January 31, 2020

20 Predictions For The Next 20 Years

This new decade has got me thinking a lot about not only the past one, but the one before that too. The year 2000 feels both ancient and as if it was just yesterday.

Personally, a lot's happened since Y2k. It took stints in one community college and two universities to graduate. I tried to move to Austin but failed at getting a job and ran out of money so I found a job in Alaska and moved there on a whim (I wound up living in AK for eleven years!). I learned to play the fiddle, got into backpacking, built a kayak, tried to climb Denali, bought a house and had my first real meaningful long term relationship begin and end. I made so many friends and played a ton of music.

Now, think of what we've collectively seen... 9/11 and the war on terror, a massive stock market crash and it's subsequent, in progress, eleven year run. We witnessed the election of the first black president followed up by the first reality TV star. We got the smart phone, the rise of Big Tech, social media and cars that can pretty damn well drive themselves. Privatized space exploration, CRISPR, an Ebola vaccine, the Higgs boson, Pluto got demoted, we photographed a black hole, cancer immunotherapy, DNA sequencing through the mail, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift.

Further, let's imagine all that's happened in each individual's lives. The loss and the pain, the joy and the triumph, the mundane. It's unfathomable, yet still, 20 years is a flash in the pan when you get down to it.

What might the next 20 might be like?

Caveats

My predictions are, by definition, not from a very diverse perspective. So, grain of salt, ya know.

Also, if you want to learn more about these topics, Google, y'all. This isn't a term paper so I'm probably not going to cite everything I say.

Table of Contents

  1. The First Woman Elected POTUS
  2. The First Moon Colony
  3. Manned Missions to Mars
  4. Asteroid Mining
  5. Space Elevators
  6. Self Driving Cars
  7. Transit Revolution
  8. Cures for Ataxia Related Diseases
  9. Cures for Aging
  10. Gene Therapy and Designer Babies
  11. A Working Class Crisis
  12. A Student Loan Debt Crisis
  13. Dirty Bombs
  14. Terminators
  15. Increased Cyber Warfare
  16. Ubiquitous Internet
  17. A Tech Bubble Explosion
  18. Lab Grown Meat
  19. Crushing Global Warming
  20. A Generally Better World

The First Woman Elected POTUS

I figured I'd start out with a softball. There's a decent chance it'll happen this next election cycle even. If we haven't seen it in 20 years something is really wrong.

The First Moon Colony

Launching rockets from Earth's surface is tough. The fuel requirements to reach escape velocity are massive and ultimately a key challenge to getting a manned ship to Mars.

Escaping the Moon's atmosphere however... way easier. That's why if we ever want to start hauling stuff far off into the cosmos it'll be lot more efficient if we can use the Moon as our staging ground for larger missions into the rest of space.

The Moon is the key to the universe. NASA even has plans for Moon to Mars transport.

Space Elevators

A space elevator is exactly like it sounds... a giant cable with an elevator attached to it reaching from Earth's surface into geostationary orbit. The idea is that instead of lifting cargo into space via rockets you can use a "simple" mechanical system.

To this day I get some good natured ribbing from a few college friends who witnessed me go on a drunken rant about space elevators and carbon nanotubes. I'm right though, I tell ya!

If we want to colonize the stars we need efficiency. A space elevator could provide some. To top it off, if we can perfect this contraption on Earth it should be easier to build one on the other celestial bodies we're interested in, like the Moon and Mars, due to their lower gravity.

Asteroid Mining

This bubble may currently be popped but I think it's still on the horizon.

We've got finite resources here on Earth and there's going to come a time when we'll want to start looking for them elsewhere. Asteroids are a rich source of precious metals (gold, silver and platinum) and iron, among other things.

The benefits I'm thinking of are three-fold:

  1. Minerals extracted from asteroids can be brought back to Earth for industry, making people money and allowing us to fuel the world-wide economic machine. Capitalists should be thrilled.
  2. Asteroid mining can be used to provide raw materials for building stuff in space. Imagine if instead of having to launch a satellite, you could just pump one out of a space factory with materials sourced entirely off-world.
  3. It reduces the destruction of our beloved planet by shifting some mining off-Earth and onto dead space rocks.

Manned Missions to Mars

OK, space elevators, Moon colonies and asteroid mining... What's the point if we ain't headed to Mars?

Mars is the closest thing we've got in the Solar System to Earth. Getting people there is the first major step we will take in colonizing the stars and colonizing the stars, my friends, is a requirement if we want to survive as a species.

In case you haven't heard, there are a lot of smart minds at SpaceX and NASA working to make manned Mars missions a reality ASAP.

Extra Prediction: It'll be a while but if we're around long enough I believe we'll see not only the colonization of mars but the terraforming of it as well. Breathable air, abundance of life and all.

Self Driving Cars

And I'm not talking about these half-assed versions we got now, like Tesla Autopilot. I'm talking you're in Detroit and your car's in LA and if you make the call it'll show up on your doorstep 30 hours later.

It's a complicated problem but every major car/tech company sees the writing on the wall and wants to be there first. Between Tesla, Google, Uber, Amazon and pretty much every automotive manufacturer someone is going to figure it out.

Extra Prediction: I think it's even possible that in the way distant future driving a car yourself could either be moot or illegal. If an engineer can assume no humans behind the wheel, every vehicle on the road can form a giant robot network, communicating faster than we can comprehend and ending car to car accidents entirely.

Transit Revolution

I have no idea how this is going to look but something has gotta give. Our cities are more congested than ever and it's getting worse every day.

Self driving cars will play into this. Elon Musk has discussed the idea of having your autonomous car act as a ride share while you're not using it. Driving around on it's own and picking up passengers for a fee, subsidizing the cost of ownership.

