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June 1, 2013

DODD: What the future holds

“It is said that the present is pregnant with the future” —Voltaire

Cameron graduated from Charlestown High School this past Thursday and as far as the over/under on my crying, well, I did get a bit misty-eyed, but did not embarrass the family with any loud sobbing.

I was thinking that in July I will be having my 40-year high school reunion and was reminiscing about how things have changed since my 1973 graduation from Jeffersonville High School. I researched some of the changes to our world in the 1970s.

There were some amazing things that happened during the decade I graduated. The ’70s saw the birth of the jumbo jet airliner, lead-free gasoline, the pocket calculator and the microprocessor.

Some other life-altering things such as the disposable lighter, Post-It notes and something called a cell phone were introduced, although Cameron’s generation would not recognize the jumbo-jet sized cell phone of my youth.

Cool kids from that era owned a Walkman radio and some new gadgets called roller blades replaced old fashioned roller skates.

I thought I would also try to find some predictions of what Cameron’s classmates might expect to find when they are celebrating their 40-year class reunion in 2053. One that seems pretty safe is that the rate of technological change will certainly outpace that of society to keep up with and this will have very noticeable and often chaotic effects for the world’s population at that time.

Advancements in medicine and science will lead to a problem with overpopulation as people will live longer than ever. Global worldwide population is estimated in 40 years to be between 9 and 10 billion people. The U.S. population will reach an estimated 450 million by then. Some buildings will be so efficient and self-contained that many people will have little need or desire to venture outside of them.

Desktop personal computers will possess the raw processing power that would be equal to all of the human brains that ever existed on earth. One prediction is that the number of cells that can be synthesized in an organism could reach 100 trillion, which would result in the possibility of creating a fully synthetic human being. Genetically designing the perfect baby might be an option as well.

By the late 2050s, an end of the oil-age will be on hand as new energy technologies will replace the dwindling supplies and the final oil reserves from the Middle East will be tapped out.

International space travel will be common even for the average middle-class family and there will be a permanent human presence on Mars. This will be necessitated by the overabundance of carbon and other greenhouse gasses and the melting permafrost in the Arctic will be releasing large amounts of methane, which is 70 times more potent than the CO2. The earth’s average global temperature will have risen by 3 degrees Celsius.

Smaller and more compact hi-tech automobiles will be safer, which will also find traffic controlled by computers with advanced artificial intelligence. Average speeds will be in excess of 100 mph and crashes will be rare but with built-in safety factors and with the tougher materials (e.g. carbon nanotubes) serious injuries and fatalities will be even rarer.

For more information, one of the sites I reviewed for this column was Future Timeline.net.

Whether any or all of these predictions come true, I am sure that the future that Cameron will encounter will be very different than what I have lived over the last 40 years. The rate of change and technological advancement will be exponential in nature and scope. As always, the hardest part will be keeping up with change that has the potential to make human labor almost totally unnecessary.

It all seems like a science fiction movie gone awry. And to think how we all marveled at computer technology in the ’70s when the floppy disk was invented and we could actually store and transfer information from one computer to another.

Oh, how I long for the simple and good old days of 1974 when the toughest thing I had to wrap my mind around upon graduation was to try and solve the puzzle known as a Rubik’s Cube.

— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer that can be reached at lindon.dodd@hotmail.com

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