Where do you see yourself in twenty years? This question is asked in various forms of everybody at some point in their life. From the lowly high school student asked to write an essay to the chief executive officers of large corporations. In fact, you might even have asked yourself the question at some point. I did consider that question and this is the answer I arrived at.
First, a brief discussion of the current state of affairs as I write this during that final weeks of the twentieth century. Humanity has come a long way from simple hunter-gatherers, yet we have come nowhere. We have built astounding engineering marvels, mind-bogglingly complex machines and created a multitude of cultures. From horseback riding to automobiles to airplanes to spaceships, there are few who would argue that our accomplishments are not phenomenal. In fact, most of our great achievements came in the past two centuries and the lion’s share of them in the past five decades. If current trends in development continue, in a further five decades, the face of human civilization will be unrecognizable.
In order to keep this essay somewhat intelligible, I will present my thoughts on the next few decades broken out by general categories.
On the economic front, the status quo will persist with a couple of exceptions. First, within three decades there will be a common currency for international trade and most national currencies will no longer be in active use. The impact of this is that international trade becomes considerably simpler and it also puts the money markets out of business. However, this will not have an impact on commerce as a whole as stock markets will still be operating. The other exception is the megacorporations that have been forming recently will start to collapse under their own innertia.
On the cultural front, it is difficult to imagine where we are going. If current trends continue, within a century most of the developed world will sink back into illiteracy and superstition. In fact, developments in technology could hasten this descent. At the same time, freedom will increase overall, brought about by an overall improvement in communications. As communication becomes easier, the amount of information exchange will increase without regard for ridiculous regulations that various regions might try to introduce. As said communication evolves into increasingly audiovisual content, the average ability with written language will decrease. Improved education may be able to combat this effect.
The technological front is the most difficult to predict. Current developments in holography and nanotechnology seem to indicate we will make major strides in all types of technology in the next several decades. However amazing those strides are, however, we will likely plateau in most technologies around the middle of the twenty-first century. Space technology will continue to develop long past the plateau, spurred on by increasing crowding of the earth and further by our insatiable curiosity about what is out there. By the time we reach the technological plateau, must of what we take for granted now will be completely unrecognizable.
The environmental outlook is, perhaps, the most bleak. While there are token efforts amoung the developed nations to reduce polution, there is no evidence that these initiatives will catch on in the rest of the world. There are also indications that public opinion will force these initiatives down because they cost the average citizen considerably in the short term. Unfortunately, humanity as a whole does not generally consider the bigger picture when making decisions. That said, with developments in electrical generation and storage, there is a very good chance that much of the developping world will skip the fossil fuel stage of development. Similarly, as the reliance on fossil fuels diminishes, the incidences of toxic spills in oceans will diminish. However, all this will likely be offset by the fact that increasing population pressures will cause increasing destruction of the flora and fauna of vast regions of the planet. Even with current developments in agriculture, there does not seem to be a solution to this problem.
Environmental pressures may be relieved somewhat by technological developments that allow much of humankind to live above the earth’s surface. Within the next century, work will probably be started on a kind of space elevator and likely on a sort of ring around geosynchronous orbit anchored in three or four places around the equator. The rings anchors will be able to house immense numbers of people near ground level and will likely reduce the crowding in major cities as the increased possiblity of telecomuting allows for many people to live anywhere. This ring will likely also be used as a staging area for space travel to other planets in the solar system.
Overall, the short term future looks somewhat difficult, but should we survive it, the long term future is likely to compensate for it. Of course, there are far too many factors to make any kind of solid prediction so everything I just said is pure speculation. I wonder how well these speculations will hold up over the next few years.
November 18 – 23, 2000 CE