Photo by Alex Alvarez on Unsplash
This is the third article in the Possible Futures series, where we look at possible scenarios for the future. This time, we look at the Age of Abundance.
Read the previous articles here: Possible Futures – A Day in your Life in 2040 and A Dystopian World – The Collapse of Society
It is the 7th of February 2049, and it’s your fortieth birthday today.
Life expectancy where you live, in Milan, Italy, is 120 years, so you have possibly lived a quarter of your life already. It is a good moment to take stock of your life so far.
You have had to pass some difficult years, especially in your youth, but life is good now. Very good, actually.
We are now in what people call The Age of Abundance.
It wasn’t always like this
The 2020s and 2030s were convulsive, and that’s an understatement.
If this is The Age of Abundance, that was The Age of Scarcity.
We had several pandemics, starting with the one of covid-19 in 2020. Then we had covid-26 and the Great Flu Scare of 29. It felt like coming out of one and going straight into the next one.
The Russian-Ukranian War and the US-China Trade War merged into a global conflict with no clear winner but many losers.
The war created an energy shortage and high inflation, or even hyperinflation, in many countries. The EU took backstage and became an irrelevant region in the world.
On top of all this, Artificial Intelligence and robotics advanced so much that machines could carry out most jobs better and cheaper than humans.
The laws of economic efficiency prevailed over all the rest, which meant most people lost their jobs just when governments started going bankrupt.
You remember it as a time of utter chaos and despair.
The dark times
It was in those promising times that you finished your degree in HR Management and entered the job market.
The problem was that there were almost no jobs left for anybody, and there were none in HR. Companies carried out massive layoffs, so they needed HR to manage that, but when the process finished, there was no workforce to manage, no human resources left, as all remaining working resources were digital.
You had a couple of crap jobs in your early twenties. They didn’t pay much, but at least it was something.
Your parents lost their jobs at the beginning of the 2030s, and your precarious jobs taking care of the elderly and in retail dried out as even the jobs demanding human interaction and caring were taken over by machines.
You were all unemployed: your parents, your sister, and you.
The government had no money to pay any decent unemployment allowance, so you went all homeless and poor, like more than half of the Italian society. The welfare state had been dismantled in a matter of years.
It was the same everywhere across Europe and what used to be called the “Developed World”. It was even worse in other countries.
Those were dark years, probably the darkest years in your life. Or so you hope, as you wouldn’t be able to survive anything like that again if it came. The continuous hunger, being forced to carry out petty crimes to make ends meet, the insecurity and violence in the streets, the haggard look of despair in your parents’ eyes…
Your father died in 2033, a broken man. Your little sister followed him in 2035, murdered in a gutter to steal from her the half-chicken she had stolen from someone else.
Those were very dark times indeed.
The light at the end of the tunnel
In all that chaos, people didn’t stop protesting and going to demonstrations to ask for a solution to the government.
Democracy was an empty husk, with the same politicians with the same fake smiles taking turns to win at the polls, attending more to the oligarchs who owned all the companies, with the robots and AI, than their citizens.
Surprisingly, the AI revolution that had wreaked havoc by making most of the population unemployed ended up being the solution we were all hoping for.
AI and robots were doing all the jobs humans did before, but both governments and corporations realised that people needed to have an income: governments because if not, the entire society would crumble; corporations because otherwise there would be no consumers for their products and services.
Companies continued producing mostly everything without any human intervention, but they were heavily taxed by governments, and a Universal Basic Income was distributed to the entire population above 18.
Companies produced and kept most of the wealth, so they were able to share some of it without impacting so much the earnings of their shareholders and owners.
The second breakthrough arrived when nuclear fusion finally became a reality. Suddenly energy was cheap and plentiful. We were able to use the hydrogen in the atmosphere to produce the energy required to respond to our needs, with no carbon emissions.
Thus, we reduced carbon emissions to a negligible level and found different ways to sequester the carbon already in the atmosphere, so we averted the climate disaster already upon us. The world warmed a bit, but it was nothing catastrophic, and the temperature is now slowly going down.
The Age of Abundance
This is how we got to The Age of Abundance.
AI and robotics technology got cheaper and cheaper, so everybody started having a super-computer, a few housekeeping robots, and a 3D printer at home. Machines now produce everything, at home, in factories, in research and development… you name it, so everything is cheap and available to most people.
Energy is basically free, food is synthetically produced and very cheap, so nobody is hungry anymore, and all other products are almost free… Today everybody has access to luxuries that only one or two generations ago people couldn’t imagine.
