“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 normally covers five year increments to the year 2100. However, this week, 2086 to 2099 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. Thanks to all the kind and constructive commentators I have read over the length of this series, you are appreciated. As for the other comments, they certainly were. I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I did presenting them. May our shared future be lit by the goodness of love for all peoples and knowledge hard won, well earned and wisely used.
Welcome to the Future 2086-2099
The Work Week Averages 20 Hours
In the early 1800s, most people in America and Europe worked shifts of 70 to 90 hours per week, or even longer during busy periods. Conditions were often cramped and dangerous, pay was low (or non-existent in the case of slaves) and workers had little in the way of rights.
Later in the 19th century, a growing labor movement led to improved workplace regulations. A series of laws were introduced to improve safety and to limit the hours worked by employees - particularly women and children - while slavery was abolished throughout much of the world.
Further progress was made in the 20th century with the introduction of minimum wage laws, the emergence of five day work weeks and the continued growth of union membership. In 1900, a typical U.S. citizen worked 57 hours per week and this had fallen to 49 hours by the 1920s. Working hours fell sharply during the Great Depression, especially in manufacturing, but rebounded during World War II.
In the post-war boom years, the average length of the work week in the U.S. continued to fall, but at a slower rate than before, hovering at around 40 hours. There was a faster decline in Western Europe, however, and in the OECD as a whole. On both sides of the Atlantic, union membership declined substantially in the 1970s and 80s, though progress continued to be made in employment law.
In the 21st century, these trends continues. In the first few decades, this occurred alongside further changes in the workforce, with telecommuting and flexible business hours making work in developed nations more dependent on worker preference and efficient productivity. In addition, this period witnessed the gradual loss of traditional labor as computer intelligence and automation proliferated. This led to a serious disruption as employers attempted to adapt productivity to the growing surplus of workers.
The growth of personal manufacturing in the form of 3D printers and nanofabricators, alongside increasingly common means of local power generation, began to significantly alter the economy itself. As production became more and more decentralized, work became less and less of a requirement for basic living. Spending on necessities like food at home, cars, clothing, household furnishings and utilities - as a share of disposable income - had already declines from 55% in 1950 to under 35% by the 2010s. With such items becoming producible on a personal and community scale, work hours in many places were gradually becoming a matter of choice rather than need.
This revolution in manufacturing, combined with exponential growth of computer intelligence, would eventually change the nature of work itself. With an ever-growing share of the economy based on information technology, the average job was becoming more creative, personal and intellectual. By the latter half of the 21st century, artificial general intelligence had penetrated much of the business world, allowing workers to share tasks with computers able to operate with little or no human intervention.
Finally, a gradual cultural shift - in which more value was placed on free time and creative pursuits rather than work or material gain - began to emerge during the last decades of the century. This grew largely out of the global response to climate change, but wad also a consequence of technological advancement and the mounting costs of unchecked materialism. While by no means a rapid or ubiquitous trend, this helped reduce the need for traditional jobs.All of these factors contributed to an ongoing net reduction in global working hours. By the 2040s, the average work week had fallen below 30 hours. This trend continued, falling below 20 hours during the closing years of the 21st century.
Religion is Fading From European Culture
In some European nations, the number of people considering themselves to be non-religious has increased from around 30% in 1980, to over 90% now.
Although large numbers of Muslims populate the continent, a substantial portion are now only “culturally” Muslim, rather than having a literal interpretation of the Koran. Mainstream Islam has begun a reformation and modernization in recent years - aided by vast improvements in education, combined with the broad homogenization of culture resulting from globalization, the Internet, various international agreements and other factors.
Medical advances are undermining religion as a whole, by greatly diminishing the fear of death, while developments in AI, robotics and biotechnology are beginning to trivialize the miracles on which many ancient religions are based. The increasing presence of androids in society - along with other forms of sentience - is adding a whole new dimension to the way humans view themselves and their place in the Universe. The ability to communicate with certain artificially enhanced animals (such as dolphins, monkeys and domestic pets) is also contributing to this trend.Spirituality continues to play a role in European culture - but it is now based more on nature and physical reality, rather than myths, dogma or supernatural forces.
The U.S. still lags far behind Europe in terms of atheistic belief, however. It will be another century before America reaches the same level; even longer for certain parts of Asia. Even then, a small percentage of citizens will continue to worship a God (or Gods), well into the next millennium. These people tend to be those who reject science and technology, or have purposefully chosen to isolate themselves from the rest of the world.
West Antarctica is Among the Fastest Growing Areas in the World
The icy continent today would be unrecognizable to observers from the 20th century. Its northern peninsula is now home to a multitude of towns and conurbations, with a total population numbering in the millions.
Melting of surface ice has resulted in conditions appropriate for large-scale human settlement. Even farming and crop growing is now possible in some most northerly areas. Air temperatures in the polar regions have increased more than anywhere else in the world, meaning that parts of Antarctica are now comparable with the climates of Alaska, Iceland and Scandinavia.
