I began this missive on October 21, 2015, though due to a coalescence of circumstances related to my upcoming four-day horseback ride into the mountains and the La Estancia de Cafayate Owners’ Event, which is currently hitting the high notes, it took me ten days to complete.
October 21, 2015, has dual significance. First, it was my birthday, which I spent in the small mountain town of Molinos, Argentina, with a group of friends from La Estancia.
Over the years, I have become a big fan of the mountains outside of Cafayate and travel there fairly regularly. The Hotel Molinos, run by friend and Cabalgata partner Nico Cossio, sits pretty much at the epicenter of the area, allowing for a reasonably quick drive to Donald Hess’s amazing bodega at Colome, to Bill Bonner’s country-sized estancia at Gualfin, and to the scenic mountain towns of Seclantas and Cachi.
As is now tradition, we enjoyed a leisurely dinner of cerdo bondiola—a shoulder of pork marinated in beer and honey—accompanied by an ample supply of the region’s excellent wines whilst sitting under the big tree in the hotel courtyard.
More relevant to this posting, October 21, 2015, was also the date to which Marty McFly traveled through time from 1985 in Back to the Future, Part II.
While the movie itself is nowhere near as good as the first in the series, it is worth a skim if for no other reason to see how some of the best and brightest in Hollywood, including Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, visualized how things would turn out today, thirty years later.
With Iggy Pop’s rendition of Candy reverberating through the head set, we set the clock on our virtual DeLorean and set off…
The Future Is Here
There are quite a few things the BTTF2 crew got right about the future, including:
Glasses with a telephone function and a data feed, a nearly direct hit on Google Glass.
Flat-screen televisions, which are in use here, there, and everywhere in the film.
They also have drones, though the primary use in their future is for news coverage.
Two-way video and social media. In one scene, the characters converse on a two-way screen (Skype, FaceTime) and the other person’s preferences in everything from food to movies run across the screen as a caption (Facebook).
Portable electronics. Marty McFly is asked to sign a petition on something that looks exactly like an iPad. In another scene, Dr. Brown uses a super-thin camera to take a photo.
Media multi-tasking. Marty, Jr., watches ten channels at the same time on a large screen, a less organized analog to the screen surfing that dominates pretty much every waking moment of the Millennial generation.
As one would expect when trying to anticipate the world 30 years in the future, the producers also struck out on almost too many points to recount. Some examples:
The quality of the flat screens. Simply, the images were terrible, with lots of interference and “waves.”
Biomechanically supplemented humans. The antagonist, Biff, wears a fragile-looking exoskeleton that gives him great strength. While certainly in the works, this sort of technology is a long way from being used in the general public.
Flying cars. As I don’t need to tell you, flying cars—like Jetpacks, the perennial futuristic favorite—remain a fantasy. Interestingly, rather than purpose-built flying cars, Spielberg’s cars of the future were regular cars—including open jeeps—retrofitted to take to the air. I will concede that this decision could have been made based on budgetary considerations… though the old Beetle in the background on this shot does suggest a certain lack of imagination.
Hoverboards. In a case of reality chasing art, people are working on hoverboards, but those are still years away, and something with the seamless anti-gravity characteristics shown in BTTF2 may never become real.
The widespread use of fax machines. In one scene, we see that thirty years of progress resulted in a more stylish version of the fax machine tacked to the wall for handy access. Of course, this is something of a disconnect considering the direct electronic dissemination of information suggested by the Google Glass-type devices. For the record, the appearance of the Internet as we know it occurred within just a few months of the release of BTTF2.
A litany of other things… Self-walking dog leashes, the survival of laser disc technology, self-sizing clothes and shoes, etc., etc. Didn’t happen.
Thirty Years from Now
Which brings me to the objective of today’s posting. Namely, to try and anticipate where the world will be thirty years hence, on October 21, 2045.
While I am no futurist, I like to think I keep up with the big trends, many of which should continue steamrolling old technologies and outdated processes, paving the way for the future, to stick with the metaphor.
With that rather lengthy warm-up, I shall now leap forward with my take on the world of tomorrow.
Prediction #1: The World Will Only Get Better
Of all the trends in motion, none is more surprising—and welcome—than the steady improvement in the human condition. Rather than trotting out all sorts of data in support, I will take the lazy man’s route by quoting from a recent interview with Marian Tupy, libertarian economist and founder of the excellent site, HumanProgress.org, a site you should bookmark and share with everyone on your contact list.
Q. What's a salient data point that, when you originally created the site (HumanProgress.org), you found particularly surprising?
