We asked some of the boldest thinkers what the world will be like in 50 years. Here’s what their answers tell us about the future.
Who will run the world?
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Women (and pro-social men). In the 1980s there was a research study on savanna baboons, where, by chance, the most aggressive males died from stealing and eating rotten meat from a dump in the territory of neighboring baboons. The less aggressive surviving males and higher female ratio shifted the culture of generations of baboons, creating a more cooperative, happier population. While I don’t advocate poisoning, I do advocate pro-social leadership.
Brilliant, compassionate people—mostly women.
Those (countries or companies) who have gained access to a sustainable, free energy source.
Which country will have the most powerful economy?
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The US without question, because of its ability to attract and super-charge the world’s top talent.
We need to shift from our obsession with power to focus instead on who will have the healthiest, happiness, and most sustainable economy. Finland topped the 2019 World Happiness Report. Perhaps we should take a page from their book.
If I were forced to pick a single country, I would say China. However, I believe that globalization and international cooperation will force countries to operate more as regional blocs, and I think we will see the emergence of very economically-powerful regional blocs emerging from Africa and Asia.
What kinds of companies will be the most important?
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Companies that take leadership on the moral issues of our time, like climate change, immigration reform, racial justice, and the right of pregnant people to make their own decisions.
Those that create solutions to our greatest sustainability challenges, improving the quality of life of our people, and the health of our environment.
Companies with access to the most energy to run the largest quantum computing platforms. I believe people will own and be in charge of their own data. Therefore, these companies will work on economic incentives to gain access to the data generated by each individual.
What will cause the biggest conflicts?
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The fight for resources as a result of climate change and growing economic inequality.
The same thing that always has: The struggle between a small group of people who have power and are struggling to hang onto it, and those who believe in the dignity, humanity, and equality of every person.
Climate change-induced natural resource scarcity.
How will people earn a living?
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What we now think of as work will disappear. People will work more but in shorter formal hours. Part of it will be creative and knowledge-based work. But a big part will come from what we now think of as leisure.
As our economy is increasingly automated, millions more people will be taking care of people—providing child care, elder care, health care—and these jobs will finally be compensated with living wages and dignity.
I think we will see the greatest job growth in the creative industries and service sector. I believe that the majority of agricultural and manufacturing jobs will become automated and therefore governments will have to find new sectors to create employment.
How will we communicate with each other?
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Through stories, still, but enriched by media we don’t yet use.
I think that in many marvelous and troubling ways, the physical and digital spaces will converge, and that this will really shift what we imagine are the gaps between us as human beings. I think people will avoid large, mass-targeted social networks and be much more deliberate about where they say what, choosing even more closed and niche chambers for privacy. I also think that there may be a quiet comeback to more analog methods to escape the multiple surveillances we’re increasingly under.
How will we entertain one another?
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Books, TV shows, movies, and the musical Hamilton, which will still be running.
I’m really convinced that we’re going to figure out a way for “the matrix” to exist, where we can actually physically share virtual experiences. In many ways, the video game industry may be what will push the world over that edge.
Also, art. There are new people and new times, and so there will always be new ways and methods to say the same old things: that we hate one another, that we love one another, that we want to connect, and that we want to escape this reality and find new spaces in the universe in which we can try and start over, to do life differently. We’ll be swimming nonstop in these grand contradictions, as we always have.
By projecting our brightest fantasies into each others’ minds.
What will we eat?
More responses to What will we eat?
More plants from regenerative farming practices.
Broadly speaking, the future is going to be delicious, if for no other reason than that more and more people are going to demand food with flavor and nutrition, and food with a story. There is no turning back to the food I grew up with in the 1970s and 1980s, which was about overly processed and packaged foods. More specifically, the future is going to bring plant breeders into the conversation. We’ve become more in tune with where and how our food is grown, but we have turned a blind eye to the source of it all: seeds. Plant breeders, the people who create new varieties of fruits, vegetables, and grains, are the real architects of our food system. Unfortunately, much of their work is dictated by the handful of agricultural giants who control the seed industry. That means selecting for yield and uniformity above all else—a seed planted in New York is expected to perform the same as it does in Mexico or even China. In the future, we will be breeding fruits and vegetables that are better suited for their local ecology, better adapted for organic farming systems, and of course, for better flavor.
