Predicting the future is always a tricky business. We've long been promised flying cars, jet packs and robot maids, only to be disappointed year after year when the technology fails to appear. In 1968, science fiction writer James R. Berry made his predictions for the year 2008 in the pages of "Mechanix Illustrated." Some of his forecasting was dead-on, including his prophesies of online shopping and home computing, while other guesses have yet to make an appearance, including a four-hour workday and automated doctor's visits [source: Berry].
Now it's time for HowStuffWorks.com to pick up James R. Berry's mantle and peer 40 years into our future. We'll leave the more serious predictions regarding climate change and overpopulation to others; in this article, let's examine how we'll have fun in the future. Will we still like to tilt back a cold one at our neighborhood pub? Will we still be shaking what our mommas gave us in dance clubs? Or will we partake in simpler pursuits, like knitting and woodworking? While the staff here at HowStuffWorks.com hopes that reading this site is always a part of your future fun, let's take a look at five other ways we might entertain ourselves in 2050.
While you may have hoped for some futuristic gossip in this article, you'll be very familiar with one activity: bird watching. In 1997, Newsweek published a list of outdoor activities and their expected rate of growth by 2050, and bird watching far outpaced the rest. In fact, back then, bird watching was estimated to grow faster than the projected population of the United States, with a growth rate of about 58 percent [source: Newsweek]. By 2050, there may be as many as 127.8 million birders [source: Jaleshgari].
When bird enthusiasts spot a new find in the future, it will be a pretty big deal. That's because by 2050, the existence of about 400 to 900 species of land birds will be threatened thanks to climate change and habitat destruction [source: Schultz]. So if you relish in the excitement of a rare find, then you have lots of exciting opportunities to await you.
If you consider bird watching to be too much of a fuddy-duddy hobby, consider the fact that the population will be fairly elderly in 2050; in fact, seniors will make up a quarter of all Americans [source: Johnson]. There's a large number of baby boomers, and they're aging during a time in which we're discovering life-elongating technologies every day. With more years to fill, it may be time now to invest in a good pair of binoculars.
It's hard to imagine a time when friends and family won't meet up for a bite to eat, so of course we're including dining out on our list. However, don't plan on heading to a local steakhouse or burger joint. Because of factors including land use, population and water supply, the American diet will undergo some changes by 2050. We'll be eating a lot more grains and beans and a lot less meat and dairy. We'll still eat our veggies, of course, but we won't have the wide array to choose from that we enjoy today. Futurists estimate that about 15 percent of our diet will be from animal products, and the rest will be from plants; the United States as a whole may have to stop exporting food by 2025 [source: New York Times].
If a juicy burger isn't an option, where will those animal products come from? One possibility is that we'll eat more fish, but we certainly won't be eating the tuna and cod that we're accustomed to. According to reports published in the journal Science in 2006, commercial fish stocks could be completely decimated by 2050 because of overfishing and pollution [source: Pearce]. Our fishing throws aquatic ecosystems off balance in irreparable ways; for example, by fishing for tuna, marlin and swordfish, we eliminate the major predators of jellyfish. As a result, jellyfish numbers are increasing rapidly, which may mean that we'll have to develop a taste for jellyfish sushi. Jellyfish have been eaten for thousands of years in Asian countries, but its taste may require some getting used to -- one biology professor described it as "tough strips of cucumber" [source: Williams]. One slightly more palatable option we might have in 2050 is squid, which unfortunately are very high in cholesterol.
It's difficult to even comprehend all the ways we might interact with robots by 2050. It's possible that robots will be conducting routine surgeries or piloting our airplanes. They could be conducting search and rescue missions or fighting in wars. One researcher even predicts that by 2050, we could be having sex with and marrying robots [source: Choi].
But when it comes to having fun either now or in 2050, you'd be hard pressed to find a better way to spend a Saturday or Sunday than outside in the beautiful sun, enjoying a sporting event. What might change by 2050, though, is who's playing. Roboticists predict that by 2050, they will have developed autonomous robots that will be able to beat the best soccer players in the world [source: Peterson]. That's right, by 2050, we could see Robots vs. Humans in the contest for the World Cup. Now that will fill some bars and basements!
These robots won't just be wired with the steps for winning a soccer game. Rather, roboticists are working now to train robots how to play soccer by using human models. The robots are presented with data that shows how humans respond to a series of soccer plays, so that when the robot is presented with the same setups, they have choices in how to respond. These robots will be able to perceive the play and act accordingly. If you want a glimpse of the future, check out the RoboCup games, in which researchers test out their current "players" and share information with one another. So far, there are no robotic concession workers for these events.
Currently, many of us spend our spare time using social media like Twitter and blogs, mediums that allow us to type up a quick message to let our friends know what we're doing. However, writing and reading those messages may not be how we communicate with our pals in the future. In fact, we may not read or write at all, a future that many dying newspapers are already confronting.
Futurist William Crossman believes that spoken language will replace written communication in the coming years, meaning that we won't need to teach children how to read and write, but rather how to use computers and think creatively [source: Naisbitt]. Crossman envisions a world in which we all use voice-in, voice-out (VIVO) computers. Everything we need to communicate will be handled by these machines. Rather than writing our memoirs, for example, we'd sit down in front of a webcam and tell our story. As the recent rise of reality television and YouTube superstars bears out, there are many people who would happily sit and watch a complete stranger spin a tale.
Crossman's future means that vast swaths of the population will be illiterate, but should those people need to read something, their computer could scan and read it to them. In some ways, this may make communication more democratic, and with the explosion in populations that are predicted, it may even be necessary. Computers would have instantaneous translation services, making it easier for an urban resident to connect with a rural resident a world away.
Your flat-screen television may represent the epitome of entertainment right now, but by 2050, it will seem hopelessly outdated. In 2050, we'll likely demand that our entertainment not be contained by the screen -- we'll want to interact with it via virtual reality. Imagine playing a video game about World War II: You and your friends will have the option of hopping off the couch and storming the beaches of Normandy with everybody else. With this technology, your children will be able to interact with their favorite fuzzy friends by inviting them into the living room to dance around.
Entertainment won't be the only way we'll use virtual technology, however. Likely, we'll be able to meet up with friends and family around the world thanks to hologram technology. Let's say you have a business meeting with colleagues from New York, Seattle and Beijing -- all of you can meet up in one office to discuss the matter at hand. Long-distance relationships will become a little more manageable because of virtual visits, and all of your pals can show up to your destination wedding, no matter where they live.
For more on things that keep us happy, see the links on the next page.
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- "A Forecast for 2050: Scarcities Will Force a Leaner U.S. Diet." New York Times. Feb. 18, 1995. (April 9, 2009) http://www.nytimes.com/1995/02/18/us/a-forecast-for-2050-scarcities-will-force-a-leaner-us-diet.html?scp=9&sq=2050&st=cse
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