population growth and industrial expansion is having a major impact on food, water and energy supplies. In the
early 2000s, there were six billion people on Earth. By 2030, there
are an additional two billion, most of them from poor countries. Humanity's
footprint is such that it now requires the equivalent of
two whole Earths to sustain itself. Farmland, fresh water and natural
resources are becoming scarcer by the day.*
one-third of human beings on the planet means that energy requirements
have soared, at a time when fossil fuel supplies are in terminal decline.
A series of conflicts has been unfolding in the Middle East, Asia and
Africa, at times threatening to spill over into Europe. With America
involved too, the world is teetering on the brink of a major global
war. This situation has been exacerbated by recent terrorist attacks
on Western interests.
There is the added issue of climate change, with CO2 levels now reaching almost 450 parts per million. As a result, natural feedbacks are kicking in on a global scale. This is most apparent in the Arctic, where melting permafrost is now venting almost one gigatonne of carbon annually.** There are signs that a tipping point has been reached, which is manifesting itself in the form of runaway environmental degradation. Nature's ecosystems are changing at a speed and scale rarely witnessed in Earth's history. This is also adding to food shortages, with crop yields falling by up to one third in some regions* and prices of some crops more than doubling.* There are devastating impacts on the world's poor.
The urban population, which stood at 3.5 billion in 2010, has now surged to almost 5 billion. Resource scarcity, economic and political factors, energy costs and mounting environmental issues are forcing people into ever more concentrated and high-density urban areas. Many cities are merging to form vast sprawling metropolises with hundreds of millions of people. In some nations, those living in urban areas make up over 90% of the population.*
By 2030, urban areas occupy an additional 463,000 sq mi (741,000 sq km) globally, relative to 2012. This is equivalent to more than 20,000 new football fields being added to the global urban area every day for the first three decades of the 21st century. Almost $30 trillion has been spent during the last two decades on transportation, utilities and other infrastructure projects. Some of the most substantial growth has been in China, which boasts an urban population approaching one billion and has spent $100 billion annually just on its own projects. Much of the Chinese coastline has been transformed into what is essentially a giant urban corridor.
Global forecasts of urban expansion to 2030. Credit: Boston University's Department of Geography and Environment
All of this expansion is having a major impact on the surrounding environment. In addition to cities, new networks of road, rail and utilities have been built, crisscrossing the landscape and cutting through major wildlife zones.* What were previously protected areas are now opening up for resource exploitation and food production. Numerous species are reclassified as endangered during this period as a result of human encroachment, pollution and habitat destruction.
magnitude of these and other problems is leading to a rapid migration
from traditional fossil fuels to renewable energy. Advances in nanotechnology
have resulted in greatly improved solar power. In some countries, such as Japan, photovoltaic materials are being added to almost every new building.* Energy supplies in general
are becoming more localised and efficient. This transition is putting increasing strain on fossil fuel companies, since the proven reserves of oil, coal and natural gas far exceed the decided "safe" limit for what can be burned. Because most reserves had already been factored into the market value of these organisations, they now face the prospect of huge financial loss. In response, many companies are fighting tooth and nail against new energy regulation.*
issue which governments have to contend with during this time is the
aging population, which has seen a doubling of retired persons since
the year 2000. People are living longer, healthier lives. With state pension budgets under increasing strain, the overall effect is a decreased
income for senior citizens. Retirement ages are increasing:
in America, Asia and most European countries, many employees are forced
to work into their 70s. Stress
levels for the average citizen have continued to increase, as the world
adapts to these various crises.
"Smart grid" technology is widespread in developed nations
In prior decades, the disruptive effects of crude oil shocks,* alongside ever-increasing demands of a growing and industrialising population, were putting enormous strain on the world's power grids. Frequent blackouts occurred in the worst-hit regions, with consumers everywhere becoming more and more conscious of their energy use and taking measures to either monitor and/or cut back their consumption. This already precarious situation was exacerbated by the relatively ancient infrastructure in many countries. Much of the grid at the beginning of the 21st century was extremely old and inefficient, losing more than half of its available electricity during production, transmission and utilisation. A myriad of converging business, political, social and environmental issues forced governments and regulators to finally address this problem.
