Economic decline in the Middle East
Crude oil, an essential
driver of the world economy, has undergone major falls in production.* Following
years of disruption and a race to avert catastrophe, viable alternatives
for humanity's energy needs have thankfully become a realistic prospect. Algae
biofuel is leading the way.** Solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy have also borne fruit.
With nanotechnology being applied to panels and surfaces, together with falling
costs, solar energy has seen exponential uptake.*
Energy storage systems have made progress alongside this, allowing solar
to be used at night time for example.* Electric
cars are becoming widespread too, accounting for over half of new vehicles on U.S. roads.* No longer
funded by the West's limitless demand for oil, the Middle East is collapsing
into a largely poverty-ridden, internally feuding region. A "brain
drain" is pushing it back into relative insignificance. Several countries
have been engaged in a nuclear arms race that has further destabilised the
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World tin reserves are running out
Tin is a silvery-white metal that is soft, ductile and malleable. Among the oldest metals known to mankind, it was discovered around 3000 BC during the bronze age, which is in fact named for an alloy of tin and copper. Its role in casting as an alloy created a valuable trade network that linked ancient civilisation for thousands of years.*
Tin does not occur naturally in pure form, so it must be extracted from other ores. Because of tin dioxide's high specific gravity, tin is often mined downstream of a primary deposit – along river banks, in valleys, or at the bottom of the ocean. Therefore, the most economical extraction methods are dredging, open-pit and hydraulic mining. Historically, the largest producers of tin have been China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia.
Tin is primarily used in soldering, metal plating, a wide range of alloys, superconducting magnets and PVC plastics. As China and other emerging nations continue to demand resources beyond what the earth can provide, tin is among the metals now in critical decline. By the mid-2030s, most of the large economically recoverable deposits have been completely exhausted.**
Local, individual and small-scale mines – not reporting their reserves in the manner of large mining corporations – have continued to supply the markets. Recent new discoveries in Columbia* have also provided some temporary relief to demand. However, an adequate long-term solution can only be found with a complete replacement for tin.* Recycling has increased sharply as the market trends away from mineral sources.
Arctic is becoming ice-free during September
global warming, the Arctic is now free of ice during the whole
of September. A dramatic decline in coverage was observed during 2007
and this trend continued over the subsequent decades. The process was
accelerated by the increasing surface area of water – being darker,
this absorbed more of the Sun's heat than reflective white ice.
Distributed propulsion systems are revolutionising air travel
During this decade,** a number of national militaries and commercial aerospace firms are adopting turbo-electric distributed propulsion systems for their aircraft, replacing the more traditional wing-attached engines. This is a result of recent advances in materials science, cryogenic cooling systems, novel fuels, high fidelity computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and experimental tools. Along with hypersonic engines,* this technology is contributing to an ongoing revolution in aircraft design.
The basic concept of distributed propulsion is that the thrust-generating components of an aircraft are now fully integrated into the airframe of the vehicle. Instead of one or two large singular engines attached to the outside of the wing or fuselage, thrust is generated by a spanwise distribution of smaller engines or fans across the width of the wing. These are also more seamlessly merged into the body of the plane, offering major advantages in terms of aerodynamics and thrust. This is usually combined with a blended wing body design, creating a more streamlined, synergistic combination of all aircraft components.
Airflow around the plane is optimised – allowing for steeper climbs during take-off, greater degrees of control and manoeuvrability, higher bypass ratios and much greater fuel efficiency. In addition, the majority of these systems utilise electrical propulsion.* Advances in energy storage, as well as a new generation of ultra-lightweight superconductors, have finally paved the way for large-scale production of electric aircraft. These have the benefits of lighter weight, less maintenance, a noise reduction of up to 70 decibels and lower carbon footprints. Construction of these planes is also considerably cheaper in many cases.*
vehicles are widespread
Accelerating breakthroughs in the fields of artificial intelligence, sensors and telecommunications have led to a new generation of self-driving cars. These vehicles are considerably safer and more reliable than previous models and now dominate the mainstream markets, particularly in developed nations.** Today, annual purchases of autonomous vehicles are nearing 100 million worldwide, representing almost 75% of all light-duty vehicle sales.* This compares with 60 million total light-duty vehicle sales in 2012, and is largely due to soaring populations and the rapid industrialisation of many countries.
