India's economy is rivalling that of China and the U.S.
By 2040, rapid economic growth has enabled India to catch up with China and the U.S. These three countries – the "G3" – now have by far the largest share of world GDP.** India has benefitted from a number of cultural, economic and demographic trends in recent decades.* This includes a youthful, growing and economically productive population,* now the world's largest at 1.5 billion,* with an average age of just 34. By comparison, China's average age is 46 and its working population has been declining.*
Expansion and development of India's service sector – adding greatly to the global knowledge-based economy – has occurred in parallel with a slowdown in China's growth as its economy matures. India has also managed to avoid many of the disruptive challenges experienced by China, since its market-based economy is already part of a liberal democracy, unlike the planned economy of its rival.
India's currency, the rupee, is now challenging the renminbi as the world's strongest. Due to its global influence and military capabilities, India has also gained a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Later this decade, on 15th August 2047, the nation will celebrate its 100th anniversary as an independent state.*
However, climate change and other ecological impacts are converging with increasing speed. In particular, neighbouring Bangladesh requires ever more financial support and humanitarian aid, as flooding worsens.* Widespread automation and technological unemployment are also emerging. By the 2050s, India's growth has begun to stagnate, as the world faces a crisis unparalleled in history.**
power is nearing commercial availability
prototype commercial fusion reactor is entering its final phase of operation.* DEMO (DEMOnstration Power Plant) is the successor to ITER and has built on the success of that project, achieving a number of
major breakthroughs. Among the earlier problems which have now been
solved are: containing the plasma at high enough temperatures, maintaining
a great enough density of reacting ions, and capturing high-energy neutrons
from the reaction without melting the walls of the interior.
from 2024 to 2033, DEMO is now close to being perfected, having undergone
several years of testing, expansion and upgrades. Later this decade,
it will produce a sustained output of 2 gigawatts (GW),
making fusion commercially available for the first time.*
islands" are widespread in coastal regions
have suffered chronic water shortages due to the effects of climate
change and overpopulation. This is has been a particular problem in developing
regions. Higher global temperatures are causing lakes, wells and reservoirs
to run dry, even as populations continue to rise.
being used to alleviate this crisis involves compact, floating "energy
islands". These combine offshore power generation with desalination
plants. First demonstrated in the 2010s, significant numbers are now being deployed in tropical coastal areas, where conditions are ideal for ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).
is hexagonal in shape and interlocked with other islands, forming artificial
archipelagos. Wind turbines and concentrated solar power are installed
on the topsides – while on the undersides, flash-evaporated seawater
is used to drive turbine generators, in turn producing drinkable water.*
250-megawatt OTEC plant can meet the energy demands of 250,000 households
and provide 600 million litres of drinkable water each day.* Surplus water is used to support local agriculture and industry. These islands
also feature housing developments, fish farms, greenhouses and eco-tourism
complexes, in addition to the water and power production facilities. By the
22nd century, they will evolve into larger versions – entire "micronations" roaming the seas.*
Islands. Image reproduced with permission.
Deep ocean mining operations are widespread
Exploitation of the ocean for its resources had for centuries been confined to fishing and coastal developments. Limits in technology made ventures into deeper waters both impractical and economically unviable. Interest in deep sea mining first appeared in the 1960s, but consistently low prices of mineral resources at the time halted any serious implementation. By the 2000s, the only resource being mined in bulk from the ocean was diamonds, and even then, just a few hundred metres below the surface. Large-scale efforts continued to be hindered in the first decades of the 21st century. By 2040, however, advances in robotics and telepresence have led to a fully mature industry – opening up the vast and previously unobtainable wealth of fuel and mineral reserves along the ocean floor.***
Credit: Nautilus Minerals Inc.
In the past, retrieval operations were limited to manganese nodules (resource-rich rock concretions found on the ocean floor) and metal-rich sediments around hydrothermal vents. Now, thanks to new extraction methods and processing techniques, even the low concentrations of elements found in mud layers are economically viable. Today, prospecting and undersea construction is done using fleets of automated and remote-controlled robots. Once ships or mining platforms are in place, resources are brought to the surface through hydraulic suction or continuous bucket line systems.
The primary focus of these current efforts is rare-earth metals. The rapid growth in demand for these elements, used in a wide range of electronics and other hi-tech applications, has been stymied in recent years by increasingly dire shortages.* This has turned them into resources of strategic importance on the level of oil and natural gas in earlier decades. It has become particularly apparent in Asia, with nations such as India, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia ramping up efforts to free themselves from the near-monopoly that China holds.
