Saturday, May 22, 2010

12 Events That Will Change Everything

In addition to reacting to news as it breaks, we work to anticipate what will happen. Here we contemplate 12 possibilities and rate their likelihood of happening by 2050.

By Charles Q. Choi, George Musser, John Matson, Philip Yam, David Biello, Michael Moyer, Larry Greenemeier, Katherine Harmon and Robin Lloyd Scientific American, June 2010 issue

Key Concepts

  • Several events, both natural and man-made, can happen suddenly and at any time, completely transforming societies.
  • Many of these events will not unfold the way popular conceptions have imagined they will.
The best science transforms our conception of the universe and our place in it and helps us to understand and cope with changes beyond our control. Relativity, natural selection, germ theory, heliocentrism and other explanations of natural phenomena have remade our intellectual and cultural landscapes. The same holds true for inventions as diverse as the Internet, formal logic, agriculture and the wheel.

What dramatic new events are in store for humanity? Here we contemplate 12 possibilities and rate their likelihood of happening by 2050. Some will no doubt bring to mind long-standing dystopian visions: extinction-causing asteroid collisions, war-waging intelligent machines, Frankenstein’s monster. Yet the best thinking today suggests that many events will not unfold as expected. In fact, a scenario could be seen as sobering and disappointing to one person and curious and uplifting to another. One thing is certain: they all have the power to forever reshape how we think about ourselves and how we live our lives...