And still, not a word about jetpacks.
Assuming humanity makes it past December 21 this year (fingers crossed, guys!), we will all keep moving inexorably towards a future that seems to take on the appearance of a pulp science fiction novel more and more with each passing decade. What will the world look like in, say, 2030? With things as they are in the world, that question seems sort of horrifying. Luckily for us, the United States government has seen fit to ask the assorted smart people at the National Intelligence Council (NIC) to sit down and have a good, long think about it so that we don’t have to. Their answers, presented for the most part in a report titled Global Trends 2030, are awe-inspiring and spine-chilling in equal measure. Also, there are a lot of cyborgs.
According to the NIC, our planet in 2030 will look like something J.G. Ballard and Neal Stephenson dreamed up while poring over old Philip K. Dick ideas and listening to selected dialogue from Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Many of their predictions for the state of human life have to do with recent advances in prosthetics and neurosurgery which are enabling people to overcome disabilities and injuries at a faster rate than ever before.
“As replacement limb technology advances, people may choose to enhance their physical selves as they do with cosmetic surgery today. Future retinal eye implants could enable night vision, and neuro-enhancements could provide superior memory recall or speed of thought,” writes the NIC. “Brain-machine interfaces could provide ‘superhuman’ abilities, enhancing strength and speed, as well as providing functions not previously available.”
Dipping its toes in the blue-hued Dances with Pocahontas worldview for a moment, the document continues, “Augmented reality systems can provide enhanced experiences of real-world situations. Combined with advances in robotics, avatars could provide feedback in the form of sensors providing touch and smell as well as aural and visual information to the operator.”
What’s even more interesting is that the NIC thinks some of these advanced pieces of kit could be constructed using digital printing. “By 2030, manufacturers may be able to combine some electrical components (such as electrical circuits, antennae, batteries, and memory) with structural components in one build, but integration with printed electronics manufacturing equipment will be necessary,” reads the report. “Though printing of arteries or simple organs may be possible by 2030, bioprinting of complex organs will require significant technological breakthroughs.”
So far, this future doesn’t sound all that inhospitable to me. But as we all know, for every silver lining, there is a cloud. For every every cute pet, a dress coat covered in fur. For every amazing household robot, a Skynet-based overthrow and ultimate enslavement of humanity.
“Advances in synthetic biology also have the potential to be a double-edged sword and become a source of lethal weaponry accessible to do-it-yourself biologists or biohackers,” warns the NIC, expanding its point to add that while open-source bio-brick schemes are great learning and research tools, they could be a little too open for their own good. “This will be particularly true as technology becomes more accessible on a global basis and, as a result, makes it harder to track, regulate, or mitigate bioterror if not ‘bioerror,'” says the report.
While this is fascinating, I’m pleased to report that these predictions for medicine and proto-Adam Jensens are barely scratching the surface of the overall body of Global Trends 2030. If you want to read more, the NIC has made a seriously sizeable “snapshot” of the whole thing available here, for free. There’s a small mountain of posts on geopolitics, security, demographics, and energy, featuring questions as wide as “will we see a new unemployable class [in the age of robotics]?” and “can we predict which megacities are most vulnerable to epidemics?” If you’ve got the time, it’s more than worth a look. Given the exponential rate at which our technologies have been growing of late, none of the predictions are as insane as they might first appear; the vast majority of them provide excellent, high-quality brain food.
Then again, if you’re more like me, you could instead spend the time watching Gattaca and whimpering as the world speeds away from you with a velocity you never imagined possible. Up to you, really.