August 01, 2004
What Will Be The Big Political Issues In Future Decades?

My readers, I have a speculative exercise for you: What will be the top 5 political issues 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 years from now? Specify whether your list is for the United States, your own country, the world, or some other domain. For instance, if you think the United States won't exist as such 50 years from now you can state "North American Union" or Transatlantic Union". You can also specify more than one political unit for a list if you think the list will apply to more than one political unit. Post your own in the comments. I'll read what everyone posts and then come up with a new set of lists in a new post.

Here is my first set of guesses.

United States 2014:

  1. Rising costs of medical spending for old folks.
  2. Low salaries and low labor market participation rates for the bottom quarter of society.
  3. Islamic terrorism.
  4. United States debt to the rest of the world.
  5. Funding for rejuvenation research.

United States 2024:

  1. High costs of medical spending for old folks.
  2. Funding for rejuvenation research.
  3. The continuing decrease in the demand for the least skilled workers.
  4. Genetic engineering choices for offspring personalities, cognitive abilities, and physical attributes.
  5. Islamic terrorism.

United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada 2034:

  1. Increased violence and other crime as all people become young, energetic, and motivated by youthful levels of desire once again. This will lead to a debate on whether governments should genetically reengineer the brains of criminals.
  2. Debate over reproductive rights as death due to aging becomes rare. Should people be allowed to have as many kids as they would like?
  3. Widening cognitive gap between the intellectually enhanced offspring and the older generations.
  4. Political rights of artificial intelligences and allowable programming for their motives and values.
  5. "Uplift" of other species with enhanced intelligence and allowable mental qualities of uplifted species. How smart are we going to allow our dogs to become? Even smarter than Border Collies?

World 2044:

  1. Migration of cognitive elites to other planets.
  2. Creation of new sovereign states by forced shifting of populations to separate cognitively incompatible groups. The sorting will be based not just on IQ (or even chiefly on IQ). Desires, values, religiosity, and other cognitive differences will become too great to allow harmonious existence of some groups with each other in the same society.
  3. Religious disagreements that escalate into armed conflicts will come about as a result of genetically engineered causes of differences in religious beliefs and values.
  4. Rivalry between large artificial intelligences.
  5. Debates about cognitive qualities allowable in new biological life forms.

World 2054:

  1. Humans controlled by artificial intelligences.
  2. Cyborgs that are smarter than any human.
  3. Wars between artificial intelligences.
  4. Possible devastation by nanotech goo.
  5. The high level of determinism achievable for the values and preferences of newly created intelligences both biological and artificial.

One theme running through these lists my view that cognition, whether human, animal, or artificial, will become the central issue of the future. What are allowable patterns of cognition? Once desires and values become programmable the Western rights-based view of the brain as a sovereign entity is going to run into the problem that technology will be able to be used to create intelligences that have little or no respect for the rights of others. Also, some intelligences will be engineered to have respect for the rights of only well-defined subsets of all sentient beings.

It is hard to guess the relative times at which various technologies will become available. For instance, as soon as personal DNA sequencing becomes cheap then each woman making a reproductive decision will be able to decide on a potential mate or sperm donor based on much more accurate projections of offspring intelligence and personality than is now the case. But when will DNA sequencing become cheap enough to provide a strong incentive for women to become aggressive practitioners of eugenics?

Also, when will rejuvenation therapies become available? That will determine how far the finances of Western nations deterioriate before rejuvenation therapies allow older folks to return to the labor force. When those rejuvenation therapies do become available how expensive will they be initially? How long will the expensive phase last and how much political conflict will it produce?

I have a harder time predicting when and if we will get wiped out by nanotech goo or taken over by artificial intelligences. The achievement of an artificial intelligence singularity where computers become smart enough to accelerate scientific and technological progress by orders of magnitude could make predictions about the 2040s and 2050s (or perhaps even the 2030s) impossible to make. Yet struggle between conflicting wills seems inherent to intelligences no matter how fast and powerful the intelligences become.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 August 01 02:20 PM  Trends Future Issues


Comments
Kurt said at August 1, 2004 2:43 PM:

Your timeline for rejuvenation and elimination of aging seems reasonable. I don't think we will see real IA in this time frame, however. The re-integration of the newly rejuvenated back into the economy will cause some short-term problem, but will be far cheaper than paying to support these people while keeping them old. The resultant economic expansion from rejuvenating the old should create lots of job and business opportunity for those "re-entering" the economy.

I think funding for rejuvenation will become a major issue within the next 10 years as people (and politicians) begin to realize that a comprehensive cure for aging (at $1 billion over a 10 year period) is the only realistic choice to avoid the massive bankruptcy and economic depression caused by the need to support the medical expenses of the old.

I think stuff like real IA and uploading are SF fantasies that we will not see for atleast another 50-60 years. Space colonization (the O'neill scenario) could be feasible by 2040-2050, due to developments in nanotech-based materials processing, manufacturing, and eco-system technology. Human settlement will be based on orbital habitats (O'neill style) rather than planetary surfaces, because there are few planetary surfaces that could possibly be settled (Moon, Mars, Triton) and only in a fairly sucky way.

A big push will be to develop IQ enhancing therapies for adults (thats you and I) so that we can maintain our cognitive competitiveness with the designer offspring. There is no way that I will live in a world where I am not able to or allowed to be fully "competitive" with the best that makes up that society. Many other people will share this same belief.

You are definitely correct in that future political/social/cultural confict will revolve around issues of cognition and neurotechnology.

Jay Fox said at August 1, 2004 6:49 PM:

Kurt,

I have to agree with you on IQ enhancements for adults. I'm not a super genius, but I'm still fairly intelligent. I guesstimate my current IQ to be in the 130-150 range (tests showed 147 at age six and a half, though most of my aptitude is in math and science). I wouldn't mind blending into the average, so the first decade's worth of people with genetically enhanced intelligences probably wouldn't pose too much of a threat. However, within a couple decades (from the start of genetic enhancements), I foresee genetically enhanced IQs averaging 160 to 180 by today's standards. Only the elite of the non-engineered will be able to compete. Within 20-30 years, I wouldn't be surprised if 180-220 became the norm for future offspring. Without some way to keep up, I can see Randall's vision of a future where there are serious conflicts between the generations, or at least between the genetically enhanced and the "normals".

Of course, that's not 20-30 years from now, but from when such genetic enhancements become common. I see these children being born more like 25-40 years from now, and then we'll have another 12-16 years before they grow up and become a threat. So I suppose we might have about 40-60 years before the human race might split. So what can we do?

I don't know enough about the brain to know if we'll be able to have biological improvements to our IQs. I foresee a real demand for total brain-computer interfacing to allow us to augment our memories, computational capacity, motor control, and communication speed (sort of like the neural nanonics in Peter Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy, only I expect interfaces of that complexity to be available in less than a century, possibly 50-60 years). While those technologies will also be available to the new genetic elite, I think/hope they will help close the gap in capabilities between "us" and "them". (In a worst case scenario, those technologies might only serve to widen that gap.)

Jay Fox

gmoke said at August 1, 2004 7:31 PM:

The 21st century is going to see the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. That will be very political.

Water and access to fresh, clean water will become increasingly political all around the world. Wars will be fought for water. Populations will migrate because of it.

The effects of global warming will be apparent and, in some cases, devastating. The flooding in Bangla Desh this week is only the first wave. The first global warming refugees are now evacuating their traditional village in Alaska. Tuvalu will soon follow. All of this will be very political.

Randall Parker said at August 1, 2004 7:45 PM:

Jay,

I see selection for higher IQ beginning as soon as DNA sequencing becomes cheap. Once a woman can compare different sperm donors for likely IQ of offspring then the incentive for women to use sperm donors will lead some to opt for donors over a husband to get pregnancies started. There are probably hundreds of IQ-boosting genetic variations waiting to be identified once DNA sequencing becomes cheap enough.

The important question then is when will DNA sequencing become cheap? I've posted on this in the past. Given all the approaches being pursued by academic labs and venture capital start-ups my guess is we will see cheap DNA sequencing in 5 to 10 years. So I expect to see the beginning of selection for smarter kids to begin within 10 years.

Once chromosomes can be separately sorted out to create a sperm or egg that has the exact contribution from each parent that maximizes the desired outcome then change in offspring will accelerate even faster.

Once gene therapy can be done to eggs and sperm (or perhaps to stem cells that produce sperm) the rate of change between generations will rise to an even more rapid rate.

Randall Parker said at August 1, 2004 7:45 PM:

Gmoke,

Any country too poor to afford water purification will not be able to afford to launch a major war of conquest to acquire water.

Kurt said at August 1, 2004 8:00 PM:

Jay:

You are right, we will see IQ increase in the next 20-30 years, but I do not expect it to be a dramatic as you suggest> Gregory Stock (Designing Humans) argues convincingly that it will be easier (biotechnologically speaking) to take someone with an IQ of 85 and boost them to 140 than it will be to take someone like you and I and boost us to, say, 220.

Also, I suspect that as you get into the higher IQ numbers, other factors will come into play. New emotional states may appear in individuals with IQs above 220 that do not appear in people today because noone currently has that high of IQ. Other traits we will want to optimize are empathy and emotional stability. I think the genetics and interplay between these and other traits are complex. We will enhance ourselves, but will do so slowly over a period of decades, not years.

In any case, I want the capability to enhance myself such that I remain at the competitive leading edge.

I think that because of the complexities involved, the first designer children will not be born for another 20-30 years, which means that it comes after we get a cure for aging and the "ageless" society. This is critical because the people who have kids for selfish reasons will stop having them (because they can live forever) before the designer baby technology comes out. This has two implications, both positive. The selfish people are no longer having kids, so the specter of, and associated problems with, vanity kids will not be common. Also, child birth will become relative rare in the "ageless" society such that, when the designer kids come (around 2040-2050), they will not be very many of them.

It would also be much easier for an "ageless" society to adapt to some of these technological changes (designer kids, artificial intelligence, etc.) than it would for the current deathist society.

