Predictions for 2050

Via a link from Scott Alexander: Futurists have their heads in the clouds

The problem with futurists is they trend toward being sci-fi writers without the plot. Consider the recent The Age of Em, by Robin Hanson, in which he predicts that “roughly within a century” human civilization will be composed mostly of uploaded digital minds. Robin Hanson is a very smart person, but this is a terribly bad prediction. …

If you want to predict the future accurately, you should be an incrementalist and accept that human nature doesn’t change along most axes. Meaning that the future will look a lot like the past.

To see what I mean more specifically: 2050, that super futuristic year, is only 29 years out, so it is exactly the same as predicting what the world would look like today back in 1992.

Wow, I paused at that point. It’s really strange to think that 2050 is fewer than 30 years away. Once again, I remember figuring out as a kid how old I’d be in the year 2000 and thinking that was so far away. 2050 doesn’t seem far away at all when I think about it now.

I’m not into predictions. I mean, I’m not into trying to make my own predictions! I’m perfectly happy to read other people’s serious predictions. I like this post because I agree that human nature doesn’t change (obviously) and that this is important.

So this is a guy named Erik Hoel, whom I don’t know anything about except that some of his predictions make me feel a little better about the near future, some make me feel significantly worse, and most of them seem fairly plausible.

Not sure about his first prediction, though. Here it is:

1. There will be a Martian colony.
This might seem to contradict my point to be conservative, but I think we can make this judgement precisely by extrapolating the incredible progress in the private space sector over the last decade. By 2050 there will be an established and growing civilian presence on Mars—a city on the Red Planet. Founded by a joint-company consortium in terms of the actual ships and structures, it will also have NASA and other national space programs’ support. The whole world will watch in excitement and its development will be covered closely by Earth press, though there is already early controversy over the privatized nature of it. Jobs on Mars will be mainly either science, construction, or tourism. But the first city will experience surprisingly explosive economic growth, adding population in a way no Earth city is at the time. It’s very possible someone you know right now will be living on Mars by 2050. …

That seems wildly optimistic to me. On the other hand, who knows? Hoel is probably following this stuff far more closely than I am, since I’m not following it at all.

Here’s another. I’ll just pull out the part that would matter the most to me:

3. AI will be the most futuristic impactful change in day-to-day life. … The worst hit will be artists like writers, painters, poets, and musicians, who will have to deal with a total saturation of artistic content by AI. By 2050 much of the words you read and content you consume will be generated by an AI

So, that wouldn’t be good. The link goes to a post examining the output of an AI when it’s “trained” to write a novel. That post is also worth a look.

Here is the final prediction in its entirety:

17. People and culture will become boring.
Ultimately, this soft totalitarianism will be more like contemporary China’s and less like Stalinist Russian. There will not be obvious gulags or firing squads in the streets, although eventually there may be disappearances or jail time. The “gestapo” will mostly just ban you, cancel you, fire you, and lower your social credit score; essentially it will be a caste system. Being boring will become a survival trait. And look around. It already has. All socially risky behavior is on the decline, and has been in the decade since social media and the introduction of the smart phone. People in 2050 will have less sex, do less drugs, have less affairs, smoke less, and conform more in their opinions. Creativity will decline in correlation. The panopticon of social media and state control will lead to cultural stagnation. We already see early hints of this. Consider the remakes of older movies: 2050 will be a stew of remakes of remakes, and familiar and boring intellectual property (like Star Wars) will be king. Creativity vivacity will suffer, especially in the arts and humanities. The coming half-century will be a great one for innovations in finance, engineering, space travel, and artificial intelligence. It will be a terrible one for the arts and basic scientific advancements (like a new physics), for such advancements require iconoclastic and creative lone individuals. This prediction is already augured by judging the 2000-2020 creative period overall in areas like art, music, literature, film, and scientific discoveries, and finding it severely lacking compared to, say, 1950-1970.

I find this prediction … hmm. I guess I have to say I find this particular prediction disturbingly believable.

Click through, if you wish, and see what prediction you find most believable, if any; and which least believable. Taken as a whole, do you think this is generally optimistic view of where we’ll be in thirty years, or a generally pessimistic view, or both, or neither? I would say both.

I’m also pausing here to remind myself that thirty years is nothing. Whatever is going on in a hundred years will take place in a very different world compared to whatever we see in 2050. On the other hand, I’m not likely to see that world, and barring catastrophe, I’m very likely to see 2050.

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2 thoughts on “Predictions for 2050”

  1. A 2050 Martian colony doesn’t seem unlikely to me; unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the prediction it will undergo explosive demographic and economic growth. But starting with a nice prediction is good form.

    We’re in uncharted territory as far as the final prediction goes: there’s nothing quite like the aspiring totalitarianism that currently surrounds us. But history offers at least some grounds for hope: there’s precedent for actual hard totalitarianism disappearing more thoroughly and much, much more rapidly than I would have expected in the abstract (or, for that matter, actually did expect in 1989).

  2. Oh, and I own _The Age of Em_, and yes it’s terrible. Hanson tries to ground his predictions in real economics and sociology, as well as extrapolated science, but he doesn’t seem to grasp the implications of different parts of society interacting with each other.

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