The Rest of Our Lives; What It'll Be Like

by J.R. Mooneyham
(previously under the pseudonym S.C. Summers)
REVISED 6-20-2000

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This article began life as a letter to a dear friend; hopefully it has retained some of that intimate quality. The grandmother mentioned had passed away a year or so previous to my writing.

Both my friend and I were in our mid-thirties at the time the letter was written. So that's the age perspective from which to view the piece. As my friend and I share an interest in financial investments, such issues are often dealt with in our correspondence; this letter was no exception.

The main gist of this letter was written in 1992 or earlier, and so does not necessarily take into account many events which have occurred since.

I have changed the names of my friend and his family members to preserve their privacy.

This is going to be a very 'different' sort of letter, Steve. Here I'm going to divulge to you some of the findings from my research into the future, that I began quite a while back in support of my novel.

How far into the future would you be interested in? Probably only our own likely lifespan, right?

A Sense of Recent History: 1900-1980s, your granny Athena's lifetime.

Much of what I'll be telling you may seem extremely far-fetched. But remember the scale of change our own grandparents (like your granny Athena) witnessed over their lives.

Your granny Athena was over ninety when she died, wasn't she? So she was born around the beginning of this century. The following are some ballpark guesses about her life.

When she was very young, the contracts to build the Panama Canal were signed (1903). The Wright Brothers were flying their first successful plane at Kitty Hawk (Dec. of 1903) , Henry Ford was busy giving birth to mass-production in the automobile industry (He designed the Model T in 1908; previous to this cars were only available to the very wealthy), and Einstein was first unveiling his theories of Relativity to the world (1905- 1916). In 1911, self-starters for automobiles and air conditioning for homes were first invented. The first army tank appeared in 1914.

Around her teenage years, she saw World War I break out. Chemical warfare was used for the first time. Lenin's Bolshevik Revolution swept over Russia.

In 1920 she might have heard about Congress passing the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote for the first time, nationally.

In her twenties or so, she saw the first mass-produced radios and heard the earliest regular broadcasts (1925-1930), via batteries. She probably met the first people to own cars in her local area too, about this time. In 1926 Goddard invented the rocket engine and in 1927 the first movie with a sound track made its debut. Construction on the Empire State Building was finished in 1931.

Hereabouts she lived through a trade war that deteriorated into the Great Depression. Social Security was enacted in 1935. Hitler was preparing for World War II at the time, and helicopters and airplane jet engines were invented in 1939.

Radar came along in 1940.

In 1941 penicillin first became practical for widespread use, and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

As a young woman, your grandmother saw TVA string power lines up her way, to bring her the first electric heat and light of her existence. Not long after, she experienced the convenience of indoor plumbing for the first time (at someone else's house most likely).

One of the very first computers (named "Colossus") was used by the British to break top secret German codes during World War II.

The first nuclear weapons in the history of the world were dropped on Japan. In 1946 the nuclear power industry was born. In 1947 the transistor was invented.

In the late forties the Marshall Plan essentially rebuilt Europe, and General MacArthur presided over the reconstruction of Japan.

I'd guess it was somewhere around this time your grandmother got her first telephone.

In 1951 the structure of DNA was first documented. In 1954 the first nuclear powered submarine was launched.

Around middle-age, your grandmother Athena saw television begin appearing in people's houses. And watched your dad go to war in the Korean conflict.

In 1956 the construction of the Interstate Highway System was first set into motion (it may have been another ten years though before related construction came within ten miles or so of Athena herself).

The first laser was invented in 1958. In 1959 Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states.

About 1960 Xerox copiers became generally available to business and government.

1962 brought the Cuban Missile Crisis, where the world came close to nuclear war.

In 1967 the first human heart transplant was performed.

As she reached standard retirement age (65 or thereabouts), your grandmother might have witnessed the Moon Landing on television-- and possibly not believed her eyes.

With 1973 came the Oil Embargo against the United States by certain Mideast nations.

In 1974 your granny beheld the sight of President Nixon resigning in disgrace over Watergate.

In her elder years, microwave ovens, personal computers, Sony Walkmans, and VCRs became available (though Athena herself may not have had much direct experience with these technologies).

Granny Athena saw our generation (you and me) born at almost exactly the same time she saw her first television sets.

Our Own Lives So Far: 1960s-1992

Truth is stranger than fiction, as the cliché goes. If your grandmother's life had been written up in the 1800s, it would have been regarded as pure fantasy (the term "science fiction" hadn't yet been coined, I believe.)

Relating your Granny Athena's life to world events was meant to surprise you. But it unexpectedly surprised me too, to realize that much of what we take for granted nowadays did not exist before your granny was born! There were no cars, no planes, no widely available electric heat and light, no air conditioning, no telephone network, no radio, no television, no E=MC squared, no arc welder, no rockets, no jets, no Empire State Building, no helicopters, no radar, no antibiotics, no transistors, no lasers, no copiers, no interstates, and studios were still struggling to spawn a theater industry based on silent films!

As the pace of change is supposedly going exponential on us, we should expect no less a traumatic turn of events over the course of our own lives (Indeed, we could reasonably expect faster change.)

So, what has happened since you and I came into being?

Wide availability of birth control pills (Gosh, we barely squirmed by that bottleneck, didn't we? Whew!).....The Beatles become the rage....Kennedy assassinated... electronic guitars.....Rock'n Roll......Disneyland......transistors replace tubes everywhere...... electronic music synthesizers..... telecommunications satellites orbited...Star Trek... Vietnam...hippies, pot, LSD...calculators replaced the watches replace mechanicals...the Moon Landing...the "Sexual Revolution"....probe landings and flybys of the other planets....accident at Three Mile Island.....a great strengthening of Japan...the "Great Oil Embargo" of power....commercial wind generator farms.....the decline of the American automobile Industry...Star Wars...E.T....Spielberg.....microwave ovens....U.P.S.....the birth of the personal computer industry....modems....fiber optics....the first launch of the space shuttle......the AIDs virus...the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.....installation of the first permanent artificial heart in a BBSes....the Challenger disaster.....the Strategic Defense Initiative set into networks....optical disk storage.......Fed Ex......Compact Disks.......portable computers...laser printers......desktop publishing....CD-ROMs.....Fax machines....Chernobyl........personal copiers under $ 1000.....the liberation of eastern europe....cellular phones......the fall of the Berlin Wall...the reunion of the two Germanys....desktop video production.....the Persian Gulf War.....the first aborted coup in the Soviet Union....the collapse of the Soviet Union...The Human Genome Project navigation systems being used in war and installed in cars....a breakthrough in superconductor technology.....

Our Possible Life to Come: 1990s-2040s

Let us assume that we too live about as long as your Granny did (90 plus years). This may be a fairly conservative estimate, given the possible breakthroughs in medicine and lifestyle knowledge to come.

In this preview of what's next, I have Good News, Bad News, and Mixed News. I guess I'll give you the Bad News first and the Mixed News second, so I can leave the Good for last.

It's much easier to categorize all these developments into a single broad, fifty year span than it is to pinpoint more exact dates for them. So I'm 'painting in wide strokes' here; not giving you a detailed schedule, or even a sequential order of events.

I've used my program Pathfinder to help flesh out things in some cases. So you'll see the program's opinions on matters in several spots.

The Bad News


Larry Niven (of sci fi fame) predicts that we'll discover a way to use cheap AC current to directly tickle our fancy (or pleasure centers of our brains, that is), in the near future. And that this will be horribly addictive for the population.

He makes a good case for its feasibility.

The main obstacle is the requirement for a surgically installed conduit to the pleasure center. After that, all you need is an electrical outlet.

The free market and human weakness being what they are, the 'wire' is probably inevitable. But when will it arrive?

I estimate it'll be fairly widely available by the time we reach our sixties or seventies. If we're in bad health by that time, it may even be a blessing.

I personally plan to resist implanting the thing as long as possible. We both know that unmitigated pleasure can do terrible things to a conscious being.

