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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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Max Levchin

Max Levchin

Co-founder and CEO, Affirm

Max Levchin is an entrepreneur, computer scientist, philanthropist and investor. Levchin was one of the co-founders of PayPal, serving as its CTO until eBay acquired it in 2002. He is now the co-founder and CEO of Affirm, a financial services tech company, co-founder and Chairman of Glow, a data-driven fertility company, and co-founder and general partner at SciFi VC, a private venture capital firm.

  • What kinds of companies will be the most important?

    • All the intersections between biology and information sciences are going to become the most dominant in terms of change in the world and market capitalization and things like that. In general, the wall between analog and digital will be blown open, and companies that connect the two worlds or leverage the two worlds to help the other will be most impactful.
       
      I don’t know if it’s a company-thing or tech answer, but I think in 50 years' time, we will have to take climate change seriously. So there will be public big-scale projects or maybe private companies will emerge to help reverse that.

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  • What will cause the biggest conflicts?

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  • How will people earn a living?

    • In 50 years' time, you have to expect a lot of people worldwide will have some form of universal basic income. The job ladder will have a natural shift upwards—what we usually consider skilled labor will be considered unskilled, and everything will shift upwards. The one ladder that will remain largely untouched for a while is jobs, where creativity is more than 50% of the value. Eventually AI will catch up to something that resembles creativity; then that'll have a similar shift where suddenly someone who is doing an entry-level design job will now just delegate that to an AI. But then creative direction or oversight or editing is still a human endeavor. But in general we’ll see more and more high-end, high-level creativity/intellectual jobs become the ones that really matter and the rest going the way of UBI.
       
      I think there's a counterpoint to the answer about jobs. If we end up settling new planets, we may find ourselves back to extremely low-level homesteading-type jobs where there will be people digging trenches and building structures on Mars and other planets like that. Iit may be too expensive to bring all the robotic equipment with us, so we will be very quickly building robots to do more digging.

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  • How will we communicate with each other?

    • The final destination will be direct brain-to-brain communication. But before we’re willing to drill holes in our skulls and start installing connective electrodes—which is already being done, it's not a future thing at all, but is being done on an extremely limited scale for people who are literally locked inside their bodies. It will become a much more acceptable way of communicating, but before we get there, we’re going to be experimenting with stimulating the nervous system of another person. Basically cutting into the feed of optical nerve, cutting into the feed of the olfactory—all the things that feed into the brain, we'll first learn how to stimulate those directly and then we'll start reading the brain and feeding it information.

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    • What will we eat?

      • We’ll probably end up by then with a lot of very personalized diets. We’ll have a personal computing device of some kind telling us, “Here’s what’s missing in your system right now based on physiological data that's been gathered in real time.” We’ll still eat foods we’ve eaten for thousands of years—I don't think it's going to be a massive change in what people actually like to eat. If you look at recipe books from a thousand years, they don’t look all that different, which is kind of amazing. But we’re more knowledgeable about nutrition and what it does for brains and bodies, so we will have machine-guided diet modifications in real time. It's hard to predict if they'll be embedded in food that we get in restaurants—instead of asking “What are your dietary restrictions?” the wait-person will say, “I’m going to pick up your dietary needs off your personal body computer and we'll make sure you get whatever you need, whether it's iron or B12 or whatever else we discover as an important ingredient.”

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      • What will cities be like?

        • I think cities are actually one of these things that always change but always stay the same. If you look at human history, the human endeavors that last the longest are cities. There are very few things that last as long as cities do, certainly en masse. There's one or two imperial bloodlines still around, that's an amazing thing. Meanwhile, there are tons of cities have been around for a couple thousand years, and it's not that big of a deal. Where I was born [Kiev, Ukraine] is now 1,500 years old, and it's the capital of a modestly-sized eastern European country. Cities will probably change gradually. There will be more attempts to make sense of them. There will be overpopulation, traffic, crime, and garbage collection issues. I don’t know if there’s going to be a dramatic, overnight change because they're the ultimate slow-changing system where nothing gets modified super quickly. Even if things like Sidewalk Labs build the prototype for what a perfect city looks like, it's going to take hundreds of years to convert other cities that are alive and well to those models. I think cities will not be drivers of change; they will be recipients of some of the benefits.

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        • Will we have ventured to other planets?

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        • What will our most valuable resource be?

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

          • We will probably be in the later stages of the most destructive part of climate change and will have started the reversal. But we will still be knee-deep and have lots of scary hurricanes and natural phenomena that we haven’t seen in the last 100 years.

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

          • I think there’s a bunch. Probably AGI, or general purpose AI, whatever you want to call it, is the one that is going to enable acceleration of a lot of other discoveries. But my guess is that it’s some combination of AGI, better-fidelity direct connectivity to the brain, and broadly speaking the intersection of wet [biological] technology and computing. So things like in-cell RNA modification, DNA manipulation—all of those things will lead to the ability to cure diseases without destructive side effects. I think we'll probably get there faster if we focus on AGI. And then I happen to think that optical quantum computing is going to be very important, but that's just a super specific, very speculative thing. I think quantum computing will be important, but I think the way we will get there is probably through optical quantum computing.

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

          • We will still be primarily human.
             
            In 50 years, we’ll probably have things that will help us walk without getting tired or carry things without exhausting us. We'll have diagnostic clothing that figures out when we’re overheating or under-hydrated. There will be a lot of exoskeletal assists that we'll allow ourselves. Eventually it'll be like having a watch—you don’t have to have one, but you're at a disadvantage if you don't know what time it is. 

            The next big leap will be that we partner with AI to be smarter humans or to be more judiciously balanced humans. We’ll want to break the wall between analog and digital and plug the AI directly into our brain. Our clothing will not only pick up our electrolyte concentration from sweat markers, it will inject the right electrolytes if they’re missing. We'll start actively modifying ourselves from being purely human and surrounded with computers into slowly being more like androids, where we are somewhat married up with machines. 

            A hundred years from now, we might end up being far less human than we are machine. We’ll probably have mapped out the brain connectome pretty perfectly, and then we'll have ways of stimulating it. You may be able to exist as a spirit in the machine. Fifty years from now, we'll be primarily human with touches of machine assists here and there.

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