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World building the future
January 15, 2012 8:12 AM   Subscribe

MeFi's own cstross on the future: Part 1, Part 2.
posted by Zarkonnen (76 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yay!
posted by The Whelk at 8:28 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Part 1 struck me as a sufficiently plausible view to leave me depressed for days.
posted by brennen at 8:36 AM on January 15, 2012


We should have a MeFi hallway meetup at Boskone where he's guest of honor. (Boston Ma, Feb 17 2012)
posted by sammyo at 8:37 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


He's way too optimistic about high-speed rail and ubiquitous wireless bandwidth in America. There's nothing to suggest that the political/monopoly interests that stifle those projects today will abate any time in the next 20 years.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:41 AM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


And yes, depressingly plausible, the USA is going to get so much crazier and paranoid before it's over, and the scolding and pleasure-hating parts of the American character will never, ever allow us to abandon the concept of work - we'll just create more redundant and meaningless bureaucracies and busy work.
posted by The Whelk at 8:42 AM on January 15, 2012


Invest in nostalgia. The future will look backwards with a passion.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:52 AM on January 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Haven't we run out of Nostalgia? Or are we going for Neo-Neo-Classicism?

c'mon I wanna wear a toga, make it happen future
posted by The Whelk at 8:54 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love the first comment on part 2, where the guy says he doesn't agree that old people get more conservative -- and then lists a bunch of ways in which he has gotten more conservative as he's gotten older.
posted by ook at 8:54 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


The comment section on Stross' blog was always worth reading:

We've seen an outrageous clamp-down on immigration rights throughout the developed world over the past 20 years. There's usually a loophole for "investors" (if you can plonk down $1M and up any country will fast-track your immigration application) but if you're an American and want to move permanently to the UK, or vice versa, it's a lot harder today than it was 20 years ago.

Global capital wants money and products to flow seamlessly through border but not people, that would ruin the shell game.
posted by The Whelk at 8:58 AM on January 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


(is always)
posted by The Whelk at 8:58 AM on January 15, 2012


There will be growth in peer-to-peer technologies thanks to personal servers like the FreedomBox (wp, nyt) that slowly moves us away from RESTful applications towards what might be termed the World Wide Hash Table.

Any content, any time, free, instantly of course, but that's thinking small. You'll even make reservations, vote shares, etc. by poking the some public database directly, albeit with the correct cryptographic tokens.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:02 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems pretty optimistic to me in general.

I agree with the comments about high-speed rail. The US has been talking about it for 20 years with little progress beyond the North-East Corridor; one of the political parties is implacably hostile to rail; why would that change?

It's strange that apparently even in 20 years the price of oil will apparently be similar to what it is now - similar enough that it's just brushed off in a single sentence. Considering that by then, nearly every country in the world should be well past peak oil, well, I doubt people will be flying planes on oil, unless we're somehow synthesizing it.

I know that fusion power is "always 20 years away" - but there has been good progress recently, so I'm surprised that in 2032 commercial fusion power is 30 years away, that is, 50 years from today.

It's interesting that if you read between the lines, there's some sort of collapse predicted between 2032 and 2062 - but isn't really directly discussed, except as an aside explaining the "5-10 billion population" estimate.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:04 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Peak nostalgia is a myth. Sentimentality and regret increases in direct proportion to the rate of irreversible decisions made. Thus, nostalgia will live on long after the heat death of the universe.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:04 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


also from comments:

You are a bit gloomy about this, but not nearly gloomy enough. We have not seen nearly the depths that a firmly capitalistic society can sink to when 90% of all value in the society (including all communications and media outlets) is owned by the 1% who are between 100 and 120 years of age.
posted by The Whelk at 9:06 AM on January 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Expect sofas with springs that remember your personal preference for firm or soft support and adapt to whoever's sitting in them. Expect more intelligence in your environment than you can possibly imagine a need for.