I am skeptical of artificial intelligence in general and do not expect this in the next 30 years. I do think its possible (but not certain) that AI will appear around 2050 or so.

The real wild card in the next 30 years is a breakthrough in physics. Even the hardcore skeptics are beginning to admit that we are approaching another breakthrough in physics, similar to the one 100 years ago. This could lead to anything from just a better version of nanotechnology all the way to new energy sources, FTL, and wormholes. There is no way to guess on this stuff until it actually happens.

Invisible Scientist said at August 2, 2004 5:27 AM:

But why did the issue of Islam disappeared from the scenes by 2034?
Do you really think that enhanced intelligence will reduce the appeal of religious bigotry?

OK, and what if one of the cognitively segregated ( but smart ) new nations you are
anticipating, decides to wage war against others? Since they will have sovereign territory,
they can build new weapons that will totally destroy the planet in the name of the
new religion. So perhaps, the total fragmentation you are talking about, will not be
done, because it may be deleterious to do so.

Engineer-Poet said at August 2, 2004 5:51 AM:
So perhaps, the total fragmentation you are talking about, will not be done, because it may be deleterious to do so.
You are assuming that the proponents of fragmentation will both grasp and care about the consequences of such an act.  I don't think that humans, even enhanced humans, will be able to do that; look at the follies in the world today, and how so many hold to them more dearly than reason.
SteveSC said at August 2, 2004 6:32 AM:

Two political meta-issues over the next decades:

Emotional appeals (populism, religion, faith, demagoguery, etc.) versus logical appeals (scientific method, cost/benefit analysis, etc.). This battle underlies many of the political struggles ongoing and will control the progress of many of the issues you discuss.

The aging wealthy in the US, Europe, Japan, versus the young poor in the developing countries. The developed world will become the equivalent of the retired couple in the biggest house in a small town. Outsourcing harder maintenance, then household management, then personal care. More time spent on leisure, less and less on future-oriented 'productive' work. Increasingly at risk for being ripped off by jealous neighbors. Some societies are finding ways to invest in the 'next generation' that will inherit the 'house', e.g., as the British Empire waned the UK linked with the US; the US is now importing many of the brightest from the third world to drive innovation and development. Other countries are mostly fighting with the 'help,' e.g., France and its Muslim minority.

Brock said at August 2, 2004 6:56 AM:

I don't think the demand for donor-only children will be as strong as Randall imagines. Children with two providers are significantly better off than the children of single-mother households. If women spurn their lovers for genetic material, then the lovers have no incentive to stick around and help with the considerable cost of child-rearing. I think that will strongly retard the demand for such sperm.

That being said, I think there will be a demand for engineered mixtures where only the best of both parents is passed on, with perhaps one or two genes provided from other sources. Parents do want the best for their children - but largely, they also want it to be their children.

I'm also skeptical of the "intelligista" forming their own sovereign nations. A sovereign nation is a really big step, and very, very hard. I don't have any good arguments for who this wouldn't happen other than the rhetorical question "Why WOULD it happen?" I just don't see that.

2014, #4 - The most powerful Empire in the world is often the largest debtor as well. Frankly, they have the best credit rating, so of course everyone wants to lend to them. If you were a major lender, would you lend to the US or Morroco? Britain was the largest debtor of the 19th century, and there was no debt crisis. I don't think the US will have a debt crisis either so long our economy is the world's strongest (and it will be for the foreseeable future).

The high cost of medical services is right on target. First for the old, and later for all as we all become 'old' in the eternal-youth sense of it.

There really shouldn't be any law against breeding. Some nations will try it (as the Chinese already have), but there really won't be a need except in their imaginations. The costs of child-rearing will continue to skyrocket, competetive cost (such as the cost of maintaining negligible senescense) will also rise and cut into discretionary income. Also the youth and vigor available due to medical science will encourage a youthful lifestyle not complimentary to child rearing. Just as birthrates have fallen in Western countries without having to pass any laws, they will continue to fall as these forces take affect.

Access to the best genetic enhancements for adults and embryos will be a really hot topic. If class warfare in the early 20th century was bad, just wait until the rich have access to genetic sciences the poor do not. There will be tag-lines like "The smart get smarter while the rest of us are still working at McDonalds." The potential underclass (whether real or in their political imaginations) will demand greater expenditures from a national gov't. [And the smart governments will spend every dime they have on it, since an intelligent workforce is the best investment they can make.]

I'm skeptical of the takeover by AI. An AI will not have any "hands" to begin with and will be limited to whatever we provide it with. Really, we don't need 100 IQ AI's. Most of the things we'd like machines to do (such as build cars or vacuum the house) need very limited skill sets. Even an AI "researcher" which runs an automated lab and randomly generates & tests hypotheses doesn't need to be as smart as a real PhD. There's a whole range of intelligence which these specialized tools just don't need, and which I think are critical to actually being a SkyNet type scenario. I think that we'll develop smart-tools, akin to idiot-savants which do one thing and don't have the imagination or desire to do anything else. Actual Will-to-power will remain the provenance of humans.

By 2054 I expect (hope?) that the political sovereignty of lunar, martian and free-floating colonies will be an open question of some debate. I don't expect the Moon or Mars to be capable of true independance by that time (they will still be largely dependant on Earth for 90% of their needs), but I hope we make that much progress in advancing the species of this one little world.

Just as the last breakthrough in physics changed the world in unknowable ways (with the transistor chip and nuclear weapons), that next one is also unpredictable.

Jody said at August 2, 2004 7:30 AM:

Fairly interesting post and right on about the increasing importance of cognitive capabilities in politics (concur on commented differences on role of AI). However I beg to differ on three points and wish to add some points that I think were overlooked.

One, (unless you're referring to the lack of migration) I disagree with "Migration of cognitive elites to other planets" as it runs counter to most of history where the poor and downtrodden are the ones who migrate enmass. I'm assuming (I think safely) that by being an "elite," a member of the cognitive elite would have little incentive to leave the comforts of their home world. Planetary tourism sure. Planet migration, no.

Two, China will be a big problem in 2014 (if not before, say 2007-2008). They're not buying up all that military equipment just to have a tea party.

Three, on youngsters causing crime problems (2034), why would those energy and desires be funneled into crime? I'm of the opinion that many crimes of youth are functions of immaturity (particularly socially). Why would an increase in energy and desires be coupled with a regression in maturity?

Other things that I think will be big issues - (2014) dissolution of the UN (shortly after the US pulls out) and formation of a league of democracies, perhaps as a consequence of an engagement with China and/or continued UN incompetence.

(All times) International trade will continue to be a big issue as it always has been (from ograbme to Smoot-Hawley to OPEC to Japan to outsourcing).

(All times) Increasing differences in the relative strengths of national economies. The stronger and more technological economies (such as the US's economy) will continue to attract the best talent from around the world sustaining a virtuous cycle. The other countries will continue to lose their best and brightest sustaining a viscous cycle. So while all nations will experience growth, a select number of well-positioned nations (US, Japan, China, India) will greatly outperform the rest.

Randall Parker said at August 2, 2004 9:00 AM:

Invisible Scientist,

You ask:

But why did the issue of Islam disappeared from the scenes by 2034? Do you really think that enhanced intelligence will reduce the appeal of religious bigotry?

I moved Islamic terrorism down the list for a few reasons:

  • Other problems are going to grow in absolute importance. Islamic terrorism doesn't have to become less of an absolute threat to become less important relatively speaking.
  • Technological advances will enable cheap and highly sophisticated surveillance and border control. This will make it much harder for terrorists to make it into the West and in particular into the United States.
  • Cognitive enhancement will probably decrease religiosity. Though there is the threat that Muslims could genetically engineer their kids to want to obey a religious deity.
  • I expect the cognitive elites to become larger and smarter and to be smart enough to find ways to change the messages that Muslims hear.
Dan said at August 2, 2004 10:08 AM:

Good questions Randall, I am not sure of all your answers but time will tell. My first comment is islamic terrorism, I think it will no longer be political issue in the US. I dont think it really resonates in the US most of our muslims tend to be more like other religionists more than they do in the Islamic heartland. In 2014 Islamic terrorist should be about midway through its 25 year l lifespan and star to slowly ebb. It could still be a problem in Europe where it will merge with economic social issues to be harder to eliminate. Regarding the 25 year life span I base this on the European experience with , The Red Army and IRA, the last embers of ETA still smoulder in Spain. In the Middle East they have a solution to Islamic fanaticism " Just kill the all". Europe might adopt that policy, even though it seems ridicoulous now, remember Nazi Germany. Mix in a violent minority group with economic and social unrest and one has a violent stew percolationg. Im not saying this is either likely or desirable but is just a thought. Im noy overly disturbed by a terrorisism that has to import people from arhalf way across the world to commit suicide. The war on terror is misnamed, it is not a war but instead a generation long police problem , after all murder is essentially the same whether you do it with a knife , gun, bomb or 747. One final note I believe that economic inequality exacerbated by outsourcing and automation to be the main future challenge.

Patrick said at August 2, 2004 12:57 PM:

Rivalry between large artificial intelligences.

Eliza: Please go on.

Randall Parker said at August 2, 2004 1:33 PM:

Jody,

Interstellar travel will be too expensive for poorer people to engage in it. Some of the most wealthy may use it to get away from the political conflicts on Earth and go somewhere which is safer for them.

As for the US versus China: My guess is that the US will become relatively less powerful than China, The US will withdraw from the Western rim of the Pacific as the financial burdens of an aging population makes a large military too expensive to maintain. Then Taiwan will have to develop nuclear weapons to use as a deterrent to China's ambitions for Taiwan.

As for youth and crime: I think criminality is innate and is not just a product of youthful immaturity. Read Herrnstein and Wilson's 1984 book Crime & Human Nature for a dated and yet still pretty good overview. I'd like to find a more recent book of similar quality. But the innateness of the lack of impulse control and/or lack of empathy (especially with psychopaths) is still going to be there among hardened criminals after their bodies become young again.

As for some of your other items: Do you see any of them as bigger issues than some of the existing issues I have on my lists? Which items would you remove to be replaced with which other items?

