I found the following as the first return of a Google search for Humanity’s Future. While Mr. Holtz seems unaware of the fossil fuel depletion-overpopulation-global warming crisis, I still found that his article made interesting reading, and the scope of his thinking is to be much admired.
Humanity will enjoy increasing political and economic liberty, as well as increasing freedom from ignorance and superstition. Humanity will enjoy increasing prosperity and steady progress within the limits defined by the laws of physics. Effective immortality may result from technology allowing the human mind to sustain its brain or perhaps reincarnate itself as an intelligent artifact. Human civilization will experience neither salvation nor extermination by nature, machines, aliens, or gods. Humanity will spread throughout the Solar System and into the Milky Way, and be enriched by contact with other intelligent species and artifacts. Eventually humanity’s descendants will so improve their genes and minds that Homo sapiens will exist primarily as a revered memory.
The long-term history and fate of humanity is driven almost entirely by technology. There have been five great technological revolutions in hominid history, and one or two others are faintly visible on the horizon.
Tools. The penultimate great biological advance on Earth was the evolution of hominid intelligence. This led directly to the hominids’ first great technological revolution at the beginning of the Paleolithic Age by 2 Mya: the use of stone tools and (later) fire. Tools and fire granted to hominids a mastery over predators, prey, and the elements that was literally unimaginable to other primates.
Language. The second technological revolution was also the most recent great biological advance on Earth: the development of language by 50 Kya. The development of language, watercraft, and weaving combined to allow early modern humans from Africa and SW Asia to master climates and locales throughout the world.
Agriculture. The third revolution was the development of agriculture at the beginning of the Neolithic Age about 10 Kya. The resulting specialization led to the advanced development of writing, government, and science.
Industry. The fourth revolution was the Industrial Revolution that was under way by 1840. It included the development of heat engines, medicine, electromagnetics, and (later) atomics. The Industrial Revolution was of course only possible because the Scientific Revolution that began during the Renaissance. However, it was not until the Industrial Revolution that living standards finally made a leap to levels that would have been unimaginable to Aristotle or even Newton.
Information. The fifth revolution is the current Information Revolution. It had started by 1971 with the development of electronics, computing, and networking, which together had major impacts on commerce and communications by the 1980s and 1990s. The Information Revolution will continue with the nascent developments of photonics and genetics. It will largely complete the liberation of humanity from tyranny and superstition. It will witness the completion of humanity’s basic understanding of the origin, mechanism, and fate of mind, life, and the universe itself.
Generation. By about 2200 a sixth revolution will be under way, driven by some combination of:
- genetic engineering of new subspecies;
- commercialized controlled fusion;
- artifactual life; and
- artificial intelligence.
This revolution will establish the economics of the indefinite future. Design, energy, and heat costs will be the only ones that really matter, and no future breakthroughs will ever fundamentally reduce them again. During this phase of history, the various human societies will arrive at economic, cultural, and linguistic parity and unity.
Homogenetics. By about 3000, modifications to the human genome will no longer be confined to changing the frequency or expression of existing genes, but will include the design of new genes. This will ultimately transform humanity into a new and improved species.
Automentation. After engineering the human genome, the next (and perhaps last) technological revolution will be to engineer the (human?) mind. The first step will be the creation of neurological interfaces between human brains and computing devices. Another step might be the (perhaps neuron-by-neuron) replacement of some brain components with improved artificial parts. Or, it may be possible for a person to gradually offload mental processing from her brain to her computational prostheses. Perhaps eventually she could dispense with her fragile mortal brain altogether, so as to gain immortality while still preserving personal identity.
Estimating Progress. The modern idea of Progress arose in the Enlightenment. In the subsequent few centuries, prognosticators almost always underestimated future progress. Only towards the end of the miraculous period of advances from 1859 to 1945 did futurologists consistently start overestimating future progress.
The Doomsday Argument is the thesis that the future of humanity may be relatively short because a human randomly sampled from all humans who ever will have lived is more likely to be middling in birth rank than early. In the absence of other information about humanity’s prospects, the Doomsday Argument would be significant. In the presence of almost any such information, the Doomsday Argument is irrelevant.
5.7.1. Social Science / Futurology / Impossible Advances
Divine Salvation. Humans will never experience either collective or individual salvation by any divine or supernatural agency.
Paranormality. The paranormal phenomena alleged in 2000 by many humans will never prove to be real and will over time be recognized as delusions, hysteria, myths, nonsense, and hoaxes.
Reanimation. There will never be any reanimation of humans whose brains have suffered any of the degradation that occurs at normal temperatures when metabolism ceases. Human personalities may someday be crudely simulated, but such simulations will never have significant fidelity and would not in any event have the identity of the simulated personality.
Explanation of Somethingness. Humans will never have a definitive answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing. Humans may, however, eventually be able to show that no definitive explanation of existence is possible.
Superluminal Communication. There will never be a way to travel or communicate through space at speeds greater than that of light. Nor will there be a way to warp spacetime to circumvent this restriction.
