Who will run the world?
Women and people who support gender equality.
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.
It’s our choice—either big agribusiness or organic farmers. Now is the time to choose. As Michael Pollan has reminded us, we vote with our forks, three times a day. That’s a powerful voice to advocate for the kind of food economy we want for the future.
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.
Those (countries or companies) who have gained access to a sustainable, free energy source.
Probably the same coterie of wealthy men in the US, Europe and China who control it now.
It’s a trick question. In my 2004 book Democracy Beyond Borders, I predicted that the rise of corporations, non-state actors, and networks would lead not to “a world state, nor a system of superstates, but a multiform global system.” There will be no single locus of ultimate authority, as Thomas Hobbes insisted there must be when he defined state sovereignty in 1651. That system of nation-states was more suited to the technologies of the 20th century. Trumpism, Brexit, and the Facebook wars heralded the death throes of its dominance. Historians in 2070 will look back and see a decade or two of convulsions, as the paradigm shifts toward the next era of governance. Although states and nationalism will remain strong forces, we will see power, responsibility, and accountability distributed across a wider range of actors—from cities, regions and states to corporations, nonprofits and multilateral agencies, to influential networks and associations. Each type of authority will have its own accountabilities and only some will be based in direct elections and patriotism. It’s not all that hard to imagine. Today, power is distributed within states—between legislature, executive, and judiciary—rather than any one authority dominating. Each authority has its own source of legitimacy. By design, they check and balance one another. In 50 years, there will be a new plural division of powers (and even more plural identities, to be constantly navigated). The world will be run not by POTUS but by patchwork.
Hopefully humans. This is the case of “better the devil you know.”
Generalist-capitalists like Walmart, Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet (and their descendants).
In an ideal world, there would be more women and people of color in charge. We’re reaching that tipping point now in 2019—there’s more diversity in leadership (socially, corporately, politically). One would hope that in 50 years’ time, our leaders will be more diverse than ever and that it won’t be unusual for a woman to lead the US, or for there to be more than 33 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
Hopefully, people will run the world. Right now, people are increasingly run by the obsolete systems put in place by their predecessors. We are victimized by systems we don’t understand and that don’t really serve anyone. Even the wealthy are accumulating billions they know they don’t need, but can’t figure out how to use to have a positive impact on the world. So, if we survive the next 50 years, it will likely be because we have restored our capacity to make choices and execute them.
Women, non-binary people, and men who are comfortable sharing power.
Robots lol! I’m kidding but I’m not.
From today’s vantage point, the future looks bleak: Authoritarians are on the march, democracy is receding, China is rising, Europe is fragmenting, and America is spiraling into decline. But the biggest mistake analysts make is assuming current trends will last forever. They won’t. To understand who will run the world, we need to ask: What will run the world? There are six key drivers of geopolitics: geography, demographics, trade, values, military might, and technology. The United States has unique and enduring advantages in them all. Fifty years from now, global leadership will rest in American hands unless we defeat ourselves with domestic divisiveness and political paralysis.
The kids in school today will be running the world. That’s why one of the most important things we can be doing—to meet any of our aspirations—is ensure today’s students are growing as leaders who can shape a better future for themselves and all of us. Within communities and at national and global levels, we should be considering how to ensure that all of our children are growing with the proficiencies, values, mindsets, agency, and awareness that will be critical for our collective welfare.
The world will be run by AI networks and networks of quantum intelligence. Nations will have ceased to exist as independent physical entities because they will be online and have all merged as one. Humans may exist, but they will be off the AI grid, and contributing very little to progress and what is happening to the world.
Africa, Latin America, and Asia will run the world as they’ll have the youngest and largest global populations. Technology acceleration will continue and both the US and the EU will be influential, but the sheer scale of innovation and power will be distributed and lean toward the larger and younger population centers.
Perhaps the more interesting question will be: Who will be driving the development of off-world colonies? Both India and China have made incredible progress in a relatively short period of time. Fifty years is a large enough jump in time that the question might be: Who will run the solar system and the emerging colonies scattered throughout it (Mars, Venus, the Moon, maybe even Titan)?
There are two countries that have power that matters: the US and China. China will have a bigger economy, there’s no question. They have human capital, education, etc. to drive economic growth. But the reality is that for the biggest AI breakthroughs, it will be either the US or China that succeeds—and just one breakthrough could make the difference. It’s possible that we see either the US or China make a major breakthrough and everyone else will have to align to their standards, systems, and technology. It’s also possible that we end up in war. These challenges are only getting bigger, and in a G-Zero world [where there is a vacuum of power in international politics created by the decline of Western influence], it’s unclear that today’s ideas about what constitutes governance will continue to work.
If there is a world left to run then there are two possibilities. The first is that the masters of the universe—the small global elite who now run it—will continue to do so. The alternative is that we wrench back power from them and more or less run it collectively, saving it from catastrophic wars and environmental disaster.
There won’t be one single dominant world leader. Instead, global governance will be pluralistic—states, multinational companies, megacities, and civil society organizations will all need to negotiate and share power. But plurality will not necessarily mean everyone will have a voice; exclusion of individuals and groups has been a key challenge of the last 50 years, and it may well be a challenge for the next decades, despite hyperconnectivity. Moreover, governance may well be organized around issues rather than around states, organizations, and institutions.
Which country will have the most powerful economy?
The US without question, because of its ability to attract and super-charge the world’s top talent.
The country that harnesses the potential of women—where workplaces treat pregnancy, family leave, and affordable child care as essential to the wellbeing of the workforce and the growth of the economy.
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.
We’ll have free societies.
This is a tricky one as economic expansion is subject to so many factors. Let me gamble and say China. The next technological leap will happen there, I think.
The 200 years of Western economic dominance in the 19th and 20th centuries will be seen as a short-lived historical anomaly, the early years of an Industrial Revolution dwarfed by later growth and change. The economic center of gravity of the world will shift back, and go even further East and South. Demographic destiny, insurgent entrepreneurship, plus multi-decade investments in technology will place China and India once again as the largest national economies by some distance. For the same reason, challenger economies like Nigeria and Indonesia that are now underrated will loom large globally, as immense engines of economic innovation and progress. Most nations, however, will be dwarfed by networks and corporate economic entities that command far more resources. A decade ago, states already accounted for fewer than 50 of the 100 largest economic entities in the world; expect this to drop to under 20. We will mean something different when we talk about powerful economies.
If we survive the next 50 years, it will be because we understand the economy differently. We won’t be thinking of the world in terms of the relative power of national economies. We will have come to understand the very basic reality that there’s really one economy. There may still be nation states, and some will have bigger economies than others, but the economy will likely be understood more as a circulatory system than an arsenal.
Economic power across countries will be more evenly distributed. Our global economic future will be defined by long-term sustainability and more equitable trade agreements, where we’re working together rather than competing for dominance. Providing safety, shared prosperity, and well-being across nations to all the people of the world is how we will secure and build our economy.
The one that unleashes its young people. Think about it: Africa has the youngest population in the world, and it’s growing. If its countries can unleash the potential of their youth, they will be unstoppable. But this will take channeling significant financial and human resources towards ensuring children in these growing countries have the education, support, and opportunity to fulfill their potential.
Countries won’t exist in a formal way. Economies won’t exist either, except those of people who didn’t choose to merge their brains with AI. But the real scale of intelligence and progress will all be done in the online clouds and around the universe as quantum intelligence.
I believe powerful economies in 50 years will be driven by mega-regions. Without London, the UK is but a shell of itself. The same can be said of California without Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area. I think we’ll measure power based on mega-city region, not countries, especially with the increase in frictionless trade over borders.
I am tempted to say Nigeria but i think it may be a bit optimistic. I think it will be the European Union.
China, followed by India, followed by the United States.
I’d back India over China. To use the lexicon of Nassim Taleb, China is strong, but its top-down structure seems unlikely to be able to absorb black swan events, whereas India is more anti-fragile and therefore likely to withstand and even benefit from the unpredictable.
There will be no countries in 50 years. They will have either destroyed each other or the Earth.
It’s unlikely that traditional measures of economic power per country, like GDP, will still be relevant. The basis of power will have shifted. New criteria determining influence and status will emerge, like achievements in social and environmental goods. Sustainability, justice, the use of resources, or human development will be important indicators. Also, actors other than countries—cities in particular—will be more prominent centers of power.
What kinds of companies will be the most important?
Tech companies, “green” economy, and health care.
Those that create solutions to our greatest sustainability challenges, improving the quality of life of our people, and the health of our environment.
Companies that are beholden not just to shareholders, but to their communities, the environment, and their values.
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.
-Data and data analytics companies: For quite a number of years, people have been saying that data is the new oil. I agree. In order for businesses and countries to grow and thrive, they will need to collect and analyze more data to optimize performance. There are a number of ethical concerns regarding the collection and use of data; therefore we will need to have agile legal systems in order to deal with such issues and ensure that data is not used for evil.
-Renewable energy: The earth is deteriorating at an alarming rate. A major cause of this deterioration is human consumption. We need to improve and further develop renewable sources of income.
-Food: Innovation will be needed to create more food solutions that provide adequate nutrients.
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.
When I founded LeapFrog Investments in 2007, before the Global Financial Crisis, our idea of “Profit with Purpose” business seemed to many people to be marginal and perhaps naive, and to have no chance of ever dominating capital markets. No longer. The Chairman of BlackRock and the CEOs of 200 of America’s largest companies, as represented by the Business Roundtable, now insist that each business lead with a purpose and prioritize stakeholders over exclusive shareholder interests. This is not because of morality or marketing, but because capital flows to where it is best treated. Historians in 2070 will note how purpose-driven companies trounced conventional businesses by some distance, so much so that concepts like “ESG” (environmental, social, governance) and “negative screens” (keeping out tobacco, guns, etc.) will look quaint. Impactful companies will grow by identifying real and enduring human needs, and meeting those needs in technologically-enabled hyper-scalable ways. They will outperform—and attract more capital. Businesses will not be sustainable, and often will fail, when they do not meet those basic human needs. Already, sustainable investing, which screens out harmful businesses and takes a longer-term view, accounts for vast swaths of the capital markets. Now, impact investing is surging, as investors put money behind companies that make positive contributions to society. The IFC predicts that impact investing could grow 52x in the next 10 years, from $500 billion to $26 trillion (pdf). At that pace, it won’t take much longer for Profit with Purpose to become the business and investment norm.
Successful companies will go beyond the bottom line and be gauged by the value they bring to the communities they operate in. Social change and overall impact will be the barometer of success and, through that, we will see organizations taking on and impacting bigger issues, like climate change.
In social media, companies that serve our deeper human needs will emerge as the most successful and most important. Today, many of these tech companies generate growth by preying on our vulnerabilities in a way that keeps us addicted to their products. I believe we’ll come to this realization as a culture, and gravitate toward those companies that actually help us feel connection, not validation.
In another 50 years’ time, I believe the only remaining companies will be the ones that add value to their environs, societies, and the planet. It’s abundantly clear our economic systems will evolve, too. There is little panacea to be had here, but I hope a lot of the disagreements over various economic and political issues today will give way to more space to experiment with new ones in ways that fundamentally avoid the abuse of power and the suffering of the vulnerable. It will be fascinating to see what comes of blockchain and cryptocurrency and how they shape our future.
Smaller businesses will be understood as important again. We will likely move toward an economic system like distributism, in which businesses only grow as much as they need to in order to serve their function. The small businesses that will likely matter a lot will be small farms.
Companies that directly impact the way we are taking care of one another: physically and economically. In particular, companies that provide or help families find care—particularly elder care—and in general, companies that are committed to providing good jobs, with living wages and real economic opportunity.
Today’s business environment is more dynamic, competitive, and volatile than ever. We live in an increasingly global, always-on world, where disruption happens overnight and technology will continue to speed up the pace of change.
The businesses that will be successful and most important in the future are those that can respond quickly and effectively to this change—they need to be organizationally agile. The cornerstone for achieving agility within any organization is alignment. True alignment is a state where everybody understands priorities, among individuals, teams and across entire organizations. The biggest source of potential upside for any business is establishing alignment among the people who work there and improving the way they work together. It’s true today and will be even more so in 50 years.
Those humans who join AI and merge their brains directly with machines won’t work, but will live in virtual worlds freely. Those humans that don’t merge with AI will have companies whose primary goal is to keep AI out of the lives of the rest of the humans left on the planet.
Companies that can guarantee good-quality food will be absolutely essential. I think food insecurity and water insecurity due to climate change are, unfortunately, inevitable. So companies producing efficient, good-quality food will be essential.
There is now no doubt that the next big enterprise opportunities are in public-private meta-platforms (PPMPs) that blur the boundary between public goods, law & order, and consumer preferences.
By balancing private sector capacity with public authority and legitimacy they drive innovation suited for a highly interconnected and interdependent world, automate whole institutions through complex, built-in charters validated by mass testing. Think: what would "Libra" look like if it was built by Amnesty International for OECD refugee finance?
We are in the Wild West of poorly-governed tech platforms today. After all, the idea of “governance” itself has come under scrutiny. Many people now see that governments are rarely neutral arbiters. In matters of the macroeconomy, eminent domain, electoral dispute adjudication etc., the government itself—all branches of it— is frequently a counterparty, potential loser, or self-interested promoter, and ought to be treated as such. Likewise, as we've seen in financial markets, private sector efficiency cannot be taken for granted without trust-based norms.
