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!

Dawn by Freelancah


  1. The new world emerges
  2. Energy & Climate
  3. Technology
  4. Economics
  5. Demographics
  6. Military
  7. Politics
  8. 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.

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.

(3)  Technology

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:

  1. The coming big increase in structural unemployment, 7 August 2010
  2. The coming Robotic Nation, 28 August 2010
  3. The coming of the robots, reshaping our society in ways difficult to foresee, 22 September 2010
  4. Economists grapple with the first stage of the robot revolution, 23 September 2012
  5. The Robot Revolution arrives, and the world changes, 20 April 2012

(4) Economics

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.

(5) Demographics

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:

  1. Another front in the geopolitical struggles shaping our world, 3 June 2008
  2. “The Return of Patriarchy“ – a classic article about demography, 5 June 2008
  3. More news about Russia’s demographic collapse, 6 June 2008
  4. From the 3rd century BC, Polybius warns us about demographic collapse, 11 June 2008

(6) Military

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.

About 4GW:

  1. A solution to 4GW — the introduction
  2. Why We Lose at 4GW – About the two kinds of insurgencies
  3. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
  4. 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
  5. 4GW: A solution of the second kind
  6. 4GW: A solution of the third kind – Vandergriff is one of the few implementing real solutions.
  7. About Fourth Generation Infections – Chet Richards explains the nature of outlaw organizations in the 21st century

(7) Politics

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:

(8) Other speculations about the future

  1. Some thoughts about the economy of mid-21st century America, 12 January 2009
  2. A look at our history – from the 23rd century, 13 April 2009
  3. Seeing today through the eyes of a future historian, 25 September 2009
  4. “Welcome to 2025 – American Preeminence Is Disappearing Fifteen Years Early” by Michael Klare, 7 March 2010
  5. A look back at our time from the 2100 A.D. edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 24 June 2010
  6. A look at America from a superior perspective: the future, 24 October 2010

23 thoughts on “Imagining the future. Here are my guesses. Post yours as well.”

  1. “Nanotechnology, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence”

    Vernor Vinge called Nanotechnology and artificial intelligence two of the “failed dreams” of humanity in A Fire Upon The Sky. I think we might hope they stay that way. While nano tech obviously has incredible potential, it seems more likely that the first application of nano tech (and ai, for that matter), would be the total surveillance state. While I am not a luddite, their potential for evil is simply incredible. I guess the upside is that with AI and nanotech who needs human workers?

    1. Well, one possible scenario in which you might need the human worker would be the one represented by the Borg in “Star Trek”…a state in which a biological organism essentially serves as a host for and is controlled by one or more parasitic technological mechanisms (especially if the development of nanotechnology acelerated at a faster rate than that of robotics for some reason). Let’s face it…robots may be more precise and more durable than we are, but at least for now, we continue to be more agile and dextrous than they are in many respects.

    2. We’re also cheaper and much more abundant than robots.
      Why should the Borg put in the effort to build a sophisticated agile and dextrous machine out of metal and plastic when there are already billions of them made out of flesh and bone easily available for assimilation?

    3. In retrospect, a slightly better analogy than the one I originally proposed would be a combination of the Borg from “Star Trek” and the sentient machines of “The Matrix” (which literally grow human beings for use as living batteries) — but especially if nanotechnology developed to the point that some people hope it could, to the point of being able to treat medical problems at the microscopic level (by unplugging clogged blood vessels and so on), then the biological host could conceivably be engineered by its technological parasites to become healthier and stronger and thus live longer than we do now. Nanotechnology has, after all, been proposed by some as a hypothetical tool for life prolongation by means of removing or reversing life-threatening complications such as clogged blood vessels which increase the risk of stroke and cardiac arrest.

  2. Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100. This book by Michio Kaku is the best I have read about the future. It covers Economics, Medicine, Nanotechnology, Computers, Society, etc. The best chapter is “The future of Humanity”.

  3. As usual, I very strongly agree with most of what you have to say, FM. Also as usual, I have a slightly different take on some of the items.

    (3) “The great science revolution of 1850 – 1950 ended long ago, and we’ve coasted since — turning those breakthroughs into technology and engineering marvels.”

    A lot of the science revolution of the time period was brought about by humanity’s rapidly increasing power generation capabilities. From 1800 – 1950 we went from an almost exclusively animal-powered society to large sections being powered by petroleum/coal with the potential to go to nuclear fission and we imagined that we would continue to do so for a long time. Science fiction from the 1950’s and 60’s you see humanity traversing the stars using enormously powerful engines and navigating with slide rules and laughably simplistic computers.

    For the moment we’ve hit the limits of increasing the power-density of our solutions but we are just beginning to understand the value applying information-dense solutions to our problems. Most technological and scientific breakthroughs since 1950 have been just as transformational as earlier breakthroughs, they just haven’t been as flashy.

