr Watkins) when I write of the developments in fields similar to those described in The Ladies Home Journal. Enjoy:

These prophecies are based on my own thoughts and on what I have read:

Prediction #1: The population of the Earth will exceed 10 billion by the end of the 21st century. The primary axes of political power will have shifted away from the USA. China, Malaysia, India, Russia, the EU, and a powerful “African Union” will be important global players. A social problem in the EU and Japan will be an absence of young people. The loss of oil to the Middle East will not have reduced the region’s importance in global affairs, as the meeting place of the EU, Africa, and Asia, but it remains a battle ground, rather than anywhere anyone would actually want to live. There will be more than a million people in space, in near Earth orbit, the Lagrange points, and on the Moon. The industrial exploitation of the asteroids and comets will have started, and there will be permanent colonies on Mars. Human beings will have walked on Europa (one of the moons of Jupiter).

Prediction #2: The average human being will have much greater personal choice about their appearance, intelligence, skill-set, mood, strengths, and lifestyle. Advances in cyborg technology, molecular nanotechnology, genetic engineering, neurosurgery, nootropics, and biomedical engineering will allow people to purchase personal body- and neural-upgrades. Global life expectancy will be well into the 100’s, and may be pushing 200. At some point before 2100 the majority of new children will be born via artificial methods. It will be normal to have regular and frequent back-ups of a person’s neural structures to insure against sudden, accidental death.

Prediction #3: Education will be considered a public commons, given free of charge as an inalienable human right to everyone. With improved understanding of individual psychologies, nootropics (“smart drugs”) and neural augmentation people will be able to learn more, remember more, and train faster. It will be possible to “download” different skill-sets depending on what it is you have to do. Actual work may be much closer to what we today would see as “fun”. The barrier between work and play will have almost disappeared. Access to a fairly luxurious lifestyle, with access to a certain amount of power, computing-resources, clothes, accommodation, education, information, and sustenance will also be seen as an inalienable right. Lotus-eating is frowned upon by most, and those that perform the essential and important jobs are respected, and even envied, for their importance.

Prediction #4: Transport will have become heavily integrated, with no clear distinction given between “aircraft”, “ship”, “car” or “train”. A small pod about the size of a 20th century luxury sedan, immersed within a utility-fog-style gel, will automatically transport anyone wherever they wish to go on the surface of the Earth. If they want to travel a short distance the pod will be impelled through a translucent gel that will cover most of the roads and motorways. For intra-continental distances the pod will be transferred to a maglev-style railway system. For crossing between continents the pod will rendezvous with and attach to diamantine, solar-powered airships (for a relaxing cruise), or to hypersonic jet-aircraft for a faster transfer. Despite this level of integration, there is no all-controlling system that instructs each pod on how most efficiently to travel, rather the order is emergent from the actions of individual pod AI-systems.

Prediction #5: The crisis in power-sources will have been resolved by a combination of things. Machinery will have become more efficient generally, through the widespread application of molecular nanotechnology to the manufacture of materials, and in more subtle methods of cleaning clothes and houses, and transporting people. Nuclear fission will have been used “to plug the gap” between the end of fossil-fuel-based power generation and the start of extensive nanotechnological solar-based power generation and nuclear fission. Areas where nuclear waste has been stored have, ironically, become nature reserves.

Prediction #6: Valuable materials and substances will be manufactured by plant-like organisms/devices that are farmed similarly to how crops are farmed today. These plant-like organisms/devices will be a combination of the organic and the artificial, and will produce already-refined products for use in industry and at home.

Prediction #7: Over the course of the 21st century runaway military-industrial complexes will have created horrific weapons. “Wireheaded” troops will have been used by military dictators and others. These soldiers will have drug-drips and electrical charge-generators installed in their brains so that they are supernaturally loyal to their commanders. High precision manufacture of poisons and biological viruses will mean the threat of “biological terrorism” remains as high as ever. With increased general use of molecular nanotechnology, “viruses” will be designed to target nanotechnological infrastructure. These viruses will be a combination of biological viruses and computer viruses. By the end of the 21st century it will have become much easier for a small group to exert influence and control over the majority. “Meme warfare” (propaganda) will become increasingly important, as how a conflict appears to the public becomes nearly as important as the conflict itself.