PPMPs are the only way to address many of these complex issues. To build them though, an organization needs DNA that combines comfort with entrepreneurial risk-taking and experimentation with the temperament to navigate complex, multi-stakeholder politics and protocol development. Rich companies simply buy government relations and lobbying appendages. Those are not enough. Only companies with the actual DNA of operating seamlessly across high technology and public bureaucracy will thrive when the trillion-dollar PPMP opportunities come into their own.
Engineering petroleum has led to the world we see around us today. Energy, plastics, chemicals—we live in a world shaped by the seemingly miraculous things chemical engineers can do with crude oil. But these processes have also created lots of problems. The future needs to be sustainable: from stopping the production of more greenhouse gases, to using materials that don’t trash the planet, to feeding 10 billion people, and keeping them healthy.
The new dominant paradigm for this will move from chemical engineering to biological engineering. The shift will be similar to the way IT has transformed our world, giving us devices that allow us to have unprecedented connections to each other—all through bits. But at the end of the day, we live in a world of atoms, and the best way to program atoms is biology. Over billions of years, Mother Nature has created the ability to make more and more wondrous creatures and mechanisms, fundamentally transforming Earth from a big rock to a garden paradise. The companies of the next few decades will not just learn many more of Mother Nature’s secrets, but will use her tools, via genetic engineering, biological engineering, and materials engineering to design, scale, and transform the world of atoms.
Those which meld technologies that we’re only just starting to comprehend. Melding biotech and tech is only now starting to result in transformations in human medicine (T-cell therapies, regenerative medicine, organogenesis); new foods like slaughter-free meat brewed in bioreactors; and entirely new types of biomaterials like spider’s silk fabrics, which are 10 times stronger than steel.
This is just the start of the next biotechnological revolution, which is really about reprogramming matter at the material level with biotechnology like CRISPR and other technologies.
In 50 years, human lifespans will be transformed; cancer, disease, and physical failure of our cells, tissues, and organs are solvable problems. Within 50 years, many cancers will be easily treatable, organ failure will be a thing of the past thanks to regenerative medicine, and our medical systems will evolve to more proactively screen for emergent infectious diseases and rapidly and automatically develop antibiotics, antivirals, and vaccines to counter them.
The human body is a deep, rich pool of information that scientists will be unraveling over the next 50 years (augmented by better computing power). Entrepreneurs will use that information to keep us living longer and healthier through new products and services, surpassing our current 120-year limit. Living several hundred years will be scientific fact rather than today’s science fiction.
Those that have established the deepest, most meaningful connections with the people they serve, as well as companies that are committed to having a positive impact on the global community. We (corporations) are empowered to drive positive change in the communities we work with and serve.
The human need for meaning will become all the more apparent in a world that faces the existential and very materially real question of demise. Companies that prize unchecked capitalism will leave people feeling tired and empty. Purpose-led companies that see their employees’ well-being both as a competitive differentiator and important to their bottom line will be the most important.
I envision mission-driven businesses dedicated to improving the world will be the most important companies in the future. In 50 years, climate change will be the biggest challenge humanity faces. Somewhere between now and then, climate change will stop being a political issue and become an accepted threat to humanity. This will lead to the birth and rise of companies addressing this significant issue. I expect the following types of companies will lead the charge:
-As water becomes a scarce resource, companies producing it from a variety of sources will become critical for survival.
-A variety of carbon capture, solar reflection, and other global cooling companies will emerge. Energy companies will be forced to support dwindling natural resources. This will benefit water and carbon capture companies, as well as cooling technologies.
-We will see new types of transportation companies that will significantly change the way we move people and goods around the globe. Our current model of privately-owned vehicles that are single-occupancy and fuel-powered leads to crowded roads and creates an unnecessary increase in carbon emissions. As more transportation companies develop solutions that address climate change, we will see a transition toward shared vehicles and electrification—transportation as a service and a new regime for how we share the roads.
-As we all move away from owning assets to leasing them on demand, sharing economy companies will drive much of the economic activity. This trend will have a massive impact on retail, business, transportation and on-demand delivery.
Companies in the future will be public, not private. Tech companies like Facebook and Google will be the first to be taken over and run by citizens. These will be the most important as the power of technology will be used to solve social problems and help people live better lives, not to spy on people and control them as they do now.
Agriculture. Two types of companies will be very important. Professional agriculture companies—Pioneer, DuPont, Monsanto (ah! Monsanto!). Yes, companies like Monsanto will be very important. I believe that in the developed world there will be fusion energy. The companies that supply electricity and distribute it, and agricultural companies, will be the big companies in the future.
Information companies, like Amazon and so on, will be important, but, I predict, there will be a lot of competition by then.
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.
Companies that reject shareholder primacy—that prioritize the needs of society, community, consumers, and employees above shareholder value—and those that fully understand the social and environmental impacts of their entire supply chain, irrespective of product or industry, will be the ones to thrive.
To define the characteristics of those companies: They will demonstrate emotional intelligence, flexibility, and the ability to adapt to complex, quickly-shifting conditions, work forces, and social movements. The companies that develop innovative products and services designed to protect people from climate impacts (sea-level rise, extreme heat, disaster) will prosper as well. Examples are companies that make cooling vests for outdoor workers, police officers, and firefighters; flood-response companies; design firms that build resilient structures capable of floating or adapting to rising waters; even “private extraction” companies like those being used by oil and gas entities to “extract” personnel from harmful situations like political conflicts, violence, or natural disasters.
Further, companies with a majority of women on their boards and executive teams will outperform competitors and lead in their industry. In fact, I would venture that the numbers of men will flip to a women-led majority in most everything in the next 50 years.
Finally, given the increase in both the types of risk and the size of risk exposures such as hurricane, drought, extreme heat, and floods, property and casualty industry will finally transform. Along with reinsurance companies, they will offer individual policies that pay quickly based on a metric such as wind speed or sustained temperature.
The ones that have not yet been imagined, let alone created.
What will cause the biggest conflicts?
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.
Resources (food, land, water).
There won’t be any conflicts.
Migration. Already people in countries with comfortable standards of living are making strange noises about the threat that migration poses to them. What will happen when more regions have turned to desert or been flooded?
I believe it will be the same thing that causes the biggest conflicts today. As Pascal put it more than 400 years ago, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” With constant distraction in our pockets, we seem to be connected to everything and everyone—except ourselves. While screens will likely lose their prominence, distraction never will. I believe this, more than anything else, is what leads to our inability to connect and unwillingness to empathize with others. And this, at the root, is what causes nearly all conflicts.
As usual, economics. If the trend toward less violence is real and continues, then both the means and the causes will be economics.
Probably the race for technology, specifically 5G. Tech is going to determine the strength and power of countries, so you’re going to see a race to acquire it. There will be conflict for all involved, but particularly between the haves and the have-nots.
Climate and climate migration will make today’s immigration crises look quaint. We’ll be looking at hundreds of millions of people trying to escape one region and move to another. National boundaries won’t really mean anything to these people (and really shouldn’t, since nation states are entirely artificial constructs). But residents of one area will feel like they have rights to land and resources that other people don’t.
Climate change and migration.
Identity. Conflict has always been, and will always be, about “us vs. them.” But globalization and the information revolution are supercharging “us vs. them” dynamics in two ways—by enabling people with shared interests and identities to find each other and act together across borders at little to no cost, and by enabling small groups to influence massive audiences through social media and “viral” narratives.
A conflict of who merges with AI and who doesn’t is coming. It will likely be a civil war of sorts. Ultimately, people won’t be able to stop progress, and most humans will upload themselves into new worlds where they don’t die, don’t have to work, or live as biological beings who suffer.
We are heading for a “standards cataclysm." Increasingly, technology systems run all aspects of our complex world. But we are at a point where those systems need explicit programming of social and political standards to function. China’s “social credit system” is one of the clearest indications yet of this convergence. In a world of deepening ideological cleavages, it becomes hard to see how the current laissez faire model of technical globalization can continue.
Today, global powers like the US, China, Russia, and Europe are able to assert their dominance (or push back on others’) through their knowledge of complex, obscure financial protocols and systems. Smaller powers are getting better at understanding how this techno-globalization superstructure works. As their capacity to affect it grows, they shall become more confident about carving sovereign “comfort zones” without dangerously isolating their economies.
A lot of people talk about coming conflicts around water, climate displacements, rare metals, and the like. By doing so, they show that they don’t understand how access to all those resources has been so increasingly “protocolized” that it makes little sense to fight directly over those resources. Rather than physical fights over water, expect more conflict over water rights. Rather than American special forces swooping down to break into Chinese vaults of rare Earth metals in Congo, expect more squabbling over the designation of “conflict minerals.” Even where the fight is over direct access, the aim shall be focused on the global protocols that govern access and control.
The fact that leaders in 2070 will not hear the war stories from their parents and grandparents that we luckily did.
Feuds over water, especially downriver countries concerned about upriver countries taking more than their fair share.
The rise of China will come with the rise of China’s worldview—the matrix of ideologies that informs the country and its people. The dominant narrative in the West has been that China will adopt Western ideas progressively, just as it adopted elements of Western capitalism. This leads to oft-vented frustration at China’s seemingly slow adoption of Western values. That assumption of inevitability may prove as spurious as Marxist ideas about the inevitable death of capitalism and dawn of a socialist utopia. Humanist values, predicated on the primacy of the rights of the individual, often in conflict with social harmony, which underpins much Confucian thinking. Today the news is dominated by a backlash against capitalism in the West. In 50 years, however, the conflict of ideas will take place, above all, at the intersection of social harmony and liberal humanism. With a totally different philosophical heritage, China is unlikely to bend much more to humanist values. Where we see individual rights being trampled, or censorship quashing individuals’ freedoms, a philosophy based on social harmony will see those measures as necessary steps to ensure social cohesion and the greater good. Like it or not, in a world dominated by Asia, it is the West that’s most likely to arc towards the East.
The biggest conflicts will be over ideas—who gets to control common-sense assumptions about the world, how it should work, and for whom.
Access to natural resources, most importantly, resources inside oceans.
Forced migration due to climate stresses, civil conflict, and violence will cause the biggest conflicts in the future. Every day, 45,000 people are forced from their homes due to conflict and violence. Those numbers are projected to rise. An estimated 3 billion people will be living in settlements and slums by 2030.
What’s worse, we’re nowhere near reaching the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets we’ve committed to in the Paris Climate Agreement. If nothing more is done to reduce GHG, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that the temperature in 2100 will be roughly five degrees higher than it is today.
Rates of mosquito-borne and heat-related illness due to extreme heat, water shortages, floods, coastal inundation and erosion, and wildfire will inexorably rise. Big cities, where 68% of the world population is projected to live by 2050, will bear the biggest burden. Compounded tensions in urban areas—already buckling under the weight of population density, influxes of migrant populations, poor land use, insufficient building codes, and failing infrastructure—will create a crucible for further radicalization of disenfranchised populations.
The difference between the “haves” and the “have nots” will be further emphasized by the shortage of funding to move communities away from hurricane-impacted and flooding/eroding shorelines. Currently, about 40% of the world's population lives within 100 km (62.5 miles) of the coast. Limited resources mean that some communities will receive help to fortify, rebuild for more resilience, move back or relocate; many will receive no help at all.
While I hope there will be fewer armed conflicts, I can well imagine that growing injustice, scarcity of resources, and the transformation of the natural environment will create tensions between communities. Mitigating the impact of conflict on communities, and thus, humanitarian work, will remain a challenge.
How will people earn a living?
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.
Creatively. People will do what machines cannot.
Remotely. Knowledge workers will optimize ways to communicate and collaborate, and distributed teams will be the norm.
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.
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.
We will earn a living by the value we create for the society we live in. We will live in a world where basic needs are provided, so we won’t have to work to earn our basic needs.
They won’t have to.
There will still be lots of passive income for people or corporations that own things—land, resources, digital networks—but for those who work with their hands, the future looks bleak. Even for writers and other creatives, it will be harder to make a living, and with universities and publishers closing they will have to set up tables at tube stations and bridges, offering to write up people’s life stories (I would like to do this).
The world is changing fast with the acceleration of AI and other new technology. I believe universal basic income could make sure everyone’s basic needs are met. But I also hope that rather than replacing jobs, more companies will figure out how to use AI to replace repetitive tasks and free up people’s minds to become better creators, entrepreneurs, and leaders.
We will be human-machine hybrids (basically what we are now via smartphones) and do what we've always done: make copies of ourselves and entertain ourselves along the way. Most jobs will be leveraged by virtual reality, machine learning, and the internet of things (and their descendants).
Well, earning a living is another construct. Jobs are a relatively recent phenomenon. They came about when small business was made essentially illegal in the late middle ages, and people were forced to work as employees for chartered monopolies. In reality, people don’t have to “earn a living.” There may be some work for them to do, but that’s kind of a different question.
We will need people to manage climate, develop energy solutions, and educate children. Hopefully there will be fewer people making stuff nobody would want without advertising to sell it.
People will provide in-person services that cannot be outsourced and are tough to automate, like care and education; these also happen to be low-carbon jobs. Jobs in clean energy, food, art, and entertainment will also continue to grow.
Jobs that require judgment, creativity, and empathy will offer the greatest employment prospects for humans. Jobs that require pattern recognition and standardized behaviors—from manufacturing to banking to radiology—will be increasingly done by machines.