    The internet, for example, is rapidly changing how we communicate, do business, and some people even theorize that it is changing how we think (or don’t think). Flying cars are amazingly cool. Not needing a flying car because you can get all of your work done, do all of your shopping, and chat with friends as if they were next to you (from anywhere in the world) is even more amazing and considerably cheaper than a flying car.

    Genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and fusion power generation have the potential to do more amazing things than we can currently imagine but they all require more information-dense solutions than we can generate at this time. But that will not always be true.

    (6) Third generation warfare is a very power-dense solution. Fourth generation warfare is a much more information-dense solution.

    1. “A lot of the science revolution of the time period was brought about by humanity’s rapidly increasing power generation capabilities”

      Not really. See this list of scientific discoveries by field at Wikipedia. Very few require much power, other than a little electricity.

      The technology (or engineering) built on some of them requires power. But not all. Vaccines and antibiotics, for example. Chemistry, electronics, biology — all reshaped the world, much of which was not energy-intensive.

  4. I don’t doubt the emergence of a new world order and that many of these guesses would be facts in the new age. I believe the flies in the ointment that may short cut tomorrow are energy and global warming.

    Until recently political/economies and theorists missed the critical component of all economic systems, the sources of power that make them work (slavery, charcoal, coal, hydrocarbons, nuclear, green, ?). Without cheap and abundant energy today’s mixed political/economies cannot function properly, oscillating like a yo-yo between growth and recession as energy sources deplete and prices rise & fall. Whatever the form of tomorrows economic engine the energy conundrum must be resolved.

    Global warming could undo everything sending humankind back to the dark ages (or as some extremists claim extinction?). Civilizational collapse has happened several times before due to destruction of habitats and natural environments by nature and/or man. Time will tell if we have out done ourselves this time around.

    However, the only real game changer in this list of “guesses” is the certain day when a sentient machine confronts all humans of race and ethnicity, with their resentments and gripes. At that precise moment a Rubicon will be crossed forever dividing all humankind before from all that comes after.

    1. “Global warming could undo everything sending humankind back to the dark ages (or as some extremists claim extinction?”

      The foundation for such claims is astonishingly weak. Climate models, let alone the analytical foundation on which they rest, has not been verified to the degree necessary for such claims to be taken seriously.

      The FDA would never approve a new drug with such weak analytical support, esp in terms of third party review by relevant experts.

    2. “The foundation for such claims is astonishingly weak…”

      WikiPedia entry on Global Warming:

      “…Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and scientists are more than 90% certain that it is primarily caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activities such as deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels.[3][4][5][6] These findings are recognized by the national science academies of all major industrialized nations.[7][A]…”

      We are just going to have to agree to disagree. The only caveat I’ll allow is there’s still some lingering debate whether warming is due to natural causes or man made. If it proves to be the former than its not only beyond man’s ability to cause, but most likely also impossible for him to change.

      It may be that climate change, resource & energy depletion aren’t just the root-kit killers eliminating not only the dreams of a future, brave new world, but civilizational regression to a Hobbesian state of nature where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

      1. Wow, lot’s of misunderstandings here.

        (1) Referenceing Wikipedia

        Wikipedia is a collection things people have posted. It’s useful for a quick refernce on simple things, for casual use where accuracy is not essential. Such as webpost’s description of the Consitution, the population Mexico. It’s useless to cite about contraversial subjects.

        (2) “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal”

        Yes, most people agree about the past. But that’s not the question here, since we’re discussing the future. That’s an important distinction because AGW enthusiasts often frame the debate as one about the past — classic strawman argument.

        (3) “scientists are more than 90% certain that it is primarily caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activities”

        Obviously false in the manner stated. The warming started in the early 19th century, with several large rises before WWII (temperatures in the 1930’s were roughly close to today’s). CO2 concentrations spiked after WWII as seen in this graph at the Dept of Energy’s Carbon Dioxide Information Center.

        (4) “These findings are recognized by the national science academies of all major industrialized nations”

        Science is not a matter of institutional approvals. Institutions — and majorities of scientists — have been radically wrong in the past. That’s especially so for two kinds of theories:

        • recent ones, that have not undergone long and intensive testing,
        • highly political topics (to see how this works I recommend reading “Nuclear winter: science and politics“, Brian Martin, Science and Public Policy, October 1988, pp. 321-334 — Excellent background bibliography).

        Climate science is both.

        (5) “The only caveat I’ll allow is there’s still some lingering debate whether warming is due to natural causes or man made”

        That’s a misstatement on two levels. First, this is the one of the primay aspects of research in this area (it’s not a subject on which popular opinion matters). Second, it’s not an “or”. There’s no doubt of the many forms of human-caused client impacts, such as land use changes, c02 emmission, and aerosols. Then there are large number of natural cycles at work, some of which are poorly understood (ie, feedbacks from clouds, solar influence). Understanding of the net relationships is in its infancy, but improving fast.

        (6) “but civilizational regression to a Hobbesian state of nature where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.””

