What might the world look like in 2120?

Ever wondered what the world might look like a hundred years from now? I‘ve been fascinated by foresight since 2007, but never had a chance to look so far ahead. Until now. The book “Lithuania 2120” is one of the most intriguing exercises for imagination. Foresight methodology says that multiple alternative futures exist at the same time. Eventually, the future will depend on both external factors and the decisions we make. Thus, politicians need foresight to inform present decision making. And if you wonder what my vision for the world in a hundred years is, continue reading. 

There will be roughly 11 billion of us, and mostly old

Due to scientific progress, the human life cycle will elongate significantly. Growing old will be controlled by growing new organs and changing the ones that don’t function properly anymore. Such discoveries will be massively applied in Europe, Japan, and China, where 60-65 years olds will account for the biggest resident group in 2100. The usual medical check-ups will be performed by software via sensors in our bodies. In the middle of the 21st century, we will be able to recreate a living organism from its genome. Genetic engineering will allow for cutting out the genes that aren’t favorable, but more importantly, it will essentially allow us to program preferred personality and external traits (even super-traits). Our DNA sensors and smart ‘bombs’ on a molecular level will allow us to discover and kill cancer cells before they become a tumor. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to cure cancer entirely because plenty of its types will constantly be mutating. We will also see some new diseases in our civilization, but the precision of their diagnostics will reach 95 %.

80 % of the population will be living in cities – in the air, on the ground, under the ground, and on water. The most advanced ones will be living in sustainable cities designed by arcologists. They won’t depend on their surroundings and will be resistant to earthquakes and hurricanes, rising up to 1.5 km towards the sky, and fully sustainable. Such cities will make their own energy and oxygen, and will advocate vertical agriculture. They will extend all the way underground, while some people will be living on artificial islands. 

A world driven by opposing trends

In the 1800s, people rode horses, got into cars a hundred years later, and after a hundred more, SpaceX shuttles went into space. But states and nations remained. If black swans don’t kill the civilization, those states and nations that will harness the technological progress will remain intact in the year 2100. The international structure will not be drastically different yet, but we will see at least two opposing tendencies.  

The first is fragmentation. Political power will be concentrated in city-states where decisions are made faster, and residents are united by mutual values. Some of the big cities will separate and become independent in the 21st century already (scientists rate the possibility of San Francisco’s independence 8/10). The biggest corporations will create city-states that support themselves and, possibly, float on the water. 

But only by pooling the resources, we will be able to overcome global challenges. A very dark scenario is pictured for the third to fifth decades of the 21st century. A long transition period is waiting – rising oceans, massive migration, ethical conflicts, economic recession, millions of jobless people protesting due to structural unemployment, bureaucratic systems that fail to catch up with technological innovations and regulate their impact on society and our planet. Western countries will be forced to unite and create mutual technological solutions, new legal systems, and ethics codes based on open data. Some advanced corporations and other countries may join. 

Humanity will slowly begin to get closer to type I (and later – to types II and III) civilization in Kardashev’s scale (this will happen within upcoming centuries). We will control the entire planet, its atmosphere, speak the same language, and use the same money. Scientists think that in the 21st century, some of the smaller states and nations will disappear, while out of 6,500 languages that currently exist, only a few hundred will remain.

China will become the main superstate in the second half of the 21st century

China will keep its planned economy principles and will become the biggest technocracy, based on “e-1984” artificial intelligence. It will de facto manage major investments and territories in Africa and some in the Middle East where current countries will disappear, as well as on the Moon and Mars. If China doesn’t join international agreements on climate change and technology ethics in the future, the country will highly likely use scientific discoveries to create perfect super-citizens.

There may be an American or Free Nations Union, consisting of the US, Canada, and perhaps some other European and South American countries (especially Mexico), and Australia. Canada’s influence will grow significantly. Once the glaciers melt, Canada will have great potential for valuable natural resources, and millions of people will move to live there because of great territories with a pleasant climate. A two-fold scenario awaits Europe – it will either recover and unite, or regional unions will arise.

Due to scientific progress in regulating the human life cycle, Africa’s population will blow up. According to the calculations by the UN, people living in Africa will account for nearly half of the population of the entire planet by 2100 (a significant change from the current 16 %). But economically, Africa will never be among the leading countries, while China will make the most use of its growth. Japan should remain among leaders due to its investments into smart territories unless its expansion is adjusted by the consequences of climate change and aggressive China’s expansion policy.

Technological advancement will solve many challenges

The most crucial challenges for humanity will be fighting the consequences of climate change, the interaction between humans and artificial intelligence, inhabiting other planets, and cybersecurity. Because of climate change consequences, a part of currently densely populated coastal areas will be flooded. This includes big cities like New York and Los Angeles. Based on various calculations, the water levels will rise from a few to 100 meters due to melting glaciers. The world will be fighting the consequences of climate change for a thousand years until our planet will eventually begin to cool down. But people will be experimenting with geo-engineering, and it is likely that eventually we will learn to change weather. 

The demand for energy will grow three times. The Earth will fully switch to alternative sources of energy, mainly solar power. A solar-powered device the size of a mobile phone will be able to power up both a car and a home completely. Artificial soil and biological buildings will contribute to saving the planet. Unfortunately, a big share of fauna, especially fish, will have been disappeared for half a century. We will grow our meat on farms without animals. Even though the discoveries in genetics will allow recreating any living creature (even mammoths), we won’t be able to save the Great coral reef. Artificial bacteria will clean the ocean waters. Deserts will become oases. If we fail to achieve this, more than half of Earth’s population won’t have access to drinking water.