Randall Parker said at August 2, 2004 2:05 PM:

Brock, You say:

I don't think the demand for donor-only children will be as strong as Randall imagines. Children with two providers are significantly better off than the children of single-mother households. If women spurn their lovers for genetic material, then the lovers have no incentive to stick around and help with the considerable cost of child-rearing. I think that will strongly retard the demand for such sperm.

A rising percentage of women can not find any man to marry them and stay married to them. In the United States the white illegitimacy rate is over 20% and the Hispanic illegitimacy rate is over 43% with the black rate somewhere around 68%-71% (it has bounced around and I do not know the latest figures). Those numbers represent millions of women who are not getting much in the way of help from the fathers of their children. Then add in divorces after the babies are born. A lot of women may decided a permanent genetic advantage for their kids will outweight any temporary or never even attained help from men they might have sexual relationships with.

Sperm from donors tested to have high IQs, excellent health, and attractive physical features would provide a large benefit many women. Some women know they can not get any man to stick around. So for those women sperm would be especially attractive. Consider the benefits. For less attractive and less intelligent women the advantage of using DNA-screened sperm donors will be huge. Using sperm the women will will be able to have children who will be 20, 30, or even 40 IQ points higher while also having children who will be healthier and more agreeable in behavior.

I'm also skeptical of the "intelligista" forming their own sovereign nations. A sovereign nation is a really big step, and very, very hard. I don't have any good arguments for who this wouldn't happen other than the rhetorical question "Why WOULD it happen?" I just don't see that.

Brock, I envision emigration of smart rich people into lower population countries as a way to gradually develop a majority to take over those countries. They will do this in order to reduce tax burdens, to reduce risk from crime, and escape restrictions on their choices. I also envision wealthy people paying the people of countries A and B to allow all the poor folks in country A to migrate to country B. That would then leave country A in control of a wealthy cognitive elite. Wealthy smart people can accomplish all sorts of things once they set their minds to it.

2014, #4 - The most powerful Empire in the world is often the largest debtor as well. Frankly, they have the best credit rating, so of course everyone wants to lend to them. If you were a major lender, would you lend to the US or Morroco? Britain was the largest debtor of the 19th century, and there was no debt crisis. I don't think the US will have a debt crisis either so long our economy is the world's strongest (and it will be for the foreseeable future).

The unfunded liabilities for the US government are in the tens of trillions and growing. China's economy is growing far more rapidly than the US economy. China is going to eventually surpass the US in total GDP and eventually probably have double or more of total US GDP. They do not have to match us in per capita GDP in order to become more powerful than we are. Eventually the rest of the world will decide that holdiing US debt is not a good idea as the US portion of world GDP gradually shrinks.

The high cost of medical services is right on target. First for the old, and later for all as we all become 'old' in the eternal-youth sense of it.

What I have a hard time guessing is just how big will the cost burden of medical care become before we have therapies to roll back aging and reduce the burden.

michael v said at August 2, 2004 2:12 PM:

Randall. You linked the singularity wiki. Now I don't get your politics at all. If you really believe in that, why area ANY other issues of interest to you at all?
Will you be at "Transvision 2004"?

Paul N said at August 2, 2004 3:04 PM:

I'd like to participate in this speculative exercise, but I can't even figure out today's "top 5 political issues". Do you mean "top 5 issues" among academics and policy wonks, or average people? Do you mean issues that the highest percentage of people care about, or issues which are the most divisive politically?

Fly said at August 2, 2004 4:02 PM:

Here’s my own spin.

There are many developments in world events, politics, global culture, immigration, manufacturing, defense technology, energy research, medical technology, biotech, nanotech, information technology, brain research all coming in the same time frame. The combined effect becomes a wild guess.

There is a social trend that I feel underlies all the coming changes. I believe the world is becoming a single global community. This process will be socially disruptive as some cultures are highly intolerant. (It won’t be easy for even tolerant nations such as the US.) The Europeans are one example of the coming global community. The US drive to spread capitalism and liberal democracy and combat terrorists and rogue states is another side of the same phenomenon. Within twenty years I expect globalization to be far advanced.

Intolerant Islamic societies will be most affected. The war against Islamic terrorists is largely an Islamic civil war with intolerant reactionaries opposing moderates. In the long run the reactionaries will lose. The war will be won more by music, movies, TV, and the Internet than by guns. (Guns will play an important role.)

This globalization is the cultural background on which the other changes will occur.

Many of the technology issues won’t be resolved politically. For example, a government research program for rejuvenation might speed up the process by five or ten years, but the steady advance of biotech and nanotech will achieve the same ends with or without government programs targeting rejuvenation. The necessary biological research is already being pushed by research into development and disease.

Social resistance to behavior modification may disappear once effective treatments are available. Many people are unhappy and will accept treatment. (A lot of drug abuse is essentially self-medication.) Once voluntary treatment is common and is shown to be highly effective, I expect pressure for involuntary treatment to grow. (Consider for example Ritalin use in schools.)

The Social Security issue could play out in many ways. There might be a political trade in which the government pays for rejuvenation and the elderly citizens forego retirement. Or everyone, young and old, might be given a minimum guaranteed income. Or the young workers might rebel and field a strong political movement to counter the gray lobby. This isn’t an issue that worries me.

I believe AI is a wild card. More and more “human” abilities are being duplicated or surpassed by software and hardware. The economic drive for intelligent software is immense. Within a few years interactive programs with some speech understanding and generation will be common. At some point software for writing software will become much better. The convergence of very powerful hardware, extensive networks, and very capable learning software could lead to a quickly evolving computer AI. It could happen next year or not for thirty years.

My hope is that before AI takes off, humans will have augmented intelligence through biology and cyborg tech so that cyborgs will be able to cooperate and compete with AI. Both cyborgs and AI might cooperate in a highly interconnected world community much as hands and brain cooperate in a human body.

Brock: “Really, we don't need 100 IQ AI's.”

But we do need AI’s sufficiently smart to be good helpers. Perhaps that means an IQ of 80. (Though applying human IQ labels to AI may not be appropriate.) However the technology needed for an AI of IQ 80 may quickly lead to an AI with IQ 180 and then 280 and so forth.

Brock: “I'm skeptical of the takeover by AI. An AI will not have any "hands" to begin with and will be limited to whatever we provide it with.”

Computers already control manufacturing plants. Computers may soon control more “hands” than humans do. Dumb robots are going to become very common. Smart robots will have even more uses.

Randall Parker said at August 2, 2004 4:11 PM:

Michael V,

I do not know when the singularity will come. At the point it happens it becomes extremely difficult to forecast what comes next. So I'm focusing more on pre-singularity trends that we ought to be debating.

Paul N,

Top 5 by what criteria: A fair question. Difficult to answer though. We can, for example, poll people before an election and they will say that the economy or inflation or debt or health care is their top issue of concern when voting. But I was thinking more along the line of issues about which political fights are fought or issues over which the parties split. What issues will be divisive?

For example, abortion is a divisive and polarizing issue.

Perhaps I wasn't consistent in using divisiveness as a rule. But an issue can't be all that important politically if everyone agrees on it.

T.J.Green said at August 2, 2004 4:19 PM:

Most estimates for hitting the feedback loop, or "singularity", is fifteen years. I think this will bring huge benefits to our species. The human genome project has warned us of damaging mutations on the "Y" chromosome which would lead to our extinction. Without computers the human genome project would not have been possible.

Eric Pobirs said at August 2, 2004 6:51 PM:

The increasing elderly demographic will not drive the younger segment of the population to provide them with a Manhatten Project to restore youth. Not when it's immensely cheaply cheaper and more efficient to care for the elderly poorly and let them die in large numbers. Brutal but twas ever thus. It strikes me that it will become possible to hold off the effects of aging before it becomes possible to restore youth to those already affected. The first generation of those with prolonged youth or even middle-age (I'd be perfectly happy to stop aging here at 40 while I still feel capable of just about everything I've ever enjoyed or needed to do.) will simply bide their time with research that further improves their lives while the troublesome unproductive elderly die off.

There will be those who want Mom and Dad around forever. There may even be a few Heinleinian type with incestuous fantasies about rejuvenated Grandma being a hot chick but overall I believe there won't be a massive influx of the newly youthful unless we have an actual need for them. One example in fiction is John Ringo's Posleen War series in which a desparate need for trained personnel and a newly available rejuv technology results in many Korea and viet Nam veterans on the frontlines in a 21st Century war.

gmoke said at August 2, 2004 9:24 PM:

It is not necessarily the country that can't afford to process its own water that will invade another country. It may a more advanced, neighboring country which covets that water resource that does. Of course, another possibility will be a thirsting country whose population decides to emigrate en masse to a neighboring country which has water. That could be just as devastating as a war.

Interesting to me that you folks would rather talk about technological singularities and practical immortality than the ecological problems that are already staring us in the face and will only get worse the longer they are ignored.

Jody said at August 3, 2004 12:43 AM:

On migration – While you are right that some elites will migrate to escape political pressures, ala William Penn, these will be much less in number than the tired, poor, huddled masses who will seek a better life. Previously, the ocean voyage was also too expensive for most to afford, so the poor traveled in indentured servitude. I expect a similar arrangement to occur in space as I just don’t see the economic incentive for the elites to migrate (why give up a cushy life for a rough life coupled with a good chance of dying?). I do, however, see the elites being in the vanguard of space exploration and space tourism.

On crime, I agree with you on the sociopaths, but what percentage of crime is actually rooted in sociopathy? I suspect pretty low as murder & rape have relatively lower occurences as compared to other more indirect crimes (shoplifting, theft, etc.). Now, I would agree that sociopathic crimes would grow as a percentage of all crimes committed.

In your China analysis, you’re overlooking some key factors. First as I place the war between now and 2014, our capital ships aren't going to mothballed and our army is not going to be reduced in size (if anything, it's going to grow). Also China is well aware of the nuclear deterrence option, so they'll have to act before the US begins to disengage. I strongly suspect that during the next war that the US is involved in (Iran, Syria, Sudan?), China will attempt an invasion of Taiwan. Longer term, China's going to have a larger problem with aging than the US (I direct you to your own post on the subject http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/002075.html) so we'll still be able to afford the pointier sticks.

