Earlier this year I posted a few blogs dealing with short-term predictions about the future. A few daring souls have taken the long view and predicted what life might look like some hundred years from now. The thing that always strikes me about early science fiction movies that depict the future is that completely missed miniaturization except perhaps for “ray guns.” So I’m not too sanguine about anybody’s ability to predict things very far into the future. Before looking forward, however, let’s look to past. A hundred years ago:
- The average life expectancy in the United States was forty-seven.
- Only 14 percent of the homes in the United States had a bathtub.
- Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone. A three minute call from Denver to New York City cost eleven dollars.
- There were only 8,000 cars in the US and only 144 miles of paved roads.
- The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.
- The five leading causes of death in the U.S. were: 1. Pneumonia and influenza 2. Tuberculosis 3. Diarrhea 4. Heart disease 5. Stroke
- Plutonium, insulin, and antibiotics hadn’t been discovered yet. Scotch tape, crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn’t been invented.
- Punch card data processing had recently been developed, and early predecessors of the modern computer were used for the first time by the government to help compile the 1900 census.
Based on what has happened over the past hundred years, it doesn’t take a seer to predict that life expectancy is likely to increase, communications will improve, transportation will change, medical care will evolve, and new products will be invented. Specifics in each of those areas are much more difficult to predict. In this first part of this two-part series, I’ll look at articles written in 2006 and 2008 — before the Great Recession. The first article I discovered doesn’t just leap a century ahead; rather, it provides headlines along the way. [“What will life be like 100 years from now?” by Patrick Moore, The Independent, 8 November 2006] “Speculation can be dangerous,” Moore writes, “especially when science is at the mercy of power-drunk politicians. I have done my best here to indicate what I think may happen, provided that there are no more global wars.” He also notes that no one can predict when natural disasters may hit or the consequences that may follow. By looking at events Moore predicted were going to take place between 2007 and now, he demonstrates how difficult it is to predict the future — even the near-term future.
Moore predicted, for example, the “discovery of a Neptune-sized planet far beyond the Kuiper Belt” in 2007 that would explain “the Pioneer Anomaly – the unexpected deviation from the expected trajectory for very distant spacecraft – as well as the highly eccentric orbits of certain minor astronomical bodies such as Sedna.” It didn’t happen. He predicted that in 2008, “dark matter” would be “partly explained.” It didn’t happen [see “Ambitious search fails to find dark matter,” World Science, 11 April 2011]. He predicted that in 2010 “Britain’s newly elected government looks at restoring the Royal Greenwich Observatory” and that a consortium of developed nations would build “the Incredibly Large Telescope.” Britain did get a new government, but the other predictions didn’t happen. Although Moore gets off to a shaky start, we will bravely press on with the rest of his predictions:
- 2016 Preliminary lunar base set up in the Mare Frigoris of the Moon, in preparation for permanent human habitation; first a medical centre is established there. The first radio telescope is set up on the far side of the Moon, where conditions are totally radio-quiet. It soon begins to identify quasars and starburst galaxies at distances of over 13.6 thousand million light years away from Earth – objects from a time not that long after the Big Bang.
- 2018 Completion of the ILT set up at the Fred Hoyle Observatory in Tibet. During initial testing it identifies Earth-mass planets around the stars Epsilon Eridani and Delta Pavonis, providing direct images and showing that their atmospheres are oxygen-rich. The presence of oxygen is a strong indicator of the presence of life.
- 2019 Rho Cassiopeiae explodes as a hypernova and peaks at magnitude -8. X-ray emissions and neutrino showers are picked up by observatories on Earth, in space and on the Moon. A search for gravitational waves is initiated – they were predicted by Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity in 1915 but remained largely theoretical. In most northern-hemisphere observatories, routine work is suspended so that attention can be focused upon Rho Cassiopeiae.
- 2022 Gravitational waves detected. Theorists in London, Cambridge and Tokyo show that the acceleration of the expanding Universe is due to slight variations in the value of the gravitational constant, and that the present phase of expansion is likely to be succeeded by a period of contraction ending in what may be called a new Big Bang.
- 2028 Nuclear device deliberately exploded close to the asteroid Apophis, in order to divert the space-based object and prevent its collision with the Earth in 2036. Though this experiment is successful, the future movements of Apophis will be carefully monitored by the Lunar Observatory and by the VLT and ILT. Apophis seems to be a monolithic body, making it even more of a threat.
- 2033 First manned expedition to Mars; there is a controlled landing on its moon Deimos (a natural space station) followed by the astronauts’ descent to Mars itself in the Martian Module. Rovers Spirit and Opportunity found to be fully functional once given new batteries. Solar radiation levels are found to be tolerable.
- 2039 Onset of prolonged solar minimum with few sunspots or coronal mass ejections (CMEs). This marks the start of the end of global warming on Earth. Theory predicts an interim period, followed by a phase of global cooling. Conditions similar to those of the Little Ice Age (1645-1715) are expected towards the end of the century.
- 2060 First major ‘city’ on Mars (Port Lowell) leads to plans for new settlements. Life is found in newly discovered seas below the Martian surface. The most advanced life forms resemble jellyfish that were common in Earth’s oceans hundreds of millions of years ago. Tests show that the Martian jellyfish are not poisonous; indeed, they are, in fact, edible – a rich source of nutrition for the human colony.
