I am an amateur futurist. What’s that? It’s when someone tries to foresee the outcome of technological, cultural and social trends in the future. And what I see on the horizon is something that’ll change the very way we exist on our planet, and I’m going to share this vision with you.
Right now, we are dependent on fossil fuels for the majority of the energy produced on our planet. The United States uses coal mostly to produce this power, which isn’t a problem for the next century or so, according to current projections. With the birth rates decreasing and the population growing older, as the current generation of baby boomers dies off, the population will shrink back down a bit, easing the burden on our current infrastructure.
With the current focus on renewable energy, the United States will switch to more sustainable means of transit, mass transit growing more and more popular, vehicles running off of sustainable fuels or electricity, and people growing more aware. But the demand for energy won’t be solved until something happens: we find a way to produce fusion power. As the United States becomes more and more dependent on it’s power grid, the introduction of fusion power will change things immensely.
We’ll start with sustainability. The primary fuel in fusion power can be obtained from the sea, meaning that our mostly water world will sustain us with enough power to last indefinitely. With more power being produced than consumed, nuclear power will be the first to go, since nuclear power is used to handle the constant loads being put on the nation’s power grid. With more and more fusion reactors going online, the engineering will become better and better, making them smaller and more affordable as they go, meaning they’ll replace more and more until they take on coal and natural gas, the back-ups that help keep the grid working. With fusion power, fuel will be so abundant and cheap that no other alternatives will be worth pursuing.
With the introduction of cheap fuels that sustain themselves via fusion, you’ll begin to see a change in industries. With the shrinking work force, the demands on labor will drive companies to pay more for workers, especially skilled ones. This demand will make it necessary for them to work smarter, increasing the demands on computers and robots. This, in turn, will be beneficial to the aluminum industry for two reasons: Aluminum is the most abundant metal on Earth, making it cheap and plentiful, and it works itself nicely into being a lightweight metal for use in electronics and mechanical devices. Aluminum will become cheaper than it already is because the availability of cheap power will let aluminum be produced at a much lower cost, driving the steel industry out of business.
With robotics and industry tooled to a smarter work force, the production of materials will become mostly automated, leaving the US to produce more and more domestically as China’s growing middle class drives up the demands for American goods and services. As China starts to turn its industry to providing for its own people’s demands for cheap goods, the US will be using robotics to ensure that the demand for products shifts back to US soil will be met adequately. With so much of the work force having shifted to service industries and industry being automated, telecommuting will become common enough that the internet will need to expand dramatically beyond what it already is.
With the higher demand due to telecommuting, research money will be poured into providing faster and better communications, getting faster and faster until it’s literally impossible to get faster service. Because people will be needing to interact with machines via telecommuting, the ability to interact will drive input device manufacturing to produce better and better controls, until eventually we get a sort of virtual reality that we can work with and manipulate to some degree. This will of course make gaming more interactive and interesting, which will of course demand more bandwidth from the service providers.
With people telecommuting, the demands for vehicles will begin to drop, mostly due to vehicles no longer being necessary to conduct business or travel to and from work. The major companies will begin to shrink, GM and Ford and Dodge absorbing the smaller companies or simply shutting them down. With less demand for a vehicle to look flashy, except for a few times when you want to look really good, most vehicles will become more utilitarian in their construction, though they’ll get better fuel economy simply due to the lighter, all aluminum frames.
All the advancements in robotics from the private sector will benefit NASA and other space agencies that will no doubt arise. The launching of space elevators with carbon nanotube tethers will let ships be launched for fractions of the cost today does, making exploration of space easier. For larger vessels, robotic drones dispatched to the asteroid belt would use the nickle and iron present in space rocks to make major sections and return them to Earth, letting large missions be carried out faster and easier. The abundance of energy from fusion will let ships produce plenty of heat and power, enabling colonies in places like far away Mars, Titan, Io, and more.
Without a need for fossil fuels, the major superpowers such as the United States and China will not have direct reason to compete with each other, leading to more cooperative futures. If both invested in space, large scale missions could be conducted that would lead to a bright future. Wars will still happen for petty reasons, but hopefully space will let the nations of the world take a joyous gift like fusion and put aside some disputes.
That’s the world I see when I look at the future. I just gotta hope now that it actually happens.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions?