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Older computers are at risk of experiencing major software malfunctions

The Year 2038 problem (also known as "Y2K38" by analogy to the Y2K Millennium bug) gains considerable public and media attention this year. It affects programs written in the C programming language. These were relatively immune to the earlier Y2K problem, but suffer instead from the Year 2038 problem. They use a library of routines called the standard time library. This takes a stored, 32-bit integer and interprets the current value as the number of seconds which have passed since 00:00:00 UTC on Thursday, 1st January 1970.

Because of the limited number of possible values that can be derived from this 32-bit integer, the farthest time that can be represented in this way is 03:14:07 UTC on Tuesday, 19th January 2038. Any times beyond this point will "wrap around" and be stored internally as a negative number, which these systems interpret as a date from 1901, rather than 2038. This is called integer overflow.

For older computers that still use this system, major problems begin to arise with file systems and databases, due to erroneous calculations. Fortunately, most systems have been upgraded by now, and little overall damage is done.


year 2038 problem computers



NASA's Trident spacecraft arrives at Neptune

Trident is a mission to the outer planets, proposed in 2019 as part of NASA's Discovery program. Launched in 2026, the probe makes gravity-assist flybys of Venus (2027), Earth (2028 and 2031), Jupiter and its moon Io (2032), before reaching Neptune in 2038, with a focus on its largest moon, Triton.

Voyager 2, the last mission to Triton, flew past in 1989 at a distance of 40,000 km (25,000 mi). It found evidence of geological activity, with a young surface and relatively few impact craters, several cryovolcanoes and a very thin atmosphere. Despite evaporation taking place during "summer" periods, the moon had the coldest average temperature in the Solar System at just 35.6 K (−237.6°C), only 35°C higher than absolute zero.

After this fleeting glimpse by Voyager 2, the icy body would remain unvisited for another 50 years, leaving many questions unanswered. Trident would aim to solve these scientific mysteries, while obtaining a near-complete map of the surface (Voyager 2 only mapped 40%) and providing high-resolution images.

The spacecraft performs a sole flyby, passing through Triton's thin atmosphere at 500 km (310 mi) altitude, sampling its ionosphere with a plasma spectrometer and performing magnetic induction measurements to assess the potential existence of an internal ocean. Its payload also includes an infrared spectrometer, narrow angle camera, and wide-angle camera.

In addition to studying Triton, the probe reveals new insights into Neptune – and therefore advances the understanding of "ice giants", which are the most common type of exoplanet.

A strong incentive to launch the mission is a rare and efficient alignment between Jupiter, Neptune, and Triton in 2038. Additionally, Neptune's orbit around the Solar System during this time offers the best opportunity to study Triton's ice plumes – missing this window means waiting for another century.**


Trident Neptune 2038
Credit: ESO/L. Calçada



The New Horizons probe is 100 AU from the Sun

The New Horizons probe was launched in 2006, arriving at Pluto in 2015.* After surveying the dwarf planet and its five moons, the spacecraft headed towards the Kuiper Belt where it studied a small, icy body. This phase of the mission lasted until 2022,* after which New Horizons began journeying to a boundary known as the outer heliosphere, where the solar wind meets the local interstellar medium. By 2038, it has reached 100 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun* – equivalent to 100 times the distance between the Earth and Sun – and is moving in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius that includes the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy.

Even though it was launched much faster than any outward probe before it, New Horizons will never overtake Voyager 1 or Voyager 2 as the most distant human-made object. Close flybys of Saturn and Titan gave Voyager 1 an advantage with its gravity assist. When New Horizons reaches 100 AU, it is travelling at 13 km/s (29,000 mph), around 4 km/s (8,900 mph) slower than Voyager 1 at that distance.


new horizons timeline future 2038 technology



Two-thirds of UN member states have abolished the death penalty

At the start of the 20th century, capital punishment was used in almost every part of the globe – including the most developed nations. In the latter decades of the century, however, many countries abolished it. The last guillotining in France was conducted in 1977, while in the UK, the death sentence for treason was ended in 1998.

Americans' views on the issue varied significantly,* but the number of executions performed in the US showed a consistent long-term decline. Peaking in the mid-1930s, they fell dramatically thereafter, briefly rising in the 1990s before dropping again in the 21st century. Between 2000 and 2010, executions in the US plummeted by over half.** It had also become far cheaper to imprison people for life.*

By 2010, nearly 50% of countries had outlawed the death penalty for all crimes.* This reflected concerns over the possibility of executing the innocent, as well as the morality of such brutal punishments in modern civilised society. Public opinion continued to shift in favour of bans – a trend fuelled by growing access to information brought by the Internet, media and technology in general. This included mistakes revealed by DNA evidence, for example, as well as high-profile media investigations, and the work of international human rights organisations such as Amnesty.

