I’ve been in a fairly pensive, depressed, and reflective mood lately (because of my upcoming birthday), which has sent my mind into some strange and interesting areas. I started to think about my inevitable death within the next 80 years, and how people my age 80 years ago would never have gotten to see the wonders that we take for granted today: the internet, smart phones, GPS, and much, much more. I started to wonder what events I fully expect to happen in the future, though not in my lifetime. That is, what kinds of things will I probably not live long enough to see?
So, here is the list of things I came up with, in rough chronological order of when I predict they will happen. These are all things I wish I could experience, but realistically speaking I’m just not going to be around when they happen. Boo hoo =( .
Universal High Speed Mass Transit (50-150 years)
I expect there to come a time, some time in the next 50-150 years, when under economic and environmental pressure high speed mass transit becomes an absolute necessity. My expectation is that this will be in the form of some kind of high speed rail, such as magnet-based, superconducting, light (many small 1-car trains) trains. The design of the rail system will make the incremental energy cost per trip negligible, and it will finally become extremely time and cost effective. I think it will first be built simultaneously across Europe and an asian superpower (China?), but then over 50-100 years will connect together into a complex, global network.
Unified currency (50-150 years)
In the same time frame, I also expect there to be a unified currency. I believe it will be independent from all other existing currencies and independent from any official jurisdiction. Something like bitcoin, yet even better (future-proofed from hacking/Moore’s law). This will come many years after a scientific/economic breakthrough, for example the realization that an independent currency is a better (more stable?) investment vehicle than all government-controlled currencies. First, investors will quickly switch over (over a period of <50 years), and very gradually governments will stop offering their own currencies.
Animal language translation (50-150 years)
I think the first fairly well understood form of animal language will come about around 50 years from now. It’ll probably be from an intelligent species, like dolphins or octopuses. By animal language translation, I mean we will be able to build a machine that listens to the sounds (or whatever medium) and translates the meaning to things humans can understand, and humans can select pre-recorded messages in the machine. We won’t be able to say everything that humans are capable of saying, because we’ll have to work within the framework of the animal’s language. However, we will be able to communicate things like “let’s play” and “come here”.
Casual space travel (100-200 years)
Casual space travel will become much more common. I’m not sure how this will play out – probably at first there will be privately owned scientific research labs as space stations, like the ISS, run by large corporations. Then, as work in space becomes more commonplace, living in space will become a necessity, and then perhaps it will gradually become common for people to visit their relatives who work in space stations.
Instantaneous Long-Distance Communications (100-200 years)
Instantaneous long-distance communications will probably come out of quantum physics, perhaps something like entanglement. The human communication practical every-day effect would be negligible, as human-to-human language is far slower than the latency anyway. However, the effect of instantaneous long-distance communications will be of great importance in space research; for example, flying a space probe through Saturn’s asteroid rings would require an Earth-based pilot to navigate his ship with no latency.
People living on other planets (100-250 years)
The natural next step is people living on other planets. This will probably play out similarly to the previous one, but at a much smaller scale. I also expect the driving force to be some kind of a privately owned research lab or mining station (some exotic mineral?). I doubt travel between planets will become commonplace like space travel.
Artificial intelligence comparable to human intelligence (100-250 years)
At some point, a computer science breakthrough will forever change the way artificial intelligence works. Probably something like neural networks or genetic algorithms, but maybe with infinite and instantaneous computing power provided by quantum computing or something. There will be huge fanfare once AI matches human intelligence, and very soon after (maybe 1-10 years) AI will surpass human intelligence. This will be the most interesting time, as we’ll get to see how humans collectively deal with their own creation which is smarter than themselves. It will become extraordinarily difficult to distinguish between a human and an AI-simulating-a-human under almost all circumstances. I hope they robots don’t take over, Matrix-style, but I do think there is a good chance that might happen.
Discovery of alien life (200-500 years)
Most likely, my expectation is that humans will discover alien life 200-500 years from now. Although we will discover it, we will not be able to interact with it for two reasons: it’ll be too far away (on some distant planet), and it’s too dumb to interact with us. For example, one of our planetary-research space probes will land on a planet super far away and discover a bacteria-like organism. This will be very exciting and boring at the same time, because we will realize that while not alone in the universe, the question of whether or not we are the only sentient beings still exists. I have two additional comments here… first, I think that expecting alien life to be water-based is naive. That’s like Europeans in the 1400s expecting “Indians” to have white skin. Second, I think sending signals out into space and/or trying to read signals from space (SETI) is a moot point. The probability of any discovery from that in either direction is epsilon, and even IF a sentient alien species were to decode that “a different sentient species than their own” exists at our location, I think they would surely come to obliterate/enslave us. I strongly believe that humans must take caution in sending signals of our existence into the unknown.
