Back To The Future day: What would the future look like if we could travel forward from now?

The world could be pretty terrifying in another 26 years – perhaps it’s for the best that DeLoreans have fallen out of fashion

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 21 October 2015 17:05
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It’s Back To The Future Day – the much-heralded day in the future that Marty McFly travels to in the film. But what is the terrifying reality that could confront us if we could make the same journey from today?

The day has sparked a worldwide celebration of nostalgia for the much-loved film, tinged with a little disappointment that the hoverboards and self-lacing shoes that we were promised don’t appear to have turned up yet.

The film has been largely praised for its accuracy about 2015: it predicted fingerprint payment systems and video calling. But it also got a lot wrong – mostly, it seems, in assuming that the world would be a much better place.

If we were to get hold of a DeLorean, what would await us in 2041? What horrifying future might await us if we could go forward another 26 years, like the characters in the film?

Just as the film had a guess at the technology that might be awaiting us in the future, here’s our guess at what the tech world of 2041 might look like:

The Earth will be much less habitable

Living on the planet is going to be a lot more difficult, as increasing challenges like climate change and food shortages. A study earlier this year developed a model of what would happen to the Earth if we carry on living the way we are – and found that society would probably have completely collapsed by 2040.

"The results show that based on plausible climate trends, and a total failure to change course, the global food supply system would face catastrophic losses, and an unprecedented epidemic of food riots,” Dr Aled Jones, the Director of the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University, said at the time.

"In this scenario, global society essentially collapses as food production falls permanently short of consumption."

Artificial intelligence will be running the world

Computers are getting smarter. They are learning how to at least look like they are thinking and have access to almost the entirety of human knowledge.

That trend is likely to continue, as computers get ever faster and bigger, and the huge amounts of data that we generate get more deeply analysed.

It might not come in any spectacular way at first. Indeed, it’s already here – in smartphone assistants like Google Now and Siri, for instance.

But eventually it will probably become integrated into absolutely everything.

It’ll be built into our cars

“Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” But where we’re going we might not need drivers, either: the DeLoreans of the future will probably be able to steer themselves.

A range of companies – including Google, Tesla and reportedly Apple – are working on their own electric, self-driving vehicles. The companies herald them as a utopian future: nobody will own a car, just pick them as needed, and there’ll be no crashes from people falling asleep at the wheel.

And that's all well and good. Until the car chooses to kill you because it's programmed to do so.

And we might be a kind of artificial intelligence

Scientists have already claimed that having all of the world’s information available just a swipe away is making huge changes to the way our brains work. As computers get better at knowing us and anticipating what we want, that is likely to happen yet more – as computers become ever more an extension of ourselves.

It might even turn out that the computers come inside of our own heads. Ray Kurzweil, a famous Google engineer and futurologist, has said that humans are likely to become “hybrids” by 2030, with tiny robots scurrying around our brain and helping us think.

But we probably won’t see much of the results

Artificial intelligence and robots are likely to make production much more easy and efficient, allowing us to make things far more quickly and cheaply.

But the benefits of those are unlikely to be passed on down to most people, according to current trends. As Stephen Hawking pointed out in a recent Ask Me Anything session on Reddit, most of those benefits are likely to be passed on only to the richest, while those at the bottom will either be working with the robots or lose their jobs entirely.

We’ll be able to edit our own genes

Humanity might become a kind of robot, as we become able to edit our own genes to decide what sort of person we might be. Many of the techniques are already here – and have been tested on everything from dogs to embryos – and it is largely ethical concerns that are stopping us from pursuing some techniques.

Ethical concerns to technology and scientific techniques tend to erode over time. It’s likely that whether out in the open or housed in secret, the world will eventually have people in it whose very being has been edited in a lab.

Everyone’s houses and bodies will be on the internet

Two of the biggest current technological trends – the smart home and wearable technology – look set to turn houses and people into internet-enabled objects. That will mean that we’ll be able to track and control almost anything, as well as adding to the vast amount of data that we have about ourselves already.

Hackers gain access to sensitive US military data

And hackers and governments will have access to them, and everything else

But that data is likely to be compromised. The current trend with all data is that both hackers and government want and will gain access to it, and as that data becomes ever more personal it also becomes more vital that others aren’t able to snoop in on it.

Many technology companies have fought back against this, either resisting such changes or building their technology so that they are not compatible with them. But current trends indicate hackers and governments are going to continue trying to get our data, even if people are fighting back.

But the world might have come to an end, anyway

Scientists have already warned that we might be a little too relaxed about the apocalypse, and it is a constant danger. We’ve survived plenty of them already – and have already seen out a couple this year – but the prophecies keep on coming.

Or we might just not be here any more

Some scientists have proposed that we are already in the world’s sixth extinction phase – that many species, including humans, are now essentially the walking dead. The researchers cited climate change, pollution and deforestation as huge threats to the world’s entire ecosystem – and its death would probably take us with it.

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