13 February 2020

The rest of the century

We are now almost one-fifth of the way through the twenty-first century.  On a surface level it's been something of a disappointment, opening with the biggest terrorist attack in history and saddling us with Trump.  But look deeper and the picture is one of remarkable progress.  The internet has become a true forum of mass global communication, with the promise of real independence from governments and from censors, control freaks, and pearl-clutchers of every stripe.  Gay equality and marriage rights have triumphed across most of the Western world.  The decline of religion has accelerated, with fewer than two-thirds of Americans now identifying as Christian, and religious influence utterly collapsing in some countries like Ireland where it once dominated.  The world is investing massively in the transition to non-fossil-fuel energy, even if the US is temporarily absent from that fight.

If there's been one constant across the last four centuries, it's ever-accelerating technological progress and cultural change.  There have been setbacks for a few years in this or that country, but taking the long view, they're trivial compared to the overall trend.  It's a safe bet that that trend will continue.

Here are some things I expect will happen before the end of the twenty-first century:

1) Victory over global warming, by a combination of geoengineering and a massive world-wide shift to non-fossil-fuel energy.

2) General abandonment and rejection of the practice of meat-eating as barbaric and disgusting.

3) Decline of religion to near-irrelevance in the US, Latin America, and even the Middle East, similar to what has already happened in most of Europe.

4) Two or three more profound changes in cultural attitudes at least as fundamental as the sexual revolution or the shift toward acceptance of gay rights.

5) Unmanned space probes to some nearby stars, traveling at close to the speed of light, possibly microscopic.

6) A rigorous scientific explanation for the existence of consciousness and free will.

7) The majority of the "Third World" fully catching up to the West in prosperity and technological development.

8) Eradication of most disease.

9) Transition to a post-work, post-scarcity economy in which most production is done by machines, most humans do not need to work, and income is distributed mostly via systems like universal basic income unconnected with work.

10) A cure for the aging process, widely available in advanced countries, allowing individuals to remain young and postpone death as long as they choose, and eliminating the burden of a growing elderly population.  (So a lot of you may still be around at the end of 2100 to see how well I did with these predictions.)

11) Widespread integration of computer technology into the human brain, to increase human intelligence and expand the range of human sensory experience.

Here are some things I don't expect to happen during this century, if ever:

1) Displacement of English by another language as the dominant language of global communication.

2) A one-world government.

3) Large-scale use of nuclear weapons in a war.

4) China becoming the world's dominant power (unless it becomes a democracy, and probably not even then).

5) A civilizational collapse or abandonment of technological progress (unless caused by an unpredictable natural disaster such as a giant meteor impact).  A few countries may reject science for religion or "spirituality" of some kind, but such countries will rapidly fall behind and become irrelevant.  Most of the world will not follow that path.

6) Colonization of other planets, except in the sense of small manned scientific stations.

7) Contact with another intelligent species.

8) Teleportation (similar to the "transporter" on Star Trek).

9) Faster-than-light travel.

10) Time travel.


Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

I like how optimistic you are. I think human nature tends to be self-destructive in its mad race to hoard wealth and that'll be the end of civilization. But probably not in a century.
I think that yes, many of those things you believe will come to be are a big possibility (not everybody is a Trumpanzee) and some may be more doable than others.
Funny how I was just thinking that this administration has done all it has been able to do to precisely tear down most of the things you mention will be achieved by the end of the XXI century.
Hope springs eternal.


13 February, 2020 02:44  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

You have a very positive outlook!

13 February, 2020 04:21  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I follow the evidence where it leads -- read this guy for a comprehensive debunking of the gloom-and-doom mentality. And always remember that 96% of humanity lives outside the US. The problems and issues in this country aren't universal.

13 February, 2020 05:28  
Blogger Mary said...

You are an optimistic one! I’ll just be happy when trump and his co conspirators are long gone and can only hope the damage they will have inflicted can be reversed.

