One way I generate ideas for science fiction stories is to consider big unanswered questions, and then consider how various combinations of results might play out. The challenge is to try to imagine a future that is neither an apocalyptic wasteland nor a rosy utopia, but rather messy and complex with lots of good aspects as well as miserable aspects (as reality tends to be).
Probable 100-year megatrends include including a warming climate, advances in technology and artificial intelligence, the human population peak, and major ecological disruption, especially in the oceans. But the future is not written. Here are seven major questions/variables I’m considering:
- How will the Anthropocene affect long-term climate? Will the Holocene interglacial eventually end, resulting in a return to Ice Age conditions (either from greenhouse gas emission reduction, or global dimming from a major volcanic event), or will Earth lose all ice and become a greenhouse planet?
- Will we invent a form of cheap energy that is also tolerably clean, safe, and reliable? Or will energy costs and hazards continue to rise as fossil fuels are depleted?
- Will we find ways to share the real wealth created by programmable/replicable products and services (and the resulting decline in work and revenue), or will income inequality and social unrest continue to increase?
- Will human population decline be “soft” (as a result of couples choosing to have fewer children due to cost-of-living and lifestyle considerations) or “hard” (as a result of sudden crashes related to fresh water, food, energy, infrastructure, and/or social stability, and the resulting chaos, death, destruction, famine, and war), or “very hard” (due to mass pandemic, supervolcano, asteroid strike, technology gone horribly wrong, etc.)? Or will human population defy predictions of a 2050-ish peak, and continue to grow?
- Will we find ways to effectively manage human population decline and the resulting issues (aging population, shrinking economies, permanent real estate slumps) or will human population decline be chaotic and destructive?
- Will we find ways to avoid the widespread collapse of ocean ecologies due to overfishing, warming, and coral destruction/acidification?
- Will we succeed in a building sustainable off-world habitats for significant numbers of people (large space stations, a moon base, Mars colony, etc.)?
My best guesses, at this point, would be 1) Eventual return to Ice Age, 2) Clean sustainable cheap energy will probably happen even if fusion is never realized, 3) Increased income inequality and social unrest for at least the next twenty years, until everyone is retrained in robot programming/design/maintenance, 4) Soft/gradual decline, but not until 2070, 5) It will take 50 years to adjust, and those will be a hard 50 years, 6) Oceans will generally recover 20-50 years after major pollution, overfishing, and acidification stops, though with significantly reduced biodiversity, 7) Not until 23rd or 24th centuries, and space colonies will be inhabited either by our robot/human hybrid descendants, and/or significantly genetically modified humans.
But I only make these predictions with 60% confidence, on average. If history teaches us anything, it’s that anything can happen, and most predictions are wrong.
What about the present? The world may appear as a dumpster fire, but zooming out, extreme poverty is down, death by war and violence is down, and literacy is up. The future of humanity is uncertain, but many of the trends are good/heartening.
As for the current U.S. government, that is a dumpster fire. But one that will be out, one way or another, in just a few years. Given how severely our electorate is divided, and given the coming challenges to our economy (the end of trucking, for one), it’s hard to be optimistic about the future of our country. But that could turn around too–a few decades of investment in infrastructure, health care/public health, education, and scientific research could, actually, M.A.G.A. for real.
Announcements and Pre-Announcements
2) I have something that I’m very eager to announce, but I’m not supposed to yet. I’ll just say it’s a big win in the fiction writing column. I’ll share the news as soon as it’s announced through official channels.