With this blog entry and my last at this venue, I’m celebrating the future. I’m allowing myself a wide-eyed optimistic view. Though I am well aware of today’s threats, unintended consequences, and the brakes culture puts on change, I believe the promise presented by new knowledge and understanding is attainable. The two ingredients most needed for success are courage and imagination.
So, without further ado, here are my first five of ten predictions for 2050:
Space, the Near Frontier – The Antarctic attracts about 37,000 tourists each year. In the summer, seventy bases support 4,000 people, while the population drops to 1,000 (at forty bases) in the winter. One of the bases in Antarctica has a bowling alley. Space will be the Antarctic of 2050, with a similar number of tourists and residents, though the seasons won’t lead to variations.
Both Antarctica and Space have hostile environments and so have similar needs. Food is all imported. Housing is complex and essential. Communications and means of escape in emergencies are necessary. The biggest difference is people in space will need air, water, and a cheap means to get there. Air and water can be shipped if the transportation problem is solved, and there are numerous companies vying to create transportation and habitat. With the emergence of new strategies and new materials, it seems inevitable that the price will go down far enough to bring crowds to space. The moon will be in reach, but at a much higher price tag. I suspect will have permanent stations there, but I doubt there will be tourists.
Ocean Cities – Two things will drive our taming and exploitation of the oceans and seas. First, the addition of billions of people who will be hungry for all sorts of resources. Just as oil exploration pushed its way offshore, the hunger for minerals, food, real estate, and understanding will put more people out there floating, on stilts, and under the waves.
The second driver will be rising sea levels. The higher they get, the more we will invest in understanding the vast areas of our planet that both serve and threaten us.
You, Upgraded – A lot of our older folks already are low-level cyborgs, with medical inserts. Expect this to explode and to move beyond ameliorating illness to providing convenience and new functionality. But the devices will not be limited to mechanical and electronic replacement or imbedded iPhones. Think in two other directions – soft robotics and completely biological add-ons. The former will add flexibility and emulate natural systems (like fins). The latter will provide organs that will extend our capabilities.
People Markets – For centuries, parents have invested in their children. Much of this has been altruistic, but the proximate practical value was having someone around to take care of them in their old age. This was a traditional form of social security (and it still exists in many cultures today). Both generations benefit from the arrangement.
Take it a step further and think terms of marketizing investments in people who have potential. We do it in sports. Agents connect with potential stars while they are still in high school. Major League baseball teams have created camps in the Dominican Republic which have given them access to the best talent from an early age.
A huge pool of human value –in terms of needed skills, most notably in science and math– is inadequately funded today. Talented people often don’t get the education (or even nutrition) they need to deliver value society needs. But what if we had ways to detect people of talent, drive, interest, and commitment? What if it were as easy to support their development as it is to support a startup company? Wouldn’t people buy shares? And couldn’t that investment be used to ensure their talents aren’t wasted?
Of course, with enough data, shares of individuals could be monetized and traded. When a kid exercised or took a course or entered an apprenticeship, the share value would go up. And, as is the practice in the investment community, these could be aggregated, both in terms of qualifying people in categories and in terms of bringing together complementary talent to take on opportunities.
Living in the Past – We already have examples of this, both purposeful (the Amish) and as a consequence of history or isolation (underdeveloped and tribal regions). To paraphrase SF writer Bruce Sterling, “The past is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” The difference in 2050 will be that virtually all these communities from different eras will be created intentionally. Like the Amish, I expect that the larger society will accommodate them in terms of how fully they are expected to obey laws and their expected level of participation.
I know plenty of people in the US who would gladly retreat to the 1960s, the 50s, the 20s, and, in some cases, the 15th century. With the dramatic changes humans will be experiencing, many will be unprepared and unwilling to live in the present. These Comfort Zones will spring up to give them what the social structures they long for. Not incidentally, the ability to retreat from the 21st century will have the practical effect of reducing resistance to change. In addition, it may be lucrative, allowing those who are part of current times a chance to take a break and experience a different culture on their vacations.
The intersection of courage and imagination is hope. That’s why these predictions and the ones I’ll present next time are not laden with warnings and cautions. Proposals for change always generate criticisms, both reasonable and unreasonable. All ideas need to be tested and socialized. But, before they are put on the dissection table, they need to be inspiring.
NOTE: I found out last week that I won’t have a spot on this blog after this month. The blog itself is continuing, but with a different perspective including more case studies. For the next year, some of my past entries, translated into Spanish, will be added to this site. It has been a privilege to blog here for nearly five years, 130 entries and over 100,000 words. Thank you to my readers and to the Instituto de Ingeniería del Conocimiento.
I’ll still be writing, but you’ll need to go to my new venue, an update to Innovation Passport, to see my future articles on business/technology. This will include the final installment in the Measuring Ourselves series I promised. I’ll also provide refreshed versions of the blogs that have been posted here. I hope you’ll join me.
|Escrito por Peter Andrews|
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