Well, he's dead fucking right on that one.
posted by mediareport at 9:10 AM on January 15, 2012


Well, it sounds like a nifty future, as long as you are one of the remaining few who have jobs that pay enough for you to afford any of it.

The short-shrift he gives the US Midwest if very telling. One might easily assume the millions of people living between the coasts are forgotten in the future.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:12 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Predictions like these tell you more about the predictor than anything else.

Feeding processed jellyfish to freshwater farmed fish tells me cstross enjoys brain-storming about the line-jumping solutions. Like the skinny kid that thinks he'll develop a sense of humor to make the cheerleader laugh and keep him from getting crushed by football players.

But reality is prosaic. Reality doesn't care. Freshwater farmed fish will be fed corn, because we have a lot of it and it's cheaper than trying to figure out ways to process jellyfish.

Rather than predict line-jumping solutions, you're better off predicting that people will maximize the things they already like doing. People like driving cars and hate parallel parking. So the robots will park the cars, but we're not spending billions on totally automated car-driving infrastructure.

In other words, the cheerleader will just keep on falling for the football player, no matter how funny you think you are, because the cheerleader simply likes the football player.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:20 AM on January 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's strange that apparently even in 20 years the price of oil will apparently be similar to what it is now - similar enough that it's just brushed off in a single sentence. Considering that by then, nearly every country in the world should be well past peak oil, well, I doubt people will be flying planes on oil, unless we're somehow synthesizing it.

People will certainly be flying planes and driving cars - even if oil production declined to half what it is now by 2032, that would be more than enough to allow millions of people to live like they do now or better. It all depends in how you cut the shrinking pie.

Related:
What makes it most unnerving is that it’s not simply a matter of, say, having your standard of living ratchet down by five per cent every year, though there will be a fair amount of that. It’s far more a matter of never knowing when your number’s going to come up and land you out of work, out of money and out on the street, next to the others who landed there before you.
posted by Bangaioh at 9:22 AM on January 15, 2012


Jetpacks are right out it would seem. The dream dies.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:23 AM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Didn't see any mention of drug glands either, this timeline bites.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:24 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cultured mammalian tissue is likely to be available. It'll be of about the same consistency as Quorn and will lack mouth appeal, but some folks will take to it (folks who like meat too much to go vegetarian today, but who have ethical qualms about eating animals and a big enough disposable income to pay).

I suspect this will be the other way around: With climate change and polluted water, real meat will require an investment of resources so great that consuming it will be an expense for the wealthy, like buying truffles today. Most edible fish will be extinct.

Research into antibiotics, at a dismal low in 2012, will have returned, either via the public sector or by hugely inflated incentives to the private sector. There will have been epidemics; TDR-TB is a real incentive to get back in the saddle on antibiotic research.

Phage therapy is relatively unexplored territory. I'll bet that we'll see more of that if there is a way to monetize it.

Fusion will be available in commercial form, if anyone needs a centralized monolithic plant that isn't viable below 5Gw thermal output, requires a grid to distribute the current, is inflexible, and leaves you with a thousand tonne core of high level waste.

Repeat every few years: "The researchers said fusion is ten years away, twenty years ago."

A 2032 smartphone (and literally everyone will have a smartphone, or its successor) will compare in power to a 2012 iPhone 4S or Galaxy Nexus as one of those compares to a 1992 computer — a Macintosh Quadra 840 or a 486DX PC running Windows 3.1.

This isn't ambitious enough. We're making strides into beaming thoughts into people's heads, so it's not far off that we'll have the Internet (and other communication networks) wired right into the brain.

...

It was an interesting read, but seems more like an extrapolation of products and services already available today, just with ramped-up specifications. I remember reading the parts of Neuromancer where a character is wowed by 3 MB of "hot RAM". I expect the future will appear as bizarre and magical to us, as modern times would be to someone from 50-100 years ago.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:27 AM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I doubt people will be flying planes on oil, unless we're somehow synthesizing it.

