In the 22nd century, we’ll cross a climate change threshold, achieve population equilibrium, and experience revolutionary advancements in technology reshaping our lives.
The 21st century may be the happiest in human history. This may sound a little dramatic, but it is unlikely to be exaggerated. Among the threats of climate change, epidemics, human migration, challenges faced by rapid technology, the fate of humanity will be decided.
The bottom line is that what we do between the end of this century and this century will likely determine the future of life on Earth (and possibly beyond!). Because of this, forecasting the future has never been more important.
In summary, we need population projections and climate data that take into account different scenarios and changes over time. That way, we can plan how we’ll feed, house, clothe, and employ billions of people when the systems we rely on are disrupted.
At the same time, we can develop strategies to protect and restore the natural environment so that we can reduce the pressure we put on it.
This is why predicting change has become an essential part of economics, policy analysis, disaster planning and military preparedness. Unfortunately, the rapid development of technology and its social, economic, and political implications are leading us to a future that is difficult to predict.
While knowing what’s over the horizon has never been easy, there are legitimate fears that the emergence of various technologies – quantum computing, AI, advanced biotech, etc. – will actually predict future developments accurately.
But it’s important we try. We cannot afford to blindly move into an uncertain future or adopt a “devil may care” attitude. So what can we realistically expect to live until 2100?
Population growth will stop increasing
The most noticeable change may be in the number of people living on Earth and how many more people are coming. According to the relevant 2022 report from the Population Division of the Indian Institute of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the world’s population will reach 10.4 billion by 2100.
By 2100, Asia and Africa will account for 4.78 and 3.92 billion (respectively) and account for about 83.5 percent of the world’s total population.
At the same time, a significant decrease in population speed is predicted. In other words, there will be more people on Earth by 2100, but people will be added at a slower pace.
According to UN population projections, it is estimated that by 2100, when there will be 11.2 billion people, the average rate of population worldwide will decrease by 0.1 percent, and then begin to decrease for the first time.
Basically, 2100 will be a critical point in the population boom.
Stable Economic equilibrium
As the global population grows, poverty levels are changing. Extreme poverty has decreased significantly over the years, dropping from 44% in 1981 to less than 10% in 2022, with the majority residing in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Economic forecasts suggest that these regions will experience substantial growth in this century.
A 2022 analysis by the Universal Business School (UBS) estimates the global economy at around $2,170 quadrillion, with Asia and Africa accounting for significant shares.
Analysts anticipate economic parity among populated continents by the 21st century’s end. Paradoxically, as global poverty diminishes and living standards rise, the latter half of the century may witness the rise of trillionaires, leading to increased relative poverty.
Some experts predict that asteroid mining and space tourism could be pathways to trillionaire status, evident in the interests of prominent figures like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos in space ventures.
“Big Data” is another avenue pursued by the world’s wealthiest, encompassing computing, software, analytics, AI, and more, akin to the industries that enriched figures like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. In light of future economic projections, we can envision what a future trillionaire’s portfolio might entail.
Where will everyone live?
As more people join the world, they’ll need places to live. Currently, over half of the global population lives in cities, and by 2100, about 85%—roughly 9 billion people—will reside in major cities, primarily in Africa and South Asia.
This population growth will push innovation for cleaner, more sustainable living options, including city-sized buildings called “arcologies” that blend green spaces with urban living.
Advancements in nanotechnology will further facilitate these efforts, and the integration of “smart homes” and “smart cities” will eventually lead to “smart countries” and even a “smart planet.”
Adaptability and flexibility
All of these predictions must be considered in conjunction with the emerging picture of climate change and whether we can keep it to a minimum.
A significant change is likely between 2050 and 2100, depending on the cumulative increase in average global temperature and associated environmental impacts.
As we reviewed in a previous article, rising temperatures will place additional pressure on agriculture, water supplies and urban centers.
Extreme heat waves, droughts and floods will also increase the death toll and cause significant damage to property. This is expected to create a refugee crisis that will displace hundreds of thousands of people, mostly from coastal areas and major cities around the equator.
Under more extreme scenarios, many densely populated areas may already be submerged by 2100. Among them are Jakarta, Dhaka, Lagos, Bangkok, New York, Miami and Vancouver.
In 2017, an estimated 356,000 deaths occurred worldwide from heat waves, most of which occurred in urban centers. However, scientists predict that by 2100 heat-related deaths may increase 50-fold. This means that by the end of this century, 17.8 million people could die annually from heat waves.
The pressure on health services, emergency workers and utilities will only worsen, leading to full-blown humanitarian crises. Combined with the economic damage to infrastructure, the situation could lead to more failed states, civil wars, and even more humanitarian and refugee crises.