Another valuable, though hazardous, target of deep ocean mining is methane hydrate deposits.* This so-called "fire ice" consists of concentrated methane trapped within a crystal of frozen water. It is found throughout the deep ocean in sedimentary structures and outcroppings, with some of the largest known deposits found in the seas of the West Pacific and along the coasts of North America. By itself, methane hydrate far outweighs the total amount of recoverable natural gas. Several nations have established mining operations, with Japan, China, and the United States among the largest producers.*
Traditional forms of ocean exploitation still exist. While the number of oil drilling platforms has declined overall, deepwater (500-1500 metres) and ultra-deepwater operations (1500 metres or further) continue to expand as easily-recoverable reserves become scarce.* Following recent spills and ecological disasters, some on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010, such operations remain highly controversial.
In general, most ocean mining and drilling operations are targets of criticism. Concerns over the environmental impact of ocean floor dredging and prospecting have led to stricter regulations in many countries, as well as the development of protected ocean zones. Nevertheless, the impact of deep ocean mining is still considerable in many regions. Even more polarising is methane hydrate drilling, which threatens to further accelerate the pace of global warming.* Despite efforts to eliminate leakage and minimise its impact, methane hydrate mining is still a risky business, with a number of countries flat-out banning it.
Credit: Nautilus Minerals Inc.
Less than two-thirds of the original Congo jungle remains standing
The Congo region is a sedimentary basin for the drainage of the Congo River in west equatorial Africa. At the turn of the 21st century it contained a quarter of the world's tropical forests, with a total area of 2.5 million sq km.* It held some of the largest undisturbed portions of tropical rainforest on the planet, second only to the Amazon in Brazil. Spanning across six countries, it was home to over 10,000 unique species of tropical plants, 30% of which could not be found anywhere else on Earth. There were over 1,000 bird species, 700 fish species and 400 mammal species. Some noted examples included the Bonobo (humanity's closest living relatives), the Forest Elephant, the okapi, Congo Peafowl, and various species of gorilla. Rare and unique frogs, bats, rodents and birds, together with plants such as orchids, could also be found.
Despite efforts to slow deforestation in the developing countries of Africa, the rainforests of the Congo Basin and elsewhere continued to recede over the decades. As early as the late 2010s, Nigeria's forests had shrunk down to essentially nothing,* while the situation in Central Africa had worsened too. Alongside the bush meat trade impacting fauna, the largely unregulated logging industry continued to chip away at the flora.
Interest in foreign markets led to massive mining operations being conducted in the region, dealing severe damage to its ecosystem. Untapped deposits of raw minerals and metals – estimated to be worth in excess of US$24 trillion* – attracted companies in droves. The expansion of cities and construction of new dams also played a role in harming the fragile environment, while slash-and-burn farming practices began to run rampant as the population soared. Ever-increasing resource demands and the need for economic growth led governments to look the other way during much of this exploitation. This was despite an outcry from the international community and environmentalists.
By 2040, climate change is having an impact too. Since the vast majority of rainfall is generated in the region itself, the resulting isolation makes it more vulnerable to global warming. A large proportion of moisture in Central Africa is produced by evapo-transpiration of trees in the Congo Basin. Substantial reductions in rainfall are now occurring. Loss of forests, especially through fires started by farmers, is pumping huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. The rainforest is now transitioning from a carbon sink to a carbon source. With 66 gigatonnes of "volatile" carbon – and a further 50 gigatonnes in the rest of tropical Africa – the equivalent of five years' worth of global emissions will eventually be released.*
These factors have converged so that, by 2040, less than two-thirds of the original Congo remains. Prior to the arrival of human civilisation, rainforests covered somewhere between 80-85% of the total land area in the region – around 3.29 million square km (1.27 million square miles).** By the mid-20th century, one-fifth had disappeared. Deforestation began to accelerate in the 21st century, due to rapid population growth and economic development. By 2020, the rainforests were declining by 0.3% each year; by 2030 this had risen to 0.5% per year* and by 2040 the rate is 0.7%.
In addition to extinctions of animals and plants, numerous indigenous tribes are being uprooted, their cultures disrupted and in some cases lost forever. There is much social and political upheaval in the region. On top of this, local resource conflicts are beginning to break out, primarily over food. This is only serving to exacerbate the environmental damage. Many areas of forest have become battle grounds, while civilian populations are forced to become more self-sufficient, turning to their surrounding local environment for resources.
Virtual telepathy is dominating personal communications
First generation brain-computer interfaces reached the consumer market
in around 2010. This technology was crude and limited to begin with:
more of a novelty than a serious application. Devices could perform
only the simplest of operations, such as directional commands.** Some university
experiments successfully created text messages using thought
power alone,* but were slow and required
bulky equipment to do so.
by 2020 enabled the sending of messages via wireless headsets and visors* – but the process remained sluggish and unreliable, often demanding
a high degree of concentration.*
however, exponential progress had been made in mapping and understanding
the brain and its neuroelectrical signals.* This was filtering down rapidly to the consumer market. Detailed, real-time
messages were becoming possible, using non-invasive methods. The graphical
interfaces used in composing messages had also been much improved, with
more intuitive navigation and features.
the technology is largely perfected for everyday use. It works well
and is cheap enough to have spread to even developing countries. Privacy
and security issues have been resolved, with personal firewalls able
to restrict any unwanted intrusion or hacking attempts. The headsets,
visors and earphones necessary for users have been miniaturised and
made more comfortable. Some are even fully implantable. Whether for
business or personal use, people everywhere are now enjoying a faster,
more sophisticated, more private way of communicating.
of "virtual telepathy" – and the convergence of other
network-based technologies – is radically reshaping society and culture
during this time. A speculative bubble is formed on the stock markets,
with investors everywhere forecasting a revolution in telecoms. This
temporarily overheats the economy, resulting in a crash similar to that
of the dotcom collapse of
Biorepository and genomic information systems
are transforming healthcare
now, most countries have established a national biorepository and genomic
information system, with mandatory entry for every citizen.
In other words, governments now have a genetic sample of every person.
This is needed for a variety of reasons – from national security, to public
health, citizen ID, immigration control, resolution of crimes and more
– but the most common use is in healthcare.
information systems are integrated with electronic health records and
personal health records, allowing identification and treatment of disease and healthcare issues at the earliest opportunity. Hard data from
these systems allow doctors and surgeons to better treat their patients,
while government and researchers can target time and resources more
efficiently. By utilising such a broad spectrum of information, medical
schools and healthcare providers can train and employ the best possible mix of
specialists for their patient population.
of healthcare has shifted in recent years – to preventative
methods, as opposed to reactionary methods after
a disease state has occurred. As well as saving more lives, this
has major economic benefits too.
By now, the average person is using at least one biotechnological implant.* Once again, these devices are tailored to their exact personal health
requirements. For example, they
can be programmed to monitor specific conditions and to dispense
medication when needed while simultaneously notifying a doctor. They can identify a patient who
is unconscious or unable to communicate for whatever reason, providing vital
clinical information during an emergency. They
can also be used as tracking devices for mental patients or those suffering from neurological conditions.
Pollen counts have more than doubled
In 2000, pollen counts for the US averaged 8,455 per cubic metre of air. By 2040, this figure has risen to 21,735 – largely due to climate change which has caused major alterations in weather, precipitation and temperature.* Alongside this, the hay fever season has shifted to earlier in the year, with pollen counts now peaking on 8th April, compared to 1st May at the start of the century. Similar changes have taken place in countries around the world. Thankfully, new treatments are now available to prevent allergic reactions. Recent years have seen major advances in gene therapy, for instance. These drugs can "repair" the DNA of hay fever sufferers.
has been largely eradicated
the USA, tobacco use peaked in the early 1960s with nearly 45% of adults
smoking regularly. As the health risks became more apparent, efforts were
made by government, public health advocates, grassroots organisations
and others to raise awareness. These campaigns were remarkably successful
in stemming the rates of smoking and tobacco-related disease and death.
Smoking was banned in aeroplanes, office buildings and later in public
locations such as bars and restaurants. Strict laws on the advertising
of tobacco products and their use in movies and television were also introduced.
In addition, improvements were made in the availability and efficacy of
smoking cessation aids and pharmaceuticals.
By the early
90s, the number of US adult smokers had plunged to 25% and by 2010 the
figure was down to 20%. By 2020, smoking in public was banned across every
US state and in many other countries around the world, with smoking rates
continuing to decline.
over the following two decades and once again proved to be highly successful.
