Top 10 Predictions About the Future That Should Scare

The future looks bright, except when it doesn’t. Here are 10 exceptionally regrettable developments we can expect in the coming decades.

Listed in no particular order.

Robots will find it easy to manipulate us

Long before artificial intelligences become truly conscious or self-aware, they’ll be programmed by humans and corporations to seem that way. We’ll be tricked into thinking they have minds of their own, leaving us vulnerable to all manner of manipulation and persuasion. Such is the near future envisaged by futurist and sci-fi novelist David Brin. He refers to these insidious machine minds as HIERS, or Human-Interaction Empathetic Robots.

“Human empathy is both one of our paramount gifts and among our biggest weaknesses,” Brin told Gizmodo. “For at least a million years, we’ve developed skills at lie-detection…[but] no liars ever had the training that these new HIERS will get, learning via feedback from hundreds, then thousands, then millions of human exchanges around the world, adjusting their simulated voices and facial expressions and specific wordings, till the only folks able to resist will be sociopaths—and they have plenty of chinks in their armor, as well.”

Brin figures that some experts will be able to tell when they’re being manipulated by one of these bots, but “that will matter about as much as it does today, as millions of voters cast their ballots based on emotional cues, defying their own clear self-interest or reason.” Eventually, robots may guide and protect their gullible human partners, advising them when “to ignore the guilt-tripping scowl, the pitiable smile, the endearingly winsome gaze, the sob story or eager sales pitch—and, inevitably, the claims of sapient pain at being persecuted or oppressed for being a robot.”

The effects of climate change will be irreversible

Late last year, world leaders forged an agreement to limit human-caused global warming to two degrees Celsius. It’s a laudable goal, but we may have already passed a critical tipping point. The effects of climate change are going to be felt for hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years to come. And as we enter into the planet’s Sixth Mass Extinction, we run the risk of damaging critical ecosystems and radically diminishing the diversity of life on Earth.

Climate models show that even if carbon dioxide levels came to a sudden halt, the levels of this greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere will continue to warm our planet for hundreds of years. Our oceans will slowly release the CO2 it has been steadily absorbing, and our atmosphere may not return to pre-industrial levels for many centuries. As a recent assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated, “A large fraction of climate change is largely irreversible on human time scales.”

In The Bulletin, science writer Dawn Stover lists the ramifications:

The melting of snow and ice will expose darker patches of water and land that absorb more of the sun’s radiation, accelerating global warming and the retreat of ice sheets and glaciers. Scientists agree that the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet has already gone into an unstoppable decline. Currents that transport heat within the oceans will be disrupted. Ocean acidification will continue to rise, with unknown effects on marine life. Thawing permafrost and sea beds will release methane, a greenhouse gas. Droughts predicted to be the worst in 1,000 years will trigger vegetation changes and wildfires, releasing carbon. Species unable to adapt quickly to a changing climate will go extinct. Coastal communities will be submerged, creating a humanitarian crisis. CLICK TO CONTINUE READING