Comments on Marty Nemko’s “12 Predictions for 2050”

A reader asked me to comment on the predictions/musings by Marty Nemko at his blog. I had never heard of him before, but he’s some kind of coach, radio host and columnist popular in the Bay Area.

The decline in good jobs. My optimistic side predicts that improved education and gene editing to improve intelligence will result in many innovative businesses that require many employees, just like electricity, the automobile, TV, computer, and Internet created millions of jobs. My pessimistic side predicts that ever more jobs will be automated, forcing most people to live on a lot less. The silver lining in that may be that more people will enjoy the pleasures that cost little: creative activity, relationships, voluntarism. On the other hand, work is so central to one’s sense of value, not to mention survival, that the decline in good jobs could incite not just isolated firebombings, but wars.

With regards to jobs, I think:

It’s hard to say how it will impact society. My guess is that it will continue what it has been doing, namely increase taxes so that the non-working fraction can live off the working fraction. The working fraction will get even smaller (also due to population aging). Human labor will move to areas that are hard to automate or which result in uncanny valley effects.

Increases in cognitive ability thru genetic engineering are about 20 years out in the future because that’s the time it takes to grow up or so, and we already have the technology to increase cognitive ability thru embryo selection. On the bright side, automation makes things cheaper meaning that lower incomes can buy comparatively more things. Business as usual.

Stubbornly ineffective education.  I’ve often written that despite the U.S. spending #1 per capita on education, it flounders near the achievement bottom among the world’s developed nations. By mid-century, we’ll finally accept that we’ve been just nibbling at the problem: that making kids sit through longer school days with the same teachers, no matter how high their expectations, will not begin to prepare most kids for the highly-advanced technical world they’ll need to be hirable in. By mid-century, I believe that most kids will take SuperCourses: touchable holographic representations of the world’s most transformational teachers guiding highly immersive, gamified, individualized classes. A live person will be in the classroom to provide the human touch, tutoring, and classroom discipline.

Education doesn’t work the way he thinks it does. PISA scores are mainly just the cognitive ability of the population. The US is lowish because it has many dull people. The demographics are changing in that direction with the mass immigration of Mexicans and Latin Americans.

On the other hand, personalized education will continue the way it has been doing. Online interactive courses will be the mainstream, but they won’t change much in inequality or mean performance. The reason most children or adults don’t learn more isn’t primarily the fault of the education system, it’s their own limitations in cognitive ability and in academic interest. It’s hard to blame them for the latter because most of the stuff one is supposed to learn in school is useless or nearly so. The Internet is here and anyone bright and interested enough can pursue whatever interest they have.

The gender war. I predict women will continue their gains in the gender war. Having largely taken control over society’s mind molders (the schools and media,) the belief will solidify that man is the inferior sex and thus the two sexes will be more polarized than ever. One result will be that the rate of heterosexual romantic cohabitation will decline while lesbian cohabitation will increase. I believe the trend to marginalize men to highly technical, very time-consuming, and/or dangerous occupations will continue.

Women take more education, more also more useless educations. From an individual perspective, they may be winning in the sense that they game the system more effectively (signaling better), but on the other hand: who is wasting time in school learning irrelevant or nonsensical things? The wage gap is still going strong because it’s not caused by differences in degrees. It’s mainly related to which sectors one works in/risk differences, how technical the job is and how much one works. I wouldn’t call this marginalizing (I work in a highly technical, very time-consuming job and I like it that way!). The cohabitation rate will presumably decline, but that’s because housing gets cheaper and so more people can afford to live alone.

Terrorism.  That will fade as its shock value decreases. The West will finally learn the lesson of the millennia from King Cyrus through Churchill in the Dardanelles through our recent debacles in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, that its attempts to influence the Middle East will almost certainly fail. So except for providing medical research findings, humanitarian donations of food. water, medicine, etc., the West will largely stay out of Middle Eastern countries’ affairs. That will be made easier as the West reduces its dependence of oil, Middle Eastern and otherwise.

Terrorism is an ineffective method of politics. In general, terrorism will decline as other forms of violence do. Terrorism in Western countries will increase but it’s just because we are letting terrorism prone people move in.

Energy. While the evidence for the cost-benefit of attempting to cool the planet will remain unclear, we’ll err on the side of caution—even at great cost and inconvenience to humankind (Think gridlock) and we’ll move to far greater use of clean energy. But physics limitations will preclude solar and wind from being more than a minor contributor to the energy mix. Safe, compact nuclear energy will dominate—powering our homes, cars, and  businesses.

The optimistic prediction is that nuclear will get larger, but it’s hard to say. Nuclear is having a renaissance but mostly due to building in East Asia, and the Fukushima accident caused a lot of bad press, (and economic cost, but not human cost) which may reverse or slow this trend. Many western countries are wasting money trying to power their countries on solar and wind, and while these technologies can work in some places fairly well, they cannot work well for many countries without huge investments. Worse, some are even dismantling their working nuclear for political reasons (Germany, Sweden, USA).

Gene editing. Companies such as 23andMe in collaboration with universities and government will have identified gene clusters powerfully associated with major physical and mental diseases and will also give parents the option of enhancing average functioning to superior functioning: whether resistance to cancer, high intelligence, or abiding altruism.

Not so much editing, embryo selection. :) CRISPR is mostly useful for fixing stray errors (e.g. Huntington’s), not complex traits. Unless it can be done at a massive scale, direct editing will be useless for things like mental illness.

Medicine. We’ll know which preventatives make enough difference to be worth doing. Is vigorous versus moderate exercise worth it? How about veganism? Mindfulnessmeditation? The answers will be clear. And cures will be individualized. One-size-fits-all treatments will be replaced by customized ones based on the person’s genome and biochemical assays.

The answers won’t be clear because causal density/complexity is too high and science too inefficient or biased. Medicine is particularly bad as a science. There are powers trying to fix this, but it will take a long time. Doctors are very conservative and there are monetary interests from big pharma to keep it the way it is.

Transportation. At long last, we’ll get around in flying cars. That provides the freedom of the car without traffic jams—there will be thousands of percent more traffic lanes. Flying cars will be nuclear-solar hybrids. Of course, taxis, trucks, buses, trains, and planes will be driverless.

There will be no mass scale flying cars. Flying cars would be a safety hazard as well as being inefficient means of transportation. I wrote about the topic in Danish recently, but what will happen is this:

  • Services like Uber will push for driverless taxis: autotaxis.
  • Autotaxis will quickly become cheaper than the human driven ones and take over the market.
  • Autotaxis are also more efficient because they can coordinate routes automatically together with the other autotaxis.
  • The cheaper autotaxis become, the less people need to have their own cars. There will be a massive decrease in the number of cars people own. Transport will be a service one pays a monthly fee for, not something one owns equipment for.

Recreation. Most homes will have an immersion room: The walls are screens and a person can choose an environment (jungle, outer space, ancient Rome, whatever) and interact with holograms that feel like people and objects—they’ll befriend, have sex with, fight with, negotiate deals with, etc.  People will still have pets but they’ll have to fight animal rights organizations that will argue that pet ownership is speciesist and mass incarceration.

This seems inefficient to me. I think ordinary virtual reality is a more likely scenario.