Our daily routine will be managed by AI 

The times will be very interesting. Central artificial intelligence will ensure the successful functioning. Self-driving cars will be flying in the air, and central artificial intelligence will help avoid accidents and traffic. A bunch of assistant robots will perform the most of dangerous and routine jobs – those of accountants, cooks, surgeons, welders. Robots-humanoids providing services won’t differ from people and will be able to feel our emotions. Others will be as tiny as spiders or flies. We might even have robot-scientists and robot-entrepreneurs. 

Some futurists believe that most of the inventions in the future will be made by artificial intelligence. People, meanwhile, will be able to communicate telepathically. Thanks to brain augmentation, it will become possible together with the digitalization of brain cells and memory. Before the end of the 21st century, everyone will be using some sort of artificial reinforcement of intelligence as that will be the only way to compete, understand the world, and co-exist with the new generation of AI that will be a trillion times more powerful than the human brain. We will each have an avatar. The digital twin will make some decisions and so some tasks for us, such as shopping. Civilization will be getting closer to the continuum of human and technology, where digitalized humans will be able to live forever. Perhaps we will be able to talk to digital Churchill or Landsbergis!

People will be like gods – we will grant our wishes by merely thinking about them

The internet and access to multiple devices, even a digital time machine, will be fitted into a contact lens. Computers will be able to interpret our brain signals, so, with a blink of an eye, we will be able to connect to our home office, download any information, or translate any language. When walking on the ruins of Pompeii, we will find ourselves in the ancient Roman empire. Our education system won’t exist the way it does today – we will be able to acquire any kind of knowledge and skills, like self-defense, in seconds. 

In the year 2120, tourist trips to space will be usual. A space elevator will allow couples to spend their honeymoon in a hotel on the Moon. Earth’s rare minerals will be long gone by then, so the new technology will look for natural resources on other planets. Colonial communities will be living on Mars and Moon, but mass inhabitation of other planets won’t be there quite yet. Various temperature-resistant and extremely sustainable fabrics will allow people to get all the way to the center of our planet, the Sun, and we will create the first inter-galactic ship. The first mission that goes beyond the solar system will be in progress. And yet, even in a hundred years, we won’t know if we’re the only ones in the universe.

Science, like a double-edged sword, will create new problems

Virtual reality will take us to a hedonic world – we will be able to transmit emotions and feelings via the internet and move entirely into our own alternative realities. Many people will drown in this “synthetic heroin”. Periodically, artificially created bacteria will escape the labs, causing pandemics and creating a huge bio-security sector. Cyber and biological terrorism will rampage. United cybersecurity forces will be fighting against this – finding, isolating, and destroying the enemies in the world of big data will be much easier. On the other hand, we will have to sacrifice our privacy for security, and the new technocracies will make use of it. Due to the ability to control people’s memories – to delete or alter them – the police won’t be able to rely on witnesses’ testimonies. It will be hard to trust even ourselves. Digitalizing human consciousness and spreading this technology worldwide will take longer than we think because of technical, ethical, and bureaucratic challenges. New religious and conservative groups will be protesting massively against applying the new inventions, convinced it would be an offense to God’s will.

A new social and legal system will appear in the mid-21st century

It will be a multi-polar world. Diversity and tolerance will rise to new dimensions. Most of the new ethical issues will be dealt with by new legislation. Should marriage between a human and a robot be allowed? How should the programming of the baby genome be regulated? What about re-creating a person or an animal from its genome? Should we allow the creation of super-humans? Who owns the intellectual property of inventions created by AI? Who owns the natural resources on Mars? Law won’t catch up with the innovations fast enough, so we will move online completely and develop it on platforms we can hardly imagine now.

In the middle of the 21st century, we will get the universal basic income, which will reduce stress and encourage new forms of self-realization and creativity. Creating a new system – new social policy, technology, and international finance system laws – will cost us a few decades of chaos, massive social exclusion, and unrest. Half of the employed people will be working in synthetic biology, AI support, city management, conscious technology, virtual reality tourism, personal network and personality development, and other relevant areas. Self-employment and sharing economy will be thriving, while our avatars will look for jobs online.

Our society will remain just as fragmented, or maybe even more

Bill Gates believes that by the year 2035, we won’t have poor countries, but that’s too optimistic. First, the countries won’t reach an equal level of development, just like nowadays. Some will refuse to implement new inventions or will make them available exclusively for the elite. In countries where universal basic income won’t be introduced, unemployment will remain high. At least a couple of billions of people won’t be able to adjust to the new world. Additionally, some people will refuse the progress to keep their privacy. They will be living in separate communities like some wild Amazon tribes, ignoring the modern world. 

Our future depends on education

Whether these visions will become a reality depends on variety of factors. Some say that the predicted progress of, for example, digitalizing the human brain, is impossible – our understanding of decoding the information transmitted via neurons is very limited. Meanwhile, Steven Hawking and Elon Musk think that technological singularity will become the “greatest existential threat” that will possibly destroy humanity once the artificial superintelligence is developed. The only way to survive is to merge humans and machines, creating post-humans.

Finally, it’s important that scientific progress is used for solving global challenges. Agreements on the ethics of science and technology, valuation of their impact on the society, the new law of humans, trans-humans and post-humans will all have a huge impact. That’s why education, together with its embedded value system, is so relevant today. If the “global generation”, which pays even more attention to protecting the global commons (such as our planet), comes – they will make the most important ethical and technological choices for the future.

Text prepared in June 2019, loosely based on the insights by Michio Kaku, Ray Kurzweil and others.

Markevičiūtė E. et al (2020) Lietuva 2120, leidykla „Lapas“, Vilnius.