Educating others will become an increasingly-valued pursuit, no matter what happens with technology. Learning and developing will always require human relationships, and our society will become more aware that how children develop from birth predicts the future of countries and our global society.
Frontline person-to-person jobs, such as school teachers, nurses, general practice doctors, psychologists, physical therapists, and sales people, will still be done by people. The jobs that will be the most secure will be skilled trades, such as electricians, plumbers, welders, heating and air conditioning, fine carpentry work, and crafts. The hospital of the future will still need somebody to fix the broken plumbing.
The entrepreneurial bug is boring into every heart. In the recent past, it was only in the developing world that having multiple side gigs even when one is full-time employed was considered acceptable. But increasingly, more companies in the so-called advanced world are beginning to find ways to accommodate their employees’ roving interests.
I see more companies becoming “internal marketplaces” where they work harder to optimize the advantages of having smart people engage intensely together, increasingly the only advantage companies have over loose communes of collaborators. This intensity factor is a bit harder to achieve in loose communes, and companies shall ride it as long as they can whilst minimizing the apathy and boredom that comes from being removed from the end results of one’s efforts. To do this, companies will strengthen their capability to incubate and trade the ideas and efforts of their brightest talents in a more empowering way.
When done badly, you get the Google self-driving car debacle. However, big consulting and advertising agencies have long understood and acclimatized to this reality. And seeing as they operate at the vanguard of the knowledge economy, we can only assume that they are the canaries in the mines of tomorrow.
My hope is that people will be empowered to work more flexibly and earn a fair and equitable wage in more meaningful, fulfilling jobs. The current generation wants something different in their workplace, companies need to adapt to that. For example, there’s this unbelievably large number of women who are underserved by the jobs market today. There are lots of people who are very talented, who have so much to give, but they don’t want to be in an office 40 hours a week.
In addition, while I believe all companies will have to be tech companies in order to be relevant 10 years from now, technology will be in service to humans (employees, customers, partners)— not a replacement for them. Technology is a powerful tool that, at its best, enables people to do what they are uniquely good at, and to find their most fulfilling role (being creative, applying judgement, building relationships). For example, our algorithms do the rote work of sifting through thousands of styles and fits, so stylists can focus on curation and creating a personal connection with clients.
With the rise of AI, and the cost of material sustenance dramatically reduced, life won’t have to be “earned” in the same way. The strong bind between our contribution to society and our economic reward, which is what underpins the concept of “earning a living,” will have been severely tested. We will hopefully be able to contribute to society, to build, to connect, to give, and to create within a different economy of reward. Imagine if living didn’t have to be earned.
The robots will have arrived, fine-tuned to a degree of elegant automation. For humans, we’ll earn a living by doing work that humans are best suited to do: that which requires creativity, intuition, critical thinking, and connection to one another. As people switch jobs 15 or more times in their lives, companies will be on the lookout for the ability to learn fast and be comfortable with change.
Also, money won’t be the most important thing. While the Gilded Age and the tech age will have glamorized the riches and spoils of mega-wealth, people will be willing to take lower pay for more meaningful work. Compensation will not just be money and reputation, but new, more human- and values-centered metrics designed to help us measure our impact on society.
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.
There will be 70% unemployment, as all blue-collar jobs will have been replaced by robots. (There will be a Universal Basic Income.) We will look back in horror that we hired human beings to do menial tasks such as scrubbing toilets in our homes. It will seem the moral equivalent of child labor.
The coexistence of different models of value and revenue creation will become more visible than today.
How will we communicate with each other?
Encrypted apps or in person.
Let’s hope through a more humane version of Twitter!
More kindly, I hope.
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.
I think that we will use fewer words and written text to communicate with one another, especially when telling stories. I am fascinated by the use of memes for communication on social media. Often, a well-used meme conveys a message or a feeling in ways that text alone cannot. Different languages have words that do not translate well into other languages, however facial expressions from video or photo are better able to communicate a specific feeling.
We will speak over bonfires.
Online communication will remain dominant, and social media platforms will still lead in this sector. Disinformation, deception, harassment, and user-privacy concerns will be issues of the past thanks to news organizations and watchdog groups working together.
My hope is that we can engineer ways for people to communicate and connect on a deeper level than many of us are used to via social media updates and small talk. We, as humans, find much deeper meaning and joy when we bond over our dreams, our struggles, and our vulnerabilities—not over our latest vacation or the cool dish we just ordered out at dinner. I believe social media can help us connect over these things when it’s designed around our deeper needs, and not what keeps us glued to our screens.
I hope that we still talk face-to-face when it matters—to me, there is no substitute for human connection. Technology is great for keeping in touch across long distances or in different parts of the world, but I would always rather be across the dinner table having a chat with my wife Joan than texting or on the phone.
Hopefully, still in person! I’m sure the benefits of cross-country contact will continue to grow and that people will continue to feel connected at all times through things like WhatsApp and FaceTime, but I also hope that face-to-face contact isn’t lost. I hope it’s something we still honor and make time for, even as our modes of communications advance in the tech sphere.
I think we’ll use a lot of spoken language. Maybe more gestures. Our digital communication should likely move beyond text and emoji to something more gestural.
New technology will enable us to communicate with anyone, anywhere, as if we’re in their presence, and our communication will be more connective.
In recent years, we’ve seen a massive increase in geographically-distributed teams and remote working. I predict we’ll continue to see this trend grow, as new technology helps to reduce the gap between being in the same room and being on the other side of the world. Whether that’s through holograms, spatial computing or (more likely) a new technology that is yet to be imagined, people will create ways to connect and communicate with each other across distances as technology enables friends, families, and coworkers to be better connected.
Communication will be only through thoughts. Nothing else will exist for those that are uploaded into the cloud or live in quantum intelligence enclaves.
We are still very bad at communicating ideas. Information flow does not equate to ideas flow.
Maintaining emotional connection when exploring complex ideas within large groups is extremely tough. The funny thing is that, contrary to what most people believe, emotions are more primitive routines and thus far susceptible to programming shortcuts than the more abstract parts of our vast cognitive spectrum. Some AI systems today can read facial cues better than trained psychologists but none can adapt math instruction to the pace of a struggling pupil.
So, how easy is it really to incorporate emotional cues into ideas transfer? One quick win is to use voice modulation in conferencing packages to manipulate moods.
Computers that can smell fear, disgust, dislike and similar cues would naturally be countermanded by those that can generate fake feeling cues. Will the bad outweigh the good?
As already indicated, the more technically exciting challenge is how to visualize and symbolize complex ideas and to rapidly sync mindsets around the meeting table whilst doing so. But we are very far from a computer that can generate the best visual for each participant’s spoken words in real time, thereby making presentation software a communications enabler rather than a distraction. Augmented-reality-aided communications that personalize information display based on the absorber’s learning style, personality type, mood, and attention span require sophisticated data through human cognitive transparency. But we really don’t want to be transparent, do we? Not even to our romantic interests.
Human interaction will be dramatically reshaped, with both positive and negative consequences. We will have more options for digital communication (i.e. virtual reality and augmented reality capabilities), but the increase in virtual communications interfaces might reshape the ways we interact in real life.
Hopefully, still with in-person interactions.
The epoch of fear and isolation that defined the earlier part of the century will galvanize the development of new technologies to create better, more honest communication, and deeper connections. Empathic technology will connect humans not only by verbal, auditory, and visual means, but also emotionally. Through technologies like quantum computing and artificial intelligence, we will be able to map neural activity and emotions, enabling communication of feelings directly between brains.
We will have solved the epidemic of loneliness and moved way past the trap of the attention economy and social media likes. At home, empathic technologies will deepen our bonds—divorce rates will go down, teenagers will start dating more again (and have more sex), and cities will be known for how easily their residents make friends. On the global stage, empathic technologies will radically change international diplomacy, undermining the sense of “other,” and giving birth to a new sense of “us.”
We have seen technological developments disrupt the ways we traditionally communicated with each other and go about our daily lives. Social media has changed the way we develop communities and has connected us with people we otherwise would never have met. We’ve already seen this most notably in areas like job recruitment, dating, and event organization. Online communities are going to continue to play a major role in how people come together. In fact, it will likely be the primary factor in bringing people together. I am starting to see this firsthand with Waze Carpool. We’re hearing about neighbors and co-workers who previously did not know each other, connect and help each other get from point A to point B. Our future society is going to see more online communities transition into the real world, and digital platforms will be the mechanism used to forge real-life human interactions.
The same way we do now. By text and on the phone. Paper letters will still be valued.
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.
Male and female pronouns will disappear. Everyone will be referred to as “they.” We will talk of “they said/they said disputes” and Bruce Springsteen’s song “They’re the one.”
Despite radical technological advances, we will cycle back to value person-to-person contact. We will see that friendship, compassion, and solidarity amongst human beings and communities of concern cannot be replaced by virtual means.
How will we entertain one another?
Books, TV shows, movies, and the musical Hamilton, which will still be running.
Art and music will continue to save the day.
We’ll go beyond the diversions and distance that technology wedges between us, and find ways for it to connect us on a deeper level. Once we’re post-distraction, the means we use to communicate will also entertain.
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.
Celebration of harvests.
By projecting our brightest fantasies into each others’ minds.
Through music and dance but also by hacking into each other’s minds so we know what we really think of each other. It will get ugly quickly.
Already by 2025, the average African will have a supercomputer in their pocket that will make the first iPhone appear to them as a horse and carriage do to an astronaut. Consumers will command technologies that make them participants and producers at the same time. This will extend far beyond media and entertainment industries already witnessing the collapse of those old categories. I (if I am still around) will be able to modify and mash up the 3D printing template bought from a company or individual, and sell on that creative product via micro-payments, which will go through yet more variation. Ironically for those who celebrate this democratization, the act of creation will become less valued and more mundane, as it shifts from the work of gods to daily efforts of humans.
We’ll be doing it in-person, not through the medium of digital screens. No matter how good screens get, I don’t believe they’ll ever be able to replicate the 3D, multi-sensational experience of actually being together in real life. I believe screens will fade out of existence, though augmented reality will certainly be part of our daily lives.
The usual ways: drugs, sex, music, and stories.
Today, our ancient drives—healthy drink (yeast-killing pathogens) and food, mating, hunting, teaching (stories)—have become hyper-amplified to substance abuse, obesity, porn, spectator sports, and click-bait. In 50 years, we will either exaggerate these further, or use biology or electronics to curb our urges, or to direct them to more modern needs.
Comedy won’t die! The way we laugh and entertain each other will stick around. Today, it’s with memes and gifs—who knows what version it will be in 2070, but there will be laughs!
I think people will become reacquainted with analog, real-world forms of entertainment, like hanging out with other people, talking, touching, and playing. People may even play music together, or make art or theater, not for money but for fun.
We will continue to gather, often over food, in our homes and communities. On one level, this has never changed.
I think we’ll do what we’ve always done: Tell each other stories.
As a species, we shall always like set pieces. The “shared spectacle” is a need wound tightly around our physio-consciousness. We want to experience great feats of the imagination together and revel in the knowledge of the unspoken but deeply shared subjective waves they trigger.
Whilst we enjoy the “personal moments” of relaxation with good music and film and magazines and whatnot, they belong to a different level of recreation. Real entertainment for our species has always been about the transfer of adrenaline, laughing together, discussing afterwards etc. Good spectacles, however, don’t come cheap. In Rome, the city had to divert resources from important social projects to free circuses for this very reason. It is also the reason why amusement park visits have held roughly constant despite the barrage of “personal entertainment” options.
The truth though is that in recent times, the costs of developing large spectacles in sports, cinema, concerts and the like have been inflated by the bargaining power of professionals. More digital tools might bring more amateurs into the mix and reduce the influence of the big studios, promoters and impresarios. Digital technologies that can bring down the cost of spectacle entertainment are still relatively underdeveloped because the focus has been on animation more than animatronics, and mechanisms to optimize the real estate of enchantment. But spectacle is first and foremost about physical ambience.
I’m betting sex will remain a popular pastime.
People will swap heads to entertain each other.
Tackle football will be seen as barbaric, akin to gladiator combat. It will be replaced by flag football. Baseball will be seen as too slow and archaic, and will be about as popular as badminton is now. Esports will get Super Bowl-sized ratings.
With storytelling, as we have over the past thousands of years.
What will we eat?
Less meat, more vegetables. Health and wellness will be a way of life.
Plants or manufactured foods like Soylent.
We will finally move the entire food supply to breakfast tacos, the finest culinary invention of all time.
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.
More plant-based options. Real meat will be treated as a delicacy to be enjoyed sporadically. For health reasons, we will integrate more plant-based options or meat alternatives into our daily diets.
We will have the equivalent of the replicator of Starship Enterprise (Star Trek) and we would be able to print food customized to our specific diet, palate, and nutritional needs.
Resources will be abundant.
I hope our diets will be better for us, for the earth they’re grown in, and for the Earth they’re grown on! People will eat less meat, and far less industrially-farmed meat as safer alternatives get more traction. I believe unconventional food sources will become more conventional, and that nutritious, plant-based food will replace animal products in a lot of ingredient lists.
I also hope we will grow food in even more sustainable ways, that urban farming will grow, as will more regenerative farming practices that adapt to local ecology, enhance biodiversity, and draw down carbon from the atmosphere.
Algae-derived food and drink that taste better than the best Michelin three-star meals of 2019.
As we become a more blended society, people’s palates are going to experience different foods from different countries more than we do now. On the other hand, I do think we’ll need to tackle obesity globally. So I think there is going to be a push for more awareness around the US food industry and a better understanding of how our food is made. That will lead to better global health.
