Highlights: in the year 2050, we still haven’t met any aliens, Zoom is like Myspace, and American football goes away. There’s much more in the post below.
Last year I read Remembrance of Earth’s Past, a science fiction trilogy by Chinese author Liu Cixin. The total length runs to more than 1,300 pages, but I loved it so much I would have kept reading if there was another book in the series.
The story has several themes and takes place across tens of thousands of years. Repeatedly, scientists and political leaders living in one point of history are trying to plan for something that will occur hundreds of years later, long after they’ll be dead.
It turns out that trying to predict the future is tough!
Much of the decision-making in the books involves game theory and deterrence, where you’re trying to predict what another party will do. Of course, you have limited information, and there’s a prisoner’s dilemma element to it: if you both attack, you both die; but if you hold back and the other party attacks, you die.
I’ve never been a futurist, but lately I’ve been thinking more about what’s likely to happen in the coming decades. In this post I’ll share nine specific predictions. Here we go!
First, a lot of things in the future will be better. In fact, more will be better than worse.
This is my biggest prediction: that for many people (not just “the 1%”) life will be significantly better than it is now.
What’s better? Almost every traditional metric of societal progress! Birth survival rates, literacy rates, girls’ education—and the list goes on.
There will be exceptions, particularly for regional and civil wars, as well as countries ruled by dictators. These will be exceptions, though. Most people in most parts of the world will be better off than they are now.
All cars will be electric and fully self-driving. All sorts of things can be 3D-printed at will. One underrated benefit of the pandemic we’ve just experienced is that researchers will have found highly effective vaccines and treatments for all sorts of conditions.
Given a choice between being alive in 2021 vs. 2050, a rational person would choose 2050.
Climate change won’t turn out as badly as we worry about now.
The effects of climate change—at least in the year 2050—won’t be as bad as many people are currently predicting. To be clear, I don’t mean it’s not a problem; I just mean that civilization will endure. We’re going to make it!
Again, there are exceptions: New Orleans and Miami will be underwater, the entire population of Tuvalu will be relocated to New Zealand, and so on. There will be consequences that disproportionately affect the poor in countries like Indonesia and Bangladesh.
But more broadly speaking, in terms of the planet’s actual survival and our ability to adapt, we’ll be cruising along! We will adjust and be better off.
Human lifespan won’t be much longer than it is now.
Most of us are better off in 2050—but despite the huge amounts of money and attention being poured into the “life extension” industry, any improvements will be minor.
At best, we’ll live a few years longer than we do now, but that’s it. No one is living to be 150, or even 130. In the year 2050, this remains an elusive quest for scientists and elderly billionaires. It’s probably better to focus on living well during our existing lifespan.
We still haven’t met any aliens.
Recent events and disclosures from high-ranking officials have caused many of us to update our beliefs about the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Still, I don’t think we’ll find it in the next thirty years.
If aliens really are hanging around out there, presumably they’re smarter than us, since they’ve found us and not the other way around. And if they haven’t spoken up thus far, why would they start now?
So by 2050, we may know a little more, but “the answers” remain frustratingly inaccessible. The good news is that since any aliens haven’t announced their presence, they also haven’t destroyed us. That’s always nice!
(Side note: The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy was really helpful in thinking through different scenarios for other life forms, as well as their interaction or lack of interaction with us. Highly recommended. And if the books are right, they’re reading this post right now … which is cool.)
The metaverse is legit, but Facebook (aka “Meta”) doesn’t control it.
I’ve been reading about the metaverse for years, so now I have that annoying thing where you’ve known about something for a long time that everyone else is just now talking about.
Anyway, it’s real and we’ll all interact with it daily. Your blockchain address will take the place of websites and (some) social media platforms. Don’t know what a blockchain address is? You will. It will be more important than any other online profile you’ve had up till now.
Thankfully, in the future the metaverse is not controlled by a rapacious corporate entity. Not
(Side note: every author now wishes they were Neal Stephenson, who coined the phrase “metaverse” in his book Snow Crash. Another great book! If only he’d registered the domain name for his invention…)
We live in a post-fact world order.
Here’s one thing that’s not much better about the world in thirty years. Thanks to deep fakes, AI, and virtual reality, it’s harder than ever to pull someone back from the deep end of conspiracy theories.
There is even more fragmentation than now. Rationalism, a counter-movement to the whims of inflexible ideology, will not get off the ground in terms of attracting enough followers for it to break through a polarized discourse—it’s too logical.
Sadly, the trend of strong-man leaders that started winning elections around the world may be declining by 2050, but only after another decade or two of power. The divide-and-conquer playbook is highly effective.
So that’s no fun. And I’m not sure there’s much that can be done about it? It’s definitely a thing that will affect our lives for years to come.
American football will no longer be played.
I’m not sure it will become illegal, but it will at least be marginalized. We’ll look back and wonder, how did we let that happen? And why did so many people celebrate it?
All sports (and life in general) involves risk, but there is no other sport in which the way it is played nearly guarantees that most players will experience permanent brain damage if they participate long enough.
Even Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr had to go to New Jersey for their famous duel, because duels were outlawed in New York—back in 1804! Yet millions of people watch American football every week.
The alternative is to change the game so much that it hardly resembles how it looks today. I’m not sure how that could be done, but to me it seems much more likely to fade away in favor of basketball, “extreme” sports such as skateboarding, and my next point… esports.
Esports will be much bigger than all other sports.
That’s right, esports will take over! If you can’t picture it yet, just you wait. The industry will be bigger than any other traditional sport, and maybe more than all of them put together.
Chess will be almost exclusively an esport, with millions of people watching online and most major matches taking place online.
Video games have already replaced movies as the form of entertainment that generates the most revenue. The gap will continue to grow.
On a personal note, I’m glad that the growth of esports didn’t happen sooner, because the Chris of my young twenties would have gone all-in with trying to play video games full-time. I know I’d have no chance at competing now, so I’ll stick to writing.
Virtual reality will replace Facetime, Zoom, and other current meeting technology.
When we talk with people, we’ll just beam them in. Okay, “beam them in” is probably not the most precise phrasing. But it’s basically like it sounds: everything will be in 3D (at least) and we’ll be able to have meetings around a virtual conference table, not just the flat pictures you see on Zoom.
In fact, here’s something else: Zoom will be the Myspace of 2050. We’ll laugh about “having a Zoom moment” when someone struggles to keep up with more modern methods. Sell your Zoom stock now—I predict it will never return to its early 2020 high or hype.
Conclusion: What’s to Be Done?
If you have a hard time imagining what the world might be like in 2050, try thinking about your own life. That’s an arena in which you have much more control anyway.
What do you want to change between now and then? How about between now and next year?
Oh, one final note: in the year 2050, we still don’t have flying cars! I know, I’m disappointed too. But at least we’ll have even more entertainment on demand, and the aliens won’t have invaded yet.