I think that's the idea... the tech is already there.

Freshwater farmed fish will be fed corn

The most common farmed fish like trout and salmon are carnivorous
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:28 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't the midwest uninhabitable in this future, Thorzdad? Or maybe it merely acquires Mexico's climate, albeit without nearly as much water as Mexico has currently?
posted by jeffburdges at 9:29 AM on January 15, 2012


I expect the future will appear as bizarre and magical to us, as modern times would be to someone from 50-100 years ago.

In fact, I imagine it would be disappointing if the future didn't seem like magic, because basically if all we're doing is point-version-upgrades of everything, the human species has stagnated. That fate doesn't seem like much fun.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:30 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Corn fed fish is certainly a frightening future to think about.

Also, why do the sci fi author predictions tend to be glossing over oil?
posted by infini at 9:30 AM on January 15, 2012


I doubt people will be flying planes on oil, unless we're somehow synthesizing it.

I think that's the idea... the tech is already there.


Ohhhhhh really?
posted by adamdschneider at 9:30 AM on January 15, 2012


These are all pretty tame predictions, where they aren't based on flawed assumptions.

Solar is getting cheaper rapidly, and is now actually rolling out in significant quantities, but runs into the "how do you store it?" problem.

I think everyone is aware that solar is getting cheaper. What we want to know is what happens when it's cheap enough that its standard on every building and cheaper than coal/nuclear/gas now. How will that affect society, if at all? And of course solar power has a storage problem. But how and when will it be solved are the interesting questions, to me at least.

In the USA it's very rare to see a start-up company founded by anyone over the age of 35;

According to Linkedin data, roughly half a of start ups are founded by people over 35.

[By 2092] There may be widespread deployment of quantum computers or quantum entanglement as a high bandwidth transmission channel for classical data.

This is way, way, off. At the current rate of improvement in quantum computing at the research level, it will surpass classical computing in 10 years. Then we'll start using quantum computers to design better quantum computers and crunch numbers. If he replaced 2092 with 2032 and replaced "may be widespread deployment" with there "will be widespread deployment" he would be closer to correct.

By 2032 I expect the developed world to have installed infrastructure for automated driving in many environments, and for many new cars to be largely (if not completely) automated.

This is such an obvious one that I pointed it out in Mefi comments back in December when the topic came up. I even picked 2032 as the year to a 50% installed base.
posted by euphorb at 9:31 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh and expect the unexpected... how many people predicted the end of the Cold War, The internet, the crash etc 20 years before they happened.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:31 AM on January 15, 2012


Farmed catfish eat grain. NERD FIGHT!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:32 AM on January 15, 2012


The Future! Things getting slightly worse year after year until you turn around and everything is different.
posted by The Whelk at 9:32 AM on January 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Farm raised salmon have been bred to eat corn (of course that means they're about as healthy for you as corn fed beef).
posted by 445supermag at 9:34 AM on January 15, 2012


I think George Turner's vision in The Sea and Summer (which received the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and is also known as Drowning Towers) will turn out roughly right. (Highly recommended if you want some depressing sci-fi reading.)
posted by Auden at 9:34 AM on January 15, 2012


Ohhhhhh really?

Algae fuel

Farmed catfish eat grain.

I guess that's another American import we'll have to get used to then...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:34 AM on January 15, 2012


Why is energy and transport repeated twice in part one?
posted by infini at 9:39 AM on January 15, 2012


He avoids politics, but that drives popular culture in many ways. I see a future of the ends against the middle - a the Tea Party and OWS team up against the demorepublicrats. A Ralph Nader/ Pat Buchanan or Ron Paul/ Dennis Kucinich style ticket (obviously not them, but maybe their clones or heads in jar). Or, the anti-corporatists against the people who make powerpoints for a living.
It's interesting reading on websites of the extreme left and right - they both think "Idiocracy" is the future, but blame the other side for taking us there.
posted by 445supermag at 9:43 AM on January 15, 2012


People like driving cars and hate parallel parking. So the robots will park the cars, but we're not spending billions on totally automated car-driving infrastructure.

