Eleven Events, Trends and Developments that Will Change Your Life
By Glen Hiemstra, October 16, 2006
The future is a paradox. Many things change, many things stay about the same. Changes take longer than expected, changes come in a rush.
Which events, trends, and developments are going to rock our world, and change our way of life in coming years?
The Global Climate Crisis
There is no longer any doubt that the planet is getting warmer. 21 of the 22 hottest years on record have occurred in the past 25 years. The Arctic polar region is heating up at two to three times the rate of the rest of the planet. This heating coincides with the final industrial age, in which the primary enterprise of humans has become locating, digging up, and setting fire to long extinct life forms. This heating, a matter of a few degrees is not a minor matter, suggesting a life of warm leisure in Bermuda shorts. Rather, it promises an era of wild weather, disruptions to agriculture, transportation, and commerce.
There is time, but very little time, to take measures to retard global warming. Action is required now. And the amazing news is that there are many developments that enable a vision of no additional global warming, then reversal of the warming, in this century. Nuclear half-life accelerators are one such possibility. But we have to change soon.
The End of Cheap and Easy Oil, Just In Time
The oil age has lasted about 120 years. No energy source has been easier or cheaper than locating pools of oil and pumping it from the ground. Now, the easy pools are gone, and the price is increasing, both the cost of exploring and developing oil, and the global cost in conflict of exploiting the primary deposits in the Middle East. Our long, nearly free ride is over. The task of the next quarter century is making the shift from easy oil to alternative energy. As Michael Pacheco said in 2005, “We are going to need everything we can get from biomass, everything we can get from solar, everything we can get from wind. And still the question is can we get enough?” Advances in wind energy using magnetic gears is but one important development, as are hybrid, fuel cell, and perhaps best of all Tesla cars that will end the role of oil in transportation. Oh, and cheap LED’s to replace all light bulbs, the greatest source of electricity use in buildings, is a clear path to a better future.
The ability to both see into and manipulate matter at the level of its basic building blocks, molecules and atoms, marks the beginning of the next industrial revolution. From stain free pants to super batteries, from strong and lightweight nano-concrete to space elevators, the possibilities are mind boggling. Many manufactured products and many manufacturing processes may see profound improvements in the coming several decades. The most critical aspect of nanotech is not the small size at which things can be made or manipulated, but rather that the properties of matter change when you are working at that scale, allowing for novel and surprising invention.
Among the most important of nanotech developments will be the manufacture of nano-solar cells. Pioneered by Konarka and by NanoSolar of California, these thin film cells, which are printed onto a polymer substrate on giant drum printers, will take solar energy from the exotic to the common place. The first large scale fabrication plant is slated for completion in 2007. When this NanoSolar plant is fully operational it will produce 430 megawatts of solar cells per year, about a fourth of a typical nuclear plant.
Biotechnology, Genomics and Systems Biology Extends Life Spans
It is possible that the first child to live forever is walking the planet. A radical, even crazy statement, but advances in understanding human biology from a systems perspective promise advances in longevity. As medicine moves upstream to become predictive, preventive and personalized in the next couple of decades, aided by nanotech devices capable of detecting and treating disease at very early stages, the possibility of super longevity grows.
Obesity Decreases Life Spans
At the same time that the biotech revolution promises longer and healthier life, the exploding obesity epidemic lifts the curtain on a future in which, for the first time, young people may face a life span which is less than their parents. This moving map illustrates the rapidity with which significant obesity has swept through American states, only to be mimicked around the world. This two decade old trend coincides with the tremendous increase in the number of meals that involve fast food, the huge increase in portion size of these meals, and the introduction of high fructose corn syrup into practically all processed foods.
Moore’s Law marches on, as light-based computing, spintronic computing, quantum computing, nanotube computing, and other developments continue to make computers smaller, cheaper, and more powerful simultaneously. This will not stop, and by the decade of 2020 computers will have disappeared into clothing, flexible nanopaper screens, all manufactured products, and even human implants. Information and global communication will be the sea that all humans swim in.
Wearable augmented reality, via contact lenses or glasses, combined with always on wireless contact with circles of friends and strangers will mean that people will constantly be talking to thin air. This connection to distant realities and disconnection from immediate realities will create a constant tension over the value of being plugged in so thoroughly. This kind of access will be available the world over, at increasingly affordable prices.
An Older Future
Of all the people who ever lived to be 65 years old, some two-thirds of them are alive today. The next 25 years will see the culmination of a grand experiment, in which the question will be how to organize society – work, transportation, communities, old age care, and more – for a time when a quarter of the population is over the age of 65, and many are much older. True, they will have down-aged and be healthier longer, and parts of the world will be younger, but this is unknown territory as such a world has never existed before.
A Shrinking Future
Controversial but obvious, the population bomb comes to an end with a whimper. Even as the global population grows, global birth rates suggest that the end of growth is as near as mid-century. In fact, large parts of the world face near term population decline if trends stay where they are – Japan, Russia, most of the EU, Canada, Australia, and more. Global migration and immigration off-sets low birth rates, and one must beware the permanent trend. But, like the aging population, a world in which each year there are fewer people would be unprecedented in modern times. There are no models for how an economy will work with each year there are fewer total customers. But such a world may be just what the global environment needs.
Continued Emergence of China and India
The process of globalizing the economy continues, with effects that are both positive and negative. The adjustments that this process brings are generally underestimated, particularly the impact on the middle class in developed countries. Outsourcing of jobs in the U.S. and the lack of new jobs resulting from globalization is twice official estimates. The prospects for exploitation of poor people in developing nations has not disappeared, and continues. Yet stopping globalization may be equally disruptive. What is needed is smart and fair integration of the global work force. China and India lead this globalizing process, and the world has simply never seen anything like them: huge populations, increasingly well educated, motivated by poverty and the desire to improve, and intent on racing the developed world to the top, not the bottom.
These ETD?s and more are explored in Turning The Future Into Revenue: What Businesses and Individuals Need to Know to Shape their Futures, by Glen Hiemstra, from John Wiley & Sons, 2006.
Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, author, consultant, blogger, internet video host and Founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.