“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, 2061 to 2065 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 2061-2065
Technology Transforms Modern Education
Exponential progress in the fields of communication, information technology and computer science continues to reshape society. Some of the most important advances have occurred in education. Although many countries are being ravaged by global warming, access to learning is so effortless and inexpensive that - paradoxically - even the poorest and most destitute of places can take advantage of it.
Schools and classrooms as people from the 20th century would know them have largely disappeared in the 2060s. Networking has replaced in-person learning for the vast majority of students, who now take part in decentralized, online and virtual classes. Strong AI has supplanted most of the roles that were formerly held by human teachers. These artificial instructors have instant access to vast repositories of data and knowledge, greatly expanding the horizons of learning environments. Students are exposed to a much wider variety of culture and ideas, since classes are no longer limited by geographical proximity. Connectivity allows young people with similar interests and abilities to learn together and be optimally matched in terms of personality types. Universal translators have removed any language barriers such international classrooms would have experienced in the past.
Full immersion virtual reality allows modern “schools” to exist as purely online institutions, with a seemingly infinite variety of classes and subjects. These can be experienced through self-guiding neural implants - or more commonly, by simply wearing an external device like a headset or visor. Free software and the negligible cost of hardware have brought unprecedented levels of education to Third World countries. The lack of required physical infrastructure and reduced need to pay teachers has given even the poorest neighborhoods access to a range of study far beyond anything seen in the past. While schools and colleges still exist in the physical world, these are declining in number and have been heavily influenced by information technology. Instead of paper or textbooks, students make use of portable tablet devices with essentially limitless power and bandwidth, again at negligible cost. As a consequence, global illiteracy has fallen below 1%.
As well as technology, the process of education itself has evolved to meet the changing needs of society. With the continuing trend of mechanization, the bulk of manufacturing and physical labor has been relegated to machines. Even many white collar jobs have disappeared thanks to the emergence of strong AI. As a result, human work is increasingly confined to subjective, abstract and/or creative professions - such as science, art, design, law, etc. This has turned high education into an absolute necessity in many countries. Methods for teaching students have changed in response.
In the past, most systems of education consisted of a set time period of time that people would move through school. the grades they received played a large role in determining what opportunities they would have later in life. Regardless of how well students did in school, and regardless of whether they even understood the material, they would all complete their education at roughly the same time with whatever skill level they managed to acquire. Now, this method has been reversed. In the most developed countries, semester-based learning has been replaced with go-at-your-own-pace learning. The proliferation of virtual teachers has made it possible for a person’s education to be exactly tailored to their own learning abilities and interests. This avoids the issue of exceptional students being held back, and struggling students being left behind. The overall result is that time spent in school has become variable, while the level of knowledge and skill one gets out of school has been given a floor.
The physical (and virtual) classroom environment itself has also changed. It is common now to have a single class be taught by more than one teacher, allowing them to play off their individual strengths and give students a broader base of information. Teaching is much more reciprocal, with students learning from teachers, learning from other students, or even imparting their own knowledge back to the teacher. Also, the classic lecture environment has been replaced by a more hands-on approach. Much more of schooling involves practical application with teachers demonstrating exactly how their material can be used in the real world.
Technology is bringing further innovations to education. A profound and world-altering paradigm - referred to in earlier decades as the “Singularity” - appears to be on the cusp of emerging. For increasing numbers of people, direct merger of their brain with cloud-based, non-biological artificial intelligence has become necessary in order to keep up with the truly staggering amount of new information appearing each day. These upgrades are having a significant impact on the process of learning. Personal AI can guide a person’s educational progression using detailed knowledge of their brain structure and learning abilities. By the end of the century, this method of assisted learning will evolve into a system of downloads, with new skills and facts seamlessly inserted directly into a person’s brain. This will ultimately lead to the end of education in the traditional sense, with a new species of transhuman emerging based on automatic, instantaneous accumulation of knowledge and vastly amplified intelligence.
The Population Ages
In the early 21st century, around one in five of the European population was aged over 65. This meant that the pension costs, public health and transportation needs (and sometimes the housing and social-welfare requirements) of each senior citizen were supported by taxes and other deductions from the incomes of four working-age people (aged 15 to 64).
However, birth rates stayed low throughout the first half and into the second half of the century, while longevity was extended through better medicine, gene therapy, nanotechnology, improved lifestyles and other practices. This meant that the ratio of young to old began to shrink dramatically. By 2060 there are 50 million fewer workers and 67 million more seniors, so the ratio has changed to one in three. In other words, only two working-age people to support each senior.
This has impacted hugely on government budgets, leading to a radical overhaul of social welfare. A similar pattern has emerged in other parts of the world. Japan has faced the biggest challenge of all, with 40% of it’s population now aged over 65, double the figure in 2006.
Damage wrought by accelerating climate change has led to most insurance firms filing for bankruptcy. In the United States, widespread flooding has resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of damage. Coastal cities are particularly badly hit. Much of the infrastructure in the southern states has been destroyed by category 5 hurricanes, with Houston and New Orleans being virtually abandoned. Along the west coast, gigantic forest fires spread by the tinder-dry ground have ravaged much of the land. The economy of California is in tatters. Many of the biggest insurance firms are nationalized by the government in a bid to avert economic collapse.
Nanofabricators Commonplace for Consumers
Nano-fabricators are all-purpose, desktop machines that can reproduce a seemingly infinite variety of items. In effect, they are like miniature factories - more advanced versions of 3-D printers seen in earlier decades. They have been around in certain military, corporate and medical environments for a while, but are now a mainstream consumer product.