Simpler versions of this technology were seen in the 2010s in the form of emergency braking systems,* connected vehicle networks,* self-parking and freeway cruising features. Now though, computing power and stronger AI mean that today's autonomous vehicles can outperform even the best human drivers. A combination of GPS, on-board sensors, traction and stability control, and adaptive cruise control allow a car to sense incoming objects from all directions, detect incoming crashes and impacts, predict the movements of other vehicles on the road, and adapt to changing road and weather conditions. Real-time updates are constantly received by the car's on-board computer, giving up-to-date information on traffic, allowing the vehicles to determine the optimal route to their intended destination.
A number of hurdles had to be overcome in order to reach this point. One was the reluctance of automakers to take on responsibility for both the construction and operation of their vehicles. Another was the disruption autonomous vehicles posed to the insurance industry.* Shifting responsibility from driver to manufacturer added a whole series of complications to the legal and financial proceedings of potential accidents. Indeed, the early adoption period of self-driving cars was marked by a number of high-profile lawsuits and court hearings, often hyped up by media outlets. Alongside this were the ethical implications of putting the lives of passengers and pedestrians into the hands of a machine.
Despite these problems, the rapidly improving performance and inherent safety of these vehicles succeeded in boosting demand substantially. The efficiency offered by self-driving cars also helps to cut down on congestion and pollution. As well as improving road safety, most of these cars are now electric, or hybrid electric, reducing their CO2 impact.* These and other factors mean that by the middle of this century, the vast majority of cars on the road will be fully autonomous.*
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recreations of dead people
this time many dead celebrities, presidents and historical figures from
the past are "resurrected" online, via the immense AI and
supercomputing powers now available. This phenomenon is aided by the
recent human brain simulations that have been made possible. Data mining of every single word ever
spoken, written, or otherwise recorded by the person is undertaken,
then analysed to recreate their character traits and emotions. This
allows the construction of a highly accurate "shell" personality,
surrounding a generic "core" program, run as an entirely independent
sparks much controversy when first announced (especially among the religious
community) but soon gains momentum, as a whole host of actors, musicians,
artists, scientists, politicians and other individuals from the past
are made available.* Advanced holographic
techniques – combined with real-time audio-visual interaction – make
them appear as lifelike as any other person alive in the world today.
of computerised resurrection is soon extended and made possible for
ordinary citizens wishing to preserve a loved one in digital form; though
once again, it is more popular among the non-religious (and the process
is generally less accurate, since the average person tends to leave
behind less data, written words, video recordings and other information
for use in constructing the programs). The technology involved is also
expensive. It is used only by the rich for now – or in certain public
locations such as museums, galleries and other venues.
are dominating the battlefield*
Highly mobile, autonomous fighting machines are commonplace on the battlefield
now. Guided by advanced AI, they can aim with inhuman precision and
come equipped with powerful sensors, GPS and thermal vision. They can
be deployed for weeks or months at a time if necessary, without need
for rest or maintenance. They have other advantages too – such as a
complete lack of remorse or fear; no need for training, or retirement
payments, or other such costs. These machines are being used in a wide
variety of conflicts (especially food/energy/resource-related) where
they spread terror and confusion through the ranks of their enemies.
only the poorest or most desperate enemies are fielding human troops
against this new and deadly force. This is giving the US an advantage
in battlefield situations, allowing the country to regain some of the
power and influence it has lost in previous decades – at least with
regards to armed conflicts.
advanced robot models come with self-repairing nanobot systems and immunity
to EMP attacks. Some can even turn themselves invisible through the
use of metamaterials.
final collapse of the European Union
Rising temperatures are beginning to markedly increase both the frequency
and severity of climate disasters. Europe is now experiencing a wave of unrest, the
already fragile alliance having split along north-south lines.*
has withdrawn from the EU entirely, focussing on its own domestic issues that include self-sufficiency in food production: a goal that has now been largely achieved. The EU has been reorganised as a "Northern Union" – which includes
France, Benelux, Germany, the Scandinavian countries and Poland. This has split away from the southern nations, closing its borders to them after struggling to contain a surge in
Mediterranean has been overrun by refugees from even harder-hit
nations in North Africa. Many refugees have died attempting to cross the sea in makeshift boats. Russia, meanwhile, is benefiting from its new-found status as a food superpower.
