Preparing yourself for the future has never been so important. Overpopulation, Artificial Intelligence, nuclear war, climate change, etc., all compete for their place as top worry. As with so many things in life, the better informed you are, the better prepared you will be.
The first question, of course, is how much of the future are you likely to see. Many console themselves with the thought that they won’t be here when things fall apart. And yet, if the experts are correct, you will live through more of the 21st-century than you expect.
You, and certainly your children, may live to see aging brought under control. This is no longer the stuff of science fiction. In April 2019, for example, the New Scientist, a respected British magazine, published an article on the anti-aging drugs that will soon “keep you younger for longer,” as the front cover puts it. In a long and detailed article, the author notes that while life-extension was the concern of solitary eccentrics, laughed at and shunned by mainstream science, it is now cutting-edge, attracting serious people and serious cash.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed. Aging may prove harder to control than expected. But the first generation of drugs is already under development. Once approved, they will be continually refined, every new drug better than the last. Ray Hammond, a futurologist, predicts lifespans of 130 for those in the developed world. Others put it higher. Stephen Fry, in a recent lecture at the Bell laboratories, assured his audience that lifespans of up to 200 would soon be commonplace. And remember, these extra years will not be lived in fragile senility.
How should you prepare for this? First, consider the effect on relationships. Remaining faithful for 40 or 50 years is difficult; temptations arise, and even the most devoted can falter. Now imagine a 100-year relationship! If you are 40, you probably hope your marriage will last another 40 or 50 years. But what if you get an extra 90, or more, much of it with the energy and appearance of a 30-something? Monogamy is going to come under increasing pressure.
The Future of Work
If you are going to be around for longer than expected, you should also consider the effect on your career. Do you really want to be doing what you are doing for another 100 years? Then again, you may not have a career. No one can be sure, but Artificial Intelligence seems sure to upend the world of work. Autonomous vehicles, for example, will soon arrive, leaving millions of bus, truck and cab drivers unemployed.
But it won’t just be driving jobs that are affected. In 2013, a study at Oxford University predicted that nearly half the jobs in the United States would be affected by automation. A third, or more, of the population may become not just unemployed but unemployable. If that happens, some kind of UBI (Universal Basic Income) will have to be introduced, meaning a basic, living wage paid to everyone, no matter what they do. For many, not working will become an option. Consider what you would do with all that free time.
If you have children, you may want to re-think their education. It is often said that we are still educating children for the 20th-century workplace. What is the point, for example, of passing on information when a child can now access it on her iPhone? Surely it would be better to teach children how to sift through, and analyze, that information. In the future, your child may have to literally invent their own job. Flexibility will therefore be vital. And so will imagination.
You should also consider which skills will be in demand. The most marketable will be empathy and creativity, two things with which A.I., robots and machines struggle. Indeed, some believe that caring service jobs, meaning those that require kindness and compassion (nursing, for example), will be one of the few areas left untouched. No machine can hold the hand of a frightened child.
Catastrophe and Upheaval
You do not need to watch the news to know that we face problems. First, and most obviously, there is climate change. The journalist David Wallace-Wells recently published a horrifying book on the subject, titled The Uninhabitable Earth. Wells paints a terrifying picture: flooded cities, water scarcity, forest fires, rampant viruses, etc. In his opinion, things are even worse than people believe.
Closely related, there is overpopulation. When asked to sum up the 20th-century, the art historian Ernst Gombrich replied that it would be remembered as the century in which the world’s population spiraled out of control, adding that this has been “a catastrophe, a disaster.” Actually, in places like Germany, the birth rate has gone into decline. But in other parts of the world, most notably Africa, it is still booming. As the climate worsens, we could see the greatest migration in history, with people fleeing the poorer, hotter areas of the world for the cooler north.
Then there are the additional worries of Artificial Intelligence and nuclear weapons. Since the end of the cold war, it has been easy to believe that the nuclear threat is over. Obviously this is nonsense. These weapons still exist, and so long as they do, someone may use them.
But it isn’t just the events themselves you must learn to deal with. If just one adjective could be used to describe modern life, “stressful” would be a good one. And the ability to cope with stress will be priceless in the coming decades. Unfortunately, no simple solution exists, though exercise, meditation, yoga, etc., all help.
To make it worse, it will be impossible to hide, either from the events themselves or from news of them. Today, people wake up, switch on their iPhone and, before even climbing out of bed, they have read terrifying new reports on global warming, cyber security breaches, nuclear stand-offs, economic crises, and so on.
Radio 4, a highbrow arts and culture station in the UK, recently broadcast a programme on ‘Eco-Anxiety’, a new phenomenon identified by therapists and psychiatrists. In essence, this refers to the apocalyptic dread people feel about the environment.
The world is changing at a faster pace than ever before. It has been said, for example, that those who make it through the 21st century will see 1,000 years worth of technological progress. The changes that will bring, not to mention those wrought by climate change and overpopulation, will demand courage, adaptability and a willingness to constantly update.