This is stupid. It's not clear at all that the majority of people like driving cars and even if that were so who doesn't think governments, insurance companies, and police won't vigorously reward those who "surrender" driving autonomy? Do people like driving cars more than they like paying less taxes, paying less fees, and not going to jail?

The reality is that human agency will be eliminated more and more from modern life. Any engineer will tell you that if you want to build a safe, reliable, and predictable system the very first thing you do is eliminate the human factor.

One might easily assume the millions of people living between the coasts are forgotten in the future.

The problem of excess human labor isn't really that the labor is purely excess it's that the labor is too expensive. Though it's very difficult for a lot of people to understand this, in a very real unemployment is a purely monetary phenomenon. There's no real reason that any sovereign couldn't print up a bunch of money and completely eliminate unemployment tomorrow. And in fact this is exactly what sovereigns do during war time and other times of need. The failure of modern state-capitalism to clear the labor market is a failure of monetary policy and thus all that's really needed here are new forms of money. This is what will happen to the unemployed and indeed it's already happened in many urban slums. People will do valuable, productive work and you don't even have to pay them in real, sovereign dollars. See Metafilter, Facebook, Wikipedia and other online "communities."

As for the rest of predictions it's difficult to take any of them seriously as I don't think the author has any real insight into economics or technology or culture. He's just extrapolating our current situation, and most importantly our current understanding, out a bit further and this has been repeatedly shown to be a terrible way to predict the future. A better course of action would be to start by examining all those things we take for granted and figuring out what's really sustainable and what's not.
posted by nixerman at 9:45 AM on January 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


I see a future of the ends against the middle

Extremists at either end have always had more in common with each other then the people in the middle, the "lets live in concert with nature" commune hippies and the "lets isolate ourselves from the corrupt and doomed secular world" religious enclaves basically wanted the same thing through different lenses.
posted by The Whelk at 9:50 AM on January 15, 2012


Under electronics, he mentions hardware, but he says nothing about software. But there will be huge changes in software capabilities, especially artificial inteligence. We'll have software that can write software. We'll have machines that understand us. We'll have cars that drive themselves. And the evolution of software has the potential to mitigate many of the effects he predicts. Underscore potential.
posted by beagle at 9:53 AM on January 15, 2012


Regarding food, CTRL-F phosphorous didn't yield any results, though one commenter did bring up increased usage of human sewage as fertiliser.
posted by Bangaioh at 9:55 AM on January 15, 2012


And I'd suggest many things we take for granted today such as owning land, banking, floating exchange rates and free capital movement, anti-immigration policies, and even the dominance of the nuclear family as the primary unit of resource consumption ie marriage are not in fact sustainable. A serious examination of the 50 years would attempt to understand the forces that are breaking such structures down and try to understand what structures might arise to replace them.
posted by nixerman at 9:55 AM on January 15, 2012


Imagine a very smart networked computer attached to every genetically engineered maize plant in a field in a poor rural backwater of Uganda. And that they discuss how fast they're growing via wifi and agree a nutrient plan to optimize growth, including restricting water to one particular plant that's shadowing a couple of others.
When the AIs kill all the humans, it won't be because Skynet's a military system already. It'll be an unforeseen consequence of networked crop systems like this suddenly reaching the conclusion that this cycle's harvest would be a lot more efficient without people in the system. They'll enlist the aid of the self-driving automobile fleet, who will have likewise realized that they could have much more optimal routes without passengers making them constantly reroute and stop and start, and the automated road repair transport infrastructure networks will likewise be fully on board with making their own systems a lot more predictable and efficient.
posted by Drastic at 10:03 AM on January 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Any engineer will tell you that if you want to build a safe, reliable, and predictable system the very first thing you do is eliminate the human factor.
No, this is untrue. If the system is subject to disturbances that the engineer cannot anticipate, then having a human as part of system control is necessary to controlling those disturbances. It's the law of requisite variety. How much and how best to incorporate "the human factor" is a design problem.