There are a couple of data sets that had to do with life over a very, very long time. So for example, in 1980 50% of humanity lived in absolute poverty. At the end of this year, in 2015, only 35 years later, less than 5% of percent of human beings will live in absolute poverty [of less than $1.90 a day], in spite of the fact that the world’s population has exploded between 1980 and 2015.
In other words, over the last 35 years we have added billions of people, and yet poverty as a percentage of humanity has dropped from 50% to less than 10%. So that gives you a sense of how rapid, how extraordinary this dramatic decline in poverty has been. But then you also think, okay, but what happened before 1980? And you look at GDP per capita from "year one" to 2010, and what you find is that, before the 1800's, almost nothing ever changes. Life expectancy, GDP per capita, it all stays the same, pretty much. For 10,000 years, human beings’ life expectancy was around 25 years, and GDP per capita in year one, at the time of Jesus or Caesar or whomever, is about $3 a day.
So humanity has these incredibly short and poor lives, and then something happens at the beginning of the 19th century, and everything changes. That was the Industrial Revolution. Today, life expectancy is 71 years, globally. In the United States it’s 80 years, and in Japan it’s 88 years. GDP per capita in the West and in the United States has increased 15-fold; around the world it has increased 10-fold. So it is these long data sets that sort of jump at me, and made me realize how incredibly recent prosperity is.
While there will, of course, be setbacks along the way—for example, Canada’s election of a leftist prime minister—the global trend is for the socialists to break economies, then be replaced by governments offering more rational economic policies.
No example is more relevant than that of China, a country that embraced freer markets (though not yet completely free) with Deng’s 1978 reforms… and by doing so triggered what is unquestionably the largest increase in wealth and prosperity in any country ever.
As bad economics are gradually chased out by the only economic model ever proven to work, that based on free markets and free trade, I expect the world to flourish. Leading to my next prediction…
Prediction #2: Poverty as We Know It Will Be All But Eliminated.
Of course, there will always be pockets of desperation—most likely in the Middle East and in North Korea, where rotund dictator Kim Dim Sum will continue to torment the populace, but overall poverty as we know it will be a thing of the past, much the same way leprosy largely is today.
For all intents and purposes, poverty has already been eliminated in the United States and the major industrialized economies where even the statistically “poor” don’t skip any meals nor have to face their daily travails without the soothing sounds of drivel emanating from flat-screen televisions.
Are there bad neighborhoods? Obviously. But speaking purely in economic terms, other than the ever present exceptions – a rounding error in a nation of 320 million people - the poor in America have roofs over their heads, clothes on their backs, food on the table, and pretty much the latest in handheld electronics, video games, the aforementioned flat-screen televisions, etc. This trend will continue worldwide, and in time, even the bad neighborhoods will transition to something far more livable.
One of the reasons for the improvement in the quality of life is that, despite all the arm waving about the population explosion and peak resources, the price mechanism of supply and demand shows us that the cost of everyday stuff has been flat or even dropped over the last 30 years.
To understand the point, consider that in 1977 a gallon of gasoline would have set you back 59 cents. In constant (inflation-adjusted) dollars, that amounts to $2.27 a gallon today.
Yet, pull up to the average gas pump in the United States today and you’ll find gas is selling for just $2.19, meaning the price of gas has actually fallen over the past 30 years, clearly refuting the notion that we human ants are at risk of overrunning available natural resources. Oh, and gas taxes are much higher today than in 1977, so the true market price of gasoline is even lower.
And that’s not an anomaly. The good folks at HumanProgress.org have also measured the cost of things in terms of the number of hours the average person has to work in order to secure them. Their findings put a dent in the widely circulated claims that middle-class purchasing power is on the wane. A sampling of the price trends of some common items.
No question about it, dangle some personal advantage in front of our noses and we humans will rise to any challenge, fixing, changing, inventing, and reinventing whatever needs improving to deliver a better world at a lower cost.
Of course, there is a class of human parasites that are content to spend long days in La-Z-Boy chairs waiting for the world to improve around them, but the corpus of productive humanity is robust enough to drag the bloodsuckers in our wake.
On the topic of ingenuity and all that, I move on to my next prediction.
Prediction #3: Moore’s Law Is Dead, Long Live Quantum Computing.
Few of the trends in motion over the last 50 years have had a bigger impact than the exponential increase in computational power commonly referred to as Moore’s Law (but more correctly described as Moore’s observation).
I refer, of course, to an observation made in a 1965 paper by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit would double approximately every 18 months and continue to do so for at least a decade.
As we denizens of Moore’s future now know, Moore grossly underestimated human ingenuity as the doubling continued for far longer than originally anticipated.