Temporal Travel. There will never be a way to travel or communicate backwards in time. While time travel is not explicitly impossible under the known laws of physics, the proposed wormhole mechanism for it would require energies and technologies that are simply not achievable. Note also that a wormhole time machine would not allow travel back to before the wormhole was created.
Teleporter Travel. There will never be a way for humans to travel via transmission of information describing their physical constitution. Quantum considerations almost certainly preclude the extraction of a sufficiently detailed description, and such a discontinuous process would not preserve personal identity. The only possible way would be a gradual and continuous disassembly and reassembly with an ongoing causal link between the two separated halves.
Uploading. Like teleportation, transferal of a human mind from a brain to an artifact is almost certainly impossible and would nevertheless not preserve personal identity. Were either technology possible, then a minor improvement would be a non-destructive version that preserves the original body and brain, thus revealing the technology to be a duplicator rather than a teleporter or uploader. The possible technology closest to uploading would be a (relatively) gradual and continuous transformation of the functioning human brain into another substrate.
5.7.2. Social Science / Futurology / Improbable Advances
Designer Contact. In his novel Contact, Carl Sagan suggested that the universe could have been designed and that its designer could have encoded a message in a transcendental number such as pi or e. Such a situation does not seem logically impossible, in that it would not be on its face a logical contradiction if for example the Bible turned out to be so encoded. The existence of any such message would in fact have to be considered a logical necessity. If so, it could not be considered an act of designer volition, unless one granted degrees of freedom in the design of mathematical logic itself. Such freedom seems incompatible with the very notion of logic: rules of inference that are binding in all possible worlds.
Super-Intelligence. Cognitive ability can increase quantitatively in efficiency, flexibility, speed, capacity, bandwidth, and network associativity, but not qualitatively in its kind of reasoning or knowing. There are no forms of reasoning or kinds of knowledge that are in principle inaccessible to regular intelligence.
Human Evolution. Humanity is very unlikely to undergo significant further natural evolution. Since the beginning of the Neolithic Age, the development of humanity has been influenced much more by changes in culture than changes in genes. This will continue indefinitely, even considering genetic engineering.
Singularity. The “singularity” is what Vernor Vinge describes as a moment in the future when the ongoing exponential increases in technological capability culminate in a discontinuity beyond which predictions based on continuous extrapolations do not apply. One candidate for the Singularity is when humanity improves artificial intelligence to the point that it is better than humans at improving artificial intelligence. Another candidate is when the world’s computers are networked into a single self-conscious mind. A third is when runaway productivity is achieved through artifactual life or nanotechnology, perhaps provided by extraterrestrial intelligence.
The Singularity will not happen. First, the limits to intelligence apply to artificial intelligence as much as to natural. Second, intelligence is likely not to vary qualitatively as a function of things like processing speed or memory that are increasing exponentially. Third, the effort to make minds faster or smarter will quite likely be subject to diminishing returns. Fourth, artificial minds will at first not be designed but rather grown and evolved, and will be subject to most of the same limits as minds that are naturally grown and evolved.
Antigravity. There will never be a way to repel matter by virtue of its mass, or even to just shield the attractive gravitational force of mass. Nor will there be an inertial drive — a way to accelerate an object uniformly, as in a gravitational field.
Vacuum or Zero-Point Energy. It is unlikely that humans will ever be able to extract useful amounts of energy from the vacuum or zero point.
5.7.3. Social Science / Futurology / Academic Developments
Academic Developments: the trends and changes in what humans know.
Loss of faith. By explaining the overwhelming majority of apparent Design in the universe, Darwin’s theory of evolution made faith in a “God of the gaps” essentially indefensible among intellectuals. As modern physics eliminates the last traces of apparent Design in the universe, intellectual fideists have in the 20th century retreated from actual revelation-based faith. They are seeking refuge in either outright mysticism or a false skepticism that pretends deism is a skeptical epistemology instead of a supernaturalist metaphysics. Rank-and-file fideists are responding variously with fundamentalism, mysticism, and (primarily) an operational agnosticism that maintains only the trappings of faith. This hollow fideism will dilute into vague agnostic mysticism by about 2150, while hardcore fideists will dwindle and become increasingly isolated.
Decline of mysticism. While faith will continue to dwindle sharply, mysticism will continue to absorb an infusion of former fideists as they confront Darwinism and are exposed to Eastern mystical traditions. Mysticism will thereafter decline asymptotically to a core minority devoted to altered mental states and ecological primitivism.
Spread of skepticism. The revolutions in biology and physics from 1859 to 1929, and the subsequent technological improvements in telecommunications and productivity, will continue to fuel the spread of humanist skepticism. In developed societies like America, belief in revelation will dwindle as rapidly as did (for example) belief in the subhmanity of Negroids. The decline of revelation-based faith will be somewhat disguised by its transformation into a bland mystical reverence for the alleged intention of revelation, but the loss of dogmatic faith will be apparent to those who bother noticing it. Key indicators will be the decreasing number of humans who believe that their mind — including memories, consciousness, and personality — will survive death, or who have serious beliefs in the paranormal.