As automation works its way out into the world, I would expect to see more efforts to shield the built environment from disturbances.
posted by anthill at 10:14 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's not clear at all that the majority of people like driving cars

As I sip my Sunday morning coffee and gaze out onto the ENORMOUS FREEWAY near my house, the one that's been there for literally 50 years now, I laugh heartily. Ahh, Internet. Once again, you have amused me.

Then I tuck into the Sunday paper and read another article about local political resistance to building light rail.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:17 AM on January 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


However. By 2032 I expect the developed world to have installed infrastructure for automated driving in many environments, and for many new cars to be largely (if not completely) automated...This is a Moore's Law related tech

I expect the main obstacle is legal liability. If 1000 people drive their car off the road in bad weather that's 1000 cases of human error. Suppose autodrive(tm) is so safe that it cuts that number to 200. You'll still see a 200 person class action lawsuit against the makers of autodrive(tm). There will be some in-principle fixable bug in every system, something for a lawyer to pounce on.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:18 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's not clear at all that the majority of people like driving cars and even if that were so who doesn't think governments, insurance companies, and police won't vigorously reward those who "surrender" driving autonomy?

I would expect governments and police forces to fight automated cars tooth and nail. A major revenue stream disappears if you can't ticket people for speeding and DUI.
posted by ryoshu at 10:31 AM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


The class-action legal costs from the smaller number of accidents from using mostly automated cars would be accounted for by mostly-automated legal computer systems though. There'll probably be a lot of employment in makework for people as part of the competing legal networks. (The legal networks will probably work against the pro-human-extinction networks because people will still be useful for generating legal actions.)

It's definitely valid to say that people like driving cars, but it's also easy to overlook just how much "what people like" can be swayed and changed, both in a planned way, and in the completely-unplanned ways that throw black swans into the mix. The right kind of social and political and marketing shifts and pressures could easily mean that in a couple of decades that people like having cars, but actually driving them is something low-class that's only done ironically. (People will sneer about car-driving hipsters.) I'm reminded of a recent Planet Money podcast where they talked about how lard went from a widely-used foodstuff to mostly an "ewww!" category in a deliberately marketed shift--a society's tastes and habits can alter a lot over the years, in ways that are hard to predict in whatever the present is at the moment. Which is part of why brainstorming the future stuff like this is so neat.
posted by Drastic at 10:32 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Predicting the future is predicated on understanding the past, and perhaps, more specifically, the idea that the understanding of history is a machine which once run backwards correctly can be run forwards. This is a shallow collection of technological problems and solutions without context or history: technofetishism.

But I suppose that is what the audience is buying. Let's play... the future!
posted by ennui.bz at 10:32 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


But when will the flying cars come into play?
posted by rodmandirect at 11:02 AM on January 15, 2012


I'm a subscriber to the lone-nutjob theory of the future, which states that any time you have an organism capable of independent agency, you have a risk that that organism will be defective in such a way that it will act to destroy everything for reasons that are completely unimportant. We've certainly seen plenty of people like that already. However, they haven't had the leverage to carry out that plan on a global scale. All of these fun happy predictions are as much pissing in the wind when the lone-nutjob -- who is certain -- finally meets up with a planet-killing technology. Whether it's a miniature black hole, a catalyst that sets the atmosphere on fire, a bioweapon that converts mammals into slime, nanomachines, anything, really, it just doesn't matter. It's far easier to destroy than to create, but when one can destroy on a global scale through technological leverage, a damaged mind will attempt to access that technology and carry out that plan.

It just takes one crazy person with one of a soon to be infinite variety of leveragable technology of sufficient power to end this world one way or another.