Fresh and organically-grown food will really become a luxury, even more than now. The Jetsons-style add-water-and-stir nightmare will be sold as affordable and convenient, while real texture and flavor may become things only real money can buy. They’ll be grown where there is land to grow them, and then shipped off to those that can afford them. It’s also possible, with people now making lab-grown meat, that lab-grown substitutes for everything can be grown. As such, perhaps the real luxury will be food that can rot.
How will we die?
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We will live longer. We will also hopefully figure out how to die better.
At our own hands, like we always have. We’re our own undoing.
We will have a choice of how long we live. We will choose if we want to archive our “consciousness” and our memories, and if we want to make them available to a collective bank of human consciousness that lives on the largest, most powerful quantum computing platform.
What will we wear?
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Jumpsuits and overalls, which will finally be recognized as the greatest unisex clothing for anyone and everyone.
All synthetics, but they’ll feel like “the real thing,” whatever that may be. The actual real thing will be separated from us by money.
We will have 3D printers where we will select and purchase our desired brand garment in colors and styles we can manipulate and custom print to our body. We will each have a 3D-image file, which will be used by the system to customize the garment to our specifications.
How will we find love?
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In much more spiritual, subjective, and intangible ways, like astrological synastry, using ancestor communications through seances, etc. Matchmaking by professionals who understand compatibilities (not so much by parents to align family interests, even though this will also resurge) and arranged pairings will also become even more popular. I also think that Zillenials and those who come after them will be less and less invested in blood as a way of forming family: People will do much more choosing in that regard, from much earlier on in life.
I think more people will use the internet/tech to find love and I think people will fall in and out of love much quicker. The internet/technology will allow us to connect with people with similar beliefs, interests, and preferences before actually meeting them in person. Improved connectivity will also mean that the pool of potential suitors has widened. More people may decide to date in perpetuity.
We will have online avatars who can meet and interact to determine if we would like to meet in person.
What kinds of stories will we tell?
More responses to What kinds of stories will we tell?
Stories of hope.
The same ones we’ve told for centuries: stories of people and places that inspire, challenge, and excite us.
Stories of delight, war, love, survival, and of what used to happen before the internet.
Audiovisual content will still be king in many different ways—I think different populations of people are now in a space where they are looking for content that reminds them of themselves, and that will become even more focused and deliberate. At the same time, there are parts of the world that have not met each other yet, especially in the South. All our diasporas scattered across the world have such stories to tell. That will be an interesting place for content and narratives to explore.
How will we get information?
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Through each other. Our reliable news source will become the people we trust and love.
News flash on wearable gadgets.
Our greatest challenge will be sorting and limiting the information we receive emotionally.
What forms of transportation will we use?
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Our feet and bicycles mostly. We will live closer to where we work. Cars will be obsolete. Planes and trains will be faster.
Electric planes and drones, more trains and hyperloop and autonomous automobiles.
We’re shifting as a culture toward shared transportation, both for the environment and because we crave community.
What will cities be like?
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Bigger and better, structured around mega-regions like the Boston-New York-Washington Corridor. Some of these will grow to be more than 100 million people. These mega-regions, not nations, will be the economic and political axis on which the world turns.
Still expensive, but less crowded in big cities as people migrate to mid-size cities and back to the suburbs.
We’ll have two types of cities, I think: One will be the mega city, with millions and millions of people, and the others will be the cities within them. These will be stratified for class, power, and influence depending on who has any, or all. I think we’re already here in many ways.
What will our borders be like?
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It will be easy to cross them if you are willing to give up privacy and have an approved financial profile. It will be hard if you have a criminal history or are seeking refuge.
There will be fewer borders to cross as we become a more global community. The ones that still exist, though—the holdouts to the global community—will be close to impenetrable.
