Earth 2050: Predictions for the Next Generation

So it’s fairly customary for a lot of media
to make predictions for the future before the New Year. We don’t usually do that here, since we
talk about the future every episode. In fact we did a year end special a couple
years ago on all the unpredictability about the future rather than predicting it. But I was contacted a few weeks back by Kaspersky
Labs about a project they were doing called Earth 2050 to celebrate their own 20th anniversary. As a cybersecurity company predicting the
future is what they do to, especially threats awaiting us tomorrow, and most of the folks
there, like all of us here, have that love of science fiction and crave to see what’s
beyond the horizon. So they approached a lot of futurists and
other experts asking for a prediction of something that would happen by 2050 to post on their
Earth 2050 website. There’s some great predictions up there,
and I’ll link it in the video description. The mission of this project is to sum up the
mosaic of different options about the future from world famous experts and futurists. As you’ve probably guessed, they asked us
for a prediction or two, and I sent them around a half-dozen that I hadn’t seen anyone make
already to choose from, and they decided to post them all. I consider this a great honor because there
are some real giants on the list who I respect a lot. I thought we’d take a few minutes to go
over our own hypotheses today, and we might give one or more of these their own bonus
episode down the road. This will be a pretty short episode by SFIA
standards, as we’ve already discussed some of these before in other episodes like Quiet
Revolution. Given the time of year, when we often wear
a lot of layers of clothes and tend to cram the pockets full of gadgets, I thought we’d
begin with the concept of Augmented Apparel. We have a tendency to incorporate circuitry
into devices. By 2050 the improvements in miniaturization,
production cost, and durability will have extended this to most clothing, either interwoven
into garments or as routine accessories like buttons or belts. Probably small and subtle inclusions, rather
than something like Batman’s Utility Belt. It will be fairly normal for cameras, data
storage, wifi & phone antennas, and even limited power production & storage to be worn rather
than carried, such as micro-solar panels built into clothes or generators tapping body motion. See the Portable Power episode for some of
the options and challenges we face trying to carry around mobile and useful power supplies. Combined with Augmented Reality and Cloud
Computing, this would mean most people carried their computer and interface with them, and
those interfaces would begin to switch away from keyboard, mouse, and touchpad to speech,
body gestures, and eye motions. Sensor packets built into the garments would
heavily enhance medical monitoring, remote control of drones & devices, and allow constant
recording of day to day events, with an additional positive effect on emergencies involving accidents
& crime. We’ll have search engines devoted to indexing
and searching those recordings, to the point that they essentially become “Second Memories”. And that is our second prediction by 2050,
but also one we already have to some degree, this concept of a second memory. From the first written logs and journals we’ve
stored memories outside our own brains, and almost from the outset we started having problems
indexing those so we can recall them quickly. It’s no good leaving yourself a note about
where you stored something in your house if you have to read an entire book to find that
note. And we’ve seen this expand a lot into social
media and the cloud, tagging photos or messages or video to make it easier to find things. That search and indexing capacity is at least
as important as the stored data, and will only grow with time as that amount of data
increases, potentially to being high-resolution audio and video of your whole life. All automatically tagged by object or voice
recognition. Enhancements in the cost, durability, and
miniaturization of recording & storage medium will result in most people casually recording
events around them almost continuously, with serious positive and negative effects on everything
from crime & health to privacy & social relationships. Because this would be a digital and chronologically
stored archive, search engines would be tailored to index and locate data in a fashion more
consistent with human memory and objectives, such as a rapid search and recall of where
you left your keys, how many times you ate a given meal, how many calories you consumed
or steps you have taken this month, or what that joke was that a friend told you at a
party last year that you can’t quite remember. Further ahead in time, improvements in Artificial
Intelligence or Mind-Machine interfaces could cause this to be more like a personal assistant
or a direct interface into your normal memory and recall. See the episodes Cyborgs or Mind Augmentation
for further discussion of that topic. But enhancements to our own minds, via direct