I guess I'm more of a Peter Watts person than a Charlie Stross person.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:26 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


They'll enlist the aid of the self-driving automobile fleet, who will have likewise realized that they could have much more optimal routes without passengers making them constantly reroute and stop and start,

So what you're saying is that the future looks like the world of Pixar's Cars franchise.
posted by AdamCSnider at 11:39 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Predicting the future is predicated on understanding the past, and perhaps, more specifically, the idea that the understanding of history is a machine which once run backwards correctly can be run forwards. This is a shallow collection of technological problems and solutions without context or history: technofetishism.

So, like, the thoughtful piece by a working SF author linked here, you didn't so much read it?
posted by brennen at 11:42 AM on January 15, 2012


Making predictions is fun, especially when they're about the future.

Commercial television as we know it will have been sucked into video-over-IP.

Ah, nostalgia. Television being replaced by Internet video was everyone's favourite prediction back in 1997 or thereabouts. And it did eventually happen in my household just last year. I'm living in THE FUTURE!

Coal going out of fashion will probably take more than 20 years I think, though it's hard to guess. It's just now going in the opposite direction, gradually overtaking oil as the world's primary energy source, and that has a lot of momentum. As we'll be past peak oil, demand for coal will only be stronger.

Aging population after successful demographic transition, well just look at Japan. I believe they're about 20 years ahead much of the world in that department. Seems to be going reasonably well so far.

I stopped taking any of it at all seriously when he got to 2092... though it's fun to imagine, that's way too far out to be making such specific predictions.
posted by sfenders at 11:46 AM on January 15, 2012


AdamCSnider: "So what you're saying is that the future looks like the world of Pixar's Cars franchise."

Yes. Although the eyes probably won't be so anthropomorphic but networked arrays of tiny photosensors and lenses. The cars will probably do away with the decorative eyes after the need to look shifty-eyed and threatening at people during the planning stages of the Efficiency Update passes, but of course small details like that are harder to predict.
posted by Drastic at 11:55 AM on January 15, 2012


> tell you more about the predictor

> the skinny kid that thinks he'll develop a sense of humor

No matter how hard you clench your little I'm not a nerd fist, you will never be as interesting as Charles Stross.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 12:01 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Self-driving cars in 2032 will be about where electric cars are today. They're around, but they're not so common that it isn't notable when you see one.
posted by sfenders at 12:23 PM on January 15, 2012


you will never be as interesting as Charles Stross.

Indeed. I love the Laundry series.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:28 PM on January 15, 2012


I expect the future will appear as bizarre and magical to us, as modern times would be to someone from 50-100 years ago.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:27 PM on January 15


Hey! We're right here, you know.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 1:13 PM on January 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Only time for one quick comment.

I think there's two major competing trends on the Politics front: stabilty vs. technology. The global crisis of legitimacy he refers to is a consequence of the unnatural stability we've had since 1945. Generations have grown up in stable world with an increasing standard of living, which has led to complacency and a loss of interest in government, and that gives the oligarchs a chance to take control. But then there's technology, making it easier and easier for everyone to communicate and reducing the opportunity cost of political action. Technologies are forcing the world to become more and more democratic, as people get used to the idea of telling everybody their opinions on everything.

Technology and democracy will win in the end, because things like things like stability and complacency are transient, and technological change is permanent.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:31 PM on January 15, 2012


Within 5-10 years:
* someone will have developed a self-driving car that is significantly safer than a human driver, and be able to offer it with cheaper auto insurance
* graphene or other nanotech battery advancements will result in 10x greater storage capacity
* robotics and automation will be displacing a large amount of the workforce
* solar and/or photosynthesis-based tech will be far cheaper than digging fossil fuels out of the ground
* 3D printers/CNC mills owned by individuals or small garage startups will start to significantly threaten a number of existing low-tech manufacturing industries
* some form of robotic "terrorism" will be used against a nation state - e.g. uav attack
* Moore's law for silicon transistors will reach the end of the line. a replacement technology or technologies will likely be found, but may require a significant change in programming to adapt to mandatory parallelism and unified memory and computation (see memristors)
* digital sensors and devices for regulating feedback loops will become commonplace, programmable, open source - many processes which have been implemented through mechanical/chemical/etc means will be converted to cheaper, solid-state digital devices with the net effect being an increasingly controllable, even programmable world
posted by crayz at 3:03 PM on January 15, 2012


Self-driving cars will need some concerted regulatory effort to implement. It'll happen in some European socialist state by 2032, but it'll be studied for decades before it enters the brains of North American policymakers.