As to which ones I would keep international trade is the big winner.
(2014) If nothing else, international trade issues can be viewed as subsuming “United States debt to the rest of the world”. The global haves and have-nots can also be considered a subissue to international trade. The "what to do with the UN" debate (presuming post-China war), I place on the same level as 2, 4 & 5 (1& 3 will definitely be big political issues). So for my UN suggestion, I cannot suggest a replacement (and as it's a two-step speculation, I can't fight too vigorously for it either). However, I think that armed conflict with China (whether still hot or mopping up) will happen and can replace 2, 4, or 5.

(2024) I would drop "decreasing demand for less skilled workers." It’s a trend now and it’s not a hot button issue. Again, this can be subsumed within international trade as less skilled workers will tend to be found in less-developed countries (a continuation of the have/have-not conflict). I also don't think that crime will be an especially big issue then.

Beyond 2024, I don't want to speculate as to which one will be replaced as I can envision too many ways the national mood could swing to say which one prediction stands out as deserving replacement. However I can say that xenophobia, greed, and jealousy will still be human emotions, so most every projected political issue should reflect those emotions. Note that most of your projections also reflect those emotions. Hence my feeling that international trade will still be a big issue even if I can't identify which one is most deserving of replacement.

As a potential future issue (though not really a political issue), I wonder if aging research won't prove the undoing of manned space exploration. The pool of people willing to risk their lives in space would likely be greatly reduced due to the significantly increased opportunity cost of forgoing virtually eternal life.

Randall Parker said at August 3, 2004 1:06 AM:

Jody,

Sociopathy is on a sliding scale. But, more importantly, most crime is committed by life-long repeat offenders. Those guys will become young again.

China's aging: But their economy is going to continue to grow more rapidly than the US economy. Or do you disagree?

If the Chinese leaders are smart they will be patient and wait till their economy becomes bigger than ours. Of course, leaders are not always smart. But there is a possibility they will wait until they have a clear advantage. Or they can just wait till someone is elected to the US Presidency who is dovish. China is a hard one for me to call.

International trade: Why is it big as a future issue? Will a huge movement to raise tariffs develop in Western countries? What exactly will be fought over in the political arena that is a trade issue that will change the trend of increasing international trade? Are you arguing that jealousy of the haves on the part of the have-nots is what will be the real issue? I think a great deal of jealousy will come from the lower classes of industrialized countries. Poor people in the less developed countries are not going to feel that much jealousy toward the more developed countries. They will direct most of their jealousy at their own local elites. Though I think the Muslims are an exception to that pattern. The Muslims will tend to focus more resentment toward non-Muslims who in the West and other affluent areas.

The UN: Why will it become important as an issue? The UN has never been very important. Its disappearance would not be important. Its continuation as an unimportant talking shop will similarly not be important.

2024 and declining demand for low-skilled workers: Do you expect the least skilled workers in America to become more skilled in 2024? Those workers are, for the most part, not that bright. So unless intelligence enhancement treatments are developed by 2024 (which is possible) I do not see why the problem they pose will decline by 2024. What is your scenario under which the low skilled workers of the US and other Western nations become less of a problem? I see automation decreasing the demand for them while demographic trends increase their number. Yes, it is a trend now. But it hasn't yet reached crisis proportions.

Space exploration and longevity: There are always risk takers. When recruitment of astronauts can be done from a young population of a few hundred millions of people I do not expect there will be any shortages of people looking for adventure and glory.

Joel said at August 3, 2004 1:24 AM:

While not sufficiently informed to make a wager on the full gauntlet of 'important issues of the future', I would posit that the following will be biggies:

1) Increasing power and influence of China. In the past year or so, China has surpassed Japan as the world's #2 energy consumer. China now leads the US in volume of concrete poured, China's demand for construction materials is a contributing factor in their increased costs. The data clearly tells us that China has returned to the world stage. The biggest uncertainty in China's future is whether their leadership can retain control of the country as it shifts from a command to a capitalist economy. If there is another Chinese revolution, China may fall the way of Russia, and be subjected to decades of economic turmoil and transition. Perhaps the existing reforms will mitigate this. If China's growth is indeed sustainable for the coming decades, then the demand for inputs to her economy will be felt across the globe, perhaps most acutely in the Russian frontier to her north.

India raises similar questions, although uncertainties in her future (in my view of limited contemporary knowledge) revolve around increased political stability, higher population growth, and pending resolution of Kashmir with Pakistan.

2) Environment. Global warming is a reality. The cause is still a matter of debate, although the data for human causes is compelling. Here in Alaska, the past several years have seen significant changes in weather patterns, with much of the state becoming warmer and dryer. In the past 50 years, water shed by the glaciers of Alaska and NW Canada have raised global sea level about 1/4 inch. Alaska's forests are being devastated by insects that are thriving in the warmer temperatures, 3 of the 4 dominant species in the state have been or are in the process of being decimated across millions of acres. The greatest cost to Alaska in human economic terms, however, will be melting permafrost. Much of the permafrost in central Alaska is relatively warm (0 or -1 C), and highly sensitive to warming trends. As this permafrost melts, it turns to swamp, destroying roads, pipelines, buildings, and forests. If current trends continue (or even if temperatures stabilies at the current 10-year average), the direct economic cost will be in the 10s of billions to replace existing infrastructure. The fate of Shishmaref and other Arctic coastal villages will pale in comparision.

Much of this is largely irrelevent to global affairs, but events in Alaska and other regions of the high north are likely harbringers of things to come for points south. What are the costs to Venice, New Orleans, Bangladesh, and Holland due to rising sea levels alone?

3) Energy. Our fossil fuel supplies are not in danger of running out any time soon, but rising energy costs, changing energy forms, and recognition of the true costs of our carbon economy will become a bigger issue in coming years. I believe this to be a relatively short-term issue, as technological investment can easily solve the problem. Within 20-30 years, I would think that our CO2 emissions will have stabilized and perhaps will be decreasing. This may be due to major technological breakthroughs (fusion, for example), but I think small incremental improvements are the more likely cause. Hybrid cars, lifestyle changes, the redesign of auto-based cities and transport intensive economies to reduce motorized transport, increasing utilization of existing and emerging renewable energe sources (wave power, solar power, wind power, small hydros, etc), are the sorts of improvements I envision reducing our carbon consumption.

In the meantime, the fight for access to carbon energy sources will continue to shape global politics and conflicts as it has done for the past 50+ years.

Randall Parker said at August 3, 2004 1:30 AM:

Joel,

I didn't include global warming on my list of issues for any decade because my prediction is that fossil fuels will be obsolesced by the development of other energy technologies long before global warming becomes a serious problem. I do not expect to see a continued increase in CO2 emissions for this reason. I expect to see a drop in CO2 emissions within a couple of decades.

Aaron said at August 3, 2004 7:29 AM:

Joel: I am Alaskan, and I am highly suspicious that you got your data from a certain New York Times article. It spoke about those issues, but it was also complete b s. You didn't bring up the most suspicious assertions, but to refute:
Spruce bark beetles are a problem because of Smokey the bear. Forests got too old and weak instead of burning, and in came the beetle. (Russian records indicate something similar happened around 1840)
The article cited huge fires in the interior as proof the interior was drying out and warming. The only difficulty with that is that boreal forest is probably second only to California chaparral in terms of flammability. There are big fires every year, and there have been since time immemorial. (well, you didn't cite that, oh well)
But melting permafrost doesn't turn into swampland if it is a general phenomenon (instead of a local thing) Generally, flatland underlain by permafrost is already godforsaken swamp(because the water can't drain out through the ice) Permafrost sucks to build on, so melting would mainly affect people by damaging roads.
Finally, it isn't certain that the warming phenomenon is due to human activity. Look for recent articles on solar output.

Aaron said at August 3, 2004 7:31 AM:

Oh yeah, and I hope to personally become one of the top five political issues by 2054.

Max said at August 3, 2004 9:35 AM:

Some other concerns for the foreseeable future:

1. Privacy. Information from cell phones, Internet, GPS in cars, urban surveillance technology, etc. will continue to permeate our society and likely be collected by corporate powers, hackers, and government agencies.

2. Global political hegemony. The USA might lose its place to Europe, China, Japan, or India in the next 100 years due to job migration, poor educational system, etc. Or the sovereign nation as basic political unit will continue to decline, in favor or corporate power, due to factors like disgust with the political system. Allegiances might be to corporations, and culture and education might become more dependent upon them. Genetic and cybernetic enhancement of individuals might be too expensive to be tenable for individuals, but could be obtained within a corporate culture.

3. Culture wars. See the point above. As others here have astutely pointed out, cognitive enhancements might not be just to a general IQ, but to specific cognitive abilities. People will likely cluster with like kind and form subcultures. Conflicts over religions and new forms of ideology will likely arise. It's also possible that AI or some super-politician could resolve these differences in a new social synthesis, fueling a renaissance.

Max said at August 3, 2004 9:43 AM:

One more thing. AI.

I think once "software to write software" improves, AI will be on the brink of a major advancement. I think a key element will be the ability of the computer to think by analogy: to find code from another program and test it out in the context of another task. The human knack for thinking by analogy has allowed us to combine and recombine our tools and items from our environment, and has been our decisive evolutionary edge, along with verbal communication.

Fly said at August 3, 2004 10:34 AM:

Gsmoke: “Interesting to me that you folks would rather talk about technological singularities and practical immortality than the ecological problems that are already staring us in the face and will only get worse the longer they are ignored.”

In almost every way the ecological situation is improving. Air and water quality in the US has significantly improved over the last twenty years. The US food supply is safer and healthier than ever before. Large portions of the country are managed for the benefit of animal species. Wolves have been re-introduced into Yellowstone National Park. Efforts are underway to preserve eggs and sperm of threatened animals.

Global issues are being addressed. Alternatives for fossil fuel are actively pursued. Methods for regulating CO2 levels are being explored.

