“The Extreme Future”

July 12, 2008 at 6:56 am | Posted in Nonfiction | Leave a comment

(November 28, 2007)

The Extreme Future: The Top Trends That Will Reshape the World for the Next 5, 10, and 20 Years by James Canton, Ph.D.

Drop everything and read this!  It’s like a sci-fi novel, only without the bad dialogue and campy costumes.  The best part is, it’s about half plausible (I’d be interested to think what parts other people found plausible – they might be different than mine).

Dr. Canton divides the book into areas he believes will be most influential in the mid-term future.  These are: fuel, innovation, the workforce, longevity medicine, “weird science” (“Chips, dips, chains, whips – the usual teenage party”), security, globalization, climate change, the individual, and, of course, China.

What’s fascinating about this book, aside from the dozens of predictions we can check for accuracy in the next few years, is the range of optimism to horror we have going.  It’s actually not that difficult to imagine a world with these great technological innovations in a beyond-bleak political and ecological landscape.  Come to think of it, all the best sci-fi offers the same brand of juxtaposition.

I’ll share a few predictions I find believable – and a few I found laughably far-fetched.  We’ll come back in ten years and see if I did any better than Canton.

Believable:  Energy thieves (no, not your whiny coworkers, but an epidemic of people siphoning your gas and hooking up to your electricity).  Wind power everywhere.  Space tourism.  Domestic robots.  Widespread Internet access, with most trade happening online.  Bioengineered and cloned organs.  Human cybernetics.  Wearable computers.  Labor shortages for all skilled professions.  Stem cells.  Robotic surgeons.  Deadlier epidemic diseases.  Water wars.  Growing natural-disaster-related financial burdens.  Greener businesses.  Increased democracy.  More sophisticated hacking and phishing schemes.  GPS chips in children.  Bio-augmentation, as in surgically attaching animal body parts to one’s self.  China basically taking over the world.

Maybe: nanobots.  Two-way interactive TVs (for surveillance).  ID chip implants that work like credit cards.  “First contact with alien life through the identification of life-supporting planets may come closer to becoming a possibility” – possibly the most bet-hedgingly worded sentence I’ve ever read in a book.

Uh, maybe not believable:  A population of fewer than 9 billion by 2050.  (I can’t see why we won’t hit 9 billion by 2025, barring a sudden drop in fertility, several truly major natural disasters, a global epidemic of something nasty, and nuclear war.  We breed like cockroaches here).  Average American watching 10 hours of TV a day – I’ll buy 8, but… Teleportation.  Downloading memories.  Elimination of hunger and poverty.  A “personally aware,” i.e. sentient, Internet.  Poets a top job by 2030 (*snort*).  Baby Boomers living to 150.   A legal “short-term pleasure drug.”  Biological weapons on eBay (not for long, anyway!)  “Terrorists reprogram space satellites to fire on their command.”  (Uh, fire what, exactly?  Don’t tell me those things are armed).

What’s missing?  Africa.  Holograms.  Sports and entertainment innovations.  Legal reform, especially zoning and land reforms.  Cloned meats.  Changes in family composition.  Who knows what else…

I like to think back to my childhood and what passed for high tech back then.  I remember the first time I saw a “car phone” in a movie.  I remember learning to use voice mail.  I remember BBSs and IRC and my first emoticon.  I remember CDs and DVDs and, heck, even Betamax.  (Notice how everything is less surprising every year?  Twelve years ago I had to explain the Internet to my family; today they all can access it from their cell phones).  My mom had a transistor radio and a slide rule; I have a PDA; Lord knows what my niece will have at my age.  Frankly, I’m still impressed by contact lenses and liquid bandage.

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