The future scares a lot of people. Climate change, a growing population, and fewer natural resources will certainly pose new challenges for the human race in the next few decades.
We’ve pulled out some of our favorite ideas about the future of our world.
Child mortality rates will be vastly lower.
During the 20th century, the sharpest declined in mortality involved deaths of children under 5 years old, according to the assessment on human health from the Copenhagen Consensus on Human Challenge. “However, the pace of decline has been rapid in low and middle-income countries, especially since 1950,” that report said.
Between 1990 and 2012, the number of under-5 child deaths went from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births to 48 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to a 2013 report from UNICEF.
The Copenhagen report found these trends are likely to continue, with the rate dropping to 31 per 1,000 live births in 2050 and even more dramatic declines in regions like Africa.
The factors behind this decline include prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, immunization against diseases, insecticide-treated nets to control diseases like malaria, and micronutrients for children to prevent life-threatening deficiencies.
We’ll have vaccines and cures for many diseases.
While we can’t know what will threaten our bodies in the future, cures and vaccines for current diseases and illnesses will surely improve by 2050.
Researchers are confident that within 20 years they can design a vaccine to stop the spread of HIV, which currently kills anywhere from 1.5 million to 2 million people per year. That’s according to Martin Wiselka, consultant in infectious diseases at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, as reported in The Daily Mirror.
To be sure, we’ve had troubles coming up with a traditional vaccine to prevent HIV in the past. However, scientists are making big strides in understanding how our immune system interacts with the virus.
While treatment already exists for malaria, which kills 1 million people a year, many organizations are working to eradicate the disease entirely. Some remain hopeful for a vaccine, while others go to the source by genetically engineering mosquitoes carrying the parasite to self-destruct.
A better understanding of the processes behind Alzheimer’s bring us closer and closer to a cure.
A U.S. vaccine already exists for meningitis, which other countries will soon adopt.
As for cancer, we’re making progress in treating some types. A rheumatoid arthritis drug recently cured a young child’s leukemia. A modified measles vaccine put another woman’s cancer into remission. Nanoparticles could even attack cancer stem cells, which cause tumors to form. Others are trying to teach the body to attack cancer directly, by training the immune system with “cancer vaccines.”
By 2050, humans could be live forever as computerized brains.
In the coming decades, some scientists hope to upload the contents of human brains into computers, allowing people to live forever inside a robotic body or even as a hologram.
Neuroscientist Randal Koene and Russian financial-backer Dmitry Itskov are trying to transfer human consciousness and brain functions to an artificial body by 2045 by “mapping the brain, reducing its activity to computations, and reproducing those computations in code,” according to Popular Science.
Koene said his work isn’t just about achieving immortality. It’s about giving people the ability to go places and do things that are impossible in our own bodies, like traveling close to the sun.
Even if we don’t meet that goal by 2050, people alive today may still have their brains uploaded in the future. That’s because other scientists are working on preserving human brains and all their contents indefinitely through immersion in chemical solutions.
“If we could put the brain into a state in which it does not decay, then the second step could be done 100 years later, and everyone could experience mind uploading first hand,” scientist Kenneth Hayworth, of the Brain Preservation Foundation, told Popular Science. Hayworth believes scientists may discover how to preserve a mouse brain by 2015.
There will be no more poor countries.
“By 2035, there will be no more poor countries,” Bill Gates wrote earlier this year. By 2050, the development of countries around the world will be that much further along.
Already 700 million fewer people lived in extreme poverty in 2010 than they did in 1990, and the rate of improvement has also slowly increased since the turn of the century. (Extreme poverty was defined as $1 day in 1990 but was redefined as $1.25 a day in 2008.) Today, the World Bank has set a new goal: lowering the number of people living in extreme poverty to no more than 3% of the population by 2030.
Gates says increased foreign aid will play a key role in eradicating poverty on a global scale.
Jeffrey D. Sachs, special advisor to the United Nations secretary general, calls for “new kind of mixed capitalism” to eliminate poverty — combining disease control, public education, and the promotion of new science and technology with private market forces. He points to parts of Africa, where the introduction of cellphones combined with better malaria control have slashed rural poverty.
If the lagging countries can maintain a sustainable higher growth path, the global poverty ratio will fall from about 21% in 2005 to less than 2.5% in 2050, and the number of people living in absolute poverty will decline by another billion, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organizations.