I think we’ll be eating a lot fewer animals, and more lab-grown meat. Hopefully, more plants. As the health benefits of a local, seasonal diet become more clear, we should be taxing the environment a lot less as well.
Less meat. More plants.
Plant-based foods and Diet Coke.
Food will be designed not just for our taste buds, but our microbiomes—the bacteria and other microbes that inhabit the human body. Nutrition will be revolutionized as medical research that better understands how the human body is not a single organism, but a colony of millions of organisms that affect immunity, disease, and longevity.
We’ll continue enjoying each other’s cuisines! I’ve never found one I don’t love.
There will be no eating, no breathing, no drinking, no using the bathroom. The flesh will be gone, paving the way for the exploration of how intelligent we can become.
When it comes to our ability to control what diets do to our bodies, we are much more advanced than our Iron-Age ancestors. Over the years, the fads have come and gone, but one desire has been fairly constant: foods that actively condition the body chemistry.
In that regard, two main areas of exploration have been most intense: mood enhancement (foods that make us feel good about ourselves) and metabolism regulation (foods that leave little trace on our physical form). Despite the underlying chemical requirements of our desires, we seek also to eat “naturally." These two broad objectives are in conflict, reflected in the equal passion with which new age evangelists proselytize laboratory-synthesized burger patties as well as organic carrots.
A minority will still embrace a wholesale reversion to organically grown fruits and vegetables, but I expect more people to embrace “functional” foods synthesized in labs and targeted at various chemical pathways that nevertheless are still heavily marketed as “natural.”
Many more such highly processed victuals will be dreamt up for synthesis from obscure raw materials, such as seaborne microflora and pond-farmed slugs, elaborate growths of algae and once poisonous fungi. The esoteric and obscure sources of the ingredients serve to mask their artificiality. On the other hand, attempts to more closely couple this trend with do-it-yourself diagnostics—apps that measure the effect of these foods on blood chemistry—shall, however, struggle to gain mass acceptance because they don’t intersect well enough with the convenience and “feel-good” dimensions of these trends.
Food will in fact look and feel remarkably similar to what we eat today—but will come from radically different sources. There simply won’t be enough fish for sushi or cows for steak the way we’re living today. The extreme conditions currently needed to scale enough animals for our food consumption today won’t be scalable to 20 billion people, and one day will seem as cruelly barbaric as human slavery. But we won’t all be vegan either, because for many, that will be neither their preference nor what might be most healthy. We will eat meat and dairy grown in alternative forms, produced and scaled through plants and bioengineering processes. And when we have perfected the ability to create those meat, dairy, and other food products, currently sourced from animals and other natural sources, we’ll begin to design them in new ways. No longer limited by living animals, we will use nature’s own proteins and structures as building blocks for creative new forms for both our sustenance and our pleasure.
Agriculture and food will change more in the next 50 years than they have in the last 10,000 years. We now have the tools to engineer slaughter-free meats and fish. Cell-based meats (sometimes called lab-grown meats) will be commercially available at competitive price points in the next five to 10 years. Expect to see beautifully crafted T-bone steaks made purely from cells, and even more interesting, functional foods that are engineered with both an experiential perspective and also a functional/health perspective.
Food production technologies will continue to improve, with hydroponic farms like Plenty producing incredible, fresh produce not grown in fields (sparing both the beneficial insects and animals). We’ll also see the continued global rise of genetically engineering plants, fungi, bacteria, and algae to provide tailored, affordable nutrition to all of the world’s 10 billion-plus people. Inexpensive, delicious, and incredibly nutritious foods will be expected and delivered on even the most meager budgets, thanks to technology and biotechnology worldwide.
Thankfully, we’ll also see a rewilding of rainforests, savannas, and oceans thanks to the removal of our fishing and farming pressures with the end of animal agriculture (a 10,000-year-old technology that is now unsustainable).
Access to healthy foods will continue to be limited by a range of forces like the increases in food deserts in areas impacted by economic disparity; the rise in costs of natural produce in a market that is not favorable to agriculturalists; and the commoditization of “healthy food” that will turn healthier eating into a lifestyle brand that is accessible to those with the financial resources to support it.
More insects than cows for sure.
With the rise of intelligent AI, we will more and more come to appreciate the difference between intelligence and consciousness. Although animals will increasingly be recognized for their own forms of intelligence, their right to life springs from their sentience, their status as conscious creatures. Technology will fuel this, providing us with the ability to eat meat in a way that doesn’t involve taking a life, and so the preservation of conscious life will become the moral norm.
Our diets will be a mix of natural and synthetic foods. Red meat consumption will be curbed to reduce methane emissions, and we will eat more plant-based foods. Cows and pigs will become more companion animals, admired for their intelligence and connection to humans, than livestock.
Instead of classifying foods as “healthy” or “junk,” microbiome and DNA technology will enable us to map out our individual nutrition needs and understand our food-gut bacteria-body-mind systems to enable us to eat for mental health as well as physical health. In other words, we’ll use food as medicine and eat ourselves out of depression, anxiety, and diseases.
While meals as social rituals will continue, in 50 years, designers will be creating new modes of dining, like personalized elixirs and plates, based on precision nutrition. Most exciting, this won’t just be a fun dinner party trick for the rich—precision nutrition will help deliver meaningful nutrition to refugees living in climate camps.
Inspired by foods as new materials, designers will entrench what we eat into our immediate environs. No longer just relegated to backyard gardens, our shift to plant-based diets will be embedded in our everyday spaces. Public schools will be on farms, where, as part of new federal nutrition programs, kids will take home produce for dinner. Rather than snacking from vending machines, cities will have buildings covered with vertical gardens, where passersby can pluck fresh snacks.
After we eat all the animals there will only be vegetables left to eat. Some people will live on pill supplements.
A lot more plants. We will eat plants that provide the same proteins you get now from dairy and meat. Someone is going to figure out how to put B12 in a crop. It will be in mung beans, something akin to that—a legume. That research will be done by big agricultural companies, in my prediction, it will not be done by hippies in a garage. It will be high-tech research that will lead to these developments in agriculture.
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.”
We will eat FAR less meat for reasons of cost (including the price on carbon that will absolutely be in place in 50 years). Society will have immense awareness of the animal experience in the human food chain and increased empathy for animals, thus, decreasing demand for meat—even in China.
In the future, we will need to take more supplements because of depletion in the soil where we grow our food. While soil condition is slowly on its way back to health, climate impacts like drought will mean we need more synthetic vitamins and minerals for normal human development.
As we become more aware of potential food shortages and more self-reliant, things we now see as unusual, like eating from rooftop and pocket gardens, will become more common.
Meat grown in laboratories from animal cells will have replaced meat from factory farms and live animals. This cultured meat will also revolutionize cuisine. We won’t be limited to chickens and pigs and cows. Ethically, nothing will be off-limits, including giraffes and endangered species, since the creatures aren’t harmed in making the food. There will even be a fringe movement to embrace Ethical Cannibalism. Some will ask, “Why not human meat?” Celebrities will take advantage and start marketing burgers based on themselves
Hopefully tasty, healthy, and natural foods compatible with the imperatives of sustainability.
How will we die?
We will live longer. We will also hopefully figure out how to die better.
On our own terms.
In conflict and on our own terms.
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.
More suicides, more heat-related deaths, more euthanasia.
Two hundred years ago, the average global life expectancy was about 38. Today it is 72, and over 80 in some wealthy countries. In 50 years, as life extends ever further, many more generations will exist alongside each other. At the same time, instant, universal, and rich communication technologies will ensure that a wider matrix of bonds is made constantly present and vivid. Instead of lamenting the decline of the two-generation nuclear family, we will speak of the explosion of the five-generation extended family. Death will come to us all, still. But it will take longer, and there will be more people at our funeral, albeit many via hologram.
We will choose whether we want to initiate a lightweight legal process that enables us to terminate our own life with dignity, control, and minimal discomfort.
Solar flares, supervolcanoes, and asteroids, since genetic diseases, accidents, infections, and probably aging can be eliminated.
Well, we could all die in the next 50 years, but we probably won’t. I guess how we die depends on who we are. The majority of deaths will be climate-related. Cholera in flood zones, mass murder of migrant populations, starvation, and heat-related deaths. If we assume that the vast majority of the planet will be facing the direct brunt of the climate crisis, that will be most of the deaths. I suppose people in other regions will be dealing more with the spread of diseases— things from Ebola to mad cow disease.
With dignity. We will enjoy our final years in our homes and communities, surrounded by caring people who understand that aging and dying are a part of life. We won’t feel alone in that transition.
I hope, with dignity. And with a glass of very cold champagne in my hand.
There will be no death, even if we want to die. We will be able to turn ourselves off for periods of time, but even through quantum archaeology, we may be recreated many times, in many realities.
We will still die. But we will die much older than we are now, by as much as one or two decades. And we will remain healthier much longer, so that when we do die, we don’t die from chronic disease. In short, we will run and run like the Energizer bunny, for the most part healthy and strong, until we suddenly stop (at perhaps as much as 120 years). We will achieve this through: a) detecting and preventing chronic diseases far earlier than we do now, before they wreak irreversible destruction in our bodies; b) a deep understanding of the processes and functions by which aging happens, which in turn makes us susceptible to chronic disease; and c) using that understanding of aging to develop key factors (like proteins or small molecules) that we will use to dramatically slow down or stave off aging for much longer. Finally, when we do die, thanks to the decentralization and unbundling of all the functions of the hospital as we know it today, we will die at home, in our own beds, peacefully surrounded by family and monitored and supported by a fabric of invisible technology woven into the home all around us.
We will still die of accidents, suicides, homicides, advanced old age, plus new (and occasionally old) diseases. But death in 50 years will be a very different experience. The reasons why we die today—of cancer, infectious disease, and organ failure—will be, in many ways, treatable. I expect humans to regularly live to 120-plus years of healthy old age, perhaps even exceeding several hundred years of age. But as always, as medicine evolves, new diseases do emerge and new infectious diseases evolve too.
Those of us that are lucky enough to see the world in 50 years may have to contend with new exotic diseases and incredibly invasive surgeries to replace old tissues and organs, treat new types of cancer or cell/tissue failures, and have our immune systems rebooted and reprogrammed.
The same way.
The medical oath to “first, do no harm,” will be tested and replaced with the even more complex obligation to decide when “enough is enough.” Technologies will enable life to be prolonged much further, but they will come with a cost. Questions like “how long can we afford our father to live?” will therefore become the norm, as we are forced to grapple with the economic and moral value of a life. With medical advances over the last century or so, death has, for the most part, been removed from our daily lives and pushed into the hospital for our final moments. In 50 years, technology will paradoxically bring death’s presence back into our daily lives, as the line between the living and the dying will blur. We will recognize that we’re all in various forms of decay, and we will be forced to make decisions about who we can afford to keep alive.
In 50 years, we’ll have become all the more familiar with death. Between climate disasters and the growth of end-of-life care, death will become less something to be feared. The stigma around death will have passed; instead, death will become as celebrated as birth.
The funeral industry disruption that started when millennials began burying their parents will continue, becoming more human and family-centered through design. Expensive caskets and practices that take advantage of grieving families will become a thing of the past. As millennials face the last phase of their lives, composting burial suits will become the new normal. Death doulas will help people who have the means to navigate their options, while more economical burials might take the form of group burials. Cemeteries will be forests, where trees are planted with the ashes or buried bodies of loved ones.
But the ritual of death will not just be about how one’s body is handled; new services will provide ways to keep a person living forever. There will be DNA freezers. Digital afterlives will be offered in countless forms: bots modeled after the personalities of our loved ones. New discoveries in memory and neurology will give people a chance to reconnect with their deceased loved ones in their dreams.
Most people will die from heat exhaustion if we don't move to a green economy in the next 10 years. Personally, I will die meditating.
In the same ways, where you get old and you run out of steam. Cancer will not be the killer that it is now. There will be fewer industrial accidents, but there will still be diseases, especially in the developing world where people don’t have adequate sanitation. People have been dying for a long time. I’m in no hurry, I’m just observing.
I’ve talked about this in my books, but, if you live to be 82 years and seven weeks, you get 30,000 days on Earth. And 82 and seven weeks, you know, is a pretty good run. But at a typical football stadium, there are 70,000 seats. If you sat in a different seat every day, you wouldn’t get halfway around, which just sucks. I can’t even tell you how much that sucks.
Certainly not in a uniform way. Those who die in conflict, barring a radical transformation in how wars are waged, are likely to be innocent civilians. A century ago, those killed in battle were soldiers. Now—and in the future, I fear—ordinary women, men, and children will overwhelmingly be the majority of victims.
What will we wear?
Next-gen athleisure that works for all seasons.
Jumpsuits and overalls, which will finally be recognized as the greatest unisex clothing for anyone and everyone.
Less plastic and more recycled fabrics.
What we feel good in—we’ll transcend trends and clothing will truly be a form of expression. Hopefully, in sustainable and recycled materials.
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.
I feel like we are evolving from fast fashion. Customers are starting to look for clothing that has lower environmental impact and where workers are paid a fair wage. I think we will see the emergence of extra-slow fashion.
Every two years, designers will come out with new silhouettes for fall and spring. In the interim seasons, they will sell dyes and other bits and pieces to transform the products. The original piece (hardware) is made from premium fabrics and materials. It can essentially last a lifetime. We will treat fashion almost like technology, sending “system updates.”