Investment implications....

It's hard to say in this instance. The 'wire' may weed out people genetically too weak to resist its lure, as they will plug in and die of thirst or starvation. The pertinent questions are, how many people might be removed from the population by this, and who will they be? These are not simple queries to answer.

Hopefully, only the same rough percentage of the population that today uses heroin on a regular basis will be killed off by the wire. And so there'll be relatively small impact on the world.

The elderly who are near death anyway might be placed on it, to make their passing easier.

Teenagers will almost certainly suffer a higher proportion of casualties from the wire than most other groups, due to their natural tendency to experiment. Powerful social efforts at preemptive education and high profile display of alternatives will likely ensue, such as has been done concerning AIDS.

Of course, if somebody came up with a way people could use the wire and retain sufficient discipline and motivation to accomplish their traditional duties, with few detectable adverse effects, we could have our cake and eat it too. The result could be literally 'heaven-on-earth'. You'd truly be happy 'till the day you died. No matter what happened to you (as long as current was available to your wire).

Nuclear Proliferation and the Holocaust of the Mideast.

Nuclear detonations will occur in places once thought to be relatively secure, like Washington D.C. (the 'capital of the world' makes a most enticing target to ego-challenged terrorists), and Paris, France (including Euro Disney). I may make a trip to Washington soon, so as to see it before it's gone. I don't know if "Washington II" or "New Washington" will be as nice.

What will America do when the heads of all three branches of government are snuffed out in one blow? All that will be left will be the much less centralized supporting bureaucracy. This question poses some interesting implications in itself for America's near term future.

Overall, though, the developed nations will suffer relatively little from such things (aside from the obvious political turmoil and fear). The case will be different in the Mideast and Asia, where vast areas will likely be rendered deadly to human beings for centuries to come.

The breadth and depth of global economic dislocation from loss of the oil fields is a function of when it occurs, and the extent of quarantine we'll have to apply to the area afterwards.

There's almost no question that Israel will be essentially destroyed, unless drastic changes occur between it and its Arab neighbors. It's simply too small, too accessible, too despised, and nuclear weapons too easily made and delivered, to survive otherwise.

Investment implications....

Obviously, you shouldn't make any long term investments in the Mideast! It would also be wise to stay away from high profile cities like Washington, Paris, and London over the next sixty years or so. Don't tie up money in the vicinity of Pakistan or India, either.

The sudden removal of much Mideastern oil from world markets will make some people overnight billionaires. The trick is in your timing. The developed nations will be forced to open up national parklands, preserves, and off-shore areas for oil drilling. Once marginal prospects will become significant for a decade or so. Heavy conservation measures and regulations will be slapped into place quickly. Electric and alternative fuel cars will rule the day, opening the way for a rebirth of the auto industry as faster, smaller companies leap ahead of the slower responding Big Three, using state-the-art technologies. Solar and wind power will be boosted enormously. Tax breaks will encourage average homeowners to coat their roofs with solar cells, and power utilities will buy back any surplus they generate. Household fuel cells and even small nuclear reactors for individual factories may come into vogue. Anti-pollution regulations could be set back for years, depending on how bad the crisis became (So that coal and shale oil could be used more freely). Demand for advanced clothing that essentially provides its own central heat and air for the wearer will rise spectacularly: picture ski clothes incorporating electronic control packages, adapted for 'the-man-in-the-street', as fewer buildings are heated or air conditioned in the wake of severe energy shortages. Rail freight and mass transit will suddenly blossom in America (they're already big in Europe), while the traditional auto and trucking industries will likely be transformed into much smaller, less important entities than they are today. Telecommuting and video-conferencing will make enormous gains. It's also easy to see here elements adding to the advantages of Mall Cities, as described later.

Trade Wars and Intense Economic Competition.

A simple extrapolation from present trends provides a warning here. Labor pools may be stretched thin in the long term, as new technological developments and growing social diversity create new market niches and entire new industries, soaking up all available resources. Overall living standards should improve in the long run as one result.

Why place this development into the Bad News section? Because the pressures stemming from competition could be fully as harmful as anything else. Far lesser economic pressures in the past have led to wars and the Great Depression. The high stress experienced by many workers today will only get worse in the coming decades, as the world undergoes a wrenching change in how it does almost everything. Though in general prices will be stable or even declining, severe spot shortages and inflation pops will plague the trendiest items, as direct marketing via interactive TV and the information explosion make runs on particular products more severe and unpredictable than ever before. Even basic commodities will be vulnerable, as the drive for efficiency reduces the number of sources for each commodity, making availability more subject to disruption by a single disaster, fire, or bankruptcy somewhere in the world.

In many ways we will pay dearly for every bit of progress made, and suffer tremendous risks and worries even in the face of continued success.

Investment implications....

Smugglers, or 'market hackers', especially those adept in manipulating the new computerized transactions, will flourish underground. They will do so in direct proportion to individual nation's attempts to control or regulate the flow of commerce and information crossing their borders.

'Virtual employees', consisting of not only collected expertise but programmed personalities as well, will be in great demand due to the general shortage of 'real' labor, and the decreasing need for a physical component to workers (refer to the substitution of computer cards and software for living telephone operators and receptionists today to see the beginnings of this trend).

Research & Development will become ever more important due to competition. This means demand for scientists, engineers, and programmers will continue to mount, even as expert systems come on-line to supplement them. Eventually R & D may replace the computer software industry as the major employer in advanced economies, just as computer software will replace general electronics, which is presently replacing the automobile and other macro-scale physical manufacturing industries.

Engineering and scientific jobs will become in the future what the blue collar jobs were to America in the sixties. The pay will be O.K., but won't make you wealthy in and of itself, without the aid of shrewd investments and substantial discipline. The truly prosperous will usually be entrepreneurs who run their own companies, and employ the engineers and scientists where needed.

The status of engineers/scientists will be far different in the future, as vastly improved, computerized education methods make the disciplines far easier and more fun to master.

There'll be immense on-the-job support of human technical workers, in the form of automated databases and readily accessible expert systems.

Labor shortages and the drive for ever greater efficiencies, among other things, will lead to companies taking on more of the responsibilities of parenting for their employees (like day care, etc.). As work and employee support services are combined under one roof, this will be yet another pressure contributing to the birth of Mall Cities.

The antiquated term "Company Town" will take on a whole new meaning after 2000.

Practical, useful, economical consumer robotics won't be available until we are near retirement age.

This estimate comes from Pathfinder. I don't like to admit it, but it could well be true. The next twenty-five years will be a vast wasteland as far as consumer robotics are concerned. A handful of wildly popular toys and minor appliances, nothing much more, will be the total picture in this area.

So we'll still have to clean our own homes, wash our own clothes, and cook our own meals for the most part (Damn!).

Fortunately, this only applies to the type of robots we've been anticipating now for a century or so. You know? The cute little 'pet' robots, or humanoid companions? In reality, the best and most practical mechanical appliances we're likely to enjoy before 2050 are things as mundane as self-cleaning carpets; literally self-cleaning carpets, which move dirt and stains to the outer edges of a room, where they are accumulated in filters for easy disposal.

Actually, what Pathfinder said was this will be the status of consumer robotics as far as the American and Japanese industrial bases are concerned, leaving open the possibility that some other state might boom in the production of consumer robotics over that time. I didn't pursue the question further, as I figured if the U.S. and Japan aren't major players in it, it won't be a very healthy or widely applied field...]

Investment implications....


The Mixed News

Either the Onset of Religious Armageddon, or the Beginning of the Final Liberation of the Human Spirit from Religious Coercion and Extremism.

Humanity may reach a crossroads over the next 50 years, in regards to religion and knowledge (Or mysticism and knowledge, as Ayn Rand might say).

We could either chart a course over those fifty years eventually leading towards nuclear Holy War (or worse), or shake off the last traces of the superstitions and rituals we clothed ourselves in during our ascent from the animals.

