Barry McNamara  |  Published June 26, 2023

Life in 2100, Part I

What might life be like as the next century begins? Monmouth professors discuss the topic, again.

AN ACCURATE DEPICTION? And if not, what WILL life look in 2100? Five Monmouth College professors ... AN ACCURATE DEPICTION? And if not, what WILL life look in 2100? Five Monmouth College professors recently discussed the issue.“The purpose of this book is to help start the debate that will determine
how this century unfolds.” – Michio Kaku, author of the 2011 book
Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Everybody can make predictions about the future. The fun part is waiting a few months, or years, or even decades, and then checking back on those statements to see if the predictors really knew what they were talking about it.

For example, consider this all-time blooper from 1889: Charles H. Duell, commissioner of the United States Patent Office, was widely quoted as stating, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Oops.

In his 2011 book, Kaku made some very bold claims, but he did so by digging far deeper into his subject matter than Duell apparently did. Physics of the Future was based on interviews with more than 300 top scientists.

Eleven years ago, I interviewed five scientists – Monmouth professors Ken Cramer, Chris Fasano, James Godde, Ashwani Kumar and Logan Mayfield – to see what they thought of some of Kaku’s predictions.

Recently, I sat down with four of those same science professors – Cramer, Fasano, Godde and Mayfield – as well as newcomer Michael Solontoi to see what progress has been made in the past 11 years and if life in 2100 has come into any type of sharper focus. It’s not as far away as one would think; a freshman on Monmouth’s campus today will be in their mid-90s (perhaps the new mid-70s?) when the next century begins.

Picture that the year is 1823, and how dramatically the world would change by 1900. Or it’s 1923, and although automobiles and airplanes were present by then, flying to the moon or surfing the internet was not on many people’s radar.

It’s certainly difficult to pin down what might transpire over the course of the better part of a century. Picture that the year is 1823, and how dramatically the world would change by 1900. Or it’s 1923, and although automobiles and airplanes were present by then, flying to the moon or surfing the internet was not on many people’s radar. Heck, radar itself wasn’t invented until 1935.

So it seems a safe bet that scientific knowledge will continue to grow leaps and bounds through 2100 and beyond. The Monmouth professors were asked what might be possible as that knowledge grows and, importantly, what the ramifications of some of the future developments will be.

Applying ethics to technology

When he was interviewed for this article, Fasano had just returned from the 2023 leadership meeting of the American Physical Society. The physics professor, who serves as secretary for the Prairie Section of the APS, was quoted in the prior “Life in 2100” article as saying “Theoretical physicists are my people, but they will say almost anything.”

What Fasano had to say on the topic of the future, essentially, is that yes, there will assuredly be many scientific developments over the course of the remainder of the 21st century, but they’ll come with a caveat.

“Technology isn’t done in a vacuum. It doesn’t exist that way. There are real risks, troublesome risks, that accompany it. For us at Monmouth College, it’s an opportunity in the way we teach STEM.” Chris Fasano

“Technology isn’t done in a vacuum,” he said. “It doesn’t exist that way. There are real risks, troublesome risks, that accompany it. For us at Monmouth College, it’s an opportunity in the way we teach STEM.”

Fasano pointed to several examples, including micro-machines being injected into our bodies that he spoke about 11 years ago, as well as quantum computing, which could potentially solve problems that are too complex for classical computing.

“There’s a huge amount of money being put into progress with quantum computing,” he said. “It’s unclear how far they’ve gotten. But there are all types of implications – commercial, industrial, proprietary. The stakes are very high. It changes everything if one exists. It introduces some very exciting possibilities, but it also introduces some very dangerous possibilities.”

Some of those exciting possibilities, said Fasano, are developments in weather forecasting, drug development and even traffic control. The dangers, he said, include invasion of personal privacy, such as cracking the cryptography of your credit cards.

“Who gets access to it? What are the restrictions? And who decides that?” Fasano asked. “Quantum computing is very exciting. It’s important to remember that technology is neither good nor evil. It’s what we’re going to do with it that makes it one or the other. And that’s why it’s incredibly important to have a liberal arts education – to be able to see the big picture and make decisions that will take a broad view of the factors into consideration.”

“ChatGPT is in the news right now, and it’s a perfect example of the possibilities and the dangers that come with new technology. It enables things you couldn’t do before, but it doesn’t mean we should be doing those things we couldn’t do before.” Chris Fasano

On a related note is artificial intelligence (which Mayfield discusses in depth in the final installment of this series).

“ChatGPT is in the news right now, and it’s a perfect example of the possibilities and the dangers that come with new technology,” said Fasano. “It enables things you couldn’t do before, but it doesn’t mean we should be doing those things we couldn’t do before.”

For example, the new AI can write software, but also malware. It could transform the workplace but, potentially, do so in ways that take away many human jobs.

COVID and our health

Although several movies have addressed the topic of widespread viruses or plagues, Fasano pointed out, “Eleven years ago, we didn’t see COVID coming.”

One of the many questions the pandemic raised, he said, was “‘How do we fairly distribute technology? Who gets treated and who doesn’t? Who do we spend time on to protect?’ COVID showed that we have some serious flaws when it comes to those types of ethical questions.”

Micro-machines are another example.

“‘How do we fairly distribute technology? Who gets treated and who doesn’t? Who do we spend time on to protect?’ COVID showed that we have some serious flaws when it comes to those types of ethical questions.” Chris Fasano

“We will have micro-machines available to us, but we’ll have to answer, ‘What are the ethical implications of injecting these machines into people?’” said Fasano. “These are hard questions, and we’ll have to think hard about it. The technology is coming along nicely. But when should we do it? As the technology develops, it becomes more real. It’s not science-fiction anymore.”

When Kaku envisioned life in 2100, cancer was no longer an issue, as society would have access to daily body scans that would detect the presence of the disease in its absolute infancy. Developing a “cure” wouldn’t be necessary, as cancer could simply be nipped in the bud, time and again.

“Cancer is pretty complicated,” said Fasaon. “It’s probably not a single disease. So while more diagnostic information anytime is always better, I don’t know how long it will take to get to that point. And it produces more ethical concerns. Let’s say it shows you have a predisposition to cancer. Then what? Can your insurance company require a particular type of prevention, and they won’t cover you in the future if you don’t do it? So it becomes what do you do with the information you can act on? And what do you not do? It’s not a technology problem, per se. It’s much harder than a technology problem.”

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