“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, 2066 to 2070 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 2066-2070
Male and Female Salaries Are Reaching Parity
In the developed world, the gender gap has narrowed to such an extent that salaries and rights are pretty much equal for both sexes. Women are now playing a greater role in business and government than ever before. Just one consequence has been a significant reduction in military spending. The money and resources saved are being diverted to education, healthcare, transport and environmental programs, improving the living standards and opportunities for many. With less male aggression in world affairs, more balance and rational discourse is taking place on international issues. The world of capitalism, too, is undergoing some of the biggest changes in its history, with less pursuit of short term profits and a greater emphasis on long-term sustainability.
Other factors have been responsible for this shift in focus - such as the terrifying depletion of natural resources, which has forced a radical change in priorities. Widespread use of AI in neutral, passive consultative roles is also helping to strengthen cooperation by providing more “logical” solutions to global problems.
Fusion Power is Widespread
Most leading countries now have at least one fusion plant either operational, or in the process of construction. These reactors offer a clean, safe and abundant supply of energy. Unfortunately, they have come to late to prevent runaway global warming.
Fully Automated Homes
Building in developed nations are becoming highly automated and self-sufficient. In addition to robots, a typical new build home now includes the following:
A localized power supply. Energy can be generated by the building itself, via a combination of photovoltaics and piezoelectric materials. Walls, roofs and windows can absorb almost all wavelengths of light from the Sun and organic solar technology, turning it into heat and electricity. Friction generated by the occupant’s footsteps - and various other kinetic processes - can also produce energy. This is converted and stored in any number of ways, from hydrogen to batteries. In countries where sunshine is less frequent, micro turbines may be used in place of solar.
On-site water production and waste management. Rain is captured by external guttering, then stored and converted into drinking water using nanofiltration systems. This is especially useful in regions prone to drought (which includes a substantial portion of the world by this time). If local water is in short supply, houses can serve as miniature reserviors and filtration systems. Meanwhile, plastics and other kitchen waste can be placed in recycling machines, ground into extremely fine powder, then later re-used in nanofabricators.
A multi-layered building envelope which provides a variety of dynamic effects. Windows can self-adjust their size and position - as well as their opacity - to optimize the level of natural light. In some of the more upmarket properties, the entire façade can morph its texture and appearance through the use of claytronics. Depending on the tastes of the occupant, this could transform into an art-deco style, a classic Victorian building, or something entirely different. This form of “programmable matter” can even be designed by the occupant themselves and changed on demand.
Air purification systems. Air within the home is kept fresh, purified and completely free of dust and microbes.
Interactive surfaces. Holographic generators cover the whole interior of the property - including walls, doors, worktop surfaces, mirrors and shower cubicles. These intelligent surfaces can track the position of the occupant and display information whenever and wherever necessary. A person can read e-mails, see news reports and access the online world using virtually any surface in the house as a touch screen or mind control interface. Detailed, real-time information on their health, personal lifestyle and daily schedules can also be displayed. This system has a variety of other functions, e.g. it can be used to locate personal items which may have been misplaced.
Intelligent/self-maintaining appliances. Appliances that don’t repair or maintain themselves in some way have become largely obsolete by now. It is very rare for a human engineer to be called to the house.
A modest size. The world is becoming an ever more crowded place, with available land continuing to shrink due to overpopulation and environmental decline. In city centers, apartments tend to be highly minimalist and compact, with small footprints utilizing every inch of space. Full immersion virtual reality is one method of adapting to this. Another is flexible room layouts that reconfigure themselves on demand. In earlier decades, this was achieved in some homes by using a sliding wall system. Today, it can be done by morphable claytronics.
100th Anniversary of Apollo 11
Exactly a century has passed since Neil Armstrong made the first historic landing on the Moon. This anniversary is marked by celebrations in the lunar colonies. It later becomes the first off-Earth national holiday. By this date, Apollo 11’s landing site has been turned into a UNESCO world heritage site and tourist destination. Visitors can walk around the lunar module and see the famous footprints left by the astronauts. However, although the spacecraft is perfectly preserved, the American flag has long since been bleached white by the UV radiation on the lunar surface. The flag was also displaced from its original location when the astronauts blasted off.
Expansion of Moon Bases
Building on the success of the Helium-3 extraction programs, additional new bases are appearing on the Moon. Other resources are now being mined including precious metals and minerals which are increasingly rare on Earth. Perhaps, more importantly, this is being combined with on-site processing and production, to build new structures and facilities around the original bases. Solar panels, tools and other equipment, for example, can be manufactured without needing to be delivered from Earth, while entire new buildings can be created with the help of robots. Paths can be carved out from the lunar regolith, with solar roadways built on them using materials extracted locally. Small hydroponic farms are providing a continuous supply of food and water to the astronauts. All of this is producing the critical mass needed for a thriving self-sustaining presence on the Moon.
First Generation of Anti-matter Powered Spacecraft is Emerging
A hundred years have passed since humans first ventured into space. For much of that time, manned craft were limited to the Earth-Moon system with only small incremental advances in propulsion systems. After the legendary Apollo missions, it seemed like anything was possible - even travel to the stars. But disappointment followed, as the Space Race ended and priorities shifted elsewhere. The goal of colonizing the Moon, putting men on Mars and exploring the outer Solar System became a distant prospect: relegated to the realm of science fiction.
