At this time every year I try and think what the future might be like after reviewing different sources and what follows is the latest edition of this annually updated projection. Predicting the future is very difficult and a review of previous similar predictions suggests that even the cleverest minds often get most things wrong. Nevertheless I still think its a useful exercise to consider what possibilities and problems might arise and how they might be tackled. Despite the often gloomy future thoughts, I'm still very hopeful about what lies ahead. The human race survived the Ice Ages which were an enormous environmental challenge especially as humanity was less technologically advanced at that point.
Possible Future Timeline
as of 30th December 2010
Following the recession of 2009/10, Prime Minister Cameron introduces welfare cuts across the board, defence cuts and cuts in public services generally. Whilst the UK economy slowly recovers, massive social dislocation occurs as a result resulting in, amongst other things, a divided country along several lines.
Whilst the UK economy grows for the first half of 2011, by the summer the public sector cuts are starting to affect spending, in particular affecting retailers later in the year in the run to Xmas 2011. After rising for the first half of 2011, the stock market falls in the latter half.
World populations passes 7 billion.
More and more parents take greater direct control in the genetic make up of their children. This begins with selective efforts to rule out hereditary conditions and ethical considerations are sidelined due to the pragmatic nature of these selections. Major warfare involving developed nations always commences with unmanned aircraft and land vehicles. Infantry are engaged only in later stages.
A further general election occurs, which the Conservatives lose. Whilst the cuts made to government spending coupled with lower taxation would in the long term have a great beneficial effect on the economy, in the short term the effects are harsh and unpopular. There is no “Falklands Factor” to boost his popularity with the electorate. Labour are returned to power under the new Prime Minister Ed Miliband.
Private space companies now have their own space stations for tourists to visit, designed for comfort and a pleasant experience. Nuclear proliferation is now a significant global security concern. Advanced developing nations have developed civilian nuclear power ostensibly to achieve carbon emission reduction targets yet it is clear these programmes can be put to more sinister uses.
The UK economy has been dwindling for all of this decade and by 2017 the UK has joined the Euro. Further reductions in the UK economic power leads to less of the traditional opposition to a federal Europe and when a full European federal state is formally proposed in 2019, the UK joins.
World population is 8 billion.
The fastest computers now approach human levels of intelligence, at least on a superficial basis. Genetic design of organisms is now possible, along with genetic engineering of babies. Parents are now able to pay to ensure their babies have the best chance of being resistant to disease or health problems. Nano technology has now reached a workable stage in which large scale commercial operations can commence.
Large scale eradication of the world’s wildlife continues apace leading to the loss of many megafauna species. Global climate change has lead to widespread national conflicts. Peak oil production has passed and the world has to convert to other energy sources. The world economy is wrecked by the trauma of moving away from its petroleum basis.
What used to be the UK has become part of the industrial work base of the European super state, with its hard working and well educated populace. London proves to be a powerful player in the European federal state.
During the 2020s, London is targeted by terrorists using nuclear blackmail as a weapon. Only the incompetence of the terrorists saves London from being destroyed.
By 2029 the population of the UK is around 70 million.
Global climate change continues to be a major challenge for global society. Coastal areas of the developing world (as it continues to be called) are seriously affected, leading to serious refugee problems with waves of environmental refugees entering developed countries. Agriculture is greatly affected leading to rising food costs and wide spread starvation. The average global temperature has increased by around 2 to 3 C compared to 1990 levels.
World population surpasses 8.5 billion.
Artificial intelligence is now superior to human intelligence in many respects; virtual persons exist online and robots (of all shapes and sizes) can appear to be more intelligent than people. The notion of “intelligence” is often equated more with machine intelligence than human. This experience starts to challenge the conception of what intelligence and consciousness actually mean. Nano technology is wide spread and easily available.
A permanent Lunar base now exists and humans have visited Mars as well.
Humanity has now diversified genetically for the first time in thousands of years; this time it is between “natural” humans and those who have been enhanced by genetic engineering. No conflict between the two types exists though due to the graduation in differences between the two.
Environmental degradation now at its peak. Global climate change has greatly affected the world’s ecosystems. Mammalian megafauna is now virtually non-existent outside of carefully guarded reserves. Projects for the preservation of the world’s genetic diversity now take the form of storing genetic information as opposed to preserving habitats or species directly. World population is 9 billion, the vast majority of which live in what can only be described as miserable conditions.
Energy use is now via non-petroleum sources – all the economically accessible oil resources have been extinguished. Famine now widespread due to continual increase in basic food prices since the beginning of the 21st century.
The environment of the British Isles has degraded greatly due to the industrial work carried out here. It has a population approaching 80 million.
Global climate change is now a profound challenge to the progression of human civilization and by this point has reached 4 C compared to 1990 levels. In northern and southern latitudes the temperature change is even more pronounced leading to the virtually complete melting of the Arctic Ice. Many large cities are threatened by flooding due to increased sea levels. The effect of climate change on different countries’ weather and therefore agriculture (along with to a lesser extent exceptional natural weather such as tornadoes) creates a constant refugee problem, entailing massive human suffering and societal problems for host nations.
Energy use now derived from solar energy and other renewable sources. Space elevator, allowing for cheap access to space, now constructed. Large human presence in space including settlements on artificial constructions in space such as O’Neill habitats, lunar bases and Martian exploratory encampments. There is no differentiation between biological (or human) intelligence and the artificial. Both complement each other.
World population is now growing much more slowly and is around 10 billion. Most of the growth in population takes place in Africa. Environmental conditions have now stabilised and species destruction has slowed. Cultural engineering now seen as alternative description of societal evolution.
The population of the UK has reached 100 million.
By 2150 world population is projected to approach 12 billion. Ultimately with development of the asteroid belt and other bodies within the solar system, the sentient population could be in the trillions.
Potential Threats to Human Existence:
Accidental or malign release of biological or nano-tech weapon/agent.
Global nuclear war (especially following large scale rearming).
Emergence of hostile artificial super intelligence.
Collision between Earth and a Near Earth Object.
Solar Flare or other astronomical phenomenon.
Some other threat unknown at this point, including the emergence of some naturally occurring disease or medical condition.