Human intelligence plugins (200-500 years)
I bet people will get sockets for their brains, where by plugging in some electronic device, you can get smarter or add a set of knowledge. This technology will probably go through some crazy ethical battles, and all kinds of unintended uses will crop up.
Fully immersive experience simulator (200-500 years)
I believe that our knowledge of how humans experience things is near-zero right now, but will gradually increase over the next 200 years. I’m not sure how it will come to be, but maybe from roots in virtual reality, and over time the virtual reality becomes more and more realistic, incorporating more and more senses. At some point, perhaps the virtual reality simulators will connect directly to the nervous system, and soon after will become fully immersive experience simulators. Just like in The Matrix, but in my vision there aren’t robot overlords using humans as batteries. =)
Reliving past experiences via memory (250-500 years)
Related to the prior one, research on the brain will discover how memories are specifically stored. Besides having major serious implications such as privacy loss and false memory-planting, one of the most amazing outcomes that I would really love to experience is using the fully immersive experience simulator as mentioned above for my own memories. That is, I would be able to connect the machine to my nerve stem (through the socket), and re-live certain moments of my life – even moments that I thought I had forgotten! I could re-live moments with loved ones who have passed, re-live life changing experiences, and really just anything else. You wouldn’t be able to change anything, but just the act of re-experiencing it would be amazing. It’d work like the pensieve in Harry Potter. This is something I really wish I could use now, because there are so many memories in my mind that I really wish I could experience again.
Clean Earth (250-500 years)
I think the time period of 100-200 years from now, the subject area of environmental economics will become a growing field. At some point, there will be a several breakthroughs showing ways to keep the earth clean of human pollution. Garbage will no longer exist, as everything will be recyclable. Recycling will be highly efficient, and actual loss will drop down to near zero. A major contributor to this research will be the growing popularity of space stations. Even basic things that we take for granted today will be outlawed or put under surveillance – for example, you would only be able to set a fire in certain areas, because fire destroys recyclable material and is an unproductive form of energy (fusion/renewable be the preferred energy source).
City architecture will begin to transform into the beautiful things we see in the movies at this time, because the new earth-friendly construction materials will be far stronger and shinier, making buildings more dynamic and beautiful.
The next stage of economics after capitalism (400-1000 years)
At some point, economics will transition into a new system different from capitalism. I don’t know what that system is, but I believe that capitalism will not last. I think at first, managed capitalism will become far more common, as the countries that apply economic theory to shape their private sector will have a higher GDP per capita than uncontrolled capitalism. From there, I’m not sure what will happen – perhaps the unified currency will develop into a new entity.
A method of viewing the past (400-1000 years)
I think there will be a scientific breakthrough that allows researchers to “look into the past”. Like a time machine, but only for a specific portion of space/time, and view-only (no interaction). It will probably be based on some very interesting physics, probably something weird like the discovery that every string in string theory contains the whole universe, or something. This will be a very cool breakthrough because it’s effectively a limited form of time travel, and you’ll actually be able to see into the past for anything you wanted to see.
Unlimited Life and Youth (400-1000 years)
Health and medical research will advance to the point where aging can be prevented at a cellular level. This would allow people and all animals to live eternally and even retain youth. If I were to guess, I would think that first what will happen is public health and medicine will improve such that the average human lifespan will be well over 100 years. Then, there will be a discovery of the causes of aging (internal factors like cellular functions and external factors like radiation), and each cause will be removed one by one until people essentially live forever. My expectation is that if environmental ecology and “Clean Earth” as mentioned above have improved to the point where the planetary cost of each additional human life is negligible, then actually people will be allowed to live forever and humans will begin colonizing space. On the other hand, if environmental ecology does not advance to that point, and the incremental planetary cost of a human life is still significant, then there will be a governmental max-lifespan set, to something like 200 years.
The end of religion (400-1000 years)
With the ability to extend life eternally and with the ability to view the past, the human desire for religion will gradually dissipate. People will generally stop wondering what happens after death, what miracles certain holy figures performed, and what happened at key moments in religious history. Many religions will converge, perhaps a few wars will break out, but in the end everyone will believe the “one truth” that looking into the past revealed. There will still be some open questions regarding things in the religious sphere, such as “Why does the universe exist?”, but those will change to be questions yet unanswered by science as opposed to religious beliefs.
Teleportation as a form of travel (1000+ years)
I don’t think this will happen, perhaps ever. I do expect it to be possible to teleport molecules, maybe even cells, over large distances without any information loss based on some quantum methodology. However, I think it will never gain interest as a form of travel because it’ll always be unclear how the teleportation happens, and that question of “does the spirit of the person remain the same?” will never be answered. I think there will eventually be experiments where life forms are teleported successfully and it seems successful, yet the spiritual question will remain unknown.