“Politics is not just the battle for today, it is also the war for tomorrow.”
Welcome to Futurist Friday, where tomorrow intersects with politics, policy and prediction. The point of this exercise is to describe the likely future based on current analysis of trends, curves and activity occurring today. The hope is to encourage discussion and debate on what needs to be changed, what actions can be taken and; why should Alan Boyle have all the fun?
The format of this article will cover five year increments to the year 2100. This week, 2026 to 2030 will be covered. A word of caution, some of this will seem rather dystopic, however as history has shown, it is always within peoples’ nature to change. I must give credit to FutureTimeline.net as an invaluable source for the speculations presented.
Welcome to the Future 2026-2030
Aquaculture Provides The Majority Of Worlds Seafood
Since the late 1980’s, traditional fishing methods have seen a plateau in ocean harvests. By 2026, aquaculture - cultivating fresh and saltwater fish under controlled conditions-accounts for the majority of the world’s seafood, surpassing wild harvests by weight. Having increased 8.8% a year from 1985 to 2010, aquaculture remains the fastest growing industries in the agricultural sector.
Traditional fishing faced greater and more numerous problems. Climate change, pollution and over fishing contributed to a sharp decline in yields. Many ocean regions experienced a total or near collapse of fish stocks, such as cod in the north Atlantic and jack mackerel near the Pacific Andean coast.
The largest centers of aquaculture remain in East and Southeast Asia, with the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia being leaders. These areas owe their increased productivity to new techniques that have increased yield and sustainability. These techniques include raising shrimp in super-intensive stacked raceways where computers monitor and control the flow of mineral water. As the shrimp mature they circulate through the tubes, until fully mature shrimp are harvested from the bottom of the tube mechanism. This method allows for the harvesting of 1 million shrimp pounds per acre. For fish, closed-loop land based systems are also used. These systems recycle 98% of their water, lowering the disease risk and minimizing the use of chemicals and antibiotics. These closed-loop systems can be built anywhere, independent of the environment, no matter how far from a major body of water.
Aquaculture growth causes a major shift in commerce and trade. Countries that relied on imports can now produce vast quantities of high quality seafood. countries with dwindling fish stocks encourage start ups to create a thriving, growing industry. These food systems become some of the most important food resources in the world as traditional fishing breaks down due to unsustainable yields.
BRICS Overtake G7 Nations
By 2027, the major emerging markets - Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICs) have overtaken the combined G.D.P. of the G7 nations. Most of this was achieved through a rising middle class within an already burgeoning population. As these demographics combine with new technologies, the productivity of the countries increased proportionately. Further, the G7 nations had structural problems with their debt and infrastructure that hampered their ability to keep pace with the BRIC nations.
Global Population Reaches Crisis Point
Rapid growth in population and industrial expansion is having a major impact on food, water and energy supplies. During the early 2000’s there were six billion people on Earth. By 2030, there are an additional two billion, most of them in poor countries. The size of humanity is such that, it now requires the equivalent of two full Earths to sustain itself in the long term.
The extra one-third of humans on the planet means energy requirements have soared, at a time when crude oil supplies are in terminal decline. A number of conflicts have occurred in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, at times threatening to spill into Europe. With the United States involved, the world hovers at the precipice of major global conflict.
Another issue is climate change, with global CO2 levels reaching almost 450 parts per million, natural feedbacks are occurring on a global scale. This is apparent in the Arctic, where melting permafrost is now venting a gigaton of carbon annually. Signs of an ecological tipping point are apparent as crop failures and food shortages cause famine as well as economic strain due to increased food prices.
Increased urbanization has created strain on land resources not only for people but for the remaining wildlife. As urban corridors and transportation infrastructure increases more and more, wildlife habitat become cordoned off, reducing diversity and resources for animal propagation. Combined with the extension of peoples life span and the stress of governmental systems for retirement and well being, stress levels for the average person continue to increase as the world attempts to adapt to various crises.
U.S. Declining As A World Power
A declining manufacturing base, a ballooning debt and an overstretched military, were all factors in greatly weakening the U.S. economy in the early 21st century. This caused damage to the country’s standing. Like those before it, the American empire managed to overreach itself. Industrialization of China and India led to substantial growth there and in many Asian countries. Shanghai soon eclipsed Wall Street as the world’s financial center. Despite these changes, the U.S. is still a superpower, but it is no longer the pre-eminent country in this respect.
Depression is The Number One Global Disease Burden
Measured by years of life lost, depression has now overcome heart disease as the leading global disease burden. This includes years lived in a state of poor health as well as years lost to premature death. Principle causes of depression include debt worries, unemployment, crime, violence (especially family violence), war, environmental degradation and disasters. The on-going economic stagnation around the world is a major contributing factor. However, progress is being made de-stigmatizing mental illness.
Robotic Hands Matching Human Capabilities
As modern robots progressed to fill an increasingly broad scope of roles in home and work environments, one of the most important and difficult abilities is being able to recognize and interact with various physical objects. With research into artificial intelligence and bio-inspired devices increasing more intricate and capable mechanisms are being developed.