Another factor sustaining this trend was the growing urbanisation and democratisation of the planet,* with cities tending to favour more liberal and progressive policies than smaller, traditional rural communities. Yet another factor was the ongoing influence of feminism in society, with women tending to oppose it more than men.**

However, capital punishment remained entrenched in some regions: notably China, which held more executions than the rest of the world combined, killing thousands of its citizens every year. Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Yemen were also notorious for their executions, sometimes carried out for highly dubious reasons (e.g. sorcery*).

By the late 2030s, around two-thirds of UN member states have abolished the death penalty. But a significant minority of repressive and pariah states continue to practice it. While its prevalence has fallen in Muslim society as a whole,* the global abolition of capital punishment remains elusive, for now.


death penalty future timeline



Re-emergence of Brood X cicadas

Cicadas are medium-sized insects with prominent eyes set wide apart, short antennae, and membranous front wings. They are widespread, with more than 3,390 extant species found on all continents except Antarctica. Cicadas are known for their extremely loud song. Thopha saccata, for example – also known as the Double Drummer – has the loudest sound of any insect and can reach in excess of 120 dB if large numbers are in close range.

The insects typically live in trees, feeding on watery sap from xylem tissue and laying their eggs in bark. They fall into two main categories: annual cicadas, spotted every year, and periodical cicadas, which spend most of their lives underground and only emerge once every decade or two.

The largest and most concentrated group of periodical cicadas, called Brood X, appears every 17 years. Having previously emerged during 2004 and then again in May 2021, it returns in 2038.* As before, this becomes the world's largest insect swarm, covering much of the eastern United States with as many as 1.5 million insects per acre. The states affected are New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan.

During this period, which can last for several weeks, many regions have to endure the shrill noise of male cicadas attracting female mates. Although cicadas are not life-threatening to humans, residents are advised to use noise-cancelling earphones or earplugs to prevent ear damage, while avoiding garden activities like planting and pruning. Pets must be kept from consuming the insects, in case of digestive stress. Swimming pools must be covered to avoid damage to filters, while the use of outdoor power tools is discouraged due to the insects being attracted by the sounds.

The insects' full life cycle – from emergence above ground, to their mating and subsequent death – typically lasts for six to ten weeks. The next generation of Brood X emerges in the year 2055.


2038 cicadas
Photo 195942313 / Cicadas © Gerald D. Tang | Dreamstime.com



The FIFA World Cup trophy is replaced

The current World Cup trophy has been in use since the 1974 World Cup. There is only space for 17 countries to be engraved on its base. In 2038, the final name plaque is filled in, and a replacement cup is commissioned with a new design. Like its predecessor, this is made of 5 kg (11 lb) of 18 carat gold.*


FIFA world cup trophy 2038 names engraved replacement



Urban air mobility is a trillion-dollar industry

Recent advances in batteries, autonomous systems, and manufacturing processes have led to a boom in urban air mobility. This began some decades previously with military drones, followed later by electrified, autonomous vertical take-off and landing vehicles (VTOLs) and drone package deliveries.

Growing demand for the faster transport of goods led to companies competing to develop new and innovative last-mile delivery solutions. These included pizzas, medical supplies and other time-sensitive items being carried by drones. With lower technological barriers (weight, size, etc.) as well as fewer regulatory hurdles, these small flying machines saw wider adoption than larger, people-carrying drones. The latter remained expensive and with greater technical and safety issues.

As the 2020s progressed, however, companies improved their aircraft designs, achieved successful test flights and gained regulatory approvals. Flying taxis began to appear in major cities around the world, along with drone delivery services offering greater cargo capacities.

Initially restricted to wealthy customers and serving as niche add-ons to existing transportation infrastructure, these large flying vehicles became increasingly common during the 2030s – taking market share from established car and airline companies. The latest generation of VTOLs had impeccable safety records, providing a sound alternative to road travel and a cost-effective, time-efficient method of hopping across or between cities.

