Vox.com asked 15 experts in their fields to predict in 2070, i.e. 50 years from now, what will we look back at that we are doing today and think, “WTF were we thinking?”. They use as an example, the idea of smoking from back in 1964, and the dramatic falls in smoking rates. Jim Crow-segregation laws. Or drinking and driving. As we learn, as we evolve in our thinking if not in our society, what will we drop by the wayside? The full article can be found at: https://www.vox.com/2019/3/27/18226563/50-years-wrong-side-of-history-future-prediction
I went through the list, and here is my reaction:
- Eliminating youth tackle football. Generally, I agree, although like the article points out, the issue is more about head trauma and collisions. So it won’t likely be just tackle football, but heading soccer balls, contact hockey, etc. We’re pretty close to it now, I don’t think it will take 50 years. On the flip side, we are also putting kids in a bubble and I think that will decrease — we’ll balance out where the REAL dangers lie, and it won’t be in banning lawn darts or making them wear a helmet to go on a trampoline. We’ll figure it out, and the big dangers will get eliminated, and some of the smaller ones will be shown to have been overkill reactions with no real reduction in risk.
- Eliminating bosses and wage labor. Well, we started off strong, and then we went into the utopian toilet. The argument, such as it is, is that we will be able to self-govern, elect our own managers and pay a tax for the use of the space, rather than being exploited by a boss or company overlord. Uh-huh. Sure, and the proof is that cooperatives are so much more productive (albeit on small scales) and we have universal social services. Really? We do? Around the world? Everywhere? I don’t think so, Sparky. I suspect that we’ll have the ability to put our consciousness in robot bodies before we eliminate capitalism and wage labor. It might look different, but the format won’t change much.
- Eliminating eating meat. The expert’s argument is that it is unethical, but offers absolutely no path that would lead to the enlightenment they suggest will happen. It is merely their wish, based on their own views of the current practices. They even note the size of the industry, but with nothing to offer to counteract it. The one sole fact offered that might lead to an awakening is the contribution of animal agriculture to climate change. By extrapolation, if climate change becomes a clear and present danger, and animal agriculture is seen as a major contributor, it would therefore be ripe for reduction. I tend to agree, but for totally different reasons. Labs are synthesizing things at record rates, including 3D printing organs. While I don’t think we’ll be at the Star Trek “replicator” stage in 50 years, it seems unlikely we’ll be doing anything like today rather than simply replicating it in a lab. And with price differentials, people will switch to save money (or because it eventually becomes the only thing available). Fresh veggies will be hard to replicate, but something that tastes like chicken or beef? They’re already there in trials.
- Eliminating conspicuous consumption. The theory is that people won’t spend their money on “things” in ways that stand out, and I tend to agree. But more from a “falling prices due to technology” rationale that certain things will not be terribly different from a quality perspective…you’ll be able to get the same tech in your cheap phone as in your expensive phone, for instance. The same building materials in your housing construction. However, I think there will still be two conspicuous differences — travel and services. For those who can afford it, they’ll either be able to travel large distances rapidly (think being able to live in the mountains but work in a city when needed, with only a 20 minute commute) or they’ll be able to afford to live in relative proximity to where they work (i.e. e-commute, if that’s even a term or they’ll just work anywhere). That isn’t likely to change from what exists now, it will just expand as technology expands. Secondly, I think people will pay for expensive services like high-speed travel to vacation destinations for a two-day holiday in the Caribbean, like going to a cottage. Or trips to a lunar base. Everybody may be able to do it, but the rich will do it faster and in more luxury.
