This article originally appeared in Techonomy’s recent print and PDF magazine to help illustrate our TE15 conference theme, “Re-Humanizing Society.”
Towards the end of 2015, our world was in turmoil. Instability, fear, and anxiety dominated the global dialogue. A growing sea of refugees overwhelmed Europe and we were close to the point of no return with climate change that threatened to suffocate the planet (if an asteroid didn’t get us first). Cyber-crime, espionage and war raised geopolitical tensions.
The escalating clash of tradition with tech-led innovation contributed to a global atmosphere of pressure and spiritual collision. The tribe of young, global tech-lovers were butting head-on into centuries of deeply held, firmly entrenched religious, institutional and cultural practices. Only one global leader, the Pope, carried much weight with citizens around the world. Optimists were rare. Anxiety reigned.
It wasn’t until about 2028 that new heroes in interplanetary exploration and genetic innovation began to refocus the entire planet on real possibilities for a better world.
By 2044, “pollution” was no longer a problem, primarily because technological advances had rendered it an impossibility. Industries and infrastructures previously based on fossil fuels gave way to fusion and superconductive, large-scale power systems. Nano-scale, self-regenerating fuel cells were embedded in nearly every material. We could convert noise pollution, manipulating sound waves, so it was harmlessly absorbed by the surroundings. Ship turbines no longer disturbed ocean migration patterns. Earth was returning to something resembling a pre-industrial age ecosystem, in which all species could thrive.
All cities were rural. All farms were urban. The distinction between the two grew meaningless, and their pleasures became interchangeable. Food production (organic and synthetic) was mostly local.
We were well into the shift towards a political, social and economically borderless society, led and governed by the well-tested and wisest citizens (human, AI, and cyborg). They were in continuous contact with their constituencies through our planetary inter-sensory grid. Global economic interconnection and shared-reality systems made war almost inconceivable.
Politics had evolved into applied ethics, an information and engineering-based art, enhanced and constrained by a profoundly intrusive but ideologically benign interconnectedness.
As early as 2028, society had gained confidence in genetic editing and selecting personal enhancements. We started to achieve control over the design and maintenance of our bodies, our moods, and our general well being. Intellectual, physical, and neurological interventions began as global fads and soon became routine. Most major diseases were eradicated, programmed out of the human race by manipulating DNA.
Human reproduction was no longer left to chance as a by-product of sexual accident. Every child was a conscious and deliberate creation. Everyone had the means and motivation to be good parents.
By mid-century, remaining inequalities were neurological, with human potential and performance disproportionately affected by still relatively rare and high-cost personalized neuro-technologies and human-machine interfaces.
Finally our species began to achieve the intellectual, philosophical, and moral potential that for so many decades only resolute optimists had believed possible.
The arts now touch us in ways unimaginable to our predecessors, enhancing and reinforcing the best of humankind. Music evolved from evoking emotions to composing with emotions that morph into experiences. Old-fashioned human creativity and curiosity continue to improve how we relate, complementing the knowledge we gain from the knowledge markets. BioArtists have replaced the medical profession. The lifeforms we discover in deep space serve as new and exotic models for continuing bio-transformation.
In the ‘20s information technology became truly mobile. We moved beyond software that simply anticipated needs to a shared-reality system with absolute knowledge of needs. Our “devices” were micro-implanted. The “intel inside” was true intelligence, gleaned from nanoscopic sensors coursing through our bodies.
In 2040 the process of enhanced human evolution took a further leap when neurologists and engineers created total “sensory mobility,” allowing individuals to “be” wherever they wanted, whenever they wished. Trivially inexpensive new energy sources helped underpin this system.
Our only obstacle to faster progress had been the lack of a reliable global inter-sensory grid, the ultimate “Internet of Things,” connecting our senses to whatever we wanted to do or feel. Without it we had limited collective empathy. By 2045 the grid became good enough to serve as the heart of our interconnected polity.
With access now considered a basic right for all living things, we are able to be anywhere at any time. All primitive systems of transportation have been relegated to museums. Faster-than-light propulsion systems, long feasible but impractical, will soon power our starships.
Agrarians have the health of the planet well in hand and global competition and conflicts are things of the past. Those are reserved for off-planet issues. The tensions at the Mars settlement remain unresolved. The mining conglomerates face criticism for having taken control of so many asteroids.
Our opportunities, responsibilities, and challenges now extend well beyond our planet, becoming intergalactic.
Some things of course don’t change. We remember the global rush of disbelief when what we thought was the “new Apple headquarters” one day lifted off, seamlessly and with total grace, headed towards the heavens, overtaking the SpaceX Tesla on the way towards Pluto. Then we realized that this had been planned all along.
We know there is intelligent life in other parts of the galaxy. But they may be avoiding us, since we’re still not evolved enough to be of much consequence.