You know what it's fun for everyone to do? Try and predict the future. For some reason everyone likes to predict mass apocalypse, whether it's the Y2k Bug that was going to destroy us all in the year 2000, or the Mayan Calendar that was going to destroy us all in the year 2012, or the Earth being engulfed by the sun in billions of years. That last one will probably happen, it's just that I don't predict it killing the human race because that would assume that human beings would know about a problem for billions of years, never develop technology, and never attempt to deal with that problem. I'm not going to try to predict the apocalypse. I'm going to try to predict problems that we may face in the next 10-50 years, problems which are going to take some thought process to get around or solve. I may be totally wrong, but the future is always a fun thing to predict. I mean, hoverboards are supposed to be invented this month.
Problem Prediction #1: Automation Consumer Crash
Oh, I'm already off to the scary stuff. Have you seen CGP Grey's video "Humans Need Not Apply"? It's a good video. In it, he uses logic that says that robots will replace all/most human labor--everything from service jobs to creative jobs. This would lead to increasing unemployment. It's also an unsustainable problem. If robots worked for every company, and companies didn't hire people, then people would have no money and not be able to buy things from the company. And it's not like "companies need to be smart and use less automatons" because the ones that don't will lose to the companies that are, and we will arrive at this problem. Normally, more technology means more jobs (overall rise in productivity means people can produce more stuff and afford more stuff)
So... what exactly happens in this situation? Where no one has money to buy anything? And it's still cheaper to keep the robots around than to hire people. Well, obviously, first it's going to cause a lot of problems with increasing unemployment. That's a given. This scenario will change a lot about the way we think of modern society as we know it. Best case scenario, it would lead us to a post-scarcity society. Worst case scenario, it would lead to all-out class warfare. Somewhere in the middle, it will change the idea of what money is and what it's for. It's a logically strange problem and I don't know exactly how it would turn out, but if people are right about robots replacing all jobs, this is something we should be more worried about than the rampant unemployment. And yes, this problem would also affect big CEO's too. I mean, if no one is buying their stuff they lose out. If they use human employees, they lose out.
Remember one thing that CGP Grey said is that the car made horses obsolete. That may be true, but automation of almost all kinds is designed to benefit humans in some way. Cars weren't made to benefit horses the way that automatons are meant to benefit humans (even specific humans).
Problem Prediction #2: Population Problems
Every environmentalist has said and continues to say that overpopulation is going to be a huge problem and we should have as few kids as possible. Congratulations, you've succeeded. Now the birth rate in many countries is at an all time low. While overpopulation causes a lot of environmental problems, underpopulation/a birth rate below replacement level causes a lot of societal problems. Replacement level is 2.1 children per family, or... something that almost no modernized country is currently at.
It's wonderful for the environment. It's terrible for government and societal programs like state pensions. Those programs absolutely depend on the next generation being larger than the previous. Of course, when most of the voters are the recipients of state pensions... it's not going to be pretty. Not to mention how badly places with universal health care might be hit, where most of its recipients have been retired. Of course it'll take time for us to get to this stage. Population decrease doesn't happen immediately, and it's lauded as a good thing by pretty much everyone. And yeah, it's a good thing, if it's done slow and steady... not all at once.
It also has other sociological effects that bode for interesting problems. For example, it's frequently the young people who fight in all of the wars. By pure fighting power, the country with the lowest birth rates may find itself a target from countries that keep higher birth rates. Also, the values that get passed down tend to be from the people who are reproducing, namely religious people.
We can see some of the effects of a population below replacement level in Japan already. Young people spend a lot more and a lot more recklessly than older people. Without this, an economy slumps leading to further stagnation. So, a low birth rate means great things for the environment, but it makes it harder for a country to defend itself--in military or in economy.
This is a problem that we're going to continually have to deal with, possibly forever. Too high of a population is obviously bad. We use up too much of the Earth's resources and do massive environmental damage. Too low of a population is also a problem. Both problems need to be dealt with, while not completely ignoring the other. We need to keep the birth rate close to replacement level, because too far in either direction can cause numerous problems.
