I came across this post at Dispatches from the Culture wars. It got me thinking, and eventually my mind thought about previous predictions of what the 2010’s would be like. This led me to realize that the past is more like the present than you think. Indeed, if you predicted that the world thirty years from now would be exactly like today, you probably wouldn’t do too badly.
To illustrate, let’s pretend that some futurologist, Ima P. Rofet, writing (to use round year numbers) that the year 2010 will be exactly like 1980. Let’s see what predictions our prognosticator would have been correct on (not an exhaustive list):
- Politics and international relations:
- There will be two major political parties in the United States, the Democratic and the Republican. There will be other parties, but only these two will have a realistic chance of taking power.
- Russia will be governed as an authoritarian state.
- Nuclear weapons will never have been used in warfare since Nagasaki.
- The conflict in the Middle East will have been unresolved.
- There will be no peace treaty in Korea.
- There will have been no female president of the United States.
- Oil will give the Middle East disproportionate influence on world affairs.
- Terrorism will influence some countries foreign policy.
- The United Nations will not be a world government.
- Culture and society
- Television, movies, and recorded music will be popular forms of entertainment.
- Classical music will be important in music education and most people will be exposed to it in movie and television soundtracks, but it will only retain niche popularity.
- Most people in the western world will live in cities and suburbs.
- An appreciable number of people will have used marijuana, even if it is nominally illegal.
- Most people will travel by car or airplane and, in densely–populated cities, train or other public transport.
- Many people will live in poverty and lack adequate access to food, water, and medicine.
- Many women will still be oppressed and be second–class citizens, even if they nominally have equal rights with men.
- The richest developed countries will be capitalist, though the state will play a role.
- Goods will be moved by ship, train, or truck.
- In developed countries, the largest sector will be the service sector. Manufacturing and agriculture will play smaller but possibly–important roles. In developing countries, agriculture and resource extraction will be more important.
- Women will be paid less than men, even when all confounding factors are taken into account.
- Science and technology
- There will only ever be a small number of people in space. Most space science will be conducted by robots.
- There will be (for the most part) no cure for cancer, AIDS, diabetes, or other well–known medical conditions and diseases other than bacterial infections.
- There will be no Grand Unified Theory or Theory of Everything that has been tested and has wide acceptance.
- Fossil fuels will be the primary source of energy.
- Some people will worry about the effects that humans are having on the planet.
A couple of the above points might be debatable, but the general principle holds.
Of course, in the interest of fairness, our fictional prognosticator would also be wrong on a number of cases. The two biggest ones would be the fall of communism and the rise of the internet and the personal computer. But then again, considering the chief theorist of modern capitalism, Adam Smith, thought that the corporation had no future, I feel that every prognosticator is entitled to a few major screw–ups.
Hence, I predict that if you predict that the year 2040 will be exactly like 2010, you’ll be right on a number of counts, but will miss a few huge events that will be either unforeseeable or foreseeable but impossible to put a definite date on. As an example, with peak oil on the way and global warming taking place, alternative energy will definitely be more important in 2040 than it is today, but it is pretty impossible to be much more specific on this prediction.
Update: This post has been edited for clarity.