A major culture shift is needed to convince customers to shell out a lot more than they are used to spending on a suit/jacket/dress. Pieces need to become more of an investment. For this, branding, marketing, and storytelling become very important. We have to communicate to our clients that an H&M suit for $200 has more cost per wear than something from [London’s posh] Savile Row for $4000.
People will pay for this fashion with microloans. In Mauritius, the banking system is so advanced that you can buy food from the supermarket on credit. Now throughout Africa, people receive microloans on their phones and they pay them back gradually over time. Something similar can be developed for fashion outside the use of credit cards.
People could pay for part of their new clothing with their older clothing. Perhaps we would need a used textile processing plant.
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.
T-shirts and skirts.
Dashing boiler suits that reflect the sun and maintain a cool body temperature. Hats, too, and Wellington boots that mold to our feet.
Outfits that look like a second skin in a color of choice and that fool identity-recognition technology.
Hopefully, ties will be a relic of the past!
Light. This allows rapid adaptation (ranging from communication to camouflage) for a variety of settings.
I think we will still wear clothes. Probably clothes with fewer plastics and synthetics in them because we’ll all be more aware of how the microfibers kill sea life.
More used and locally made clothing. We will see more unique and expressive styles that celebrate our diversity!
We’ll be wearing clothes that are influenced by the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s for the rest of time. All with sun protection because it will be very, very hot.
I think we’ll wear much more intelligent, sustainable fabrics that work with our bodies. We will take for granted clothes that keep us at a consistent temperature and that adjust to us. I think they will be able to detect things like our blood pressure and our heartbeat, and they will be much more useful to us than they are now. The design industry has been really slow in thinking about tech and clothing. It’s not enough just to add a charger to a jacket.
Two trends will heavily impact the design and manufacture of fabrics that make our clothing: our improved understanding and capacity to manipulate nanomaterials with specific effects on the microorganic environment, and the steady improvements in our ability to program probiotic mechanisms. Clothing will be designed to serve as barriers against some diseases, to provide early warning diagnostics and as much as possible to align with dermal microflora in order to improve both comfort and wellness. Clothing will be designed for 24-hr/360-degree personal health monitoring. There is already underwear on the market that addresses some of our growing needs for contingent microhealth support.
Fashions and designers from the Global South will inspire our sartorial decisions. We will embrace future-oriented, simpler, wears made of different fabrics and textures that derive from the imaginative local cultures in continents like Africa and Asia.
I think it’s less about what we’ll wear and more about how we’ll approach fashion and identity in the future. Getting dressed has become something that feels overwhelming and emotionally fraught and it can be easy to fall back on failsafes. Most people dress to fit in, not to stand out, and we’ve stopped appreciating what makes us all different and unique. I think women in particular are tired of being shamed for their bodies, of being told what to look like, and of having to navigate inconsistent sizing options. My hope is that we can change the way so many women (and men) shop and think about fashion, and make it a positive and empowering experience. Instead of telling people what to wear, we’ll start with, “tell us how you want to feel” and get them the clothes that do that. When you feel great in what you’re wearing, it opens up a world of possibilities.
Very little. It will be so hot everyone will be walking around half naked.
How will we find love?
Encrypted apps or in person.
The only way possible. Through an open heart.
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.
In the parks.
At public love markets and through kidnap.
Sex will remain quite popular as the route in. Of course, algorithms will take that into account when identifying your most likely flings and long-term relationship matches. There will be fewer “how we met” stories. But the evolution of lust and love will still depend on surprise, delight, and exhilarating difference, discovered in the lived experience of all-too-human and unpredictable coupling.
Love will still be ineffable, unpredictable, and wonderfully human but the process of “screening” for love will be far more automated. Our intelligent assistant will dialog with other intelligent assistants online. In addition, videos, images, and bios are automatically vetted and corroborated to minimize surprises when we finally meet IRL.
I believe choosing a partner will become an informed, data-driven decision. That probably sounds unromantic! But the person we decide to spend our lives with is the single most important choice of our life—and virtually all of us make that decision based on a fleeting gut feeling, rather than what *actually* indicates long-term compatibility. That, I believe, is the true potential of dating apps.
Those telepathic implants will wreak havoc in this department.
Online. Even for the most casual encounter we will pre-screen to avoid serious Mendelian diseases, which currently affect 5% of births. This can be done today via whole genome sequencing for $0 to the consumer.
I think we’ll find it by looking into one another’s eyes in real life. With any luck, we’ll understand the difference between sex and intimacy, and come to learn how real-life encounters engender a certain intimacy we can’t get otherwise.
Any way we can. This is what defines us as humans—we always find a way to find love.
I met my husband because his mother cut out a newspaper clip for him about how I was starting Teach For America. I can assure you that won’t be how we find love in the future.
Love in a romantic way will cease to exist. We will only be willing to communicate with the nearly all-knowing AI that we are connected to—which, in fact, is one with us. However, this AI will be connected to everyone else too, so we will always be interconnected in a sort of hive mind.
I think that we will find love in the ways we’ve always found it—through family connections, through friends introducing each other, through work, and through much more sophisticated apps that are currently quite blunt instruments to connect people. But as the data collection on each of us becomes more sophisticated, we’ll become more like guided missiles for putting people together. I am very hopeful that if you don’t want to be on your own, you won’t have to be.
The psycho-biological dimension of love has long intertwined with the socio-legal, and now the politico-economic, demands of the modern relationship format: marriage/civil unions, joint custody and upbringing of children, marital assets management, compatibility counselling, even couple genomics. Many people are growing wary of the “whole package” philosophy. They want an unbundling. And as we get comfortable using social network technologies to support more and more of our most intimate decision-making, more of us shall turn to new technologies to enable us manage our “love life” in a far more “disaggregated” manner than is currently the case. Rather than stop at sexting, hookups, and fetishes, app-system providers will enable more complicated patterns of “love life formatting,” including some pretty complicated living arrangements around child rearing, joint finances, and the like. Because the decision-making would require more data than is currently available, UI and UX maestros shall have the time of their lives trying to make all that seamless. Expect to see more “location synching” services that beep and flash and signal when a “true match” is nearby, whether you are at a supermarket or in the queue at the state vehicle licensing waiting hall.
If by “love” we mean intimacy or relationships or sex, I think we will discover them via digital/virtual communication—social media engagement, dating applications, online communities, etc. I also think some of the consequences of increased virtual engagement will be a lack of intimacy and decrease in sex.
Digitally, double entendre not intended.
Matching algorithms will of course be vastly more effective due to a plethora of data. They may even know our preferences better than we do. The final frontier, however, will be smell—the ability to analyze pheromones and crack the code of attraction. There will also be a clearer distinction between and understanding of who is an attractive one-night proposition versus who might make for a successful long-term partner.
Matchmaking will thrive in 2070. After major social networks and dating sites get hacked out of existence, digital methods of meeting new people will become socially taboo. As a result, personal networks and in-person connections will be the preferred way to meet both romantic partners and new friends.
Some of the most avid matchmakers will be retired millennials who saw this coming (and also want grandchildren). An entrepreneurial generation, millennials will create new types of gatherings—restaurants will feature a matchmaker along with a sommelier; they’ll apply grassroots organizing toward developing a robust network of global matchmakers.
Also, with terrorism at an all-time low, bomb-sniffing dog breeds will now be trained to sniff out pheromone matches, working at airports and parks to bring together potential matches.
While the early internet matchmaking boom was based on crude algorithms that matched people by their race, occupation, or interests, this era of Applied Social Chemistry will build on intersections of biology, psychology, data science, and behavioral economics to bring together new matches based on a more holistic set of characteristics and aspirations.
Architects, urban planners, and designers will round out the creative matchmaking industry. Neighborhoods, transportation, and public spaces will be designed to help people forge real connections. Stores and libraries (yes, they will still exist) will be designed to increase the likelihood of serendipitous encounters. Instead of finding a match on Tinder, as their grandparents had, people will find love on exit 22.
Increasingly, we will find love by looking at our own reflections.
A person’s physical appearance will become less important, because we will all have augmented reality contact lenses. So you can alter the face of your partner to look like anyone—including current celebrities such as Blue Ivy Carter.
By having an open heart.
What kinds of stories will we tell?
Stories of a time when we didn’t all have healthcare.
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.
Ones of regret and genocide.
The stories we share will recall how, as a society, we were able to harness tech to serve the greater good. We will remember, but not miss, a world in which we were uncertain of our cybersecurity and of the veracity of online information.
We will look back on today with shock at how tethered we were to our phones—the same way we now look back on the prevalence of smoking (only it’s so much worse, because we’re all doing it, almost all the time). I hope we’re all telling stories to our grandchildren about how most of our time was spent staring at screens instead of with one another—and they’re looking at us in disbelief.
The same 12 stories that humanity has been telling in different forms since the Stone Age, only in another media.
I hope we will tell fewer stories of what’s been lost, and more about what’s been found or restored.
The same stories we’ve always told–– just maybe in different ways. Stories of love and conflict, joys and sadness, and overcoming obstacles. Those stories have been told for centuries, and I really think they will continue to find a place in the future. We’ll just tell them in different ways.
We’ll have heroes, sheroes, and they-roes of all races, ages, abilities, and classes. We will celebrate superpowers that help people both honor our differences and understand our shared values and fate. And with more diverse protagonists, our stories will bring us closer together, rather than exclude those who haven’t been represented. And because people are living longer, we’ll have more time to tell stories.
We will always be telling stories about relationships, because relationships are the most crucial factor in everything. We’ve learned this is true even in classrooms, and I’ve learned it’s true in organizations and in networks.
We will tell the stories that always keep us engaged, which are the great stories of passion, betrayal, war, love, family, and money.
What the social media boom has shown us is how much we humans love to dramatize the mundane. People want to turn their humdrum lives into their own signature movies (well, some people do). But we also want fantasy and rule-warping freedom to escape the boring and the repetitive. Hence, the growing fascination and faux outrage over “deep fakes.” Second Life failed because it got the balance wrong: We want neither absolute freedom of narrative nor absolute fidelity to genre. We want some social conventions to remain to make our status anxiety worthwhile.
In a few years, the tools for crowd-narrated stories will be much better. Rather than fans of Game of Thrones giving secondary meaning to Dan Weiss and David Benioff [the showrunners] and George R.R. Martin’s [the author of the series] fantasies on ridiculously long reddit subthreads, they will spend their time co-creating spin-offs that speak more closely to contemporary cultural anxieties. Our most engaged discussions about our cultural lives seem to have diverged from the social and political matters that animate us the most. New technologies will enable us to wield our angst into crowd-spun tales of suburban woes and the perfidies of the political class. Expect a Kickstarter-type co-creation medium for tubecasting that tilts heavily towards hyperlocal stories of resistance and redemption, told with snazzy effects and with patronage in the millions.
We will tell stories about the “what was”—namely, the consequences of and turn from the past political era, which was marked as a period of destabilization and normalized violence. We will mark the qualities of that era (i.e. the rise of the multinational technology companies, the widening gap between the working class and the extremely wealthy, the normalization of white nationalism and authoritative regimes, the calculated disregard of climate change, etc.) as a significant turning point in global politics.
Stories about love and monsters, as always.
Storytelling hasn’t changed that much since Homer. We’ll be eagerly listening to stories of love, bravery, combat, and heroism.
The types of entertainment we enjoy depend first on the available technology and the economic structure of content businesses that produce that entertainment. The invention of film, coupled with cinemas where hundreds of people can gather, enabled the two-hour film format to flourish. The invention of television, paid for by advertising, allowed for the rise of episodic half- and one-hour TV. Once people were able to record episodes, television became serialized, with story and character arcs able to develop in an almost novelistic way.
The future of content will be shaped by the same forces. VR allows for truly immersive experiences and it challenges some of our instincts including that stories need to be told linearly. There has been debate for millennia over how much of our storytelling instincts are ingrained—hardwired biologically or through deep archetypes—and how free we are to reinvent storytelling. I predict that the novel will continue as it is today—as the preeminent medium for exploring the intimate. At the same time, our urge for spectacle, fuelled by the most advanced technologies of the day, will continue to reinvent itself in 2070.
It’s also worth thinking about Asian storytelling, and how the rise of Asia will influence the stories told worldwide. My company See-Saw Films has developed a family show on Netflix, The New Legends of Monkey, based on one of China’s greatest mythological novels. One of the challenges we faced was finding character and story arcs that could resonate with Western audiences as well.
By 2070, we’ll have worked through our stories of fear and apocalypse. From that era, The Handmaid’s Tale will endure as a classic.
We will have more stories of loss—the end of species, end of languages, end of the industrial age. But we will also have more stories of invention: life on new planets, ways to finally reuse all the plastic in the ocean. We will continue to use stories to grapple with our wrongs, and hold on to stories we find hopeful.
The chase against fake news will continue.
While the topics may not change drastically, the how and context of stories will be different. Stories will not just be a form of entertainment. Between the ritualized (and now legalized) use of psychedelics and strides in medical research, we’ll better understand how narratives can be a medicine, in some cases replacing a pill. Implanting new narratives will be a new (non-expensive) procedure, wholly personalized. The patient, clinician, and designer specializing in ritual and narrative will together craft the narrative, which will be a powerful antidote for anything that undermines our mental health.
People will tell stories about how the sky used to be very clear and blue before.
