WE all seem to live for now. Your pay cheque, living quarters and family are all that matter. But what about your neighbourhood – and your neighbours? And talking about your neighbours, what kind of rubbish do you throw across the courtyard? Yes, these are questions we ask of ourselves now; but we hardly take the time to think about tomorrow.
I’m not talking about next Tuesday; I’m thinking about the 26th century – what will it look like? If you could travel back in time five centuries, you’d encounter a thriving Aztec empire in Central Mexico, a freshly painted “Mona Lisa” in Renaissance Europe and cooler temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere.
This was a world in the middle of the Little Ice Age, say, between AD 1300 and 1850, which was a period of vast European exploration which they called the Age of Discovery – when Europeans ‘discovered’ that Africans were ‘blacks.’ Well, we digress.
But what if we could look 500 years into the future and glimpse the Earth of the 26th century? Would the world seem as different to us as the 21st century would have seemed to residents of the 16th century? To start with, what will the Earth be like? In a new book, my old colleague, Robert Lamb, says that depending on whom you ask, the 26th century will either be a little chilly or infernally hot.
Some solar output models suggest that by the 2500s, Earth’s climate will have cooled back down to near Little Ice Age conditions. Other studies predict that ongoing climate change and fossil fuel use will render much of the planet too hot for human life by 2300 [source].
Some experts date the beginning of human climate change back to the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, others to slash-and-burn agricultural practices in prehistoric times. Either way, tool-wielding humans alter their environment -- and our 26th century tools might be quite impressive indeed.
Theoretical physicist and futurist Michio Kaku predicts that in a mere 100 years, humanity will make the leap from a type zero civilization to a type I civilization on the Kardashev Scale. In other words, we’ll become a species that can harness the entire sum of a planet’s energy.
Wielding such power, 26th-century humans will be masters of clean energy technologies such as fusion and solar power. Furthermore, they’ll be able to manipulate planetary energy in order to control global climate.
Physicist Freeman Dyson, on the other hand, estimates the leap to a type I civilization would occur within roughly 200 years. Technology has improved exponentially since the 1500s, and this pace will likely continue in the centuries to come.
Physicist Stephen Hawking proposes that by the year 2600, this growth would see 10 new theoretical physics papers published every 10 seconds. If Moore’s Law holds true and both computer speed and complexity double every 18 months, then some of these studies may be the work of highly intelligent machine What other technologies will shape the world of the 26th century?
Futurist and author Adrian Berry believes the average human life span will reach 140 years and that the digital storage of human personalities will enable a kind of computerized immortality.
Humans will farm the oceans, travel in starships and reside in both lunar and Martian colonies while robots explore the outer cosmos. Wow, but then where will we go from there? I shudder to explore; only that we’re our own best enemies.
What other technologies will then shape the world of the 26th century? Lamb quotes one futurist and author Adrian Berry as saying that the average human life span will reach 140 years and that the digital storage of human personalities will enable a kind of computerized immortality.
Humans will farm the oceans, travel in starships and reside in both lunar and Martian colonies while robots explore the outer cosmos. Where will we go from there? If you ask me, I would love to live to see that happen.
Changes do have an impact on us, some positive and other not so welcome. When I reported for duty as Guest Editor with the Southern African Research and Development Centre (SARDC) in Harare, now newly – and correctly -- christen Mwalimu Nyerere Centre, I didn’t know how to operate a computer.
So where will you be in the 26th century, my friend? I ask you, who dwell on personalities, brushing issues aside.