Huge levels of migration are now underway from countries all over the world that have been affected by climate change, creating a diverse mixture of people and cultures flocking to this new land of opportunity. In some ways, the settlement of Antarctica is similar to that of America in the 18th and 19th centuries. The highest density cities are becoming cultural “melting pots” similar to New York and London.
Many of the World’s Languages No Longer In Use
The accelerating pace of globalization has seen the number of human languages decline from around 7,000 in the late 20th century, to less than a quarter of this figure now.
Many old sayings, customs and traditions are being abandoned or forgotten, as the world becomes an ever smaller and more interconnected place. Changing social and economic conditions have forced many parents to teach their children the lingua franca, rather than obscure local dialects, in order to give them a better future. This is especially true in Africa and Asia.
The broad homogenization of culture has been further propagated by the stunning advances in technology which have swept the world. Many people in developed countries, for instance, are abandoning their native tongues altogether, instead relying on mind control interfaces for their everyday communications. The young especially are utilizing this form of digital telepathy. Most teenagers in the 2090s spend almost their whole time interacting via electronic devices, rather than verbally speaking. The latter can almost be an inconvenience in some situations due to the longer time intervals in conversations.
Meanwhile, many tribes people and isolated communities have lost their homelands due to war, climate change, deforestation and changing land uses. This forced migration and assimilation into the wider world has led to many ancient and rural languages dying out.
English, Mandarin and Spanish remain the lingua franca of international business, science, technology and aviation.
Hypersonic Vactrains Are Widespread
Significant areas of the world have established a hypersonic, evacuated tube transport system connecting their major population centers. Its routes primarily extend throughout Russia, Northern Europe, Canada and the U.S. These trains are more advanced versions of the slower, simpler prototypes first introduced decades earlier.
This form of transport works by combining the principles of maglev trains and pneumatic tubes. The trains, or vactrains as they are called, travel inside a closed tube, levitated and pushed forward by magnetic fields. After passing through an airlock, the train cars enter a complete vacuum inside the tube. With no air friction to slow it down, the vactrains can reach speeds far beyond that of any traditional rail system. The fastest routes can reach speeds of around 4,000 m.p.h. (6,400 k.p.h.) - or around five times the speed of sound - compared to a 300 m.p.h. maglev train a century earlier.
With speed of this magnitude, any city within the network can be reached in just a few hours, even if located on the other side of the planet. A number of new routes are in the planning stages as well, including a system of truly massive transoceanic connections. This is possible thanks in part to the relative cheapness (10% the cost of high-speed rail), as well as its energy efficiency. Since the train cars simply coast for most of the trip after being accelerated, slowing down also allows most of the energy to be regained by the track system. The modular design of the tubes also enables construction to be completely automated.
One of the main issues designers had to contend with was the problem of safety. At such high speeds, even the slightest bump in the track or misalignment could end in disaster. In addition, the sheer size of the tube systems means that engineers have to deal with movements of tectonic plates - a particular problem when crossing fault lines. In order to deal with this and disasters such as earthquakes, an immense system of gyroscopes and adjusters are maintained along the length of each route. These are controlled by an automated system of computers receiving constant streams of weather and seismic data, adjusting and bracing the track in real time. Leaks in the vacuum are managed through a combination of self-healing materials and redundant plating.
The late 21st century is a bleak, fragile time for humanity, with much rebuilding to do. However, the resurgence of international travel (following a collapse in earlier decades) is contributing once more to a homogenization between stable countries, with ease of transport bringing the world closer together. One particular area in which it helps is the rapid movement and resettling of refugees affected by climate-related disasters.
Manned Exploration of the Jovian System
Solar sail technology, nuclear pulse propulsion and other forms of rapid space travel have seen major advances in recent decades. Together with greatly reduced launch costs and improved access to low-Earth orbit, this is making it financially and technically feasible to conduct manned exploration of Jupiter. At least one expedition to the gas giant has been attempted by now. This succeeds in rendezvousing with a moon in addition to orbiting the planet itself.
Manned Exploration of the Saturnian Systems
The success of the Jupiter missions proved that long range, manned exploration of the Solar System was possible. Several further missions are now underway, including the first trip to Saturn - this time using pulsed fusion drives. These allow spacecraft to travel billions of miles in a matter of weeks.
In addition to orbiting the planet itself, the astronauts conduct close-range observation of its moon and rings. Robots are dispatched to the surface of Titan, with samples being taken of the atmosphere and oceans.
Sea Levels Wreaking Havoc Around the World
Despite efforts to halt climate change, it came too late to save many lowland areas of the world. Sea levels rose nearly seven feet by the end of the 21st century, displacing hundreds of millions of people. The Maldives were especially hard hit, with most of the nation disappearing underwater completely. Countries around the globe were forced to begin large-scale evacuations and resettlement programs, while the equivalent of trillions of dollars were spent on coastal defenses.
80% of the Amazon Rainforest Has Been Lost
Due to the combined impacts of logging, drought, forest fires, desertification, agricultural and industrial expansion, less than one-fifth of the Amazon now remains. In addition to the mass extinctions of flora and fauna, many indigenous peoples’ communities have vanished.
“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” - Carl Sagan