Let’s explore what the world will be like in 2100. Who knows, you may still be alive to enjoy it
As someone passionate about the future of work, I like to think about the future in different forms and shapes. I don’t make predictions, as they are often incorrect and, therefore, useless. Besides, making exact predictions isn’t the point. When thinking about the future, the point is to consider what can or might happen and try to steer the reality in the desired direction through our actions.
Futures thinking allows us to identify the different possibilities and alternative realities offered to us by the future, so we can choose the one we like the most and try to build that future. Futures thinking is the first step towards futures building.
Scenarios and forecasts are more powerful tools than predictions. They are not exact predictions, and it is understood that they may not happen as explained, but they allow us to get a glimpse of what different futures we might get to live in. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed writing three possible scenarios about the future in 2050, which I called The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Will it happen in any of these ways? No, I don’t think so, but we can still learn something from each of them.
Today I’d like to go a bit further and write about the world in 2100. I am not writing it as a scenario this time, but a series of small forecasts about different areas and how they may evolve in the next 80 years.
Will you be alive in 2100?
Think about you in 2100. Yeah, I know, it’s difficult, isn’t it? That’s because we have difficulty relating to our future selves. The further into the future we look, the more of a stranger our future self is for us. 2100 is very far away, so it is almost impossible for us to visualize ourselves then and to feel empathy for that future us.
Also, most of us probably think we will not be alive anyway. It is too far away. I will be 121 years old. Who lives to that age? Not many people nowadays, but people like Ray Kurzweil (who aims to live long enough, to live forever) think otherwise. Kurzweil and other techno-utopians believe that advances in biotechnology, genetics, and medicine will allow us to live much longer lives in good health, or even achieve some kind of a-mortality and never again die due to health-related complications.
I am not sure we’ll ever get there, but I think it is in the realms of possibility to increase our life expectancy by a few decades by the end of the century. It is certainly possible.
Another issue is if we, as a species, will still be around. The philosopher Toby Ord’s odds for the human species going extinct in this century are 1 in 61, a simple roll of the dice. This probability is too high if you ask me, but still, it seems it is more likely than not that we will be around as a species.
So, we will probably exist, and there is the possibility that many of us will still be around in good health. What will the world be like in 2100?
It will be a hotter world, with more extreme weather
The world in 2100 will be hotter, with more extreme weather and more natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires. How much hotter? It is impossible to know right now, as it will depend on our actions during the next 80 years.
There are different scenarios, from the world being 1.5ºC to 5ºC hotter by 2100. There is a big difference between these two extremes, but note that even if we reduced all our carbon emissions to zero today, the world would still keep warming for decades due to all the extra carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.
Our best-case scenario is a 1.5ºC increase (although some experts believe we will reach this already by 2030), which doesn’t seem much, but it is huge. Even with this best-case scenario, the sea levels will rise around 1 meter, displacing millions of people and forcing us to invest trillions of dollars to make our coastal cities and towns habitable.
In this best-case scenario, natural disasters such as droughts, floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and so on, will become more frequent and more intense. Global warming isn’t only about warming; it is also about having more extreme weather.
The worst-case scenario of a 5ºC increase seems to be far-fetched, but there is still the risk it may happen or that it may get close to it, which would be disastrous. It would be a big disaster and it would turn our lives upside down.
Let’s try to avoid it please. It is in our hands, but we need to start working towards it now.
A more populous world
Demographic projections are usually relatively accurate, as death and fertility rates don’t change drastically over time. However, the further into the future you go, the more chances that some of those rates will vary considerably, wreaking havoc in those projections.
Until recently, the consensus was that the world population would peak in around 11 billion people by the end of the century and then start shrinking as fertility rates go down. However, a more recent study projects a more rapid decrease in the fertility rate due to advances in women education and contraceptive use, with the world population peaking at around 9 billion people by 2100.
Whichever way you look at it, the world at the end of the century will be home to many more people, and it will be more densely populated, with higher pressure on resources and on an already strained environment.
