World Future Conference in Toronto: Futurists describe the world in 2050
“Futurist” is a tough title to define. But for Edie Weiner, the keynote speaker on Sunday at the World Future Conference, the core of it all is imagination.
Why focus on the broken institutions and systems already in existence when we could be conjuring totally new ones?
“We could choose to imagine within a renaissance or within a ‘de-naissance.’ In a de-naissance, we take all of our imaginings, and all of our money, and try to fix what was. And that’s what we spend our imagination on,” she told a rapt audience.
“In a renaissance we break through ... we build the things that could be.”
Provocative, dreamy, occasionally hard to follow: such are the hallmarks of futurist conversation, as the Star discovered after spending a day stalking the hallways of the conference, which ran Thursday to Sunday in Toronto.
We asked futurists of all stripes — from business consultants to philosophers — to tell us what they think the world will look like in 2050.
Here are some of the most thought-provoking answers, edited for space.
President, Center for Public Outreach
By 2050, the population of the planet will be approximately 9.3 to 10 billion people. So we have many more people who will need food, clothing and shelter. It means we need to have more productive foods. We need grains, for example, that have a higher protein content. There will be synthetic food that will be created from the DNA that we currently consume.
One of the things that you’ll see if you want to look at structures, is that we’re going to see probably an increasing number of 40-storey hydroponic farms in the middle of cities. We’re covering more and more of our land, our real estate, with concrete, and we’re becoming increasingly urbanized.
There are fewer people in the countryside, where I grew up, and more people in cities. They’re going to need food. They might go to their community hydroponic farm that operates with drip irrigation and they might be able to pick their own apples, harvest their own spinach. Even though they’re living in the concrete, they’re able to get a sense that in some cases this stuff doesn’t just appear, it actually grows. (Because) some of it will appear in a laboratory, as scientists put the DNA together. It might be with a 3D printer. That was discussed earlier today, the fact that a 3D printer will recreate a sandwich for you.
Futurist philosopher, grayscott.com
I would say 2025, you have to start there. Because by 2050, the stuff that you would be questioning, we don’t even have at this point.
But you can see that it’s coming. I think some of the questions will be: How do I want my face to look today? How do I want my body to look today? That could be an organic version of my body, or a digital version. But the organic shift is what I think people are going to be most frightened of. Because you can get up in the morning and decide on all of these creams and applications that could change your face or change your hair colour within an instant.
The question really is, who am I? It’s not why am I, but who am I today. And how do we maintain our identity. We already have that problem now, but it’s going to be on a physical face-to-face level. You have to reintroduce yourself everyday, like, what’s your name today?
The real question is, when will we draft an artificial intelligence bill of rights? What will that consist of? And who will get to decide that? Do the fundamentalist religious people get to be involved? Do the futurists only get to talk about that, or does the government get to talk about it? Who gets to decide the robotic bill of rights? It’s going to be controversial.
President of Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc., a futurist consulting group
If we’re going to 2050, there is a really good chance that we won’t be constrained in any way by biology — because if we need biology, we can 3D print it. We’ve already 3D printed a kidney. We can 3D print blood, bone, anything. So we won’t be trapped by a fear of what’s going to happen to our bodies. And that frees us up to really start thinking about: if machines are really smart, and if we don’t really have to worry that much about our bodies … then we’re really talking about a completely different vision and function for the human species. And that would probably be the expression of what our role is in the much larger order of things, way outside the planet.
To a certain extent, there are people who already believe that (conquering death) is currently possible. This is what some people are saying with capturing all of our knowledge over the space of our life. If we can figure out the essence of what makes us us — if we can do that, and I’m not saying we can — it’s not just our experiences and our memories, it’s also the mind, the spirit, the brain. So if we can figure that out and somehow preserve that, the body becomes irrelevant. Which is why, when you ask me about pharmaceuticals that far out in the future, the whole game is off.