Russia is a global food superpower
With a population inching towards 9 billion, the world now requires over 50% more food than it did at the beginning of the century.* At the same time, however, many regions are faced with peak phosphorous* and the effects of climate change which are beginning to accelerate.*
Africa's Sahel region – which transitions between the Sahara in the north and Sudanian Savannas in the south – is threatened by ever-worsening droughts and desertification. Indian and Southeast Asian crop yields, meanwhile, are being hit by increasingly violent and irregular monsoons. Pakistan is experiencing shortfalls of water due to receding snowcaps that are the main source of its rivers. Farms in South America, too, are being badly affected by ice loss. The once fertile plains of the American Midwest have been ravaged by dust-bowlification, while European nations in the Mediterranean are struggling with chronic drought.
A number of regions, however, are actually prospering at this time – these include Canada, Russia and Scandinavia. Melting permafrost and a retreating polar icecap have opened up vast tracts of land in the north. Russia is benefiting the most of all, now that seemingly endless stretches of arable land are appearing in Siberia. The country is taking full advantage of this, with areas being quickly bought up and divided for farms.
Credit: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
In previous decades, genetic engineering was viewed with suspicion. In today's world of increasing food stress, nations are readily adopting this and other methods. Russia is no exception, with GM crops being widely used throughout the country. Vertical farms, too, are being deployed more rapidly in response to the warmer climate. Third-generation biofuels – such as genetically-engineered algae and halophyte plants – have also emerged. Aquaculture is being expanded all along Russia's northern coast, due to rapid warming and melting of the Arctic. Climate change is having another benefit here, since it is increasing the stock of herring, cod, capelin, and mackerel in the region, allowing the expansion of traditional wild-catch fishing. Changing currents and warming seas have resulted in a more north-eastward distribution of the fish stock located in the Barents Sea, at great benefit to the Russian exclusive economic zone. With the Barents Sea largely free of ice for many months,* production of cod alone has jumped by over 50%.*
Besides food, Russia is now also secure in terms of fresh water. With much of Brazil affected by chronic droughts, Russia along with Canada holds an increasingly large percentage of the world's available fresh water. Now that it is able to support itself, Russian food is in great demand, especially in Europe and Central Asia. Russia's influence on the world stage grows considerably during the 2030s.*
In light of the unfolding crisis in Europe, this constitutes a significant shift in power and resources, which inevitably results in friction with the other superpowers. One side effect of this, however, is the increasing flow of immigrants and refugees attracted by Russia's new-found abundance and wealth. Many are fleeing resource conflicts throughout Eurasia. Due to its sheer size, it is virtually impossible for Russia to fully close its borders. This is a particular issue with those fleeing the drought-stricken Tibetan Plateau of Western China.
As a result of all this, Russia's population has begun to stabilise, having recently undergone a decline. This trend is due to both domestic food security and the growing numbers of immigrants fleeing disasters at lower latitudes.
Swarm robotics are reaching the nanometre scale
Swarm robotics is a relatively new field, having emerged in the first decade of the 2000s. It is based on the idea of controlling very large numbers of robots simultaneously, in order to perform tasks that an individual machine would be unable to accomplish alone. This is achieved using a combination of miniaturised computers and locomotive systems, ultra-light materials, compact sensors and wireless technologies.
Early generations of these robots were comparatively large and bulky, lacking the necessary processing power to engage in any complex activities. Although capable of flight, they were mostly experimental, often bird-sized and relied on heavy components with poor battery life. The technology improved drastically in the late 2010s, however, leading to a new era of spy drones the size of insects.** These could mimic the body structure, movements and behaviour of real insects.
Over the next two decades, further improvements in AI and remote guidance allowed these machines to operate in increasingly large and capable networks, while at the same time, electronic components were shrinking in size by two orders of magnitude per decade.**
Among their most important uses during this time was functioning as artificial pollinators in response to the collapse in honey bee populations.** They could also serve in other environmental roles, such as monitoring the atmosphere, land and water – including urban areas – with unprecedented speed and detail. These devices were also useful in search and rescue missions, helping to improve real-time data acquisition.