- Eliminating the drug war. This one is pretty confusing, but if I understand the weak argument, it is that drug regulation works but prohibition doesn’t. So fifty years from now, we’ll see that prohibition of anything is silly and therefore we should just regulate it and focus our enforcement efforts when it is diverted from the legal supply chain. The part that is confusing is the argument that the opioid epidemic argues somehow in favour of this. Except that is what we have now. Regulations of opioids, not outright prohibition. You can’t get them legally for recreational use, no, but even regulating them for medical use has failed. So the solution is to follow alcohol, tobacco and weed into the regulatory world so anyone can legally buy heroin. WTF? Umm, how about not too freaking likely? Far MORE likely is the development of alternative drugs that produce similar highs but without the addictive side effects, or that can be counteracted easily. Personally, I suspect there is more to be accomplished in this regard with light and sound, and maybe touch, than with pharmaceuticals, or some combination of the four.
- Eliminating how we currently treat dying people. I suspect the person is on to something here, which is no great extrapolation from what we already see. People talk more and more about dying with dignity. And as modern health care and preventative medicine put the 100 year life within reach more easily, I suspect there is more likelihood of bodies outliving the functional mind. In the end, no pun intended, I suspect we’ll still see a spectrum of options…doing everything medically possible to prolong life, transitioning to a mix of intervention and palliative support, and a proactive palliative approach that allows people to choose their timing and manner of death.
- Eliminating bans on sex work. I’m on the fence on this one, mainly because there is little policy evidence either way. Most of the argument is based on short-term studies or anecdotes that suggest regulation will provide more protection and end exploitation. And I might be willing to buy that argument if the sex industry was more gender-neutral in its numbers. But it would still be a predominantly female industry servicing male needs, kind of hard to see that as anything other than discriminatory and exploitative. I simply don’t know, and I don’t think any of the so-called experts do either. They have theory and belief, but not enough past that yet.
- Eliminating voluntary self-funded retirement funds. Technically the argument isn’t that they should be eliminated entirely but rather that they shouldn’t have been allowed to replace mandatory savings for retirement. In the US, they have 401(K)s, in Canada more RRSPs. And they’re not wrong about the inadequacy of the measures. Even in Canada, the classic assumption that you would pay for your retirement through three means — 33% federal retirement support (i.e. CPP), 33% personal retirement investments, and 33% savings — is not that credible any more. The savings portion of course includes things like real estate holdings, and the federal pension is present, but people are not reaching sufficiently high-enough levels in personal retirement savings to cover that aspect for their final days. And when the final days stretch from age 65 now to 85, 90, 95, 100 or more, that money needs to stretch farther and farther. Most Canadians and Americans are not reaching the savings levels needed to get there. The proposal in the article is to eliminate the 401(K)s and RRSP-like tools, and instead focus attention on boosting the universal pension. The cost of doing so is enormous, and might work for those who are age 25 now and would dip in at age 65. But the top ups to cover those who are already nearing the end of their earning years? Unbelievable levels to cover current and future enrollees. 50 years to convert? Maybe to start on it, but not “fix”. And they’ll still exist as an alternate source.
- Eliminating voluntary military service. So there’s a double-negative in the article that is hard to write around, but basically the argument is that we’ll think we should have never abandoned the draft. Umm…okaaaay. The argument is that we have replaced a “connected to the public” military with a disconnected volunteer army, and that this has led to a disintegration of understanding of foreign policy, institutions, etc. And as a result, we’ll see that in 50 years, we’ll wish we had a more engaged public that is knowledgeable about military matters and international relations. That has to be one of the dumbest arguments I’ve ever seen. And the article even acknowledges it, that the existing system works. But laments the other costs. That apparently only the author sees tied to military service. Because compulsory service works so well elsewhere to ensure international engagement? The argument only works, and then only somewhat, if you see the primary focus of international relations to be military-based. Which most countries don’t. Not in physical form anymore, it’s all trade and cyber wars.