Pathfinder says this will be a 'bifurcation point', where we literally could go in any direction, as well as a very dangerous time for us overall.

['Bifurcation point' is terminology having to do with something called 'dissipative structures'; both of which are very interesting concepts for people like us.]

Investment implications....

Preceding any global Holy Wars will be many lesser conflicts between religion and education/technology/business.

Governments will be caught in the middle of all this.

It's already been happening in things like school textbook selections. In Texas, selection boards are heavily weighted with born-again Christians, and they've forced publishers to give the same weight to creationism as evolution, in textbooks! So the Scopes Monkey Trial is still underway, even some 60 plus years later. What's even scarier is that the Texas selections set de facto standards for most of the rest of the country too, because of sales volume issues. Sorry I had to break such sorry news to you...

In the U.S., Christian bookstores were one of the hot growth retailers in the eighties. Moslem fundamentalism has scared many people since it took over Iran in the late seventies (and it may consume both Algeria and Afghanistan soon). Even mainstream bookstores have added a section called "New Age" to their shelves, which often contains books dealing with tabloid mysticism like UFOs, crystals, pyramids, and white magic, in addition to the traditional religious materials.

The citizenry in general is growing increasingly afflicted with 'future shock', as world events accelerate and technologies race ahead of understanding. Such apprehension paves the way for self-styled messiahs to take control with messages that seem to make sense of it all in simplistic terms. The current crisis in education contributes to the problem, as ignorance creates a vacuum that invites religious fervor (as well as other ills).

This may all come down to a war between organized religion and corporate/state sponsered education, for control of the minds of the world population. If the religions win that struggle, a global holy war among the top three religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) may well ensue. After all, how is the real score kept among these top three faiths? By body counts. The number of people belonging to the favorite, versus the number not.

Whichever faith converts the greatest number of souls to its own principles or manages to kill off enough of the other factions to make them into relative minorities, wins.

It's been a long established practice for fanatics to change the scorecard in this manner, wherever they may gain the means.

Look for increasing government subsidies for a merger between entertainment and education, in order to make knowledge more competitive with religious nonsense for winning over the soul of the masses. Governments may also eventually end up paying students to attend school (this is already happening in a few isolated cases). As computer technology spirals downward in price, schoolchildren will be given each their own machine, courtesy of the state.

America's official separation of church and state will make it one of the clearest battlegrounds between the two in years to come; elsewhere the waters will be far more muddy.

Fearful scientists/intellectuals/business people may flock to America again, just as in World War II, strengthening us with ideas and technologies, as well as capital (many will be wealthy).

As the Pacific Rim includes countries like Japan and Thailand (which enjoy relatively low key, non-combative religions), and America (which relegates religion primarily to the status of a lifestyle, rather than imperative), this region will enjoy relative stability and greater economic progress compared to the rest of the world, over our lifetimes.

Africa, the Mideast, and Asia will be a mess. A mess that Europe will be forced to deal with on an intimate basis.

Therefore, though we might see some increase in trade over the next decade between the U.S. and Europe, longer term the Pacific Rim looks far more favorable.

The impact of religious fanaticism may actually act as a wedge between America and our traditional ancestral region of Europe, leading to a further strengthening of ties between the U.S. and Japan/Eastern Asia (as unlikely as that may seem today).

This will be a complex, evolving situation; there's a lot more to explore about this issue, including the strong possibility of a military clash between Japan and the U.S at some point. Yet even including such dark moments in the picture, overall the Pacific Rim still looks much more promising from the perspective of avoiding the worst aspects of religious wars, than other parts of the world.

Another factor overlooked by many today is the atheistic tendencies Soviet and Chinese communism has fostered in at least one or two recent generations within those states. This element could actually result in peoples from these areas helping the U.S. and Japan to keep the world from plunging into the abyss of religious wars over the next century. Yes, America and Japan will still have many differences with the ex-Soviets and Chinese, but as far as the religious wars are concerned, it will be in the best interest of all to cooperate against the zealots.

Third World Fountains of Disaster.

NOTE: I originally classified this as "Bad News". But paradoxically, if it doesn't kill us, it may actually improve the lives of many, as you'll see in the last paragraph.

The whole world will be affected by disasters occuring in Third World nations in the Twenty-First century. Radioactive fallout, accidental releases of toxic gases and genetically altered agents of disease (or new and dangerous animal species) will heighten stress globally.

Much of this will come about merely from these poor nations' desires to catch up economically to the West, disdaining the protections of appropriate industrial regulations which tend to be a drag on development in general. Another source will be ego-driven desires for military or economic dominance over neighbors.

A by-product of such disasters could be large scale death and/ or sterility among significant factions of the world's last major pool of low cost labor.

Investment implications....

Note that such conditions as significant contagions and radioactive fallout will create a boom in environmental controls and filters within homes and businesses. Soaps and detergents with germicidal agents are already gaining in popularity. A consumer version of surgeon's disposable but highly tactile rubber gloves could become and remain a hot item for decades to come. Breathing filters and special protections for eyes and ears, as well as advanced security/immunity measures in clothing will enjoy steadily rising demand. Air locks once installed for energy conservation in buildings will take on new importance, becoming more similar to spacecraft locks than mere draft stoppers.

Note that the immense tensile structures we have discussed before will likely become reality for future resorts for health reasons, if no other. A substandard ozone layer could mean damage to skin and eyes at old style open-to-the-sky retreats. Nasty, toxic laden open air, unfiltered by environmental controls, could damage lungs and throats, and maybe even deliver contagions.

Note that many businesses will thrive at supplying all the equipment and infrastructure necessary to live in such times. So there may be little business incentive to limit our headlong race into such conditions.

The ever more threatening natural environment will contribute to the enclosure and integration of ever greater chunks of society in something akin to high tech bee hives-- Mall Cities, as described elsewhere in this article.

The convergence of world population declines (due to both calamities and improved living standards which reduce reproduction rates) and ever-widening entrepreneurial opportunities, will create significant pressures on the labor markets. Wages will go up. Standard retirement age will go up, or disappear altogether. Discrimination of many sorts will decline drastically, as the need for workers intensifies. Eventually child labor laws may be modified or thrown out in many nations. Productivity enhancing gear will boom for decades. Technological advances and continuous, painful financial restructurings may blunt the inflationary impact of the growing labor shortage and rising wages.

An Expanding Bandwidth in Activism/Terrorism.

Stressed out, underemployed (unchallenging work, or only part-time work) or overemployed (holding down a couple of jobs or one tough job at which the worker is barely competent) populations, armed with the new technologies of telecommunications and computerized support, will exert their influence much more readily and effectively in the future.

[ The "underemployment" problem will be at its greatest in the near term, gradually transforming over coming decades into "overemployment". Neither condition will be welcomed by the populace. ]

While some of this explosion in activism will benefit us, other parts won't. The difference between activism and terrorism will become difficult to discern in a growing number of political and economic events. And as more of our social infrastructure becomes automated, new age hackers will be able to rain ever greater havoc upon our parades...

Investment implications....

Part of this expanding activism will consist of entrepreneurs and political problem solvers. It will serve to polarize the entire population over virtually every significant issue at hand. This promises an even bigger expansion in litigation. Paradoxically, these same elements may also mean easier credit and fewer failures for small business startups.

Federal and state legislation will probably try to put all this back into Pandora's Box again, but you know how that will play with consumer activists.

Even as gun control becomes a de facto reality with new technologies narrowing the physical and legal viability of firearms with innovative replacements (like stun guns, gas, sonic bombs, etc., etc.), its energy of conflict will move into the area of on-line civil rights and privacy in general.

Security of one's data and personal environment (purchases, and office and home utilities or conveniences, like air conditioning/heat/telephone,media, etc.) will become a major growth industry for a while, as individual citizens gain sufficient computer support to become as interesting to hackers and government bureaucracies as big corporations are today.

The U.S. greatly changes its traditional military presence/posture over the next twenty-five years.