Consolidation of philosophy. Continental philosophy will continue to thrive for at least a century, especially among humans who misunderstand or fear the recent progress in science, technology, and sociopolitics (viz., the ascendancy of free-market capitalism). Positivism will be the tacit or explicit belief of those leading this ongoing progress. Positivist epistemology and extropian ethics will in the Third Millennium displace first Continental philosophy and eventually most competing forms of mysticism and faith. This will complete the move toward skeptical empiricism that began in the Renaissance. Most fundamental philosophical issues will thenceforth be considered settled, similar to how Realism and Substance Dualism are no longer serious philosophical positions. These developments have some chance of being altered by two technological advances: artificial intelligence, and communication with extraterrestrial intelligence. While extropian ethics is unlikely to be affected, either advance could offer compelling contributions to epistemology or even metaphysics. The most likely contributions would be toward clarification and formalization, and not towards radically alternative philosophical positions.
There is little prospect of fundamental advances in mathematics similar to those that happened during the Age of Mechanism. Future progress in mathematics will consist primarily in formalization and in proofs such as:
Fate of the universe. In the first few decades after 2000, humans will learn the fate of the universe: collapse, infinite expansion, or asymptotic expansion. Observations in 2000 indicate infinite expansion, but theoretical elegance argues for asymptotic expansion.
Origin of the universe. In the first few decades after 2000, humans will create a quantum theory of gravity that will unify it with the other physical forces. By roughly 2100, humans will learn almost all they will ever know about how the laws of physics are constrained to be the way they are, how they allowed for the Big Bang to happen, and how many physical free variables there are.
Genomics. Molecular biologists will continue for many centuries to sequence the genomes of entire species and the genotypes of individual humans. This will allow an inexorably increasing understanding of the evolutionary ancestry of earth’s taxa, and of the genealogy of earth’s humans. Genomics and electronic genealogy will combine to create a worldwide genealogical network that will include almost all humans born in literate societies after 1900 or even earlier.
Genesis. By about 2050, molecular biologists will be able to describe in increasing detail how life based on ribonucleic and amino acids arose on Earth four billion years ago as a result of auto-catalytic chemical processes of increasing complexity. Biologists will also be able to estimate how probable or improbable the development of life was.
Paleontology. Over the first century or two after 2000, biologists will greatly increase human understanding of how and why life evolved as it did over the last few billion years. In particular, anthropology will reach a general but not detailed understanding of how and why intelligence developed in hominids.
- tangible evidence of (probably extinct) native life elsewhere in the solar system;
- spectrographic evidence of life outside the solar system;
- electromagnetic evidence of intelligence outside the solar system; or
- technological artifacts deposited in the solar system by extra-solar intelligence.
The latter two discoveries seem more likely. Any one of them will accelerate the decline of faith and reinforce skepticism as a more attractive alternative than mysticism. If humans discover life but not intelligence, it will emphasize the responsibility of humanity to preserve and promote life. If humans discover neither life nor intelligence, it will emphasize the uniqueness and preciousness of the earth’s ecosystem and the intelligence it has produced.
Biochemistry. Humans will in the 2000’s slowly reverse-engineer the genomes of H. sapiens and other important terrestrial species, allowing increasingly radical genetic engineering.
Neuropsychology. Humans will in the 2000’s gradually unravel the details of how the neural processes of the human brain create mental phenomena like consciousness, cognition, perception, affect, and volition.
Economics. Economic theory and practice will be refined as information technology allows the ever-improving collection and processing of economic data. However, information technology and central planning are unlikely to ever run humanity’s economy as efficiently as the distributed processes of a free-market economy.
Sociology and Political Science. Humans will grow increasingly convinced that libertarian capitalism under federal republican democracy is the sociopolitical system that best provides for human justice and prosperity.
Psychology. Cognitivism will continue to be the most successful school of psychology, and Freudianism will be more and more widely discredited. Human efforts to communicate with cetaceans and with other primates will be tightly constrained by the limited cognitive and linguistic ability of these animals.
Linguistics. Aided in part by human genomics, linguists will make some more progress in tracing the family tree of human languages, but will never know many details about how the first human languages arose and what they were like.
History. Fluctuations of theme and emphasis in the interpretation of history will continue but will ultimately dampen out. There will not be a theory of history that can reliably predict the future or deterministically explain the past.
5.7.4. Social Science / Futurology / Technological Developments
Technological Developments: the trends and changes in what humans know how to use.
Exploration. Humans will continue robotic exploration of the solar system, including sample return missions by 2020. Humans will establish by 2100 an unmanned radio observatory on the far side of the moon, which is the most radio-quiet place in the solar system. Humans will by 2200 launch robotic telescopes to use the Sun’s gravitational lensing out at the edge of the solar system. Humans will by 2300 start sending primitive Von Neumann probes to explore the galaxy and radio their findings back to earth. By about 3000 humans will begin receiving telemetry from high-speed flybys of nearby star systems.