Interestingly, over the last couple of years we have seen signs that Moore’s Law is reaching its limit as the amount of time it takes to double computational power is now longer than 18 months. It is expected to continue to lengthen as the last frontiers of miniaturization and the Second Law of Thermodynamics conspire to bring Moore’s Law to an end.
That’s the bad news, because it’s been a hell of a ride. The good news is that 30 years from today, computational power based on quantum physics will have long grown powerful enough to replicate and then hugely surpass the capabilities of the human mind.
This, of course, is not an original thought, but one that futurists such as Ray Kurzweil have been fantasizing about for decades.
While some worry about the era of the smart machines, I have faith that the human rat is far too clever to give total control over to the machines. Instead, we’ll ride them like Army mules into a better and brighter future.
I am not going to get granular with my predictions, because envisioning how the continued exponential increase in computational power will be applied to everyday life would require too many brain cells, but if you think iPhones and Apple Watches are cool, just wait until we start wiring quantum computers straight into our cerebral cortexes.
While many of us find the marriage of humankind to their favorite brand of handheld supercomputer to be annoying—especially when trying to have a conversation over dinner with a tech addict—there’s no question the miniaturization of computers has massively altered society and will continue to do so. For example, whereas people used to have to study long hours to memorize trivia such as state capitals or the names of the seven seas, this information is now instantly available.
Capital of South Dakota? Pierre.
Seven seas? Adriatic Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, Caspian Sea, Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Red Sea.
What’s the difference between a sea and an ocean? Click, click, and we learn that:
“Seas are smaller than oceans and are usually located where the land and ocean meet.”
The point is that, in 2045, no one will have to learn anything—it will be instantly downloaded directly into our brains. I have no idea what the implications of that entirely plausible reality will be, but it’s coming. In fact, the beta versions are already here.
Prediction #4: We’ll All Be Living a Lot Longer.
As referenced above, at the beginning of the 19th century, human life spans were about a third of what they are today. This particular trend is just getting started.
Some years back, famous life-extension scientist Aubrey de Grey spoke at one of the Eris Society gatherings Doug Casey used to put on. Aubrey’s key theme was that as soon as the thought leaders in technology turned their attention to life extension—or, more importantly, health extension—then the equivalent of Moore’s Law would take place, rapidly extending our productive lives well into the three figures.
Well, those days are here, with deep-pocketed, uber-intelligent individuals such as Peter Thiel fully committed to life extension.
Again, thinking the implications through is tiring work, but here are a few ideas.
- People will remain in the workforce a lot longer. Which is a great thing because the current trend is for a population implosion, with societies the world over now experiencing flat to negative birth rates. Of course, that requires a shrinking work force to carry water for rapidly aging populations.
This trend is both irreversible and unsustainable.
Which is to say that, absent a solution to the world’s aging population, things are going to hit a wall made of high taxes on the few remaining workers and the soaring medical costs of an aging population with no interest in shedding their mortal coils.
- Robotics and other labor-saving tools will take over many of the basic repetitive tasks we now must deal with. Here in Argentina, domestic help is still imminently affordable, eliminating the need to perform mundane tasks such as washing clothes, doing dishes, changing beds, etc.—all at a cost of roughly $500 a month. In the US and other first-world economies, the same service would cost you many multiples of that number, and you’d have to walk gingerly around the help lest you get sued for some ginned-up infraction.
Yet, as we age, dealing with the mundane is going to grow less and less appealing, and so someone will invent things like the Presto Dish 2020 allowing you to drop your dirty plates into a device that uses heat to deconstruct them and everything on them, then spit out reconstructed sparkling new plates of your own design.
And, of course, the driverless car will not just move quickly into popular use, but by 2045 non-automated cars will have been outlawed outside of car shows.
Think of it in terms of today’s modern-day airliners where the pilots take off, set the planes on autopilot, and then basically slack off until it comes time to land. Could you imagine autopilots didn’t exist and pilots had to take turns muscling the controls for a 10-hour international flight? Not only would flying planes be a lot more difficult, but it would be much less safe due to the constant involvement of humans with all their many frailties.
Still, at this point, the paradigm is for us humans to physically manipulate our cars through all manners of hazards to run even the simplest of errands that driverless cars will be able to handle far more efficiently and safely. So, it’s coming… and I for one can’t wait.
- The concept of money will change. We all know money, or at least good money, is that which stores value and serves as a ready medium of exchange. But in a world where people live to be 150 or more, the preservation of value is going to be increasingly difficult.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see money evolve into some combination of the Fed’s current policy of money creation and bitcoin, at least loosely based on national resources. Of course, bitcoin is essentially a ledger system. Therefore, all of your earnings could instantly be deposited in your BitWealth account linked to the central bank. The same central bank, in turn, would be able to boost or retract WealthBits from your account based on certain economic metrics.