By 2038, the urban air mobility market has reached $1 trillion in size globally,* a 200-fold expansion compared with 2020. Although cars, trucks, trains and other vehicles remain dominant, drones of all sizes and their related infrastructure (such as landing pads, electric charging points, etc.) now form a significant part of the urban environment in many large cities. This is particularly noticeable in China, which accounts for one-third of the worldwide market. As public attitudes shift in favour of autonomy, with safety concerns easing, these flying vehicles continue to gain in popularity into the 2040s and beyond, eventually spreading to smaller towns and rural areas.


flying cars 2040
Credit: Lilium



The space industry exceeds $1tn worldwide

By the late 2030s, the worldwide space industry exceeds $1 trillion in size.* This represents a quadrupling compared to 2010* and a tenfold increase since the start of the 21st century. The rapid growth in this sector has been fuelled, in large part, by explosive demand for high-speed Internet services, including the recent establishment of a global, quantum-encrypted satellite network for ultra-secure communications.* However, a number of other areas have started to boom now, including space tourism (via space planes and very high-altitude balloons) and resource extraction from near-Earth asteroids. The latter, while still accounting for only a tiny fraction of global commodities, is now considered a relatively routine activity as the industry is sufficiently mature in technology.

In 1997, private investment in space overtook government spending for the first time. This trend continued into the 21st century, with space becoming more and more commercialised. Access to space was being made cheaper and easier by a new generation of launch vehicles. These and other technological innovations were enabling even small companies to compete and do what only big government agencies had done in the past. Some of the most famous entrepreneurs to emerge during this time included Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Peter Diamandis, Robert Bigelow and Richard Branson; but many less well-known individuals and groups were also taking advantage of the changing industry landscape. Crowd-funding, for example, meant that even casual Internet users could now have a stake in the development of space projects – like the new class of "CubeSats". These tiny spacecraft could hitch a ride and piggyback alongside the larger and more expensive missions.

While private commercial enterprises are the dominant driving force, government space agencies still have a role to play. NASA has been developing its manned Mars program and this decade sees its astronauts walking on the Red Planet for the first time. In addition, a number of huge telescopes are being built that dwarf any previous observatory. China, Europe, India, Japan, Russia and other agencies have also made progress in human exploration, with international collaborations to establish the first bases on the Moon. Meanwhile, new countries are now appearing on the scene and establishing their own national space agencies, as their economies become advanced and rich enough to do so. The number of countries with independent launch capability has also continued to increase.


space industry future size 2030 2038 2040



Total solar eclipse in Australasia

A total solar eclipse occurs on 26th December 2038, visible in Australia, New Zealand, and parts of the South Pacific. The shadow passes close to the cities of Adelaide and Melbourne. The instance of greatest eclipse occurs in the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand, at 12:00:10 (UTC+11), with a duration of 138 seconds (2 m 18 s).*





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1 Proposed NASA Mission Would Visit Neptune's Curious Moon Triton, NASA:
Accessed 24th June 2020.

2 NASA thinks it's time to return to Neptune with its Trident mission, Phys.org:
Accessed 24th June 2020.

3 See 2015.

4 See 2022.

5 New Horizons Salutes Voyager, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory:
Accessed 18th July 2015.

6 In U.S., Support for Death Penalty Falls to 39-Year Low, Gallup:
Accessed 5th February 2012.

7 Facts about the Death Penalty, Death Penalty Information Center:
Accessed 5th February 2012.

8 Capital Punishment Declined In 2010, Huffington Post:
Accessed 5th February 2012.

9 To execute or not: A question of cost?, MSNBC:
Accessed 5th February 2012.

10 Figures on the death penalty, Amnesty International:
Accessed 5th February 2012.

11 Global Trends in Governance, 1800-2016, The Center for Systemic Peace (CSP):
Accessed 29th December 2017.

12 Race, gender, and the death penalty, big think:
Accessed 5th February 2012.

13 Who Supports the Death Penalty?, Gallup:
Accessed 5th February 2012.

14 Saudi Arabian woman executed for "sorcery", CBS News:
Accessed 5th February 2012.

15 Shariah Law Should Not Deter Abolition, Inter Press Service News Agency:
Accessed 5th February 2012.

16 U.S. awaits chorus of huge, 17-year cicada hatch, Reuters:
Accessed 18th May 2021.

17 FIFA World Cup Trophy, Wikipedia:
Accessed 11th July 2010.

18 Are Flying Cars Preparing for Takeoff?, Morgan Stanley:
Accessed 27th November 2021.

19 Morgan Stanley predicts space industry will triple in size: Here's how to invest, CNBC:
Accessed 22nd October 2017.

20 Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos licked by James Lick in space race, Forbes:
Accessed 22nd October 2017.

21 Entangled photons sent between suborbital space and Earth, Future Timeline Blog:
Accessed 22nd October 2017.

22 Solar eclipse of December 26, 2038, Wikipedia:
Accessed 28th October 2022.


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