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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.

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Njoki Ngumi

Njoki Ngumi

Filmmaker and doctor

Dr. Njoki Ngumi is a writer and feminist thinker who has held positions in private and public health care sectors in Kenya. She is now a member of the Nest, a Kenyan multidisciplinary collective of artists, builders and makers, and the coordinator of learning and development for Africa's first creative economy catalyst fund, HEVA. She takes special interest in the circumstances and holistic outcomes of youth, women and minorities. She also leads and participates actively in policy making and strategy, media debates, public education and dialogue, groundwork, pilots and practical interventions across sectors and arenas to make socioeconomic equality and advancement for them a reality. Say hi to her on Twitter at @njokingumi.

  • Who will run the world?

    • Regarding money, definitely China. They have an ongoing 100-year plan for social and economic development, so they’ve been preparing to do it for a long time. They’re already present all over the world infrastructurally, and there are very few people in the world who don’t owe them money. 

      Culturally, it is shifting: Hollywood doesn’t have the hegemony it once did, so it is looking to other continents now, using the PR of increasing diversity, ha! We should also keep an eye on Bollywood and Nollywood, the quality of whose films is stellar and ever increasing, and the narratives more gripping and delightful by the day. In general, Africa and Asia are making real cultural moves across sectors, genres, and media, and that is thrilling to watch and be part of.

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    • What kinds of companies will be the most important?

      • Food and water providers will be key. People who are also trying to figure out how to live on and under water, and people who negotiate with green energies, especially solar and wind, will also be really important. Of course, the evolving tech sphere—for surveillance, cash transfers, and communications—will have met the increasing global state appetite for citizen control in ways more horrifying than any science fiction story. Those who find new ways to traffic in data and its analytics will be key to the new ways we understand the world. 

        Regarding health, in the global North, there will be a lot of moves regarding tailor-made genetic solutions. Mass manufacturers of substances that can be used as weapons will also be key, as we keep teetering on the edge of fights. Folk involved in person-to-person support and healthcare will become more expensive to train, especially if healthcare service delivery and communications go the robot way. I also think that the cannabis wave is just the beginning of a comeback to more plant-based medical solutions (we in the South have never left them, so we’ve been in the future for centuries).

        I think people and entities who understand histories, art, and aesthetics are going to be even more essential as the keepers of our time, since things continue to change so much that even we are not be able to recognize them. Some of the worlds we have already lived—some of which are actually still living—are truly unimaginable.

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    • What will cause the biggest conflicts?

      • Land and clean water. Data as well. And of course, the old classical power matrices: money, religion, gender, sex, and sexual orientation. Some things don’t change.

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    • How will people earn a living?

      • Coming from the country, region, and continent I come from, we have for decades been asking, “How are so many people currently surviving without adequately paying jobs, when these jobs are so central to daily survival?” A friend of mine says that someone, somewhere is already living what you think is the wildest dystopia. In many ways, we are already living some of each other’s worst hypothetical outcomes. The way a lot of global North media reports on Africa, South America, and parts of Asia can tell you that. 

        Tech has resulted in multiple grey and informal economies, because the revolutions in transport and accommodations, for instance, have moved so fast into people’s daily convenience and across borders that laws and regulations are only just catching up. That said, in many ways we will still earn how we have always earned: by trading the goods and services we want to each other. But the idea of a “living” is what is in flux. If, for instance, universal basic income and more robust welfare is in the cards, it will mean that the people will have more control over what they do in order to afford survival. That would be interesting.

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    • How will we communicate with each other?

      • 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.

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    • How will we entertain one another?

      • 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.

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      • What will we eat?

        • 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.

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      • How will we die?

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      • What will we wear?

        • 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.

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        • How will we find love?

          • 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.

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          • What kinds of stories will we tell?

            • 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.

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            • How will we get information?

              • I think the most important question is who will give us information. We’ve already seen what that looks like digitally when the stakes are high enough, with scandals like that of Cambridge Analytica. In many ways the edited golden rule—“he who has the gold makes the rules”—may really dictate who hears what and why. That should trouble us more than it does. 

                Another important development is of illusions and deepfakes—it is possible to generate events that seem to be real life but did not actually happen. This has far-reaching political, economic, and social ramifications. This, together with the possibilities to both block and hijack the internet for entire countries can have serious effects on who gets what news.

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              • What forms of transportation will we use?

                • I truly hope people will have figured out teleportation by then, or have made astral projection a mass affair. Considering all the accidents that happen among vehicles on land, flying cars with thousands of human beings whose road rage will have become air rage is truly a bad idea.

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                • What will cities be like?

                  • 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.

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                  • What will our borders be like?

                    • 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.

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                    • Will we have ventured to other planets?

                      • 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.

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                      • What will our most valuable resource be?

                        • 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.

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                      • What will the biggest change to our natural world be?

                        • 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.

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                      • Will our world be more equal or less equal?

                        • That depends on whether things are left to their own devices or even just at status quo. If they are, it will get far worse than we can even imagine. A lot of people will have to do a lot of work to scale back not only the existing inequality, but also the mindsets and practices in the people who benefit from these inequalities. Globally, we don’t have too much precedent with our existing inequalities: class, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. So, I guess the jury’s out on this one, and we have a fairly good idea what the verdict will be.

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                        • What technology will bring about the biggest change in society?

                          • By mass? Wider access to electricity and the solidification of 18- to 24-hour economies and industries in parts of the world that are still unconnected. That will bring the internet, ways to move money, etc.

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                          • What’s your best prediction for the world in 50 years?

                            • That Africans will have figured out ways to move and trade within the continent, share our culture, and have a Continent that is open and inviting to our diaspora, that makes our many bonds with each other our greatest strength.

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