Fortunately, the growing situation will also foster efforts to adapt and resiliency.
Environment friendly energy sources
As we approach mid-century, further improvements in efficiency, lower costs, and the growing need for cleaner alternatives will likely accelerate the pace of clean energy adoption.
UN DESA estimates that, with rapid adoption, renewable sources could reach 65% of the energy sector by 2030 and 90% by 2050.
By 2060, oil and gas production could be completely gone, giving the term “fossil fuel” new meaning. Naturally, this begs the question: What are we going to do for power and fuel?
Before the middle of the century, solar energy would have been transmitted into space largely thanks to solar satellites. By the latter half of the 21st century, ongoing efforts to develop a space elevator may have been realized (you guessed it, more on this in Part II).
Drastic reductions in the cost of sending payloads into space will mean that massive constellations of satellites will collect energy 24/7/365 and transmit it directly to receiving stations on Earth.
By 2100, humanity will have left behind “peak solar” and embraced even more promising methods – like fusion power.
Developments in the early 21st century are already indicating that a “fusion era” may be on the near horizon. This includes breakthroughs in magnetic confinement (aka tokamic) reactors, but also fusion reactions fueled by lasers and pellets of deuterium and tritium, and lattice confinement fusion (LCF) that rely on depleted uranium or thorium fuel.
At their current rate of growth, every developed nation in the world is likely to be fully carbon neutral by the 2060s.
By 2100, a combination of large-scale tokamak and laser fusion reactors will likely meet the energy needs of most countries, while smaller tokamaks and LCF reactors will power large population centers, large communities, and even will be used to power large buildings (such as the Arcology).
How will we work?
As we discussed in a previous article, rapid technological advancements will significantly transform the job landscape. While it’s challenging to predict precisely how changes in production, communication, and finance will impact careers, some likely developments include the emergence of new jobs alongside the obsolescence of others. Considering factors like climate change, resource scarcity, AI, quantum computing, and emerging technologies, we can anticipate several trends by 2100:
- A rise in self-employment and freelance work.
- Decentralized and distributed economies.
- Widespread adoption of digital transactions.
- The possibility of money becoming obsolete.
- Increased automation across all industries.
- Integration of AI into various production processes.
- Achieving near-perfect efficiency.
In terms of new professions, exciting possibilities arise in fields like ecological engineering, commercial space exploration, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, biomachinery, simulated reality, and robotics.
Considering these emerging trends, the most sought-after jobs by 2100 could include:
- Ecological Engineer: Experts who combat the effects of climate change by devising innovative strategies for environmental restoration.
- Climate Specialist: Professionals monitoring and advising on climate changes and their impact.
- Augmentation Specialist: Guides for individuals seeking augmentation technologies, as these become more accessible.
- Neuropractitioner: Specialists in brain implants, addressing various conditions and providing installations and upgrades.
- Space Doctors, Lawyers, and Guides: With space tourism booming, experts versed in space travel, medical procedures, and legal matters in space will be in high demand.
- Space Traffic Controller: Overseeing spaceflight traffic, especially in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), to prevent collisions and debris-related issues.
- AI/Robot Personalizer: Individuals fine-tuning AI and household robots for user-friendliness.
- AI Manager: Ensuring ethical and legal adherence in AI development and deployment.
- Virtual Space Designer: Creating hyper-realistic simulated environments for entertainment, education, and living.
- Gene Programmer: Conducting genetic procedures, including “designer babies” and gene therapy, for cosmetic and functional enhancements.
By 2100, medical professionals may be required to perform genetic procedures that allow for “designer children” and gene therapy that extends life (Part II), enhances or reduces physical characteristics, and allows for heightened senses, such as night vision, photosynthetic skin, etc.
Predicting the future is always hard. This is particularly true when looking to the distant future. With every decision we make today, our future takes shape and differs from what was previously predicted.
However, given where we are at the moment, some approximations and generalizations can reasonably be made. Thees tell us that we will struggle with climate change and technological change, although not necessarily on equal footing.
While mounting environmental and human crises will take their toll, the gravity of the situation will spur innovative solutions, largely driven by accelerating technological progress. In the 2050s, it is likely that the future of humanity and the planet hangs in the balance.
However, if we make it to 2100, things may have finally turned around and a recovery may have begun. But exactly what shape that will take is still up in the air.
Stay tuned for Part II of this examination of life, planet, and world by 2100, where we’ll discuss more predictions about the future of medicine, human and robotic augmentation, transportation, and warfare.