“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, 2036 to 2040 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 2036-2040
Manufacturing Jobs Have Largely Disappeared From the West
The developed nations of the world, including the U.S., have seen manufacturing go the same way as agriculture, vitally important, but employing few people. Robots, automation and 3-D printing, now sufficiently perfected after decades of development, have taken over a wide range of roles once performed by humans. China, India and other emerging nations that make the transition to service based economies see a similar decline in their manufacturing employment bases.
India’s Economy Rivaling That of China and the U.S.
By 2040, India catches up to the U.S. and Chinese economy, in large part to rapid economic growth. These three countries-the “G3”- now have by far the largest share of world GDP. India benefits from a number of cultural, economic and demographic trends in recent decades. India has a youthful, growing and economically productive population, now the world’s largest, at 1.5 billion, with an average age of 34. At this time, China’s average age is 46 and it’s working population has been declining.
The expansion and development of India’s service sector-adding greatly to the knowledge based economy-has occurred at the same time as China’s economy has slowed and matured. India did not have the disruptions experienced by China, showing the advantages of a free market economy over one that is state planned and controlled.
India’s currency, the rupee, is challenging the renminbi as the world’s strongest. With India’s increased global influence, they gain a permanent seat on the UN security council. In 2047, India celebrates it’s centennial as an independent state.
India faces similar challenges as the rest of the world as climate change and other ecological impacts converge with increasing speed. Neighboring Bangladesh presents a difficult challenge as flooding causes further humanitarian crises that India must cope with. By the 2050’s, India’s growth begins to stagnate as humanity faces an unprecedented existential crisis.
Distributed Propulsion Systems are Revolutionizing Air Travel
A number of national militaries and commercial aerospace firms are adopting turbo-electric distributed propulsion systems for their aircraft, replacing more traditional wing-attached engines. This is a result of recent advances in materials science, cryogenic cooling systems, novel fuels, high fidelity computational fluid dynamics and experimental tools. Including hypersonic engines, this technology is contributing to an ongoing revolution in aircraft design.
Basically, engines are now integrated into the airframe of the plane instead of mounted discretely to the wing. Mounted engines are replaced by smaller turbo-ducts distributed across the length of the lift surface. This offers increased advantages with the aircraft’s aerodynamics and thrust. Combined with a blended wing body design, a more organic and synergistic aircraft is created.
With optimized airflow, planes can climb steeper at take-off, are more maneuverable in flight and have greater fuel efficiency. Because of advances in energy storage and ultra-lightweight superconductors, large scale aircraft production is commenced. Aircraft are now lighter weight, need less maintenance and are significantly quieter. Plane construction is also less expensive.
Alzheimer’s Disease is Fully Curable
During the 2020’s, research into Alzheimer’s reduced the risk of acquiring the disease by more than half. Now, a decade later, progress is yielding effective cures. With results garnered from long term studies, researchers have identified the precise mechanisms and processes involved in the loss of neurons and synapses in the cerebral cortex and subcortical regions. Faulty genes can be switched off with a new generation of drugs along with brain regeneration using stem cell technology.
A major breakthrough was the reverse-engineering of the human brain down to the cellular level. Nanobots, developed in the 2020’s, are seeing widespread use in the cellular repair of brain cells.
Combating Alzheimer’s is one of the medical success stories of the 2030’s. This is especially significant considering dementia rates are expected to quadruple in the four decades from 2010 to 2050.
Bionic Eyes Surpassing Human Vision
While not yet mainstream, bionic eye implants are now available that can restore sight to levels that exceed normal human vision. These devices are made possible due to exponential breakthroughs in sensor technology, computing and neuroscience.
While the first generation appeared in the 2010’s, they were crude and only offered a pixilated view of the world and required glasses frame mounted cameras. The latest generation has resolution that far exceeds the human eye and is virtually indistinguishable from it. Gigapixels of information can now flood the optic nerves and the visual centers of the brain. Soon, these instruments will have infrared, video recording and with augmented reality users will receive detailed information on their surroundings just by looking around them.
U.S. Air Force Introduces A New Stealth Bomber
By 2037, the numbers of bombers in service for the U.S. Air Force has dropped below the minimum of 170. This is due to a combination of attrition, changes in operating procedures and decommissioning of older aircraft.
The B-52 has now been in service for 85 years, unprecedented in the history of military aircraft. Soon, the last of these venerable machines will be retired. A new bomber, designed as a stop-gap, was introduced in 2018. This is now being replaced by a new aircraft known by the codename “2037 Bomber”.