In looking to achieve form and functionality, engineers turned to the human body as a model for new robot apparatuses. To interact with and handle physical objects among the most commonly emulated body parts is the hand. In the 2000’s and 2010’s, robotic hands could already pick up delicate objects, catch thrown objects, make a range of gestures, fold towels, pour drinks and prepare meals. Despite these advances, the sheer dexterity and the flexibility of the human hand and the limits of mechanical components kept scientists from achieving a perfect recreation.
By the middle of the 2020’s, techniques became sufficiently advanced to overcome previous obstacles. Various advances in nanotechnology, miniaturization, micro-electronics, sensors and actuators are employed to create a machine to emulate the human hand.
AI programs combined with visual perception software can now recognize almost any object and successfully manipulate it. While remaining in the trial stage, this breakthrough leads to sophisticated robot hands by the middle of the 21st century and significantly changes the way humans and machines interact.
Light Duty Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles Reach 1 Million in Sales
In 2003, President George W. Bush proposed the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative (HFI), which was later implemented by the 2005 Energy Policy act and 2006’s Advanced Energy Initiative. The aim of these programs were develop hydrogen fuel cells and infrastructure with the goal of producing commercial fuel cell vehicles. By 2008, over $1 billion had been expended on this project.
Later, the U.S. Dept. of Energy shifted interest from fuel cells to battery vehicles. High cost and the lack of infrastructure to support fuel cell vehicles caused U.S. manufacturers to delay their rollout. In Europe, South Korea and Japan, the smaller geographic area and stronger government initiatives led to a greater effort to create these vehicles. In time technology advances reduced the size, weight and cost of these vehicles.
By 2027, global sales of these non-polluting vehicles reached over 1 million units annually. While this is a small proportion of vehicles sold, the growth of this industry is set to increase markedly.
Manned Fighter Planes Replaced With UAVs
By 2028, the A-10 Thunderbolt II has been replaced by the F-35 Lightning II. The F-35 is destined to become the last manned pilot plane in the U.S. military. The F-35 will remain operational until the 2040’s, when they are replaced by a new generation of UAV’s controlled by advanced AI.
Printed Electronics Are Ubiquitous
Since the 2010’s, the printed electronics market has experienced exponential growth. First appearing in niche, high end products, it expanded into a $300 billion global industry, thanks to plummeting costs and improved production methods.
Now, they have such low fabrication costs that they’re ubiquitous in everyday business and consumer items. Many previously bulky or heavy devices can now be folded, stored and carried as easily as paper. Televisions can now be rolled up or hung like posters, electronic updating newspapers are the norm, and labels now have interactive and updating information for easy consumer use.
Multimedia players with expandable, fold-out touch screens become very popular. Low end models are the size and weight of credit cards with petabytes of storage and gigabytes of screen resolution. They are completely wireless with no connections anywhere as music is enjoyed using wireless headphones.
Amputees Can Regrow Limbs
Drugs are becoming available that stimulate human cells to regrow limbs. Adult mammalian cells can be induced to behave like embryonic stem cells by switching of a gene known as P21. Then by applying treatments during the healing process, side effects are minimized, resulting in the regrowth of a new healthy limb.
Human-like AI is Becoming A Reality
A major milestone is reached in 2029, as this is the first time computer AI passes the Turing test. This test is conducted with a judge testing a human simultaneously with a computer, both in isolation. The judge then engages in conversation in an attempt to determine which contestant is human and which is machine.
With the exponential growth in information technology, artificial intelligence has now reached a stage where an independent judge cannot tell a real human from computer responses. Answers to certain questions posed by a judge may appear childlike or stupid from AI, but they are indistinguishable from humans.
Full Weather Modeling is Perfected
With zettaflop computing available, computers a thousand times more powerful than computers of 2020 can generate forecasts that are 99% accurate over a two week period. Satellites can map wind and rain patterns at the resolution of a meter, instead of kilometers resolution of the past. Global warming, climate modeling and sea level projection can also be achieved with greater detail, offering greater certainty about the long term fate of the planet’s biosphere.
Mars Science Laboratory is Shutting Down
The 2,000 lb Curiosity rover has been transmitting back to Earth since it’s historic landing on August 6, 2012. While the mission was planned for 2 years, it’s superior construction allowed it to work for much longer. After 14 years, however, it’s plutonium generators ran down and it’s signals were finally lost.
Europa Clipper Arrives in Orbit
Slightly smaller than Earth’s Moon, Europa is the smallest of Jupiter’s Galilean satellites. While previous missions have analyzed and characterized it’s structure and composition, they have not had enough resolution to allow the risk of a lander deployment.
The Europa clipper- launched by NASA in 2011- paves the way for future missions to explore the surface. After six years traveling through space it arrives at Europa in 2027. The probe has ice penetrating radar, a topographical imager, magnetometer, infrared spectrometer, neutral mass spectrometer and a high gain antenna.
The spacecraft will fly by the planet dozens of times over 2.3 years, coming within 15 miles of the surface. Close-up images will have detail and clarity along with data about the crusts thickness, as well as the depth and saltiness of it’s oceans. Together with information from ESA’s JUICE mission, this helps the development of landers in the 2030’s and 2040’s.
International Space Station is Decommissioned
The International Space Station, constructed from 1998 to 2012, reaches the end of its lifetime in 2028. It was scheduled to be decommissioned in 2020, but extra funding allowed it another eight more years. This date was chosen to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the first Russian component to be launched.
Some modules of the Russian Orbital Segment are re-purposed for a new station, known as the Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experiment Complex. Like it’s predecessor, Space Station Mir, the I.S.S. is de-orbited into the Pacific Ocean.
Orbital Space Junk is A Problem for Space Flight
Rocket stages, defunct satellites, collision debris, tools and instruments, for over 70 years space junk has been accumulating in low Earth orbit. Space junk can range in size from several feet to miniscule particles. Despite their size, this debris can move at up to 17,000 m.p.h., fast enough to damage both spacecraft and astronaut’s environmental suits. Satellites, rockets and space stations, as well as astronauts conducting spacewalks, have to cope with increasing damage caused by collisions with these particles.
Events similar to the 2009 collision of a U.S. Iridium satellite and a Russian Kosmos satellite have raised fear of the so-called Kessler syndrome. This scenario is where space junk reaches a critical mass, triggering a chain reaction of collisions until virtually every man-made object in an orbital band has been reduced to debris. Such an event could destroy the global economy and render space travel impossible.
By 2030, increased regulation has begun to mitigate the growth of space debris, while better shielding and repair technology has reduced the frequency of damage. Increased computing power and better tracking systems are helping to predict the path of debris and instruct spacecraft to avoid the most dangerous areas. Options to move debris are also now becoming feasible-including ground based lasers that can push junk into decaying orbits, causing them to burn up in the atmosphere. Despite this, space junk remains a problem and will be for a few more decades.
JUICE At Jupiter
The Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) is a mission by the European Space Agency to explore the Jovian Moons of Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. Launched in 2022, the craft goes through an Earth-Venus-Earth-Earth gravity assist, before finally arriving at Jupiter in early 2030. JUICE initially studies Jupiter’s atmosphere and magnetosphere, gaining insight into how the gas giant may have formed.
For it’s primary objective, the probe takes detailed measurements of the Jovian moons, scanning for sub-surface water and organic molecules essential for life. JUICE also scans for possible locations for future landing sites.
Carbon Sequestration Underway in Many Nations
As the effects of carbon pollution are made manifest through climate change, many geo-engineering techniques are being used for trapping and removing CO2. These advances offer hope in reducing the increasingly negative effects of climate change.
The technology seeing the greatest use is “clean coal” sequestration. Devices fitted to the stacks of coal fired plants allow for the capture of CO2 for later injection into deep geologic formations. Care must be taken that the wells are stable so the CO2 doesn’t return to the atmosphere or poison aquifers.
Other methods of removal and sequestration include artificial “trees” that filter CO2 out of the atmosphere for later storage. Another project involves strips of algae, fitted to the sides of buildings which absorb CO2 through photosynthesis. These are common in dense urban areas, where tall buildings offer greater surface area.
Although efficient, these geo-engineering methods are truly only stop-gap measures. The only effective, long term process remains to adopt solar, wind, hydro and other renewable resources.
Resurrection of Several Extinct Species Has Been Achieved
In 2009, the Pyrenean ibex became the first animal to become “un-extinct” for seven minutes before a cloned female died from a lung defect. This was followed by a woolly mammoth in 2015, using tissue found in permafrost.
By 2028, several other species had been resurrected, including the Dodo bird, last seen in 1662, and the passenger pigeon, exterminated in the early twentieth century. These animals were brought back using three techniques: cloning, selective breeding and genetic engineering.
Ethical and legal issues are emerging, however, such as the effects of “alien” species on modern ecosystems and the possibilities of disease. With genetics advancing at such a rapid rate, the return of Neanderthals seems probable. Further into the future, de-extinction becomes a vital part of restoring Earth’s biosphere as global eco-restoration efforts take shape.
Lake Chad Disappears
Two hundred years ago, Lake Chad was one of the largest lakes in the world. It supported a large and diverse ecosystem of fowl, fish, crocodiles and mammals. Due to a combination of drought, irrigation and human mismanagement, it has completely disappeared by now. The impact on Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon is devastating, with 30 million people depending on the lake for water. The loss of Lake Chad creates an enormous crisis, with refugees fleeing the drought and the concomitant famine and civil war.
Wreck of the Titanic Decomposed
By 2029, the Titanic has been reduced to an undersea rust patch. What remained of the once mighty hull has been consumed by metal-eating bacteria. Artifacts may remain to be recovered, but any hope of recovering the ship is gone.
Emerging Job Titles of Today
Some of the job titles becoming widespread in 2030 include the following.
Alternate Vehicle Developer
Body Part Maker
Climate Change Reversal Specialist
Memory Augmentation Surgeon
“New Science” Ethicist
Old Age Wellness Manager/Consultant Specialist
Social “Networking” Officer
Space Pilot/Orbital Tour Guide
Virtual Clutter Organizer
Waste Data Handler
Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.