And, of course, given that we are talking about the prevalence of quantum computers in the future, the central bank will be a supercomputer running real-time analysis using extensively back-tested models allowing for real-time and therefore non-dramatic policy shifts of the sort so disruptive to personal and corporate investment plans.
Because everyone’s BitWealth accounts are affected together, like the tides, no one is overly worried when the number of WealthBits in their accounts is adjusted up or down, because the underlying value would remain the same. Of course, cash will have long been made illegal, allowing close to 100% efficiency in tax collection, resulting in taxes stabilizing at a lower and optimal number.
Of course, this is just armchair quarterbacking, and I am sure my many hard-money oriented friends will be rethinking their Sendero affiliation at this point. However, while I certainly see gold playing an important role as the world heads toward a crash in the global dollar system, I can’t see it ever regaining its role as a medium of daily exchange.
- There will be a lot of money made in biotech. This is a sector that has only recently caught my attention as an investment. That’s because it is one of the more complex sectors to analyze, especially when trying to pick a winner from among the many start-ups pushing through the laborious and extremely expensive FDA approval process.
In fact, uncovering a winner is analogous to finding a winning junior resource exploration company because neither has financial metrics of the sort that allows for simple evaluation. For starters, in many cases there is no “E” in their P/Es, just a lot of money flowing out the door as management reaches for the elusive golden ring.
In other words, the odds of a company discovering a patentable breakthrough medicine and having it prove out is as much of a long shot as a couple of geologists stumbling across a multimillion-ounce gold deposit. Rare as hen’s teeth.
In addition, as you can see from the chart just below, the sector experienced a big run up before getting knocked about the ears earlier this year and settling into a more normal range.
Even so, given the advancements on the computational front, biotech companies are increasingly well armed in their quest for health-span-extending drugs and apparatuses. Therefore, rather than starting with a thesis and laboriously applying the scientific method over and over until the “Eureka!” moment, company scientists can now utilize high-powered computers and genetic models to run millions of simulations over the course of a long lunch. In the future, by the time coffee is served, they’ll have a good idea whether the thesis has merit and if not, move on.
The bottom line is that, as investors, taking the time to get familiar with the sector is likely going to pay off—and maybe pay off very well as the future unfolds.
What else? Oh, yeah…
Prediction #5: Government Will Take a Backseat to Technology
As will be the case with the central banks, the arrival of quantum computers that not only think but know (using regression models that access the full spectrum of digital information the world is now accumulating) what rules and regulations, tax policies, and so forth should be deployed for an optimized societal outcome. To wit, policies that all but eliminate the interference of meddlesome legislators and their invariably counterproductive laws.
General McDuff approaches UberQuant 2035 Computer and telepathically enters the question: “Should the United States invade Iraq for the tenth time?”
UberQuant 2035 blinks a couple of times, then responds, “No. Now piss off.”
Pushed for more detail, the computer could transmit a comprehensive analysis taking into account every possible geopolitical, financial, and societal consideration with the most likely case scenarios spelled out in block letters so even a moron couldn’t fail to understand.
While this may sound a bit far-fetched, keep in mind we are talking about 30 years in a future that has been supercharged by a continuation of exponential increases in computational power. There is no question in my mind that, in the future, the point will arrive where politicians and their functionaries will be forced by public approbation to utilize the latest tools in their decision-making.
I could, of course, go on and on. Because, after all, the world is a big place and the future is a large canvas. Will drones be commonplace? Of course. Will solar take a role as a leading source of baseload energy? Probably. Will wars be fought by machines versus humans? Almost certainly. Will the world suffer some devastating terrorist hacks on critical infrastructure between now and 2045? No question.
But in the end, I am a firm believer that the world of 2045 is going to be significantly better than the world we now live in.
Given that this October 21, 2015, I turned 62 years old and given my view of health extension, I fully expect to be able to celebrate my 92nd birthday in 2045 with a round of golf (riding in my hovercart, of course) and a fine glass of wine made in my personal portable wine-making machine.
As for all the trouble and strife in today’s world, don’t worry about it. It’s just a normal transitional period. Or, as the old saying goes, “This, too, will pass”.
As I did last year, I’m going to be speaking at CYCLE 15 next month. CYCLE is an annual seminar organized by friend and former colleague Louis “Lobo” James that helps students of all ages apply the principles of liberty and entrepreneurship in the real world. David Friedman, Rick Rule, Doug Casey and others will be participating as well. The dates for the online conference are November 23 - 29.
Click the link here and you’ll be instantly teleported to a page with all the info. Check it out and if you like what you see, tell your friends and family.
Until next time, I hope the trails you choose into the future lead you to amazing places.