I will keep this post and look back every now and then, but then the accuracy of these predictions will come after I’m long gone.
I do agree with most you have said, but the deal breaker could be climate change and the unforeseen circumstances that could undo a lot of this optimism.

I do like to think about the long long view when I feel bummed out with the present.

13 February, 2020 05:46  
Blogger Mary said...

And speaking of the long long view, you might find some interesting tidbits here...Speculative ,of course


13 February, 2020 05:49  
Blogger Lady M said...

You are very positive - I gave up eating animal products last October and the health benefits are amazing. I hope the rest of the country catches on and we could reduce the burden on our health care system immensely.

13 February, 2020 07:16  
Anonymous Ole Phat Stu said...

In which category do you place the Singularity? (general AI).

I'm asking WHEN not IF it happens.

13 February, 2020 07:33  
Blogger Ami said...

My great grandfather penned his autobiography back in 1977. "8 Decades of Memoirs"

Self published the old fashioned way, hired a bookbinder. The whole book is in longhand. Amazing. I should post photos on my blog.

Anyway, Granddad spent a chapter talking about the things he'd seen in his lifetime. Marveled that he'd gone from horse and buggy to man on the moon. He said that things seemed to be growing exponentially. He speculated about what he might see in the future if he lived another 88 years (spoiler... he didn't).

His predictions included telephones with little TV screens so you could see who you were talking to, cars that didn't require gasoline but could go long distances, more space travel and a time when much of our work would be done by robots.

He was hopeful that we'd someday have time travel, though. And instantaneous transportation, although not the Star Trek variety, he thought maybe by 2050 there would be a unit in everyone's home.

13 February, 2020 08:43  
Blogger The New York Crank said...

>>The problems and issues in this country aren't universal.<<

Agreed, but they are spreading, like an epidemic. A few decades ago, Poland was free. Now it's unfreezing itself. In 1956 Hungary had a revolution to free itself of dictatorship. Now look.

The harm done by Donald Trump will live for decades after him and he has done virtually no good to br interred with his bones. I shudder to think where things are going.

As for nukes — just remember whose finger is currently on the button.

Yours very crankily,
The New York Crank

13 February, 2020 09:37  
Anonymous C u n d gulag said...

So, basically, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice," logic, reason, and empathy.

Hey, I can deal with that!

I won't see the 22nd Century - not even close - but you give me hope for a clean, sustainable, peaceful, curious, and intelligent future for humank8nd.

You've known me as Victor, but the moniker I've been using for over 15 years
is c u n d gulag.
I came up with that in the run-up to the Iraq lunacy.

Love this site!

13 February, 2020 09:51  
Blogger Mike said...

I think about the Roman empire and how we're not even halfway to the length of time it was around. And how long was the middle east the cradle of civilization with all the math geniuses it spawned? Look at it now. The one positive thing civilization has going for it as a good example is Germany. It got leveled during WWII but has made a great come back. With lots of help, but still...

13 February, 2020 14:37  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary: I think that by 2100 Trump will hardly even be remembered. Everything seems hugely inflated in importance while it's happening, relative to how it will look long-term.

That timeline is interesting, but I think it will be a lot less than 10,000 years from now that natural phenomena cease to be the dominant influences on Earth and at least its immediate neighborhood, due to the overwhelming effects of technology.

Lady M: It would reduce the burden on the land as well -- meat production is hugely inefficient.

Stu: Item 11 basically is the Singularity. Kurzweil may have been optimistic setting it in 2045, but it will certainly happen, probably in this century.

Ami: You definitely should post photos of that on your blog. He sounds like a very perceptive thinker.

Larry Niven made a good point about why time travel will never be invented, even if it is possible. If time travel is ever invented, it's almost inevitable that people will go into the past and change history (intentionally or unintentionally), no matter what rules exist to prevent this. Every time someone travels to the past, the whole subsequent timeline will change. This will keep happening until a timeline pops up in which nobody ever invents a time machine. At that point, the changing of history will stop, and so it's that history -- the one with no time machines -- which will remain fixed as the "real" one.