The costs of government interventions were surprisingly small, less than
50 US cents per person per year in countries such as India and China.
By 2040, less than 5% of the global population is smoking.*
Life expectancy for cystic fibrosis reaches 70
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disorder that affects most critically the lungs, and also the pancreas, liver, and intestine. It is characterised by abnormal transport of chloride and sodium across an epithelium, leading to thick, viscous secretions.
The name cystic fibrosis refers to the characteristic scarring (fibrosis) and cyst formation within the pancreas. Difficulty breathing is the most serious symptom and results from frequent lung infections that are treated with antibiotics and other medications. Other symptoms, including sinus infections, poor growth, and infertility affect other parts of the body.
When the disease was first described in 1938, survival beyond infancy was rare. In 1952, Paul di Sant' Agnese found abnormalities in sweat electrolytes; a sweat test was developed and improved over the next decade. Despite new treatments – including lung transplants – life expectancy for those affected by the condition remained low throughout the 20th century. By the 1980s, it was still in the twenties.
A major breakthrough was achieved in 1989, however, when the trans-membrane conductance regulator gene was discovered. Subsequent research uncovered thousands of different mutations affecting the gene. As our knowledge of the underlying molecular causes and ways of treating the illness continued to improve, so too did life expectancy. Following several milestones in research, it has reached 70 by 2040.*
are revolutionising consumer products
Claytronics, also known as programmable matter, are now embedded in countless items. This technology involves the manipulation of tiny devices
known as catoms (claytronic atoms). Joined electrostatically,
these work in concert to produce changes at the macroscale.
featuring catoms can be radically altered in form and function.
Furniture can be morphed into new types – a bed could suddenly
become a sofa or large table, for example. Chairs can be instantly moulded to
precisely suit the individual. Walls,
carpets, ceilings, doors and surfaces can modify their colour
or texture on demand.
Electronics can be made more adaptable to
their environments – altering their structure to cope
with dust and heat in a desert, then later shifting to resist humidity
and moisture in a jungle, or even becoming waterproof. Devices worn on the head or ears can mould
themselves to fit the individual.
now use claytronics. Car surfaces can switch their colour at the touch
of a button. Or they can self-heal, fixing bumps and scratches. Tyres can be instantly adapted for different terrain types or
weather conditions. Transparent windows can be instantly blacked-out
are especially popular in children's toys, with figures taking on astonishingly
lifelike forms. Various
other everyday objects are now highly configurable and morphable.
Further into the future, claytronics will enable the creation of entire
in carbon nanotube production
decades of research, new processes have been developed for synthesising
carbon nanotubes, promising to revolutionise the fields of engineering,
architecture and materials science. Having
been limited to a few centimetres, these structures can now reach potentially
thousands of miles in length.* Purification
techniques ensure maximum tensile strength, making them hundreds of
times stronger than steel. Among the
many applications, the technology for a space elevator is now available.
Political and financial will are the only remaining obstacles for such
Submarine exploration of Titan
The first probe to Saturn was Pioneer 11 in 1979, which confirmed that its largest moon Titan was probably too cold to support life. This was followed by Voyager 1 and 2, in 1980 and 1981, respectively. Cassini–Huygens was launched in 1997, arriving in 2004, with a lander that returned the first pictures of Titan's surface in 2005.
In subsequent years, a number of conceptual missions were proposed for returning probes to Titan. Of particular interest were the moon's hydrocarbon lakes and oceans, thought to have conditions similar to those on Earth during its early history. Most of NASA's budget and objectives had already been assigned for the next two decades. However, the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts was established for longer term, visionary goals. Among the projects to emerge from this program was an unmanned submarine intended to explore the subsurface environment of Titan. This began to progress from initial feasibility studies to more detailed and practical designs.