By 2030, integrated smart grids are becoming widespread in the developed world,** the main benefit of which is the optimal balancing of demand and production. Traditional power grids had previously relied on a just-in-time delivery system, where supply was manually adjusted constantly in order to match demand. Now, this problem is being eliminated due to a vast array of sensors and automated monitoring devices embedded throughout the grid. This approach had already emerged on a small scale, in the form of smart meters for individual homes and offices. By 2030, it is being scaled up to entire national grids.
Power plants now maintain constant, real-time communication with all residents and businesses. If capacity is ever strained, appliances instantly self-adjust to consume less power, even turning themselves off completely when idle and not in use. Since balancing demand and production is now achieved on a real-time, automatic basis within the grid itself, this greatly reduces the need for "peaker" plants as supplemental sources. In the event of any remaining gap, algorithms calculate the exact requirements and turn on extra generators automatically.
Computers also help adjust for and level out peaks and troughs in energy demand. Sensors in the grid can detect precisely when and where consumption is highest. Over time, production can be automatically shifted according to the predicted rise and fall in demand. Smart meters can then adjust for any discrepancies. Another benefit of this approach is allowing energy providers to raise the price of electricity during periods of high consumption, helping to flatten out peaks. This makes the grid more reliable overall, since it reduces the number of variables that need to be accounted for.
Yet another advantage of the smart grid is its capacity for bidirectional flow. In the past, power transmission could only be done in one direction. Today, a proliferation of local power generation, such as photovoltaic panels and fuel cells, means that energy production is much more decentralised. Smart grids now take into account homes and businesses which can add their own surplus electricity to the system, allowing energy to be transmitted in both directions through power lines.
This trend of redistribution and localisation is also making large-scale renewables more viable, since the grid is now adaptable to the intermittent power output of solar and wind. On top of this, smart grids are also designed with multiple full load-bearing transmission routes. This way, if a broken transmission line causes a blackout, sensors instantly locate the damaged area while electricity is rerouted to the affected area. Crews no longer need to investigate multiple transformers to isolate a problem, and blackouts are reduced as a result. This also prevents any kind of domino effect from setting off a rolling blackout.
Overall, this new "internet of energy" is far more sustainable, efficient and reliable. Energy costs are reduced, while paving the way to a post-carbon economy. Countries that quickly adapt smart grids are better protected from oil shocks, while greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by almost 20 per cent in some nations.* As the shift to clean energy continues, this situation will only improve, expanding to even larger scales. Regions begin merging their grids together on a country-to-country, and eventually continent-wide, basis.*
USA is declining as a world power
national debt, a declining manufacturing base, and an overstretched
military, all greatly weakened the US economy in the early 21st century. This caused long term damage to the country's standing.
Like all those before it, the American empire managed to overreach itself. Continued
industrialisation of China and India has led to substantial growth in
these and other Asian countries, with many millions being lifted out
of poverty. Shanghai has eclipsed Wall Street as the leading financial
these changes, the US still retains its super power status; but it is no longer the only country holding such influence.
majority of new vehicles are plug-in electric, or hybrids
availability of crude oil supplies has led to major economic disruption.* Transport is among the sectors most directly affected, with the cost
of travel becoming one of the most important issues in the world today.
of the recovery measures being enacted around the globe, a wholesale
transition to alternative energy is taking place. Alongside this, a
new generation of smaller and more efficient vehicles is emerging. The
majority of new cars are now plug-in electric or hybrids, with charging
points a common sight in towns and cities.
