- Increasing disruption caused by climate change. Extreme weather events, environmental refugees, conflicts over water, famine.
- Antibiotics becoming increasingly ineffective
- Living in a massively connected world. Emergent diseases, trans-national political movements, terrorism, weakened states pushed to the point of collapse.
- Severe disruption caused by climate change. Large-scale movement of people and animals from uninhabitable areas, frequent resource conflicts.
- Food shortages caused by habitat depletion. Famine and death. Breakdown of international trade.
- Pressure towards authoritarian government systems as a response to the above. Fascism, militarism, large-scale conflict.
100 years: No idea. Singularity? Aliens arrive?
2) Big Data takeover by government (citizen profiling) and private sector (financial and health discrimination)
3) Youth-based uprisings changing the political landscape (driven by unemployment)
But I think all these issues will play a wake-up call. Societies will become less self-centered, with less nationalism, less exceptionalism, and with more involvement and cooperation. There is already a rise in positive social activism. Kids are watching less TV and young people don't read newspapers, I love that! Lies are quickly demystified on places like Twitter.
The negative impact will matter mostly on how early people decide to get involved.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desalination ($0.30/gallon in US, not viable)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8moePxHpvok Adam Curtis on "Oh Dear"-ism
On the flipside they're also spreading quicker.
1. Climate change/environmental damage. This won't kill us all, I think, but could majorly lower our quality of life.
2. Overpopulation/mass migrations. Nigeria's population is predicted to be over a billion by the end of this century - an 8-fold increase. India's population growth isn't slowing down either. It does look as though humanity's population will peak at around 9/10 billion - but this will be predominantly within the most unstable regimes. Expect mass movement of refuges, further destabilising governments in advanced economies, fuelling further growth in mass surveillance, etc.
3. The singularity. This one could kill us all. Or it could become the AI philosopher-king that solves all our other problems.
● One of the guys from "One Direction" comes out as gay.
● Kate Middleton's exposed nipple at an event sparks outrage from the Queen.
I think my predictions are a more realistic portrait of the things media and society find important. For those who don't get it: I'm trying to say that "people's ability to know what's important, care about what's important, and change what's important" are the 3 most pressing issues.
1.) Automation, intelligent agents, and the end of wage labour as a means of redistributing money. Unconditional Basic Incomes will need to be phasing in by the end of the decade, or else we'll be in substantial trouble.
2.) Solar becoming cheaper than petrochemicals, increasingly high-density and fast-charging forms of electricity storage, and the very substantial disruptions (both positive and negative) this will entail. Geopolitically, Copper and Rare Earth Elements become the new oil.
3.) The collapsing legitimacy of Western Democracy as an institution, as it crumbles under the pressure of crony capitalism and a pervasive surveillance state. Western democracies will look more and more like China, rather than vice versa, prompting increasing Ukraine/Brazil-style unrest throughout the Western world (particularly acute if issue #1 is not dealt with). Many will propose new forms of governance (ala Liquid Democracy) but they won't be implemented within this timeframe.
Top three issues in 50 years:
1.) Climate change impacts will be maximally hitting the fan at this point. A significant migration away from flood- and storm-lashed coastlines. Adaptation measures (eg. seawall construction) will be big business; cowboy geoengineering efforts will be one of the main thing that starts wars.
2.) This will be right around peak population (~9.3 billion). Combined with pervasive automation, standards of living will have risen dramatically, particularly in Asia and Africa. Although technologies will generally be more efficient and ephemeral, the combination of rising population + rising wealth means that peak resource consumption will be right about now. Competition over resources will reach its peak.
3.) Driven in part by the above conflicts, and in part by the dramatically falling cost of spaceflight (~2 orders of magnitude cheaper than than today), it will now make sense to begin importing significant amounts of energy and material from beyond the Earth. The opening of this frontier will entail a host of political, legal, and commercial conflicts.
(#1 and #2 are really the killer issues here. This is the moment when technological civilisation gets has to thread the eye of its needle.)
Top three issues in 100 years:
1.) How to support a sharply ageing and decreasing global population?
2.) How to integrate sentient AIs and highly modified humans into society?
3.) Sovereignty for the small-but-growing off-world colonies?
1) Automation of human jobs has been happening since the beginning of the industrial revolution. It may end up being a serious problem for us, but I see no reason why the next ten years will be so different than the last 50. [Edit: Maybe it was a mistake to mention the industrial revolution. My main point is that why will the automation from 2014-2024 be significantly different than the automation from 2004-2014? I agree that automation will continue, but I am skeptical that we'll hit some breaking point.]
