I often see articles at slashdot about The Future of [X} and I invariably ask in a comment "where do I go to get my PhD in Futurism?" The fact, of course, is that nobody holds a PhD in futurism. Futurism is no more real than astrology, Tarot, or divining tea leaves. I've been listening to these guys all my fifty five year long life and haven't once heard a single prediction pan out.
As a nerd, I read and watched as much science fiction as I could get my hands on. The SF writers were inaccurate, but far more accurate than the futurists. The 21st century was "the future" and I find myself in an Asimov novel; or rather, an Orwell or some other dystopian writer's novel. But I'm now living in the science fiction I read as a young person.
I remember when Star Trek first hit the small black and white (in my house anyway) screen. Self-opening doors, voice activated computers with flat screens, communicating devices like telephones that you just spoke someone's name into to connect to them, shuttles that would ferry people and cargo into outer space and back, these were pure fantasy. Nobody would ever see such things; not in our lifetimes, anyway.
In at least one respect we've passed Star Trek. In one of the movies it's middle-aged Kirk's birthday, and McCoy gives him a pair or antique reading glasses because Kirk's allergic to whatever eyedrops they have in the 23rd century that softens the middle aged eye's focusing lens. Never mind that we now have medicines that can alleviate just about any allergy, McCoy had no surgical procedure that would cure age-related farsightedness.
I had the occluded lens in my left eye replaced by an implant that moves with the natural movement of that eye's focusing muscle, which cured the cataract caused by steroid eye drops, my extreme nearsightedness and astigmatism, and my age related farsightedness. I no longer need corrective lenses at all! I still occasionally wear a contact lens in my right eye, but any more I leave it naked more often than not. My doctor did for me what Dr. McCoy couldn't do for Captain Kirk (see Behind my sig for details).
There was no way for a "futurist" to predict the implant in my eye, which was approved by the USFDA in 2003. Nor for a futurist to predict the internet, or cell phones, or microwave ovens, CDs, DVDs, or any of the other scientific and engineering advances that I have seen in my lifetime.
However, the futurists predicted many things would happen by the year 2000. In "The Population Bomb" one futurist predicted world wide famine and starvation by the 21st century. It didn't happen. Hunger today, unlike all other times in history, is a purely political problem. We nerds won; advances in agriculture, horticulture, and engineering have eliminated all hunger not brought about by political upheval. There is now plenty of food. Only politics and greed cause hunger today.
Another predicted that the rate of change was advancing so quickly that by the 21st century we would all be insane, and the rock band King Crimson picked up on this meme in their song 21st Century Schitzoid Man. However, even though there are a lot of nuts where I live, there don't seem to be any more than there ever were. People have adapted to cell phones and the internet and the other things the futurists never predicted quite nicely.
But I'm still waiting for my self-driving, flying car.
Just as someone in 1950 could be a computer scientist without a degree in computer science due to the fact that he was actually doing practical computer science, and that the computer had only been patented three years earlier, I see no reason why I can't pontificate any better than the self-styled futurists, who are invariably wrong. I've lived in the past, I now live in the future. As the future is now, I have direct experience with it, far more experience with the future than a computer scientist in 1950 had with computers.
The theme I have in mind is the Star Trek replicator. Not only am I predicting it, I'm going to discuss how such a device will work, as well as its sociopolitical implications.
A quick google search attempting to find a New Scientist article I saw about a self-assembling robot didn't find the NS article for me, but it did lead to instructions on how to build your own. Advances in miniaturization come every day; we can now build microscopic power supplies. It will surely not be long before advances in miniaturization, nanotechnology, and computer science allow microscopic robots capable of not only building copies of themselves from raw molecules, but copies of anything at all!
In the future, everything but food will be made of microscopic robots linked together. Food itself may be made by these robots. You will have your Star Trek "holodeck" only it won't use holograms; it will be nanoscopic robots, linked together by the billions, that will project images and reconfigure their matrixes at will to whatever you (or your overlords) want them to be.
You may live in a ten by ten foot cube that appears to be the whole universe to you, and you will have no way of telling that you are not in fact outside, but imprisoned in your little cell, never meeting another real human, but interacting with robotic simulations that you will believe are human.
It may get to the point that whoever is in charge (and there have always been power-hungry busybodies) will control your reproduction, with a robotic humanoid that is indistinguishable from a human collecting your semen for whatever mate they deem most appropriate, or taking semen collected from a male in this manner and artificially inseminating you with it from the robot you think is your husband. The child you think you are raising may well be a little robot, while the real child is brought up by the robots with whatever ethics the overlords wish.
If someone finds that they are in a robot society, they may try to hack the system. They may be killed for their troubles; in fact, anyone might be killed at any time and nobody would know, since nobody will really be interacting with real humans, only robotic copies of them.
If you thought the internet revolution shook the foundations of the Imaginary Property crowd, who make books, films (which are of course no longer on film), and music, what is this going to do to the physical property crowd? Like with IP, you will have the megarich trying to pass laws and lawsuits against progress, and most likely will be successful at it. If you think the IP crowd causes problems for creative people and the creative crowd's customers, imagine what's going to happen when all property except land is imaginary?
If you are young, you may live to see it. If your children aren't born yet, they surely will. If we solve the problems caised by the likes of the RIAA, IFPA, MPAA and other IP organizations now, our future will be a lot less rocky. The problem is, in my over half century of nerdily smirking at my fellow huimans, seldom do I ever see a rich person who isn't overwhelmingly a greedy, selfish, power hungry busybody.
How will we get out of this mess?