competition for this new market has produced a number of technological
advances. Lithium-ion batteries - the single most expensive car component
- have declined considerably in cost, as well as becoming lighter and
faster to recharge. Driving ranges have also been extended, making them
practical for long journeys.*
consumer flight to electric and hybrid vehicles has occurred at growth
rates comparable to the adoption of handheld cell phones.** They have proven especially popular in China, where the government has
made sweeping upgrades to transport and infrastructure.
the recent economic disruption, technology is continuing to accelerate
exponentially. By 2030, the pace of change is so great that it seems
as if an entire century of progress has already occurred in the first
three decades of the 21st century.* Scientific breakthroughs appear to be happening with startling frequency
now – especially in the fields of computing, nanotechnology, medicine
are becoming highly automated, with tremendous improvements in speed,
productivity and efficiency. Ever-increasing use of portable, wireless
devices has led to the evolution of near-paperless offices. Meanwhile,
the need for hyperfast exchange of information has created enormous
demand for video conferencing. This trend is reinforced by significant
reductions in air travel, due to both spiralling fuel costs and environmental
are downsizing their administrative departments and replacing them with
AI. This is particularly true of call centres and other service-based
roles, where customers often deal face-to-face with "virtual employees"
based on automated software. Crude versions of these had been utilised
as far back as the 1990s – activated by simple voice commands - but
many are now being presented onscreen as fully conversant entities.
lacking much in the way of personality, these sentient programs talk
with "perfect" voices which are pleasant on the ears.* They have a multitude of menu options and can usually deal with almost
any query – however specific or unusual – thanks to their advanced voice
and facial recognition software, in combination with powerful
increases, these virtual employees become a powerful marketing tool
in the bid to provide the best possible customer service. In addition
to mainstream companies, the adult entertainment industry gains a huge
advantage from them, with enormous demand for their services. Research
and development into artificial intelligence (and related hardware/software)
increases greatly during this period. An added benefit of interacting
with these virtual people is the elimination of caller queuing, since
there is no need for physical staff anymore.
Depression is the number one global disease burden
When measured by years of life lost, depression has now overtaken heart disease to become the leading global disease burden.* This includes both years lived in a state of poor health and years lost due to premature death. Principle causes of depression include debt worries, unemployment, crime, violence (especially family violence), war, environmental degradation and disasters. The on-going economic stagnation around the world is a major contributing factor. However, progress is being made with destigmatising mental illness.*
becomes the most populous country on Earth
this time, India overtakes China to become the most populous country
in the world. By the middle of this decade it will be home to over 1.5
billion people. The gap between these two countries will continue to
widen, with China's population actually declining from this point onwards.
of a climate change deal, foreign investment within India has enabled
the country to build more than a hundred gigawatts of solar power facilities:
enough to supply 200 million people with clean energy.* Together with its growth as a major IT centre, this has further improved
its social and economic standing. At the same time, however, the effects
of climate change are beginning to take hold. Droughts are posing serious
challenges to food and water production.
weather modeling is perfected
computing is now available which is a thousand times more powerful than computers of 2020 and a million
times more powerful than those of 2010. One field
seeing particular benefit during this time is meteorology. Weather forecasts
can be generated with 99% accuracy over a two week period.* Satellites can map wind and rain patterns in real time at phenomenal
resolution - from square kilometres in previous decades, down to square metres with today's technology. Global warming, climate modeling and sea level predictions can also be achieved with greater
detail than ever before, offering greater certainty about the long-term outlook for the planet.
Orbital space junk is becoming a major problem for space flight
Space junk - debris left in orbit from human activities - has been steadily building in low-Earth orbit for more than 70 years. It is made up of everything from spent rocket stages, to defunct satellites, to debris left over from accidental collisions. The size of space junk can reach up to several metres, but is most often miniscule particles such as metal shavings and paint flecks. Despite their small size, such pieces of debris often sustain speeds of over 17,000 mph - easily fast enough to deal significant damage to a spacecraft. Satellites, rockets and space stations, as well as astronauts conducting spacewalks, have all had to cope with the increasing damage caused by collisions with these particles.