Stations. Humans will by 2200 establish permanent manned stations in Earth orbit and perhaps on the moon, primarily for microgravity and spacecraft manufacturing. Extraterrestrial mining and mass production for terrestrial use is unlikely ever to be competitive with terrestrial processes. Extraterrestrial energy collection or generation is likely not to be competitive with terrestrial processes until well after Earth has too much heat pollution to be able to use the extra energy.
Colonization. There are several reasons humans will want to establish ecologically self-sufficient colonies beyond Earth:
- To enjoy sociopolitical independence or isolation;
- To relieve terrestrial population pressure; or
- To preserve the species in a “lifeboat”.
Humans will by about 3000 create self-sustaining extraplanetary colonies, first on the moon and Mars and later in space habitats. By 4000 the long-time citizens of a mobile space habitat may be willing to embark on the long journey that would bring their descendants to a nearby star system.
If attempted at all, the terraforming of Mars, Venus, or a moon of Jupiter or Saturn would likely not begin for several thousand years and might take thousands of years more to complete.
Photonics, optics, and computational processing of spread-spectrum radio will lead to an enormous increase in bandwidth by 2020.
Nanotechnology is the creation and use of materials and devices constructed by arranging individual atoms and molecules. Nanotechnology will be used to create extraordinarily strong or light materials and extraordinarily tiny and versatile machines. Self-reproducing nanotech “assemblers” may not be feasible for several centuries, and will not be as versatile as some would hope. The lesson of software is that even when manufacturing costs fall to zero, design and development usually remains a unique problem for each application of the technology.
Genetic Engineering. Humans will over the next few centuries use genetic engineering to change natural organisms into increasingly useful forms. However, it will require centuries more before humans fully understand the biochemistry of even the simplest natural living system. After a millennium or so, humans will be able to design new ribonucleic organisms. After perhaps another millennium, humans will be able to design organisms with non-ribonucleic biochemistry.
Artifactual Life is life created by intelligence and not based on natural life. Humans will in about two centuries be able to create artificial systems that can reproduce themselves. After another century or so, humans will be able to create Von Neumann probes. A Von Neumann probe is a device designed to travel to another star system and reproduce itself there.
- heat dissipation;
- energy density of batteries;
- communications latency;
and human limits of
- sensory and cognitive I/O bandwidth;
- user understanding of software complexity;
- designer understanding of software complexity; and
- ability to specify complex requirements unambiguously.
Display technology will plateau around 2030 with a combination of affordable flat displays and wearable retinal direct-projection systems. Neither quantum nor biochemical computing will prove expedient.
Neuropsychology will allow the creation of neural interfaces and prosthetics for sensing, computing and communicating. However, mind-reading technology will not improve much beyond current polygraphs, except perhaps through invasive nanotechnology that would probably require extensive adaptation to individual brains.
Artificial Intelligence is intelligence created by intelligence and not based on natural intelligence. Humans will develop AI in about two hundred years. However, these systems will initially not be designed or engineered but rather grown or raised, much as natural human intelligences are. Another millennium may be required before humans understand the inner workings of intelligence enough to modify or augment it.
Automentation. Will humans find a way to transform their natural brains into artificial ones that are easier to maintain and augment? Such techniques might depend on molecular biology and neuropsychology as much as on nanotechnology and information processing.
When (and if) humans detect extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), several possibilities for communication will exist.
1-way transmission. If ETI is detected through electromagnetic emissions over interstellar distances that are not intended to communicate with emerging civilizations such as earth’s, then humanity will have to introduce itself. The important issues will be what to tell and what to ask. Humanity should tell ETI a summary of its knowledge of itself and the universe, perhaps by sending information similar to that in this text. (The summary would have to be made intelligible to ETI, perhaps by including a multimedia dictionary and grammar of the relevant human language.) Humanity should ask ETI for a summary of the ETI’s knowledge, including available answers for humanity’s major unanswered questions and technological assistance in areas like communication, information processing, energy, transportation, and materials.
1-way reception. If ETI is detected through electromagnetic signals over interstellar distances that are intended to communicate with emerging civilizations, then there is a wide range of possible messages the signals could encode. ETI might be broadcasting merely its existence, telling nothing more than the sort of rudimentary information that humanity included in its own 1974 Arecibo transmission. Another extreme possibility is that a federation of ETIs might be broadcasting a continuously-updated “Encyclopedia Galactica” summarizing all their knowledge. Any such message would be designed to be readily intelligible at least at a superficial level, while advanced and detailed understanding might overtax humanity’s current linguistic or technological competence.
2-way communication. The third possibility is for 2-way communication, for which interactive latency is the critical variable. Interstellar communication would have a latency of at least decades or centuries, while communication with an ETI presence inside the solar system would have a latency of at most a few hours. Interstellar 2-way communication would merely be a series of 1-way transmissions and receptions. By contrast, intrastellar communication could permit the exchange of time-critical information or even material goods. ETI could greatly accelerate advances in
- the physical sciences of physics, astronomy, and chemistry;
- the industries of energy, transportation, materials, manufacturing, computing, and communication; and
- the fields of artifactual life and artificial intelligence.