- 2064 Manned landings on Halley’s Comet at the time of perihelion – its closest approach to the Sun. No bacteria are found, weakening Fred Hoyle’s argument that new diseases and epidemics on Earth could have been spread by rocks entering the Earth’s atmosphere from space. Transmitters attached to the comet will allow tracking all around its orbit; recording devices will send back data about Kuiper Belt objects and the remote planet Thanatos, with its three known satellites.
- 2075 New settlement completed in the Hellas basin on Mars (Port Antoniadi), including an observatory equipped with the ULT (Unbelievably Large Telescope). Martian scientists receive the first artificial signal from space found to come from a planet orbiting Epsilon Eridani. Attempts to interpret the signal are not successful. Reply sent.
- 2099 Space elevator completed and linked with the orbiting ACS (Arthur Clarke Station). Fossil fuels are now almost obsolete and monitoring by the ACS shows that atmospheric pollution has been dramatically reduced.
- 2107 Celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the space age (4 October 1957 according to the Earth calendar) are followed by hostilities between the American Federation and the Sino-Japanese Confederacy. The crisis was sparked by a dispute regarding the issue of licences for mining rights of asteroids. Martian colonists declare a UDI (Universal Declaration of Independence).
Frankly, I’m not sure that the rest of Moore’s predictions have any greater chance of coming true than the predictions he made about years past. He is not alone, however, in predicting things like space tourism and space elevators or the continuation of conflict.
A couple of years after Moore made his predictions, a site called Shvoong.com, which advertises itself as “the global source for summaries & reviews,” published a summary of predictions made by Professor Prof. P. A. Varghese [“Life After 100 Years!“] The summary starts out with a prediction with which Moore would probably agree. “In about 100 years, organized tours will be frequent to the space and moon.” On a more pragmatic level, Varghese predicts that “the internet would have already taken every nook and corner of the earth in detail to the drawing rooms of peoples’ homes.” I don’t really have a problem with the latter prediction. I believe the Internet will reach all corners of the earth sooner rather than later and it will probably be delivered through a smartphone or other personal communication device rather than a PC.
Varghese sees a very dark future for the nuclear family. He believes that women will spearhead this decline as they opt out of traditional marriage arrangements and forego child bearing. As a result, Varghese predicts that in a hundred years “the population will dwindle in all the advanced countries.” That’s a pretty safe prediction since we are already seeing that trend unfold. Most demographic forecasts predict the global population will stabilize or start decreasing around 2050. Another development that he believes will accelerate the decline of the traditional family and marriage is the widespread use of “gene banks” that will help create “super-intelligent and disease free kids.” In a hundred years he believes that scientists will have perfected “genetic engineering.”
Like Ray Kurzweil, Varghese believes that over the next century “biomedicine and biotechnology will advance fast. Man would have succeeded in conquering the ageing process and the average age of man will cross hundred and ten in all the advanced countries.” For more on Kurzweil’s thoughts about the future, read my post entitled Looking towards the Future with Ray Kurzweil. When man finally conquers death, something both Varghese and Kurzweil think possible, Varghese believes that organized religion will collapse. As he writes, “The moment man conquers death, the death of god is certain.”
When it comes to financial activity, I believe Varghese’s predictions are already outmoded. He predicts that “credit cards will replace the medium of exchange. Currency notes will be on the wane.” In many developing countries, cellphone transactions are already replacing many traditional currency or credit card transactions. Varghese apparently believes that scientists and agronomists will figure out how to feed the global population. He predicts:
“A revolution can be expected in the food habits and food production. The elaborate cooking now seen commonly will be gone. Ready made foods that will tickle the taste buds of man will replace the traditionally cooked meals. Food making and consumption will undergo drastic changes.”
One prediction that surprised me — and with which I strongly disagree — is that “the poor nations of the world will be still be a century or two behind.” I’m not willing to concede that poor nations are currently “a century or two behind” let alone that they will be in a hundred years. It is hard to find a place on the planet where cellphones are not already present. Most analysts see a much better world for emerging and frontier market nations. On a brighter note, Varghese sees a greener world. He writes:
“Solar energy would have replaced conventional fossil-fuel based sources. Wind energy would be tapped too. Attempts would be made too at the tidal resources. The roads would be less polluted with solar powered automobiles. Homes would be using solar power. No appreciable climate change is expected as this large earth has the resilient power to absorb minor changes in the content of its atmospheric gases. There will no serious warming nor any flooding of low areas. The eco system will go on undisturbed. Some more species will go extinct and new ones would be discovered.”
When it comes to forms of transportation other than automobiles, Varghese predicts, “Pilot-less aircraft, submarines and ships will ply in their respective areas.” Finally, he doesn’t see an end to war or the emergence of world government (conspiracy theorists rest easy!). From my perspective, Varghese goes too far in some of his predictions and not far enough in others. Often he is so vague or general that he reminds me of Nostradamus. In the second part of this two-part series, I will look at a more recent article that provides predictions that the author claims are based in proven principles of physics. Perhaps surprisingly, you will see some of the predictions mentioned above mentioned again.