Here's What the World Will Look Like in 2040

Humans will no longer be more intelligent than computers, but, believe it or not, the future looks bright.

Our world has changed so much over the last few months. Some changes are temporary, but others, like the rise of working from home, are here to stay. I can’t help wondering what our world will look like in 10 or 20 years. Not all changes can be predicted, obviously, but there are a few inevitable changes our world will undergo by 2040.

Our mental health will be better.

Facebook is the Marlboro of our generation. Their product is addictive, and Facebook makes its users unhappy. Just like the tobacco companies decades ago, Facebook knows how bad their product is for us. Instead of changing the product, they cover up the damage it causes. A recent report by the Wall Street Journal found that Facebook executives shut down efforts to make the site less divisive. A 2018 internal presentation warned that “Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness. If left unchecked,” Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.”

At the time, Facebook was already facing accusations of political bias against the right. Implementing changes to make the site less divisive would have disproportionately affected conservative users, because hyperactive users at risk of having their voices diminished by an algorithm change were often posting “racist, conspiracy-minded” content consumed by conservatives. Making Facebook less divisive would have meant silencing extremist voices, who, on Facebook, tend to be right-wing more often than left-wing.

Facebook decided not to police opinions or prevent conflict on the platform, which just so happens to increase engagement and make users spend more time on Facebook. They chose to do what was best for their bottom line. Zuckerberg reportedly “was losing interest in the effort to recalibrate the platform in the name of social good.” In other words, Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t care how much damage his platform causes to society and its users as long as they’re making as much money as possible.

We’re beginning to realize the damage that social media does to our mental health and our society, but little has been done about it yet. That will change in the future; the scales will swing back towards social media that exists to create good in the world rather than hatred and divisiveness. After all, Facebook and other platforms were originally used for good. Friends and family members were able to connect with each other. Social media platforms were used as tools to keep up with the lives of people we cared about. Then Facebook and other companies figured out that people spent more time on their platform if they were angry. A great deal of content on Facebook is a train wreck. Awful, but hard to look away. Users often argue about vaccines or conspiracies or things politicians have done or said. There is some, but not enough, love and compassion on social media.

Companies like Facebook will be regulated heavily in the future. We have no idea the amount of damage that Facebook has caused to not only individuals but society as a whole. Donald Trump is president because of Facebook. Even his supporters admit that Trump thrives on divisiveness and pushing the country further apart; only 10% of Americans said in a poll last year that race relations in the country have gotten better since Trump took office, and this was before the recent killings of persons of color took place. Both Trump and Facebook sow division and hatred to gain more money, power, and influence.

You don’t have to wait for Facebook to be regulated to eliminate the influence it has on your life (although you will have to wait for its influence on society to be eliminated, unfortunately). Like any other addiction, an addiction to social media can be overcome with the proper treatment. For some it may be as simple as limiting your time spent on social media platforms. Others may find they need to delete their accounts entirely and talk to a therapist.

In addition to escaping the stranglehold social media has on our mental health, the increased awareness and stigma-busting of mental health conditions along with more accessible mental health services will help make our collective mental health much better in the future.

Football won’t exist anymore.

The verdict is already out on football: it’s a dangerous sport. The disease caused by repeated blows to the head, chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, is and has wreaked havoc on current and former NFL players. We’ve seen especially disturbing behavior from former players over the past several years; Kellen Winslow Jr., former NFL tight end, has been convicted of raping an unconscious teenager and raping a homeless woman, and allegedly attempted to rape an 86-year-old woman in a senior community. His attorneys claim that he may have suffered over 1,000 blows to the head during his playing career, and that his brain injuries from football drove him to commit the sex crimes.

We’re all familiar with the story of another tight end, former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to prison in 2015 and was found dead in his cell in 2017, where it appeared he had hung himself with a bedsheet. After his death, his brain was analyzed (CTE can only be diagnosed after death) and examiners discovered one of the most severe cases of CTE ever found in a person of his age (he was 27 at the time of his death). His violent and erratic behavior is believed to be at least partially caused by the repeated blows to the head he took on the football field.

It’s impossible to prove whether or not certain behaviors and actions are attributable to CTE or not. Would Kellen Winslow Jr. have raped women if he never played football? Would Aaron Hernandez have murdered Odin Lloyd if his brain wasn’t traumatically injured from playing football? Specific actions cannot be attributed to CTE, but CTE does increase those types of behaviors. We also know that NFL players only live 53 to 59 years on average, depending on position. More and more parents are refusing to let their children play football because of the health risks, and who can blame them? What parents would want their children to suffer brain damage and die 20 to 25 years early?