We’ll tell the same stories we’ve always told, except the love stories will have to do with meeting online. But it’ll be the same. Humans will be the same. Magical thinking will still be everywhere, people will still believe in crystals and haunted houses and ghosts and all that stuff. But I think fundamentally the world will become more divided—the rich will keep getting richer and the poor will keep getting poorer.
We will be much more risk-aware and how we share our folklore will reflect it. Even on an individual level, people and institutions will be facing the true cost of their risks. Telling stories about how we manage our risks as families and individuals—how we reduce the risks of floods, adapt to storms, contend with heat—will be as mundane as talking about the weather.
Furthermore, stories of shared experiences related to humanitarian conflicts, natural- and climate-driven disasters will become ubiquitous and no longer the exclusive domain of specific geographies or communities.
Stories of suffering, sacrifice, and compassion. People will continue to be fascinated by our shared human experience, and continue to be drawn to tragedy and hope, laughter, and sadness.
How will we get information?
The question is how do we avoid the noise and focus on what is most important.
Through each other. Our reliable news source will become the people we trust and love.
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.
News flash on wearable gadgets.
Depends who we are: the elite will meet face-to-face with specialists, politicians, and decision-makers, but the rest of us will be subject to a barrage of deepfakes, troll farms, and detention if we try to spread alternative narratives.
Just like the present day, our main source of news, media, and information will come from the internet. However, we will no longer worry about the authenticity of our news, and have normalized fact-checking tools that ensure the transparency and truthfulness of the media.
I also predict that online outlets will be smaller and more localized, circulating information tailored to communities and their particular civic, social, and political circumstances. This local journalism will inform and inspire communities to advocate for changes they want to see in their niche areas.
Telepathically also, but the hard question is: What could we trust, if any?
From many different sources so that we don’t get trapped in an information silo and can learn from many different experiences of our reality.
We’re already seeing the increase of personalized, tailored news feeds leveraging machine learning algorithms to serve up content we’ll be most interested in. I predict you’ll see that bleed over into the workplace, with AI-powered software learning more about our daily tasks and projects to serve up relevant, pertinent information before we ever go searching for it.
Information will be easier to get than ever because the internet will be connected to everything, but having a trusted source will be even more important than it is now.
We will constantly build out networks and use of the quantum world outward. This will increase our intelligence all the time, every moment. That is the real goal of this new world—as much power and intelligence as possible. We must conquer the universe.
I do think there will be huge advances in how we get information, including headphones and some form of eyewear. I think when you see how comfortable people have become wearing headphones almost all of the time, and what we’ve seen at Snap with the popularity of Spectacles, you can imagine that there will be many advances in facial and head wearables. And we’ll get much more information in our ears. It’s amazing to think that 20 years ago no one was wearing headphones—now we can’t leave the house without them. I think there will be much more information coming at us on our headphones. And the combination of glasses and headphones, or headphones and camera, will become the norm.
The internet isn’t going anywhere. What the big apps have shown, though, is that they can heavily contain our experience of it. They can manipulate the edges of our consciousness and force us to limit our exploration to the lens they provide. Still, two visions contend: the Googleplex dominion of highly-curated, de-personalized, ranked truths and the Facebookdom of hearsay and sentiment sensing. What kinds of information are we going to want the most? As more of the important day-to-day services in our lives move to hyper-connected platforms capable of pulling in data from all manner of sources in anticipation of our needs, we are less consciously searching for information independent of the flow of our actions. Unless an individual is in a line of work that requires seriously original thinking, curiosity is increasingly more oriented toward understanding the viewpoints of others and the nuances of social belief than it is toward dry facts and curated opinion. Structural recall may already be on the downslide. It seems to me that in the near future, systems that enable more unstructured peer learning and immersion, like the next generation of WhatsApp groups, shall acquire higher stakes in our contested attention span than the systematic search engines in vogue today.
The most significant change in access to information will be moving from a pull to a push. Instead of us asking for information, we will have information pushed to us, as needed, just in time. Infinite storage capacity combined with unlimited data feeds and sophisticated AI algorithms will predict our needs better than we can. Massive databases can combine data on billions of people and give us answers to questions we have not even thought of, but should. While this can lead to massive efficiencies, it assumes we are all, at the essence, the same. We like to think of ourselves as unique, rational, different, creative, and special but all these concepts will come under threat as data proves to us that we are not.
I think it will be on our wristwatches. I think that technology—Google Glass, remember those glasses? That will be figured out. People will be able to put on a pair of sunglasses and read and so on. I think, in the cities, in the developed world, people will not drive. The taxicabs, or the taxi pods, will be automated. In the not-too-distant future, people will say, “You mean you let people drive cars? What? It must have been chaos!” Yes, it kind of was.
In 50 years, we will be much better trained in how to discern the veracity of information from all kinds of outlets and sources. People will also get information and “news” from the content we now call video games, but they will be more content-rich. Preschoolers will be trained to discern trusted sources of information as a daily activity along with learning their letters and numbers. Sources of information will be essential to safety and security as disinformation is increasingly a weapon in political and social discourse.
We will have internet-equipped contact lenses that will fact check every statement we hear in real time. It will make presidential debates much more honest.
What forms of transportation will we use?
Our feet and bicycles mostly. We will live closer to where we work. Cars will be obsolete. Planes and trains will be faster.
High-speed buses and trains.
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.
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.
The sharing economy (ride-sharing apps like Uber): better for the environment, better for peoples’ pockets.
Driverless bus and taxi.
Solar-powered hovercrafts would be nice.
The use of sophisticated holograms will become far more common, and autonomous vehicles will be used as a last resort. Driving will be an unusual, somewhat expensive, and highly regulated hobby—similar to hunting today.
Public transportation has the potential to grow in importance and be used throughout the US. In addition to its environmental and logistical benefits, public forms of transportation have immense potential for technological innovation. The positive impact we can create as a community driven by public transportation is one we cannot overlook.
Individual self-driving pods and flying devices.
Those who are blessed with the ability to walk will be walking more. Cities and towns are becoming more friendly to bikes. This must continue. Buses will become electrifyingly fun to ride. Self-driving cars will become the norm. I’m hopeful that hyperloop routes will expand into more places. As for the skies, I believe we will still fly. But by 2050, the industry will have changed beyond recognition—aviation itself will come under increasing pressure to reach net zero emissions and point-to-point travel could drastically reduce flying time.
Our transportation will definitely become more sustainable and climate-centric. We currently have a 16-year-old climate change activist [Greta Thunberg] who won’t get on a plane because of the emissions. So you can already see how the younger generation is hyper-aware of climate change and is adamant about making drastic lifestyle changes to preserve our planet. As that younger generation grows up, I think they will demand transportation that is climate-conscious. There will be a collective understanding and responsibility to find modes of transport that don’t cause harm to the environment.
Public forms of transport. We will have state-of-the-art, accessible, and affordable public transport, including in rural areas, used by the vast majority of people.
I hope we’ll have public transportation in every city! Also, will somebody please fix [New York City’s] MTA?!
Autonomous transportation of all kinds—cars, airplanes, and boats. We will trust machines to take us places more safely and efficiently than humans. Fortunately, no 16-year old will ever take a driver’s test again.
I’m very curious about electric planes. I think that air travel is on the cusp of major disruption and I foresee much smaller airports with much smaller electric planes coming and going.
Most autonomous-mobility companies are completely deluded. Look, if self-navigating platforms are going to become a thing, it will only happen as part of a reimagined, coordinated mass transit system. That is to say, it is not Ford’s datacenters that will have the responsibility for tele-guiding a chute-pod down the Grand Concourse in the Bronx—it will be the borough government’s nav system. Most investments today are toward individual autonomous vehicles, but the real challenge is how to manage a swarm of independent self-driving cars. For cities to allow large numbers of self-driving cars, they would need to deploy some of the most complex swarm management systems the world has ever seen. Due to heavy underinvestment in this critical layer, I am completely certain that our modes of transportation won’t change much for the next two decades at least.
But, of course, people may finally begin to see the folly of past focuses and build the municipal transit systems needed to enable coordinated, swarm-based navigational platforms. Once that happens, expect that cars will look very different as they are redesigned to fit within the "transit tapestry.” There will be dense sensor networks for vehicle-to-vehicle communications, and a redundancy-led safety approach. Cybersecurity is going to be the dominant constraint, so expect all the lessons we have learned from the disastrous way TCP/IP [the protocol that runs most of the internet] was designed to come in handy as mass transit designers rig the system with rampant failsafes.
High-speed rail lines; larger and more upscale commercial aircraft; and, for those who can afford it, airsharing—imagine technologies like Uber or Lyft, but for air travel. We will also see the increase of eco-friendly and/or electronic “smart cars” on the road.
Shoes and tires will be strongly involved still.
Personal, Uber-like helicopters that navigate by themselves—and, of course, we’ll walk.
In 50 years, we will be deep into the major transportation revolution we are starting to see today. Imagine a world where you can transport anyone or anything, at near zero cost, to any location. This will be possible thanks to shared vehicles, drones and automated delivery vehicles. As carpooling and shared vehicles proliferate, we will have less traffic and be able to utilize our cities in a more efficient manner. This will lead to:
-A better spread of housing. As commuting becomes seamless, we will see more distributed, smaller communities.
-A total transformation in food production and preparation—we will transition from restaurants, kitchens, and farms, to local, automated/robotic farms located within our communities. These farms will prepare what we want as we want it, which will include picking the vegetables, preparing the food, and distributing it to our homes.
-A major change in our homes—we will replace kitchens and garages with livable space.
We will travel by electric wind. This way we will move from this place to that quicker and safer.
We will still be driving cars, but many of us won’t own them anymore due to advances of the sharing economy. Perhaps only those who make any kind of living by owning vehicles will be the exception. By not owning cars individually, we will also share in the cost of fuel and insurance. Over time, we’ll be able to acknowledge the decrease in the need for them. Trains will be improved and expanded; hopefully, the CO2 emissions associated with air travel will be greatly reduced if not absent.
What will cities be like?
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.
Verdant and self-sustaining.
Cities will evolve based on the needs of their communities. The rise of distributed work means that we’ll spend less time commuting and more time in the areas in which we live, which means our neighborhoods and cities will have to work harder and smarter to serve us.
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.
There will be no cities.
Some will be abandoned, some will be eco-paradises, some will be nostalgic for times past. But the issue of how their citizens can live without the choice and waste they had grown accustomed to will be a challenge everywhere.
Urbanization is unstoppable. Demography is destiny. In 50 years, there will be 70 megacities of over 10 million people. In the current emerging markets, capital, talent, and technology will come together with an intensity so great that cities like New York, Shanghai, and Lagos will seem positively mellow. As the number and dimensions of interactions ramify, the creative and productive results will become less predictable, not more—contrary to apocalyptic and determinist fears about the Artificial Intelligence era. Also, urban denizens will be more connected to people in other megacities than to the suburbs or rural areas that surround them. The human connection will extend beyond media consumption to include virtual reality engagement, both mechanical and creative, that will trick our primitive brains into experiencing others as present, wherever they are. We humans have a deep need for place and local community but the meeting of that need will be untethered from our physical environment. Where you are will not dictate who you relate to.
Cities will be both bigger and denser. Whereas 50% of the Korean population lives in Seoul today, I predict that percentage will exceed 80% by 2070. As a result, transportation will be fully autonomous and highly efficient.
People will have more opportunities to choose what kind of city they might live in, from big-city skyscraper life, like in New York City’s midtown, to urban villages like San Francisco’s Cole Valley, or small-city life with large-city amenities.
Some huge and messy, but most will break into smaller units as people dream of villages.
They could have much more diversity—neural, social—and higher average EQ. But they could also be more physically isolated to remove accidental or intentional manipulation of the bodies and minds of other people.
Cities will be living organisms, designed like interdependent ecosystems, with the intention to integrate—as opposed to segregate—residents across lines of race, class, and generation. They will be designed with an accessibility lens to allow for older people and people with disabilities to be much more mobile. They will be incentivized to address inequality; cities will compete over which offers the most opportunity for the most people.
There will only be one city in the uploaded world, the great AI city of minds.
I think the arrival of the driverless car is going to change how we think of cities and how we think of space in cities. The way we design cities has, for the most part, been based on organic expansion. That will change. I think data around how we use space will become more sophisticated, and as we have to save resources, cities are going to become much more eco-conscious, which actually I feel pretty hopeful about.
Once we have succeeded in building high-coordination transit systems, the move toward more pedestrian-friendly spaces shall begin in earnest. The need to encourage more social bonding by encouraging serendipitous encounters will become the all-consuming passion of municipal designers. Cities heavily underinvest in social bonding right now. Authorities are so busy handling sewage and gas grid leaks that they simply have no bandwidth to look at the stresses tearing social life apart: commuter blight, planning zone mess that has made decent housing for new entrants into the workforce a mere fantasy, disintegrating family relationships, and the dramatic persistence of inner-city homelessness and pollution.
As utilities become more regional, however, it seems to me that cities will discover that their “primary bound of responsibility” is more anchored to fostering human-to-human community and less to the exigencies of infrastructure maintenance. Even educational and health infrastructure may become more hyper-connected due to growing digitalization and the harmonization of job market structures. City management may, thus, find that its only real avenue to impact quality of life is to curate endless experiences for connecting the atomized dwellers inhabiting their territories into a more productive whole.