People already know how to solve this problem. To lower population, you need widespread birth control and sex education. To raise population, you need to make having children look more attractive to young women and men, and you need to allow immigration on a large level. Each of these measures is controversial in its own right, especially right now with what's going on in Europe. Either you're going to be hearing about this problem a lot in the near future, or you won't hear it at all until it's too late.
Problem Prediction #3: Privacy vs. Convenience
Between you and me, privacy... may be a thing of the past in the next few years. The most obvious problem: we need to think long and hard about how much we value privacy. Both governments and corporations are eroding it all the time. Most people understand this. Not everyone seems to have a problem with that though. They hang onto the "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear." That makes sense, most people signing over their privacy to Google didn't live through the Cold War with its Red Scare.
I'm going to be totally honest, my side is that I value privacy from both corporations and the government over convenience. Mass surveillance is dangerous. Wire tapping and internet tracking to fight terrorism, ironically can benefit the terrorists quite a lot. If say... North Korea managed to get control of NSA programs... my theory is that would be VERY bad.
Remember when Sony was hacked? If it's so easy for criminals to get our information, how hard would it be for legitimate threats that want to do legitimate damage? In England, people are caught on CCTV cameras up to 70 times each day... for your safety. Google Chrome keeps your entire browsing history (even if you delete it)... for your convenience.
Even if that sounds crazy paranoid and delusional (it's not, really), we still need to worry about the very real threat of cyber criminals. Identity theft, hacking, doxxing/swatting. When a slander website is able to hack into someone's amazon history, these programs are no longer for our convenience. My prediction is that if we don't have an honest discussion about our right to privacy now, we'll never be allowed to in the future, because "Anyone who wants to do so, is clearly a terrorist." I already feel like a conspiracy nut for talking about this, and that's not a good sign.
Privacy is very valuable, and it's more valuable than the little seconds Google is trying to save me when predicting what I'm looking for. Yeah, I never thought that Google search would scare me before, but when it knows what I'm searching before I do, that can give me a little bit of cause for alarm.
Problem Prediction #4: Apathy Crisis
Let's be honest: You don't care. You don't give a shit. You don't care about terrorists or oppressive governments or climate change or unemployment. Less people than ever before are voting. Most people are completely unaware of world current events. There's the perception that "your vote doesn't count." Oddly enough, the more people who believe that and don't vote, the less true it actually is. It's weird, isn't it? We are more visible than ever. The amount of people who listen and actually care about our opinions today have been enough to start full fledged revolutions in the past.
While this may seem like a good thing for oppressive governments, as long as they even claim to be a democracy, it's bad. Things tend... not to move at all, and the one thing that everyone can agree on is that everything is bad right now (even though that's not really the case). That's why countries like Australia have implemented mandatory voting. The problem is that... you can force people to vote, but you can't force them to actually care about it. And yes, that can be dangerous: if you force people who do not care to vote, or even give census, you may end up with something like Jedi being the second most common religion in your country.
It's called an "Attention Economy" (and a near-world view). World events have to compete with our fun electronics and cheap entertainment. And unfortunately the real world doesn't follow narrative structures quickly enough to be dramatic to a mass audience. No one talks about crazy dictatorships while they're forming because it takes dozens of years.
For something to have a better shot at competing in the attention economy, it does better if it's immediate, authentic, personal, and accessible. Any given news station will fail at least one of these--immediate or authentic. If they're reporting immediately they have to give some kind of speculation. If they wait until they get all of the facts, people won't give a shit anymore.
Getting people to care about something has been a problem that's been silently plaguing us for awhile. It makes media, education, and politics far less effective than it actually needs to be. Even waiting until people are right in the middle of events that they could have seen coming and done something to prevent isn't enough because of the boiling frog effect. If you slowly boil the water, the frog will not notice until he's already boiling in the pot.