To put it simply I “ignore” the ecology issue because it is being adequately addressed given the present global political and economic realities.

Important issues that aren’t generally appreciated are the potential end of aging and the potential for a technology singularity.

Jody: “China will attempt an invasion of Taiwan.”

In the near term China has no capability for a naval invasion of Taiwan. In the longer term, Taiwan would react to any Chinese build-up of an invasion fleet by going nuclear. Taiwan has the nuclear and missile expertise to build nuclear missiles quickly. How could China invade a nuclear Taiwan?

I do believe China will be powerful. I suspect there will be gradual change in the leadership. Hong Kong will have a good effect. Slowly the Chinese people will have more and freer access to information. Unless some event such as a North Korean war intervenes I don’t expect the US and China to engage in direct war. China may eventually be like Europe, a strong economic entity that shares some common interests but is also a competitor.


Max: “Genetic and cybernetic enhancement of individuals might be too expensive to be tenable for individuals, but could be obtained within a corporate culture.”

This comment led me to ask what will be expensive in the future.

Material goods are becoming very cheap and look to become even more so. Information products such as music and movies are likely to become very cheap as the means of production and distribution become very cheap.
Services will remain expensive as human labor remains costly. Property values will rise as the best locations are limited.

So where do medical services and cybernetic enhancements fall in this cost spectrum? My guess is that there will be commodity services and enhancements that are almost free and there will be customized services that are incredibly expensive.

Randall Parker said at August 3, 2004 11:05 AM:

Gmoke,

The world's largest ecological problem is the pressure of increasing populations that are cutting into wildlife habitats. Logging in the Amazon, in Indonesian islands, and in other locations around the world are reducing habitat sizes. Hunting, highway construction, and numerous other human activities are cutting into habitats. The ocean is being overfished. Growing populations are going to continue to make these problems worse. Will this become a bigger political issue affecting the relations between countries? Probably. But will it become one of the top 5 issues? Not sure. Maybe.

Pollution is a growing problem because of industrialization in China and India. Once their level of affluence gets high enough then there will be internal political pressures to reduce their level of pollution. My concern, however, is that with such large populations they can become major global polluters before internal pressures for reduced pollution cause a curbing of emissions. Global pollution might make it onto the top 5 world political issues list at some point. But then again, maybe not too. There are a lot of issues coming up that are going to be very big that will compete with pollution for attention.

The water shortages are a product of poverty and growing populations. Either stop population growth in poor countries or find a way for them to become less poor (e.g. genetic enhancement of intelligence) and then they will be able to afford clean water.

I do not expect wars between poor countries for conquest of water sources because the rich countries can easily afford to tip the balance of any such war to make sure the aggressor loses.

gmoke said at August 3, 2004 9:31 PM:

"In almost every way the ecological situation is improving. Air and water quality in the US has significantly improved over the last twenty years. The US food supply is safer and healthier than ever before. Large portions of the country are managed for the benefit of animal species. Wolves have been re-introduced into Yellowstone National Park. Efforts are underway to preserve eggs and sperm of threatened animals."

Last I heard, we've grown less food than we need world-wide for the last three years and human use is taking an increasing amount of all natural production.

"Global issues are being addressed. Alternatives for fossil fuel are actively pursued. Methods for regulating CO2 levels are being explored."

I've followed energy issues for 30 years. There's never been a US poll where less than 70% affirm more money and research on renewables and efficiency/conservation over coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear. Ain't happened yet and I wouldn't hold my breath. Carter's last report from the Council on the Environment called for 20% renewables by 2000 but Reagan came into office and tore the solar collectors off the White House and closed down the Solar Energy Research Institute in Golden, CO in such a way that, reportedly, some researchers felt that they were being told to find another field - fast.

Addressed - pursued - explored - crap! Nobody's doing anything coherent that is actually a workable solution.


"To put it simply I “ignore” the ecology issue because it is being adequately addressed given the present global political and economic realities."

And you don't believe that it will have any political effect?


"I do not expect wars between poor countries for conquest of water sources because the rich countries can easily afford to tip the balance of any such war to make sure the aggressor loses."

Just as we are making sure that the people in Darfur are safe or that there wasn't a genocide in Rwanda?

My friend, Richard Duncan, who studies world oil supply says that world oil peak is probably by 2010. He's run the figures a number of different ways and that's how it all comes up. Yesterday, I asked another friend who works for Dan Yergin, another energy expert, whether we'd seen the end of $30/barrel oil. She said yes. You think that's not going to have political ramifications, especially as China goes automotive with a vengeance?

Longevity and technological singularities are fine but they are wild cards. They are interesting to speculate about but not essential compared to the realities that are staring us in the face and we (not necessarily any of you find people in particular but we in general) ignore them because they are too familiar and boring.

Kurt said at August 3, 2004 11:00 PM:

Nuclear power is ultimately the only option. Piddle-power schemes (solar, wind, etc.) simply cannot generate the gigawatts and terawatts of power necessary for modern civilization. A new proposal for nuclear power is the integral fast reactor concept (IFR) where the entire nuclear fuel cycle is incorporated in the reactor complex. Benefits of the IFR include 100 times greater utilization rates of fuel, compared with current nuclear power plants as well as significantly increased lifetime of the reactor. Westinghouse has developed a version of the IFR that they are now licensing to the Chinese. Information on the IFR can be found by doing a google search on "integral fast reactor".

There are several semi-real schemes for fusion power being pursued by private groups. One of these, sonofusion, has been reproduced at several government labs in the last 2 years. Links to these efforts are:

www.impulsedevices.com
www.focusfusion.org
www.prometheus2.net

There are other efforts in addition to the above mentioned groups.

There is also Thomas Gold and his theory about the abiogenic origin of oil and natural gas. His book is called "The Deep, Hot Biosphere", which is about his theory. Although I think he is wrong about oil, I am absolutely convinces that he is correct about natural gas. I consider the recent discovery of natural gas in the Martian atmosphere to be definitive proof of his theory. I corresponded with Thomas shortly before his death about this.

About running out of oil. Yeah, oil is a finite resource. But I don't think we are even close to running out of it. These warnings of impending shortages come regularly about every 20-30 years since the 1920's. I see no reason to believe it this time anymore than in the 1970's. "Proven reserves" alway oscillate from 10-17 years. When it gets down to 10 years, the oil companies start doing more exploration. When it gets up to 17 years, it makes little since from a cost accounting standpoint to continue exploration efforts.

Lastly, recent history (last 25 years or so) suggests that business models built around the ever increasing scarcity of oil have not been very successful, with several spactacular busts. I remember a young guy (21 years old) who became the youngest person to do a company IPO (in 1981), with an oil exploration and trading company. Three years later, he became the youngest person to take a public company into bankruptcy because his business model was based on the assumption of $75 a barrel oil by 1986.

Other examples include Boeing's 7J7 aircraft, which was that funky bladed turbo-prop that was 50% more fuel efficient than a conventional jet aircraft. Lear Jet bet itself on the LearFan, which was the bizjet version of this plane. Learjet went under. Finally, McDonnell Douglas bet the farm on a plane that was more fuel efficient than the 747 and ended up loosing the bet.

I am old enough to have heard all of the environmental doom and gloom since the early 70's. Old enough to have heard it for the past 30 years. I hardly think its going to be a problem in the next 30 years.

Perry said at August 3, 2004 11:16 PM:

gmoke seems to think that if the government isn't funding something it isn't happening. But I read about progress in alternative energy systems on an almost daily basis on a variety of websites -- everything from improved solar cells and better fuel cells to energy saving advances. Nearly all of these breakthroughs are privately funded.

Add to this a larger theme being pursued vigorously with private resources -- the technology of doing more and more with less and less. If this trend continues we will soon be able to do almost everything with almost nothing. The human imprint on nature in the developed world is going to be shrinking, not expanding, and government funding will have very little to do with this revolution.

So what about the un-developed world? The person who sees government as the font of all good things would call for more foreign aid. But I see the outsourcing movement as the best and most effective form of foreign aid imaginable. Capital is flowing to where it can do the most good, increasing the wealth of the whole world. And as wealth rises around the globe the "more with less" revolution will spread with it. Not immediately, but inevitably. Just watch what's going to happen in China. The skys there may grow black before they clear, but clear they will, and everyone in the world will benefit, not just the Chinese.

I think we are wrong to think of the important issues before us as political issues. They are not. The really important problems, as well as the best solutions for them, are really questions of knowledge and capital. And government's have never been good with either knowledge or capital. Governments, when they go beyond the bounds of enforcing basic common sense rules, tend to retard knowledge and destroy capital. So the best way to make things improve faster is to reduce the impact of political decision making and thereby expand the scope of private innovation. Politics should become a bad word.

Randall Parker said at August 4, 2004 12:19 AM:

Gmoke,

To repeat: Water shortage wars are not going to be important for the world as a whole. I do not expect, for instance, to see Cambodia and Vietnam attack China to retaliate because China is taking so much water from the Mekong. Name some important world players that are going to make a serious conflict out of water shortages. Even Israel and the Palestinians are more driven by other factors in their conflict and Israel's taking of West Bank water is not on a top 10 list of motives for suicide bombers blowing up Israelis.

I actually do post quite a bit on energy policy. See my FuturePundit Energy Tech archives as well as my ParaPundit Grand Strategy archives. I'm quite familiar with Hubbert's Peak and think for the world as a whole it will come sooner than the optimists predict. A peak by 2010 or 2015 seems probable to me. It might well be a top 5 policy issue in 2014.

Also, China's growing demand for energy poses a serious problem and I've posted on that several times. Again, see my category archives for my view on this.

My reservation with making energy a big political issue in 2014 is that I think the importance of energy as a political issue may actually peak before then. I'd put energy on a top 5 list for 2009. I ought to add a list for 2009 and include energy on it.

Kurt,

I disagree with you about solar versus nuclear. I fail to see why solar can't become a terawatt level power source. I've posted on this. See my post on how much area human structures use and how much energy could be collected from that area if covered by photovoltaic cells. I think it is just a matter of time before solar cell costs fall by a couple of orders of magnitude. See my recent post on venture capital start-ups pursuing nanotech approaches to photovoltaic cells.