ETI would likely confirm much human philosophy and economics, expand sociology and political science, and significantly generalize psychology and linguistics. ETI would not be able to advance human history or medicine, or terrestrial biology and biotechnology in general. However, it is conceivable that ETI could give human paleontologists some data or even biological samples acquired from Earth millions of years ago.
5.7.5. Social Science / Futurology / Industrial Developments
Industrial Developments: the trends and changes in how humans carry out their activities.
Genetic engineering will continue to improve crop yields and hardiness. By 2050 the price of fresh water will hit a permanent ceiling determined not by its natural supply but by the energy cost of its desalinization and transportation. By about 4000, humans will use genetic engineering to culture animal tissue in bulk instead of raising animals en masse. By about 5000, humans will have geno-industrial techniques for efficiently mass-producing intravenous food consisting only of glucose, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and lipids. In parallel, humans will use neurological techniques to stimulate the culinary pleasure centers. Human population on earth will ultimately be limited not by food production but by heat pollution.
Over the next century or so, cities will be transformed from centers of industry and work to centers of culture and entertainment. Telecommuting will blur the distinction between home and office, and will allow humans to locate their homes by climate, culture, and time zone rather than by proximity to industry. Undersea or aerial dwellings are not likely to ever be built in significant numbers. Floating communities and estates will by 3000 become increasingly popular among humans unable to afford scarce land property in desirable climates or in both hemispheres. Human population on earth will ultimately be limited not by living space but by heat pollution. Only when heat pollution becomes a serious problem on Earth will humans start building significant populations beyond Earth.
Networking. Packet-switched networks like the Internet and its successors will be the primary technology humans use for remote and mass communication for at least several thousand years, and perhaps indefinitely. Communication costs will become independent of distance. Bandwidth will be limited only by the deployment of fiber optic lines and wireless local loops. Almost every device with any internal information state or human interface will have (usually wireless) connectivity to the global network. Multi-party telepresence will allow routine arbitrary amounts of social interaction among even distant family and friends. Public-key cryptography will always allow secure and private communication even if network traffic can be intercepted. Networking of ubiquitous stereo and spherically immersive audio-video sensors will combine with satellite and topographic data to allow real-time telepresence at, or virtual travel to, almost any interesting place on Earth. Archival storage of such sensor data will allow a sort of read-only time-travel into the past.
Storage. Storage and recording technologies will increase in capacity, speed, and affordability, such that the major cost associated with storage will be the intelligent effort required to organize or digest it. Humans will by 2100 be able to digitally record, archive, and transcribe as much as they want of what they see, hear, and say over their entire lifetimes. An ever-increasing majority of existing text, audio, video, and images will be digitally archived into what will be in effect a library of humanity searchable from anywhere on the global network. Existing automated translation technology will make archived texts available in any major human language. Real-time voice recognition will by 2010 be combined with automatic translation and speech generation to produce a crude but effective “universal translator” that will allow a monolingual human to converse (at least slowly and simply) with any speaker of any major human language.
Media. The digitization of music will be followed by the digitization of television, movies, books, and periodicals by 2020. This trend will lead to the routine unauthorized reproduction and distribution of copyrighted text, images, audio, and video. Executable and perishable data are the only data types exempt from this problem: software can decline to function if not licensed, and live data can be hard to reproduce and distribute quickly enough. (Databases can also be exempt, if their owners do not release entire copies and can prevent exhaustive enumeration of the entries.) Only extreme state action could minimize such unauthorized copying, by banning certain copying technologies.
Pre-recorded television programming will by 2030 no longer be mainly viewed on broadcast channels carrying occasional commercials. Such viewing will first move to time-shifted commercial-skipping recording and then to on-demand downloading financed by integrated banner and product placement advertising as well as by voluntary micropayment tips. Even live programming (e.g. sports and news) will have difficulty making viewers sit through commercial breaks. Photorealistic computer-generated imagery will by 2020 replace physical actors, sets, and locations for many video applications, but actors will still be used as input models.
Recreation. Tourism will expand to eventually include currently inaccessible places like the North and South Poles, the summit of Everest, seabottom shipwrecks, and even Tranquility Base on the moon. Virtual visual and auditory reality will by 2020 be the preferred way to play computer games. Humans will continue to play and spectate at sports, while outdoor and wilderness recreation will increase in popularity. Dogs and cats will continue to be humans’ favorite pets, but by 2300 they will be genetically improved (e.g. not to shed) and will have competition from pseudo-intelligent robotic “stuffed animals”.
Vice. Electronic gambling and pornography will become available to any adult who wants them, and adult access to prostitution will continue to expand. Most psychotropics will be legalized by 2150, especially as neurochemistry becomes more able to manage the problems of addiction and withdrawal.
