On the Importance of Forecasting & Prediction
I enjoy forecasting; it’s how I learn or, more accurately, how I evaluate how well I’ve learned. After all, the best way to know you understand a topic is predicting an outcome of that topic and having it become a reality. Science is really nothing more than exactly that: capturing all of our knowledge in the form of relationships that predict outcomes, and iterating continuously to improve our ability to predict. The irony of the situation, however, is I’ve learned just as much from predicting and being wrong as I have from predicting and being right; after all, it’s the wrong predictions that force me to reevaluate my understanding by accounting for where I went wrong.
The Five Predictions
Sometimes, however, it’s a fun exercise to make long-term predictions that may or may not reveal themselves in our lifetime. Strangely enough, I believe it’s easier to predict the distant future than it is the near future; while the path to a destination may be filled with surprises, the destination itself can sometimes be much clearer. Warren Buffet may not be able to guarantee the stock market is higher in three years, but he’s likely very certain about that fact in fifteen.
Below are five predictions that I’m making as a result of considering and analyzing the little I know and reaching pragmatic conclusions based on that analysis. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed thinking about them.
1. We will all look like Brazilians
Only a few decades ago, even in so-called “progressive” nations, interracial marriages were considered taboo. This has been changing over the past few decades and it’s reasonable to expect it to become increasingly more prevalent at an exponentially-growing rate. It’s interesting to consider the full circle that humanity will have traveled: very early humans were interrelated and thus belonged to a single ethnicity; over thousands of years as they traveled the continents and became increasingly isolated by geography, distinct ethnicity evolved. We are now at the precipice of a return journey to our origins: future generations of humans will continue on a path of confluence with an ever-increasing number of us becoming of mixed ethnicity. Yale research published last year corroborated this line of thinking and described the end result of this phenomenon as “we will all look Brazilian”. It cited Brazil as arguably the world’s most diverse melting pot with representation from native Americans, Europeans, Asians, Africans, and others. More coverage of the Yale research is available here.
2. Animals will have rights comparable to humans
My late dog, Allie Baba, taught me one thing with absolute certainty: animals are not as different from humans as societal norms would have us believe. Allie was incredibly bright and could understand and interact with me and my family in an incredibly primal, albeit non-verbal, way. She was filled with and capable of all sorts of emotions from happiness and exuberance to loneliness and sadness. I’m quite convinced that the world would be a better place if humans were as kind and generous as Allie.
Only decades ago, even humans didn’t consider all races equal enforcing shameful policies like slavery and apartheid. Women have and arguably continue to suffer similarly shameful discrimination. Even in our nation that is the flagship of democracy, women only gained the unilateral right to vote in 1919. It took us a long time to come to a conclusion that now seems absurdly simple: all humans should have equal rights. Read more about women’s suffrage here.
Sometime in the future, as we continue to understand and appreciate how phenomenally precious all life is, we will endow animals with increasing rights. Some day, unfortunately likely only after we’ve developed a means of synthesizing meat, animals will have rights that would be nearly unbelievable to us today.
3. The Earth will end up with only two “super nations”
Some might be surprised to learn that it is believed that Earth’s population won’t keep going up forever; instead, it will peak. Whats more, it will peak in the not-too-distant future between 2030 and 2050 at somewhere between 8 and 10 billion people (see this article for more information). To say the world is “getting smaller” is truly going to become a reality with 1) population peaking and potentially even decreasing for the first time in human history, 2) technology making real-time communications with anyone anywhere possible, and 3) transportation advancements making covering large distances increasingly more tractable.
So, what happens after that? Do we become a single, altruistic, unified world as portrayed in futuristic television shows such as Star Trek? My prediction is not quite so Utopian. For reasons too lengthy to cover in this post, human civilizations reach sociopolitical “stability” by dividing themselves into two polar alignments around two labels (for background, see this post). With our need to “belong”, we are eager to take on one of the two labels and, in doing so, making it easier to understand our so-called “opponent”: whom to blame for our problems and how to be motivated into supporting causes. You’ll see this bi-polar alignment throughout society: liberals vs. conservatives, Republicans vs. Democrats, “Pro-Life” vs. “Pro-Choice”, capitalism vs. communism, democracy vs. dictatorship, each college sports team having a single arch-rival, and so on. What’s unfortunate is that we all realize we can’t simply categorize ourselves into two polar opposites with no room for many middle-grounds; despite that, we’re unable to do much more than simply take on that broad categorical label.
It’s for that reason that I believe that Earth will not unify completely but will instead be polarized between two “super nations” each with roughly half of the population of Earth. Each of the “super nations” will have a brand that gives its population a common identity and unifies them against the other. It is this notion of “competitive stability” that will drive humanity to continue competing and progressing.
4. We will only have two primary spoken languages and dozens of minimally-spoken “historical languages”
As the world “gets smaller”, humanity continues to lose languages while not adding new ones (see this article for more information). As the world’s languages unify, it is my belief that we will have two primary languages that will identify the two aforementioned “super nations”. However, for practical reasons, children will be required to study the other language and, thus, we will all speak one native language and a second language spoken by other humans.
Many other languages beyond the primary two will likely remain for prosperity’s sake but will be spoken and understood by only small swathes of society; an example of such a language today is Latin.
While it’s sad to think that, even today, we continue to lose natural languages that were spoken for hundreds or thousands of years, language confluence does mean being able to communicate more effectively with each other and removes another barrier of difference between humanity.
5. Our first scalable space colony will be on the Moon, not Mars
Those of us who are enamored with space love hearing about all of the recent plans to colonize Mars, including the audacious Mars One program intent on sending humans on a one-way trip to Mars in 2023. As surprised as you might be, there are quite a few other such private ventures planning on Mars colonization.
However, for a number of very practical reasons, I have a layman’s perspective on why I believe the Moon will be the first scalable space colony:
- The Moon is tethered to Earth whereas Mars is tethered to the sun. The consequence of this statement is quite significant: the Moon remains equidistant to Earth (roughly 400 thousand km) at all times whereas Mars’ distance from Earth varies between 55 million km and 400 million km.
- The Moon is now believed to have natural water. In fact, very recently, scientists have discovered that the Earth and Moon have water from the same source (see details here).
- Communication with the Moon via radio frequency signals, while slow, is near real-time whereas it takes between 3 and 22 minutes for a signal to travel between Earth and Mars.
Anyone ready to be the first colonist on the Moon, speaking two Earth languages, looking somewhat Brazilian, and taking with him or her a horde of animals seeking equal rights?