2) Solar is getting cheap, I agree. Nonetheless, there's no way in a mere ten years that we can manufacture TW of solar panels and upgrade the grid to handle them. The grid is extremely capital intensive, and power plants and power lines have lifetimes of ~50 years. Again, I agree with your assessment of the trend, but disagree with the timespan. 10 years from now things will look similar to how they look today.
3) Collapse of Western Democracy because of capitalism and pervasive surveillance? It hasn't happened in the last fifty years; what's different about the next ten?
I think the difference is the mechanism of automation. The cotton gin meant the millions cotton pickers were out of cotton picking work, but this was being somewhat offset by increased low-skill, low-intelligence factory work elsewhere. Inventions disrupted and enabled greater individual productivity in single verticals of work: cotton picking, logistics (steam engines), circular saw, etc. These productivity innovations enabled a single person to do the work of dozens or hundreds.
Today, robots are removing the need for a human at all in not just one but effectively every low skill, low intelligence job. We're not far from a world where the great automated farms that feed the majority of the US are run by a few people making sure a swarm of end to end farming machines aren't broken down. This will happen in the next 10 years. Slightly different robots are already automating logistics in warehouses, and soon they'll be driving our commercial trucks. They'll fly our planes, build our buildings, our cars, our electronics. Oh, you say, but someone needs to build the robots. Robots build the robots. They build the robots that build the robots. There will need to be people who design and program and repair the robots, but none of that is low skill or low education; the cotton picker of today couldn't build or design or repair a robot. It's impossible to predict the future, but the nature of accelerating returns suggests that in the next 50 years we will replace almost every low skill job worth automating. Notable exceptions are human facing jobs in the service industry, though I expect innovation will change things pretty wildly there as well. Looking at you, accountants.
The TL;DR: the difference between today and the industrial revolution is that robotics is capable of automating almost any low skill job, rather than enabling greater productivity for humans doing the job.
2.) Yes, the apparatus of the oil industry has a long lifespan and will have tremendous inertia, and I think we're in agreement that the balance of power production will be nowhere close to having shifted by then. However by the end of this decade, the writing will very much be on the wall as far as the petrochemicals are concerned, and energy companies and governments will be much more proactive about scrambling for a position (territory and IP-wise) in the post-oil world than they are today -- even though the actual balance of production will probably take a further 20 years to shift to solar.
3.) What's different about the next 10, relative to the last 50? 50 years ago, the Western Democracies hadn't dropped taxes on the rich to historically low levels, leading to the most extreme wealth inequalities in history; hadn't built a domestic surveillance apparatus surpassing the wildest dreams of the East German Stasi; hadn't militarised their police forces; and (fairly brief Red Scares notwithstanding) were more outwardly-directed in their paranoia, rather than declaring perpetual "wars" (largely upon their own populations) in the names drugs and terrorism and such. All of these are corrosive to democracy, and it's pretty obvious to me that toxicity has reached very unhealthy and ultimately unsustainable levels.
[Edit: Just to be clear, I didn't say that Western Democracy will collapse in this decade; I said that its legitimacy will collapse (arguably is collapsing right now), which is something else. This has both internal repercussions in the nature of the political discourse/conflict, and external repercussions in that Western-style Democracy will less and less be what the rest of world aspires to. Also to be clear: I'm a big fan of Western Democracy -- more than any other form of government around -- I just think that in practice, they've been buggering things up pretty badly for the last decade or two, and consequently are going to have an extremely challenging decade relative to much of the rest of the world.]
1) Heating a room up is easy, cooling it down is hard. High temperatures exponentially decrease the productivity and/or increase the need for energy.
2) It is very hard to purify water and clean water is very scarce. Water is the most important dependency of life.
So my answer would be:
1) Lack of clean water supplies
2) Global warming
3) Disastrous combination of both
Along with that, I'm unconvinced that schools (American public schools, at any rate) are doing enough to prepare today's children for tomorrow's economy. Some big names have come out in support of more techno-centric curricula, specifically stressing the importance of learning to code, but I feel that will not be enough.
Instead, we need to be reinvesting in art and creativity (along with more robust rosters of STEM classes) because, as of right now, true and good art cannot really be supplanted by our new machine overlords. I want to live in a future where the artist coming out of university is viewed as a greater boon to society than a CS major, because quite frankly I don't think that making code that can do in a tenth of a second what used to take a flesh'n'bone person ten seconds to do is really super important to humanity.