Crank: Well, we'll see. Poland and Hungary still have elections -- as do we. This will pass.

C u n d: The trend for the last 400 years has been toward steadily increasing justice, logic, reason, and empathy, despite occasional fluctuations. I have every reason to expect that to continue.

Thanks for the kind words! Glad the blog has been interesting to you.

Mike: The Romans sustained a remarkably well-organized state and civilization for half a millennium despite technology, laws, wealth, etc. far inferior to what we have now. I think modern civilization is actually extremely robust, not fragile as some seem to think.

13 February, 2020 16:55  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I'd also note that Germany wasn't unique. Japan made a similar recovery, and in fact most of Europe was pretty devastated at the end of the war and rebuilt remarkably quickly.

14 February, 2020 03:35  
Anonymous Otis Young said...

What about invisibility or at least semi-invisibility (like in "Predator"[1987]), and miniaturization (as in people being shrunk down to microscopic size like in "Honey, I shrunk the kids [1989] and "Innerspace" [1987), will they be achieved by 2100 ?.

14 February, 2020 11:55  
Anonymous Norbert Weisner said...

Infidel, just a question pertaining to number 4 on the first list: Do you think moral relativism makes a total nonsense of morality itself as an actual concept ?. If people 50 years from now are not going to be offended by certain activities and behaviours why should we have to waste our time being supposedly offended by them now ! ?. There does seem to be something intrinsically absurd and bizarre about the fact that each subsequent generation has to waste its time being a laughing stock for the next generation specifically because of moral relativism ! ! !.

14 February, 2020 13:25  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Otis: I don't believe miniaturization like that can be done. One would need to either (a) miniaturize the atoms and elementary particles in the object, something which current physics give us no reason to think is possible, or (b) subtract atoms from throughout the volume of the object in such a way as to maintain its proportions as it shrank, which probably isn't possible either, and would rapidly degrade a living organism into non-viability. As to invisibility, I don't know. It would certainly be very difficult.

Norbert: I differentiate between morality, the roots of which seem to be innate in humans (and to some extent in many other primates as well), and taboo systems, which are mostly rooted in religion and are completely arbitrary, and therefore vary widely between times and places. The problem is that until those taboos are overthrown, they carry a lot of force. Arguably people in the 1950s were indeed "wasting their time" being offended at homosexuality and interracial sex, when today we look back at them in disdain for having done so -- but to them at the time those feelings were quite real, and the struggle to liberate minds from them was real. The same is true of of things which people in 2070 will judge differently than we do.

The issue is a thorny one, and I have a post about it which I'll put up at some point.

14 February, 2020 16:42  
Anonymous NickM said...

Infidel, as usual you are both on the money and bold (an unusual combo - though a good one). I beg an indulgence. I would like to copy your predictions for my own up-coming blog and make my responses to your predictions. I beg this because it's gonna be one Hell of a post and I'm happy to host it. You will, of course, be linked and get full recognition. OK, I'll add a taster. The social revolutions on a par with the gay rights is provocative but, yeah I can see that - I just don't know exactly what. In a sense I not knowing that is exciting. But the sheer rapidity of the change in attitudes to homosexuality over just the last twenty years is quite astonishing. Here's something to ponder on that score. Lincoln made the emancipation declaration in 1863. The state of Alabama had it's first, official, mixed race marriage in 1973 (the year of my birth). The difference in the rate of change is interesting to say the least.

Oh, and by the way your points on space travel/exploration etc are broadly my view. I suspect I'll live to see a Martian settlement in my lifetime but it will be rather like the various Antarctic research stations. I honestly can't think of any reason I'd actually wanna set up home on Mars when I have a nice house in Cheshire.

20 February, 2020 04:47  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nick: Thanks -- you're welcome to use my post on your blog and respond if you give credit and a link as you said. I'd be interested to see that.

I'm not even familiar with Cheshire, but it would certainly get my vote as a place to live over any frozen lifeless desert 40 million miles from the nearest cup of tea.

20 February, 2020 10:45  

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