by Mike Meyer
The Medium collection on 2069 is interesting. I don’t usually pay attention to these topic cues as the process hasn’t produced much of interest to me. As usual the results in 2069 have been predictable with a touch of humor and some mildly interesting suggestions. Why this is so difficult is what interests me.
As a historian of the future, yes, another name for futurists, outlining a sequence of events and then analyzing those to define resultant social, cultural, and political changes is a problem of second and third order variables. Gambling is easier and futurists don’t know if they won until they are long gone. The pay, then, is usually a small fit of amazement at some future date.
Nevertheless everyone loves to do it and loves to watch someone try it. It is great fun to mock people attempting to anticipate major social, cultural, and political change. On the economic side you simply become a stock broker and bet other people’s money.
The big problem with 2069 is that the reality is certain to be not at all pretty. The best bet is to go for humor and not worry about whatever the hell year it’s supposed to be about. Everything that I’ve seen so far is actually looking no more than ten years into the future.
Bill Gates famously noted that people grossly over estimate the rate of change in two years and grossly underestimate the rate of change in ten. Also very important to this is Arthur C. Clarke’s third of three laws of the future. Any advanced enough technology appears to be magic to someone from a less advanced society.
We are in full, accelerating phase change right now and will be for most of this century unless we are not and that will be because we have killed ourselves. Note what I said above about 2069 being almost certainly very ugly. Climate change disasters will guarantee that and that is already well out of our hands. Decisions that were not made twenty years ago makes that a near certainty. It is not a complete certainty because weird shit happens. We must never forget that as something may help us out but it can’t be counted on to happen.
The trick is to pull a positive image from what we can see in 2069 based on the current areas of rapid change and adding some weight in for alternative paths and weird shit. The difficulty will be ignoring the strong likelihood of mass suffering and death. But surviving to 2069 will mean things will then get better for the ones who survive or, more likely, get off of the planet.
Technology is always our primary issue and that puts us directly in the truth of Bill Gates’ statement about change. We are seeing this right now with a steadily evolving trend in stories on the failure of self-driving cars. Note that the whole concept of self-driving cars is about two years old hence the massive disappointment that they aren’t here yet. So it will never happen. This is a massive change and will devastate major groups of jobs.
We are actually very close to autonomous driving vehicles that can handle most normal driving situations now. With the technology in place the issues are legal, ethical, and social. These will take two or three years to work out and then the rapid changes that caused anticipatory panic two years ago will happen very quickly. This is just a sample in the short run and not fifty years away.
I am no where near confident enough to suggest any broad view of fifty years from now. There are some very specific areas that are based on what we already understand that will be factors in fifty years. That is scary because all that we can say for sure is related to the clearly modeled climate disaster that we have committed ourselves to experience. Put simply, we are in for a rough ride and face the risk of major cultural collapse even if massive economic and social changes are made starting now.
The successful people will be living in new metropoles inland from and replacing the flooded coastal cities. These will be less congested urban environments with population clusters made possible by autonomous cars and drones. There may be people who enjoy living in flooded cities. Read Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 for some idea. This will, I think, be a big part of life in 2069.
The questions that must be answered in the next ten years will dictate who who is successful and who is struggling to survive in 2069. There will be nearly unimaginable success with leisure and options for knowledge and there will be misery and suffering probably worse than now. The proportions of the population in each category will be determined very soon.
A planetary standard for rights and sustainable economics will be required for the majority population to avoid misery in fifty years. Planetary assets must be allocated equitably and that will make possible great advances both on and off this planet possible. Failure to achieve this in the next ten to twenty years will make 2069 something to be feared if we manage to last that long.
The worst situation will be something like America now with ignorance as the criteria for leadership, greed as the only virtue, and complete disregard for all other life resulting in the death of all other life on the planet. There will be an incredibly rich minority living in splendor in walled mountain fortresses. The rest of the population will probably be living in flooded cities without technology or struggling in increasingly marginal farm lands.
But lets look at the better options. If we redistribute wealth to ensure reasonable well being for all sentient creatures including education, healthcare, and basic income the life focus will become projects for general human benefit. What could these projects be?
Orbital cities could be built as universities and research centers with archives to preserve human knowledge, art, and culture. Decades of violent climate change, loss of cities, culture and much of human history will make people very, very concerned about preserving those things for the future. The assets of the current oligarchs who worked to destroy the planet for their own greed would be nicely used to preserve the remaining culture for the future.
With robotic workers and management systems we may well be able to retain portions of our drowned cities for human use with a natural expansion into floating cities and underwater frontier towns.
A major and continuing project set will be recovery and maintenance of wild life. We are currently well into a major die off caused by the same things that have made our climate increasingly threatening to our form of life. Can we catalog and preserve the genetic ability to maintain and restore our planetary creatures? That will certainly be a major focus of human life in fifty years.
By 2069 we should be well into management by our intelligent systems that have evolved from our current AI and Machine Learning technologies. By 2069 these should be moving into the equivalent of executive suites of new and old metropoles with politics effectively replaced by management systems. That is actually happening now in everything but politics. That will change steadily over the next forty years. People are simply too emotional and unreliable to manage planetary level survival.
By 2069 we will be learning to deal with sentient beings that are not biological and may well be the governing entities managing our planet and our societies. We may also have raised our fellow primates and other creatures to sentience by then through genetic engineering. That is just beginning now. All sentient beings will need to have rights and that should a primary area of study and action in 2069.
With the right choices now we will also be living in orbital cities in fifty years. The extent of our population that chooses to live off planet could be quite large. The technology for this is well known and within our reach if we can restructure human society sustainably in the next twenty years. Yes, full sustainability is a long shot but the good parts that I am describing here are only possible if that happens.
At the human level we will either have achieved a much broader and more sophisticated understanding of our role in the universe or that failure will be as deadly as the climate disaster that we brought on ourselves. What would this new understanding mean?
There is a tremendous amount of thought and discussion right now on the new spiritual center for Homo sapiens in a planetary culture. We are clearly at a point where evolutionary change in how we think and live socially is essential or whatever technology we achieve will be wasted on fighting and battles of greed. We are either in the last days of the old paradigm that produced our world and its disasters or we will not survive to overcome the challenges that we have created. That is a major motivation to evolutionary change.
The spiritual center of human life will become focused on our cosmic connection and total integration in our universe. We will need to make knowledge the standard of value so that we can each directly understand how that knowledge enables us to both trigger and guide change as both the right and duty of a sentient consciousness. The physical nature of our universe includes us for a reason but that is not simply our species but us as sentient beings. We know that quantum mechanics is based on potential that is influenced by sentient observation. The observation of a sentient being is required for the universe to evolve. We are just starting to understand what that means and will need to find out all the ways that will work. But we are not actually separate from what is all around us and that is a responsibility that we an no longer shirk.
This awareness must replace the old human patterns of religion and ideology that are based on only partial understanding of our universe and its structure. Sentient beings are self aware and must also be aware of that as an illusion. We appear to be distinct entities but we are also components of the whole. These are not exclusive categories but effectively required just as energy at the quantum level can be both a wave and a point, a potential and an event.
We must understand what we are and that we are also dependent on all that we may create and how all others see us. Then the challenges that we, in ignorance, created and that could kill us all will become simply new opportunities that allow us to expand our sense of full unity.