- Eliminating trust of Facebook and Google. Again, the argument is hard to understand, mostly because it is written by someone who makes money by hating Facebook. Basically it argues that FB and Google are getting away with stuff that 50 years from now we’ll think was ludicrous. My reaction is, “So what?”. We think the same thing of companies from fifty years ago. And people then thought the same of companies 50 years before that. But guess what? We’re sheep. The argument is that these platforms did nothing to protect users over the last few years, they’ve been misused by people for elections, hate speech, etc. Yep. It’s called democracy, bucko. They don’t police it, the people do. And people are STILL driving to the platforms in droves. The Russians used FB to subvert an election? Did the American people stop using FB? Nope, they went on FB and shared articles about how FB was being used to subvert democracy. If you follow the chain of logic of a bunch of other strands of arguments about life 50 years from now, I think sure everyone will wonder what was going on, but as much about the companies as the sheep we are handing over vast quantities of data about ourselves in exchange for a free online platform. That’s the crux…if you want better, you have to pay somehow. If you get it for free, you suck it up buttercup.
- Eliminating abortion. Why the hell would the article include an “expert” who seems to actually know little about the topic (or at least shows wilful blindness to causes for trends) and writes from a clearly biased perspective of a right-to-lifer? A pro-rights expert could have written the exact counter argument with only a few sentences changed and a couple of adjectives. It ain’t going away because the writer is against it. There’s a reason why it trumps legislation. However, idiocy aside, I was disappointed that the article didn’t cast a much wider net to talk about some of the counter-factuals that go in all directions — improved technology for contraception for both sexes, faster testing to know even earlier in clearly non-viable stages, improved technology that pushes viability from 22w down to 18w or even creates options to transition earlier to some form of artificial womb environment, changes in economic and social supports to reduce stigma and increase social viability, and potentially for a continued decreased role for religion vs. science. In essence, I guess I would have liked to see more consideration of the factors that drive simple birthing choices today, and the views toward all-natural home births vs. medically-assisted deliveries. I might not have agreed with the author, but at least it wouldn’t be because they were arguing personal values.
- Eliminating driverless cars. So again, the double-negative is at work here. Basically, the argument is that we will be upset that we eliminated drivers and embraced driverless cars, or, conversely, that we wasted so much time on driverless technology. She’s a bit in both camps. Generally, I disagree on the technology front. And when she talks about the social side, I disagreed in part with that too. I think driverless vehicles, on small scales, have a potential to improve social contact. People talking in the car together. Yet she makes two good points. First, not explicitly, anonymous rides on shared transit aren’t exactly social utopias. Will cars be like that too? Second, really interesting, she wonders if driverless buses and cars, which also increase a sense of anonymity and faceless oversight will lead to decreased protection for women. Whereas a driver on a bus is “in charge” and therefore has to watch for the safety of the passengers, even if only as a witness or to call for assistance, driverless vehicles for mass transit could lead to ugly Darwinian outcomes. And there have been some pretty bad examples from subways that have few personnel in them to regulate behaviour. While incredibly interesting, and innovative, I am not sure it counteracts the likely drastic increase in surveillance by the state and the companies that have the contracts. Or the possibility of in-vehicle security measures. At that point, I suspect we’ll be looking at pretty robust monitoring systems just to ensure nobody is messing with the vehicle, let alone the passengers. Doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe though. Hmm…
- Eliminating false assumptions about rationality. The article takes “behavioural economics” and behavioural psychology to the extreme and says “hey, we’re thinkers and feelers, and you can’t separate the two”, and from there argues that eventually we will wonder why we ever thought we could. In essence, that we will have much more understanding of the way we work in the future and thus be able to redesign economies and social structures that work for our messed up personas that don’t act rationally. I agree with the insight, I don’t agree with the outcome. Basically because it is the same argument that has sustained philosophy and psychology for hundreds of years…the goal to better understand the self. And while we occasionally have insights, we rely on our rational brain to find them. Or our personal bias. We can’t turn it off to be the analyst we need. And I don’t see the great understanding of the human condition arriving in the next 50 years, or the next 1000 if we remain planet-bound. Not until we can exit our solar system can we even begin to understand the totality of our lives, literally from outside the bounds we know. Trips to other planets will help, but home will still seem like Earth.