As the years went by, mission capabilities were being enhanced by a new generation of robotics – some aspects of which could be seen in the deep ocean mining operations now appearing on Earth* – while access to space was now a fraction of the cost it had once been. A launch was timed to coincide with Titan's summer during the early 2040s, maximising the period of ice melt and ease of manoeuvrability. The vessel would be delivered to Kraken Mare, a huge lake of methane and ethane approximately 1,000 ft (300 m) deep. This unpiloted submarine features onboard realtime navigation, hazard avoidance systems, an exploration sensor suite, and autonomous science investigation software system. Stunning high quality videos and a plethora of data are returned from this strange alien environment, where temperatures reach below -179°C (-290°F).*
Future Titan mission of the 2040s. Credit: NASA
China's HSR network has been greatly expanded
China's rapid economic growth in the early 21st century was aided by its massive investments in infrastructure. Highways, bridges, tunnels and airports quickly spread throughout the country, linking nearly every major city and regional province, while 15,000 new cars were added to the nation's roads each day. Above all, however, it was high-speed rail that proved to be the driving factor in much of China's rise.**
Similar to the industrial revolution of 200 years previously, rail provided growth and increased prosperity to every area it connected to. Between 2010 and 2020, China invested $300 billion* in constructing over 17,600 km (11,000 mi) of additional rail lines, giving 90% of the population access to the network.* From the 2020s onwards, there was further expansion of high-speed rail, as skyrocketing fuel prices* made commercial air travel prohibitively expensive for most people, with many turning to rail as an alternative. Commitments to reduce carbon emissions also spurred growth in HSR, since the trains themselves produced far less greenhouse gases. This huge increase in passenger numbers made HSR a profitable industry.*
Along with being more energy efficient and cheaper, advances in design and technology boosted train speeds by hundreds of miles per hour, making them competitive with flight schedules in many cases. The very fastest routes now included trains traveling at over 1,000 km/h (625 mph).* Maglev routes were expanded significantly, especially along the coast. Along with internal connections, plans were formulated to link the Chinese rail system with those of Europe, India, Russia and Japan. With such a huge rail network, the cities of China were more closely connected than ever before. In a sense, high-speed rail created a 1.2 billion person "single city" effect, with much of the population only a few hours away from each other.*
Along with growth in commerce, rail has driven – and in turn been driven by – China's unprecedented urbanisation. By 2040, over 70% of the population lives in urban areas.* Vast megacities, each with more than 100 million people, have formed out of the gradual merging of smaller metropolises.* The largest examples today are the three main economic zones: the Yangtze River Delta (Shanghai, Nanjing, and Hangzhou), the Pearl River Delta (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong) and the Bohai Economic Rim (Beijing, Tianjin, and Tangshan).
Despite all this, China's economy has begun to weaken significantly in recent years.** With a declining workforce and with most of its growth fueled by debt, the country is now embroiled in political, economic and social strife. Restructuring and artificial inflation had managed to sustain the situation temporarily, but could only do so much. Worsening climate change is now an additional factor. This is a particular problem in Shanghai, which has been woefully unprepared for sea level rises.* Though still experiencing moderate local growth, the country as a whole is now approaching crisis point. By the end of this decade, it will have largely stagnated, becoming one of the last major powers to do so.*
Completion of the Northeast Corridor high-speed rail route
By 2040, work is nearing completion on a major upgrade of the Northeast Corridor (NEC). America's busiest rail line, the NEC runs from Boston in the north to Washington in the south, via New York. Like many rail services in the US, it had seen decades of underinvestment. Much of the infrastructure was poorly managed and in need of renovation. Tunnels, for example, had speed restrictions due to their obsolete designs, while electrical components dating from the 1930s would routinely fail. There were engine breakdowns, conflicts among trains and frequent delays costing tens of millions of dollars in lost productivity.
Between 2000 and 2010, intercity ridership on the NEC jumped from 8.2 to 13 million passengers a year. In an effort to address future capacity needs, improve service reliability and reduce travel times, Amtrak formulated plans for a $150 billion, 30-year investment program. This would see construction of a dedicated high-speed route, with trains running up to 220 mph (354 kph).
The plans include fully upgraded tracks and signals, new tunnels, new bridges and expanded stations. Tracks follow the existing NEC and transport networks whenever possible to minimise impacts. Implemented in three main phases, the Newark to New York section is completed by 2025; the Washington to Newark section is completed by 2030 and the final section between New York and Boston is completed by 2040.
Journey times are dramatically reduced. A trip from Boston to New York that previously took 3 hours and 34 minutes can now be completed in just 1 hour and 34 minutes. A trip from New York to Philadelphia is reduced from 1 hour and 10 minutes to just 37 minutes, while a trip from Philadelphia to Washington is cut from 1 hour and 33 minutes to just 54 minutes. For passengers travelling the entire 438 miles (705 km) from Boston to Washington, this means a total reduction in journey time of more than 50% – from 6 hours and 17 minutes, to 3 hours and 5 minutes. Following many years of neglect, this region of the United States finally has a world class rail system.*