augmentation or add-on assistants, is just part of that future. We are interested in robots we can control
at a distance, or sensors or displays we can use at a distance – Telepresence – as well
as machines that need little to no oversight, such as more complex drones, and that’s
our third prediction. By 2050 virtually all delivery and hazardous
environment operations will be conducted either by automated drones or telepresence. It is quite likely that sensors built into
apparel will allow fast and intuitive control of such drones for everything from surgery
and bomb disposal to controlling robots in orbit or on the moon. While this could result in a shift of drones
and robots more toward the human-shaped robot of classic science fiction, it may also mean
people become very used to controlling robots of very non-human design, which mostly operate
autonomously but which can be briefly overridden when a person feels a need for assuming direct
control. See Attack of the Drones for more discussion
of that. But while having good robots in space or on
the moon that we can control by telepresence, or which can mostly operate on their own,
will be a huge boon to developing space, people will still want to travel there themselves
and of course in the long term, as handy as robots will be for space, we’ll still want
to go there ourselves. Our fourth prediction is that by 2050 we will
have much larger space stations with spin gravity and a growing Space Hotel industry. By 2050 there will be a space station with
a section under rotation to produce artificial gravity by centrifugal spin. The first one is likely to simulate either
the Moon’s or Mars’ gravity to test the long term health effects of low gravity, and
likely be partially funded by or later converted over to a space hotel. While commercial travel to space will include
a space hotel to allow people to experience zero-gravity, most people will probably find
lower gravity more appealing after initially experiencing weightlessness and prefer to
take their rooms in low rather than no gravity. The number of people traveling to space in
any given year will exceed the total number of astronauts to visit space in the entire
20th century. See our Upward Bound series for more details
– particularly the episodes Space Ports, Orbital Infrastructure, and Kickstarting Space
Industry. Another topic we’ve discussed a lot is future
medicine and extending the human life, and that’s our next prediction. By 2050 improved health monitoring & cancer
treatments will have largely eliminated early cancer deaths and, combined with other medical
improvements, will have increased the average human lifespan to nearly a century if not
longer. Life extension technology will be one of the
most heavily funded areas of research. This may also result in funerals featuring
freezing as a common alternative to burial or cremation. You can see our episode Life Extension for
a discussion of how massively extended lifespans will impact our own civilization, and our
recent collaborations with SENS Research Foundation for a discussion of the Science of Aging. I’m not sure we’ll have completely eliminated
cancer, let alone achieved biological immortality by 2050, but we’ll have made some very real
progress with very real benefits by then. Those medical improvements will hardly be
limited to Life Extension and Cancer though, and will help with a lot of quality of life
issues, and one of those will be true replacement prosthetics or implants for folks who have
lost a limb, their eyesight, or hearing. By 2050, improvements in interfacing devices
with the nervous system will allow replacements of lost limbs with pressure & temperature
sensitive prosthetics which will allow amputees to wear a prosthetic with a true sense of
touch and reflexes sufficient to catch a ball, feel the difference between silk and sandpaper,
and wield tools with able agility and responsiveness. We’ve already made such huge progress on
these in the last decade, and I’m confident that trend will continue. We may be only a generation away from being
able to almost entirely restore functionality and sensations to those who have lost limbs
or senses. So there are SFIA’s prediction for the year
2050, and don’t forget to check out Kaspersky Lab’s Earth 2050 for more predictions of
what awaits us in the decades to come, again, linked below in the video description, and
also don’t forget to leave your own predictions for 2050 in the comments below. As always, we’ve got our regularly scheduled
episode coming out this Thursday, where we’ll be exploring some emerging technologies for
industry and production like the 3D Printer in “the Santa Claus Machine”, and next
Thursday we’ll close out 2018 with “Seeding the Stars”. For alerts when those and other episodes come
out, make sure to subscribe to the channel and hit the notifications bell. And if you enjoyed this episode, hit the like
button and share it with others. You can also help make future episodes by
supporting SFIA on Patreon. Until next time, thanks for watching, and
let’s see what the future has in store!


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