        The comment threads of the FM website show that many people live in fear of shockwaves of various sorts, usually with fears disproportionate to the evidence of a high liklihood for that shockwave. Peak oil, pollution, species extinction, climate change, terrorism, creeping sharia, economic collapse (only gold can save us), etc. It’s a long list. They usually demand that society be reorganized to address their fears. My guess is that this reflects some common element at work today. Further analysis is beyond my pay grade.

        Comments welcomed.

      2. Speaking of the future and climate change, perhaps that explains this…

        One day when I came home at lunchtime
        I heard a funny noise
        Went out to the back yard
        To find out iIf it was one of those roudy boys
        Stood there with my neighbour called peter
        And a flux capacitor
        He told me he built a time-machine
        Like one in a film I’ve seen(yeah)

        He said I’ve been to the year 3000
        Not much has changed but they live underwater
        And your great-great-great-granddaughter
        Is pretty fine, is pretty fine

        — “Year 3000” by Busted


  5. <> this is repetition of mass media propaganda. There is abundant scientific data showing that vaccines have minimal or no effect in preventing disease. Vaccines did not prevent disease in the past either. <>

    1. Oh, certainly. Jenner, Pasteur,Salk. Mountebanks, Imposters! Thank St. Buttplugg for Scientology. And Mormonism. And Lord Charas, especially.

    2. Government documents, legal documents and the peer-reviewed, published medical litterature inform my views on vaccines. There is a growing consensus that vaccines do not protect from diseases today and did not protect from diseases in the past.
      That vaccination campaigns reshaped the world by reducing disease is a myth. For years WHO advocated improved sanitation and diet. Vaccine safety and efficacy is a myth. In vaccine science “efficacy” means only that antibodies are generated, not that the vaccine “works” to protect against disease. Terms “immunization’ and ‘vaccination’ are used interchangeably to deceive. Immunology is far more advanced today than in Jenner’s day… and Salk did have misgivings.
      Again, that vaccination campaigns reshaped the world by reducing disease is a myth. Follow the money.

  6. The first thing a real, independent (silicon) AI would do, is wipe out organic intelligence,no? I mean, who would want crap such as ourselves competing for valuable strategic resources? Or for dry land, even?

  7. One scenario for America’s political future – of course there are others – The Second War (not quite) of Southern etc. Secession (sort of):

    Let’s say in 2012 Obama claims victory in a disputed election. Unlike Al Gore and his democrats, Romney along with the interests and sections of the country that supported him refuse to admit to the legal legitimacy of Obama’s claim on the presidency. Various state legislatures pass resolutions to that effect along with bills legalizing state nullification of what ever federal law doesn’t suit them. Armed citizens in these regions form “militias” which are then given legal status by the governors or legislatures of those states. People all over the country are gripped by hysteria and all that might go along with that. The military makes it clear it will maintain neutrality. There is serious talk of secession. The crisis drags on through 2013 and into 2014.

    Obama along with Romney, who defects and is now branded as a traitor by “secessionist” forces, both appear at the head of a coalition of business and financial leaders seeking compromise. Political unrest bordering on secession is bad for business. There’s no interstate violence yet, but lots of local violence. Travel between some states becomes difficult. Violence against blacks, “liberals”, gays, immigrants, and Muslims becomes common. Millions of people seek to leave the United States and Canada all but closes its borders except for commercial transportation. Mass repressive police action begins in non secessionist states against perceived “secessionist sympathizers” and other subversive elements. A mass interstate movement of population begins within the United States on the basis of political and cultural beliefs.

    Although the American military refuses to intervene (privately but bluntly tells Obama no way) there is an epidemic of inter troop violence. Units need to be broken up, reformed, and many are withdrawn from abroad – at the public demand of host countries.

    Eventually, cooler heads prevail, a constitutional convention is called and a compromise is worked out. America becomes a loose confederation of regional governments with substantial control over their own immigration, trade, economic, and social policies. In the meanwhile, California declares it will abandon the US dollar having taken the advice so freely given to European countries by Anglo-American experts that California would be better off with its own currency. It then devalues and defaults on much of its debt.

    The regions agree to a united foreign and military policy, but by necessity, both are minimal and designed at first to defend only the American mainland.

    FM’s Third American Republic becomes a reality.

  8. In the future, I see the term Rankism become mainstream. Rankism is the catch-all for any system that dehumanizes anyone due to his/her situation, and thus takes away that person’s dignity. Examples are racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious intolerance. Once the peoples of the world completely accept the illegitimacy of rankism they will then start changing the laws of the states to eliminate this scourge on humanity.

    Due to rankism’s demise, many of the world’s religions will begin to come to common ground on what they espouse. Science will become mainstream with the vast majority of religions, as the scientific method completes humanity’s transition from superstition and blind faith into testing out the models that morals create. Faith will be redefined into that which is unknowable (because it is beyond the ability to ever be tested), where it has always belonged. Those who adhere(d) to faith will be regarded the way that we currently regard religious fanatics that burned heretics and people accused of witchcraft.

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