This bomber is the most advanced aircraft ever to take flight. It will have unparalleled stealth capabilities, virtually world wide range and nuclear weapon capabilities. This bomber will be “manned optional” with most missions being remote controlled or automated. It is used in a number of resource wars during these years; combined with the United State’s robotic forces, the U.S. gains a commanding tactical advantage.
Quantum Computers Are Widely Available
Quantum computing is revolutionizing research and production at universities, research institutes and government agencies. Offering spectacular computing speed and power unlike any previous technology, this technology works by using quantum phenomena such as superposition and entanglement. This computer offers the ability to operate trillions of times faster than previous computers while being absolutely secure. The computer’s encryption is unbreakable due to the trillions of operations performed at a quantum level.
Older Computers Risk Major Software Malfunctions
In 2038, a computer problem gains considerable public and media attention. Analogous to the “Y2K” problem of the year 2000, this bug becomes known as “Y2K38”. Affecting programs written in the C programming language, the problem derives from the use of a 32 bit integer to interpret the amount of time passed since 00:00:00 UTC on January 1, 1970.
Because of the limit of integer values, the farthest time that can be derived is 03:14:07 UTC on January 19, 2038. Afterwards, all times will “wrap around” and be represented as a date in 1901 rather that 2038.
Older computers that use this system begin to have major problems with their systems and databases due to erroneous calculations. However, most systems will be upgraded and little overall damage is done.
Teleportation of Complex Organic Molecules
By the early 2000’s, scientists were able to transmit particles of light over short distances. Later experiments in quantum entanglement led to the successful teleportation of the first complete atom. By the late 2030’s, the first organic molecules such as DNA and proteins are being teleported.
Full Immersion Virtual Reality
Miniaturized and advanced, billions of computers can now be implanted within the brain. With advances in neuroscience, this leads to the development of full immersion virtual reality. By 2039, this concept will be successfully demonstrated in a human volunteer.
While in it’s early stages, this technology provides incredible levels of realism and detail. Users have the option of being within a game environment in such a manner that it is indistinguishable from the real world.
Human brains are merged with computer intelligence to create this experience. Nanobots are introduced into a user’s body, suppressing real world stimulus and instead transmitting the programmed environment to the neurons and axions in the brain and creating the corresponding sensations that exist within the programming.
This is the first use of nanobot technology for these types of systems, though they have been around for almost two decades in a medical capacity. These machines cause no permanent damage and can be removed at any time. Soon, the process of introducing nanotechnology to the body becomes as easy as taking a pill.
Needless to say, this has revolutionary implications, not only for entertainment, but for education and mass media consumption. Now people can be immersed in history, drama or research in ways not imagined. While this did tend to cause some insular behavior in society, most people enjoyed the new technology’s liberating ability to free imagination and at the same time share broader communal experiences.
Virtual Telepathy Dominates Personal Communications
In 2010, the first generation of brain-computer interfaces came to market. These were crude with limited application, more of a novelty than a serious application. Devices could perform directional commands or text messages, but the equipment was bulky and the process was very slow.
By 2030, the progress made in mapping and understanding the brain and it’s electrochemical signals allowed the sending of messages through wireless headsets and visors to become commonplace. Consumer applications allowed detailed, real time messages using intuitive navigation and personalized features.
By 2040, this technology is widespread and in everyday use. It works so well that it becomes as ubiquitous as cell phones were at the beginning of the century. Privacy concerns were resolved, with users able to create personal firewalls against hacking, phishing and other intrusions. Equipment was modified to the point that some people preferred to have it implanted in their bodies for convenience, given that human bodies could produce a constant charge for these devices.
The “virtual telepathy” explosion, along with other network based technologies, is radically reshaping society and culture during this time. A speculative bubble forms on worldwide exchanges, similar to the dotcom bubble of the late 20th century.
Completion of the Northeast Corridor High Speed Rail Route
By 2040, the Northeast Corridor (NEC) is verging upon completion of a major upgrade. As the U.S.’s busiest rail line, the NEC runs from Boston in the north to Washington in the south, via New York. Typical of U.S. rail infrastructure, it had suffered decades of underinvestment. Greatly in need of renovation and refurbishment, it had electrical components from the 1930’s that would routinely fail, causing delays in transit. Speed restrictions, engine breakdowns and route mismanagement caused tens of millions of dollars in lost productivity.