The U.S. may be pulling out of the Global Police Business over the next 25 years, according to Pathfinder. Our fixed overseas presence will decline so far that we may actually endanger our national security (Again, according to Pathfinder ).

Pathfinder says we will virtually 'lead the world' in this pullback from military exposure.

[ NOTE: Actually, Pathfinder prefaced all this by saying this is what we'll do in regards to maintaining overseas naval and air bases, and that this will be beyond the reductions already occurring in Europe and the Philippines. Of course, a reduction in fixed bases doesn't rule out maintaining (or even expanding) a substantial mobile force, like carrier groups, subs, and long range aircraft. Or orbiting military platforms, for that matter. ]

The program also said America will be turning inward over the next 25 years, to concentrate more on internal problems (Recent events seem to validate this projection). Isolationism, in terms of politics, will "soar", according to Pathfinder.

Investment implications....

Figure on internal U.S. infrastructure getting beefed up-- especially telecommunications, highways, and mass transit/rapid transit. And internal issues occupying more and more of our attention over the next couple of decades. The outside world will increasingly appear to the American-in-the-street as an unmitigated mess (though business will still have to deal with it for export reasons).

A certain schism may develop between business and society from this, as business maintains and expands its engagement with the outside world in order to grow market share, while society turns inward.

Religious and environmental factions may try to exploit this split for their own benefit, as they attempt to usurp control of governmental policies and strategies.

So we may increasingly see our own government and other social institutions divided down lines of business/technology/knowledge versus religion/environmentalism/ extremism/mysticism.

The Unexpected Unraveling of the United Nations

The U.N. is riding higher now than it ever has. Yet Pathfinder forecasts its authority and real influence will decay over the next 25 years, as more nations split into smaller ones (like the Soviet Union) and everyone in general fights for more control over their own destinies, not less.

The U.N. will also suffer from an inner corruption similar to that seen in the U.S. congress. At present, many nations and groups see the U.N. as gaining in power. Therefore they are flooding in to woo the new power brokers with their own lobbyists, special interests, and dealmakers. Regional strongmen, dictators, drug dealers, and industrialists will increasingly exert greater sway over U.N. decisions, thus eventually weakening global respect for it and its actions.

Investment implications....

Gridlock in the U.N., like we so often see in the U.S. Congress these days. Governments and businesses will often bypass the U.N. to pursue ventures, sometimes forming their own alternative organizations.

All this will make for a mess about global treaties on nuclear arms, sea exploitation, and the like. It'll end up that those with the power to enforce their views will be the ones who make the rules (as usual, right?).

The Advent of the Death Control Pill.

A death control pill is a natural complement to a birth control pill, and comparatively easier to manufacture. In the stresses and chaos of coming decades, such a drug could become a hot commodity.

Its social impact could be highly volatile, if a significant portion of the population were to become 'armed' with it. A mass panic set off by some sort of extreme news report could lead to a huge death toll.

The existence of this pill, along with new parental abilities to choose the sex of children (maybe resulting in three males for every female in deeply traditional chauvinistic societies), and the decline in birth rates as the Third World climbs out of poverty, may reduce the world population substantially from what's expected as of the early nineties.

Anyway, it could be reassuring to us in our old age that we had an easy way out, if things got too bad, in the form of a pill.

Investment implications....

Public leniency towards alternative behavior (sexual orientation, recreational drug use, etc.) may increase dramatically if a death control pill becomes a widespread option. For in an already tight labor market every death makes it harder for the survivors (by further delaying new technological breakthroughs, increasing spot inflation, job stress, etc.).

Government policies could be drastically changed, as every state's quality of life will have a direct impact on the proportion of their populations who make use of the pill.

[ A full-blown article on the the death control pill and its implications is available, in The Second Coming]

Big Brother finally arrives.

The Total Event Archival (TEA) scheme I proposed to Apple Computer in the pastwill eventually become commonplace in our lives, if only on a random monitoring basis. It should greatly restructure the nature of crime as it records many events for later contingency usage in court.

Traditional crimes will be made largely obsolete in TEA environments. Violence and overt theft will be rendered almost non-existent as capture and punishment become inevitable and rapid consequences of the acts. So-called career criminals will be forced to either move to less developed societies, or become much more advanced in their techniques.

TEA will effectively remove most violent and common criminals from the centers of civilization, like renovated urban centers, corporations, public buildings, and Mall Cities. It will also help us get help more quickly when and where it's needed, as in the case of accidents.

In short, though we may lose a great deal of privacy and potential adventure in our lives, and endure a higher level of enforced morality in our daily interaction with others, we should benefit from a safer, gentler environment in return.

We'll eventually become accustomed to the presence of TEA, as we have many other obtrusive elements of technological change over time (like traffic lights). Mainstream media is already preparing us for it by setting new standards about what is normal in private and public behavior, regarding issues of sexual orientation and others. This preparation is by no means a premeditated part of some grand conspiracy, but rather simply a natural stage in our transition from a largely unmonitored culture to one under constant (if mostly benign) surveillance.

The NSA and FBI are already attempting to set standards in telecommunications that will ensure their ability to conveniently spy on anyone and everyone within the borders of the U.S.A....and elsewhere.

Investment implications....

A crude form of TEA is already becoming widespread. Cameras joined to radar detectors are automating traffic ticket dispensation. They detect you speeding, capture your license plate number on video, and don't have to inconvenience you with an actual traffic stop. You just get a bill in the mail a week later.

The more developed nations (equipped with TEA), will essentially export much of their crime problems to less developed states (those without TEA) over a period of decades.

Violence will become much more rare in heavily populated areas of the more developed countries. Public honesty (or at least accuracy) will become essentially enforced by TEA recordings. There'll be far fewer secrets survive in many areas of business and society than before. "Whistle-blowing" may become a somewhat automated task, thereby exposing much corruption that before went unchecked.

Computerized statistical analysis of data gathered from TEA could greatly advance the fields of medicine, education, nutrition, accident prevention, and socioeconomic theory, by essentially compiling data about our daily lives and activities that today goes unused, due to its uncollectible or unverifiable nature.

TEA's much more effective enforcement of the law will make for lots more convicts as it comes on-line, further choking the judicial and prison systems in the short run. Add to this the prospect of growing labor shortages and intense global competition, as well as humanitarian concerns for the welfare of the convicted, and you might get some Mall Cities exclusively designed to house convicted felons.

Indeed, it may be that Mall Cities will arise first in these circumstances, before many others. Since we'll have a need to keep a large population completely ensconced in one location, and kept reasonably happy and gainfully employed therein.

Kill someone, live forever.

In an ironic twist, future murderers might actually enjoy an extension of their own lives as a result of their crime.

The chance is low, however. What'll probably happen is that they'll be put into an induced coma, and become a living organ bank for law abiding citizens in need of parts (this was envisioned by Larry Niven years ago is a book titled "A Gift From Earth", as well as by others).

But one alternative will be a more benign form of suspended animation. Human rights groups may be able to get suspension sentences adopted over the organ bank idea. In the case of suspension, a convict might be semi-frozen for a hundred years, and then wake up as a free man (pending some futuristic psychological therapy and re-education before release).

Why might suspension be considered? Pure economics. A frozen criminal could be stored in a coffin-sized box, and monitored cheaply by computer, over decades or even centuries. This could greatly reduce the need for expensive new prisons.

Such a sentence might not be as great as it sounds for the incarcerated. Imagine being a murderer frozen in 1892, waking up in 1992. You'd probably be near illiterate (due to your origins and evolutionary changes in language), prone to violence, and so highly superstitious about the high tech toys you would see that you might never be able to lead a normal life, even with the benefit of highly advanced psychotherapy and chemical conditioning. Plus, with suspension a possibility, some sentences might be more based on when suitable reconditioning procedures are expected to be available for particular types of mental aberrations, rather than a simple set time for a specific criminal act. In other words, if you're discovered to be suffering from an especially complex psychological ailment as a result of arrest for even an almost insignificant crime, you might receive a suspension sentence of centuries, while a serial killer with a simpler ailment might get only 30 years.