Transportation technology is mainly a function of the cost, size, and weight of energy storage and conversion technology. As artifacts become smaller and lighter and as humans become wealthier and more geographically dispersed, transportation will increasingly become focused on moving humans and the water they need.
Neighborhood. For distances of up to about ten kilometers, humans will increasingly be using battery-powered conveyances such as ultracompact cars, bicycles, and scootboards. Human bodily flight will by 2040 have overcome problems of safety and energy cost, but nuisance due to noise and wash will limit its use in urban areas. Nanotechnology could in theory allow for lighter-than-air bodily flight if it could just construct a lightweight vacuum sphere 5 meters in diameter.
Regional. For distances of up to several hundred kilometers, humans will continue to use cars and their successors indefinitely. In densely populated areas, conventional buses and trains will maintain their popularity, until the autodrive revolution in around 2060. Automated vehicular and traffic control will merge the best attributes of road and rail, creating a unified system of roads with rail-like traffic flows. By 2080 VTOL aircraft will be sufficiently cheap, safe, and easy to control that they will be as widely owned as recreational vehicles are in 2000. However, nuisance issues will restrict where they can land and takeoff, and safety will require that they fly under at least semi-automated traffic control in busy flight corridors.
Continental. Air travel will continue to get cheaper and more efficient in the first decades after 2000. By 2030 humans will apply supersonic and perhaps hypersonic travel to a few more commercial intercontinental routes. Air traffic congestion around busy metropolitan areas will be partly abated by automated traffic control but may ultimately require shifting some of the passenger load to long-range high-speed subsonic trains. Ships will continue to handle bulk transport without major changes such as heavy use of of hydrofoils or hovercraft.
Space. Space propulsion will eventually transition from chemical and ion to fusion and eventually antimatter.
Sources. Fossil fuels will continue to provide the bulk of humanity’s power through at least 2150. Solar energy will continue to provide humanity’s food (through photosynthesis) as well as a limited part of its power (through water and small amounts of wind, wave, and photovoltaics). Geothermal and fission energy will not supply major parts of humanity’s power, but by 2150 thermonuclear fusion will.
Applications. Plugged devices will continue indefinitely to be powered by electricity delivered as alternating current over a power grid that may eventually start taking advantage of superconductivity. Unplugged devices will continue to be powered by chemical batteries that will be the limiting technology for more and more applications. Heating devices will continue to be powered by a combination of fossil fuels and electricity. Internal combustion in vehicles will be supplemented by batteries and flywheels before being replaced by hydrogen fuel cells around 2075. Energy storage through anti-matter containment will by 2300 be feasible for space propulsion and military explosives. Safe and efficient anti-matter batteries would be as revolutionary as chemical batteries have been, but may not be practical before 2500.
Communication technology and free market practice will continue to make government more open and more subject to competitive pressure. Electoral procedures will be modernized towards preference ballots, in which voters rank candidates and in successive rounds of ballot-counting the weakest candidate’s votes are redistributed until a candidate achieves a majority. Government will increasingly use market-based mechanisms such as vouchers, negative taxes, or outright privitization. Communications technology will promote less corrupt and more open practices in both politics and government.
Strategic warfare. Ballistic and cruise missiles will continue to be easier and cheaper to attack with than to defend against. Thus nuclear missiles will continue indefinitely to be humanity’s premier technology for strategic warfare. (Other technologies of mass destruction are more suited to unconventional warfare.) Nuclear weaponry may ultimately be replaced by antimatter warheads only if antimatter generation and containment technology becomes effective.
Conventional warfare. Fear of nuclear warfare will continue to make conventional warfare an important capability. As it has since Pearl Harbor, conventional warfare will continue to be dominated by the ability of air power to find and strike surface targets (and also to move and supply ground forces). For reasons of miniaturization, agility, and pilot risk, combat aircraft will by 2060 tend to be remotely piloted (unless transmission of aircraft sensor data makes those aircraft much easier to target). Against opponents without competitive submarine power, sea warfare will continue to be dominated by aircraft carriers. Unless boutique anti-submarine and anti-missile technology can stay ahead of budget submarine and missile technology, aircraft carriers will by 2100 be replaced by submarines carrying aerial weapons systems. Land warfare will continue to be dominated by sensor and guidance technology, especially as all battlefield sensing and intelligence becomes integrated and distributed. Although camouflage, first sight, and first shot will increase in tactical importance, the hard-to-hide and easy-to-hit main battle tank will nevertheless enjoy at least several more decades of battlefield preeminence, thanks to its superior mobility and fire control. Orbital platforms will become increasingly important for communications and surveillance, even as they become more vulnerable to anti-satellite weaponry. This vulnerability will be offset somewhat by the stealthiness and redundancy enabled by miniaturization and lower launching costs.