In appearance, they resemble a combined washing machine/microwave oven. Raw materials are purchased separately and can be loaded in solid, liquid or powder form. An interior compartment is accessed via a small hatch, where objects are constructed atom-by-atom. The process takes a matter of minutes and the assembled items can be used immediately. New schematics can be accessed from the web and programmed into the machine.
IT’s Share of the U.S. Economy Reaches 20%
Even during times of economic crisis, information technology has continued to improve with consistent growth for over a century. By 2100, over a quarter of the U.S. economy will be based on IT.
Invisibility Suits Used in the Military
Once considered purely theoretical, advances in meta-materials have enabled the creation of truly invisible camouflage suits. When activated, these render the wearer completely transparent.
Breakthroughs in earlier decades showed that objects utilizing meta-materials could be made invisible to microwave radiation. This was followed some years later by infrared radiation, until eventually all the frequencies of visible light on the spectrum could be filtered. When combined with advances in nanotech, this made it possible to produce lightweight fabrics that could bend light in three dimensions.
A complete “mosaic” of nano-implants is embedded into the suit. These mosaics are stacked in layers: one for each frequency of the visible light spectrum. The effect is similar to that of a river flowing around a boulder. Light flows around the suit, before continuing in a straight line towards the onlooker.
The layers are so thin, and the implants so small, that the fabrics offer the wearer complete freedom of movement and flexibility. These suits are expensive, however, and are used mainly by special forces in covert operations.
The only obvious vulnerability is when the suits are used in heavy rain, or if crossing a body of water.
Self-Assembling Buildings Made From Nano-tech
Nano-technology - the control of matter on an atom-by-atom basis - has swept the world, transforming society in myriad ways. At the same time, new methods of automation are displacing the need for human labor on ever increasing scales. A growing number of industries have seen their workforce shrink dramatically, with robots and AI handling the bulk of operations. Unemployment is soaring around the world at this time.
Now, even construction companies are being affected. By the middle of this decade, it’s becoming possible to build entire homes and offices using nanotechnology alone. For a typical square or rectangular plot of land, this takes the form of self-assembling machinery, based around a scaffold system that initially resembles a giant, four poster bed. Vertical columns, one in each corner of the site, support a platform that gradually rises from the ground, adding successive layers of material beneath it. The columns rise in tandem with the platform, while also relaying material, until the building is topped out.
In effect, these machines are like substantially bigger versions of 3-D printers and nanofabricators. For some of the more “unique” building designs or features, traditional methods of construction and engineering are still incorporated. Even these will eventually be replaced by self-assemblers as the technology advances further.
Atom by atom, these intelligent machines lay the foundations, core, framework, flooring, electrical, doors and other components - while robots inspect the interior, perform safety checks and make adjustments where needed.
By the 2070s, even skyscrapers and other tall structures can be erected using this method. The process is so rapid, it takes a matter of weeks from groundwork to final completion - or days in some cases. Humans are rarely if ever needed on site.
Return of Halley’s Comet
The most famous of periodic comets, Halley’s Comet last appeared in the inner Solar System in 1986. Like most comets, it has a highly elliptical orbit - taking close to the Sun for only a short time. Several unmanned probes are sent to explore it during this year, including the first robotic lander.
Helium-3 Mining on the Moon
A number of private ventures now have automated mining operations on the Moon. One of the primary resources for extraction is Helium-3, for use in the reactors of fusion power plants. This material is rare on Earth, but plentiful on the lunar surface. It is exceedingly valuable, with a single shuttle load being enough to power an entire country for months.
Flood Barriers Erected in New York
Sea level rises and storm surges have begun to threaten even the business, financial and cultural heart of America. By 2060, what used to be a once-in-a-century type flood is becoming a regular occurrence. This has led to the construction of sea walls, breakwaters and locks to south of Manhattan, including one very big lock at the harbor entrance. JFK Airport and other parts of the island are receiving protection too. This is one of the largest public works projects in U.S. history, and comes at a huge cost. However, the cost of not acting would have been unimaginably greater. Many other cities around the world are enacting similar measures now.
Tropical Cyclones in the Mediterranean
Until now, the near-landlocked Mediterranean Sea was largely immune to the more violent forms of ocean weather. The worst storms that the sea experienced were the so-called “Medicanes” - comparatively tame versions of the much larger and more destructive Atlantic hurricanes. The most notable example occurred in 1995, when a storm created a hurricane-like spiral for a short period of time, complete with an eye.
By the 2060s, however, normal weather patterns around the world are evolving drastically as a result of climate change. With global temperatures over 3 degrees C (5.5F) above the 20th century average, the Mediterranean Sea is now home to a prolific hurricane basin. Warming seawater, combined with increasingly common low pressure systems is turning the region into an ideal incubator for tropical cyclones. These are now devastating coastal communities throughout the southern coast of Europe and the northern coast of Africa.
These areas were already facing collapse due to heat waves, chronic drought and sea level rise. Most of Venice has been abandoned, after failed attempts to save it from sinking. Cities such as Athens, Barcelona, Tripoli, Tunis and Alexandria will soon be following.
Global Extinction Rates Peaking
Environmental destruction is reaching its apex now. Tropical forests are being especially hard hit, with 0.5% of animal and plant species going extinct per year - nearly ten times the rate seen in 2000. As a result of so much tree loss, more and more carbon is being added to the atmosphere, further increasing the pace of global warming.
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” Gautama Buddha