On the flip side of this coin is the possible benefit to non-criminals. Suspension procedures could be prototyped and refined on those prisoners marked for death anyway. Once perfected, the same techniques could be used to store people dying of a terminal illness for later awakening, when their cure has been found (this idea's been around for a while). The process would also be handy to slow the dying process in certain accident victims, allowing more time for transport to and treatment at appropriate medical facilities. The technology would be useful for space travel as well.

There's a fair chance you or I might undergo such a suspension for medical reasons, in our later years. The science is slowly evolving, despite the hoopla the public is occasionally subjected to on the subject.

Investment implications....

People will live longer and survive worse traumas and illnesses than is typically the case today. The very rich may become able to extend their lifetimes indefinitely in this manner, beginning around the time you and I turn fifty or so.

Note that as lives lengthen, the normal turnover in positions of power could slow to a crawl. This means a 'hardening of the arteries' in the body politic, that could make for some explosive corrections somewhere down the road. For antiquated attitudes will surely come into conflict with new technologies and social trends....

The Human Genome Project

Scientists are mapping human DNA. It'll take them about twenty years, maybe a little longer. The potential benefits of this are tremendous, and already trickling out of the program, with possible clues to helping people with cystic fibrosis, asthma, and Alzheimers.

The fallout of this project alone could ultimately help us stretch our own lifetimes by one to twenty percentage points.

There's a dark side, though. The more we know about our DNA, the more we'll be tempted to tinker with it. There's no telling what monstrosities might appear down the road from this particular source.

We'll also be tempted to use the information for financial benefit. Insurance companies, for example, will be able to analyze your DNA and tell if you'll be struck by cancer after age 52 or some such. And subsequently treat you the same as they presently do in regards to car insurance after you've incurred a few tickets or accidents(!)

Investment implications....

Most of the more mind-boggling aspects of this genetic tinkering will come after 2050, as is likely also for the fusion and nanotechnology elements mentioned elsewhere in this piece. Here I'll restrict myself to just the next fifty years or so in the genetics field.

Parents may set the characteristics of their children (prior to birth) like we set preferences on our Macs today. Sex, hair color, weight, height, facial appearance, level of potential intelligence, athletic ability, resistance to disease, etc., etc. may all be up for grabs tomorrow.

There will be much abuse of such options, of course. Diversity will not suffer as much as you'd think, though, as not everyone will be able to afford all the changes they'd like, and much will depend on the baseline set by the parental DNA (unless parents are willing to replace their own DNA with that of strangers).

One bad thing may be a three to one preference for male children in chauvinistic societies. This will further depress the size of the labor force in future generations.

Anyway, the proper investment in almost anything related to genetic research might pay off handsomely in the long run.

The Further Progress in Telecommunications and Artificial Intelligence Technologies ( a WILDCARD )

This will be mixed news for many reasons. For one thing, it's equivalent to a massive earthquake taking place in the global economy, that's ultimately dispensing with all middle-men and drastically shortening/compressing/accelerating processing and distribution mechanisms of all kinds, whether they be goods or services oriented.

The 'Just-In-Time' inventory process for manufacturing was only the first shot in this new economic war. The cutting of middle-management from companies and interim stages from processes is another, as top executives can more easily communicate with the bottom tier and/or remote personnel via e-Mail, fax, Fed Ex, U.P.S., televideo conferencing, etc., etc., and many previously required steps in manufacturing and services are being made unnecessary by new technologies and procedures.

This all makes for massive lay offs. Lay offs where a particular job doesn't move from one country to another, but simply evaporates altogether. The current rush by companies to voice mail and other telecommunications gadgetry means transistors and software are replacing lots of people, for example.

It will take much entrepreneurial effort to make up for this job loss in the coming decades. Governments are only now waking up to the value of entrepreneurs. We can expect lavish government encouragement of entrepreneurs for a while as a result (This benevolent attitude to entrepreneurs may change after the labor market tightens up, later).

These trends are also drastically reducing redundancy in world manufacturing facilities at a furious pace. This increases the risk to the world economy of natural disasters or international disagreements causing severe dislocations in certain sectors. For example, if Japan makes all the memory chips in the world, and its factories are knocked off-line for a year by a major earthquake, the global computer market could have an economic heart attack.

Artificial intelligence will become truly scary. Not from the science fiction scenario of "Terminator", but rather from the standpoint of competition with human employees.

Imagine a geologist looking for a job. Let's say he's smarter than the average geologist. But he's looking for a job in 2010. Guess who his competition might be? An expert system, loaded with everything the top five geologists in the world know about the field. The system comes on a Gigabyte (1000 Megabytes) optical disk, for a few thousand dollars, and will answer any questions about geology, as well as analyze data and trouble-shoot any related problems that might arise.

For a small extra fee the disk is upgraded annually with any new scientific data that's relevant.

There could literally be thousands of copies of this program floating around, effectively providing the same competition for the poor human geologist as if there were this many clones of the five original brilliant geologists participating in the labor market.

Wouldn't you hate to have to compete against such a 'virtual employee'? And yet many people will find themselves in just such a predicament.

One good thing might come of it, though; lawyers could be largely replaced by these things, too (Ergo, you can expect massive lobbying against such innovations by the legal profession-- at least in regards to their own replacement by the medium.).

On the flip side, such technology will mean that generally computer proficient managers and executives could load up with expert systems relevant to a particular field, and create a startup company based on the online expertise and the executive's own ability to juggle it all. Such things could pose a substantial threat to bigger companies in terms of the more routine jobs done for clients, for the upstarts could perform the same tasks, at far lower cost.

Investment implications....

The advent of real artificial intelligence could have an impact comparable to nanotechnology and fusion power.

AI could telescope the technological/social/economic developments forecast here to a completely unpredictable degree. So much so as to frighten even progressive folks like you and I.

This particular technology could greatly intensify and accelerate many of the processes and events I describe in this letter. Such a 'turning up of the volume' could create a fierce backlash against technology and scientists/engineers/business in general, much like in the silly movies we've seen over the past years.

And who would take advantage of this turmoil? Organized religion and possibly the more fanatical elements of the environmental movement. Both could decide to turn back the clock, and then stop it.

So this way might lie the possibility of a new Dark Age, Great Depression, and global religious wars-- if artificial intelligence advances too fast, and pulls everything else along with it (which it may well do).

Alternatively, AI might advance so far so fast as to cut the legs of organized religion out from under it in some way. Perhaps by generating a mind blowing explanation of the afterlife, the soul, God, immortality, and other such pillars of religious belief.

Unfortunately, I'm personally pessimistic about this particular item. In the near term at least. For though AI is essential to our ultimate development, the transition will be very hard on us. Here, speaking of the next fifty years or thereabouts, we're likely 'damned if we do and damned if we don't'. Watch for the pace of innovation in artificial intelligence, and people's reaction to it, to see how things will go.

Fusion Power and Superconductors

I would have classified this as Good News rather than Mixed, but for one thing: many very smart people believe practical fusion won't come to pass for forty more years. Pathfinder disputes this, saying that we're much closer than we realize to achieving it.

This was one reason the recent flap over so-called cold fusion excited me so. Maybe this was it! I thought. But very weird results have come out of all that. Essentially, the experts now say that something strange is happening in the test tube, but it doesn't appear to be anything commercially useful-- yet.

UPDATE: A prestigious California lab working on cold fusion a while back mysteriously blew up. Subsequent investigations have failed to find a reasonable explanation for it so far.

Sherlock Holmes said something like "when you have eliminated the possible, the impossible must be true".

Could it be that a cold fusion reaction got out of control? Verrrryyy Interesting.....

UPDATE II: It looks like the U.S. has hired some Russian fusion scientists to work for them....