Unconventional warfare. Fortunately, guerrilla and terrorist warfare will diminish as more and more of humanity enjoys liberty and prosperity. Unfortunately, the weapons available to terrorists will become more and more destructive. Terrorists will increasingly make use of chemical weapons, and will also attempt to create man-made catastrophes. Except possibly for denial-of-service attacks, “information warfare” will by 2020 be useful only against primitive systems that haven’t yet taken advantage of modern security techniques.
Ultimate warfare. At the limit, military technology will plateau at two abilities: to gather and use information about enemy plans and actions, and to collect and deploy energy used to disrupt and destroy the enemy’s war-making capability. By 2300 humanity will have mastered the fundamentals of nanotechnology and energy storage using anti-matter. At that time, even the most advanced alien aggressor might not really have a qualitative advantage in fundamental technology, but rather a (potentially overwhelming) quantitative advantage in its ability to deploy sensors, warheads, and nanobots. “Information warfare” will not be a significant weapon between separate and hostile civilizations, as information is too easy to secure when there is zero desire for communication and cooperation.
Teaching. Communication and information technology will supplement human teachers and make them more productive, but they will remain essential for educating children. Technology, the shortening workweek, and public policy innovation will make home schooling more common. As information resources grow in richness and as technology makes careers more dynamic, undergraduate education will increasingly focus on learning to learn. Undergraduate and continuing education will be transformed significantly by technology, but graduate research will continue to be like apprenticeship.
Knowing. Technology change and information growth will make meta-knowledge increasingly important: knowing what to know, knowing what one does and does not know, knowing what one can and cannot know, knowing how to find and evaluate knowledge, and knowing how to express, store, and classify knowledge. Meta-knowledge will allow humans to take increasing advantage of information and communication devices and prostheses. However, direct downloading of knowledge will remain almost impossible without a detailed and thorough understanding of mental architecture that is likely to differ subtly but significantly from person to person.
Delivery. Telemedicine will become more common, but health care delivery will continue to be provided mainly by physicians working in clinics and hospitals.
Diseases. The incidence of genetic diseases will slowly but steadily be minimized in the next few centuries by genetic screening and engineering. Treatments for the major infectious, immunological and cancerous diseases will be developed through several more centuries of continued research. Curing the major neurological and aging-related diseases will take much of the coming millennium. Obesity and other nutritional diseases will be cured in the next two centuries by advances in pharmacology and in artificial foods. More and more forms of injury will be made non-lethal through surgery and repairable through transplants and prosthetics.
Longevity. Humans will increase their longevity by finding ways to preserve the body, the brain, and the mind. Expected and maximum human longevity will increase by at least thirty years by 2100. Will humans find a way to keep the body or at least the brain alive indefinitely?
Robotics will continuously increase in importance in manufacturing. Automation will make hardware design and manufacturing increasingly like software design and manufacturing. That is, absolute manufacturing costs will continuously drop, but design and development will remain relatively costly even while becoming absolutely more productive. Ultimately, the cost of material goods will be the amortized cost of specifying and designing them plus only the marginal energy required to manufacture and deliver them.
Disintermediation is the removal of intermediaries (such as retailers, sales agents, and brokers) from transactions between suppliers and consumers armed with information to which formerly only the intermediary had access. Disintermediation driven by information and communication technology will continue to make transactions cheaper and markets more efficient and pricing more competitive. Intermediaries will continue to disappear in markets where they enjoyed quasi-exclusive access to information (initially travel, auto retail) or where they retail fungible items that can be well-described through telepresence (initially books, music, electronics). Fixed pricing will increasingly give way to auctions and reverse auctions. Suppliers will continue to cut design and inventory costs by allowing consumers to directly specify what they want produced by the suppliers’ automated plants.
Disintermediation will continue to revolutionize or obsolete conventional practice in most brokerage markets. However, the markets themselves for money, equity, commodities, risk (insurance), and space (real estate) will operate indefinitely, joined by markets for natural-resource consumption and pollution.
Most service occupations that can be automated without artificial intelligence or mobile robotics have already been automated. Exceptions are some service occupations in industries like transportation and media, which will be automated in the coming decades using sophisticated (but not truly intelligent) information processing technology.
5.7.6. Social Science / Futurology / Sociopolitical Developments
Sociopolitical Developments: the trends and changes in how humans behave.
Human standards of living will continue to rise indefinitely because human productivity will continue to rise indefinitely. Productivity is a function of per-worker physical capital (investment), per-worker human capital (education), and capital efficiency (innovation). By 2300 most of humanity will approach the per-worker levels of education and physical capital of the original industrialized nations. Capital efficiency will continue to rise due to technological and industrial developments. The ultimate limit to terrestrial productivity and living standards will be heat pollution.
Economic globalization will continue as the developing world industrializes. By 2100 most of humanity will be using a common currency descended from the American dollar. Inflation will continue to be held to frictional levels of 1% to 3%, while real interest rates will remain indefinitely around 3%.