To be sure, the future holds threats for impoverished people in the world. Global climate change is already threatening the homes and livelihoods of people in places like Panama and a once-lively fishing community in England. Time will tell whether the continued focus on eradicating poverty will outweigh the detrimental impact of climate change.
Artificial intelligence will be insanely good.
The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) could generally be a good thing, assuming there isn’t a “Terminator” scenario. While robots could replace some workers, it’s important to remember that past innovations have unlocked whole new industries and new jobs along with them . The rise of AI could do the same.
What’s more, think how much better robots could make our world.
Hans Moravec of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute predicts that by 2050 freely moving robots that outperform humans both physically and intellectually will run entire businesses by themselves. That could allow humans to “occupy their days with a variety of social, recreational and artistic pursuits, not unlike today’s comfortable retirees or the wealthy leisure classes,” he wrote in Scientific American. It could also lead to new breakthroughs, as “mass-produced, fully educated robot scientists working diligently, cheaply, rapidly and increasingly effectively will ensure that most of what science knows in 2050 will have been discovered by our artificial progeny!”
Robots could also provide people with emotional sustenance. In “Love and Sex with Robots,”AI researcher David Levy predicted that by 2050 there would be human-like robots with their own emotions and the capability to hold intelligent conversations and, yes, relationships with people.
“Is this the ultimate sex toy?” Levy wrote in New Scientist. “It could be considered as such, but the sophisticated sex robots of the middle of this century will also be valued as relationship partners in the widest sense of the word, someone to love.”
As advanced as they may be, Levy still envisions robots “sitting in the corner in your house waiting for you to decide what you’d like to do next” rather than living independent lives of their own.
We will have the ability to rely almost exclusively on renewable, clean energy.
If the world invests enough in clean energy, we will be able to rely almost entirely on renewable energy by 2050 — cutting energy sector greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, according to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report. “[I]t is technically feasible to supply everyone on the planet in 2050 with the energy they need, with 95% of this energy coming from renewable sources,” the report said.
The report stresses, however, that this will only be possible if we sufficiently commit ourselves now to work toward that goal.
The achievement of that goal “does not demand radical changes to the way we live,” according to the WWF report. The changes involve technologies already available, won’t cost more than 2% of global GDP, and take into account increases in population and travel.
Solar energy, now comprising only .02% of the world’s energy supply, could provide half of the world’s electricity, half of building heating, and 15% of industrial heat and fuel in 2050, according to the report, which relies on findings from Ecofys.
Wind energy, which currently supplies only 2% of the world’s electricity, could provide 25% of the world’s electricity by 2050. Although that requires an additional million onshore and 100,000 offshore wind turbines, they will have low environmental impact with proper planning, such as development of turbines that float on water.
Other crucial sources of renewable energy will include ocean power that harnesses energy from waves and tides; biomass, which includes plant materials and animal waste; geothermal energy derived from the Earth’s crust; and hydropower.
Investment in all of these technologies is crucial. Combining power from all of these sources will be important in creating our clean energy future.
Cars could be vastly safer, smarter, and cleaner.
In the next decade, major car makers expect to release cars with self-driving features, such as steering, parking, gear-shifting, and braking, the Milken Institute predicts. Experts say most driverless cars will operate entirely without a human occupant’s control by 2035.
Driverless cars will be safer because they can draft closely behind other vehicles and eliminate human error, which causes 90% of car accidents, according to the Milken Institute.
In the U.S., driverless cars could result in 4.95 million fewer accidents, 30,000 fewer deaths, and 4.8 billion fewer commuting hours. They will also save Americans $500 billion per year in costs of car accidents, fuel, and lost productivity, according to the Milken Institute.
In the meantime, confidence in driverless cars is growing. 57% of people worldwide, and 60% of Americans, trust them.
Electric cars will also be widespread by 2050 — a tremendous benefits for the environment. Worldwide annual production of electric vehicles will reach 7 million by 2020 and 100 million by 2050, according to Enel, Italy’s largest power company. That will reduce CO2 emissions from transportation by 30%, in addition to significantly reducing oil consumption.
In the U.S., half of vehicles will be electrified by 2050, totaling 157 million electric cars and light trucks, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.
Greater gender equality will improve the global economy, and society.
In 1900, lower pay for women and their exclusion from the work sector led to losses equaling 17% of global GDP, according to a report by Copenhagen Consensus on Human Challenges. That’s because women’s full potential for productivity was never realized. But in 2050, those losses are predicted to fall to just 4% of world GDP.