UPDATE III: On April 16, 1992, CNN reported a Japanese scientist used cold fusion techniques to generate "70% more heat" than can be accounted for by the electricity input. While falling short of verifying a nuclear fusion reaction, still this could indicate something tantalizing at the very edge of discovery, according to those parties privy to the research...

Investment implications....

The main potential benefit of fusion power? Dirt cheap electricity, forever; as much as you want. Maybe FREE worldwide, as a government service to promote greater economic prosperity and cut down on pollution. Can you imagine the economic kick the world would get from that? Not to mention all the new toys that would be made possible. Given a near-infinite supply of power, all sorts of previously impractical exercises become matter-of-course.....

Ironically, while fusion might give us plentiful energy, superconductors would reduce our need for it! And greatly speed up and miniaturize things like personal computers and other consumer electronics.

The upshot of all this may be similar (in a reverse fashion) to what happens to us when the Mideast is nuked out of commission. The impact of fusion power coming on-line in a big way will depend on the timing of the event. If fusion happens relatively soon, then the penetration of superconductors into many areas might actually be delayed, since their greater efficiency won't be as beneficial (So superconductor sales and development will be reduced from what they might have been). Too, energy management software and hardware development will be set back as well.

Earth's present problems related to the greenhouse effect could get dramatically worse over a few decades of fusion implementation. Why? All that extra energy being used will generate tremendous amounts of waste heat, if no other sort of pollutant. Ice caps will melt, coastal cities flood, deserts expand, and so forth. This would make for massive upheaval in real estate values. Previously worthless land farther inland would become new and valuable coastlines (but on a moving basis). Much prime urban real estate, once the most expensive, would drop in value like rocks (!)

Of course, with the aid of massive fusion power, some coastal sites will be saved with huge (maybe continuous) dike construction and pumping operations, similar to that done previously in the Netherlands; but this will only add to the waste heat, melting more ice, and the oceans will invade further...making for a dangerous, endless spiral of rising water levels.

Fusion power will make water desalinization cost-effective world-wide, for the first time in history. This means sea water becomes drinkable dirt cheap, and previously parched areas enjoy an abundance of H-2-O. This makes for new areas of agricultural abundance where before there was famine, and new areas for human habitation where earlier it was impossible (Air conditioning, too, will be dirt cheap, even in the Sahara desert, the arid center of Australia, and the Gobi in Asia. 72 degree climate control will be available for nearly nothing at the North and South Poles, for buildings covering millions of square feet in area).

Many raw commodities have been steadily declining in cost (adjusted for inflation) for years now. Technology has been pushing them down, with a widening choice of alternatives, and greater efficiency of extraction and use in general. With fusion power, technology could make energy the cheapest commodity of all.

With sufficient energy, even the dreams of ancient alchemists of changing one element into another becomes possible. You could start with hydrogen atoms and just keep building upon them, all the way up through the periodic table, until you had the stuff you wanted. Such fusion construction is what the Sun does. The older and weaker it gets, the higher up the periodic table it produces, until finally the most complex elements (like uranium) are made in its death thros. That's where all our higher elements came from (the Universe started with mainly hydrogen and helium alone. Stars produced about all the rest, including the carbon we ourselves are made from.). Fusion reactors could be 'tuned' or modified to do the same thing.

So, fusion would mean more than cheap power; it'd also mean cheap, 100 % pure elements, of whatever sort and amounts we wanted.

You say you want 400 tons of platinum? No problem!.....That'll be $49.95 plus shipping charges, sir...

Nanotechnology; ( a WILDCARD )

The Adjustable Wrench of God; One Size Fits All. Few things will be beyond our grasp after we master nano-meter scale technology. Immortality will be achievable. Superhuman artificial bodies, available. Dirt cheap, yet magnificent housing and spacecraft for everyone. You name it, we'd have it. And for nearly nothing, once the technology (and the software to drive it) was widely available.

The Holy Grail of Manufacturing Technology.

Unfortunately, nanotech is like fusion power; it's liable to only be getting off the ground in our retirement years, if even then. Ergo, its classification as Mixed News.

Also, with great power will come great risk. Nanotechnology will be far more dangerous than nuclear weapons. It'd only take one suicidal programmer with suitable access to bring about Doomsday. They could command nano-tech machines to take apart the entire Earth, atom by atom, and leave it that way, like the proverbial weekend motor overhaul that never gets any further than the disassembly stage.

The "liquid metal" assassin chasing Arnold Shwartzenegger in "Terminator II" is a good example of what some of the simplest nanotechnology would be capable of.

Investment implications....

Nano-technology would go well with fusion power; and that's good(?), since it may come on-line at roughly the same time.

Where fusion could provide limitless energy and raw materials, nanotech could offer the methods of constructing useful mechanisms out of the mix, on a molecular scale. In other words, we could build our own ideal versions of what human beings (or star ships) should be.

This all works out to a form of Godhood, for those with ready access to fusion and nano-tech, after all the bugs are worked out of both.

Miracles will be the norm rather than the exception, given these tools. And "Doomsday" will be a second-by-second possibility, if a fool or a maniac is allowed to play with them.

I have an uneasy feeling humanity won't quite be ready to handle these things if they are achieved too soon.

I personally propose that if Earth develops this stuff during our own lifetimes, we grab as much of it as we can and leave the planet, to set up a place on an asteroid or something. Because after Earth transforms itself into Krypton (Superman's home planet), I don't think it will last very long. Too much power will be in the hands of '"fools and drunks", as your father used to say.

Many others will probably get the same idea, and we could find ourselves only a tiny part of a massive evacuation.

And yes, almost everyone would have their own spacecraft they could escape in, as outrageous as that sounds in 1991. Artificial intelligence, fusion power, and nanotechnology all together could change things a lot faster than our history or instincts will allow us to believe.

In Ursula K. LeGuin's book "The Lathe of Heaven", the hero finds the world significantly changed every time he wakes to a new day. AI, fusion, and nanotech will make this the norm for us too, if they come together during our lifetimes.

Cascading Nostalgia

As Alvin Toffler's "future shock" afflicts greater and greater numbers of people, and intrudes ever deeper into our personal dreams and nightmares, many will wax nostalgic for the old days and simpler times, or desire greater immersion in personal fantasies in general.

Though there will be dangers in this trend towards reversion, oversimplification, or isolation, such as seeking refuge in religion and mysticism, there will also be less worrisome manifestations. For instance, such feelings will help prop up the demand for collectibles of all kinds, such as comics, antiques, baseball cards, old coins, etc., etc.

Investment implications....

This'll make for a boom in many collectibles, for a long time to come. But the ability to reap big profits in such things may last for a much shorter time than the boom itself, due to factors discussed below.

A Smorgasbord of Lifestyles/Cultures/Value Systems to Choose From:

The boom in nostalgia will merge with the financial shifts affecting many parts of society to spawn a widening of both the vertical and horizontal ranges of the human condition.

The present sub-cultures of people like the Amish will multiply in number and diversity to the point that eventually you'll be able to choose not only the culture and state of technology you immerse yourself in, but also the century (and even decade ) of human history you prefer, as well.

There'll be enclaves of seventies style Saturday Night Fever/Disco/Sexual Revolution people, cowboys/bar tenders/blacksmiths/Old West factions, and sixties style beach party/ surfing mania, among countless others.

Obviously, such nostalgic fantasy realms will require substantial isolation from the rest of the world in order to function. This prerequisite may contribute to the construction of entire communities (more Mall Cities/Arcologies) based on particular lifestyles or motifs, such as those mentioned below.

Not all lifestyles will be based on the past or present (or even on reality).

Of course, with the onset of full-blown role-playing, holograms and other special effects, virtual reality, and other technologies, some lifestyles will be based more on imagination and fantasy than actual history.

