Future shocks: Killer robots, hyperaging, space tourism, intelligent cars, resource wars

The Washington Post Outlook section (4 January 2009) is full of articles under the label “future shocks.” A sampling:

The world won’t be aging gracefully. “For the world’s wealthy nations, the 2020s are set to be a decade of hyperaging and population decline. Many countries will experience fiscal crisis, economic stagnation and ugly political battles over entitlements and immigration. Meanwhile, poor countries will be buffeted by their own demographic storms. Some will be overwhelmed by massive age waves that they can’t afford, while others will be whipsawed by new explosions of youth whose aspirations they cannot satisfy. The risk of social and political upheaval and military aggression will grow throughout the developing world — even as the developed world’s capacity to deal with these threats weakens. The rich countries have been aging for decades, due to falling birthrates and rising life spans. But in the 2020s, this aging will get an extra kick as large postwar baby boom generations move into retirement.” — Neil Howe and Richard Jackson are researchers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and co-authors of “The Graying of the Great Powers: Demography and Geopolitics in the 21st Century.”

Coming to the battlefield: Stone-cold robot killers.Armed robots will all be snipers. Stone-cold killers, every one of them. They will aim with inhuman precision and fire without human hesitation. They will not need bonuses to enlist or housing for their families or expensive training ranges or retirement payments.” — John Pike is the director of the military information Web site GlobalSecurity.org.

The next big things:

  • Space tourism in 2012 (+/- 2 years) >>>>

    Spaceship for space tourism
    Spaceship for space tourism
  • Intelligent cars in 2014 (+/- 4 years)
  • Telemedicine in 2015 (+/- 4 years)
  • Thought power (brain signals controlling systems) in 2020 (+/- 9 years)
  • Artificial intelligence in 2021 (+/- 7 years)
  • Smart robots in 2022 (+/- 7 years)
  • Alternative energy in 2022 (+/- 9 years)
  • Cancer cure in 2024 (+/- 8 years)

William E. Halal, president of TechCast LLC

Global warming could lead to warfare over scarce resources (e.g., arable land and fresh water); mass migrations; and territorial disputes over newly available energy resources (e.g. Arctic oil). — James R. Lee runs American University’s Inventory of Conflict and Environment project. He’s at work on a book on climate change and conflict.

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