What will the world be like in 100 years time?

25 January
19 February

The difficulty in answering that question, from a professional futures researcher's point of view, is that the question asks for an absolute, a 'correct' answer - a prediction: "What will the world be like in 100 years?" There can be no certain answer; the systems involved are complex, adaptive, often chaotic - not deterministic. That is why futures researchers and foresight experts recommend exploring ranges of alternative futures.

Will there be a range of climatic and biosphere changes? Yes, because global warming and its impacts (glacial melting, extreme weather, sea level rise) will be perceptible by mid-century, and evident within 100 years. If the global capitalist system continues to instill materialist consumerist culture worldwide, with a 'throwaway' mentality, and the petrochemical industry continues its promotion of plastic, then trash and pollution will be everywhere - for example, they announced this week finding plastic at extreme depths of the ocean; that will only get worse. And as a result of all these evolving changes, the rate of extinctions - already alarmingly high - will only rise. These are strong trends, and will interact to create many possible outcomes.

  • Some believe the future of humanity is grand, all about immense technological progress and colonisation of the Solar System. But is it really?

In the meantime, technological innovation and scientific discovery will continue and accelerate, enhancing our ability to manipulate the world and ourselves in extraordinary ways: bioengineering, nano-engineeering, brain-machine interfaces, artificial intelligences, highly efficient renewable energy generation and energy harvesting, novel production and manufacturing methods from 3D printing to 'growing' new products and infrastructure with bioactive materials.

If we aren't using all our resources to respond to the disasters our middle-class materialists lifestyles have generated here on Earth, we will probably colonise at least our local solar system - whether in person, or robotically.

  • And here a more optimistic, technocratic prediction

The real question for the next hundred years is not what we will manage to achieve with our inventions and our scientific explorations, but what we will manage to negotiate and create with our philosophies and our social and political dialogues - will the next 100 years see a world where children are protected and educated? Where women's rights as well as men's are respected? Where massive economic inequities are eliminated? Where we value the ecosystem and the services it provides us, and where we respect the living systems of Earth of which we are a small part?

It's easy to list off all the cool possibilities - but we face very real threats of our own making, every mind-boggling new discovery or invention comes as well with its own downside. So futurists explore all the possibilities, and try to think through all the ways that people - inventive, curious, adaptive, playful, perverse human beings - will respond to change.

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