All projections agree that most of the growth would come from Africa, tripling its population to 4.3 billion based on the more widespread forecast. Asia would peak mid-century and then shrink, but continue being the most populous region globally with 4.7 billion people.
This means Africa and Asia will be home to 9 out of the 11 billion human beings living on earth. This will have a considerable impact on the balance of power in global institutions and global markets, on the ways business is conducted, on the cultures having a more significant impact on the world, etc. It is possible that Western ways of living and culture may take a back seat by the end of the century.
A new World Order
What will be the World Order in 2100? Will the US still be the world’s superpower? Or will China take its place? Will it be a bipolar world with a new Cold War? Will we have more globalization, or will we go back to further fragmentation and distance between countries?
Many things can and usually happen in geopolitics in 80 years, but it seems reasonable to think that the US and China will be the two superpowers dominating the world. How they get along between them is another matter.
As Kai-Fu Lee explained in AI Super-powers, AI will be the technology that will give power to countries, both economic and political, and China and the US are building an unassailable lead in this area. They are creating the necessary company ecosystems, and they have the data, the technology, and the talent to dominate the world of AI. The vast distance between them and the rest of the world will only grow with time.
Trump’s presidency, the dismal management of the Covid-19 crisis by different levels of the US government, the extreme polarization of its politics, and the recent overall retrenchment from the world seem to signal the decline of the US against an increasingly stronger and more assertive China, but this may be just a blip.
The US is still the most powerful country in the world in many areas, and I believe they will remain to be so for a while. Will that last until the end of the century? It is difficult to tell, but in some measure, it will also depend on what the rest of the world does and the alliances the US is able to maintain or win.
After the second world war, the US built a world order based on global or multi-country institutions like the UN, NATO, the IFM, or the World Bank and with key alliances in all continents. This Pax Americana has enabled the globalization of the economy (and society and culture), has increased global trade, and has brought enormous prosperity to America, but also to many other parts of the world. In the last few years, the US has taken a back seat and is retrenching from global institutions and somehow relinquishing its role as the world leader. I suspect this will damage the US interests the most and they may reverse this trend, but if they don’t it will be interesting to see what countries or regions fill the vacuum they will leave behind.
As I wrote last week, globalization is receding, and the world is generally becoming more nationalistic and localist. I think this is a short-term swing of the pendulum in the direction of de-globalization, but the general trend seems to be toward further integration. I think we will reach the end of the century with more regional blocs, more global collaboration to solve global problems, and a more prominent role of international institutions.
I hope the world will become smaller, closer, and more integrated, not more fragmented and parochial. And I pray that there isn’t a big war between big countries or regions, because then we may not even reach the year 2100.
The Age of technological marvels
Technology has been a significant engine of change in the last few decades. It is advancing at an increasing pace, even at an exponential rate in some specific areas, so in the next 80 years, there will be advances that we cannot even imagine today.
It is reasonable to assume that one of the main sources of technological progress will come from Artificial Intelligence. Many AI researchers believe that we will reach human-level AI in the next few decades, certainly within this century.
When that happens, the human-level AI will acquire all the knowledge we possess and will be able to produce increasingly more intelligent AI, reaching super-intelligence level very rapidly, or producing what some have called an intelligence explosion or the Singularity.
I have written about this on the post Automation: the Endgame, so I won’t repeat myself here, but a super-intelligent AI at our service, if we can control it (a big if), would usher a new era of scientific discoveries and technological advances, that would create a world unimaginable for us today. On the flip side, if not managed well, an entity much more intelligent than us could also mean the end of us as a species.
Apart from advances in AI, we will undoubtedly see advances in genetics and DNA sequencing and engineering. Ethics will have to play an important role here. For example, will we want to create “designer babies” with no hereditary sickness? If so, why stop there? Why not make them beautiful, tall, strong, and more intelligent? Will we create an even more unequal society, in which the super-rich create a super-human species and leave the rest of us in the dust? These are questions that we will have to answer eventually, and the sooner the better.