“[R]ising wages and rising female participation in the labor force rise hand-in-hand, implying that there are gains to the society from women’s movement into the paid work sector at these times,” the study’s author, Joyce Jacobsen, said in the report.
The rising participation of women in the workforce will continue to change dynamics at home. In 2050, men and women in much of the developed world will do an equal share of childcare and housework, according to an Oxford University study of 16 European and North American countries, in addition to Australia and Israel.
Almost all adults will know how to read.
Currently, 23.6% of the global population can’t read, costing about 7% of worldwide GDP, according to “A Scorecard for Humanity,” a report from the Copenhagen Consensus Center. By 2050, experts estimates that illiteracy rates will fall to just 12% and cost only about 3.8% of GDP.
Few indicators measure progress better than literacy, and basic Human Capital Theory holds that a greater number of educated people will improve a country’s economy. For example, differences in education help explain why Korea, with 12 years of schooling, saw a 23-fold growth in per-capita income since 1950, while Pakistan, with much less publication education, has seen only 3-fold growth.
At this point, the world knows literacy matters. Many nonprofits and humanitarian groups focus on bringing an understanding of the written word to the world. The next XPRIZE award will also go toward ending illiteracy entirely.
There may be much less warfare worldwide.
From 2009 to 2050, the number of countries involved in internal armed conflicts will decrease by more than 50%, according to a report from International Studies Quarterly.
The prediction applies to internal armed conflicts pitting governments against organized opposition groups, which are deadlier and longer-lasting than other conflicts, the report’s co-author University of Oslo Political Science Professor Håvard Hegre told Time.
The study predicted that, in 2050, 7% of countries will be embroiled in internal armed conflicts, down from 15% in 2009. Hegre’s prediction is based on a statistical model that considered factors like education, infant mortality, past conflicts, oil, ethnicities, and youth population.
In another report, Hegre considered the impact of climate change on future civil wars. He concluded that its “adverse effects are still unlikely to be sufficiently strong to dramatically change the projected global trends in conflict.”
Reasons for the decline of violence include more education and the high cost of war.
“It has become too expensive to kill people,”Hegre told Apollon. “Modern society is dependent on economic development. It is too expensive to use violence to destroy this network.”
Warfare associated with the Arab Spring has led Hegre to raise his prediction of the percentage of countries expected to be involved in internal armed conflict in 2050, from 5% to 7%, according to Apollon.
India, Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Tanzania will be at the greatest risk of armed conflict in 2050.
I think it very unlikely that war will go extinct. Human nature will see to that. It’s true, however, that the 2000s were the decade with the lowest number of war deaths since 1945, (according to Steven Pinker). I do expect the decline of violence and war to continue. War will be rare but not absent.
The internet will reach every corner of the world.
In “The World We Made,” Forum for the Future founder Jonathon Porritt predicts that by 2050, more than 8 billion people will go online, 97.5% of the population then.
Currently, about 40% of the globe has internet access, with 78% of users in developed countries and 32% in developing countries. That’s about 2.85 billion people, many of whom get internet access from mobile phones. Endeavors like Google’s Project Loon and Internet.org specifically focus on bringing the web to areas where people don’t yet have it.
This online expansion will expose the world to one of the most innovations of modern history, opening possibilities for global communication and commerce, with Wikipedia in Uganda and Kickstarter in Pakistan.
As for features of this new, global web, Jeff Jonas, an IBM Fellow and Chief Scientist of Context Computing, speculates the web will include “collective intelligence.” In other words, your personal devices will combine your exact location with migratory bird patterns and tell you which way to step to avoid bird poop.
Artificial body parts could make organ shortages a thing of the past.
On the average day in the U.S., 18 people die while waiting for an organ transplant, according to the Department of Health & Human Services.
Technology is already unlocking ways to prolong life while people wait for transplants. Dialysis replaces the kidneys for people who need a transplant, and, more recently, artificial hearts have been able to keep some patients alive temporarily while they wait for a new one.
In the next 35 years or so, artificial and lab-grown organs will create a more permanent solution for transplant patients, who won’t have to wait for another person to die before getting a life-sustaining organ.
Other organs — from hearts and lungs to skin — are on their way.
The technology for lab-grown bladders can also be combined with 3D printing of a person’s own stem cells to make organ rejection a thing of the past. This process involves growing stem cells in the lab after removing them from a patient, then planting them into the 3D-printed body part. The cells grow on the scaffolding, creating an organ compatible with the recipient.