The NFL has, in recent years, acknowledged the toll playing football can take on the brain and body. This comes after a long history of covering up links between football and CTE, even going so far as to intimidate scientists studying the link between pro football and traumatic brain injury. Changes have been made to make the game safer, like penalizing and ejecting players who initiate helmet-to-helmet contact with another player, but it won’t be enough. Players suffer repeated blows to the head just about every game. That’s just the nature of a sport where participants run at each other and tackle other players.

The money in football might keep the game afloat years or decades after we know the full scope of how unsafe it is. I admit that football is one of my favorite sports to watch, and I don’t want to see it disappear completely. However, the entertainment we get from the game is not worth shortening the lifespan of players by 20 or 30 years and, possibly worse than that, drastically decreasing the quality of life of players that develop CTE. I hope the NFL can figure out a way to play the sport safely, but if they can’t, football shouldn’t exist anymore.

Artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence.

No, I don’t mean that computers will be able to beat everyone at chess or Jeopardy. In 2040, artificial intelligence will be able to accomplish unimaginable tasks like writing books or performing surgery. Artificial intelligence won’t surpass all human intelligence, but (it?) will be able to perform a wide range of tasks better than humans.

Right now, we have artificial intelligence all around us that goes unnoticed. AI recommends products for us to buy, tells us how to drive our cars, sets the prices on Amazon, you name it. As computing power keeps increasing, AI will increase with it. Eventually, computers will be able to perform our jobs better than we can. We’re really close to having driverless cars and trucks, which means a huge segment of the workforce is already on the brink of being replaced. What happens when AI can perform surgery better than humans? It wouldn’t be ethical to continue treating patients with human doctors and surgeons when they would have a better chance of survival being treated by AI. It will be difficult to argue against our AI successors when they’re able to perform our jobs better and more efficiently than us.

Artificial intelligence will eventually surpass all human intelligence. Computers don’t have the same physical limitations as humans; our brains can only get so big, but the “brains” of AI will keep growing and growing, exponentially. This means that eventually computers will be smarter than us. What would this superintelligence look like? Every mystery of our world might be immediately solved. Vaccines will be created for diseases that don’t exist yet. Famine, aging, even natural disasters will become problems of the past. We can’t imagine an intelligence that much greater than ours. Superintelligent AI will be to human intelligence what human intelligence is to that of an ant, but far greater.

We won’t need to work anymore. We might continue working, either because we need a sense of purpose or because society would crumble if nobody had to work to survive (personally, I think society would do just fine without human labor). What happens when we are no longer needed? Do we have an innate desire to provide economic value to our fellow humans or will we be perfectly happy pursuing our hobbies and interests and spending time with our loved ones? I don’t know the answer to that. I believe I could be happy not working or producing anything of monetary value, but I take pride in what I do and it brings me enjoyment.

We’ll wonder how we ever drove cars.

People will still be driving cars in 2040, but self-driving cars will be widespread. We waste a significant amount of time and mental energy driving. It’s common for someone to spend multiple hours every week commuting to and from work. Let’s say you’re in the 10% of the U.S. population that lives an hour or more away from work. In addition to working 40 hours per week, you spend an additional 10 hours commuting. That’s just under 22 entire days every year spent commuting to and from work. Over a 40-year career, that’s over two full years spent commuting. Switching to a driverless car — or working from home — would essentially add two years to your life.

Time spent driving isn’t productive, and it usually isn’t enjoyable (unless you’re driving a nice car for pleasure). The transition to driverless cars will be a great human accomplishment and will add several years to our life expectancy. By 2040, some of us won’t know how we ever spent so much of our lives driving. Driving less, or never driving at all, will make us happier and healthier.

I like to imagine most of the changes to our world over the next couple decades will be positive. I truly believe we can harness the power of technology to bring people together and create a utopian society where everyone, no matter what race you are or what country you’re born in, has a great chance at happiness and fulfillment. It is all too easy to look at the world the way it is today and imagine a future of widespread poverty, despair, and hopelessness. Our world won’t be like this forever, and I think the future looks bright; Tupac said it best in “Me Against the World.”

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