2. Somewhat related, I think that the gap between the rich and poor is again going to come to a head. Occupy wall street was a bunch of foolish people thinking that being upset would be enough to affect change. I think that the next wave of this sentiment will not be so naive. In my opinion, the way to "fix" this is to start taxing ALL income and capital gains of over $150,000 at 20% scaling up to 35% for when somebody is making more than a half million dollars per annum. That money would be, for real, just given out to the rest of the people, no strings attached. Tying back to my first point: the labour market won't need as many labourers (especially those who can't computer good) but I don't think that we should hold it against the people who were trapped in the wrong time for working. This is, of course, wishful thinking because congress's policies are dictated much more by money than what would be good for the general population.
3. I still don't think that the shit has hit the fan in terms of the Snowden disclosures. I think that the revelation of the shameful acts of US intelligence gathering has irreversibly altered America's place in the world in ways that won't become apparent for a good while yet. I believe that we're starting to get to better grips with what a global communication/data infrastructure means for society as a whole, and a big challenge will be defining, for the global population, what should and should not be done with this technology.
Economics is about maximizing consumption and the goal should be to give all people the opportunity to consume what they need. Real wealth = the goods and services that are produced and consumed in the economy and ultra rich people do not consume very much of it. Yeah, they hoard financial assets -thereby hurting the economy- which tends to reduce circulation of money which leads to reduction of income for everyone else. Yes, this income leak can be solved by taxation and re-distribution. But this is politically painful. Maybe it would be better to give on to Caesar what is Caesear's and let the rich keep their hordes because money sitting in a bank doing nothing is irrelevant. Would be better to focus on distributing wealth to the middle and lower classes on a much larger scale through government spending and reduction of taxes.
1) Payroll taxes to be paid by Fed for workers.
2) Income or Job Guarantee program with living wage and full benefits.
3) Massive federal infrastructure spending on a WWII like scale. Triple down on the deficit.
4) Regulate, Regulate , Regulate. Get money out of politics.
5) Online/Mobile voting system mandate.
6) De-financialize the economy: Return banking system to pre 1980's model where banks make loans and hold them. Strict controls on financial leverage. No borrowing using financial assets as collateral.
7) Tax rentier income higher than earned income.
And beyond that, scaling up to 80-90 percent above 100 million. If this strikes fear in people's hearts, that would be a feature in my estimate. Moving to Switzerland is always an option. Realistically speaking, the implementation of something like this will be a decades-long project, because money translates directly into political power in the US at this time, so there would be a lot of effective resistance to be overcome for an extended period. But things are what they are, and I'm kind of ok with that.
We'll run out of food. In about 2025 the global population will start to surpass what can be sustained by the available arable land in the world. We can't use more fertilisers or water (because most crops under intensive cultivation are already close to their theoretical maximum yields). We can't just use more land because it's not suitable for agriculture because of salinity, contamination, substrate or climate.
We are essentially fucked: unless we can increase the maximum yield potential of a whole suite of staple crops by ~50%, or make about 50% more land available for food production, famine starts to become a really big problem. It hasn't been that big of a problem since the mid-1900s. Famine means war, disease, death. Some of the most atrocious things humans have ever done were done because of famine.
There are some promising scientific efforts to raise potential crop yields underway, but as someone working on them I can tell you they probably won't be ready in time without massive changes in science funding or a series of lucky breakthroughs. It's still worth trying really, really hard, because this is the least painful way to prevent disaster.
An alternative is to completely restructure the way we produce food. Vertical farming is attractive if we can find the raw materials to make it happen, but that won't be feasible until people are already starving.
Another alternative is for everyone to stop eating meat. Animals are ~5-10x less efficient to produce in terms of input resources per calorie output than plants. I hope this happens. Cows first, then sheep, then pigs. Wiping out those three would have us covered.
After about 2050 the world population peaks and starts to decrease, then things get easier. But there's a good chance a whole shitload of people die very young, very painfully in the meantime.
Forty -five years ago Paul Ehrlich wrote "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate."
Even if you agree with his central thesis, its fair to say that we're two generations removed from 1970, and we're not seeing what he predicted.
And since 1970, the world hunger situation has almost uniformly improved. Now I certainly don't believe that the Earth has unlimited resources, and there is a finite capacity of arable land, but I think you may be very premature.
But as the planet warms, our current(mostly depleted) cropland will produce less while places closer to the poles will start being cultivated for similar crops.
A warmer world in equilibrium would not be the problem; our main problem is that we are set up for this configuration as stable (location of cities, local knowledge, crops, culture, ..) and it will be hard to adapt on the way to a new equilibrium, because the conditions are constantly changing.
The problem is corporate welfare: the big meat producers in the USA get $50billion a year in water subsidies -- that must stop.
1) Retiring baby boomers have no savings, retirements and no plan for retirement. Over the next 10 years, a lot of people will be entering retirement age in the US with no plan for surviving. Demand for government services will increase dramatically, many people will be very upset when they find out that they barely have enough money to eat.