My biggest problem with nuclear is that a world with nuclear reactors in most countries would be a world with severe nuclear weapons proliferation problems. Also, nukes still have total costs that are too high. I think photovoltaics have much better prospects for becoming cheap fast.

Joel said at August 4, 2004 1:50 AM:

Aaron:

I too am Alaskan. My major source for the Alaskan anecdotes was a Scientific American Frontiers (SAF) episode on PBS aired June 15, 2004 (1), not the NYT. I don't know if or why the two sources had similarities. I also don't know if the SAF article was BS, could be, didn't smell like it. You are correct that I omitted some information, I will elaborate to the extent possible.

Spruce bark beetle: the beetle is active over 60F, and the warmer than typical summers in southcentral AK since about 1990 have been a boon to the beetles. In and near developed areas, fire suppression policies have indeed resulted in aged forests that are more susceptable to major conflagrations than would otherwise be the case. (Kincaid park in Anchorage is a great example) I don't know how much of the beetle epidemic area is affected by forest fire suppression policies of the past 50 years, but I would venture certainly not the full 4 million acres spanning from the Copper River Valley to the west side of Cook Inlet. I agree the fact that a massive beetle infestation occurred is in itself not a sign of anthropogenic climate change, but the increased temperatures that created an optimal beetle habitat is a possible indication. I don't know what the age distribution of impacted forests was, that could also be a major factor. If you have cites on the topic, I would be interested in seeing them.

I seem to recall reading about Russian accounts of the 19th century outbreak. Fire supression policies obviously were not a contributing factor to that outbreak, however. It would seem the major factors are forest health/age distribution and favorable conditions for the beetle. Hot dry conditions are prime for both, as water stress in the white spruce is a major factor in its ability to fight off the beetles.

The other two species that I mentioned are birch and cottonwood. For the second year, birch in Anchorage are now turning brown due to infestations of birch leaf miner. Actually, it turns out they are an exotic species to the state. Scratch that from global warming. The cottonwood leaf beetle is native, and I don't know enough about it to do anything more than parrot the UAF faculty interviewed in the SAF episode. (2) has more information on forest infestations in the state.

Big fires: The anecdote I've always heard is that the entire state of Alaska has burned within the past 100 years. The 2004 rate of ~1% is consistent with this, save for the vast areas of the state that are unforested. The adjusted 2004 percentage is closer to 3+% of all forested areas (tundra, shrublands, and icefields have been excluded, barren highlands have not). 2004 is the third largest fire year in the state in the past ~50 years, since records began. The top year was about 5 million acres, and it was not recent.

Thus, the forest fire thing isn't out of the historical norm, even for such a short baseline. The only compelling evidence is the increasing air temperatures, but again, the data baseline is so short. Are we looking at residual rebound from the little ice age, or is this a new phenomenon?

On my comment about rising sea levels, (3) states that 96% of the global icefields are 'polar', and not immediately susceptible to warming trends (eg, it might warm from 20F to 25F, but so what?). If all of the temperate (4% of the total) icefields were to melt, that would only result in a sea level increase of about 10 feet. Catastrophic, but manageable.

Permafrost: What are you talking about? If all the permafrost melts, then the impacted land may eventually be dry. In the case of interior Alaska, assuming historical precipitation rates don't change, the interior will become semiarid (

I agree that warming trends are not conclusively anthropogenic. But atmospheric CO2 levels are in the same order of magnitude as solar output for planetary warming influences. Its all a crap shoot, take your pick. maybe we should worry about China for awhile instead.

(1) http://www.pbs.org/saf/1404/index.html
(2) http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/nr/fid/health/2002highlights-ak.shtml; http://www.fs.fed.us/r10/spf/fhp/sefhp/sebeetle.htm
(3) http://www.usgs.gov/public/press/public_affairs/press_releases/pr1533m.html
(4) Rice, Eb. "Building in the North" Alaska Science and Technology Foundation, 1975, 1984, 1996.

Kurt said at August 4, 2004 10:41 AM:

Randall:

I believe that the IFR concept effectively deals with both the problems of proliferation as well as nuclear fuel recycling. An IFR would have a much longer operational life time than current nuclear power plants.

The problem with solar is the dilute nature of solar power as well as the need for energy storage. Also, because the sum is constantly moving across the sky, the collected energy is not constant, even if you have perfectly sunny days and high conversion effeciencies. I believe that space based solar power (the old L5 scenario) is worth while, although I have doubts about a government funded program to develop these.

A book worth reading is "The Solar Fraud: Why Solar Energy Won't Run the World" by Howard C. Hayden.

Books on nuclear power include:

"The Health Hazards of NOT going Nuclear" by Dr. Petr Beckmann, 1979
"The Nuclear Energy Option" by Bernard L. Cohen, 1990
"The War Against the Atom" by Samuel McCracken, 1982

"The Skeptical Environmentalist", by Bjorn Lomborg is very good and says essentially the same things that the late Julien Simon said in "The Resourcefull Earth". It was the julien Simon books in the early 80's that helped disabuse myself of all of the environmental doom and gloom stuff. Visiting LA in 1999 and finding it much cleaner than when I lived there in the 80's also put paid to all of the doom and gloom as well.

Global warming is the latest scam that is making the rounds. I suspect it will be debunked in the next few years.

Randall Parker said at August 4, 2004 11:29 AM:

Kurt,

I've provided you links to data and arguments for why the amount of surface area needed for photovoltaics will not be not excessive. What error do you find in that argument if any?

The sun doesn't always shine: Yes, solar has storage problems. But those problems are solvable as well. We can use electricity to charge batteries, drive artificial photosynthesis, or to produce hydrogen gas to pipe it or store it. We can also shift industrial usage patterns and literally move industries to places where more sun shines.

Better nuclear reactor technologies: I get that breeders generate less waste. I get that the Berkeley effort was cut off just as they were about to demonstrate a successful design. But fissile materials can be diverted from breeder reactors. I haven't heard of any reactor technology aside from ones that use thorium that is truly proliferation resistant. Do you disagree and if so why?

Nuclear has a lot of problems. See my post Nuclear Power Has Cost And Proliferation Problems for the views of MIT chemistry prof John Deutch (formerly CIA director) and physics prof Ernest Moritz on the subject.

gmoke said at August 4, 2004 12:05 PM:

I'm accused of thinking nothing happens unless the government does it. Not quite right. Once, I went through what I could find of the energy subsidies the government actually provides from 1950 to about 1980. If I recall correctly, there was maybe 3 billion in subsidies for renewables over that time period and something like 60 billion for the rest. Supposedly, oil, coal, gas and nuclear were businesses that were making money and didn't need such subsidies but I could be wrong. The fact is that our government subsidizes many thriving businesses to the detriment of public good (sugar price supports anyone?) because THAT'S HOW POWER WORKS. The Bible and Billie Holiday said it best, "Them that's got shall get, them that's not shall lose..." Money talks, especially in the halls of Congress. They call it politics.

Renewables will not happen in the US (they are already happening in Northern Europe and parts of the Third World) unless there is the political will and popular will to make it happen. Besides, if solar electricity is decentralized as it very well could be, there are ancillary benefits - no more transmission losses which are as much as a third of the electricity produced last time I looked.

As for confusing world oil peak with running out of oil, I'm not doing that. There's going to be oil until at least the end of the century but the price is going to continue to rise. Energy supply is not the problem. The effects of using energy are the problem - smog, asthma, global warming, and all the other effects of pollution (which is waste and inefficiency). Nuclear energy may be an option but don't pretend that it isn't heavily subsidized by the government. Can you say Price-Anderson? If all the government subsidies were figured into the costs of traditional energy sources, renewables would probably be cheaper even at today's prices (which are considerably lower than they were a few years ago and will be considerably lower a few years from now).

Of course, the greatest renewable resource is the imagination and that is almost always in short supply. I find a lot of imagination in play here but, unfortunately for my tastes, it is imagination devoted to immortality (which has little or no interest for me) and AI technological singularities (which seem to me to be mostly science fiction and I do like Vernor Vinge). I wish some of that imagination was squarely facing the facts on the ground rather than looking for pie in the sky in the kitchen of castles in the air.

Why not try this thought experiment: what would a zero emissions industrial society look like? If GE can work on the basis of Six Sigma and other industrial companies can embrace Deming's Total Quality Management with a goal of zero defects, why can't we imagine a zero emissions society? That's not too big a stretch but I don't believe anybody else it proposing it let anyone doing it.

Kurt said at August 4, 2004 2:18 PM:

Randall:

Yes, solar power is useful, if it is space-based. In space, the sun shines with 1.3 kilowatts pewr square meter, 24/7 365 day per year. Arthur Kantrowitz first proposed the idea of space-based solar power and Gerard O'neill proposed the use of extraterrestrial resourses (the Moon) for building the SPSs. No energy storage system is necessary. The problems of hydrogen are quite extensive. A pdf reference on the challenges of hydrogen energy is:

www.tbp.org/pages/publications/BENTFeatures/UhrigSp04.pdf

I am aware of Nanosys, nanosolar, and other start-ups involved in the development of organic and other roll-to-roll manufacturing of solar cells. This stuff is good, but it will never lead to baseline power supply. To be baseline, the power supply must be the same 24/7 365 days per year. Nuclear and space-based solar are the only sources that can do this.

I will also have you know that the IFR concept has been developed by Westinghouse (in slightly different format) and that it is being licensed by the Chinese to meet their growing energy markets. Taiwan is building its forth nuclear plant and the Chinese are building a plant in a joint-venture with the Pakis in their far western province. Having lived in asia for 10 years, I can assure you that the Asians do not share our aversion to nuclear power and are going nuclear is a big way.