The only people who have effectively been trying to counter this are corporations trying to make more and more obtrusive ads... which do not work. I don't know the answer on how to get people engaged. When every single person has a louder voice than any time in history, the whole world has gone deaf. Why is this a problem? Because every other item on this list no one will give a shit about until it's too late unless the crisis of apathy is solved.
Problem Prediction #5: Educational Crisis
I've made it no secret that our current model of education--at least here in the United States--bodes a lot of problems. Let's start with the one that isn't controversial: Student Loan Debt. It exists, and it's a major problem. Student Loans have passed mortgages and credit card debt in sheer magnitude. Why is that? Because for-profit schools are dicks, people who are better at other life routes are forced into this, you can't get rid of student loans through bankruptcy in the United States, degrees that give no earning power, and the entire situation treating college like the end of the road instead of another step along the way.
So, first of all, I've heard people saying that this is like the housing bubble. It has some things in common, but it's not. In the housing bubble, when you couldn't pay back your mortgage, your bank could foreclose on your house. No matter what--if you never pay back a loan, if your school is discovered to be a scam, and they hand you a piece of toilet paper in the end--there is nothing physical that someone can take back from you. That's why you'll suffer less damage if you get money from the mob than a student loan, because there are all kinds of ways to get their money.
I'm not saying that this is the case, but what if education is like housing where people falsely believe that the value of an object is continuing to rise. What problems would this cause? Well, one problem would be major default. People wouldn't be able to pay off their loans and banks would go under (or they'd get another bailout and the country would suffer from over-inflation). Massive unemployment is the bottom line. There'd be a lot of disillusionment with education. It would be very bad.
Let's talk about what is undoubtedly happening though. Tuition costs are going up, far faster than they should. This is putting unnecessary strain on people who are in poverty. Going to college and succeeding may be the only way they can escape poverty. But they can't do it without putting themselves in a major financial risk. Even government grants and scholarships might not be enough, especially if a school loses its accreditation. Colleges and universities are treating students more like customers and their facilities more like a business, thus lowering the effectiveness of said education.
If tuition and student loans keep increasing like they do, something. will. break. What happens when a career where you need a degree cannot pay for that degree? The first place that will be hit is definitely teaching. We may have certain jobs that find themselves in extreme shortages for talent. Or, alternatively, people will abandon colleges in this country and start attending universities in other countries. This would probably raise tuition, making the problem worse.
Lower education has one major problem: it's contributing to an innovation crisis. The country that will lead the world is the country that can innovate the best--not the one that judges all kids by absolute fill-in-the-bubble answers, and sends them all on the same path. In the current model, you could end up going to college for four years to be the perfect worker with a business degree for the CEO who never attended college and in that time started his own business.
If we fail to innovate, we FAIL. There is no other way around it. The country that fails to innovate loses any competition that it will ever face. Our current education models practically demonize innovation and creativity. We have to rethink things. You could spend four years getting a computing degree only to learn that computers have moved on four years when you actually get into the world. Or, worse case scenario, your degree could end up being like a telecommunications degree in the mid 90's. Our current models of education can only focus on the way the world was, not the way it is, and it doesn't even comprehend the way our world WILL be.
Problem Prediction #6: Scientific Accessibility
One of the most difficult thing that scientists have to do is explain to the average person its theories. For example, The Big Bang. Since you obviously can't replicate it, scientist, what's your proof for the Big Bang? "Cosmic Background Radiation." Alright, now can you explain it to a non-scientist please? "Well, back in the beginning of the universe, everything was very hot" And you know this because...? It goes on this way until the average person there asking the questions is considered a religious zealot and a denier. Rule one of a theory, if you can't explain it to someone, they won't believe it.
With the Big Bang, it doesn't really matter if people think it's true or not. More important are things like Global Warming, which is important for people to know and "believe" in. It's on the onus of the scientific community to make the knowledge accessible and legible. Or else you'll get people looking at a snowy day and laughing about global warming. For example, global warming states that CO2 is the leading greenhouse gas. Most people learn in school that CO2 is necessary for plants to "breathe" and create oxygen. Both of these things can be very true, simultaneously, but it's up to you to explain it. Or else people will think you're lying.