A more sinister application would be seen in military engagements. By 2030, the machines had been scaled down to match even the smallest known insect, less than 0.15 mm (0.0059") long.** Towards the end of this decade, they are so compact and miniaturised that some variants are now invisible to the naked eye. They can be manufactured in vast networks, numbering in the trillions and together resembling clouds of gas. This effectively is a form of programmable matter, with each "particle" being a robot capable of flight. Released from capsules dropped by UAVs, the swarms perform advanced reconnaissance, coordinate cyber attacks and invade bases – taking down human targets and even disabling large vehicles. Like termites, they use specialised appendages to chew through electronics and mess up defensive equipment, leaving enemies completely vulnerable. Even those in underground bunkers are not safe – the swarms dissolve all but the most heavily reinforced armour and can easily penetrate cracks, keyholes, air vents and the like.**
As well as their offensive abilities, nanobots can serve in defensive roles. Floating at low altitude, they can provide cover to advancing ground forces, acting as shields or "buffers" to incoming projectiles, somewhat like the barrage balloons of World War II. They can also coalesce to form temporary structures, like simple bridges to cross a river, stretchers to carry injured personnel, ropes and ladders, and so on.*
Adoption of military nanotech has accelerated in recent decades, as nations try to gain the edge in warfare.** Nanobot swarms are the latest and by far the most powerful step in this race. They are classified as weapons of mass destruction by the UN, placing them in the same category as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. International treaties are subsequently signed, limiting their use. Safety mechanisms are also introduced in order to minimise the potential for adaption.* Self-replicating variants, for example, are flat-out banned, since these could consume the entire biosphere. Fears are growing of a potential terrorist attack (or "grey goo" incident).
Establishment of the first manned lunar bases
By the latter half of this decade, a number of government and private ventures have successfully constructed the first human settlements on the Moon.*** This marks a significant milestone during a period of accelerated development in space, which has seen major technological advancements and the increased commercialisation of human space flight. Despite the current upheaval being seen around the world as a result of climate change and other issues, public participation via the proliferation of information technology and the promised resources of outer space have succeeded in renewing public interest in human exploration.**
Over the past decade, a number of countries returned to the Moon or entered the final stages of planning for the first time in half a century.* By the late 2020s and early 2030s, Russia and the United States had built stations in lunar orbit. Also constructed were a series of robotic bases for remote surface exploration.** This was finally followed by the first manned bases on the lunar surface in the mid-late 2030s. In many cases, construction is made easier and cheaper thanks to advanced 3D printing. This makes it possible to forge new tools, spare parts and even components for entire buildings, using the lunar regolith as construction material.* The poles are the most favoured regions for settlement, having the twin advantages of both (a) permanently illuminated spots for near-continuous solar power, and (b) permanently shadowed craters known to contain water and other volatiles. This is a result of the Moon's axis of rotation.*
The Moon's South Pole. Permanently shadowed regions appear black. Locations with highest average illumination – highlighted pink – are distributed in a few clusters. The best-illuminated spot is near Shackleton crater, shown by the arrow. Credit: NASA/GSFC
Though much of this has resulted from international cooperation, it is also the long-term culmination of individual national space programs. Russia, for example, had been planning a lunar base since the early 2010s.* Its success has been largely thanks to a series of heavy lift rockets developed in recent years. After landing its first man on the Moon at the beginning of the decade, Russia would go on to complete its first base just a few years later.*
China has had even more ambitious plans. Following its own manned missions in the previous decade, it has now also completed its first base.* Unlike other efforts, China's space program is largely singular, without much international collaboration. This has led to fears about the political, military and other consequences of a Chinese lunar presence.*
Credit: ESA/Foster & Partners
NASA's programs, until this point, have been largely focused on Mars exploration. As a result, lunar occupation by the United States has been mostly in the form of private companies like Bigelow Aerospace. This venture has been especially productive, with a new generation of large inflatable modules established on the lunar surface. Now, however, NASA itself is playing a more active role.* With completion of the first Mars landing,* there has been a refocusing in recent years on lunar exploration. Though a completed NASA base is still years away, manned operations are initiated around this time.* This is done in conjunction with both private and governmental partners and utilises the commercial infrastructure already present.
The participation of other countries – such as Japan, India, Iran and the nations of Europe – is largely limited to joint ventures. The cost of going to the Moon is still considerable and faces major economic and political barriers in many places. Though advances are being made, they are still a few years away from independent programs. India is making the greatest strides, largely thanks to the ongoing expansion of its economy and its emergence as a major world power.*
Credit: ESA/Foster & Partners