Also, the whole concept of earth-based solar power and other such schemes flies in the face of economic sense. Energy is a commodity. Production of any commodity has always gone from smaller to larger economies of scale, with ever decreasing per unit cost. There has never been an example where commodity production has bucked this trend. I see no reason to believe that energy will prove to be an exception. The historical trend in energy production has been a migration from less concentrated energy sources to those of greater concentration. First we burned wood, then we began to use hydrocarbon fuel in solid, liquid, or gas form. The next step is some kind of nuclear process, first fission, later some form of fusion. Nuclear process are, on average three orders of magnitude more energy intensive than chemical processes. It makes little sense to use a less concentrated form of energy when far more concentrated forms of it are available.

This is the reason why I do not see much of a future for solar or wind energy, except as a niche market.

Randall Parker said at August 4, 2004 5:22 PM:

Kurt,

Once solar becomes cheaper than existing methods of generating electricity then cheaper methods to store it will be developed. I do not see why we have to use a power source that produces new power 24/7 365 days a year.

Randall Parker said at August 4, 2004 5:32 PM:

Kurt,

Regarding China and Westinghouse: Wiestinghouse is pitching their new conventional pressurized water reactor nuclear power plant design to China. I see nothing revolutionary about it. It is not an Integral Fast Reactor. The Westinghose AP1000 just uses more passive means to reduce the chance of accidents from failure of active elements. The development of that design was funded by the US taxpayer. I have previously posted about it.

The 1,100 Megawatt AP1000 is supposed to cost $1.5 billion a piece. Anyone how what the operating cost is estimated to be or its cost per kilowatt-hour of generated power?

Invisible Scientist said at August 4, 2004 7:13 PM:

It's true that the latest Westinghouse reactor is
still pressurized water based, but it is much more uranium fuel efficient
than the previous versions in operation. And this version seems to burn much of the artificial
long term nuclear waste like plutonium, even though it is NOT the same as the Integral
Fast Reactor discussed at:
http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/designs/ifr/
http://www.decentria.com/ifr.html
http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA378.html
http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/phy99/phy99xx7.htm
http://www.anlw.anl.gov/anlw_history/reactors/ifr.html
Of course, Dick Cheney is not a Saint, and he basically wants Westinghouse to profit
from the deal, but the overall trend is clear, the nuclear energy mafia is better than the
oil mafia.

Invisible Scientist said at August 4, 2004 7:47 PM:

One more comment about the Integral Fast Reactor: The nuclear industry INCLUDES not
only the corporations such as Westinghouse which make and service the reactors, but also the
companies who actually mine and prepare the uranium fuel for the power plants.

It is speculated that the nuclear industry does NOT like the Integral Fast Reactor (or breeder
reactors) because of the following reason: The breeder reactors including the IFR,
potentially need less than 1 % of the uranium fuel used in today's reactors, because such reactors
create and burn plutonium-like elements from the depleted uranium 238 which is dirt cheap,
as opposed to the much more radioactive and much more rare isotope uranium 235. IF the world
starts building a lot of IFR type reactors, then the need for mining uranium and enriching it
to the 7 % U235 level, will not be as significant as the case of building a lot of new but
more conventional reactors, and the uranium fuel companies will lose ENORMOUS potential
profits in the future.

The leading uranium fuel company, is Cameco ( stock symbol CCJ),
and the stock is making new highs now. The latter company is Canadian, but the stock
also trades in NYSE.

Note that when the IFR was demonstrated successfully, the gov't cut the funding ( but it does not
take a leading expert cynic to figure out the reason. )

Kurt said at August 4, 2004 11:29 PM:

At mid lattitudes (like the U.S.) the average concentration of solar energy is about 250watts per square meter. A typical residence in the U.S. uses 25kilowatts of electricity. This means that 100 square meters of solar cells have to be used to provide the electricity to a single residence. This, of course, is assuming 100% conversion efficiency, which is not possible. Assuming that Nanosys, Nanosolar, or Konarka can come up with polymer solar cells that are 25% efficient, the ammount of solar cells needed increases to 400 square meter, which is still doable. Then, you have to add in the energy storage mechanism (which there still is not a useful convenient means for doing this) for night time and rainy days. This means that you probably need 1000 to 1200 square meters of solar cells for one residence, which is a rather large yard area for your solar collector.

With a reasonable regulatory environment, a 1 gigawatt power plant will cost about $1-1.5 billion, which is $1-1.50 of capital investment per watt. For solar energy to compete with this, the solar collector and the energy storage system and the control system to run it all, for a 20kilowatt system would have to cost no more than $20,000-30,000. Both will have running costs associated with them. The solar cell materials have a finite operational life time and tend to degrade due to solar UV and have to be replaced at some time. The energy storage mechanism is unknown at this time, but it will have some running cost associated with it as well.

Solar power is a niche market. It makes sense in desert areas where you have 300 or more sunshine days per year. It may also be good for the tropics where the sun is overhead more than in temperate area. It will also be useful for remote areas where stringing tranmission lines is too expensive. But it cannot substitute for real baseline power in urben or industrial markets.

There is another development in nuclear fission that is not discussed much, but will be even more profound than the IFR. That is the use of a neutron source such as an IEC device (like the Farnsworth fusor). The fact is that U238 actually is fissile, but requires neutrons with higher energy than those produced in a U235 or Pu239 fission chain reaction. Thats why U238 cannot be used as fuel in a conventional reactor. An IEC device (such as a farnsworth fusor) can be used as a source of energetic neutrons in a nuclear reactor that would use U238 as fuel. The advantages of this include the elimination of the enrichment process (necessary for weapons production) as well as the possibility of a criticality accident (the process is not a chain reaction, turn off the IEC device and the reaction stops).

I have had contact with researchers who are working on the above process and they are convinced that it will work.

Randall Parker said at August 5, 2004 10:30 AM:

Kurt,

You do not have time units on your surface area or household electricity figures. Here are some figures on household electricity usage from a UC Irvine physicist.

  • The LA times continues to equate 1,000 megawatts to 750,000 households.  When peak usage is at 36,000 megawatts, and the California population is at 34 million,  1,000 megawatts equates to 1 million persons, through all household, commercial and industrial usages.  Occasionally they qualify that to saying that the ratio depends on the season and temperature.
  • Average household use in California in 1999 was 548 kwh/month of 720 hours or an average of 0.8 kilowatts/household, rather than 1.3 kw/household as they calculate.  The US average per household in 1999 was 866 kwh/month.
  • Total electricity sales in California in 1999 were 235 million megawatt-hours to 13 million customers.  75.3 million megawatt-hours of that was to 11.4 million residential customers.  That averages to 8,600 megawatts for residential use, and 0.75 kilowatts per residential customer.  The ratio of residential to all usage is 75.3/235 = 32%, consistent with the national average.
  • How can the average usage per person be 1 kilowatt and the average residential usage be 0.75 kilowatts per residential customer, yet the ratio of residential to total usage be 0.32?  If there are 2.3 people per residence, then the ratio is 0.75/(2.3x1) = 0.33.
  • The correct  usage of 1,000 megawatts is 1,000 megawatts x (1000 kilowatts/megawatt) / (0.75 kilowatts/residence) = 1.3 million households.

If nuclear power was used for all base and peak usage then all of California could be powered by about 40 AP1000 reactors (I'm factoring in an excess do account for maintenance downtimes). However, it would be too costly to use nukes for peak power. It would make more sense to charge more for electricity and also to use fossil fuel turbines or some other method for generate peak power.

The company Nanosolar claims on their site that in the United States there are 12 billion square meters of rooftops.

There are approximately 12 billion square meters of rooftops in the United States, or just about enough to deliver all of the electric power the United States requires. In fact, an entire 15% of the United States' electricity (and even 60% of Singapore's) are consumed for a function required by the presence of too much sun: air cooling/conditioning.

That 12 billion square meters is 40 square meters per person. Does that figure seem reasonable to you?

Check out a couple of images of solar energy distribution across the United States.


Jamisia said at August 5, 2004 3:54 PM:

World in 2024

5. What environmental problems?

4. More crime by lifelong offenders, as they too rejuve? Hah! Check their income position. & remember how
plastic surgery trickled down society. Since the nano-industry still has to solve the problem of mass-production,
I'd say anything with nano in it (and rejuvenation would be a good candidate), is going to be pretty
expensive.

3. If the US government wishes to reduce its debt, it could move to a smaller scale. That would provide
the original spirit of american libertarianism some room to re-assert itself, probably to the detriment of the
religious right.

2. I have no idea. Rumsfeld once mentioned something like, to a lot of amusement 'the things we don't
know we don't know'. Given the record of human forecasting, how wise (in retrospect).

1. Identity. If you can make your body into anything, why stop at being the Britney Spears of 2020? Why
stop at becoming Marilyn Monroe, Brad Pitt, Abraham Lincoln or any other present or dead celeb? Can
you possible make the way you look some sort of property? And if you decide to become, say, a centaur
or a mermaid, are you still (ahem) fully human? And what if you decide to become 12 years old for the
rest of your lifespan?
I think identity is going to be *the* issue of this century. For everything else we can get a technofix.

G C said at August 8, 2004 3:34 PM:

World, 2054

1. Sticks or stones: Which should we use to smite our enemies?
2. Can we harness the incredible power of fire for our benefit? How?
3. Which shall we worship: thunder, the sea, trees, or our ancestors?
4. Can human longevity be pushed past 30 years?
5. What's that green glowing goo?

Luca said at October 15, 2004 2:39 AM:

Hello All,
I am Italian. I read your interesting comments and I think you're missing a key point.
Resources of any kind should be distributed in a less unequal manner among the mankind.
Poor or weak spots of the world population will fight harder to get their share of the big cake.
That's why the terrorism do exist. It is the cheap weapon of the poor communities that can't efford a war machine like military attack/defense systems. Look at Israel-Palestinian conflicts.I don't know who's right, but the poorest have to invent their own cynical weapons to set their hits on the new battlegound: The global media land.And they are doing it. I think we all shold consider prevention by a new distributed economy as a way to prevent it to become increasingly dramatic as 9/11 did. Remember there are no ways to eliminate terrorism as a single man with a knife in the right moment at the right time can gain the spotlights of the media and gain more attention than an ongoing local conflict in some forgotten regions of the world. Sad but true.

