When most of us day-dreamed about the future as kids, we probably thought of the world as a cool place filled with hover cars, domestic space travel, and quirky robots - basically, Futurama come to life. In adulthood, we find we’ve been a little short-changed and although we have Virtual Reality gaming, smart watches and 3-D printing, the world still has a lot of catching up to do to compete with our wild childhood imaginations.
Sadly, we may never get around to making all these super-cool inventions a reality because our world could be doomed in the next 30 years. Three decades may sound like a long time in personal terms but where our planet is concerned, it is merely the blink of an eye and it may not be long enough for us to reverse some of the damage we’ve done to it. And anyway, tackling global warming is only – if you’ll excuse the pun – the tip of the iceberg. The world is ready to screw us all over in a lot more ways.
We might have advanced in many ways we can be proud of, but our reliance on fossil fuels and increased threats to privacy and cybersecurity are spelling our end faster than it should. As it stands, we could be facing near global hunger, robotic enslavement and complete darkness (both literally and figuratively). The disturbing thing is, we’re already headed pretty close to some of these scary predictions anyway. Here are 15 things that will make Earth a messed up place to live in by the year 2050.
15 Terminator Could Be A Reality
Artificial intelligence sounds cool, but the more you consider the reality of it, the more you begin to think it’s a concept best left to sci-fi films and literature. We’re not exaggerating when we say that robots have the potential to enslave humanity and that it could happen way sooner than you may think. Currently under development are a number of automated weapon systems called LAWS (Lethal Autonomous Weapons) and these are basically robot soldiers trained to mow down humans. Great.
The use of these LAWS are said to make war more humane by reducing the number of human casualties – but there’s a chance this could backfire spectacularly and give these walking killing machines free rein over any human they come into contact with. Experts in Biotechnology from Yale University have insisted that if such robots were to exist by the middle of the century, they would be installed with “moral” programming. Yeah, because look how well RoboCop turned out...
14 Privacy Will Pretty Much Be Non-existent
With drones flying about and an increase in cyber attacks, it’s fair to say that we don’t have much privacy as it is in 2017. Fast forward to the year 2050 and privacy could be a luxury that we have to pay for. In the age of social media and at a time where home gadgets like Amazon Echo and Alexa are popular, it seems like most people are okay to part with valuable info and personal details if it means it benefits them in some way and this sounds morbidly like 2001: A Space Odyssey (don’t say that film didn’t warn you).
Think back to a time when the only people who knew about your recent engagement/ pregnancy/promotion were your family and a few close friends. Hard to do, isn’t it? We’re over-sharing our lives and corporations are learning to capitalize on this in terrifying ways. Whenever we shop online or post to social media, companies and bots are watching our every move and predicting our behavior in order to manipulate us and hack into our private accounts. Big Brother is always watching and in the future, he’s moving in with you.
13 Millions Of People Will Be Without Food
Other than our man-made technologies turning against us in future decades, global warming will be a big factor in our planet’s downfall. Increasing global temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns will slowly but surely destroy crops – to the point that tens of millions of people will be plunged into starvation. According to a recent report by the World Food Programme, an extra 20 million children will face malnourishment by the year 2050.
With dying crops and hotter temperatures, places like Africa and South Asia – where the majority of the world’s food is produced – will be utterly devastated by food shortages. By 2050, Asia alone will suffer a loss of 50% of their wheat supplies and have up to 17% less rice. As the recent floods in Texas and Puerto Rico have shown, mother nature is not forgiving, but we are causing these destructive weather events to become much more frequent thanks to our carbon emissions and if we’re not careful, widespread hunger may be a reality in a matter of decades
12 City Populations Will Triple
If you already feel claustrophobic on your work commute or while shopping in the city, this is going to feel a heck of a lot worse in the coming decades. Imagine rush hour in New York and Tokyo combined? Well, it may feel like this every hour of every day unless someone starts perfecting those human travel tubes you see in Futurama! Compared to some 750 million people living in cities in 1950, a century later in 2050, the total figure of people living in urban areas alone will be 6.3 billion.
Just to put that insane increase into perspective, our current world population stands at 7.5 billion – that’s over 3 quarters of the entire planet squeezed into streets and subway stations. With this many humans in one place, the strain put onto energy consumption and health will take a serious hit and – unless enough is done now to try and save energy and improve healthcare – struggling to hail a cab will be the last of our problems.
