16th May 2017
A timeline of the future to 2250
A guest piece by Jakob Coles.
One of our top forumers by post count, Jakob Coles, has provided us with his timeline for 1991 to 2250.
The Information Age is marked by the rise of the Web and the incursion of the Internet into commerce, entertainment, and communication, eventually eclipsing their offline counterparts. Computers miniaturise and grow ever more powerful – going from clunky boxes, to smartphones, to contact lenses. The Internet of Things arises and every object becomes a smart object. Swarms of smart dust collect mind-boggling amounts of data and the number of Internet-connected devices surges by six orders of magnitude.
American hegemony and globalism mark the beginning of the era – but wane increasingly as time goes on, due to outsourcing, technological unemployment, economic recession, and climate change. Protectionism, isolationism, and nationalism rise in their place. Mainstream media eventually ends up dead in the water; the news is supplied by countless "mad bloggers". The job market is thrown into chaos as robots take billions of jobs, necessitating radical reform of the education system. Militarily, terrorism and guerrilla fighters become more important adversaries than conventional armies, and nations change their doctrines to reflect that. Ground, sea, and air forces alike are mostly replaced with robots; most humans in advanced armies either remotely command robots and drones, or are part of elite cyborg special forces.
The looming spectres of technological unemployment, climate change, resource depletion, and nuclear and biological terrorism hang over the heads of humanity. But colossal strides are being made to counteract these threats. Space-based solar, advanced fission reactors, nuclear fusion, wireless electricity, and smart grids lead to an energy revolution. Vertical farming, desalination, and asteroid mining are demonstrated on an industrial scale. Genetic engineering is extending lives, treating formerly untreatable diseases, and even allowing parents to create designer babies. Cybernetics and neural laces allow humans to gain back the ground lost to robots.
True, conscious AI proves harder than expected, though scientists gradually understand the requirements and begin to close in on an implementation.
Reusable rockets and 3D printing allow humanity to establish the first economically viable colonies on the Moon and Mars, as well as orbital stations. Technology is boosting companies' productivity to astonishing levels. Beyond this point, mankind will either leap to the stars or crash back to Earth.
Powerful new technologies such as StarTrams, space elevators, nuclear pulse propulsion, and nuclear Verne guns provide the capability to launch many thousands of tons to orbit in one shot. This allows space colonisation to begin in earnest and opens up Earth orbit to the middle class. People flock into space by the millions, settling in destinations as diverse as the Moon, Mars, asteroid belt, and Lagrangian Points.
The moons of Jupiter and Saturn are colonised by powerful Orion drives, followed a few decades later by the moons of Uranus and Neptune. The gases mined here are just part of a small but steady stream of interplanetary trade.
During this period, many colonies begin to develop a sense of national identity and later rebel against their former home countries. The forces on Earth attempt to fight back, but this is largely a failure, as only the strongest nations have the ability to project military power into cislunar and interplanetary space. Yet on Earth, humanity survives its troubles and later reaches Type 1 status on the Kardashev scale.
Asteroid mining and vertical farming provide resources in greater abundance than their earlier counterparts. Advanced geoengineering has halted but not reversed climate change; Earth is a Hothouse with viable habitation in many parts of Antarctica, Greenland and northern Canada. Genetic engineering is powerful enough to not only revive extinct animals, but engineer entire ecosystems from scratch. Millions of humans have lived past 120; a number of the oldest are past 140.
Contrary to the predictions of 21st century science fiction, Earth is not evolving towards a world government. Some nations merge together, but others break apart, while liberal democracy falls – though illiberal democracy is more common than totalitarian dictatorships. After 2100, the concept gradually disappears from mainstream science fiction. Indeed, decentralisation was a key part of surviving the late 21st century. A raft of localised technologies and new urban planning paradigms allowed cities to attain near-self-sufficiency. Cheap, high-performance 3D printers decentralise manufacturing. Quantum blockchains ease the strain on failing national currencies. Meanwhile, some places take the concept further, establishing colossal arcologies and floating city-states.
India and China replace the US and Europe as the "centre of the world". Genetic engineering creates several new subspecies that are employed for various purposes, as well as reviving old ones like Neanderthals. A number of great apes are uplifted to sapience. And most importantly, AI wakes up. The first truly conscious machines require building-sized computers and fusion plants to support, but within a few decades, they are efficient enough to walk among humans.
By the 22nd century, millions of sapient droids of all shapes and sizes occupy countless roles. Superintelligent, meta-aware "high AIs" arrive soon after, and also miniaturise to human size. The first posthumans are not far behind, aided by primitive cut-and-paste mind uploading – still in the experimental research stage, and with dismal success rates – but colossal benefits for those who survive the process.
This is a turbulent era for off-world civilisation, much like the decolonisation of Africa a quarter of a millennium prior. The series of skirmishes known as the Decolonisation Wars on Earth and the Freedom Wars off-world show how even the mightiest Terran powers are unable to defeat even weak off-world enemies. About 90 percent of colonies are forfeited within 50 years; only a few countries retain any at all. Dozens of leaders, many of them transhuman or high AI dictators, arise to fill the vacuum of power.
Interstellar Orion drives establish a settlement at Proxima b, while others are now on their way to Alpha Centauri and Barnard's Star. In the tumult, people spread out across the Solar System, claiming the last uncharted areas. Human structures proliferate everywhere, from colossal solar arrays and entire "cities on wheels" on Mercury, to propellant caches on Pluto. Now the only frontier is interstellar space.
Meanwhile, on Earth, opportunistic superintelligences begin to consolidate power in several backwater nations where there are few or no transhumans to keep them in check. New human subspecies and uplifted animals continue to gain ground, while the nascent high AIs and posthumans learn their abilities and limits.
Arcologies take off in myriad forms including skyscrapers, earthscrapers, artificial islands and many underwater cities. Advanced nano-manufacturing becomes practical and widespread. Mind uploading via in-situ replacement is perfected, greatly aided by high AI/posthuman technology – such as Fast Upload Platforms. Gradually, the Solar System begins to settle down and stabilise, politically and economically.
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