This might sound dystopian, but I dread that cities in the US will be culturally dead because of the rapid forms of gentrification that will displace the peoples and cultures that shaped parts of the cities. We will see an increase in the development of urban spaces—innovative architectural takes on the built environment; more high-rise, high-cost housing (some might be green buildings); and more green space. But cities will be hubs for those who can afford to reside there.
They will be much bigger, and underclasses will be more pronounced.
Cities are known for their intense sounds. In 50 years they will sound different. Electric vehicles will make almost no noise. With autonomous cars there will be no honking. If there are drones, they will be quiet. The hidden sounds will emerge. We will hear our neighbors more. We may even hear birds.
Very different. Some cities just have high buildings built out of rubbish; others will be plastic. My city [Ho Chi Minh City] will be underwater by then.
In the developed world, they’ll be cooler than ever. The quality of life in cities in the developed world, like in Tokyo, Paris, London, will be very good. In the developing world, they’ll be worse. In the developed world, there will be taxi pods half as wide as cars that are electric, and people will get around easily. In the developing world, it’ll be even more of a mess than it is now.
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.
Future cities will be crowded, wired for public connection, more segregated, on either end of weather extremes—very hot, very wet or very dry—yet, better, more strategically vegetated and forested. Investment in public spaces like parks and natural areas will increase as those spaces will be appreciated for their multiple values to cities and their inhabitants, especially immigrants. People will also no longer need to go to work in the traditional sense; very few will need to commute so people will stay in one part of the city, which will boost reliance on and the importance of community.
Cities will be centers of vibrant and stimulating exchanges. Urban centers will, unfortunately, also be the frontlines of conflict. The flattened cities of Mosul, Taiz, and Homs may be precursors of more impactful destruction in the future.
What will our borders be like?
It will be easier to cross them than it is now. The rise of cities and mega-regions will reduce the power of nations.
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.
I think that it will be much easier to cross borders within specific regions; however, we will have to trade more of our personal information in exchange. Authorities will be able to track the majority of our movements and actions within that specific region. I believe that hard cash will no longer be in use and people will be tracked using the paper trail of their financial transactions.
They will use stringent facial recognition.
There will be no borders.
It will be as seamless as automatically paying a toll on the highway. Illegal behavior will be dealt with decisively by drones and robots.
Mass migration at a global scale will be unstoppable, so borders will become permeable.
They will be much easier to virtually cross due to VR, but much harder to actually cross due to quarantines and/or vast distances (space colonies). There will possibly be very fine-grained and hardened borders (as fine as individual people) along political and social lines, as happens for gerrymandering and gated communities. But in the future, they will be for real physical, health, and social reasons.
Our border policy will be human-centered. It will be harder for drugs and corporations to cross borders—standards and restrictions that prevent corruption will be put in place. The process will reflect the reality that people have always migrated—and will always migrate—when they are forced to, so we will have a clear process for people to do so legally that maintains the dignity and well-being of migrants and their families. People who work at the border will understand their role as ambassadors for our diverse country.
While political forces may seem to be moving towards isolationism, what we see at Teach For All is that young people around the world are very inspired to build relationships and learn from each other across borders. I have confidence that the trajectory will be towards an open society.
There will be no borders, except the ability to sabotage the AI and quantum intelligence enclaves themselves. This will not be permitted.
The actual act will be very easy, with a scan of our eyes, but being allowed to cross certain borders may be more difficult than today.
Megacities will continue to rise, as more people follow job opportunities and an urban lifestyle. This will mean even more congestion and limited space. To accommodate this demand, we will see a major increase in the sharing economy. Whether it be office spaces, homes, or cars, we should expect to see more and more people willing to share space with their neighbors and colleagues. The good news: we will find ways to meet the demands of these megacities. Thanks to technological developments, like IoT sensors and applying real-time data to more efficiently operate our cities, we will be able to meet the increasing demands of megacities while improving public systems, such as water, sewer, storm drainage, electrical power, and telecommunications.
There will be no borders because we did away with countries.
There is a fundamental battle being waged the world over: good vs. evil; democratic states and strong institutions, the rule of law, trust in government vs. despots and authoritarian leaders stoking fear and xenophobia. Who will win? Trump is breaking down institutions, and it’s not just happening in the US.
In 50 years, we will be rebuilding a sense of a common good. Our current polarization over crossing borders will play out. Depending on who wins that battle, we will again be collaborating and building, following free-trade rules, and having open borders—or we will be folding in on ourselves and still calling for more “walls.”
Physical border controls will be less important than today, as people will instead be monitored, tracked, and controlled by virtual means.
Will we have ventured to other planets?
Possibly Mars, but no one will really care.
Instead, I hope we can focus on keeping our beautiful planet intact.
Yes! I think we’re closer than we think.
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.
We will have trashed the moon and started a small colony of robots on Mars.
A few of us will venture out, but the expense and the schlep factor will leave most of us firmly ensconced on Earth. We will focus on the hard work of improving life on Earth over the romanticized notion of escaping.
I sure hope so, because, nerd.
Yes, but only by private corporations and the super-rich.
Yes. Mars, Venus, and Jupiter’s four moons with more liquid water than Earth.
I hope so! I’d be signing up for a trip to Mars! I think ordinary people going into space is something we will definitely see within the next 50 years.
I think so. We need a backup plan.
Yes, there will be humans left that have traveled to live and procreate on other planets. In case our great experiment with uploading ourselves to the cloud fails, we will still have our species to carry on and try again.
We will have visited planets, but with no substantial colonies or tourism. Distances and travel time will remain too great.
No, we will be too busy trying to save our own.
I think in 50 years people will have tried to go to Mars. But it’s a fantastically difficult problem. I just like to disabuse people—nobody’s going to be living on Mars. There won’t be villages on Mars. There’s nothing to breathe. You’ll notice that right away. You’ll live in a dome, and then if you want to go outside, you’ll put on a space suit, which is just another dome.
You know Sandy the squirrel from Spongebob Squarepants? She’s always got a helmet on, right? Because she’s underwater. If you have the imaginary idea that you will live on Mars and have a village on Mars with playgrounds and sliding boards and fun, happy farms on Mars under domes, you’ll be like Sandy the squirrel—you’ll always be in a dome. And if you think middle school gym locker rooms don’t smell especially good, wait until you spend a year on Mars in a dome.
Yes, for sure. In 50 years, we will not have settled them yet because travel time is really long and the feedback loop is slow.
What will our most valuable resource be?
Our human creativity.
Wisdom and community.
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.
Our most valuable resources will be human attention and energy. The fate of humanity will depend on where we choose to direct our most scarce human resources in the face of infinite distractions and unprecedented information overload.
In 2070, one of our most valuable resources will still be truthful information. Authentic information brings an invaluable resource to the viability of our society and democracy. Ensuring that people have access to trustworthy news sources is crucial to our ability to be engaged and informed voters. However, the importance of truthful information scales up and affects the most powerful decision-makers of our world.
Love. As our technological capability grows, I believe material goods will all become commodities. The scarcest resource will be giving one another our time, care, and attention.
Depends on location. On Venus and Mars it may be hydrogen. In general, it may always be creativity.
Time. I guess it always has been, but I think it’s going to be one of the only resources that won’t be manipulated by technology. No matter how quickly we’ll be able to access information or get from point A to B, there will still only be 24 hours in a day. For everyone.
Each other, and that will be evident in the way we care for one another.
Data. Information is what will power social interactions, trade, and war.
Our most valuable resource will be people and communities that have come together to exert collective leadership for a better future. Our number one priority should be investing in developing those human and relationship resources.
Our ability to reason. If we can think, we are alive. But if we have lost that ability, all is lost.
Trying to remember the lessons hardly learned by previous generations
Mental health will become our most valuable resource. Material resources will likely be more available than they are today. However, in a world overloaded with stimulation, and with mind-bending complexity straining our neural-chemistry, the most valuable resource will be the ability to master oneself—to create meaning, to sustain a productive self-narrative that involves contributing to one’s society, and to find joy.
I feel that human capital, but the right kind (educated, creative, motivated), will become the most scarce resource, as automation will erode traditional human capital value. Automation will need to save us from a shrinking society as birth rates drop and the job opportunities for traditional labor go away. Countries able to acquire, retain, and expand their educated human capital will be the most powerful ones, not the ones with large and traditional consumer bases.
Water. I don’t think that’s an especially controversial claim. Clean water, then reliable electricity.
There is no way to pick one. Clean air, clean water, forests, wetlands, and healthy farmland will be among our most valuable resources.
What will the biggest change to our natural world be?
A threatening climate.
Us, especially the fascists and despoilers amongst us.
That there will be a lot less of it.
Right now, I believe the changes we will see in the next 50 years could go either way. Either the Earth’s climate, biodiversity, plastic pollution, and other vital signs of planetary health will be well on the road to restoration, or things will have gotten much worse. I believe real progress could be made on most issues in the natural world by 2030, let alone by 2070, if we all come together. To achieve all that the world needs to do, we urgently need governments to treat the climate crisis as seriously as an invasion of their countries and join together to whip it. And while they are focusing on it, they can end deforestation, the loss of species, plastic pollution, and so on.
As for the human world, the biggest change I’d like to see in the next 50 years is much more listening. Collaboration, innovation, and creativity are some of humanity’s best traits, and I hope we can use them to solve some of the big issues of our time.
(A) Reversal of pollution and climate change via ocean algae and arctic grass (and cold-resistant elephants).
(B) Concentration of people in cities (already shown to have a positive impact on efficiency and environmental quality).
(C) Dozens-fold higher food productivity per square km via rapidly replicating photosynthetic (bio)chemistry.
A less extractive way of life for humans.
Severe consequences of climate change, which will include massive increases in food insecurity, human migration, and conflict over natural resources but will also open up a new promise of access to natural resources and new commercial routes in the Arctic.
Our most valuable resource will be water.
People will come to realize that nature and the material world are harsh, and the world technologists are trying to bring will be one without suffering.
The biggest change to our natural world will be how much the natural world will play a role in our currently “unnatural”–– i.e. man-made––world. Through biological engineering, we will build our structures with living materials, have clothes made from biological processes, and power the human world the way nature has powered itself for billions of years: harnessing sunlight into biochemical energy to power bioengineered processes. This means our houses might be “grown" instead of “built” from trees; our clothing made from spider’s silk; our tree lamps, luciferous.
Oceans will have radically less diversity.
Is “cultured meat” natural or man-made? The distinctions that keep those two worlds separate will be fraying. The natural world of today will be enhanced by man-made technologies. We may still be a way off, even in 2070, but everything is made of atoms. Once we master those, there will be no distinction.
There will be very little ice. There won’t be regular ice at the North Pole, in Greenland. On Antarctica, there will be a lot less ice. And the world will just be a lot warmer overall.
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.
An understanding of the value of nature will exist at a much higher level—the ecosystem of forests, mangroves, coastal areas, and grasslands will be commonly understood, measured, and incorporated into decision-making. The big change will be a move to return to a time when habitats were sufficient to support species, including humans. We will be somewhere on that path in 50 years.
Will our world be more equal or less equal?
More equal. Our cities will be leading an effort toward more shared and inclusive prosperity.
Much less equal.
Depends on the choices we make in 2020.
If it doesn’t improve, we are all doomed.
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.
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.
Inequality will be resolved.
Less equal, as the next technological leap might create too much of a gulf for the world’s poor to bridge.
I launched LeapFrog Investments in the same month that Steve Jobs launched the iPhone in 2007, convinced that 4 billion people soon would join the global economy via mobile. That half of humanity would need access to essential services—insurance, pensions, credit, and
healthcare—and these could be provided cheaply for the first time. I underestimated. There was a cost reduction of over 100x in innumerable cases, sure, but smartphones, streaming, the explosion of data, and AI have amplified the quality of potential interaction with customers over 100x too. A lower-income African or Asian person has technology and possibilities that the richest of kings and queens could not have dreamed of in all previous centuries.
The exponential results of this are not to be underestimated. Billions of people who were once excluded and underserved will rise into security and prosperity. They will do so as a result of their own efforts to rise—not as the mere beneficiaries of governments or elites. Unfortunately, the vast gaps in access to capital and technology will only increase, fueling greater inequality and thus instability. Fortunately, the “bottom billion” in our world will be better off in absolute terms.
The chasm between the richest individuals and the poorest will get even worse, but we will be able to raise billions out of extreme poverty and offer necessities like food, basic healthcare, and internet access to all.
Even if the gap is bigger, the minimum and median quality of life could be much better.
More equal. For our survival, it has to.
It’s ours to decide. If we embrace the challenge of enabling all children to fulfill their potential, it will be better. If we don’t, it will be much worse.
There will be great inequality between humans and those who have uploaded themselves.
Capitalism is a behemoth and cannot be reversed overnight—especially without a willful reckoning with greed on a global level. That said, inequality will have gotten worse.
Inequality among countries will have declined, as growth in rich countries will have slowed and poor nations will have partly caught up. But within countries, inequality will have increased and will be about more than money: The wealthy will have better health and will be programming their children’s genetic code for success.
Equality will not be measured solely on the basis of material wealth, although that will always form a core part of the equation. We will have moved to a richer metrics that take in the broader conditions for humans to flourish. Narrow bands of GDP will broaden to, or be replaced by measurement indices and goals that factor in quality of life, happiness, opportunity, social infrastructure, the environment. All the former “externalities” will no longer be sidelined, but will be brought into the equation. With technology able to provide much of our material necessities at low cost, and with many of today’s developing nations emerged, the softer forms of wealth will become more central. What will remain the same, however, is the importance of our social and political structures in determining which countries flourish and which don’t.