2) Student loans should cause a drag on the economy as many, many young Americans will be pressured by paying nearly 10% of their income (which represents a much larger percentage of disposable income). Savings rates will be negatively impacted as well.
These two issues have no known solution and will both be huge underlying issues facing Americans in the next 10 years. They are certain, not hypothetical.
That's enormous, but only in the ballpark of $15,000 per working person in the U.S. Spread it over a decade and it's still not a payment I would wish on anybody for no reason, but entirely manageable (and presumably only a portion of the payment represents an actual economic drag, some people get quite some benefit from schooling).
2. $15,000 per working person in the US is a massive number of dollars per person. The medium US income is only about $50,000. Even if you spread the number out over 10 years (which would of course also increase the total interest paid), you are talking about $1,500 a year, which would be roughly 100% of people's discretionary income.
3. The number is growing and will continue to grow forever which means that the drag increases overtime, not that it gets paid off.
4. The student loans any individual borrows may individually benefit them relative to others, but there is no reason to believe that the total revenue (salary) grows at the same rate as the drag caused by the increase in debt service on a macro scale.
Its $1 trillion + interest that will drag on the economy for many, many, many years. You can't look at the trees in the forest to rationalize away the problem this huge debt load will have on the economy.
But now you are complaining that $1500 is too much.
1. The continuing deliberation about how much privacy is useful, and for what.
2. The continuing erosion of the middle class.
3. Legacy Rails applications.
2. riots over collapsing economies
3. education costs
Potable water worth more than gold in some countries
Potable water priceless
1. The continuing destruction of the worlds Ocean/Aquatic ecosystems. We are far more dependent on free flowing clean water and the ecosystems tied to it than most realize.
2. The coming explosion of biological technology. This could be massively positive or negative depending on how it shakes out.
3. Revolution/Information control wars. Arab Spring, NSA scandals, and groups like Anonymous all seem like a prelude to me. The Internet was a game changer in numerous ways. On the internet real groups of people can have massive power and in part effect real change. A lot of people are starting to see that power and want to control it.
I feel that what Kapura said about the Occupy movement is partly true, I do believe it did some good in raising awareness, but being pissed off is not that effective in building positive change. The whole street protest thing is, in my opinion, more about what feels right than what works, and it's time for us to be pragmatic.
Awareness building is important, but what's even more important is building a viable alternative to our current system, a viable alternative that doesn't require strongly held political beliefs in order to be compelling. Part (and I should stress only 'part') of that viable alternative will be technology that serves the needs of the many whilst helping us to have a better symbiotic relationship with the world we all live in. Start thinking of what that tech might be like. As Alan Kay said, the best way to predict the future is to invent it.
In the longer run, the issues that threaten humanity as a whole, rather than as individuals, are as important. Things like: (1) Water/energy availability, both singly and combined. (2) Global climate change. (3) Local environmental quality (air, water, food). Of course, all of these are linked, but when working on solutions it still makes sense to think about them individually.
Despite the press we'll be fine for energy and climate.
Water: too much in some places, not enough in other places.
Increased starvation and disease, from drought, mono-cultural industrial production of food from the likes of Monsanto and ADM, and constant and spreading low grade war from national militaries above and local militarized police forces below.
Economic catastrophe caused by revolution or effective dissolution of the United States and other current economic leaders.
2. The ability of people to not live in fear of their community. I think people sequester themselves into Facebook echo chambers because they don't know that there is nothing to fear of people who don't 100% agree with them.
3. The ability of people to not live in fear of themselves. The ability to stop placing faith in the systems that others provide us, to act as a sovereign individual and find ones own path, to take personal "risks" (which, certainly for 1st world citizens, don't much amount to real risk) to be able to do more meaningful, productive work that is more beneficial to our fellow man. We aren't going to solve the worlds problems by listening to our parents and our guidance counselors and going to a "good" college and getting a "good" job. The only way to save the world is to ignore the advice of the people who broke it in the first place.
It's a pretty easy formula. Just eliminate fear.
I say "hopefully" because I'm not wholly convinced that many countries will continue to be rich. I really hope so.
To know what issues we will encounter in the future you need to know what issues exist now.
- Increasing political instability in totalitarian regimes
- America will struggle with not having such a high standard of living relative to the rest of the world.
2. Competitive mentality (instead of collaborative)
3. Collateral damage caused by 1. and 2. (instead of care for our fellow human beings and our environment)
- The US Police State
- Increased Chinese, Japanese rivalry/aggression
Like the last 50 decades at least...
2. Lack of privacy
3. Inequality (the 0.1%)