Researchers are also looking into other permanent solutions to the organ shortage. Last year researchers at the University of California announced that they have created an artificial kidney in mice that will eliminate the need for dialysis and human-to-human transplants. Time reported that human testing was slated to begin in 2017.
Another recent experiment implanted a lab-grown human kidney “bud” into mice, which began growing into a full liver.
Baby-making will become more sophisticated.
Reproductive technology, which was revolutionized in 1978 with the birth of the first baby conceived through in vitro fertilization, could get much more advanced in the next 35 years.
These days, women only have a very general sense of when in their lives they’ll stop being fertile, but in the future, women will have more “personalized” biological clocks so they’ll know exactly when they’ll stop being able to make babies, Alexis Madrigal has written in The Atlantic. Companies like Univfy are already trying to help women assess how fertile women are.
Couples of the future will also have a better idea of when they should try to conceive. Max Levchin, a co-founder of a fertility-tracking app called Glow, told Madrigal that in the future we’ll have an even better understanding of monthly fertility patterns than we do now. For example, personal hormone trackers that detect bodily changes through the skin could become a normal part of tracking our fertility.
A relatively new technique to freeze a woman’s healthy ovarian tissue and re-implant it when she desires to have children could also make us fertile much longer, even late into life, without worrying about the genetic abnormalities of late-in-life motherhood.
Some research has even suggested that in the future we could make sperm and eggs from human stem cells, through a process called in vitro gametogenesis.
This technology could make it easier for gay people to have babies that are genetically related to both of them, as Oxford University researchers noted in a 2012 paper. From their paper in “World Scientific,” which considers the hypothetical future scenario involving “Hamish and Harry”:
Hamish and Harry present to a fertility specialist. The gay couple would like to have a child genetically related to them but without assistance they are unable to do so. Hamish is able to produce an abundance of normal sperm, however Harry is completely unable to produce eggs or bear children as, being male, he has no ovaries or uterus. Fortunately, a new technology is available that can overcome the problem. The technology, IVG, will allow the creation of eggs from Harry’s somatic cells.
Designer babies could create super humans.
It’s understandable that some people may not like the idea of genetically engineering human babies. However, scientists are currently working on genetic engineering to help make sick children healthy by removing or replacing diseased genes.
This technology could later be used to perfect children by genetically engineering away crooked teeth or bad eyesight.
These same techniques could be use to create super humans, if we learn what genes improve IQ, for example, we could make our kids really smart. Other traits that have genetic basis and could be controlled easily include height, hair color, and even eye color, Live Science notes.
“[I]n a couple of decades, and certainly by 2050 … we’ll choose its sex and its appearance and stuff like that, but we can bump up his IQ by 10 points, or by really giving the very latest technology, you get 15 points more of IQ,” David Gelernter told Big Think.
Supporters consider genetic engineering ethically the same as forcing children to take music lessons, since both involve parents fostering specific traits, according to the Huffington Post.
Morally, “there isn’t that much difference between getting your child an SAT tutor and getting them into a good college, and making them a little bit more intelligent before they’re born,” bioethicist Jacob Appel told Big Think.
We still have a way to go before we understand how these genetic traits are controlled. That makes some experts more cautious. “As we learn what causes other traits, like physical appearance or intelligence, we might be able to pick them,” Lakshmi Warrier told the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). “I think the key question then is, would we want to? Is our idea of ‘the best genes’ really good?”
New translation tools will make the world more like “Star Trek.”
The “universal translator” — an imaginary device that lets people who speak different languages communicate instantly — has been featured in sci-fi shows like “Star Trek.”
The Economist noted last year that it may not be long before automatic simultaneous translation becomes the norm in the real world, too. In the future, you may be able to go to a foreign country and speak fluently with the locals just by wearing a pair of special goggles or using a phone app. As the person speaks in a different language, their words will pop up on your screen like subtitles in a movie.
The inventor William Powell has already tested a system that allowed English and Spanish speakers to communicate in that manner. It worked if both parties were patient and spoke slowly, the Economist noted.
And just last month, Microsoft unveiled a “Star Trek”-like demo for real-time translation over Skype. This demo allows the person you’re communicating with to hear your words followed by a clear translation in their preferred language.
Translation tools like these will likely be ubiquitous and free of glitches by 2050, making the globe more interconnected than ever.
There’s a lot to be excited about … but there are also reasons to worry, starting with …