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The Possible Futures of My Granddaughter Till 2099

Jun 26, 2024 | Children, Future, Michigan | 2 comments

It had been many decades since I held a newborn baby, but last week, a new granddaughter was born in our family. It’s hard to describe the shiver that went through my body when I looked at her for the first time. Such a tiny munchkin, and yet all there. Fingers, toes, elbows, eyes, ears, nose…the works.

As I stared at her face, a question came to mind: I am 75 now — when will this granddaughter be 75? The answer, of course is 2099. My 75 years have been filled with opportunities my grandfather never had, innovations he could not have imagined, and whiplash-worthy social changes he would not have understood.

As my mind drifted, I thought about some of the things she would face on her way to 2099. It was easy to think about nightmare scenarios and I ruminated on those for a while. But our new granddaughter might also find amazing opportunities that I can’t imagine. Wanting to keep a balance, I decided to ask my AI friend Claude, What opportunities and risks will the next generation of Americans face between now and 2099? After scraping all the trends, scenarios, and speculation Claude could find on the Internet, here was its top ten for each.

Opportunities:

  1. Tech advancements: Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics could boost productivity and create new job sectors, changing how we work and live.
  2. Clean energy leadership: America could pioneer renewable energy tech, aiming for energy independence and economic growth.
  3. Space exploration: Missions to the Moon and Mars could open new scientific and economic frontiers, including space-based industries.
  4. Medical breakthroughs: Gene therapy and personalized medicine could extend lifespans and cure many diseases.
  5. Education revolution: Artificial intelligence-assisted and virtual learning could make top-notch education available to all, preparing people for future jobs.
  6. Smarter cities: Urban areas could use tech to manage resources better and improve the quality of life.
  7. Economic shifts: Advanced tech might create an era of plenty, changing how we think about work and wealth.
  8. Brain-computer links: Connecting our brains to computers could enhance our abilities and change how we communicate.
  9. Environmental restoration: New technologies might help us repair ecosystems and stabilize the climate.
  10. Global teamwork: Better communication could help nations work together to solve big world problems.

Risks:

  1. Climate change effects: More extreme weather, rising seas, and crop failures could force people to move and disrupt the economy.
  2. Job loss to automation: AI and robots might replace many jobs faster than new ones are created, leading to widespread unemployment.
  3. Cyber threats: As we rely more on connected systems, the risk of damaging cyber attacks on infrastructure and personal data increases.
  4. Growing inequality: New tech might make some people extremely wealthy while leaving others behind, widening the gap between rich and poor.
  5. AI dangers: If not carefully developed, super-smart AI could pose serious risks to humanity.
  6. Bioengineered threats: Advances in biotech could be misused to create dangerous new diseases or weapons.
  7. Social division: Political polarization and fake news could further divide society and weaken democracy.
  8. Global power shifts: Changes in world leadership and fights over resources could lead to more international conflicts.
  9. Environmental tipping points: We might cause irreversible damage to ecosystems, leading to massive loss of plant and animal species.
  10. Human enhancement debates: Technologies to “upgrade” humans could spark ethical controversies and create new social divides.

So, what?

Scanning these lists makes me think that our new granddaughter — and her generation — will have exciting lives. There are so many great opportunities and so many risks! None of these are sure to happen, but I hope she gets to visit a Moon colony someday and watch sunrise travel across the Earth. On the other hand, I hope the robots don’t come for her job and leave her destitute.

The range of opportunities and risks she will face should not seem surprising. Those of us who were born before televisions have seen the world’s population double, dozens of wars, a huge expansion of the economy, amazing technological advances, and a frightening loss of biodiversity.

A pioneer of using artificial intelligence systems for creative purposes, Holly Herndon, likes to call AI “collective intelligence” instead of artificial. I like that and have written about collective learning as humans’ superpower. AI, in my opinion, does not create anything truly new. It just scrapes more than any of us possibly could from databases like the Internet, then combines or summarizes it. In this sense, it is just one more step in the process that led from writing on clay tablets to books, libraries, universities, the Internet, and so on.

The value of an AI-generated list like this is that it provides a first step for us, the “adults in the room,” to think about the future of our grandchildren. Claude and the other AI systems are happy — well, as happy as a circuit board can be — to expand on any of these points. We can use that collective learning in each of our communities, states, and nation to take actions that will help everyone in the next generation take advantage of the opportunities and minimize the risks. Seems like that’s a worthwhile job for grandparents.

So much for my meditation on the next 75 years. Think I will go back to rocking my new granddaughter.

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2 Comments

  1. Bill Stough

    Hi Tom, I just read Mustafa Sulyman’s new book “The Coming Wave” and in it he links the merging of AI, synthetic biology, robotics and quantum computing as a major technological transition in human history where it will be possible for AI to become sentient and develop cognitive powers that are orders of magnitude higher than the intelligence of all humans combined . He argues for a multilevel set of global and civil safeguards and guardrails to help direct such a super intelligence toward human benevolence. In such a world, your beautiful grand daughter will likely see that earth rise and experience a rich and rewarding life, that is my hope for her and her generation. Bill

    Reply
    • Tom Fehsenfeld

      Thanks, Bill. I will look up his book. It seems the future hangs in the balance between the advancement of our social and technological capabilities.

      Reply

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