What will the world look like in 2050?
I love futuristic projections! I think is an exercise that combines creativity and strategy, wisdom and imagination… Regardless of whether they are more scientific or more science fiction. This Christmas I gave Monica Michio Kaku’s book, The Future of Humanity, whose central thesis is to imagine what the future of humanity will be like. Following the same idea, The Guardian has asked Kaku and three other futurists about their predictions, or rather their projections, of what the world will look like in 2050. The other futurists are none other than Neil deGrasse Tyson, Faith Popcorn and Amy Zalman.
By 2050 we’ll be able to send memories, emotions and feelings across the internet. Brain science will have exploded, and it will have revolutionised communication. Teenagers will love it. Instead of putting an emoticon at the end of every sentence, they’ll use an emotion: anger, happiness, excitement. This will replace entertainment; movies will become obsolete. I’m talking about telepathy, really. We’ll still communicate the old-fashioned way, but communicating telepathically will reduce the obstacles between people. Our grandchildren will wonder, What is a keyboard? We will enter the age of the “brain net”.
We’ll grow organs to replace those that wear out. We can already use human cells to grow skin, cartilage, noses, ears, heart valves, bladders… In the future? We’ll grow the liver, the kidney, perhaps the pancreas. By 2050 I suspect we’ll be able to grow many of the vital organs of the body and, rather than allow the organs we’re born with to become old and decrepit, we’ll replace them. That’s all coming. And it doesn’t take much imagination to realise it.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
By 2050, I can imagine Mars becoming a vacation site. Instead of going to the beach, people will spend money to go and hang out in space. I’d do that! But that’s a business model that has yet to be set up. There’s no infrastructure. No way to make food or fuel. How would people get back to home-base Earth?
If humanity wanted to — if we had the motivation — we might be able to turn at least the near solar system into our backyard. It will be difficult. Elon Musk famously said: “How do you build a small fortune in space? Start with a big fortune.” But if we were to manage it, we’d have access to what are essentially unlimited resources. Asteroids are rich in various metallic and mineral ingredients — rare Earth elements — that are fundamental to modern civilisation: gold, silver, platinum, iridium, cadmium, osmium. Comets have unlimited supplies of water. The world’s first trillionaire will be the first person to exploit these resources.
Human doctors have a problem: they’re human. They make mistakes. They don’t show up. They get sick. So algorithms will replace them, providing patients with the function of a doctor 24/7. Artificial intelligence will inform us very early on in our lives what we are allergic to, what our sensitivities are, how much exercise we require, what our stress levels are.
We’re already finding that AI psychologists are extremely effective. They’re able to measure a patient’s responses to questions. They understand which questions provoke stress. They measure a patient’s biometrics during sessions. Human therapists can’t do that. They can’t take all that information in.
This might all have happened by 2030, let alone 2050. By that point, science fiction will have become just science. Everything will be implanted: the ability to dispense medicine (the “robo-release”), the ability to predict cancer, the ability to measure the function of our heart or lungs. Tiny chips will be implanted within our bodies at birth, around the same moment you cut the umbilical cord. We will store our medical records in our fingertips.
We won’t be having babies naturally by that point. Pregnancy will have become outdated. People will grow babies in labs, or their living rooms, in what look like fish tanks. And gender will have become irrelevant.
There’s a lovely phrase, attributed to the futurist Roy Amara, that goes like this: “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” With this in mind, let’s consider work. We’re already discussing what kinds of jobs will be affected by automation. We know that some of the losers will be those with white-collar qualifications whose work is relatively routine: accountants, much of the work of lawyers, some of the work of journalists. But by 2050 we’ll begin to see paradigmatic changes. We have all these assumptions about how work and the world is shifting. But the changes occurring now are too incipient for us to get our heads around. It’s not that automation will change work. It’s that work will change so drastically that we’ll need to give what we do an entirely different name.
If there is a significant displacement from automation, we’ll require a tweak in the social services system. We’ll send people back to school. We’ll find new ways for people to make money. There will be experiments in the universal basic income. Eventually, we’ll create new forms of work. We’re kind of an ingenious race that way.
What did you think? Do you dare to propose your own projections for 2050? :)
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