The script for and an early look at my DeLongTODAY Briefing for 2021-03-05: The real thing will live at: <http://delongtoday.com>… Let us look at our great- and great^2-grandchildren and what are their economic possibilities in 2100, then our great^5-grandchildren in 2200, and then all the way out to the year 2525: our great^15-grandchildren.That is not that far out.
I'm not naturally optimistic, but I think you are too pessimistic on the technology front. We have just entered the golden age of materials science and just getting glimpses of what is possible with nano-structures, bio-mimetics, non-traditional metallurgy, meta-materials and in a host of other areas. We can actually do more with a lot less. For example, spin, as opposed to charge, based electronics is much faster and uses much less power. New classes of reflective and transmissive materials could change the way we heat and cool spaces.
One thing to consider is how much of that 2.1% technological growth has changed the commons. Rothschild couldn't have bought a modern antibiotic, and neither can you. You can only "buy" amoxicillin because we have a medical-pharmacological-health insurance-research complex. Even today, in many countries, individuals do not buy things like amoxicillin. Civilizations do. Rothschild couldn't have bought a highway to Berlin, let alone a high speed train system or whatever may come next. Those require an advanced commons. If you look to the future, it pays to think about what the commons can deliver, rather than individual components of it.
Let me make some possibly correct predictions on this basis.
In 2525, people will not get cancer let alone die from it. How much does Gleevec or the like cost per month of additional life? People will be able to travel from point to point on the planet in less than fifteen minutes. You'll notice nothing about the means of such transportation or the necessary scheduling logistics and societal changes necessary to deal with potential bottlenecks. People will only buy travel in the way one buys a book or movie ticket.
Energy use per-capita will be lower than today, but heating, cooling, transportation and manufacturing will be more productive. Manufacturing will increasingly be as-needed to reduce inventory and waste and to track trends more closely. Food will be produced similarly, and I will not predict the end of meat eating as some food production will remain an art form and food production will have very low business entry costs thanks to a broad commons of plant, culture and animal frameworks.
In some ways, society advances one patent expiration at a time.
P.S. The Fermi Paradox is based on a rather naive understanding of probability and of technology. The Drake Equation, for example, simply multiplies probabilities which is not how range estimates are combined. The Fermi Paradox and Project SETI assume that advanced civilizations have nothing better to do than pump EM radiation out in all directions. I, for the life of me, cannot imagine why they would do that. The age of 50KW radio stations is long past.
It seems to me that, with the exception of a few things already mentioned like de-salinization and room temperature superconductors, the areas of scientific progress are likely to be biological rather than engineering/physics. As Graydon keeps pointing out, climate change is likely to have a much more severe effect on food production. That makes it likely that we'll see efforts at genetic modification to account for the new environments.
A perfect example of using numbers rather than what those numbers represent. How will all that income and wealth be realized? Certainly not by the things available to the 1% today. No big houses, cars, boats, etc. There just are not the resources for it. Food is an issue too. We might all eat well well with plant foods, factory meat, etc, but the folks of 2525 certainly won't be eating steaks from farmed or hunted animals unless they are the 1% of that wealthy set. What if all that wealth buys you near-infinite amounts of media content instead? There are not enough islands, beaches, and other vacation resorts for 9 bn people to enjoy without the crowding that one sees in China's vacationing hordes. So personal space will be at a premium, again only for the 1% of that era. Unless there are some magically low energy means of access to space, there will not be any escape to Elysiums-in-the-sky except for the 1%. There may even be starships by then, but only for very few. Pohl and Kornbluth wrote about a world of hyperconsumerism in "The Space Merchants" in 1952. The future is right there.
The reality is that any such extrapolated wealth will be for non-material goods and services and that the super-wealthy will buy things that cannot be had in a wealthy world - privacy, trips to nature reserves. The population of 2525 may have much that is affordable and safe for what remains of the biosphere, but much of that will have to be low material and energy using. Even if we could mine the asteroids for materials and use solar power satellites for a fully decarbonized, electric energy supply, the increase in heat entropy will limit the energy supply usable on Earth.
Far more likely is that resource shortages, especially freshwater, will increase the social and economic strains leading to calamitous loss of life. Global heating will ruin farming practices in the current agricultural-rich areas of the planet (California is a good example if water runs out) which are not replaceable without huge costs in indoor farming and factory food production (Tuesday is Soylent Yellow day).
So I would suggest that we may be at the end of the economic growth cycle. While I would like there to be relatively high growth with a solar system-wide economy, I am skeptical it will occur. And even if it does, we would be a Kardashev II civilization in 2-3 millennia. And a KIII a millennium after that - but impossible due to the speed of light constraints. Then what? Is it "The Universe or nothing, Passworthy?" Magic physics needed.
I think that you might have arrived at the same conclusion by proper application of the principle of mediocrity. It does not follow that *we* are only halfway through the process of modern economic growth from the fact that *we* are not special - there is no necessary link between the frequency or density of growth and the frequency or density of *us*. A consistent application says: if we look back into the past and forward into the future, there will have been some number of humans who have ever lived. We are humans; therefore, we are likely to find ourselves in that time with the greatest number of humans, i.e. the temporal region where the probability density of humans is the greatest.
A correction: "perhaps room-temperature semiconductors". I think you meant superconductors.
Of course we "see" one potential result of that 2% per year StarTrek. So in a rather narrow sense we do imagine something like that. No amount of money could build a warp drive, a transporter, or a replicator. Probably no future technology could either, but the imagination of such is a part of our culture. I think before the time of HG Wells, imaging future life with fantastic new technology wasn't part of our culture.
Best thing I've read all week.
I am curious about the possibility of a related analysis, extrapolating the possible distributions between groups of wealth, power, and well-being. And when I say "groups" I do not mean classes, but rather semipermanent associations of people, at various scales, who more-or-less get along. In other words: families, neighborhoods, local associations, cities, other local governments, NGO's, other voluntary associations either benign or malign in purpose, nations, possible world-scale groups. There could be a bewildering range of possibilities, depending on the wisdom, starting resource bases, intent, and so forth. This is something that should be gamed-out, using some of that awesome computing power we now have, so that we can grope our way more effectively toward long-term viability as a planet and a species.