- Eliminating moves toward private education. The argument is that education is a universal good, and privatization messes that up. I don’t disagree. But there is NOTHING in the article that suggests that privatization will go away, just that we might decide that the quality offered by the state as a great equalizer of opportunity (a social contract element) has to be sufficient to make a difference within a generation. Yet the inequality is not going to go away, not completely. There’s always going to be something else that a rich person can buy that a poor person can’t. A trip to an exotic locale that the poor person can only see in pictures; an experience that one can have that the other can only read about. The more provided by the state, the more the rich can spend their money on other inequities that complement education.
- Eliminating the idea that there is a “right or wrong” side of history. Of all the pieces, I like this one the best. Time doesn’t reveal truths, it reveals opportunities for growth or descent. It can be used, as MLK is quoted, for constructive or destructive purposes. I like it so much, I might just go buy the author’s book.
It was an amazing thought experiment, and I loved the article. But it has got me thinking. What do *I* think will be viewed as ridiculous 50 years from now?
The most obvious one is the current belief that climate change is about the environment. Climate change will change every aspect of our lives…economics, social structures, psychology, and even our fundamental understanding of who we are as a species. It will drive changes in technology for work, life, travel, medicine, food production, recreation. And the debate about technology vs. nature will be viewed as laughable…we’re not going back to an agrarian society, we can’t, and the only way forward to survival is finding a way for technology to be used to protect our habitat. To be forced into being compatible and life-enhancing. Fifty years from now, we’ll wonder how people could think of climate change in such narrow terms.
I also think people will think the idea of physically going to school or work is weird, like using a rotary phone is to us. The future is virtual, and while social functions will still happen IRL, much of the rest of our pursuits likely won’t. Why would anyone need to commute to an office rather than “jack in” in the sci-fi parlance? Similarly for schools. Commuting daily will be atypical. But our concept of distance and time will shift too. With rapid transit options, perhaps the ability to go from Montreal to Toronto in 30 minutes or less, people congregating will able to be done without people having to live right next to each other.
Lots of sociology theorists posit a change in family make-ups, but I don’t really see that. Our expansion of understanding for different genders will increase, the exact mixing and matching of “combinations” so to speak will increase from historical assumptions of four combinations (male / male, male / female, female / female, single) to vastly greater variations, sure, but I don’t think it will drastically change the idea of two people forming a bond and growing a family unit in some form. I think that is more basic psychology of the self wanting its own tribal unit, and I doubt it will change much.
I don’t think we’ll have flying cars, although I do think we’ll have new options for rapid transit and certainly more autonomous means than a large bus, train, or plane. Maybe that’s a form of mini-pod that you ride in that merges with other transit systems and accelerates you at high speeds. I doubt we’ll have transporters either. No Star Trek world. But I do think that in ten years we’ll have some form of lunar base, and within fifteen it will be permanently manned. I also think we’ll have our first human born somewhere other than Earth in about 25-30 years, likely on the moon. We’ll reach Mars in about 20 years, but it will be at least 40 until we can get there quick enough to leave anybody behind for any length of time. And fifty years? I think we have a shot at visiting Jupiter too.
We will not have found a way to transfer consciousness to a computerized robot, but we might find a way to transfer knowledge in some form. We will however have smart-houses out the wazoo, likely eliminating the need for previous versions of robot butlers. I expect there will be some form of germ sanitizer that creates almost a self-cleaning environment, but primarily focuses on sanitizing us without the use of water. I’m going to miss long showers.
The weird one? I think we’re also going to think the idea of cemeteries is ridiculous. The unprecedented level of death due to demographics that is coming will overwhelm our ability to give someone a piece of land for eternity, and people are already finding reasons to move cemeteries now to make room for progress. After we get through the changes for how people die, I think we’re going to have changes for what we do with their bodies afterwards. I feel an almost shudder passing through me as I say it.
Alas, I doubt I will see it. I would like in some ways to believe that I will live to see the year 2070, or even 2068 at the age of 100. I somehow doubt it, given my current body condition or mental faculties. But I feel a sense of peace knowing that Jacob will see it, and probably in the company of his mother.
What do you see happening in the next 50 years that will look different from now?