A lot of environmentalists claim that our over-use of the environment is going to end the world within ten years. And when the world doesn't end, people will tune out more and more environmental messages. Not every person who questions a scientific theory is in the same group as the nutbars who think vaccines cause autism. There are some people who think that seeing cosmic background radiation proves the big bang like the virgin Mary on a piece of toast proves God. And treating that person with an elitist attitude is going to be more likely to believe that the two things are of equal validity.
Remember, scientific elitism lead to people laughing at germ theory. If you think people demonize vaccines now, imagine how they felt when they first came out. The concept can be scary to the average person: injecting them with a lesser form of a disease still sounds like injecting them with a disease.
I understand that this can be difficult. Knowledge works like this: The more you know, the more questions you have. If you shine a flashlight on a piece of paper very close up, the light is small. However, imagine each inch of darkness around that circle as a question. The light is knowledge. If you pull the flashlight away, the circle grows--you have more questions. You couldn't have had those questions before because you didn't have the knowledge necessary. The best thing for science is to get people to ask questions.
Many countries in the world are cutting science budgets. Despite its power to cure diseases, bring us to new worlds, develop new technology, and fight problems that we can't possibly imagine many people aren't seeing its validity. And yes, it is interconnected to the other problems. You can believe that everyone in the world's an idiot, but bad things start happening when you believe that they want to be an idiot.
Remember, while growing up, my class was repeatedly told that there were nine planets, from Mercury to Pluto. Many people today believe that Pluto still is a planet. This affects people's perception of science. Once completely certain facts being inaccurate causes people to distrust science, or stick to the facts that were once upon a time "true." Unfortunately a lot of science is based on theory, and we may one day have a better theory aided by better technology that puts our most vital theories and understanding of the universe in the same boat as geocentrism. (Like I don't know, finding life on a planet that's nothing like Earth at all [without water, air, etc]). You could lie to people that that isn't true, but every time our fundamental understanding of anything is challenged, you're staking the reputation of science itself, instead of just that theory. More, now than ever, people need to trust science and scientific achievement and that is obtained by making things open, accessible, and honest.
And that's about it
I've left out all of the ones that you've probably heard about before. You know, transhumanism creating cyborg warfare, something like all-out nuclear war, a deadly super bug, terrorism, governments increasingly trying to control people, people becoming increasingly radicalized. And there's probably good stuff too, but you're still not going to get your hoverboard.
I see neither utopia or dystopia in the future. I see problems coming up and people dealing with them, like it is now and how it's always been throughout history. People like to rage on about Armageddon right around the corner, and even my most pessimistic predictions don't get anywhere close to that. A robotic AI revolution presumes that someone is stupid enough to create a bunch of super intelligent robots with no failsafe mass produced without testing. Like I said, the sun killing the Earth/boiling it assumes that humans will do nothing while sitting on the knowledge of a major problem for a billion years. Which isn't going to happen. We collectively spent 60 million dollars in the 90's trying to fix the Y2k bug before it happened, which may or may have not lead to all-out nuclear war. Speaking of that, a country using nuclear weapons would have to be stupid and insane to use them, and even stupid crazy people can understand the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction. Remember, there's only one trait shared by all of humanity throughout all of history--they want to survive.
The most likely cause of apocalypse on Earth is the scenario we cannot currently imagine. It most likely involves technology not invented yet for purposes that we can't comprehend at present comprehend. We are like a person in 1800's London, who doesn't know about the capabilities of computing and doesn't know he doesn't know that. When looking into the future, it's incredibly important to understand this: there are things that we don't know that we don't know.
I think I should write science fiction.
Listening to: The Script
Reading: Episode plots
Watching: Rick and Morty
Playing: The Sims 3
Eating: Too much sugar
Drinking: Too much sugar