This text was originally written for the comments section of a kottke.org post on December 6, 2005.
Some major edits have been made since then.
I don't get this sense very often these days, but I relish it when I do. The first time I experienced the "Holy mackerel! We're living in the future!" feeling, it was a strange sensation triggered by settling into the backseat of my friend's new Nissan Maxima, and listening to his radar detector boot up as his car turned on and the rest of his console lights began to glow, and Nine Inch Nails' "Into The Void" from The Fragile beginning to boom on his kilowatt sound system. Since then, similar such experiences have been few and far between.
But on a more serious note, I believe that our current collective stress-out about petroleum and fossil based fuels and energy, as well as the constant threats from terrorism, global warming, cancer and pandemics, overpopulation, etc., are going to force the human population into some pretty awe-inspiring advances over the next couple of decades. We're talking huge leaps forward. These significant improvements include:
1. Solar power
Complete transition to solar power as the primary source of energy supply to all residential, commercial, and industrial energy demands. All the following improvements will be brought about based on this single momentous accomplishment.
2. Natural/organic habitats
Transition to family and community based habitats which are ecologically and culturally enriching. These constructions will spring up in place of reclaimed land from industrial and commercial sites, and will be interconnected by a brand new nationwide (and soon thereafter planet-wide) transportation network (electric trains, electric computer-navigated automobiles, transition of major airlines from bulk travel to on-demand commuter flights, etc.) making it a seamless and painless process to commute from a major metropolis to your family back on the farm.
3. Sane climate control
Regulation of the Earth's climate by means of a world-wide biosphere control scheme. This will include doing things like using phytoplankton fertilized with iron deposits in the oceans, as well as a number of other measures. The world will no longer depend on petroleum and fossil fuels for energy, pollution and carbon emissions over time will be drastically reduced. Biosphere control mechanisms built into energy-harvesting technology will begin to terraform whole swathes of uninhabitable and non-cultivatable land into useful regions which will nearly immediately (within a span of five to ten years) cause tremendous cultural and global change. Our planet's appearance from space will be significantly altered. These global processes will be controlled with complete assurance and confidence by our civilization, and will not get out of control. (No over-cooling or wildly fluctuating temperatures -- these technologies and their effects can be carefully modeled and monitored using evermore advancing computing techniques and information about the planet's weather machinery and its internal relationships.)
4. Geo-political stabilization
Furthermore, since the dependence on petroleum will be eliminated, the economic (and hence, political) interests of the US in Middle Eastern countries will diminish greatly, reducing the strain on that region's already oppressed people, which in turn will have a calming effect on the activity of terrorists.
5. Digital-only information distribution
Elimination of content and information distribution entities such as the recording and motion picture industries. While this will simply exchange power from one entity to another (network service providers) it will serve to streamline the process of production and distribution making it easier than ever for individuals and organizations to create and communicate information. Happily, even network service providers will be rendered obsolete as free, accessible, and ubiquitous high-speed wireless networks begin to organically blanket the North American continent within the next 15 or 20 years, and also the rest of the globe within 50 years. Continuing advances in wireless networking technology makes it a sure bet that this will happen. These networks will be maintained as a public utility, and regulated only by local and regional community technicians and benefactors, thereby eliminating telecoms such as SBC/AT&T and Comcast once and for all. Finally, the true vision of free speech will be realized as seamless, obstacle-free distribution networks deliver content from its sources to a global audience. Such a network will obviate most concerns about government wiretapping, since most communications will occur without bottlenecks or major backbones. Eliminating single points of large bandwidth usage will remove the ability of the spy agencies to route large amounts of communication traffic from single sources.
6. No more government-sponsored resource mongering (imperialism)
Because energy will become a non-issue, governments around the world will be able to shift attention away from internal economic problems caused by diminishing resources and focus more on forward thinking policies and technological advancements brought about by open collaboration with multi-national coalitions and government sponsored partnered entities.