I have a friend who says that today, as things are, is the easiest we’re ever going to have it, as far as border security is concerned. It gets more intense by the day. With more fear and conservatism with regard to resources and their spread, borders will be even tighter and more dramatic than they already are.
Will we have ventured to other planets?
More responses to Will we have ventured to other planets?
Possibly Mars, but no one will really care.
People with money will have ventured onto other planets, for sure. The labor of building and terraforming, though, will have to be done by those accustomed to manual labor, and a lot of money will have to be invested in making sure those people can be fed and housed as they terraform. So for now, perhaps, people with money will just do fly-bys, and the rest of us will follow them on Instagram.
That’s if we’re looking at it scientifically. Perhaps science is not the only way we can venture beyond planet Earth into the Milky Way, and to the rest of the known and unknown universes. So there’s that to consider as well.
Yes, we will be in the initial stages of building habitats on other planets or, better yet, on the moons of some planets that are more hospitable for life.
What will our most valuable resource be?
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Our human creativity.
Our most valuable resource will be phosphorous, an instrumental element used in modern agriculture. We’ll need phosphate (the form of phosphorus that plants can absorb) to grow the amount of food we’re currently producing; however, it’s a non-renewable resource and we are rapidly depleting it. Scientists are predicting that we’re going to run out of it in less than 100 years. What happens then? We won’t be able to grow enough food to feed the planet.
This impending crisis can be avoided. Plants can only uptake a small fraction of the phosphate they get in fertilizer, so most of it gets washed out of the topsoil into bodies of water, creating dead zones. We know our stores of phosphate are limited and yet we’re unnecessarily drowning our plants in it and polluting the environment. If we’re hoping for food security in the future, we’ll have to dramatically reduce our phosphorus consumption now.
I keep saying it will be trust, which seems very kumbaya. But I do think that, because the centralities of state and big corporations are more fragile, and because economic situations are dire, in many ways it is easier to profit from scamming someone than by being nice and coming through for them. So people do that and the betrayals are truly not personal. The things that are actually valuable because they are personal—care, loyalty, and intimacy, which can be real factors in surviving and thriving—will be key. Without them we can’t have good relationships, which are becoming rarer by the day.
What will the biggest change to our natural world be?
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We will finally be engaged in a much-needed global strategy to fix the worsening climate.
Bodies of water will be contaminated, wildlife will have suffered, and the polar ice caps melted.
We’re already in it. Global warming has already caused irreversible changes. The only more significant change will be anything large-scale we, as the inhabitants of the Earth, do to slow its onset.
Will our world be more equal or less equal?
More responses to Will our world be more equal or less equal?
I believe inequality will have gotten better. When you have more and more people fighting for finite resources, there will be more crime and uprisings. At some point, the top 1% will need to see that inequality will threaten their own lives and livelihood. While I would like to think that humans are more likely to help other humans “out of the kindness of their hearts,” I believe that we will see a bigger push from the top 1% simply as a form of self-preservation. People will be forced to innovate and come up with solutions to problems that are caused by inequality.
Inequity would be eradicated or significantly diminished when humanity has achieved breakthroughs that accelerate a hopeful future for all. This future does not belong to one gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, age group, nationality or sexual orientation. It belongs to everyone, and we need to work together to create a world in which we can all thrive.
It will be worse before it gets better.
What technology will bring about the biggest change in society?
More responses to What technology will bring about the biggest change in society?
How to deal with the extension of human life.
Geoengineering, biomimicry, and AI.
AI. The progress in automation will push us to become better, deeper, knowledge workers, and give us the capacity for currently unimaginable innovation.
What’s your best prediction for the world in 50 years?
More responses to What’s your best prediction for the world in 50 years?
Life will be much better than it is now.
I predict that the people who are teenagers and pre-teens today—the ones who are organizing nationwide marches against gun violence and walking out of school to raise awareness about climate change and taking brave, sometimes lonely stands for what they believe—will succeed in their fight to build the more just and hopeful world they deserve.
2070 will be the year where we unlock access to abundant free energy that will eventually lead to the creation of a world that provides equitable and sustainable access to all of humanity’s basic needs.