In the spirit of the early League, I’ll frame mine in terms of his:
“All or nearly all cars will be driverless. As a result, transit will be unrecognizable.”
We already have driverless cars. They’re called trains. Lots of people use them in some places, and not so many people use them in other places. And just as with trains, more than anything else the market saturation of driverless cars will depend on infrastructure and policy, which is wildly unpredictable and beholden to interests that are not always aligned with those of the greater society.
“Nearly all power will be solar, except for specialized applications like airplane fuel.”
Solar power will continue to grow as a percentage of total energy, but energy sourcing as a whole will become incredibly heterogeneous in order to avoid risk and to reflect market preferences. Energy will become significantly greener by necessity more than anything else.
“There will be a vast increase in telework on the part of idea workers. Workers whose jobs require a physical human presence will enjoy living much closer to their worksites. The long commute will die.”
I actually have the option of working from home most days and prefer to work from my office even though I have a long commute. I’ve found a way to make my commute productive and enjoyable: I listen to biology lectures while driving. Plus, my work productivity suffers objectively when working from home. This casts light on another problem of telework: how do you ensure that people are actually working?
“Nearly everyone will wear something like Google Glass, and the privacy violations we worry about now will be thought quaint and amusing.”
I agree with this one: just look at all the privacy violations going on in our schools. We’re already preparing the next generation to find the notion of personal privacy abnormal, while we normalize government attacks on American citizens.
“I think it very improbable that Google Glass will be the eventual winner in what’s clearly a winner-take-all technology. Google Glass will make all the instructive mistakes. These mistakes are things we can’t guess at just yet. Then some other competitor—probably an unknown or a bit player at this point—will develop the eventual winner.”
I strongly disagree with the notion that this is a winner-take-all competition. The success of Google Glass depends on style as well as substance. There will always be hipsters and techno-elitists to prevent monopoly.
“We will have vastly more data to plug into the Drake Equation, the attempted mathematical way to tackle the Fermi Paradox. This will tell us a good deal more about our place in the universe relative to other potential civilizations (see below). I will always look back at the one time that I met Frank Drake as one of the highlights of my life.”
More data will just make the Fermi Paradox even more paradoxical.
“Genetic engineering will eliminate a vast swath of human diseases in all generations born near or after my death. These will include genetic diseases of course, but also communicable ones like AIDS, for which an immunity-granting gene is already known.”
But in the near future more and more people will lose their minds before their bodies, starting with the Baby Boomers. How will we solve THAT problem?
“Great progress will have been made—inadvertently, and with much ethical hand-wringing—on the problem of aging. This progress will come too late to help me, however, and I’ll still die like an animal. So will you. Both are probably avoidable if all of us put our minds to it, but we won’t.”
I suspect I’ll stop knowing I’m alive long before I die.
“I strongly suspect that modern physics is due for a massive paradigm shift. If so, then all bets are off, and we have literally no idea what the future will bring.”
I don’t think there will be a paradigm shift for physics so much as there will be a great, cooperative reorganizing process similar to the way the creation of the periodic table affected chemistry.
Engineering and materials science will continue to make strides based on already-known physical principles or relatively insignificant modifications to them and continuously-growing resource pools or know how.
There is the possibility that discoveries relating to the island of stability or a better understanding of the nature of the gravitational force could cause huge paradigm shifts. Ghost organs and cellular therapies will revolutionize medicine. Fab labs and 3-D printing will change consumer commerce forever.
“At this point, the only things holding together the consensus model of astrophysics are “a vast amount of very mysterious matter” and “a vast amount of very mysterious energy.” When we get right down to it, both of them are invoked ad hoc to explain the currently observed conformations of galaxies. Neither one possesses much in the way of other observable properties at all. The invocation of epicycles is a standard sign that your model is missing something really big. We may soon find out what it is.”
We forgot to carry the 1?
“Current data suggests that the universe is teeming with planets, and there are intriguing hints that there may have been life on Mars. We will know much more about both of these very soon. Both, however, imply a rising probability that the Great Filter lies somewhere in our future. That is, both “planets” and “life” may be easily come by in the universe, and the thing that makes the universe silent is something we haven’t met yet. Something may be destroying intelligent life. And the probability of this being the case has been rising steadily for basically all of my time on earth so far.”
That’s grim news, but the Great Filter could turn out to be non-lethal, or even wonderful. Iain M. Banks proposes that advanced civilizations Sublime: through hyperadvanced technology, they adopt nonphysical bodies and modes of existence that are somehow beyond the current universe.
Subliming is obviously nonlethal, but it’s also pretty far out. Closer things may suffice, and I strongly suspect that a physics paradigm shift may explain the Fermi Paradox after all. For example, if we ever found that some new bit of physics allowed for ultra-cheap, high-bandwidth, faster-than-light communication, we would obviously adopt it immediately. And with it our civilization would adopt effective radio silence, apart from a few faint, random-seeming noises.
I also suspect that if this were the case, we would switch on our new listening devices and immediately find that the universe had been teeming with information all along. Civilizations just a bit ahead of us would have abandoned electromagnetic communication as a vastly inferior technology. And that’s why the universe seems empty: EM communication is only a very short phase of a civilization’s total lifespan, arriving right before they find the Ancient Connection to the Starry Dynamo. The radio silence we observe is precisely analogous to your never having received a telegram.”
To address all these points at once and add to Jason’s hypothetical:
I waver between supporting the strong anthropic principle and supporting the weak anthropic principle; but if there were an infinite number of universes, why would a technologically-advanced civilization confine its activities to ours? If there were an infinite number of universes and intelligent creatures were capable of occupying any number of them, why would they choose this one? If there were an infinite number of universes, the odds that this one is ideal for any one member of a super-advanced civilization approach zero.
For that matter, even on our very finite planet, how many algae have ever encountered a giraffe? Or detected a clear sign of a giraffe’s existence? Are even we, advanced as we are, capable of reaching out to the humble cabbage, with whom we exist on the same order of magnitude in terms of size and complexity, with whom we have interacted on a daily basis for millennia, and with whom we share 40% of our genome?
We’re already well aware that space is teeming with organic matter. We understand the process that gave rise to the protobionts. We’ve meticulously documented the events that most likely lead through cyanobacteria to eukaryotes to invertebrates to vertebrates to being capable of modifying evolution itself. Yet we continue to think of the organism (in particular ourselves) as the highest possible level of organization instead of as part of a greater ecology.
I imagine that, if there were intelligent life as Jason conceives it above and as it is traditionally conceived in these sorts of discussions (i.e. like humans, capable of “transcending nature”), the reason why we do not encounter it is possibly because, like cancer, it chose to ignore the signals it received from its environment.
I’m not sure what the future will bring.
But, more than anything, what the future needs is some introspection.