Have you ever wondered how life will be for your grandchildren and great-grandchildren in 2050, a mere 30-plus years from now?
My great-grandchildren Mishka, now 6, and Arthur, who just turned 2, will just be peaking in their 30s by then, and their respective parents will be in their 50s and 60s.
Will their world be a gentler or a harsher place? Will daily life be more comfortable or difficult? What new opportunities and challenges will they have?
Futurists (or futurologists) are sociologists, scientists, economists, academics, etc. who engage in the systematic forecasting of the future based on present trends. Without this relatively new pursuit, we would probably be as clueless about the future as our own ancestors were about today.
By 2050, the world will be quite crowded (about 9.7 billion people, more than double the 4.5 billion just several decades ago), and the majority (6.2 billion) will be living in congested cities.
Our own country’s population is projected to reach 150 million, with Metro Manila’s increasing to 18 million, from today’s 13 million. The next generation of Filipinos will be living in one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
Barring an extinction-level event such as a giant meteor colliding with Earth, an uncontrolled pandemic, or a nuclear war, expect a “mixed” world with some “downsides” (serious but solvable) and a lot of “upsides” (some with important social and ethical issues).
On the downside, the biggest global problem every person will face is global warming. Its consequences: rising sea levels, greater flooding, more frequent and more severe typhoons and hurricanes, erratic weather patterns and extremes in temperatures (heat waves, cold spells).
A warmer climate will also mean a decrease in food crops, leading to food scarcity; many countries’ water resources will also be challenged severely; many diseases will spread faster.
Unfortunately, most vulnerable to climate change are island-nations with their extensive shorelines, and the Philippines is one of these.
“Superbugs,” infections which no longer respond to drugs, will proliferate. Hopefully, new medicines will be developed in time to combat them.
Accelerating advances in IT and the evolution and accessibility of social media will come at the loss of privacy.
Ubiquitous surveillance will be the norm, the result of easier and multiple access to data. Fake news, widespread hacking and cyber-attacks will be common unless effective counter-measures are developed.
Lastly, the ever-present possibility of widespread conflict, in addition to sporadic “pocket” wars, will continue to be a threat.
So what’s the good news? First, advances in many fields, especially in technology, health and medicine, and most particularly in global social consciousness, should help mitigate the dark scenarios.
Our descendants’ life spans will be longer than ours, just as ours are longer than those of our ancestors.
Chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart, lung and kidney disease will be treated through rejuvenation medicine—stem cells, genetic engineering and 3D printing of tissues and organs as replacements for diseased body parts.
In diagnostics, the new norm will be wearable and implanted monitoring devices; portable mini-laboratories; video consulting; and sophisticated computer analysis and diagnosis.
Our immediate descendants will also benefit from the wide use of renewable clean energy to counter worsening pollution caused by today’s fossil fuels. They will rely almost exclusively on solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy, as well as hydropower and ocean-generated power.
Self-driving vehicles will be the standard and will be safer, smarter and cleaner, resulting in faster travel and fewer accidents. By 2050, electric cars will be widespread.
In 2050, AI (artificial intelligence) will be far advanced: mobile robots could outperform humans both physically and intellectually, and can run businesses by themselves, aside from doing much routine work, freeing up people to engage in social, recreational and artistic pursuits.
Human-like robots with their own emotions will be able to hold intelligent conversations, and even have “personal relationships” with people (as seen in some recent futuristic movies). The internet will reach every corner of the globe, with about 98 percent of people online.
“Smart” devices such as your cell phone will evolve to the point that their form and ever-increasing functions will make today’s versions look primitive (by then, they may just be a decorative accessory, can be thought-activated, can control your many other devices in remote locations, and can project a 3D hologram of the person you are conversing with).
Instant translation tools will bring human communication to a new level: When you go to another country, you can instantly speak the local language just by activating a special device or an app in your phone.
There will be much greater gender equality, more women will participate in the workforce, and couples will share in housework and child care.
Baby-making will become more sophisticated with the advent of “designer babies”—genetically “engineered” to replace defective genes (minimizing disease), enhance physical characteristics, raise IQ, and of course, choose the baby’s sex.
Increased global social responsibility, driven by today’s controversial but socially involved millennials, will help address the various ills plaguing society.
Lastly, this may sound “way out” and will come too late for us, but perhaps not for our great-grandchildren: By mid-century, science may be able to upload the contents of the human brain (a persons’ consciousness and brain functions, including his personal traits) into a computer, allowing the person to “live forever” in a robotic body or as a hologram. At present, some scientists are already working on this seemingly incredible project.
The next 30 years and beyond are fraught with far-reaching opportunities and potentially life-changing challenges for our immediate descendants. Their ability to survive and thrive in this future “brave new world” will depend to a large extent on how we, their elders, prepare them for it. –CONTRIBUTED