Dusk til Dawn
Global trends and population
The speed of technological development is accelerating exponentially. By 2030, the pace of change is so great that it will seem as if an entire century of progress has already occurred in the first three decades of the 21st century. Scientific breakthroughs appear to be happening with startling frequency now – particularly in the areas of computing, nanotechnology, medicine and neuroscience.
Workplaces are becoming increasingly automated, with giant leaps forward in productivity and efficiency. Ever-increasing use of digital, portable, wireless devices has led to the evolution of near-paperless offices in most of the developed world. The need for hyperfast exchange of information (combined with a reduction in air travel due to spiralling fuel costs and environmental regulations) has led to a huge increase in video conferencing.
Many companies are downsizing their administrative departments and replacing them with AI. This is particularly true of call centres and other service-based roles, where customers now deal face-to-face with “virtual employees” run by highly sophisticated software. Crude versions of these systems had been utilised as far back as the 1990s – activated by simple voice commands over the telephone – but now they are presented onscreen as fully conversant digital entities.
Though lacking much in the way of personality and emotions, these sentient programs have a plethora of options and interactivity available, and can usually deal with almost any query – however specific or unusual. As competition increases, these virtual employees become a powerful marketing tool in the bid to provide the best possible customer service. In addition to mainstream companies, the porn industry gains a huge advantage from them, with enormous demand for their services. Research and development into artificial intelligence (and related hardware/software) increases significantly during this period. An added benefit of interacting with these virtual people is the complete elimination of caller queuing, since there is no need for physical staff anymore. The hyper-fast broadband connections available at the time contribute to this phenomenon, allowing complete programs to be downloaded instantly.
With AI beginning to play a stronger role in society, concerns arise of a technological singularity, as forecast by the likes of Ray Kurzweil. These fears prove to be exaggerated for now (in a manner similar to the Millenium Bug of three decades previously). In any case, there are a number of other more pressing issues.
In the short term, perhaps the most serious of these is the population growth occuring in the developing world. In the early 2000s, there were around six billion people on Earth. By the 2030s, there are an additional two billion, and this has a massive impact on food and water supplies. Humanity’s ecological footprint is such that it now requires the equivalent of two whole Earths to sustain itself. The extra one-third of human beings on the planet means that energy requirements are soaring, at a time when oil supplies are declining. Farmland and fresh water are becoming scarcer by the day. A whole series of conflicts is now unfolding – especially in Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Western Europe is being flooded with immigrants seeking refuge from these troubled regions, leading to a surge in support for right-wing nationalist governments.
There is the added issue of climate change, of course, with carbon emissions reaching critical levels. A tipping point is close to being reached from which there can be no recovery. September Arctic sea ice has disappeared altogether now.
However, the increasing magnitude of these problems – and the impending devastation which awaits – has resulted in a growing awareness and willingness of the G20 nations to cooperate. This is leading to a rapid migration from traditional fossil fuels to renewable energy and alternative sources of power. Advances in nanotechnology over the previous decades has resulted in vastly improved solar power. Photovoltaic materials are being added to almost every new building, and standards of energy conservation have risen substantially. Wind and hydro-electric power plants are cheaper and more efficient, and are being readily deployed everywhere (over 20% of US energy now comes from wind). Clean coal technology is a further option being utilised. Energy supplies in general are becoming far more localised and self-sufficient. Meanwhile, 4th generation nuclear power plants are close to being perfected, and fusion power is only a decade or two away.
Although humanity is weening itself off fossil fuels, they remain the principal energy source in 2030 – accounting for over half of all power production. Time is rapidly running out to avoid a climate catastrophe.
Another issue which governments have to contend with is the ageing population, which has seen a doubling of retired persons since the year 2000. People are living longer, healthier lives. Huge budget increases have to be made for state pensions, but the funding is spread over such a large number of people that the overall effect is a decrease for the average senior citizen. Retirement ages subsequently increase: in America, Japan and most European countries, many employees are forced to work into their 70s.
USA is declining as a world power
A ballooning budget deficit and personal debt levels, combined with excessive military spending and related activities (such as increased homeland security and surveillance), greatly weakened the dollar over the previous few decades. The sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008 caused long term damage to America’s reputation.
The continued industrialisation of China and India has led to phenomenal growth in these and other Asian countries. Wall Street is being eclipsed by Shanghai as a financial centre.
America’s economic clout has been further hampered by its response to the climate change crisis. Although significant investments have been made in green technologies compared to levels circa 2000, the rest of the world has been far more willing to invest in this area. The nation’s competitiveness with regards to energy efficiency and environmental standards is therefore suffering.
Despite these problems, the US still retains “super power” status – but every leading economist now acknowledges that it won’t be the only country holding this title for much longer. China and India will inevitably join the club soon. What this means for the world over the next few decades is the subject of much debate and speculation at this time, but many agree that a trio of superpowers rather than a single lone hyperpower would mean a period of increased danger and instability. The decline of natural resources, combined with a spectacular population boom, will almost certainly threaten world peace.
India becomes the most populous country in the world
Around this time, India overtakes China to become the most populous country in the world. By the middle of this decade it will be home to over 1.5 billion people. The gap between these two countries will continue to widen, with China’s population actually declining from this point onwards.
As part of a climate change deal, foreign investment within India has enabled the country to build more than a hundred gigawatts of solar power facilities: enough to supply 200 million people with clean energy. Together with its growth as a major IT centre, this has further improved its social and economic standing. At the same time, however, the effects of climate change are beginning to take hold. Droughts are posing serious challenges to food and water production.
Emerging career opportunities in science and technology
Some of the new job titles becoming widespread in 2030 include the following.
- Alternative Vehicle Developer
- Avatar Manager / Devotee
- Body Part Maker
- Climate Change Reversal Specialist
- Memory Augmentation Surgeon
- Nano Medic
- ‘New Science’ Ethicist
- Old Age Wellness Manager / Consultant Specialist
- Quarantine Enforcer
- Social ‘Networking’ Officer
- Space Pilot / Orbital Tour Guide
- Vertical Farmer
- Virtual Clutter Organizer
- Virtual Lawyer
- Virtual Teacher
- Waste Data Handler