11 Pollution Levels Could Kill More Than 6 Million A Year
Despite well-meaning efforts by many organizations and individuals to curb our carbon emissions, the planet is still a heavily-polluted place and is set to go from bad to horrifying over the next few decades. As the population sky-rockets (especially in urban areas), the amount of air pollution will gradually increase to the point that just leaving the house could be taking a health risk. Everything from an extra person’s cigarette smoke to an extra car on the road is set to add so much to the carbon footprint that our ultra polluted air will kill millions.
It’s estimated that a staggering 6 million people may die as a result of air pollution. As the weather becomes increasingly warmer, the toxins in the air caused by cars and building materials will be spread thick and fast, causing respiratory diseases and lung conditions in otherwise healthy people and worsening symptoms in those with asthma and emphysema.
10 Climate Change Consequences Will Be Irreversible
The recent Paris Climate Agreement between all but three of the world’s 195 nations is an important step towards reducing our carbon footprint. But even with the world (almost) coming together, the devastating effects of climate change may mean we are already too little too late. Stephen Hawking himself has said that we are “close to the tipping point” of global warming becoming something we simply cannot change.
After China, The United States ranks as the country with the highest rate of greenhouse gas emissions. (In 2014 a total of 6,870 million metric tonnes were produced alone – a 7 percent increase since 1990). Unfortunately, President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord this year may be what pushes the Earth’s temperature over the brink into dooming us all. Even without Trump’s help (or rather, lack of), experts believe that by 2050, our attempt to bring down emissions will be futile in the time scale we have.
9 Over Half The World’s Population Will Run Out Of Drinking Water
As it stands now, 1.1 billion people have no access to clean water at all and a further 2.5 billion live in areas where an adequate water supply is hard to come by. In a matter of decades, this already alarming figure is estimated to soar to as much as 5 billion living in water-starved areas of the world. By 2050, our population rate is said to be around 9.7 billion so this would mean that more than half of the entire planet will be facing a water crisis.
According to the World Preservation Foundation, a third of the world’s lakes are close to disappearing altogether and increased global warming in the coming decades will only make the drought situation bleaker. As lakes and rivers dry up, greenhouse gases are released into the air – provoking an unending cycle of destruction caused by climate change. To prevent global water shortages in 2050, government efforts to preserve adequate water supplies are needed now more than ever.
8 Authoritarianism Will Return
Whatever your political leaning is, most of us can agree that society feels more divided than ever and sadly, all the signs seem to be pointing towards a world that is mainly under a right-wing authoritarian rule. Although we’re not quite back to the kind of regime depicted above, it definitely feels as if democracy is fading somewhat in the 21st century. Liberties we take for granted such as freedom of speech and the right to travel to or make a living in new countries has come under serious threat recently and these freedoms look set to become even more restricted.
As we move closer towards the middle of the century, continued threats to national security may force governments to take more of a hard right-wing stance and play on people’s fear more than ever before in order to strip people of basic freedoms. He may be more than 80 years out, but George Orwell’s vision of our future may be pretty close to the mark.
7 Superbugs Alone Could Kill 10 Million A Year
One of the scariest realities of the future is that our reliance on certain medication could take us all back to the dark ages where healthcare is concerned. Because of our reliance and overuse of antibiotics, our bodies are beginning to produce bacteria that are resistant to them and this is causing hundreds of thousands of people to die every year from incredibly common illnesses-turned superbugs like the flu.
Currently, around 700,00 people are dying every year from common infections that no longer respond to antibiotics. The last time we heard of people dropping dead from something as commonplace as influenza was the 16th century. The overuse of antibiotics can be pinned on pharmacists who are too eager to prescribe them and farmers who actually add it to their crops and even their animal feed, even if their livestock is perfectly healthy. If this trend continues with other drugs, we could be living in a world where the common cold could endanger your life.
6 Transferring Your Mind Into Another Entity Will Be Suicide
The notion of living on long after your death in some form has been pondered by experts for decades (and has been seen in more sci-fi films than we can count), but in the next 30 years or so, living eternally – either digitally or in another body – could be developed. We are already starting to see the beginnings of this with Facebook’s creepy policy of having your profile live on forever, if you wish it to, by nominating someone to maintain your account forever.
