Half of the babies born today in industrialized countries will live long enough to celebrate their 100th birthday.
According to a study by the Danish Aging Research Center at the University of Southern Denmark published in The Lancet in 2009, we’re not only living longer, we’re living better, with less disability and fewer limitations.
So what will life be like for babies born in 2017 if they live to be 100? How will society, our homes, our cities, the way we work, live – and even love – evolve over the next century?
Some things are so fundamental to human behaviour, it’s hard to imagine they will change. To paraphrase Nassim Taleb, if you were able to get in a spaceship and travel back in time to Pompeii for dinner, you’d find yourself sitting around a table, being served by a waiter, drinking wine and enjoying good food and company. With that in mind, we also asked our panel of experts for their views on what is likely to stay the same.
HERE ARE THEIR PREDICTIONS:
Life at home
In 50 years’ time, a baby born in 2017 will live in a home in which “energy, entertainment, food consumption and security needs” will all be interconnected, says Dr Rob Mooney, research director at Amárach research specialists.
“Their fridge will automatically put in their shopping order, and it will be delivered by driverless cars.”
A home in 2067 “could have all its roof tiles made from solar tiles. There will be energy storage devices in the walls of the house and electric car ports.
For babies born in 2017 making dinner might mean 3D printed food.
Houses will be built with energy capture in mind – we are already commercializing window panes that will capture the energy,” Mooney adds.
Homes of the future will be truly smart, in the sense that they will learn from their owners, predicts behavioral futurist William Bingham of the London-based consultancy, Next Big Thing. “We’ll be less likely to want to own our own homes – we’ll move towards the European model of renting homes.”
He suggests these homes will be instantaneously adaptable, with walls that can change color at the flick of a switch, and the ability to 3D-print furniture. “Our homes will become like student dorms – each one will be the same empty shell, but you can direct and adapt them as you like. Our housing complexes will become these amazing shared communities with offices, gyms, gathering spaces.”
The psychologist and author Maureen Gaffney, who is working on a book that examines our emotional needs at different phases in our lives, is wary of making predictions. “We have a long and inglorious history trying to predict what’s going to happen in 10 years, not to mind 50 or even 100.”
But she believes the things that make us human – our basic needs for closeness, autonomy and competence – “are not going to change. There will be more options about how we express those needs but their intensity, their universality won’t change”.
The trend towards increasing longevity will heighten the strain on our personal relationships, as we live longer, and the boundaries of young adulthood and middle-age stretch and blur. “We don’t even enter adulthood until we’re in our very late 20s now, and we don’t exit young adulthood until we’re well into our 40s. People are reinventing themselves throughout their lives, and expecting their partner to keep up.”
Couples are also spending less time together. “So the unstoppable force is that we expect more and more of our relationships, but the immovable object is that we’re spending less time together. I’d put money on that dynamic intensifying into the future.”
Life in cities
“The first thing that we are pretty certain about is that by 2050 the population of Dublin will reach 2.6 million people. Nationally, we’re talking about an increase to more than six million. I think we will see skyscrapers emerging across the Dublin skyline sooner than you might think,” says Mooney, who is also the author of Dublin Chamber’s A Vision for Dublin 2050 report.
He adds that, over the next 50 years, the east coast is going to continue to have “a disproportionate population density – even more so than today if trends continue in the same direction. So the big priority over the next 10 years is planning effectively to address the current housing crisis”.
One of the advantages of the move “upwards” will be the “capacity to develop key social amenities and social spaces” making Dublin “a city to grow up, raise a family and grow old in”.
“We’ll have more skyscrapers and much more integration with the natural environment. You’ll see buildings with planting all the way up, topped with roof gardens which will be essential to act as carbon sinks,” says Mooney.
Futurist William Bingham says communities of like-minded people will emerge within cities: “the geographical equivalent of Facebook filter bubbles. In the future, it will be less about urban vs rural, and it’s more about attitude. People will decide, for better or worse, that they want to live with like-minded people”.
Education and work
A baby born today will still seek a degree, but they’ll also supplement their education as we move towards “a ‘lifelong learning’ space, with people dipping in and out of education” throughout their lives, says Mooney. “We already have MOOC’s [Massive Open Online Courses] providing free access to basic level education on a global scale.”
With the increasing automation of routine work, more creative skills will become valuable says Klaus Mogensen. “The jobs that are more important in the future will be creative competencies combined with more technical knowledge. A lot of the education we get today is ‘just in case’ education. In the future it might be ‘just in time’ education because you need new competencies.”