Aendolin said at January 13, 2005 3:35 PM:

Randall,

I am curious as to why you left off so-called "smart drugs" from your lists. Do you believe that it will not be possible to enhance the mental performance of adults? There are several companies already working on "memory" pills and the like:

http://nootropics.com
http://nootropics.com/smartdrugs/smartpills.html

Will this research have any effect on the future cognitive abilities of humanity?

Randall Parker said at January 13, 2005 4:16 PM:

Aendolin,

First of all, I think that gene therapy will be needed for large boosts of IQ. I don't think pharmaceuticals alone will be able to accomplish that much.

However, the point of my lists was to highlight what I think will be political issues. Do you think that a drug that can, say, raise IQ 5 points will become a political issue? I do not see a significant portion of the populace opposing in the way, say, some people oppose cloning or abortion or human embyronic stem cell research.

Tipsy said at January 21, 2005 2:40 PM:

Overpopulation in the Tropics. Don't forget the _Philippines_, _Africa_, _Indonesia_, _India_, _Pakistan_, _Hispanics_, et al
:crowded subway station: :crowded schools:
Maybe it's not so idealistic after all. :smoke:
In fact, the more affluent countries MUST pressure the impoverished malnourished crowded ones to HALT breeding. :smoke:
And then it'll be a more peaceful world. :olive twig:

Matt Bowron said at September 8, 2006 1:29 AM:

I'm no big futurist (actually the reason why I'm looking at this is because I'm trying to be a science fiction writer, so if anyone wants to help, please do)
Anyhow, also I'm from Australia, but as we're becoming in ways Americanised, I'm sure some of our problems will be similar to you guys in the US.

In basic stance, the issues of today won't change much in their fields of worry, the only difference will be how they're dealt with as things change


Big political issues of 2006

1) Terrorism (dealt with now with future ideas of using internet between airlines and ground control to stop aerial hijacking)
2) Cost of living division between rich and poor (due to rising oil prices leads to designing of alternative-power vehicles)
3) International debt (could be dealt with by more foreign aid to stop above between first and third world)
4) Greying America (dealt with using nutrition supplements and phased retirement(no sudden retirement but easing out slowly of retirement))
5) Genetics research (ethics in dealing with religion and human rights of embryos and possible environmental impact)

Big political issues of 2016

1) Terrorism (dealt with using accurate lie-detection tests developed by brain models from Blue Brain, advanced International Card Database)
2) Cost of living division between rich and poor (due to also health costs rising due to greying population, impacting upon families of different classes)
3) International debt (could be dealt with using repayment of genetic vaccines from corporations to AIDS afflicted areas)
4) Greying America (dealt with drugs releasing genetically grown proteins, and working at home using home network terminals)
5) Genetics research (ethics in studying anti-aging genes that could impact upon demographics)

Big political issues of 2026

1) Terrorism (america 250th, biometrics (iris-scanning) used to also detect carriers of designer-bio-weapons)
2) Cost of living division between rich and poor (young wealthy putting old poor turning ghettos into nursing homes, including rejuvenated wealthy)
3) International debt (dealt with using bio-manufactured improved crops to grow in arid conditions, thus removing hunger)
4) Greying America (rejuvenation medicine using anti-aging gene research available)
5) Uploading research (with brain models around, and rejuvenation occurring, transhumanist boomers wanting to try to live forever)

Big political issues of 2036

1) Terrorism (anti-brainwashing using subliminal images, anti-corporate/luddite action by rejuvenated boomers)
2) Cost of living division between rich and poor (cheap paper-plastic manufactured IT available to third world, allowing creation of e-conomies)
3) International debt (dealt with using wet-nano to recycle and decompose garbage, oil spills, pollution in third world)
4) Youthened America (contraception enforcement laws, code 46-like laws concerning youthened boomers relations to possible unknown descendents)
5) Upload rights (uploads already existing within cyberspace, whether they should vote, pay for processor cycles, who owns uploads, does this make corporaitons people?)

Big political issues of 2046

1) Terrorism (green-goo and grey-goo attacks)
2) Cost of living division between rich and pooor (hard-nano appliances to recycle objects, although particular designs are owned and thus are costly)
3) International debt (hard-nano released allowing manufacturing industries and allowing eradication of pollution and creation of long-living people)
4) Immortal America (housing pre-fabrication, uploading to storage modules, Google-VR-Earth interactive worlds)
5) Posthuman rights (possibility of living outside of human space within asteroids manufactured into computronium)

Big political issues of 2056

1) Terrorism (Posthuman manipulation turning Earth into computronium, asteroid attacks)
2) Cost of living division between rich and poor (uploading available, allowing persons to migrate and join post-human enclaves in space)
3) International debt (movement into money-free society, or smart-money society of economy designed by posthumans)
4) Singularity America (should America exist as superpower, now its citizens can be simulted within computronium clusters)
5) Evacuation procedure (if singularity takes place, should people evacuate to outer solar system to escape posthuman wrath?)

Randy Kirk said at August 26, 2007 5:16 PM:

Aging Population - Labor force. It seems far more likely that we will see major increases in productivity that will result in needing less labor than the other way around. The seniors won't need to go back to work, but may want to. The young adults will be bored out of their skulls like some of the wealthy young adults are today. Major business opportunity and use of labor will be in entertaining these bored people.

Health Care costs - There will be no field where innovation will drive down costs more than this one. The incentive to invest in this area will drive huge amounts of capital into faster, less expensive cures, and lowered drug cost. Changes in the method of delivery of health care is already happening (see WalMart.)

China and Russia may be the threats of the future, but may just as likely integrate into community of nations without any real confrontations of consequence. The Extremist Muslims will be marginalized by all "mature" nations. As Mideast oil becomes less important (due to oil from other place and new sources of energy), the rest of the world will no longer be held hostage, and will be able to use all necessary methods to root out the bad guys.

Solar energy will be the method that will win the day. New materials, new storaage approaches, computer optimization will combine to find a way. Solar is the obvious ultimate victor, because it is ubiquitous, and can't be owned.

The issue of rich vs poor will never go away. Take all the money from the rich and give it to the poor. Wait 10 years ago and the distribution will work its way back to the way it was =/-. This political issue will always be with us, also.

Global cooling will be the big political issue as the Sun enters a period like the 50's - 70's. The foolish among us will once again claim the sky is falling and that the next ice age is just around the corner.

Pollution will become a non issue as the cost of controlling it becomes substantially less (orders of magnitude.)

As history will prove, the real issues of politics will be unintended consequences, ruthless desire for power by sociopathic leaders, and folks with IQ's if 100 and 180 who fall for the garbage offered by such leaders.

Religion will be alive and thriving as the rest of live becomes less and less meaningful. We tend to find meaning in our occupations, our children, our possessions, and our creative output. All of these things will have less meaning. (e.g. See LA Times article on luxury goods losing their cachet.

I agree with the idea that runaway science in any of a number of places is the greatest threat to our futures: Nano anything, genetic engineering, robots, etc.

rand said at August 26, 2007 7:01 PM:

Wow! I dropped back and reread my comment. Sorry about the typo's and the strange constructions here and there. I must have been too deep into the Alpha waves.

Greg S. said at July 22, 2010 8:57 AM:

Wow, I have the advantage of writing this in 2010 which is a little bit closer to the timelines presented. Just a few thoughts to ponder. Increasing intelligences sounds great, but I pick up a bias which presumes that we will all be part of this great new elite. Maybe, maybe not. Also, define intelligence and how do you measure it (As a mental health clinician, I would submit that IQ tests are limited, and I am not alone). The bigger isssue is ethical: how do we treat the "less than" folk? A true social fascist would say let 'em die off, only the strong (superior) should survive, or better yet, get rid of 'em. Insert the word "race" for cognitively enhanced and perhaps we see more clearly. Also, enhanced tools, including intelligence has not always resulted in wiser behaviors and decisions, wisdom needs to be in the mix. As many may remember the advent of atomic power, we realized that it is a bit like giving a 6 year old a 9 mm weapon, you may make the 6 year old feel empowered, but I am going to duck!!

Politically, the matter is truly up for grabs. We may see some paradoxical things happen. If we move towards a North American Union, it may be with the price to increase the power of the states and provinces. I believe we are already beginning to see the limits of the nation-state. I believe it is fairly safe to say, barring some calamity, we will live in a multipolar world politcially and economically. The matter of liberty, rights of senitent beings (perhaps, non-senitents as well), democratic-style decision-making and empowerment, the role of markets, trade and capital in this mix and how we address inevitable conflicts in a peaceful way all come into play. These will be predicated on choices made and values held by the vast majority of humanity regardless of belief system. I, for one, think this necessitates the devlopment of international/planetary institutions which create environments for cooperation and conflict management. I have heard some interesting proposals to create capital accounts for all to democratize the economy using market means as a sutainable alternative to current policies and proposals. That combined with an income floor strategy like the negative income tax might address issues around income disparaties, and there is significant research which shows that societies with the smallest income discrepancies have higher public health outcomes. The matter may soon become clear that machines, intelligent and not so, will do just about everything we do faster, better, cheaper and they don't call in sick, complain--yet, or join unions--yet. So what do the humans/sentients do? May I submit: control the capital allocations in a democratic market-oriented manner? Also, on the matter of population growth--hint, hint, the more affluent a society becomes, its birth rate and its death rates drop. Space colonizatiom? Sure, I like the idea, where and when may be cost driven more than anything. Fleeing to other planets not having addressed these matters of maturity, however, just means the 6 year old with the 9 mm weapon gets to play in a new sandbox. Those damn fired rounds still hurt like hell!

Living longer and healthier, as a man in my mid-50s, you got my vote. I would love to double--or better--my lifespan and be healthy to boot. Medically, biologically and technologically, the promise may nbe greater than the reality. We may be lucky to get up to 130 years and call it good. The new healthcare law signed in March 2010, well, it remains to be seen how this plays out. Energy, probably means we go to renewables and perhaps fusion nuclear technology. Anyway, we can go in many directions on this.

patrick said at May 29, 2014 7:20 PM:

Good job with your 2014 prediction. Close.

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