It started as an innocuous discussion thread on the Forbes India email list. My colleague N.S Ramnath posted a link to a BBC News article about how in 1900 John Elfreth Watkins, an unknown civil engineer in the US, uncannily predicted many things that would come true within a 100 years.
The predictions ranged from digital colour photography to mobile phones to the rising height of Americans.
After a few comments from colleagues marveling Watkins’ eerily prescient predictions, our deputy editor Shishir Prasad weighed in with his own prediction: “Rohin will diss this in the next post!”
And sure enough, I did. (to paraphrase the Oracle from The Matrix, would I have dissed it if Shishir hadn’t said anything?)
While agreeing that Watkins had done some nifty Nostradamus-channeling, I felt that predicting the future so far out wasn’t that big a deal. Half the stuff is already been done by science fiction writers and Hollywood directors. The rest can be extrapolated by any reasonably intelligent and well-read person.
To prove my point, I put forth my own list of predictions for 2100:
- Human beings will live to 150 using medical advancements
- We will communicate with people around the world instantly, and without using any aids(embedded chips that read our thoughts and transmit them)
- Machines would have become sentient, with a collective and individual intelligence of their own(singularity)
- Sex, both for procreation or pleasure will become very rare(super efficient IVF that guarantees perfect children; avatars/humanoids /virtual reality for pleasure)
- Physical travel will be unaffordable for most people, unless you’re mining on Mars.
- Our diets will consist of man-made tablets, powders, juices.
- Natural fruits and vegetables will be more for the gazillionaires.
- Knowledge will be implanted/transferred to our brains.
- People will have multiple life-like holographic avatars that can perform tasks for them simultaneously, often with other avatars.
- There will be one global currency, of which there will be no physical variant.
- Programmers and hackers will be the investment bankers and bankers of then.
Ramnath then raised a very valid objection to my list, saying “If people agree with your list, you are probably wrong. In the sense, it might not take 100 years.”
He was right. Many of the things I talked about, for example about thought-based communication, programmers becoming the new global brahmins and personal avatars might not take 100 years to materialize.
IBM says mind-reading machines might become reality as early as 2017. According to the WaPo, programmers are already the political elite. And one of the predictions made by Prof. Lynda Gratton of the LBS in her very interesting book, “The Shift: The future of work is already here” (which incidentally, I’m currently reading), virtual avatars and agents will already be performing much of our work by 2020.
So I took another shot at my predictions, pushing the boundary of my thinking to hopefully a point where others would find them implausible, and therefore possible.
- Mankind would have engineered a third sex – neither/both man and woman – combing the (cliched) strengths of men(e.g. spacial correlation) and women(e.g. EQ).
- Children will be born inside newly grown surrogate clones, who will be discarded after birth.
- There will be no states by large corporations who control everything.
- The same states will auction the right to have children(not to bear them), but only the very rich will be able to afford them.
- Our home interiors will be made of shape shifting materials that will rearrange to form newer shapes depending on designs fed to them. For instance your living room may be a beach with a beach chair one day and a meadow with a view of the swiss alps another.
- We will be completely and utterly self sufficient on energy(solar), food(artificial), water(desalination) and population(seriously below threshold rate). Mankind will then be pointless and aimless.
Do they sound more outlandish compared to my first set? Possibly.
Here’s when our resident social media editor and nocturnal man-of-words Peter Griffin chimed: why not ask Forbes India staff to add their own predictions to this list, then have our readers rank those ideas and make some predictions of their own.
Sounds like a plan, Peter!
Watch the Forbes India blog pages over the next few days on how to join us in this interesting exercise.
Edit: Readers are welcome to add their predictions or critiques as comments to this post too.