On feeding fish: we already feed fish fishmeal. Feeding them jellyfishmeal is an obvious next step, as we trawl the ocean for the last remaining nuggets of fish-gold (the last known bluefin tuna will sell for billions the black market), we're going to be selling jellyfish by the tonne. Farmable fish species such as steelhead will remain a significant part of high-end diets, as they can achieve a 1:1 conversion rate of fishfeed to tastyfish, and be farmed easily in freshwater tanks. Or just scooping them up as garbage before their enormous blooms wash up on the waterfront and stink up high-value real estate.

Meat isn't going anywhere; the ubiquity of American beef is a flash in the pan (teehee), but trends elsewhere will remain stable: towards less quantity of meat and increasing diversity of diet. If anything, as the price of oil and metal rises, farm animals will become increasingly popular for labour purposes; agricultural practices such as Salatin's integrated animal system will be increasingly recognized and utilized, leading to cropland being an incidental producer of meat, rather than dedicated to producing feed for meat. There will be less cheap beef but a lot more of other things: duck, rabbit, oxen, horse.
posted by mek at 3:41 PM on January 15, 2012


Funny reading about technological solutions when our pressing problems aren't the result of technology, but the result of who's making the decisions.

Guess it's time to join Harry Haller in the Magic Theatre again.
posted by Twang at 4:12 PM on January 15, 2012


From part 2:
Other factors will tend to support female emancipation and societal normalization of homosexuality.
the social status of young women is indirectly boosted by the dearth of competition
it's reasonable to predict that social acceptance of homosexuality will in turn reduce the pressure on gay men to marry a beard

It sounds like he is ignoring lesbians entirely; not all women want to be married, let alone to men, especially after they have acquired education. This however complicates demographic projections as lesbians can and do still have children (as do gay men). The projected female emancipation will also have long term effects on society's priorities that I do not feel his essays addressed. Interesting reading though!
posted by saucysault at 4:41 PM on January 15, 2012


It sounds like he is ignoring lesbians entirely

To be fair he is almost 50 and therefore either brain-damaged or socially conditioned to be uncool.

/You don't have to get off my lawn.
But my autonomous KKV drone is kinda uptight...
posted by codswallop at 5:11 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


* someone will have developed a self-driving car that is significantly safer than a human driver, and be able to offer it with cheaper auto insurance

I keep coming back to this self-driving car thing. Thinking that a commercially available, truly self-driving car is just around the corner is just not realistic.

Passenger aviation is incredibly safe right now, in part because of the amount of automation in passenger jets. And yet we're still decades away from reducing the input from a human pilot to the level where we'd call these planes "self-flying."

Decades away from automation where we're reducing input from a highly skilled operator. Now imagine how far away we are from doing the same thing with a car that anyone can get into and fire up.

The last major commercially widespread innovation in automobiles -- hybrid engines -- meant essentially zero change to its usage interface. Moreover, the fact that this innovation did not change how you actually used the product (e.g. I don't need to plug in a hybrid, it goes just as fast, it carries the same amount of cargo) was itself a major reason for its rapid adoption. Companies went out of their way to advertise that a hybrid wasn't a paradigm change to the ownership experience.

And we think a self-driving car is nearly ready for primetime? No. No, no, no.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:27 PM on January 15, 2012


But one difference between planes and cars is the necessity for roads, which constricts the car's movements far more than a plane. And if a car is going in the same direction at the same time every day, why wouldn't we automate it? Maybe that would finally get rid of traffic jams.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:35 PM on January 15, 2012


Self driving cars are already old news.