In other words, some people will live in mythological places like Shangri-La or Atlantis, or onboard the starship "Enterprise" itself. Despite the fact they'll be living largely in a fantasy world, inhabitants will eventually be able to do work in the real world from within their artificial realities, via various support technologies. It's even possible that advanced computer systems could present real world problems in a fantasy context to these people, translating the solutions generated in response to the real world, automatically (talk about a great user interface!).

So people could just play games all the time, with little or no idea about how connected to the real world they still were.

Investment implications....

Such scenarios spell great potential profits in artificial intelligence, telecommunications, fiber optics, licensing rights for popular works of all kinds in the escapist genre, holograms, multimedia, and software in general, not to mention others.

Sophisticated security systems, designed to insulate and protect users from the real world so that their play is not interrupted, will also be a booming business.

Counterfeit Everything (or, at least everything that's worth counterfeiting)

No matter how painstakingly labor-intensive or demanding of special materials or processes any artifact was in the past, in the future it will be possible to manufacture it cheaply, at the drop of a hat, in huge numbers or small. No matter if it's the most intricately designed paper currency, meticulously minted coins, fabulous Rembrandt paintings (down to the identical brush strokes on canvas and carbon-dating of the medium), or the Hope diamond.

This does not bode well for collectible markets in general. Already museums worldwide are discovering much of their stock is fake, and it is increasingly difficult to distinguish true works from forgeries. The trouble is, even as technology improves for the verification of originals, it also improves for faking them.

So in the future it will be increasingly difficult to tell rich from poor, in terms of the traditional trappings like fabulous art collections and tapestries, and so on.

This growing supply of cheap but high quality fakery will also help nurture the alternative lifestyle enclaves, with ready supplies of high grade supporting props.

Investment implications....

Collectibles are destined to boom in value in the short term, then decline over the far term. Investing in them today to sell ten or fifteen or even twenty years down the road could be a wise choice, but holding onto them much longer than that could wipe you out.

Over the long term conventional collectibles will become akin to what gold is now; a haven for speculators, not investors. Holding gold drains funds from owners in storage costs, and a lack of interest/return on the principal. Its use as a hedge against depression/ inflation/war has been blunted by the end of the Cold War and greater sophistication in markets and governmental policies, which not only tend to minimize or even prevent calamities, but offer many more investment alternatives than in past centuries. Sometime down the road collectibles will present their owners with a dilemma similar to that precious metal holders face today.

If one must invest in collectibles, they should do so in artifacts that are truly historically significant, like the pistols used to kill Archduke Ferdinand and start WW I, or assassinate Lincoln (and make sure your item is the real thing and not a forgery).

The Good News

A high tech Boom in Agriculture/Aquaculture.

There should be a resurgence in agriculture, primarily due to new opportunities. Ostrich and buffalo meat and other exotic foodstuffs may become as important as traditional items in our diet, for reasons of health, taste, and economics. Petroleum substitutes for fuels and plastics refining can now be grown on farm acreage, or in shallow waters.

The new opportunities will be different from the synfuels plants of the seventies. Genetic breakthroughs, as well as materials and processing discoveries, are creating these new potential industries.

Large scale aquaculture will also finally come into its own, in ponds, lakes, around islands and on continental shelves. It'll present a scale of new opportunities similar to agriculture, and compete with it, after a fashion. Of course, the scale of opportunity will be directly proportional to an individual country's area of coastline/shorelines uncontested by other states, the available technology, and skills of the local population.

Contributing to all this will be the new recreational possibilities (undersea resorts, with at least one inevitably named "Atlantis"), expanded by high tech (recycled air contraptions provide much longer underwater times than plain air tanks, and we're on the verge of being able to 'drown' ourselves without harmful effects; i.e., breathe underwater directly, or nearly so, as in the film "The Abyss"). Consumer submarines are rising in sales, as price-to-performance ratios spiral downwards, too.

There's also the attractiveness of almost free and unlimited real estate space available on ocean bottoms, surfaces, and everywhere in-between, at various levels of buoyancy.

Japan would love to expand greatly into the sea (and already has, on airport and small city scales), but will face many obstacles compared to countries such as the U.S. Russia, Korea, and China will blunt Japan's efforts on its western side, Taiwan and the Philippines to the south, and Russia and the U.S. (Alaska) to the north.

Expansion to the east, out into the deep Pacific, will be Japan's main option. But the very depth and storm-tossed nature of those waters may be an obstacle in itself. Japan tried war twice to expand its boundaries; it didn't work. Therefore Japan may be left with little choice but to expand vertically instead, into space, once the conflicts over sea shallows take hold.

In many ways they are better prepared to make such a leap into space than anyone else.

Investment implications....

The triumphant return of farming as an exciting field in business. This will also help out many underdeveloped countries which currently have little but arable land in their repertoire. Central and south america, as well as southeast asia, could benefit enormously. Island nations possessing great expanses of surrounding shallow seas will profit more than many others from the aquaculture breakthroughs.

Global warming could greatly affect all this by raising sea levels. Remember this general rule of thumb: there will be far fewer economic opportunities in deeper waters than shallow, because essential sunlight only penetrates so far and much of the plant and animal life aquaculture will depend on will require an accessible bottom for a foundation.

Across-the-board pollution controls will be much more important to nations wishing to exploit seas, lakes, and other bodies of water this way. Off-shore resorts won't be popular for tourists if fecal matter from large land-based cities nearby is floating all about. The presence of toxic wastes would spoil the salability of any foodstuffs produced in aquaculture facilities nearby. Excessive thermal pollution (as from nuclear plants) could make for excessive light blocking and oxygen-robbing of the waters, via algae growth, inhibiting many aquaculture and resort activities.

A potential boom in aerospace and orbital manufacturing.

When great supply meets limited demand, the price plummets. Surplus Cold War rockets and surplus Cold War rocket scientists are meeting a demand stunted by the old mindset that getting to orbit is horribly expensive.

Suddenly, getting to orbit is much cheaper. Besides the large numbers of launchers that could become available from the U.S. and U.S.S.R. stockpiles, the technology for new ones is also improving.

Can the boom be delayed much longer?

Too, we're running out of easy new territory to exploit here on Earth. Though the oceans are largely still virgin territory in regards to development, there are many obstacles to their expanded use. Among them, growing environmental concerns and territorial disputes between nations. Space exploitation presents few such problems. Indeed, it's about the only place left that great powers can colonize with impunity; earthside such colonial efforts are now met with heavy resistance and high costs.

Space development, while expensive, also carries the added bonus of providing overpowering military advantage as the high ground in any potential conflict.

There's also the tantalizing prospects for manufacturing under conditions of 'free' micro-gravity, extremes of temperature, high vacuum, and superclean environments.

If Japan begins suddenly building furiously in orbit, partially as a result of being denied access to the oceans, the U.S. and other major powers may feel little recourse but to do the same.

Pathfinder seems to say that though Japan and the U.S. will play a bit rougher and riskier with each other over the next fifty years, overall the economic relationship will stay intact.

Investment implications....

The farther you get from the equator, the more expensive it is to launch into space. The U.S. has a slight advantage over Japan and Russia with its Florida based facilities. The French have the best at the moment, in South America. But the preeminent region by far is right on the equator. For this reason you can expect equatorial countries and/or islands to receive some sweet offers from the U.S. and Japan as well as others in the decades to come, for the construction of launching facilities.

You could think of such projects as the twenty-first century version of the Panama and Suez Canals, as they will serve to open up new trade routes and 'territories' for practical development.

For this reason, one armed with hard currency and a long term perspective could do worse than buying up cheap coastal acreage along the equator (I say coastal because this would make it easier to ship in large heavy components by boat).

But don't forget to consider that global warming may raise sea levels, too!

The Rise of Mall Cities/Arcologies.

All the stresses and risks of the next few decades will lay the ground work for public acceptance of living in "Mall Cities": vast complexes where people live, work, and play with their own indoor parks, factories, etc. Inhabitants and incoming supplies will be carefully screened, thereby substantially limiting internal violence and conflict, and radioactive fallout or contagions released from Third World calamities will be filtered out.