As the early years of the 21st century unfolded there was a perception among many that this trend would continue. A number of setbacks reinforced this view - such as the retirement of the Space Shuttle, the cancellation of NASA’s Constellation program and the relative lack of excitement around the International Space Station, along with an emerging financial crisis.
In reality, however, great strides were being made in a number of areas. For a start, information technology was growing at an exponential rate; a pattern that had remained consistent for many decades and showed little sign of slowing down. Computer processing power, memory, data storage, bandwidth and a host of other measures were doubling in performance every 12-18 months, while declining dramatically in cost. This greatly accelerated the pace of research and development, as knowledge could be shared quickly and easily around the world. Billions of people gained access to the World Wide Web, fostering education and innovation on an unprecedented scale.
Previously restricted to governmental agencies, space began to open up, becoming commercialized and industrialized. Entrepreneurial efforts by wealthy individuals led to a thriving market for space tourism, while crowd funding and other creative options gave rise to many smaller-scale enterprises. The emergence of new players such as China and India further helped reinvigorate space research.
As the decades passed, a new generation of rockets was developed. Materials based on nanotechnology enabled stronger, lighter and cheaper spacecraft. Artificial intelligence was another byproduct of the information revolution, enabling systems to effectively design themselves. By the middle of the century, launch costs had been reduced by orders of magnitude.
Alongside all of this, many important breakthroughs were made in the understanding of scientific processes and physical phenomena. Among the most significant of these was in antimatter production and confinement. In 2010, particles of antimatter were trapped for the first time at CERN in Geneva. Researchers produced, trapped and then released a few dozen atoms of anti-hydrogen for around two-tenths of a second. The following year, this feat was achieved again but for 17 minutes - nearly four orders of magnitude longer than before.
With stupendously high energy density (roughly 10 billion times more powerful than chemical reactions such as hydrogen and oxygen combustion), antimatter held potential as the ultimate source of spacecraft propulsion. Unfortunately, it was extraordinarily difficult and expensive to produce, with a few grams costing trillions of dollars and total production from 1950 to 2010 being just 10 nanograms.
However, scientific and technological progress in the early-mid 21st century was occurring at an exponential rate. Anti-proton production began to increase substantially, aided by ever-more sophisticated models and simulations, together with AI programs that were beginning to match - and even exceed - human intelligence. This happened in parallel with rapid advances in engine design, materials science and fusion power. By the late 2060s, the first prototype anti-matter power spacecraft is demonstrated.
The “fuel” for this vessel consists of tiny pellets containing deuterium and tritium - heavy isotopes of hydrogen with one or two neutrons, respectively, in their nuclei (hydrogen normally has no neutrons). Inside each pellet, this fuel is surrounded by uranium. A beam of anti-protons, with an electrical charge of minus-1, is then fired at the pellets. When the anti-protons collide with the uranium nuclei, they annihilate, generating vast amounts of energy which triggers fusion reactions in the fuel. This provides thrust via magnetic confinement and a magnetic nozzle.
Using this propulsion system, a trip to Jupiter can be achieved in just four months, using 1.16 grams of anti-protons. By the 2080s, a number of manned missions are being conducted. Further advances in antimatter and ship designs will pave the way for interstellar travel in the 22nd and 23rd centuries.
Global Temperatures Have Risen by 4 C
Vast stores of methane, released from melting permafrost, have triggered an abrupt change in the Earth’s climate. The atmosphere has now shifted to pre-glacial/interglacial conditions which last prevailed over 34 million years ago. CO2 levels have reached almost 700 parts per million: two and a half times pre-industrial levels. This has resulted in a global average temperature increase of 4 degrees C, with the Arctic seeing rises as high as 15 degrees C.
In many parts of the world, the limits for human adaptation are being exceeded. Despite attempts to share food and resources between nations - and to accommodate the surge in refugee numbers - the sheer scale and speed of this disaster is presenting enormous challenges, even with the technological base present in 2070.
The use of heavily modified GM crops, hydroponics, desalinization and other techniques have allowed some regions to maintain a degree of stability. Nanofabricators are also being utilized in more advanced societies.
For many others, however, it’s becoming impossible to sustain any kind of agriculture at all, due to the water loss, resource depletion and level of environmental destruction now being experienced. The frequency and intensity of freak weather events has increased exponentially - with hurricanes, severe storms, extreme flooding and droughts becoming widespread. A number of countries near the equator have been simply abandoned, their people scattered. City-scale flooding disasters are now commonplace as sea levels have risen a full meter, sweeping away trillions of dollars worth of real estate.
The number of displaced persons is overwhelming the ability of international organizations and governments to cope. Although many refugees are surviving and resettling in higher or lower latitudes, even greater numbers are unable to complete the journey, or are denied border entry. An alarming drop in the global population is witnessed as millions of people perish due to hunger, conflict and adverse environmental conditions. Traditional free market capitalism is facing collapse, as civilization continues to struggle in adapting to the new and rapidly changing world. Resource-based economies are evolving to take its place.
For too long, humans exploited their environment with little appreciation for the long-term consequence. Nature is finally beginning to redress the balance.
U.S. Population Reaches 500 Million
Deteriorating environmental conditions have led much of the population to shift north. The southern states have become dominated by Mexican immigrants.
“The visions we offer our children shape the future. It matters what those visions are. Often they become self-fulfilling properties. Dreams are maps.” - Carl Sagan