Without falling into full techno-utopianism, I believe technology has the potential to become a huge enabler, help us solve many of our current problems, and increase our living standards by 2100.
We will fight climate change by changing our behaviours, but without technological advances that allow us to store or eliminate the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it will be an uphill battle. Same with producing food for 11 billion people, fighting the next pandemic, or helping us solve any of the big global problems we will be facing in the next few decades. Technology brings its own risks, but without its help, we won’t be able to tackle the big challenges of our century.
Work in 2100, or lack thereof
In this site, we like to talk about the Future of Work, so let’s now talk about work. What will work be like in 2100? Will it be very different from today? If work still exists, that is, because it is possible it won’t.
Suppose Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), human-level AI, or artificial super-intelligence are reached by the end of the century, as stated above. In that case, it is likely work will not exist. AI and robots will be able to do whatever we are capable of doing but faster and better.
As Stuart Russell explains in Human Compatible2:
“General-purpose AI would be everything as a service (EaaS). There would be no need to employ armies of specialists in different disciplines, organized into hierarchies of contractors and subcontractors, in order to carry out a project. All embodiments of general-purpose AI would have access to all the knowledge and skills of the human race, and more besides. (…) In principle -politics and economics aside- everyone could have at their disposal an entire organization composed of software agents and physical robots, capable of designing and building bridges, improving crop yields, cooking dinner for a hundred guests, running elections, or doing whatever else needs doing. It’s the generality of general-purpose intelligence that makes this possible.”
If this becomes true, it will be a time of abundance. We will not need to work anymore and we will have all our basic needs covered, but as it has been the case throughout all history, some people will have access to more abundance than others and this will probably be a very unequal society, unless we do something to remedy it now.
However, it is not certain that this world will become true. Like the already mentioned Kai-Fu Lee, other authors believe we are far from this scenario and that there will still be jobs for humans. The number of jobs that machines will do better than us will increase considerably, but there will still be jobs requiring a human touch and emotion. What humans crave most is what machines will not be able to provide: love and human connection.
Whether jobs exist or have disappeared altogether, what seems clear is that we will probably have much more free time in 2100. In a society like ours, where careers and jobs play such an essential role in providing us with meaning, social status, and economic worth, there will have to be a total change of mindset, even a new paradigm.
Like Ancient Greeks or wealthy nobles throughout history, we will have to find ways to enjoy all our available leisure time. Looking at the latest trends, we will probably spend most of our free time staring at a screen or immersed in a virtual world playing games and having virtual sex. Still, people will also spend more time learning new skills, following artistic pursuits, and unleashing their creative instincts. We may see a new flourishing of the arts and creativity, a modern Renaissance perhaps?
A more human and humane future
There are many other possibilities we haven’t explored in this article. Will there be a human colony on Mars by 2100? Possibly. Will we have found a Theory of Everything in physics? Who knows. Will we know for sure whether there is life after death? Unlikely.
I can think of many other fascinating questions that I would love to write about, but there is so much you can write in a blog post without losing the reader’s attention. Maybe another time…
I find it exciting to think about and reflect on the future. As I said initially, I don’t make predictions, but I like to think about possibilities and possible futures and then work towards the most desired one. The future doesn’t happen to us; we build and shape it. We have agency over it, but we need to start building it today.
Depending on the actions we take now, the world will be slightly or intolerably warmer at the end of this century, or the world population will go up to 9 or maybe 11 billion people. Depending on the politicians we vote for and other actions we take, we will have one type of world order, based on collaboration and cooperation, or a completely different one, based on confrontation and war.
Finally, depending on our decisions as leaders, employees, founders, shareholders, consumers, and clients, we will build more or less human and humane workplaces and societies. We can use the exponentially growing advances in technology to maximise our potential as a species, increase our living standards, and live more fulfilling lives, or alienate ourselves, exploit one another, and increase human suffering. Which one will it be? I hope we choose wisely.
For a more human and humane future! May you all get to 2100 in good health and happiness!
1Toby Ords. The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity. Hachette Books, 2020
2Stuart Russell. Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the problem of control. Viking, 2019