More extreme than social media immortality is the idea that the human mind could live on in another body or in a computer, and this is where things get really disturbing. Like an immortal Facebook account, transferring your mind into a youthful body would essentially mean the death of what makes you, well...you. Until science can perfect the mind transference process, elderly or terminally ill people may be volunteering for suicide missions, since a brain transplant or similar digital process is so complex, it would essentially turn you into a blank clone (if it doesn’t kill you immediately). By mid 21st century, a lot of deaths could be attributed to people signing up to mind immortality at the rate that young people download a phone app.
5 Cities Around The Globe Could Be Flooded
As mother nature has proved recently with the devastating floods in Texas and Mexico, hurricanes, and resulting floods are becoming more and more frequent and scarily, this is set to get even worse in the coming decades. If our carbon footprint carries on as it is, the end of the 21st century will see sea levels rise by almost a meter (just over 3 feet). That may not sound like much, but by 2050 – when sea levels will exceed 1.5 meters, this will spell mass scale devastation in most major cities around the globe.
Coastal cities around the US from Calcutta to New York will face annual flood devastation. With battering winds and higher tides, major cities that now seem untouchable will face more than 30 days worth of flooding every year – causing millions to lose their homes and trillions of dollars worth of damage. The terrifying events seen in the disaster film The Day After Tomorrow could be a reality far sooner than we think.
4 We May Lose All Our Satellites
We don’t stop to think enough about how dependent our modern world has become on satellites. The thousands of satellites currently floating around in our orbit control GPS, the electrical grid and allow us to communicate with one another. Basically, losing our satellites would screw us all royally in a matter of seconds. But what scary space eventuality could possibly lead to the loss of all our satellites at once?
If you’ve ever seen the 2013 sci-fi film Gravity, you may remember the scene where a fleet of satellites is completely destroyed by a geomagnetic solar storm. This is when a random solar flare bursts out and interacts with Earth’s magnetic field. The force of these solar storms could be powerful enough to rip through an entire line of satellites if it happened for real. As of now, Earth’s orbit is littered with satellites that we’ve become more and more dependent on and the Sun could well decide to whip up a storm and target any one of them in the next 30 years.
3 Those Living With Dementia Will Triple
Advances in technology and healthcare are making people live longer than ever before. But with longer life expectancies, there is sadly an abundance of age-related diseases waiting in the wings, and illnesses such as dementia are proving to be the most difficult to treat. Despite ever-increasing funding being poured into dementia and Alzheimer's research, scientists are still struggling to decide how something like dementia can be diagnosed, let alone provide adequate treatment for.
With dementia being so difficult to treat, it’s not very welcome news that, by the year 2050, the number of people living with dementia is likely to triple – that’s an astonishing increase from 36 million to a projected 115 million people living with the complex and as yet an untreatable disease. An equally distressing dementia statistic is that over 50% of sufferers live in fairly low and middle-income countries where many miss the chance to be diagnosed early enough. In 2050, the number of people missing out on an early diagnosis will reach to 70%
2 Widespread Blackouts Will Be Common
The effects of global warming are determined to plunge our world into darkness (figuratively and literally speaking, judging by some of the predictions on this list). Experiencing a blackout during a heavy thunderstorm is something we’ve all encountered at one point or another, but the future has lots more in store and this could mean that widespread blackouts – especially in city areas – become as regular as rainfall.
Warmer temperatures brought on by climate change mean more and more tropical storms and when you combine this with a spike in the amount of energy we’re likely to consume in the next two or three decades, this is a recipe for mass scale power shortages. Back in 2012, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy left New York City largely in the dark. By the year 2050? Up to 50% of people across the US will be temporarily left without power on a regular basis. Scary stuff.
1 Increasing Cyber Attacks Could Spell The End For Us
Cyber attacks and acts of cyber terrorism have been on the rise in recent years and this has brought one very disturbing truth to light – that technology is advancing beyond our ability to control it. The balance of power is shifting so that one hacker working alone in his bedroom can bring down big businesses and even have the ability to shut down major portions of the government. If the internet and cell phones are our greatest examples of modern technology, then cybercrime is by far the worst.
It’s one thing to bring down a business with cyber hacking skills, but cyber terrorists of the future may be focused on far darker schemes. According to a report by the Pew Research Center in Washington, experts predict attacks that could result in a significant loss of human life, by way of spreading pandemics or instigating nuclear war. Although, with political tensions between the US and North Korea at an all-time high, cyber attacks may not be the most immediate threat when it comes to provoking nuclear warfare.