Author Charles Stross has given the world many a flight of futuristic fancy — post-human worlds where androids carry on our legacy, bank robberies committed inside online games, and god-like meddlers — but what does he think the world will really be like in the next 20 years?
On his blog, Stross has been posting some amazingly comprehensive predictions for what the years 2032 and 2092 will look like. In the first post, "World building 301," he looks largely at the technological advances he thinks are likely to occur in climate sciences, energy, transport, medicine, and space travel, and also makes his predictions for the state of the population and our food supply. So, will we be on Mars by 2032? Stross says maybe, but probably not:
Space: Is a red herring in the short term. China will have a space station and maybe a flag on the moon. The USA will continue to send out increasingly sophisticated robot probes and might still be operating a space station. They might even have planted a flag on the moon (again) and have plans to go to Mars. (On the down side: a major political or fiscal crisis might be enough to do unto NASA what the collapse of the USSR did to the Soviet space infrastructure.) There will probably be continued commercial development in low earth orbit, including an orbiting hotel (for the plutocrats to play bunga-bunga games). And Elon Musk might still be in business and going balls-out for Mars. But by 2032 I don't expect there to be any major breakthroughs.
And if his dissertation on life in 2032 weren't enough, Stross extends his predictions all the way out to 2092, and what he envisions isn't pretty: a screwed up environment and mass extinction of animal species, with large chunks of the earth uninhabitable to humans.
In "World building 302," Stross gets into more of the social aspects of his eventually crumbling future, putting particular emphasis on the effect of life-extension and regenerative treatments of human culture. There's a really fascinating bit where he speculates on the possibility that improved understand of our brains and subsequent medical advantages might lead to more cognitively flexible middle-aged and older adults, resulting in less bigotry even as our population grows older. Good stuff.
And, although he doesn't have as firm predictions for the future of our sexual lives, he does consider the subject:
Speaking of supernormal sexual stimuli, Peter Watts has speculated that just as Photoshop retouching has corrupted our idea of beauty sufficiently good VR or teledildonics may offer us sexual experiences via machine that are so much better than person-to-person real world sex that, well, nobody wants to make the nasty any more. I'm not sure it's going to go that far, any more than pervasive access to porn on the internet has debauched and depraved our entire society in the past decade or so, but some subcultures/sexualities are unlikely to be mainstreamed because they are frankly harmful to third parties. It is interesting to speculate that teledildonics or VR may not only offer a distracting supernormal sexual stimulus to us, but be tailored to channel individuals with paedophile, necrophile, or other societally unacceptable desires into a non-harmful direction. Or at least in a direction that doesn't harm human beings.
It's worth buckling down and reading both pieces in their entirety, even if Stross's ultimate view of the future is incredibly frightening.