In the first decade of the 21st century, ridership on the NEC rose from 8.2 million to 13 million per year. To address future capacity needs, Amtrak created plans for a 30 year investment program. The plan would create a dedicated high speed route, with trains running up to 220 m.p.h.
The plan included fully upgraded tracks and signals along with new infrastructure and stations. Tracks would follow the existing NEC layout whenever possible to minimize impacts. Three phases were implemented, the Newark to New York section finished in 2025; the Washington to Newark section finished in 2030 and the Boston to New York section completed by 2040.
Travel times are reduced dramatically. A trip from Boston to New York which took 3 hours and 34 minutes is now completed in 1 hour and 34 minutes. A trip from New York to Philadelphia is cut from 1 hour 10 minutes to 37 minutes, while a trip from Philadelphia to Washington is reduced from 1 hour and 33 minutes to 54 minutes. For passengers traveling from Boston to Washington (438 miles), the journey is 50% quicker, from 6 hours and 17 minutes to 3 hours and 5 minutes. After being neglected for decades, this region of the U.S. finally has a world class train system.
Detailed Probing and Mapping of the Kuiper Belt Underway
More advanced telescopes have revealed numerous new bodies in the Kuiper Belt, some rivaling Pluto in size. Craft utilizing solar sail technology are now venturing into the Belt, which remains largely unexplored. Close range studies are conducted on a number of ancient, icy planetoids in this distant region of space. These studies are giving scientists greater insight into the early solar system and planetary formation.
Lemurs On the Brink of Extinction
With years of decline ongoing, the vast majority of the world’s 103 lemur species are facing extinction. This is because of decades of sustained deforestation, mining, hunting and slash and burn farming on Madagascar, the lemurs only natural habitat. By 2036, much of the island’s original forest cover has been destroyed. This forces lemurs and other species into smaller and more isolated patches of habitat.
In earlier decades, a number of efforts were undertaken to attempt to preserve the remaining lemur population. Because of poverty, government corruption and the impotence of law enforcement, these efforts came to naught as deforestation, illegal mining and timber harvesting continued unabated. Lemurs were also hunted as bush meat.
By the middle of the 21st century, Madagascar will have experienced one of the most dramatic mass extinctions in human history. This is just one of many similar events occurring across the globe at this time.
World’s Largest Mud Volcano Stops Erupting
Lusi, the mud volcano known as the Subdoarjo mud flow, is a continuous flow of mud, water and steam erupting in Sidoarjo, a sub-district of Porong in East Java, Indonesia. The mud flow began in May 2006, after a blowout in a drilling well caused by pressurized natural gas and carbonated water. The exact cause of the eruption remained in doubt, with most of the blame placed on the drilling company. The drilling company places the blame on a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that had occurred a few days earlier. Lusi destroyed businesses homes and schools and by 2011 had left over 13,000 people homeless. In recent years the volcano’s activity had destabilized, forming a caldera, and by 2037 had finally quit erupting.
Koalas Face Extinction
By 2039, the koala population in Australia has dwindled to virtually nil, due to the effects of drought, disease, climate change and loss of habitat. Only koalas in captivity remain to represent the species.
Less Than Two-Thirds of Original Congo Jungle Standing
The Congo region is the drainage basin for the Congo River in west equatorial Africa. At the beginning of the 21st century, it was home to one quarter of the world’s tropical rainforests, an area of over 1.3 million square miles. It held some of the largest undisturbed portions of tropical rainforests on Earth, second only to the Amazon basin. Spanning across six countries, it is home to untold diversity of plants, birds, fish and mammals as well as some of the rarest species on the planet.
Efforts to slow deforestation in Africa are hindered by population pressures, resource mismanagement, mining, illegal logging, slash and burn farming and general corruption. Climate change is also impacting the forest, as a drier regional climate causes forest loss.
By 2040, over a third of the Congo forest has been devastated. The outlook appears grim as political and social upheaval causes the population to look upon the rest of the forest as a lifeline for survival.
Pollen Counts Have More Than Doubled
In 2000, pollen counts in the U.S. averaged 8,455 per cubic meter of air. By 2040, this figure had risen to 21,735; largely due to climate change causing major alterations in weather, precipitation and temperature. In addition, the hay fever season starts earlier in the year, with pollen counts peaking in the beginning of April as opposed to the beginning of May at the start of the century. This phenomena is occurring on a worldwide basis. However, new treatments are available for allergy sufferers. Based on gene therapy, drugs are available which can “repair” allergen susceptible genes.
Your future is only as bright as your mind is open. - Rich Wilkins