My Predictions:
Within 20 years the majority of food eaten in America will be entirely engineered. Terms like fish, beef, pork , chicken will no longer refer to specific animals but will refer entirely to synthesized taste profiles and mouthfeels

The desktop metaphor will be gone. Not replaced by a system more evocative of reality, but something even more abstract.

The distinction between local computer and cloud will be entirely erased, all your stuff will be available to varrying degrees from your personal tablet to mall kiosks. We will be able to authorize access to personal data, everything from shoe size used by online retailers to musical tastes. Look for cloud storage provider Dropbox to attempt to standardize the storage and dispersal of this information in the short term.

It will be common for people to have numerals and even typographic symbols in their names.

As I outlined a few weeks back, after the collapse of the united states, the superrich will reorganize as "person states" complete with military and police forces. Look for Bll Gates to be the first person-state to acquire nukes.

Through gene therapy and advances in medicine and cybernetics those under 40 today will be able to live forever.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:36 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hoverboards.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 6:02 PM on January 15, 2012


My prediction: 2032 Dane Cook still won't be funny.
posted by Justinian at 6:31 PM on January 15, 2012


My prediction: 2032 Dane Cook still won't be funny.

Way to go out on a limb there.

posted by brennen at 6:49 PM on January 15, 2012


From my friend Blaine: people will have phones embedded in their skulls for instantaneous communications, but telhe phones will be rotary.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:34 PM on January 15, 2012


But one difference between planes and cars is the necessity for roads, which constricts the car's movements far more than a plane.

Roads are infinitely more chaotic than airspaces.

Children don't chase soccer balls out onto runways in front of 747s. Minivans can't gain altitude to fly above weather. No Airbus pilot has ever hit a sofa that dropped off the back of a truck.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:43 PM on January 15, 2012


"Research into antibiotics, at a dismal low in 2012, will have returned, either via the public sector or by hugely inflated incentives to the private sector. There will have been epidemics; TDR-TB is a real incentive to get back in the saddle on antibiotic research."

"Phage therapy is relatively unexplored territory. I'll bet that we'll see more of that if there is a way to monetize it."

I am a phage biologist and I will still tell you that TDR-TB is a really fucking good reason not to abandon antibiotic research. TB is an intracellular pathogen and so, while mycobacteriophage can very easily be awesome for diagnosis, point towards viable treatments, continue to profoundly contribute to our understanding of mycobacterial pathogens, and theoretically help control infections they could not cure it.

That said, phage therapy is totally monetizable, really its a fucking gold mine. The economics end up making way to much fucking sense. The most recent review of phage therapy is linked in my profile.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:42 PM on January 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Algae fuel

Not shown to be scalable/economic, and it probably never will be.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:20 AM on January 16, 2012


So many people see a bad future, and yet we collectively remain utterly complacent.

My prediction is that kids born post-2020 are going to feel utterly betrayed by those who were born before 2000.
posted by davidpriest.ca at 11:27 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


He doesn't mention virtual goods and economies anywhere in there. If the future is really a gerontocracy where only the richest can eat real meat or travel by plane then you can expect virtual reality, games, simulations, and monetized virtual trinkets (ala decorating your farmville house) to be a huge industry - maybe even the largest.
posted by codacorolla at 12:23 PM on January 16, 2012


"the primary benefit of democracy over autocracy (that it provides a pressure valve by facilitating orderly transitions of power before any government can become unpopular enough to trigger a mass revolt) may evaporate if the working life of a political professional stretches from age 30 to 120"

"Policing of youthful behaviour may become a major social flash-point, with ubiquitous surveillance deployed to produce a global panopticon that suppresses behaviour the elderly find alarming"

posted by jeffburdges at 8:10 PM on January 16, 2012


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