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Marty McFly Got It All Wrong – But What Will 2030 Look Like?

Since it’s the future, I thought I’d put up an article I wrote last year for SIN, NUI Galway’s student paper. You should check those kids out.

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2015? You mean we’re in the future!

Or perhaps not. The western world has been left disappointed by the misguided predictions of acclaimed scientific documentary Back to the Future Part II. Our cars are still firmly rooted on the ground, and skateboards, hovering or otherwise, are so antiquated that some doubt they ever existed.

In the face of this crushing betrayal, we can only resolve our woes if we go (yes) back to the future. Not this shoddy excuse for a future, but a real future, a future that knows what it’s doing. Ladies, gentlemen, and other, I propose to you: 2030.

The bad news is that the future may not be as chipper as we would hope. Just as 2015 has denied us robot maids and given us economic misfortunes in their place, we can expect things to have gotten much worse by 2030.

John Beddington, the UK Government’s chief scientific advisor in 2009, stated that the world population would have risen to eight billion. Since we now sit at 7.22 billion, this seems a believable claim. As such, demands for food, water, and energy would all rise while those resources decrease. As such, an awful lot of us will be dead or dying.

The United States is also expected to decline as a superpower due to continuing economic difficulties, an overstretched military, and rising industrialisation in China and India. It will probably also not help that so many people will be dying, as stated.

Fortunately, all the dead people will be replaced by AI. Computers will have advanced to the point that call centres will be manned by programs which are advanced to the point of sentience. The mind boggles at the ethical implications, let alone what could happen when the programs themselves wrap their artificial heads around the idea of morality. Robot apocalypse, lads. You heard it here first, except you didn’t, because movies have been pushing that line for decades. If Marty McFly has shown us anything, it’s that any prediction should be taken with a pinch of salt, or perhaps a ton.

Even if famine, drought, and assassin customer service droids don’t kill us all, it’s quite possible the survivors will fall foul of the metaphorical assassin droid within: depression. The mental illness will have overcome heart disease to become the number one global disease burden, according to the World Health Organisation.

In all of this doom and gloom, there is a glimmer of hope, the possibility that a long-running burden of civilisation might at last be alleviated; the weather forecast might actually be right. Computing is expected to be a thousand times more powerful than it will be even in 2020, and a million times more powerful than in 2010. Patently Apple says that the meteorological results of this would be outstanding, with 99% accuracy. Humanity’s efforts to make sense of the weather, though deeply impressive, have always been an uphill struggle. To actually get a near-conclusive handle on the whole thing would be a real triumph.

Still, quite a bleak vision of a brave new future. Some might be tempted to wave away these predictions as conjecture and speculation doomed to failure, just like Back to the Future Part II.

But was the movie so wrong after all? We’re quick to point to the barmy fashion differences and comically pseudo-dystopian setting as massive deviations. But the film did show the rise of surveillance cameras, the influence of Asian nations over the US, flat panel TV sets mounted on walls, the ability to watch six channels at once, Skype, increased use of plastic surgery, head-mounted displays, automated fuelling systems, and motion-controlled video games. All this from a movie which, joking aside, only made basic efforts to research what 2015 would be like and merrily took all the artistic licence it wanted.

We should all know better than to take Doc for a fool. Start stockpiling canned food and ammunition, set up a nuclear bunker in the hills, because when 2030 arrives, no amount of self-tying shoelaces will save us.

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