My daughters are four and six, and barring a severe catastrophe (personal or civilizational), my guess is that they’ll have lifespans that might double that of the average person living today. By the time they hit about the age of 50 (around 2055) my bet is that medical technology will stand a good chance of keeping them alive at least another 50 years or so. And by the time they hit 100, they might well find that still further advances in medical technology will help them live yet another 50 years after that.
I’m also betting that, on average, Americans in 2055 will be about twice as wealthy as Americans are today. And technology and energy innovation are likely to do a great deal to bring up the living standards, not just of Americans, but of the entire globe (and with this increase in prosperity, we stand to all be nicer to one another).
The joker in the deck, of course, is nuclear or biological terrorism, which, if it managed to stall global economic progress for a century or more, could end up ruining the human future. If global prosperity stalls, humans are likely to be unhappy, reverting to the crassest tribalisms, and progressively poisoning the planet. But I’m betting on rational human advance over the next century. And once we have flying altitude, it will be difficult for the human species to revert back to the old fanaticisms and nationalisms. People will just be too comfy. And we’ll live in a global, ecologically stable, and mostly peaceful world.
Of course, as I write this we may be within, say, 3000 days of a nuclear 9-11, and we’ll all think of the early part of the 21st century as an Age of Innocence (like the 1990s were prior to September 11, 2001). I suppose that the next decade is likely to be extremely dicey. But at some point over the next three decades, the tide is going to turn in a largely irreversible way toward a world of greater reason and peace.
That’s my bet.
UPDATE: Science writer Matt Ridley’s new book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (Harper 2010), makes a strong case that humanity may be heading for a longterm era of human global solidarity, rationality, peace, and prosperity. One needn’t only hope for these things. One can find sound reasons and good pieces of evidence for believing that they may, indeed, be on the human horizon (as Ridley’s book documents). In fact, I would combine Ridley’s book with Robert Wright’s extraordinary book, The Evolution of God (Little, Brown 2009), as two good reasons for thinking that the human future will be better—indeed, much better—than our past.
Below is a short presentation of one of the theses that drives Matt Ridley’s case for rational optimism: