The following essay was submitted by Wes Grooms from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as part of the Future of Technology Scholarship competition.
As the year 2040 dawns, the human race has recently been able to free itself of the need for people to “pay” for their survival through work. This progress in societal structure has been made possible through the advancement of technology. By 2040, technology has reached a level where most “work” previously done by humans in “jobs” is now completed by advanced machines and computers. For example, the construction industry has been almost completely replaced by 3D printing technology. Information-based “work” is often conducted at home, either solely, or through collaborative efforts online through live-streaming conferences or shared documents.
Because so little human contribution to production and work-like activities is now required, the public realized humanity could devote itself to important tasks and pursuits of interest previously relegated to evenings and weekends in the past. These range from having, and thus being able to take, the time to regularly separate and recycle what little waste hasn’t found new uses through technological innovation to most members of society participating in traditional and on-line classes in subject areas of their desire to learn (rather than the previously oft-pursued “practical” courses).
Imagine a day in the life of a household in the United States in 2040. The residents of this household have recently moved in to this home. The structure, a typical bungalow style often seen in the Midwest, was originally built in 1924. It has recently undergone a complete renovation, however, and now makes use of the latest and greatest in technology.
The exterior of the home is covered in new concrete-based siding coated with paint that contains micro solar chip particles. All the windows are coated with invisible film that collects solar rays to make power. The roof shingles are also mini solar panels, so virtually the entire outside surface of the house harnesses the power of the sun to make energy. There are also two small wind turbines on the roof that contribute to power generation for the home.
The HVAC system is a geothermal-powered system that is supplemented by the power generated by the exterior solar and wind generators. The home’s computer has learned the environmental comfort preferences of the household members and automatically adjusts each separately-zoned room based on their location (tracking them using the location of their personal digital device patch (smart phones long ago disappeared!) These digital patches are thin clear adhesive patches placed on the forehead
A new feature in kitchens that has been installed in this home is an under-counter chute into which food waste is tossed. The food waste travels through the wall in the chute and is deposited into a bio-digester. Lawn clippings are tossed into this device from the outside. All this organic waste is converted to energy, with the left over material being high-grade compost ready for use in the garden. The elimination of organic matter from landfills, which this technology was primarily designed for, will eliminate pollutants that are considered to be the most damaging to the atmosphere. Homes that are able to produce all the energy they need for two years without subsidy from the power grid have begun to be disconnected from it. It is thought by many that the power grid will be modified to allow power to be better distributed between communities and countries to smooth out energy availability on a global basis.
Fossil-fueled vehicles haven’t disappeared from the roads yet, but they are quickly being turned in for recycling into smaller electric vehicles (again, painted with solar paint) because, without the need of the masses to report to work every day, traffic patterns have changed. This has caused many to realize they don’t need larger, more “comfortable” cars, and the notion of a car as a status symbol has died along with the need to work for a living. People are becoming more interested in what people do to enjoy themselves and improve themselves, both of which are easier to pursue because there aren’t the barriers of lack of time and/or funds any longer. Smaller, electric cars are the wiser choice now because more people are making trips throughout the day to school, or local natural habitats, or museums (and the like). It’s too soon to know how traffic patterns will change, but experts seem to think that highways will be able to be reduced (in terms of number of lanes) because more people will opt to travel long distances by bus or train (since they will have smaller cars that are better suited to their local daily lives).
Work that requires physical labor and in-person meetings is spread out evenly throughout the community, prioritized first by people volunteering (through an online work needs database) to do the things they are interested/skilled in doing, and then through equal distribution for jobs that don’t have sufficient volunteers. This has required broad training in some specializations but this change has been well received by the public because it is based on need and conducted fairly and equally.
On a global scale, because the economic power of work has been dismantled, cooperation on helping humans thrive, rather than businesses, is the new norm. A primary example of this is the building of large solar and wind farms where the conditions are best and distributing the power equally to a global power grid. Advancements on technologies just being discovered in 2014, such as using saliva for electricity, have been perfected. This has allowed personal electronic devices, such as electric toothbrushes, razors, and the like to be made available across the globe because electrical lines and outlets are no longer required to operate them. Hygiene is improving exponentially across the globe because of this development.
Technology in 2040 has begun to deliver to all of humanity the chance to thrive, rather than just survive.