Depends how hard we fight now.
I think it will be less equal. But still, even the people who are poor will be less poor than the extremely poor people are today. There will be less extreme poverty, but the difference between the haves and have-nots will get bigger.
Less equal, given the disparity in who gets funding to adapt to and survive the impacts of climate change. The projected 3 billion people living in settlements by 2050 will take generations to climb out of poverty. Communities with money and support will adapt with strategies and shared values built by diverse stakeholders. Unfortunately, these will be few and far between. Mass migration and displacement will set back GDP and the economic and social progress of individuals and families.
Not only will the world have gotten less equal, but awareness of inequality will be much higher. If you walk into a party, your internet-enabled contact lenses will use facial recognition software and public records to immediately display the net worth of everyone at the event.
Sadly, less equal. The paradox of progress we see today will have widened. Some parts of the world will be healthier, better educated, better connected, and wealthier than ever; other parts will remain broken by fragility, violence, and a lack of development.
What technology will bring about the biggest change in society?
How to deal with the extension of human life.
Facial recognition and artificial intelligence.
Technology that enables people to make their own reproductive health decisions on their own terms—and by extension, helps them to live their best lives.
AI. The progress in automation will push us to become better, deeper, knowledge workers, and give us the capacity for currently unimaginable innovation.
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.
Quantum computing and machine learning.
Augmented intelligence in the form of artificial intelligence melded with human intelligence.
In 50 years, technology will have a new normal where the goal is not to get rich but to develop products that do good for all people—where companies are transparent and operate by the Golden Rule: Treat others like you want to be treated.
Like our current revolution, it will be a combination of technologies that creates such substantial change. Nanotech, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and connected devices will lead to the end of screens as our primary way of interacting with information and with one another.
(A) Colonies. (B) New education/communication. (C) Mammalian genome engineering (aka cell and gene therapies).
There are still massive parts of the world that don’t have 3G or WiFi, which is such an equalizer. I really think that just by those people gaining equal access to the internet, we’re going to experience a massive shift in society.
Other than new technology that we don’t know about yet, I think that as breakthroughs in health sciences are extending our lifespans, the population demographics are going to continue to change. What does the world look like with more and more people living into their seventies and beyond?
The technology that will bring about the biggest change in society will be artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. We already have computer programs that can do medical diagnosis and legal work. AI will replace many high-end, specialized-knowledge jobs, such as radiologists, internal medicine doctors, dermatologists, patent attorneys, contract lawyers, and traffic court judges.
I think biotech is going to produce enormous changes. I think [today] we have such a rudimentary understanding of how our brains and bodies work. We will have extraordinary leaps in how we begin to collect mass data on cancer, heart disease, and fertility. And I think there will be massive leaps in our understanding of fertility, offering women more control over when they decide to have children. It will be automatic for women in their late teens to freeze their eggs, and we will see new technology about that.
I wish to say the ability to teleport oneself, but I have to admit I’m writing this on a long flight, and it’s been a while since there has not been any increase in the speed of aircraft!
The first phase of the internet was about software and virtual innovation. The second phase (from now to the next 50 years) will be about optimizing, sharing, and changing the physical world. This will take longer, but have a much more substantial impact on our daily lives. Transportation will undergo such a change, as companies work to move the marginal cost of delivering anything or anyone to zero. Another area that will experience a major change will be food production. We will see a shift toward local, automated and cost effective farms. Artificial meat will also replace the need for raising livestock since we will just grow the meat instead.
I can see, in 50 years, people could meet each other whenever they want by going through a “magic hole.” There won't be any need for planes anymore.
Fusion energy. The fusion I’m talking about will be done with boron hydrogen gas. It might be called boron hydride gas. This will not be cold fusion—this will be very, very hot fusion, considerably hotter than the surface of the sun, done here on Earth in magnetic fields. This is where the developed world will have access to this stuff, electricity. The developing world still won’t.
I used to say that the US election of 2000 was a turning point for climate change, for humankind. But I’ll say now the election of 2024 will be the big turning point. Historians look back: 2000 was a big event and 2024 will be a big event.
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.
In the US, 91% of kids (pdf) between two and 17 now play video games. That will be the “game-changer” and portal to our future. The names will change, but this will be the key tool for information sharing, learning, public service announcements, parenting advice, political campaigning, and a place for information on community disaster management and preparation.
What’s your best prediction for the world in 50 years?
Life will be much better than it is now.
I hope that we can retain some of what makes us human. We will realize that while technology has many benefits, it can also be used to control us. That’s why I predict there will be a desire to keep things like printed information and face-to-face interactions. We will need each other more than ever.
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.
My prediction is one of potential. 2070 could see a society that optimizes human wellbeing and regenerates our planet. Contrast that with a future that could easily fulfill our dystopian fears. I have faith in our better angels.
I’m an optimist for the future. Despite, or perhaps because of what’s happening now, in 50 years, community, trust, and storytelling will be more vital than ever—not just to our existence, but to our fulfillment.
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.
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.
That the world discover the value of wellbeing instead of money.
Oceans will be clean and the coral reef will be restored worldwide.
I will give one positive one: that most of the world’s democracies will be in Africa.
Editor’s note: Etzioni has answered this question in the form of a hypothetical news story from the future.
BREAKING: Food company X and technology company Y have officially completed their merger into a juggernaut computer manufacturer—lab-grown computers with super-human intelligence.
In the early 2000s, scientists speculated that cellular DNA offered transformative opportunities for computer memory. Likewise, companies began to investigate high-bandwidth links between our human neurons and artificial neural networks. Proceeding in secrecy, in offshore locations, ethical concerns were quickly shunted and a race ensued toward growing an artificial brain in a lab; a genuine “brain in a vat.” As technical obstacles were circumvented, and labs’ yield increased, the focus turned to creating super-intelligent, brain-machine hybrids. Alliances sprung up between high-tech companies and protein producers.
Today, the persistent rumors have been confirmed—this new company has emerged as the winner announcing a pioneering line of superbrains (sporting tech company Y’s sleek design, of course). The trillion-dollar question is: Has this machine arrived in time to solve carbon capture and reverse extreme climate change? Or will it determine that the future on Earth is too bleak, and instead lead us off the planet in search of a better habitat?
I imagine that by 2070, we will have made strides in specific areas including women in tech, trustworthy journalism, and voter security. With advances in each of these sectors, society will advance as a whole.
Though there has been a trend of increasing screen time since the 1950s, I believe this trend will reverse as we become burned out on the low-fi experience of staring at pixels, and society grows more aware of the health risks of digital addiction. Screens will become a thing of the past as we become disenchanted with our phones and tablets, and we learn to make real life more exciting through connected devices, augmented reality, and biological innovations.
I will be dead, and with some luck the patriarchy will be collapsing.
I am an optimist. I predict the world in 50 years will be better than most of us think. This doesn’t mean I think there will be some magic solutions to the world’s problems. Rather, in spite of everything, I know there are a lot of good people out there. I’ve had the honor of getting to see a small fraction of those in action, people who are working hard to leave their loved ones, communities, countries, and the planet in a better condition than they found things. That’s what gives me hope.
I also predict that we will cherish this planet much more. The next frontiers of space exploration will remind us how rare and vulnerable we all are, and I have a great deal of hope that our humanity will keep up with our technology.
Our “best” predictions will be self-fulfilling prophecies—i.e. those on which we work hardest, most persuasively, and most creatively.
Technology is going to continue to change everybody’s world in ways we don’t yet understand.
That we’re still here, and hopeful.
The largest occupation in the US economy will be care jobs (professionals whose jobs are to provide care for the elderly and children). They will be sought-after, high-quality jobs that we value in an entirely new way, and we will look back at the times when care work was minimum-wage work as an inexplicable failing.
I know I’m expected to make a technology prediction here, but that is very hard. Twenty years ago, the internet was just getting started and very few people could have predicted the massive change that followed.
I think that what’s obvious is that technology will continue to help automate rote and repetitive tasks, which would free people up to do the kind of work that humans do best—creative, innovative, interpersonal work. That kind of human-differentiated activity will become more and more important.
We’ll be able to go on vacation in our minds. In the middle of a work day, you can go sit on a beach in Tahiti for 10 minutes and get a sunburn—in your mind.
Online influencers will be a relic of 2019, and authenticity will make a comeback. But that’s probably just wishful thinking.
In 50 years, scientists will fully understand how non-coding DNA and other mechanisms control the expression of the coding DNA. This will enable them to program in DNA code, making it possible to create any form of life that they wanted. This technology could be used for either great, good, or evil.
It is likely that artificial intelligence and machine learning will be used to learn all the secrets of creating life. I think back to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The reason why Hal the intelligent computer killed the astronauts, is that he thought they would jeopardize the mission. Fortunately, Hal had an off switch. While writing this, I remembered a scene at the end of one of the Jurassic Park movies. A herd of dinosaurs was released from a billionaire's secret dinosaur lab. The future could be a jurassic world—creating dinosaurs could be reality. Dinosaurs would be harmless compared to other life forms that either a person or a computer with bad motives could create.
We will still be here.
An African team will win the 2070 Soccer World Cup, which will be organized in Iran.
People will be asking for predictions about 2120 and thinking: Wow, it’s amazing what lies just ahead in the next half-century!
History books will talk about 100 years of silent oppression of women—a facade of equality but the reality of unequal pay, opportunity, and the shaping of the minds and expectations of young girls through marketing and media. This is something I take to heart, and dedicate a portion of my time as CEO, working to both drive change and raise awareness.
To create something that empowers and includes everyone, you need a team that’s diverse enough to represent them and empowered enough to imagine a radically different future.
By 2070, we will have curbed the rate at which the Earth’s temperature is rising.
The creativity and inventiveness that will be most prized will be around human and planetary sustainability.
By 2070, we will have achieved a new level of shared humanity. We won’t be post-race or post-class, but we’ll see each other more easily, more closely. The meaning of connection will not default to an association with internet connectivity or online social networks; instead, when we say “connection” in 2070, it will mean something much deeper. A connection to ourselves, to each other, to other beings, and to the planet. Designers will no longer be designing things, but designing for relationships and meaning. We’ll more innately understand how all this connectedness adds up to the complex yet elegant ecosystem called Earth.
All of our problems will not be solved, but we will have figured out, through shared successes and missteps, that the only way to survive is collectively.
In another 50 years, I predict even greater and more seamless collaboration between public and private organizations. In the future, we’ll pair crowdsourced data from private companies with information from public entities for faster problem solving and improved city planning. There are numerous companies, including Waze, seeing just the tip of the iceberg for this type of partnership. With Waze, for example, our community of more than 120 million monthly active users willingly share information, whether it be through driving or flagging roadway hazards. By combining crowdsourced and local municipal data, we are able to reflect the most accurate road conditions, find optimized routes in real-time; calculate arrival estimations; and, equally as important, help municipal partners inform future city planning decisions. I expect more and more private and public sector groups will engage in similar practices in the coming years. As the world continues to generate massive amounts of data, I hope we can all come together to combine our data in a transparent and ethical manner to build a better future.
Globalized peace will be a reality.
There will be 10 billion people, but there will be optimism about the future. In 50 years, things will just start to get straightened out.
As former government employee Barack Obama remarked, if you couldn’t pick where you were going to be born, but when, this would be the time. As messed up as things seem to be, they’re less messed up than ever in human history. People are less violent than they have ever been, there are fewer wars. Overall, I’m very optimistic about the future. We’ll go through a rough patch in the next 30 years, but in 50, people will just start to be optimistic again.
Also, it’s very reasonable to me that in the next 50 years, people will understand dark matter and dark energy, and we’ll know more about the cosmos and our place within it.
My big things are clean water, renewably-produced reliable electricity, and then access to global information, whatever the internet comes to be called. Those three things are going to influence everyone on Earth. The key is to raise the standard of living of girls and women. But in order to do that, we need clean water, renewable electricity, and access to the internet. That’s either very straightforward or impossible for political reasons. If you can do that, you can change the world.
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.
The global financial system will reflect that a 7-12% return on investment grade financial products (like our current 401k and mutual fund accounts) includes significant harm to women and children, people of color, and the environment. Corporate “sustainability officers” will, therefore, no longer be needed because the financial system will become sophisticated and transparent enough—given the growth of broad availability and access to good data—to show the true costs of doing business the way we do now. Impacts to people and the environment will no longer be “externalities” that do not have a dollar value associated with them.
We will have learned that our current financial system is not sustainable, and yes, we’ll be living in a hotter, wetter world—and working to restore forests and wetlands—whereby the value of nature will be on par with the value of money.
The upshot: We will not see returns of 10% or more any longer—8% will be a huge return for investors 50 years from now, but the planet and its people will be on a much better trajectory.
Everyone will be aware of how hard it is to predict the future, and will look back and laugh at our attempts.
No individual or expert will be asked to make a prediction, because it will be acknowledged that there are just too many variables, too much randomness. There will be prediction markets—stock markets about future events—that are slightly more accurate than any single expert.
I would like to predict that the International Committee of the Red Cross will have closed because wars will have ceased, and humanitarian aid and protection will not be needed. But the past 100 years or more of warfare makes this seem unlikely. I expect technology to play an increasing role in war: cyber attacks, AI, nanotechnologies, combat robots, and laser weapons.