A new year and a new decade: What does the future have in store for us? Information revolutions, medical advances, AI? How will humanity tackle its largest problems? I guess we shall just have to wait and see (or get busy inventing it!).
I've jotted down some of my predictions for the next 100 years. A quick disclaimer: These are based on nothing more than the musings of a curious mind, so I wouldn't take them too seriously. Some of them may even seem distasteful to you, but then who said the future was going to be tasteful?
Everything comes back to energy. You want to solve for global warming, water shortages, and agriculture? It's all about having a cheap, sustainable energy source.
Fortunately, we have that (or at least we do in some senses): nuclear power. The main arguments against nuclear are the massive setup costs, maintenance costs, and safety hazards. These are solvable, though; we've just been approaching everything backwards.
Rather than building massive nuclear power plants in the middle of nowhere, the future of nuclear is miniature plants the size of a transformer. These have few moving parts, require little maintenance, and are located right next to cities. This may seem like science fiction, but there are already companies with working prototypes of this.
Lithium battery prices will continue to plummet. The price of affixing a Tesla Powerwall to the side of your house will be no more than the cost of a laptop. Solar panel roof tiles will be installed by default.
We will move off powering vehicles with fossil fuels much quicker than anticipated. The margins of gas stations are already thin; additional electric vehicles will cause rural stations to close, creating a self-reinforcing loop. Electric cars will be able to charge in ten minutes or less.
The smog problem will be eliminated virtually overnight, the same way it disappeared from the streets of London when burning coal was banned in the 1950s.
Food will either be served at high-end restaurants (selling atmosphere as much as a meal), or delivered from virtual restaurants (no more than a brand) backed by vast kitchen warehouses (e.g., Cloud Kitchens).
Once we have a cheap source of energy that can compete with the sun, we will move food growing to hydroponic stations closer to cities. Clever algorithms will predict demand to reduce inventory requirements. Eventually we will grow lab meat in these factories, and food will effectively be on-demand.
Once this happens, food prices will plummet, enabling the government to run their own food factories, and nobody will go hungry.
For the next twenty years, access to water will be a major concern for most people. Water shortages will cause civil wars much sooner than global warming.
We will have to apply actual capitalism to water (we don't currently) and make it much more expensive. Federal laws will be passed to override common law (under which water rights are generally governed). This will cause political upheaval and suffering, but ultimately market forces will ensure that we use less water and reuse more water, and every house will have a compact desalination and treatment unit.
Dedesalination and purification technologies are already so advanced that water problems are actually energy problems in disguise.
The entire stock market and all buy and sell decisions will be automated. At that point, it will get a lot more sane and efficient (unless we program in human inconsistencies).
Once food is so cheap that the government subsidizes everything (through food factories), and houses are free to copy once they're uploaded into the virtual reality, money will become a vanity metric similar to a video game credit.
Some people will still obsess over it, but there will be much more social credit in exploring the arts and sciences.
While Gmail can currently complete sentences, in the next decade AI bots will be able to answer simple questions on our behalf. They will be trained off all the emails and chat messages we've sent. Email clients will queue up draft responses, and chat clients will offer a virtual bot to answer questions when you're away.
Siri will become more and more customized until it knows our every preference and seems like an invaluable personal assistant.
When it arrives, artificial general intelligence (AGI) won't be one algorithm. It'll be a collection of hundreds of algorithms that will each be used for the most apt use-case. For example, an AGI will have a language-processing module, an image-recognition algorithm, a reflection algorithm, etc.
We will keep moving the goalposts and claiming AIs are not conscious until we realize that our flavor of consciousness is mostly an illusion and we've created something much more valuable in AIs.
Everything we experience in life is through chimp-colored lenses. Sunsets are beautiful and symmetry pleasing only because of our low-level programming. AIs will be the first self-aware entities we communicate with without such biases. They will teach us as much about ourselves as we teach them.
We will eventually come to terms that robots and AI are the next incarnation of mankind, and indeed think fondly of them as offspring. They will, in turn, think fondly of us as befuddled grandparents that can't use the TV remote.
We will know the AGI is sentient when it gives itself a name.
There will be lots of less obvious knock-on effects from self-driving cars. For example, 30% of city space currently used for car storage will be immediately freed up and used for more housing or public parks.
All street parking will be removed and replaced with gardens and bike paths. Eventually cars will be banned in cities, which will then become a beautiful harmony between us and nature. We will use a combination of biking, scooters, and electric autonomous buggies for the last mile.
All transportation will be a service and nobody will own any vehicles. All deliveries inside a city will either happen with electric autonomous vehicles or drones.
Our urge to reproduce is so hard-wired that controlling it will be one of mankind's greatest struggles. For an example of this, notice how having fewer children is rarely mentioned in articles listing solutions to global warming, even though it's the single biggest impact that any of us can individually make. Being able to have children is just so sacred to us.
A male “pill” will be developed, resulting in a lower birth rate. VR and Neuralink porn will further deplete it. Eventually it will be much more socially acceptable for people not to have children and have pets or personal AIs instead.
We will develop virtual womb technology, and eventually all babies will be grown in the lab rather than inside women. This will have the side benefit of removing constraints on brain size. When babies are grown in labs, governments will be able to exert much more control over the process and try to regulate it. Designer babies will go from being socially acceptable to government mandated as countries try to compete with each other.
