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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

7 Strange Contrasts of the Future

7 Strange Contrasts of the Future

The future will be a strange landscape of sharp contrasts, where trends sometime move in opposite directions, leaving results that are diametrically opposed. Let us look at seven of these strange contrasts.

Our virtual worlds will get more beautiful, but our real world will get more ugly.

Virtual worlds are the artificial landscapes created by game designers and art designers working for television and movies. A few decades ago the best virtual worlds looked like crude cartoons, but progress in computer-generated imagery has been breathtaking. Video games such as The Elder Scrolls V: Sykrim and Fable II offer stunningly beautiful vistas, and if you see the latest Pixar movie you may see even more gorgeous make-believe landscapes. As computer technology improves, these virtual worlds will get ever more ravishing.

But as our virtual worlds get more and more beautiful, our real world will probably get more and more ugly. Overpopulation, sprawl, deforestation, and pollution all will play a part in decreasing the beauty of the natural world. We see an example of this in the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada, where a huge lovely natural area is being turned into something almost as ugly as a moonscape. 

game world vs. real world

There will be more forms of synthetic life, but far fewer forms of natural life.

According to the Wikipedia.org article on synthetic life, "In May 2010, Craig Venter's group announced they had been able to assemble a complete genome of millions of base pairs, insert it into a cell, and cause that cell to start replicating." Scientists will no doubt make many additional forms of synthetic life in the future.

But in coming decades the total number of natural species will sharply decrease. It is estimated that every day 100 species are being lost to deforestation. The National Wildlife Federation has estimated that 27,000 species are becoming extinct every year. Global warming is expected to increase the rate of species loss as more and more species become extinct because their habitat has changed.

The human population will grow higher and higher, but our resources to support it will grow lower and lower.

The human population is expected to grow by billions in the coming decades. Unfortunately, the earthly natural resources to support that population seem to be growing ever smaller. We are using up our reserves of oil, and may be near the peak of oil production; we may have only several decades left of regular crude oil. Several experts think we will hit Peak Coal in a few decades. We are depleting our supplies of fresh water, and the fertility of our soil is gradually declining. In addition, within a few decades we may soon run short on numerous types of metals and minerals such as phosphorus.

We will have more droughts, but also more floods due to rainfall.

Global warming is not making every place hotter and drier. Instead global warming is tending to make hot places hotter, and wet places wetter. A recent scientific paper states, “Climate models project increased aridity in the 21st century over most of Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East, most of the Americas, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Regions like the United States have avoided prolonged droughts during the last 50 years due to natural climate variations, but might see persistent droughts in the next 20–50 years.”

But other places that tend to get a lot of rain will get even more rain. For example, last month a headline on monsoon floods in India stated: “5000 Missing in India Floods: Scientists Say Global Warming is to Blame.”

People will have more and more information, but the world will be more and more confusing and hard to understand.

Information is supposed to make things easier to understand. If you don't understand the Civil War, read a book or two on it, and you'll understand it. But as we pile up more and more terabytes of information, the world doesn't seem any easier to understand. The world seems to get more and more complex and hard to understand. Even as our science progresses, we add more and more baffling mysteries: black holes, the Big Bang, quantum entanglement, and dark energy, to name a few.

We'll get more effective ways of extending life, and also more effective ways of destroying life.

Scientists are working on exciting life-extension technologies. They know that as we age the units called telomeres at the ends of our chromosomes grow shorter and shorter. Scientists think there may be some way to stop these telomeres from shortening, and that may be the key to extending the human lifespan. Scientists are also doing work on stem cell research and artificial organs, which will offer hope for increasing the human lifespan.

But as this work continues, scientists will also continue work on artificial germs which could wipe out billions of us, drone aircraft which can bring death instantaneously from the sky, and nuclear weapons of increasing deadliness.

Our communication devices are getting ever more sophisticated, but our messages are getting ever more vapid.

Back in the time of Thomas Jefferson, people would use inkwells and quill pens, but they would write long letters to each other with sentences such as It suffices for us, if the moral and physical condition of our own citizens qualifies them to select the able and good for the direction of their government, with a recurrence of elections at such short periods as will enable them to displace an unfaithful servant before the mischief he meditates may be irremediable.” 

But today the typical smartphone user does not write long letters, but sends out a slew of vacant, vapid little text messages such as “OMG DID U C HER? LOL”