One of the biggest issues with space junk is the fact that it grows exponentially. This trend, along with the increasing number of countries entering space, has made orbital collisions happen almost regularly in recent years. The newest space-faring nations have been particularly affected.
Events similar to the 2009 collision of the US Iridium and Russian Kosmos satellites have raised fears of the so-called Kessler Syndrome. This scenario is where space junk reaches a critical mass, triggering a chain reaction of collisions until virtually every satellite and man-made object in an orbital band has been reduced to debris. Such an event could destroy the global economy and render future space travel almost impossible.
By 2030, the amount of space junk in orbit has tripled, compared to 2011.* Countless millions of fragments can now be found at various levels of orbit. A new generation of shielding for spacecraft and rockets is being developed, along with tougher and more durable space suits for astronauts. This includes the use of "self-healing" nanotechnology materials, though expenses are too high to outfit everything.
Larger chunks of debris have also been impacting on Earth itself more frequently. Though most land in the ocean (since the planet's surface is 70% covered by water), a few crash on land, necessitating early warning systems for people in the affected areas.
Increased regulation has begun to mitigate the growth of space debris, while better shielding and repair technology has reduced the frequency of damage. Increased computing power and tracking systems are also helping to predict the path of debris and instruct spacecraft to avoid the most dangerous areas. Options to physically move debris are also now becoming feasible - including ground-based lasers that can push junk into decaying orbits so it burns up in the atmosphere. Despite this, space junk will remain an expensive problem for now. Real, permanent solutions will likely not be seen for a few more decades.
Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) reaches the Jovian system
Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) is a mission by the European Space Agency (ESA) to explore the Jovian system, focussing on the moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.* Launched in 2022, the craft goes through an Earth-Venus-Earth-Earth gravity assist, before finally arriving at Jupiter in early 2030. JUICE initially studies Jupiter's atmosphere and magnetosphere, gaining valuable insight into how the gas giant might have originally formed.
For its primary objective, the probe performs a series of flybys around some of the largest Galilean moons. Ganymede, Callisto and Europa are focussed on since all are believed to be home to subsurface liquid water oceans. JUICE records highly detailed images of Callisto (which has the most heavily cratered surface in the Solar System), while also taking the first complete measurements of Europa's icy crust and scanning for organic molecules that are essential to life.
In 2033, the probe enters orbit around Ganymede for the final phase of the mission. This detailed study includes:
Characterisation of the different ocean layers, and detection of sub-surface water reservoirs
Topographical, geological and compositional mapping of the surface
Confirmation of the physical properties within the icy crust
Characterisation of internal mass distribution
Investigation of the exosphere (a tenuous outer atmosphere)
Study of Ganymede's intrinsic magnetic field and its interactions with the Jovian magnetosphere
Determining the moon's potential to support life
This final stage of the mission provides a vast wealth of empirical data.* When combined with new information from Callisto and Europa, it generates an extremely detailed picture of the Galilean moons. JUICE also studies possible locations for future surface landings. Indeed, various plans are now underway to further explore the Jovian system, with mission capabilities being greatly enhanced by the Space Launch System and other vessels. This includes sample return missions and the first lander intended to drill down and explore the subsurface liquid oceans.*
Two possible models of Europa. Credit: NASA
A new generation of military helicopters
For many years, the helicopters used by the US Air force had been essentially anachronistic. Though continually upgraded with new technology, the underlying design of helicopters in the 2000s and 2010s was the same as it had been for decades.