We will sleep in climate-controlled pods (a natural extension of Eight Sleep) that ensure the perfect humidity, temperature, and conditions for sleep. It will seem odd to share a sleep pod.
The next 100 years will be defined by a battle between our amygdala (lizard brain) and prefrontal cortex. Eventually society will accept that consciousness is a simulation, free will is an illusion, and the lizard brain and bacteria are in control 90% of the time. It will be a tough journey, though.
We will continue to have tribal feelings of patriotism and protectionism. The concept of countries will prevail for longer than anticipated. Trade will still be extrapolations of trading spears for flints. We will only get true globalization if we contact an alien force.
All god-based religions will eventually be consigned to the history books. There will be a backlash against pure secularism, as it doesn't provide for some of our most innate needs (such as rituals around marriage and death).
Companies will try to bridge the gap by offering community, therapy, and meaning, but it won't be enough.
We will settle somewhere in the middle with secular religions. These will be located around an activity (yoga, psychedelics, virtual reality, etc.) or be cults of personality. They will include rituals, singing, dancing, and morality sermons.
We will start to gain the technology to live hundreds of years, but the bubble will burst and lose funding when we collectively realize that nobody actually wants to live that long.
Because accidents can still kill you, any immortals would be living in a constant state of fear and taking no chances with their lives. That is no way to live.
Euthanasia will be available to anyone (with reasonable safeguards). Being able to end your life will be seen as a basic human right, and companies will create beautiful death experiences that ease people and their families through the process. That fact that it was once illegal will seem morally repugnant.
The next big leap in technology will be quantum computing. The next Einstein-level human will be someone who constructs a quantum algorithm that resolves something important like the nature of dark matter.
The revolution after quantum computing will be Neuralink, which will merge humans and computers, transforming human life as we know it.
After Neuralink is established, we will be able to create a perfect environment for happiness (by triggering all the right parts of the lizard brain). Neuralink will start being able to send images straight to the optical nerve.
There will be massive companies created that offer vast alternative realities and hyperrealistic games. Many of us will decide to split our time in these realities and create virtual avatars. It doesn't matter if you didn't win the genetic lottery in the real world; as an avatar, you can be whoever you want to be.
The biggest issue with Neuralink will be hacking and government control. Controlling thoughts is what every dictator dreams of, and so there will be massive investment by governments in Neuralink.
Social media will be seen as unethical as cigarettes, and there will be lots of regulation around creating addictive experiences.
There will be a class divide similar to the US's obesity problem, except with social-media usage and attention spans. It will be considered a sign of wealth and privilege to not use social media.
Some parts of the world will become uninhabitable, except by people who wish to deal with extreme environments. At that point, the pain will be such that we are finally incentivized to fix the problem with technology.
It'll be too late for most species, though. We will record their DNA and reintroduce them once conditions improve.
Space exploration will be done entirely by robots and AI. We will program AIs to get dopamine (or the equivalent) whenever they discover anything new, find energy sources, or reproduce. These have proven to be winning characteristics for our species, so they should serve an AI well.
They will swarm across the universe just for the sake of curiosity.
Paintings will be generated by machine learning (ML), initially with a human supervisor, and then ultimately unassisted. We will personify these algorithms, giving them names and branding, turning them into famous artists. We will even use machine learning to determine the worth of paintings.
Fashion models and photoshoots will be digitally generated by ML (this is already starting with digital models like Shudu).
Music will go in this direction too, and will soon be ML-generated. Even the bands and artists that sing them will be digital avatars. We will have a personal “Discover Weekly” that contains music generated specifically for each of us.
Eventually actors and movies will be ML-generated too (and customized to your preferences).
In the short term, the gig economy will become much more prevalent and many people will be self-employed. However, since these jobs require less context between them, they will be the first to be automated.
In 20 years, most companies will have a flagship “store,” a HQ that employees will visit periodically while they mostly work from home.
In 50 years, most companies won't have offices and the vast majority of people will work from home. Unfortunately, we will find out that working remotely makes a lot of people less happy, but it'll be so efficient that we will all switch to it.
Eventually people will view companies as fun hobbies and diversions (now that money isn't critical for survival).
Loneliness and depression will be one of the biggest problems of the next 100 years. It may be solvable with the right concoction of drugs and VR experiences.
As soon as living in a virtual reality becomes more commonplace, property prices will plummet as people care less about their physical location. We will design incredible properties inside the VR and they will be free to copy.
It will be viewed as immoral that we used to treat property as an investment.
Every psychedelic substance will be legal, and the fact that they were once illegal will be seen as weird and immoral.
Almost everybody will have taken DMT at least once. 5-MeO-DMT (i.e., The Toad) will have a profound impact on humanity and be seen as the genesis of a cultural revolution.
Taking psychedelics will be an initiation rite into many societies, clubs, and companies. They will also be available to anyone in hospice care.
Incredible new psychedelics will be developed. Eventually you will have political parties and social movements who represent a specific drug.
The future is in our hands
I'm a Trekkie. For those of you who aren't nerds, this means I watch a lot of Star Trek. If there's one thing that unites us Trekkies, it's optimism. Optimism that we can solve the problems in front of us, optimism that technology can be a force for good, and optimism that humanity is anything but doomed. Pessimism, on the other hand, tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Let’s make a future we can be proud of together!