Sunday, April 29, 2012

The future of 2050


Correspondents at The Economist are predicting the future.

The prognostications will be published in a book entitled, Megachange: the World in 2050.   What sorts of developments and complications might we expect for the future? 

Simply by following the population and demographic trends, we're looking at a global population of nine billion by 2050.  That strikes me as a bit conservative.  I can imagine a net population closer to 10 billion by that point in the future.  What I did not anticipate was The Economist's assertion that every other additional person in this population growth will be African.  One important point that the book makes, that is if the audio interview is any indication, is the rate at which the population has grown.  It took 250,000 years for the first billion people to arrive in the world.  For our last additional billion, it took little over a decade. 

Other predictions were along the lines of what one might expect and indeed what you've likely read about already in terms of future challenges.  Indeed the increase in population will lead to greater difficulties in feeding the world as well as greater competition for resources and therefore more wars or smaller intensity conflicts.

In terms of science, I believe that the predictions are essentially close to the mark.  There will be less emphasis placed on the so-called "hard sciences" and more on discoveries taking place in biology.  This makes sense as the age of genetic modification is definitely upon us.  They don't seem to have much discussion around space and indeed why should they?  At our present rate, we'll be lucky to return to the Moon in 40 years.  They did, however, say that it is quite likely that alien life will be discovered...openly and acknowledged that is...and likely in the form of microorganisms such as bacteria or viruses.

The environment is of course a considerable factor in our future.  Folks at The Economist maintain that any environmental policies put into place right now will have little effect on the climate of the world 40 years from now.  It's going to be hot.  Just get used to it.  However, the global environmental disasters, such as heavily flooded coastlines and expansion of deserts, are not inevitable.  I wish I could share that optimism.

What the seven minute interview astonishingly did not get into was Singularity technology.  By 2050, we will be tremendously close to Kurzweil's prediction of Singularity.  Either the editors of the book are not subscribers to this notion or they ignored it altogether.  Either prospect is foolish and counter-intuitive to my reasoning. 

There was, however, a novel aspect of this technology brought up...shockingly enough...in a user comment.  Humans will indeed continue to be further and further ensconced by technology in the future.  One of these developments will be a smart phone designated to each infant at birth.  This device will assign an individual their lifelong phone number.  There is an AI within the smart phone that guides one without advice throughout his or her lifetime.  The name of the device will be "Mother."  This, to me, was a bit reminiscent of "Mother Boxes" from DC Comics only to be greater and lesser extents.

In the end, predictions are just that.  For any assessment of their accuracy we must of course, wait and see.


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