Another reason these structures may be built is economy. Thousands of separate individual homes, their utilities, and the land to construct them on are much more expensive, all things considered, than a single, huge, modular structure on one contiguous lot.

Too, the advent of advanced entertainment, educational, and communications systems will make rare the need for anyone to venture outside such a structure, once encapsulated.

Various efficiencies of business operations will also be gleaned (Remember that the drive for efficiency is very strong these days-- and will only get stronger with each passing year).

After the age of 65, you and I may well find ourselves living in such a Mall City.

Investment implications....

Condominiums, 'planned' neighborhoods, and present day skyscrapers and shopping malls are all precursors to these Mall Cities.

Vast suburban wastelands, filled with decaying single family homes and old style dedicated shopping malls, will all be worth a lot less than they used to be, since it'll be too costly to retrofit them for the new realities of toxic clouds, rain, and occasional whiffs of radioactive fallout, as well as the more rigorous functionality of combined work and play areas for inhabitants. Long distance commuting too will be passé, except for the hard pressed.

Certain inner cities will enjoy some rejuvenation from the trend, but mostly they too will be too expensive to refurbish, and entirely new cities, totally enclosed, will be built from scratch in new locations.

A book called "Edge Cities" may have pinpointed some early signs of these newly developing environments. It may be that interstates and other major highways and rail systems may act as a circulatory system of sorts for the economy, around which future Mall Cities will naturally grow like living organisms.

Eventually hundreds of Mall Cities could exist across the country, connected by largely underground high speed railways closely paralleling present interstate routes.

If you want to speculate long term in real estate, this would seem the idea to start with, as Mall Cities should be really taking off sometime over the next ten to thirty years.

The Merging of Education and Entertainment;

The merging of entertainment and education will be a matter of survival in the future deluge of information, accelerated economic competition, and technological change. People simply won't have the time and energy to pursue entertainment and education as two mutually exclusive entities.

A form of "credibility index" (first suggested by David Brin in his novel "Earth" I believe) might accompany daily newscasts by any organization not formally accredited by some educational authority. It may provide the public service of hampering media-based con artists and evangelists/cultists who attempt to persuade people to accept new mystical fabrications, among other things.

Essentially, this merging will mean that movies like "JFK" by Oliver Stone will be fewer and farther between. Any presentation that plays too fast and loose with the facts will have an uphill climb to market, as those that are more accurate will enjoy various tax breaks and other niceties.

As our society by necessity becomes more technology and knowledge based, more power is placed into individual hands, and overall competition becomes ever fiercer, we'll have little choice but to apply some sort of 'check-sum' verification to information placed into the public forums, as our entire culture will increasingly be vulnerable to 'data corruption' just as our personal computers are today.

A crash of a desktop computer is one thing; the crash of a society or economy, quite another. New policies based on this idea will severely curtail the kinds of political and marketing maneuvers typically seen in the U.S. of the early nineties, as well as reduce to insignificance the sensationalistic diatribes of present day 'talk' personalities and 'news' reports from trashy tabloid sources.

For individuals, the merger of entertainment and education will mean far more enjoyable school sessions, and improved learning in general. The dreary classes and opaque textbooks of our own generation's educational experience will become almost non-existent in the years to come.

Such a merging will not come easily, of course. The demands of the First Amendment (and other rights) will insure that any final blueprint is hard won, but worthwhile.

Desktop publishing is expanding to also encompass desktop video production. In effect, a large faction of the population will come to possess full-blown movie studios in their homes and offices. Can you imagine the plethora of choices consumers will enjoy some time after this comes about? The economic opportunity too will explode, as national computer networks allow such videos/movies to be stored on optical disks, and piped directly into homes over fiber optics, in return for a cut on the proceeds. Those capable of excelling in such enterprises will literally be able to become new 'mini-Spielbergs' in their own right, and make a fortune besides.

Investment implications....

Many of the major studios and networks of today may go the way of the dinosaur, in the fierce new competition that's coming.

The explosion in entertainment options will make it so enticing to be a couch potato ten and twenty years hence, that such a lifestyle will become much more significant as a cause of death, overall.

Truly appalling and ridiculous support equipment for such lifestyles will become commonplace on the market (i.e., "the Clapper"), and create a lot of market opportunities for related niche firms.

Such entertainment options, combined with employment alternatives that minimize the need for physical travel, as well as the real dangers of venturing too far from home, will nudge many people into a more or less hermit lifestyle. While such isolation is not necessarily a bad thing, it's doubtful that most of our own generation will be prepared to deal with it easily.

The Silence Revolution

This is definitely good news. Consider for a moment the racket that mercilessly assaults most of us in our daily lives. Loud automobile, truck, construction equipment, and motorcycle engines. Gasoline powered chain saws, leaf blowers, and lawn mowers. Airplane take offs and landings. The horrendous din from huge manufacturing plants. Loud stereos, power tools, or electric guitars in the hands of our neighbors. The sound of pile drivers and jackhammers, car horns, sirens, garbage trucks, trains-- sometimes it almost gets to be too much, doesn't it?

You'll be pleased to know the end is coming. No, hopefully not your end and mine just yet-- but an end to much of the noise.

New technologies are coming online that will remove most if not all of the regular, repeating mechanically spawned racket we must live with today. The hero of the day will be noise cancellation technologies, and they will drastically reduce the noise pollution we have to endure on a regular basis. Another great thing about all this is how soon it will occur. The devices are already being installed on some equipment, and may become pervasive in our environment within only a matter of three to ten years.

Mechanically sourced, predictable, repetitive sounds will be the first to be removed. The sudden absence of mechanical noise will serve to raise our sensitivity to the noise remaining-- namely, variable noise sources controlled manually by other human beings, such as loud music, rambunctious parties, yelling and screaming, and so on.

With silence suddenly an option, and mounting medical evidence of the damage excess noise does to our hearing, as well as the increasing sensitivity to privacy invasion the population overall will have as a result of mounting stress from other sources, noise makers may become as much social pariahs tomorrow as cigarrette smokers are becoming today.

Noise tolerance will diminish to almost zero in many areas, with the result being an eerie quiet even on the busiest of city streets.

Investment implications....

The availability of noise cancellation technology will eventually bring about a regulatory frenzy similar to that seen in the late eighties/early nineties related to cigarrette smoking. State and local authorities may eventually require cancellation on virtually every regular noise maker within their jurisdiction.

Summary? A shrewd investment in noise cancellation companies could bring a windfall down the road. Unfortunately, this fact is blatantly obvious to so many folks that it's probably too late to invest now and still earn the enormous profits earlier birds will realize over the coming years from this particular worm.

One element of this market that may not yet be saturated with investors could be spin offs. For instance, with most noise pretty much abated, the demand for noise detectors, measurement devices, and even alarms will become substantial, as items required for the maintenance of the hard-won silence.

Dynamic "on-the-fly" cancellation devices will represent the second generation of the technology. Dynamic cancellation will depend on high speed processing to cancel the random, non-repetitive noise that first generation devices couldn't. Dynamic cancellation appliances will require substantial intelligence however, for they'll need the capability to distinguish between vital communications in emergency situations and plain old noise. One example would be fire fighters battling a blaze, yelling to one another or to bystanders with important information. If a 'dumb' dynamic cancellation device were nearby, it might drown out all these important messages, possibly bringing about the death of one or more of the people involved.

In a world reduced to a whisper by cancellation technologies, there might eventually need to be all new, specialized noise makers developed for special circumstances. For instance, a radar activated alarm in the front of eerily quiet automobiles might save the lives of many pedestrians who would otherwise never hear the vehicle approaching.

The above article(s) come from and make references to a collection copyright © 1993,1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 by J.R. Mooneyham (except where otherwise noted in the text). Text here explicitly authored by J.R. Mooneyham may be freely copied anddistributed for non-commercial purposes in paper and electronic form without charge if this copyrightparagraph and link to the timeline ( are included.

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