The year 2020 is nearing an end. Our annus horribilis concludes. There is a light at the end of the tunnel but we can’t be absolutely certain it is an opening. It might be an oncoming train but probably not. But sometime in 2021, the long dark teatime of our souls will be over. Or at least this iteration of it. It won’t be the last.

I want to talk about the technology that will revolutionize society. In the next few decades, we will be stepping into a science fiction world made real. Those technologies are:

  • Biological/genetic engineering
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Quantum computing
  • Space technology
  • Controlled fusion

It took longer than expected but these passengers are already in the terminal or waiting on the plane to disembark. Good luck stuffing genies back into bottles and toothpaste back into tubes. Luddites always lose because there is too much political and economic advantage in moving ahead.

The future is going to be fast and furious. Cultural norms will be shattered and then shattered again. Ethics, politics, and the nature of what life is all about will be hammer-forged into something new. They will the key to a brilliant future or a nightmare. We may have Star Trek – but probably without transporters and warp drive. Closer to 2001, a Space Oddysey. Don’t expect flying cars but it isn’t impossible.

Unless we destroy ourselves in the process, massive changes are inevitable. (Actually, come to think of it, destroying ourselves would also be a massive change.) The industrial revolution will be a mere blip compared to it. Think about what it would mean if not only did people not have to work, there would be little work a majority of humans could economically do. If computers can actually learn instead of having to be programmed and can solve almost any problem better than a human, like playing chess or folding proteins for therapeutic drugs or designing a traffic system.

If energy became so plentiful we could start putting the excess into removing CO2 from the air. Think of Los Angeles to London in less than an hour and of extracting resources from asteroids instead of ripping apart the planet. Moving polluting industry off-planet. Living on Mars. Curing and eliminating ever more diseases, creating designer babies, and full-on cloning. Synthesizing food instead of farming it. Cyborg bodies and orgasmatrons.

Just as technology can produce miracles, it can produce nightmares. An economic system that doesn’t know how to handle vast numbers of people no longer having anything productive to do. If our computers become too smart, humans may lose their reason to live. AI might care for us like animals in a zoo or it may decide that it has no use for us.

Or we may stay in control of the AI and still be destroyed by monsters from the id.

Unstoppable monster from the id, Forbidden planet

War becomes easier when there is no longer any need for soldiers to fight and die. Or it maybe becomes deadlier as ever more sophisticated WMDs & delivery systems come online. Eugenics is the evil step-sister of genetic engineering, always waiting to reemerge. Technology allows a government – or even a monopolistic corporation – to monitor your thoughts and movements in detail “for the good of society.”

What’s next? Soma?

I don’t know how it will all turn out. Folks have been prognosticating anarchy, collapse, and destruction as a result of almost every technological change that has ever happened. There has always been disruption but a new and better reality eventually emerged. Even Star Trek postulated World War 3 with hundreds of millions dead. It would be nice if we didn’t always seem to need a great cataclysm for a great change to happen but that just seems to be the way of the world.

Buckle in and hang on. Our bumpy ride is far from over.