Anti-virus and cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab has released an esoteric collaborative art project that sets its sights on what the world will be like in 2050. Artists, futurists and scientists have been asked to contribute their predictions on life in their cities 33 years in the future, and they've been mapped onto a rotating globe for visitors to explore.
I've gotta tell ya, it's not the prettiest picture. But let's highlight a few of the utopic, dystopic and plain wacky visions from the 2050.Earth project.
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The New Siberia
One of the big beneficiaries of climate change is the icy expanse of Siberia, which in 2050 has become an agricultural powerhouse. Every year, as the temperature rises, the northern border of farmable land moves some 7 km higher. Things are going great – if you can deal with frequent devastating floods and huge methane explosions.
There's no need for school buildings any more; kids just sit wherever they happen to be and switch on a holographic communication system that puts their teacher in front of them, and them in front of their teacher. Apparently, though, kids have worked out how to draw horns and mustaches on their holo-teachers, and figured out how to hack the system to appear online and attentive when they're actually out fishin' and playing hooky, which to me is proof they're already educated and prepared for the world they're going to live in.
Heart disease eliminated
One user believes we'll have an ultra-thin sensor membrane implanted onto and around our hearts, which constantly monitors biorhythmic data and pings our family doctors when any signs of heart disease start showing up, so we can intervene early and get cardiovascular disease off the top of our mortality charts.
Reforesting the globe
Thanks to the global rejection of paper in favor of electronic media, global forests have sprung back to nearly pre-industrial levels, and the air is cleaner than it has been in living memory. Presumably, people have stopped using vast swathes of felled forest land to farm cattle as well, then?
Techno-toilets put the Japanese to shame
Forget your heated seats and auto-bidets. The toilets of tomorrow are miniature laboratories that provide real-time turd analysis to let you know when you need a doctor. Not only that, there's UV lamps under the rim, constantly sterilizing your work.
Never wash your socks again
Chinese engineers have created a titanium dioxide coating with self-cleaning, bacteria-killing properties. Your socks never get stinky, and any stain will disappear if you hold them up in the sunlight. Added benefit: since they never go in the washing machine, you never lose one of a pair.
Spaces in the home or office no longer need to be permanent. At the touch of a button, all the bedroom gear can be whisked away into an unseen compartment, and a yoga studio rolled out. Or a kitchen. Or a living room. In this way, a six-room home can be accomplished in much less space, if you don't mind everyone always being in the same room together.
Everything is listening
Electronic, connected assistants are everywhere – all around your home, for example, with robot maids in the kitchen and laundry. Then there's your self-driving car, which also serves as an entertainment portal and meeting space. They're all voice activated, so they're all listening 24/7 – and several users believe a lot of nefarious activities will revolve around the repurposing of this audio/visual information. From auto-crime reporting to espionage and aggressive advertising, it seems it'll be hard to find a place where you can speak in confidence.
Everything is hackable
A number of contributors see a new kind of blackmail emerging. You're rolling along in your self-driving car, and an anonymous voice pops up telling you to pay 10 grand or he's gonna run you into a tree at speed. Your chameleon clothing, which lets you change outfits at the touch of a button, can be hacked into by nefarious operators, who might threaten you with public nudity or racist slogans if you don't pay up. With connected devices doing so much for us, the potential for dastardly interference is massive.
EMP guns are the new AK-47
By 2050, goes the reasoning, we will rely so much on connected machines that switching them off will cause massive disruption and chaos. Heck, we're already almost at that stage. Enter the hand held electro-magnetic pulse gun, which causes catastrophic shutdowns of everything from moving self-driving vehicles and aircraft, to cybernetic limbs, to electronic communications and just about everything else without a pulse. Terrorists will have a field day.
Microchips for all!
One user sees the often divisive issue of migrants being used as a wedge to achieve mass microchipping of citizens, which track movement and assist immigration control and law enforcement. He envisions it leading to a black market where thieves and scoundrels dig into your flesh to steal your identity chip, but frankly just the privacy implications look bad enough from here.
Robosexuality kills human relationships
Why put up with the inconvenience, aggravation and difficulty of a human relationship when a sexy-fine robot can simply make your life easier and more fun than a human can? Sex, companionship, personal growth, sex, sex and sex – the robots do it all better in 2050, to the point where the global birth rate is plummeting. Actually, is that really a bad thing? Hard to say. Another user thinks the nuclear family will simply cease to exist, and society will move much more toward single living, single housing, single seat transport as our interactions with others become increasingly digital, and the border between real human interactions and artificial intelligence becomes very hazy.
One fellow is hoping for the ultimate in custom wardrobing. Choose a design, step into a tube, lift your arms and wait as the clothes are sprayed directly onto your body for perfect fit and comfort. One dearly hopes obesity has been eliminated before this machine is made available to the masses.
In a good sense, this idea enables us to quietly, gently dismantle the infrastructure of past ages without making noise or heaps of dust. Robots apply a solution containing metal-eating bacteria to any structure that needs to be eaten away, and it happens within a week or two. Of course, you wouldn't want that bacteria to find a way to spread and eat the rest of our sweet, tasty metal, because that would be very inconvenient.
Bear with us here. One of the Kaspersky team's own ideas is to invent a new digital sensory organ that's superior to sight and sound. Initially rolled out to blind and deaf folk, it will interface with digital systems as well as relaying information about the physical world around us directly to the brain. And it'll do so well that the rest of us will want it built in, too. And here's where things get fun – the team says once our interface with the world is all digital, "progressive" types can mess with their state of perception in all kinds of ways, merely through software. These "digital drugs" will be harmless, easy to custom tailor, and can be switched off immediately if you're having a bad e-trip.
The domeless umbrella
Umbrellas are ungainly. They turn inside out on windy days and poke people in the eyes. Hardly an elegant solution for a civilized age. The people of 2050, according to one user, will simply need to carry a motorized stick, which will blow air upwards so hard that the rain simply won't be able to reach you. This solution is not recommended for people with expensive hairdos.
Adult amusement parks
… and then there's this. One Amsterdam contributor thinks we'll be living in such a surveillance society that there will be a call for "antisocial spaces" – recreational areas where you can say or do whatever the damn hell you want without it being recorded and coming back to bite you somehow. My favorite part of this suggestion is his list of fantasy activities: "people can be drunk, enter public transport wearing dirty clothes, throw trash on the ground, use obscene expressions and even drink port wine in the playground." I've got good news for this guy, we can do all those things right now using current technology!
Naturally, all these ideas are very much pie-in-the-sky thinking. Many of them are common themes, and others are terrible executions of misgiven concepts. But there's food for thought if you're a fan of futurism, and this kind of resource will make a wonderful time capsule for 33 years' time, when we can look back and see just how far wrong we got it.
Hell, if you've got any better ideas, you can contribute them yourself. The site has a voting system to help promote the best ideas. Get in and have a look around!
More information: 2050.earthView gallery - 6 images