Elon also founded The Boring Company which has put forth some pretty cool ideas for moving cars underground.

I mean, at the very least can't we just have some more trains here in the US??

Cures For Ataxia Related Diseases

From Wikipedia:

Ataxia is a neurological sign consisting of lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements that can include gait abnormality, speech changes, and abnormalities in eye movements.

It's perhaps most commonly associated with diseases like Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

A close family member has a terrible and rare genetic disease called Friedreich's Ataxia (FA) so I've been careful to follow the progression of treatment over the years. In October 2019, Reata Pharmaceuticals announced the phase 2 trial results of their FA treatment, Omaveloxolone. Results are pretty damn positive, showing a real-deal reversal (not just slowing or stopping the disease's progression) and we may even see it on the market by next year.

It's not a cure but if this is where we're at today, we should have this stuff licked by 2040.

Cures For Aging

This might sound totally insane but I'm convinced that within the next 20 years we'll be seeing the first treatments to slow down and even reverse the aging process.

At the risk of stating the obvious, old age is the number one cause of death. Most horrible ailments that kill us late in life are directly related to or caused by our bodies aging. We consider it an inevitability but scientists are starting to prove it's not.

If we can solve aging we can effectively solve every single age related disease in one fell swoop instead of trying to tackle them piecemeal.

There's so much here to dig into... If you're interested, here's one of my favorite books on the subject. Dr. David Sinclair has also done a lot of great interviews as well if you want the Cliff's Notes.

Gene Therapy and Designer Babies

For better or worse, this is here already. With cloning and tools like CRISPR (check out this great Radiolab episode for an entertaining synopsis), we already have the knowledge to modify genes in wild and crazy ways.

The main thing we've left to deal with here is moral landscape. Figuring out as a society what's kosher and what's not is going to be a bumpy ride but the technology is forcing our hand and it's only a matter of time.

A Working Class Crisis

Fewer and fewer young people are going into the trades. I'm talking plumbers, electricians, iron workers, farmers (the average farmer's age in the US is 57.5!), etc. You know, the type of labor that lays the foundation for our cushy American lifestyle.

Mike Rowe (the Dirty Jobs guy) is on a crusade to fix this impending crisis with his foundation Mike Rowe WORKS. Check it out if you're interested in the issue.

A Student Loan Debt Crisis

Student load debt ballooned to a whopping 1.4 trillion bucks in 2019.

I remember it when I was going to school... student loans were marketed to us like it was free money. Come on, you'd get a great job and have no problem paying it back, right?

I'm lucky, but so many of my friends are still under that crushing weight and struggling to pay it off. Student loans are a drag on the economy and at some point this sham is going to blow up in our faces.

Dirty Bombs

Dirty bombs are generally defined as a bomb with a bunch of radioactive shit in it. However, I'm lumping biological and chemical weapons into this as well.

It makes me sad to say this but I believe it's only a matter of time before the wrong people get their hands on something devastating and aim it at a bunch of innocent people.

Between Russia and the U.S. we've lost way more nuclear weapons than one would think. What else have we lost? What else are the bad guys working on? If I'm wrong on anything here I hope it's this one.

Terminators

Minus the whole time travel thing that is.

Armies across the world have been using robots in some capacity at an increasing rate since WWII. These days most of the public's knowledge comes from news stories about bomb dropping drones.

I mean, watch this and tell me the military isn't going to want to strap an M16 to it.

More interesting, I think, are the moral quandaries this is raising. Removing the risk of death removes "skin in the game" and as Nassim Taleb's great book discusses, risk when making decisions is required in a fair and just society.

Increased Cyber Warfare

Remember that virus that messed Iran's nuclear program a decade ago? Stuxnet? It's likely the U.S. (and probably Israel) launched the opening volley with it way back in 2010.

Like with terminators the prospect of waging war with little risk of death is too tantalizing to resist and in an increasingly connected world the consequences of a cyber attack grow daily.

Why drop a nuclear bomb when you could hold a countries electrical grid hostage from the comfort of your office?

Ubiquitous Internet

The Internet has already taken over. I mean, smart refrigerators for god's sake.

With a smart phone in everyone's hand today I'm both terrified and cautiously optimistic to see how technologically melded together we become in the next couple decades.

A Tech Bubble Explosion

I've long believed the tech industry (mostly mean Silicon Valley) has been using venture capitalism to side-step the fundamental tenants of capitalist economics.

Today, a company can never make a profit and be valued in the 10's or even 100's of billions of dollars (cough... Uber... cough).

And, it's not just the Ubers and Lyfts of the world. I bet the majority of Silicon Valley companies are losing money every year and many of them are still growing. It's not sustainable and the effects aren't going to stay in The Valley alone.

Lab Grown Meat

...Like being able to buy it in the dang grocery store.

Meat production has a pretty serious environmental impact and aside from that, the cruelties of factory farming are well documented at this point.

Society isn't going to go vegan any time soon (but when it does you'll hear about it immediately nyuk nyuk) so the alternatives are either meat substitutes (like Beyond Meat) or lab grown meat.

It's already been done, it's just prohibitively expensive. It won't be forever though.

Crushing Global Warming

I believe we're going to come to our goddamn senses and figure this out within the next 20 years and I'm not on the bandwagon that thinks it's already too late.

I know a lot of people think it's a scam, but thankfully the smartest people in the world don't.

A Generally Be Better

One of my favorite books of 2019 (with the frustratingly long title) is Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling. The gist is, looking at the statistics, people the world over are doing better than they were a decade ago, and better still than a decade before that.

I'm optimistic that the trend will continue. It pretty much always has.

God I'm tired of writing this article. Let's call it a day.

Happy 2020. Go out and make the best of it.

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