One of Mogensen’s more surprising predictions for the children of 2017 is that they “will not have to learn how to write. We have speech detection software which is getting very good, and we will have a better speech-to-text software, making writing and even typing unnecessary”. In 100 years “we may not have to be able to read”, as we’ll have software to do it for us instead.
Technology and communications
Tomorrow’s workforce will spend a lot less time commuting. “Telecommunications, including remote holograph attendance at meetings, will mean that physical commuting will become redundant, as will an awful lot of work,” predicts Prof Ian Robertson of Trinity College.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will play a major role in the workplaces of the future. “Virtual boardrooms, virtual travel, surgeons conducting virtual operations with the help of robotics” will be commonplace, says Mooney.
“A lot of jobs are going to be done by robots in the next 50 or so years; yet as with the industrial revolution, different jobs will emerge to take their place.”
As the virtual world becomes more compelling, there is a risk, says Robertson, that people might choose to make “a flight from polluted realities into a world of virtual work, virtual relationships, maybe even virtual sex”.
Medicine and health
Few people have given more thought to what increasing longevity means for us as individuals and as a society than Kenny. “The biggest issue is not just extending our lifespan, but ensuring a healthy lifespan. There’s no point in living to 100 if you spend the last 30 years in a nursing home, blind and demented. The most efficient way of doing that is for people to be responsible for their own health management,” she says.
Kenny predicts that a baby born in 2017 will rely on a medical implant to provide them with feedback on “their entire physiology, including heart rate, cardiac output, microbiome status, metabolism and physical activity. It will all feed into a single data pool which will then recommend an activity or a medical intervention”.
Money and banking
How we think about money and banking will change dramatically over the lifetime of a baby born today, suggests tech expert and serial start-up founder, Richard Rodger. By the time our 2017 baby is 50, physical money will have come to be seen as “very quaint, a collector’s item, almost like vinyl [records]”.
“I think we’re going to see a new breed of fintech start-ups that will find new ways to use blockchain technology we haven’t even thought of yet to completely disrupt the banking sector.”
He points out that there are a lot of “quacks and scam artists” operating in this space, but “when we figure out what it’s useful for, there will be a lot of disruption. China and WeChat show the way – everything will be electronic, it will go through mobile devices”.
The dark side is that every transaction could conceivably be recorded. “There are huge implications for personal freedom.”
In 100 years, he suggests, “money won’t exist. If we solve the energy problem, there won’t be a need for money. Technology removes scarcity.”
If we can produce anything using 3D printing – or whatever the next generation is – “it could alleviate the need for money all together and we could all end up living on some form of universal basic income. The question then is: does that mean a resurgence of communism?”
Life beyond earth
There could be a functioning space economy within the next 20 years, following the path of the railroads in 19th century, predicts Richard Rodger, with a “robber baron-type space era dawning over the next 20-50 years. Space is not a technological problem; it’s a cost problem. Once the cost problem is solved, it will be much more about the economics and the business model. People will see opportunities like they did in the railroad era, and there will be a proliferation of space start-ups beyond what Elon Musk is pioneering.”
One hundred years from now, “does Mars declare independence from earth? Will there be terraforming?” he wonders.
Mooney points out that space is one area where we have so far, as a species, under-performed. “If you take science fiction, the base line for many scientific predictions, everybody thought we’d have flying cars, hover boards, and live on the moon or Mars by now – there are fundamental laws of physics that present challenges to achieve this; mainly the limitations of the human body. I think people will have landed on Mars and come back, but I don’t see colonization happening in the next 50 years. In 100 years – who knows?”
What won’t change?
On the question of what won’t change, our experts are almost unanimous: the desire for human engagement and interaction is top of the list. “The need for community, the need for engagement will continue to be the fundamental driver of human activity,” says Mooney.
“Identity, culture, connections, the need to meet, to be active will always be at the core of everything we do – so place, locations and community will always be important. There will always be a place we call home – but the world will be overwhelmingly urban as we need to interact for ideas and for experiences,” says Crowley.
Bingham’s prediction is that communities will become more important as super-powers fragment. “We might see a return to city states, and the resurgence of small communities, as people decentralise their lives more.”
The enjoyment of food will still be part of the human experience, says Mogensen. “A lot of previous generations of futurists have been surprised that we’re still cooking our own dinner but food is about more than sustenance, it’s a sensual, shared experience.”
Gaffney says we need to be vigilant about making sure that need for interaction continues to be met in the future.