In America's modern wars, helicopters primarily served in transport, reconnaissance and supply roles. This remains true today. However, the Air Force is now finally implementing a new fleet, taking over from the aging Blackhawk and Chinook.**
While aircraft are fielded from a variety of size classes, the most prominent additions are the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) rotorcraft and the Joint Heavy Lift (JHL) rotorcraft. The JMR rotorcraft is designed with a propulsion method similar to that of the V-22 Osprey of earlier decades. The tilt-rotor design allows for both vertical take-offs and forward thrust flight. It can sustain speeds of over 200mph, with a combat range of about 1,000 miles and maximum altitude of 6,000 feet.* Along with traditional combat operations, the JMR rotorcraft is used in a wide variety of roles including reconnaissance, search-and-rescue, medevac, transport, anti-submarine warfare and others. Production of the craft will continue throughout the 2030s, fully replacing the Black Hawk when it retires in 2038.
Joint Multi-Role (JMR) rotorcraft, circa 2030. Image courtesy of U.S. Army
Alongside the JMR rotorcraft is the Joint Heavy Lift (JHL) rotorcraft, a major addition to the fleet. Utilising a similar tilt-rotor design, it is capable of speeds up to 290mph (when the engines are in the horizontal turboprop position), with a range of 600 miles, and is able to carry a payload of 25 tons. This makes it a viable alternative for the airforce's C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft.
Joint Heavy Lift (JHL) rotorcraft, circa 2030. Image courtesy of U.S. Army
Both aircraft, along with the other models now entering service, are optionally-manned. The JMR in particular makes use of this – able to work in large, semi-autonomous squadrons. Onboard computers manage the data gathered from a myriad of sensors, keeping the aircraft in formation at safe distances while monitoring altitude and weather.
For combat roles, the JMR may still use human pilots, but remote control is becoming more popular. In less complex missions, such as for transport, general flight instructions are usually entered into the flight-computer, allowing for essentially autonomous flight. The same is true for the Joint Heavy Lift rotorcraft. Internal sensors monitor for even the slightest damage. Repairs are regularly made in flight, often with self-healing materials. Ground repair is usually done with robots, making human intervention largely unnecessary.
Hyper-fast crime scene analysis
Crime scene analysis and forensic science have become extraordinarily rapid and sophisticated, thanks to the convergence of a bewildering array of technologies. Investigations that might have taken hours, days or weeks in earlier decades can now be completed in a matter of seconds.
On-person technology has turned the average FBI agent into a walking laboratory. Advanced augmented reality and powerful AI, combined with ultra-fast broadband and cloud networks, allow crime scenes to be viewed in unprecedented new ways. Details can be picked out of surroundings simply by looking around. This may include biological evidence – such as blood, hair or fingerprints, footprints, tire tracks, and even particulates in the air. Massive online databases can be accessed in the field, to compare any relevant findings.* Facial recognition, combined with online criminal records, allows full instant profiles to be generated on a suspect through an officer's augmented field of vision. New AI programs can identify any suspicious behaviour or familiar faces.*
DNA scanning in particular has seen major breakthroughs in recent years. The rate of genome sequencing has grown so rapidly that the equivalent of the entire Human Genome Project can be performed almost instantly,** using special touch-sensitive gloves. Plant and animal DNA from millions of different species can also be identified in addition to that of humans. New algorithms have been introduced to analyse the vast amount of genomic data and pick out specific genomes.
Near-instant sequencing of genomes on industrial-sized machines had already begun to emerge in the latter half of the 2010s. However, there remained the problem of accuracy (machines still had error rates) and portability. Successive generations of nanotechnology gradually reduced the cost, time and equipment required.** By 2030, sequencing is available with negligible cost, very high accuracy, hand-held portability and vast online databases for comparing victim and suspect information in precise detail. When combing a crime scene, it is even possible to identify a face using DNA evidence alone.*
job titles of today
the new job titles becoming widespread in 2030 include the following.*
20 Various exponential trends can be seen here, clearly showing the phenomenal
rate of technological progress taking place. These charts are taken from The Singularity is Near, by Ray Kurzweil: http://singularity.com/charts/page17.html.
Accessed 22nd August 2009.