The workweek will continue to shorten until around 2300 when it reaches about 20 hours, where it will plateau due to psychological factors similar to those that fix humans’ daily transportation budget between 1 to 3 hours. Retirement age will continue to decrease on average while retirement itself becomes less clearly delineated. Careers will fade gradually into lengthy semi-retirements that include sabbaticals, avocational employment, and portfolio management. The share of personal income derived from investments will rise compared to that derived from wages. Increases in wealth and automation will minimize the need for labor but never eliminate the need for work. Rather, work will increasingly consist of analyzing and deciding what is to be made or done and how machines can make or do it.
How will the savings and discount rates be affected by increasing longevity? Why are the returns to capital less than its estimated 30% share of all production?
- tyranny, whether monarchic, autocratic, plutocratic, or ethnic;
- economic securitarianism, manifested as socialism and communism; and
- moral securitarianism, driven by fideist religion.
The Age of Liberation that erupted in 1989 will by 2020 have eliminated almost all overt tyranny. The major exception will be entrenched and sometimes subtle ethnic tyrannies that will linger for decades until asphyxiated by economic development and modernized communications. Socialism and communism having been discredited, economic securitarianism will linger (perhaps indefinitely) only as the sustaining sentiment behind welfare statism. The moral securitarianism motivated by fideist religion will remain the most serious global obstacle to human liberty, and will not fade until roughly 2100.
Global government will emerge slowly over the next few hundred years, as global regulatory bodies are set up to handle more and more government functions. Thus global government will emerge not necessarily from the UN and EU but from organizations like ISO and WTO. Only by around 2500 will there be a truly global federal government with sovereign legislative, executive, and judicial powers. Any extra-planetary colonies will be federated into the global government no differently than terrestrial political units. Only the communications latency of interstellar colonization would create the need for sovereignties independent of Earth’s.
Private property and relatively free markets will endure indefinitely. Absolute poverty will continue to diminish as per-capita productivity continues to rise. Institutional relative poverty will continue in the absence of social policies to discourage dependency and encourage private accumulation of human and financial capital. Digital reproduction and distribution of copyrighted expressions will become increasingly rampant and could only be deterred through Gestapo-style inspections of digital watermarks. As a result, copyright will by 2040 be redefined to limit only commercial competition with the owner and abuses of attribution. Purchasing of copyrighted expression will be replaced by voluntary micropayments (of money or attention) made directly to copyright owners.
Packet-switched communication technology will affect politics only in limited ways. Voters will have almost unlimited access to information about candidates’ positions, but unfortunately will remain too complacent to use that access effectively. There will be calls to let voters use regular electronic referenda to enact or at least veto legislation. Fortunately, it will be recognized that the electorate remains too uninformed and impulsive to allow this dangerous form of mob rule.
Enfranchisement of fetuses will gradually cease to be a hot issue in America because birth control by 2100 will have drastically reduced the incidence of abortion. Future-phobes will continue to oppose every advance in biotechnology, but in the end their opposition will succeed only when an advance threatens health or property and doesn’t just offend their moral sensibilities. Human consumption of meat and dairy will not be outlawed in the long term, as animal rights will not be extended beyond freedom from torture and extinction. These animal rights will be recognized in machines when by 2200 they exhibit convincing affect and possess artifactual life. Around the same time, such machines will be recognized as persons if they exhibit artificial intelligence.
Vice. Electronic gambling and pornography will become available to any adult who wants them, and adult access to prostitution will continue to expand. Most psychotropics will be legalized by 2150, especially as neurochemistry becomes more able to manage the problems of addiction and withdrawal. Tobacco and alcohol will remain legal. Firearms licensing will become increasingly strict, but even handguns will remain legal for some people to own.
Humans will indefinitely remain pair-bonded and omnivorous. The number of native human languages will continue to decline drastically as smaller societies become linguistically absorbed into larger ones. English will become increasingly widespread, especially as a second language. Its status as the global second language will enable it to become the native language of a majority of humans by 2600, and of 90% of humans by 3000. A parallel process of increasing intermarriage will significantly blur racial and ethnic distinctions.
When by around 2300 the rest of humanity has closed the development gap with the industrialized world, Earth’s population will stabilize near 20 billion. Increasing longevity will result in an average age decades older than ever before. Any progress toward indefinite longevity will, as is typical of increases in living standards, probably decrease the birth rate. The long-term population of the Earth will be limited primarily by heat pollution.
Genetic engineering will increasing allow parents to screen and tune the traits of their children. Sale of gametes and surrogacy services will become more widely accepted. Cloning will mainly be used for reasons of sentimentality and reproductive difficulty. Eugenics will never be a mandatory social policy, but widespread voluntary genetic engineering will have a similar effect.
Religion will decline due to the ongoing loss of faith. Christianity will be hollowed out and diluted into a bland mysticism. Islam will follow along the same track but about 150 years behind. Being already more mystical, Hinduism and especially Buddhism will linger as phenomena more ethnocultural than religious, much like Judaism and Shintoism already are.
Copyright 2001-2003 Brian Holtz
Brian Holtz’s online book: Human Knowledge: Foundations and Limits