Will humanity make it to year 3000 on Earth, and what will it be like?
With a year of hindsight, having written this sentence in June 2019 is amusing:
“A major pandemic could set the world back a decade or more.”
Now, Covid-19 is merely a middling pandemic, and it may even work as a social-technological vaccine to make future pandemics less severe. As a prediction it’s not prescience, it’s science.
Will humanity make it to year 3000 on Earth, and what will it be like?
A thousand years is an interesting time span. From many perspectives it isn’t really that long, but it is far too long for others.
Based on known risks, the really cataclysmic ones, those that might exterminate us as a species, are fairly rare. Based on what we know today, it would be very unlikely that we wouldn’t be around in the year 3000. There certainly would be bad times, but some of us would get through it.
That leaves unknown risks. Highest among those would be technology. What if someone came up with a truly deadly weapon. A virus perhaps, or man-hunting robot dogs, or what have you? Would it be used? Would anyone survive? Or maybe there is a sentinel extraterrestrial intelligence that might exterminate us for their own protection. Or maybe we would discover something that ended us as a species. We wouldn’t know, these would be new risks. Most of these seem very unlikely though, even more unlikely than the known risks, so my bet is that we would still be here.
So what would here be like? The world in the year 3000 would probably be strange, but not unrecognisable. It is so long that we cannot begin to guess where the years will take us. We can’t discount a transhuman existence beyond what we could know, but the road to here has been snakes and ladders, slow progress with fairly abrupt events setting us back decades or centuries.
We can tell with high confidence that 2050 will be roughly like today. All the technology that will dominate 2050 already exists in crude form today. We don’t know exactly how they will play out, nor the social and political factors, but barring disaster we would have a fairly good grip on the demographics.
Using scenarios we could extend this to the year 2100. We wouldn’t know which scenarios that would play out, but still we would have a rough idea.
Developments that will have begun before 2100 but finish after:
Climate control: This will largely play out in 2. half of 21st century, but the after-effects will remain in the 22nd, particularly in the less optimistic scenarios
Abundant energy: More energy, more opportunities. Most of the 21st century will be about how to produce more energy for basic needs with less side-effects. By 2100 we will start to have “surplus” energy for new purposes.
Reuse economy: All resources will be reused indefinitely. This requires technology and energy, particularly the latter will be a restraint in the 21st century.
Population control: The worry about population explosion in 1970s will be replaced with the worry about population implosion in 2020s. The population will do neither, but by 2100 technology would make it much easier to have children.
Urbanisation and deurbanisation; The current trend towards urbanisation will continue, cities will be nicer, but it will be countered by a technology-fuelled deurbanisation trend (telepresence etc). Even so 2100 will be considerably more urban than 2000.
Death of the nation state: The world of 2100 will still be one of nation states, but probably not the world of 2200. Even in 2100 they will be much weaker, other organisations will take over, be they corporations, associations or regional networks, but particularly city states.
Continents will unite: As William Gibson wrote, the future is unevenly distributed. Europe dominated the 19th century, North America the 20th, Asia the 21st, with Africa on its tail end. Optimistic scenario the geographical difference between continents will fade by 2100, your success in life will not depend much on where you are born. This is a risky prediction, many disasters could make geography the most important factor, but if this does not happen by 2100, it will happen later..
Psychology will become a science: We are starting to know how the brain works. By 2100 we will really know how it works, and how we can make it work differently.
We will learn the secrets of our past: History changes as fast as brain science. By 2100 we will have reconstructed the world from first life to now. We will be able to identify with some reliability most people who have ever lived, and what some of them did. We will have made some very good stabs at the nature of reality itself. Religion will still exist, but mostly for the eccentric.
Machines will disappear: As technology advances it fades into the background. Early machines will be in our faces, “Look at me, I am a machine!”, but as they are getting more clever they will be nowhere to be seen. Instead they will seemingly enhance our bodies and minds, and animate the world around us.
But they will conquer space: The interplanetary internet will have covered much of the planetary system by 2100 and will keep spreading fast, even moving into interstellar space. Space tourism will still be a thing for the rich, and there will be token science colonies over the place, but space (and the planets) is a machine’s world. Telepresence means that anyone can “be there”, but the lag will be ugly.
We will live longer, healthier, and probably happier: If we posit a “Moore’s law for humans”, our life expectancy increases with about 5 years per generation. It will mostly apply to the people who now die young in their 60s and 70s are going to die in their 80s and 90s, but there will be life extension on the high end as well, the oldest will get even older.
Now for the bad news: Like an earthquake we don’t know where the bad news will happen, but we know that it will happen. There will be more wars and conflicts. Some will happen in Asia due to shifts in balance of power, more and finally most will happen in Africa, with the youngest population. As African countries become bigger, richer, and more powerful these conflicts will matter more to the rest of the world. There will be disasters. A major pandemic could set the world back a decade or more. Maybe the greatest risk would be if 21st century technology cemented inequality between the richests&most powerful and the rest. Technology-enhanced feudalism is hard to undo.
OK, this was one century, only nine more to go… We can predict possible solutions and outcomes of our current problems. Future problems are harder to predict.
We would likely keep living longer. That would make us more risk-averse. It would also lead to power relationships lasting longer. Even powerful people die, a century from now 15–25 years later, further on they might not die at all.
Our population 2100 should be around 11 billions. In the year 2200 it might be 5 billions or 50 billions, we don’t know how they will be thinking, but as disease and death by old age will be obsolete the population is unlikely to shrink thereafter.
Mid-22nd century most people could go into space if they want to, but we don’t know if they would. Terraforming planets would take time, even with future technology. Even in this century humans will be enhanced, and so will our playthings. We can’t know how this will play out. We might be headed for a post-capitalist society, or pressing needs will let us stick with what works a little longer.
Part II: The latter years (2120–2999) will eventually come to a century near you.