7. Space travel
Fast. And soon. Within the next thirty years.
8. World peace
Without strain on population for competition for scarce resources such as energy sources for the industries of developing nations, there will be little to no political wrangling for power or military action required between nations.
9. True free markets
When information and energy becomes completely free, the markets for goods and services will also become completely free. This is because no market is truly free without the complete freedom of information. When all buyers instantaneously know the real-time value of any good and service, then all sellers must sell at that price, or else lose the sale because of a failure to meet the price agreed upon by the market. However, this is not how the markets currently work. Normally, buyers bet blindly at prices, without conferring amongst themselves. The markets rely very nearly solely upon speculative pricing. This speculative pricing engaged in by buyers only gives sellers and producers an advantage because they control the quantities of goods produced based on an unbalanced mixture of speculation on market demand and just shear capriciousness. When resources become a function of free energy, the only true product will be the quality of a given product's design and its execution. Because of a mutual understanding of all options for a particular product, its price will be clearly determinable by purchasers in the marketplace. Energy sums per product will no longer be a factor. Instead, only time, thought, and (in rare cases) rare, non-recyclable materials will be considered as contributing to the actual value of a product. Barrier-to-entry into a market will be as thin or as thick as the challenge to compete against other designs, conceptions, and implementations of a given product.
10. No more hunger
With unlimited energy at our fingertips, the developed world will be able to manufacture and transport all the modern equipment necessary for industrialized agricultural in regions of the world where food is scarce and at famine levels of unavailability. Nowhere will water be scarce or limited -- ocean desalinization will be cheap and easy without energy restrictions.
11. Destabilization of Earth's electromagnetic sphere
Instability of Earth's electromagnetic sphere will cause problems for long distance communication using signals transmitted over radio spectrum. However, the global network of broadband short-access wireless networking will make the problem moot. Unfortunately, many thousands of people will die from cancer due to the increased ultraviolet radiation from the Sun that the weakened electromagnetic sphere will allow to penetrate to the Earth's surface. Thankfully, all types of cancer will be cured within five years of its worst outbreak among the global population. That's what happens when a global killer comes along and begins to kill indiscriminately and widely. When rich people start dying early for no reason, cures are discovered.
12. Global population stabilization
Global population will go through some severe fluctuations on its course to stabilizing at around 11 billion people, and while this will cause severe heartache for individuals worldwide and leave a psychological and emotional imprint on our cultural consciousness which will be remembered in our history books and stories passed down throughout the generations for centuries to follow, the overall standard of living for all peoples in all nations will improve, and human atrocities and suffering will be reduced and practically eliminated, even during the most traumatic periods of our civilization's growing pains. Why? Because of free, ubiquitous, real time information distribution and communication, when the entire world witnesses their own families dying at the same time as the families of those in other parts of the world dying from causes outside of anyone's control, we will become that much closer to each other, despite our cultural differences and the illusion of national boundaries. We will unite against the prevailing forces that thwart our survival.
13. No man-made apocalypse
Nuclear war will never erupt between any nations, because political and militaristic posturing, manipulation, and confrontation will all cease to be tools of national entities, due to the fact that energy is no longer a commodity, and complete land reclamation and restoration from desert regions and polluted areas is commonplace.
Why I am so optimistic about our future?
I believe that stress on a population causes characteristics to emerge which make the population at large more effective at survival. Continued future stress on the ever growing human civilization will force innovation and adaptation the likes of which we have never seen or imagined before. People are capable of great things, and will do great things, if they are done right. All it takes is a balance of careful, metered trust in the genius of inventors and innovators, determination, spirit and will. I believe that these things will win out over corruption, greed, and apathy. They have to. Corrupt, greedy and apathetic individuals will get naturally selected out of the gene pool, leaving the rest of us to become careful, caring, clever and conscionable stewards of our planet and solar system.
If these things don't happen, well, who cares? We will just go extinct. And one doesn't worry much about dying when one is dead.