Prediction #8: Several space elevators will have been built. One will have its base in Malaysia, another will have its base in equatorial Africa, and another will have its base in South America. These areas will become increasingly important economically and politically as they offer the easiest access to space. Meanwhile extremely light, safe, and efficient laser-launched spacecraft will have been built and used. These will compete with the space elevators for spacebound traffic.

Prediction #9: Surveillance will have become almost total. Because of a plethora of extremely cheap, extremely small, and extremely versatile sensory devices, including cameras, artificial olfactory sensors, and “smart dust”, privacy will have become an extremely valuable commodity. Many people will barricade their homes against outside intrusion. Some people will embrace the all-seeing panopticon, and others will campaign vigorously against it. Panopticonism and antipanopticonism will become key political standpoints. The panopticon is not created solely by any one state, but is rather composed of many overlapping interests. Businesses and corporations seek to understand the behaviour of consumers more accurately. Neighbourhood-watch groups and vigilantes, private detectives, jealous lovers, concerned parents, employers, employees, government workers, journalists, and voyeurs will all contribute to the mass of observation devices.

Prediction #10: More manufacturing will be done at the local level. Distant descendants of today’s 3D printers and CAM machines will have developed to the point where anyone with a blueprint, a computer, a source of power, and a gas-supply can build anything they want. These devices will be able to manufacture food and drink, artificial organs, drugs, tools, bicycles, books, and even whole living organisms, including people. Initially there will be several different devices that produce different types of product, but towards the end of the 21st century these will all be combined into one device. A lot of manufacturing will still occur in relatively centralised factories, but these will be much closer to the consumer than before, as manufacturing will have been made more efficient and less bad for the environment. These facilities will more closely resemble organic forests than artificial factories as we know them today. The plant-like organisms/devices will also contribute a lot to the needs of industry and individuals. The lines between agriculture, manufacturing, and refining will be blurred. There will be certain items, like very large quantities of materials, products requiring exotic isotopes, and potentially dangerous devices, that will still be produced in manufacturing facilities a long way from human habitation.

Prediction #11: Biological diseases and pests will have become less prominent, but as I mentioned earlier there are still terrorists who sometimes purposefully release harmful materials into the technosphere. Many of these are harmless or annoying, like spam-email today. Others are more potentially harmful, but can generally be avoided through good sense, like phishing emails. There are analogues to today’s computer viruses and today’s biological viruses, there are also hybrid viruses that attack the neural implants and artificial organs people use. Many people are forced to maintain an artificial immune-system on top of their natural defences, and a computational firewall on top of that.

Prediction #12: At least one permanent space-based human colony will have been created, hollowed out of asteroidal rock. This colony will be powered by vast sheets of cheaply-manufactured solar collectors. The colony will be independent and self-sufficient. “Space lanes” will be mapped across the solar system. These are regions in space that are particularly conducive to the transport of people (as most goods are manufactured on site) due to the interaction of gravitational fields. These space lanes are dynamic and constantly shifting as the planets orbit the Sun.

Prediction # 13: Small probes, propelled through space by reflective sails and lasers based in the solar system, will have been launched towards Alpha Centauri and a handful of nearby star-systems. Rather than transport large amounts of sensors and bulky communications equipment between stars, the probes are designed to latch on to small asteroids or comets in the destination system. They then manufacture communications infrastructure and larger probes for exploring the destination system. These automatic outposts also serve as observatories, enabling the creation of massive-baseline telescopes when combined with observatories in the home system.

Prediction #14: Extensive use of genetic engineering will lead to the creation of several unique species of artificial animals. These animals will be designed to human specifications. There is some controversy surrounding this practice, as it is argued that the creation of creatures that cannot live healthy lives is cruel. There will be even more controversy surrounding the creation of chimeras, or human-animal hybrids. Some animals will have their intelligence dramatically increased, even to the point where they can converse with people. This will also apply to plants, with many new and colourful species created for a variety of purposes, including in industry (see above).

I have attempted to recreate the tone and attitude of the original text. It will be interesting, if anyone is still reading weblogs in 93 years time, to see wgat they have to say about what will happen in 2200, and precisely how what I've written has been proved off-the-mark, or just wrong

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

excellent points and the details are more specific than somewhere else, thanks.

- Thomas