Imagining the future. Here are my guesses. Post yours as well.
Summary: What lies in our future, ten years or more distant? Here are my guesses. Post your speculations in the comments!
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- The new world emerges
- Energy & Climate
- For more information
(1) The new world emerges
The old world ran from 1648 to 1776. After the transitional period from 1776-1815, the next world ran until 1914. Another transitional period, unusually painful, ran from 1914 – 1950. Now the post-WWII era winds down, in a transitional era that began in the 1990s. Let’s hope it’s an easy evolution to the next year, whose nature we can only guess at.
- This financial crisis is the transition to a new world; like birth, it is painful, 11 February 2009
- The end of the world. That is, the end of the world we’ve known since WWII, 7 November 2010
- The story of the early 21st century: the future arrives, forcing us to build a new world order, 6 December 2010
- It’s the end of the world we’ve known since WWII (updated status report), 29 June 2012
All these dates are rough labels only. All these predictions are just guesses.
(2) Energy and climate
The horrific forecasts for human-caused global warming assume burning of fossil fuels through most of the 21st century, switching to coal after peak oil production. On that path we’ll have a dark future, with painful climate change and ever-rising energy prices (as we tap ever-lower grades of petroleum and coal deposits). Here I assume that sometime in the next 20 years we start the transition to new sources: radically new nukes & solar, fusion, perhaps with contributions from other alternative sources (eg, geothermal, tidal).
This is the one of the greatest issues for the 21st century.
The great science revolution of 1850 – 1950 ended long ago, and we’ve coasted since — turning those breakthroughs into technology and engineering marvels. The exhaustion of this fuel contributes to the great stagnation (as in the title of economist Tyler Cowen’s e-book; see Amazon).
Perhaps the largest impact will come from the robot revolution, now in its early stage. More about that in the next section.
The birth of a new era might bring forth a new burst of intellectual creativity, affecting science too. The new insights of science will re-charge economic growth.
Nanotechnology, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence — we can only guess at their fruits, coming later than enthusiasts expect but with consequences beyond our imagining. To mention just a few, imagine computer implants into our nervous system providing communications and data with an immediacy beyond today’s dreams. And a world run by fit and vigorous people — youthful people — 80 to 100 years old (In Back to Methuselah (1921) Shaw described a utopian world run by adults, which they consider people over 100 years old).
Posts about the robot revolution:
- The coming big increase in structural unemployment, 7 August 2010
- The coming Robotic Nation, 28 August 2010
- The coming of the robots, reshaping our society in ways difficult to foresee, 22 September 2010
- Economists grapple with the first stage of the robot revolution, 23 September 2012
- The Robot Revolution arrives, and the world changes, 20 April 2012
The form of western economies has changed several times during the past three centuries, with the pace of change accelerating. The new era will bring new theories of economics forged during the transition from the lessons of the post-WWII era. Somewhere today economists are pondering new concepts about money, currencies, and trade.
How might the new era differ from ours? Much more regulated.
- Borrowing and lending, private and public, will face far tighter regulations. Excess debt has proven to be a large source of instability, providing few benefits.
- Some new form of foundation will be devised for currencies, proving both a valuation anchor but allowing values to vary as national circumstances change.
- Speculation will face drastic regulation, preventing the wild gyrations afflicting commodity and security markets — which make business planning difficult or impossible.
By 2020 the world’s population will stabilize, as the nations projected to have large population increases reach the limit of their carrying capacity (given their income and social organization). Beyond that comes the demographic collapse, as fertility drops below 2.0 (replacement is 2.2) for most nations, especially following the next waves of feminism and the development of the male contraceptive pill.
The economic stress from shrinking population will be severe. By the late 21st century the population collapse will be seen as a blessing, especially for crowded nations such as Japan, Holland, and Singapore.
Posts about demographics:
- Another front in the geopolitical struggles shaping our world, 3 June 2008
- “The Return of Patriarchy“ – a classic article about demography, 5 June 2008
- More news about Russia’s demographic collapse, 6 June 2008
- From the 3rd century BC, Polybius warns us about demographic collapse, 11 June 2008
The march of technology will allow every nation of consequence to either have nukes or (like Japan today) have the capacity to build them quickly. Conventional war among first and second world nations will have become as obsolete as jousting.
Fourth generation warfare will have a great future, both inside and between nations, played by both governments and NGOs, criminals and reformers.
- A solution to 4GW — the introduction
- Why We Lose at 4GW – About the two kinds of insurgencies
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
- 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
- 4GW: A solution of the second kind
- 4GW: A solution of the third kind – Vandergriff is one of the few implementing real solutions.
- About Fourth Generation Infections – Chet Richards explains the nature of outlaw organizations in the 21st century
The boomers will be moving from life into the history books, to be known as the “crazy generation”. As youth their vanguard were hippies — drugs, free speech, free sex, no rules. As their hair turned grey and they grew prosperous their vanguard joined the Tea Party, working to roll back the New Deal. This enthusiasm gave a new lease on life to conservatism, which will follow them into the grave.
What follows will be a rapid jump in social attitudes, taking America and Europe to societies similar to the Nordic nations. Much of the trash talk about them today in America — mostly bogus, denials of their success both socially and economically — comes from justified fear that they are our future.
So what will be the political divisions of the mid-21st century? Perhaps about division of the fruits from the robot revolution. We could be like the Jetsons, working ten hours a week. Or we might continue the current trend, with the top 1% (who own most of America) capturing most of the gains from productivity gains. This conflict might shape the developed societies of the 21st century, as the conflict over slavery shaped America’s 19th century.
Posts about American politics:
- More about the tottering structure of the American political regime, 17 August 2009
- The breakdown of the American political system, pointing to a new and better future, 2 February 2010
(8) Other speculations about the future
- Some thoughts about the economy of mid-21st century America, 12 January 2009
- A look at our history – from the 23rd century, 13 April 2009
- Seeing today through the eyes of a future historian, 25 September 2009
- “Welcome to 2025 – American Preeminence Is Disappearing Fifteen Years Early” by Michael Klare, 7 March 2010
- A look back at our time from the 2100 A.D. edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 24 June 2010
- A look at America from a superior perspective: the future, 24 October 2010