In the second “Back to the future” movie (1989), the protagonists are sent 25 years in the future… October 2015. I watched this movie as a young adult and I was in awe at this version of the future.
What did the authors get wrong and right?
- We have no flying car. We do have neat remote-controlled helicopters however, available from China for a few dollars.
- The movie shows a future dominated by the fax. But no Web. No Internet.
- No smart phone. No Uber. No Facebook. No Google.
- The movie has wearable devices (glasses) but not the kind we typically wear (e.g., Fitbit).
- Though some of us have artificial implants (e.g., replacement knees), we do not have performance-enhancing implants yet. There are bionic eyes, but only 100 human beings have them so far and they do not give very good vision (yet). We do have people with prosthesis that can run faster than normal human beings, but these people are amazing athletes, not cheaters.
- Large flat TV screens.
- Ubiquitous videoconferencing.
- Remote-free video games.
If you watch the movie carefully, you see that they do not have rejuvenation clinics (there are old people looking quite old). Though one of the main protagonist goes to such a clinic, it is likely that he travels further in the future.
I sometimes get comments to the effect that I am far too optimistic regarding technological progress. But on the whole, we got pretty much the vision of the future that writers imagined in the 1980s. I suppose that our present would look less fantastic to people from the 1980s than the “Back to the future” movie… but that is mostly due to their use of anti-gravity that is very present in the movie. Still, something like Google or Siri would look properly impressive to someone from the 1980s.
If anything, this suggests that you should expect 2040 to be quite impressive technologically.
Every so often, I make predictions about the following year or the next 5 years. I always get my predictions wrong, sometimes badly so.
I still like to make predictions because it stimulates my imagination.
My own predictions for 2040 include:
- We won’t have flying cars. In fact, we will have fewer cars. And we won’t be driving them.
- We won’t have a superintelligence (sorry). We will have, however, robots that can walk and act just like we do. People will commonly be “friend” with artificial intelligences.
- Widespread medical implants to monitor and regulate our bodies. Fitbit is only a timid beginning. In 2040, health-conscious people will wear devices watching for early signs diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, dementia… These devices will “talk” to us. If you try to go many days eating poorly or too much, the devices will automatically get on your case.
- You won’t be able to eat as much as you’d like without getting fat (sorry). However, with a mix of various technologies, anyone who cares will be able to keep a healthy weight for life.
- Some idiots will still be smoking (sorry). They will be much more likely to die from lung cancer.
- We will have smart glasses. Really smart glasses. The glasses will figure out what you are trying to look at and they will help. Need to walk in the dark? Glasses can try to enhance the contrast. Want to read small fonts? The glasses will be able to zoom in. Looking at someone you don’t recognize? The glasses will give you a hint.
- Common use of exoskeletons replacing most wheel chairs.
- People with bad eyesight will get smart lenses that will give them better-than-normal eyesight.
- Replacement organs grown from your own body, often in situ (if your heart is in bad shape, we regenerate it).
- If you forget the name of a flower, you will be able to ask “hmmm… what is the name of this flower?” and you will get the answer right away.
- HIV will be eradicated.
- Real-time voice translation will be common. We will still need human translators for serious work however (sorry).
- Genetic and stem-cell therapies will be old school. We probably won’t have robots swimming in our blood, but lots of currently incurable conditions will be easily fixed.
- Though we won’t have true rejuvenation clinics (sorry), many old people will look a lot younger than they do right now. They will be less frail, have nicer skin and hair, and they will have stronger immune systems… if they care to. Losing one’s hair with age, or letting it turn white, will become a choice. We will have cheap and widely available technology to reduce wrinkles and many other forms of skin damage. Old people suffering injuries (broken bones, open wounds) will benefit from therapies to accelerate healing at levels close to that of young people. We won’t see an explosion in the number of centenarians nor are we likely to see many people beyond 110-year-old… that will take a few more decades… but we will see people in their seventies looking like they are fifty. Sadly, lots of people will still be in very bad health… but, increasingly, it will be due to poor life choices. Also, many people will simply not benefit from the latest in old-age therapies, either because they cannot pay, or because they do not care.
- We will still have jobs. However, most work will receive a lot of assistance from computers. A lot more compared to today. Many people will “supervise” automated systems rather than act directly. In some sense, many more of us will become programmers… but we won’t be programming in C or Java.
- The retirement age will often be 70 or above. Elderly people (65 and above) will contribute significantly more than they do today. We will have more elderly teachers, elderly scientists, elderly engineers… probably twice as many as we have today, or more. The time at which people do work worthy of a Nobel prize will have gone up, at least slightly.
- People won’t use PCs. Duh!
- The founders of Google (Brin and Page) will still be around, working hard. They will be healthy and strong. However, Google will have been supplanted as the IT leader. Bill Gates will still be going around the world doing charity work. He will still be quite rich. He might look no older than he does now. I would not be surprised if Ray Kurzweil were still around. If he is still around, he will have published another book (or the equivalent).
- Old people will still suffer from dementia and cognitive decline (sorry). However, we will have sophisticated electronic assistants. Old people with dementia will be automatically guided in their daily lives. Some kids and mentally diminished people will also commonly benefit from such technology. We will also be able to alleviate much of the signs of cognitive decline through biotechnology, maybe by replacing brain cells. Most people over 90 year of age who can afford the latest technology will have productive and autonomous lives.
- Healthcare will be vastly more automated than it is today. There will still be nurses, doctors and laboratories, but people will increasingly rely on tools. Most tests and therapies will be automated or handled mostly by the patient.
- We will understand the brain a lot better, and we will have IQ-boosters. We won’t be able to turn kids into new Einsteins, but there will be tools to boost your IQ by 10 or 15 points if you have an average intelligence. Thus, people who could not make it into a good college today would using this technology.
- I predict that top athletes in their 50s will match the performance of athletes decades younger using advanced medicine. For example, a good runner might benefit from heart and blood regeneration to give him back some of the performance he lost with age. We will get muscle and bone rejuvenation. Though young people will still dominate the Olympics, in competitions where enhancements are allowed, you will see people in their twenties competing against people in their fifties. We might even see the rise of “elderly Olympics” where people 65 and older compete. Their scores won’t match the real Olympics, but the competition level will be high.
- People will still die of cancer (sorry). In many cases, we will have treatments that are far less damaging however.
- We won’t have limitless safe energy (sorry). However, solar energy will be dirt cheap. Oil will be on its way out.
- Only a handful of us will live in space (sorry). But we will have robots living more or less permanently on the Moon and Mars.
- People will still suffer from the common cold (sorry). However, old people who are properly treated won’t fear the common cold because they will have a good immune system. How can we eradicate HIV and not the common cold? Sadly, the common cold is caused by a wide and expending range of viruses, so no definitive vaccine is likely to come soon.
- We will have wars, but they will mostly the business of autonomous drones. We will have the technology to occupy and monitor a whole town, using only robots.
- Most people will be idiots (sorry). Lots of people will be sad (sorry). Some kids will still go hungry (sorry). There will be unemployed poor people (sorry). Lots of people will be ugly (sorry). No utopia will be in sight (sorry). On the whole, people won’t be much happier (sorry).
I am not a futurologist and these are just made up predictions. I am also highly likely to get them wrong.
But if you think I am wrong, I’d like to hear your thoughts.