Still, exclusive luxury items continue to exist.
You can only have so many apartments overlooking Central Park or the Seine. Natural food cooked by the best chefs is only accessible to the few, and so are natural diamonds and other gems (gold’s value plummeted when we started mining meteors for it).
Society is divided in two: the uber-rich, that form the 1% of the population and own all the corporations producing all this, and the rest of the population, who are living a good life, but without some of the high-end luxuries of the uber-rich.
A World without Work
In 2049, there is no more talk of the Future of Work, leadership, management, or HR, because there is no more work.
Work stopped being a thing about a decade ago.
There have been some disruptions and adjustments during this journey, but overall, it has been a change for the better. People thought they would be missing work and the sense of purpose it brings, and this was the case for some people at the beginning, but most of them moved on and ended up finding a purpose elsewhere.
Let us not forget that most people had been unemployed for a long time already. At least they weren’t poor anymore and had access to food, clothing, leisure, travelling, the Metaverse, and many more.
When nobody was working anymore, people dedicated their time to other things. Many found creative hobbies, and they immersed fully in them.
The New Renaissance
AI can write, paint, or create music and film that objectively is much better than anything created by humans, but it has a small insurmountable problem: it wasn’t created by humans. People value and want things made by other people, even if they are quirkier and with some imperfections.
That’s the whole point. Art is supposed to be imperfect and human.
Even if nobody wants to buy what you create, it doesn’t really matter because the point isn’t to make a living. Nobody needs to make a living anymore; we are all sorted.
The point now is to create things for the sake of it, because we have the time and the willingness to do so. That’s enough.
We are living in a new type of renaissance, where billions of people are letting go of their creative juices and expressing themselves through different arts and creative endeavours.
However, not everybody found their purpose in unleashing their creative impulses. Many people are a bit lost without the structure a work provides, and they are addicted to living in a lethargic world facilitated by design drugs and the virtual world of the Metaverse, where fake violence and virtual sex abound.
It is not your thing, but you can understand how some people could fall for it. It’s alluring to escape reality and live a fictional life that might be more exciting than the real one.
The Age of Abundance or the Age of Inequality?
Some thinkers (yes, we still have some of those, as some people express their creativity by doing research and postulating theories in fields such as sociology, anthropology, or, wait for it, philosophy) believe that the Age of Abundance is a misnomer and that we can’t call it abundance when 1% of the population own 90% of the wealth.
It is arguably the most unequal society in history, but it is also the one with more widespread wealth and abundance. It is contradictory, but that’s the way it is.
You often think about it and have concluded that these two things aren’t exclusive. The 1% of the uber-rich own most of the wealth in the world, but the remaining wealth is more or less equally distributed among the remaining 99%, and it is enough for all of them to live a more than decent life.
Never in history did such a considerable proportion of the population have such high living standards.
The uber-rich live in their hyper-luxury bubbles, and nobody sees them, so most people are not bothered by their existence. They know they exist, but as their paths don’t cross, they don’t care.
It is like a hybrid model of hyper-capitalism and communism: capitalism for the very top, communism enabled by technology for all the rest.
The 99% of the population is living a life that rich people at the beginning of the 21st century could only dream of, and the good thing is that this is widespread across all countries, races and social strata.
We are all wealthy in a sense, but some people, just a few, are much richer.
Dark clouds over the horizon
You continue reflecting on this, and you realise that people seem content with the state of affairs, but you have a dark sense of foreboding growing inside you.
You don’t think this can last. Eventually, some people will want to have more. They will also want to aspire to reach the caste of the uber-rich, even if their lives are sorted today, and they will grow frustrated when they realise their paths to that goal are blocked.
You realise that the Age of Abundance may not be the ultimate solution to all our problems after all.
You suspect that more disruptions and trouble may still lay ahead of us and that the long life you have in front of you will not be as uneventful and quiet as you wish.
A tremor shakes you from head to toe.
You have a family now, a happy family, and you don’t want your children to go through the hell you had to go to get here. You want them to have a quiet life, a life where they can enjoy the fruits of the Age of Abundance without having to go through major upheavals, like you had to.
Sadly, you don’t think you’ll get your wish.
How do you feel about this future? What do you like, and what do you dislike about it?
These and other questions can help us decide what aspects of our life we want to keep and which ones we want to change to build a better future.
For more on the future state of the world, read The world in 2050 and What will the world be like in 2100?