Within my remaining expected lifespan—that is, within 40-50 years, I expect the following. I am avoiding predictions about policy or politics because I find that in others these tend overwhelmingly to be projections of ideology and very little else.
- All or nearly all cars will be driverless. As a result, transit will be unrecognizable.
- Nearly all power will be solar, except for specialized applications like airplane fuel.
- 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.
- Nearly everyone will wear something like Google Glass, and the privacy violations we worry about now will be thought quaint and amusing.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
The following events have a chronology that is impossible to predict. They are still important to mention:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
What are your predictions?