The Equilibrium State: The Future of Human Prosperity and Technological Change
In fifty years time humankind will undergo many significant changes as the various societies of the world attempt to carve out a piece of the pie for themselves. Developed nations will see their values tested and their prosperity challenged, developing nations will continue to grow, and underdeveloped nations will emerge as the underdogs of the world when they all eventually go through a short period of industrialization. During this time of transition, conflict will be rampant, but eventually technology and globalization will help bring things towards an equilibrium state.
Globalization and Societal Interdependence
Globalization, technological connectedness, societal interdependence, and population growth will eventually cause a "leveling of the playing field" for all of societies of the world in the future. For this to occur, the level of prosperity in the already developed nations will either need to stop increasing so rapidly or simply decrease from the current state. Because of the increasing interdependence of the world's nations it's only logical to assume that changes in one society will affect the others. Because developing nations represent the largest portion of our global population (Population Reference Bureau), I think that it's likely that both the level of and the rate of increase in prosperity for the already developed nations will decrease to a level that is comparable to theirs.
Just like many computer models have shown, as the different nations start blending together there will be a convergence of societal values and prosperity. Underdeveloped and developing nations will be uplifted and already developed nations will be slowed down or reduced. Eventually, when the world homogenizes, so too will the level of prosperity finally reach an equilibrium state across the globe. The resultant level of prosperity will be greater for most of the world but less for those already living in affluent societies. For a simple math analogy, think of this as a simply a creating a weighted average of everything among the melting pot of people in the world.
After the world has homogenized, the differential between the values of differing societies will be greatly reduced thereby helping to make sustainable prosperity and wellbeing a real possibility. What does this really mean? Well, in short, the western lifestyle enjoyed by so many Americans is simply not sustainable. If the entire world's population lived like us there simply wouldn't be enough land, food, water, etc to support it. We will either need to lower our standards or find new technology to at least allow us to maintain our current lifestyle. At this point the question becomes, can world leaders create a system of governance (at a global scale) that will allow this equilibrium state to continue or will they fail to recognize this opportunity?
Technological Change in the Future
Before an equilibrium state can be reached, the rate of technological change will likely have to be curtailed significantly. Although many technologies still have "a long way to go", the main problem here is that as the conflict in society increases, the ability for society to reach a consensus on where to make investments in future technologies decreases. Here is another way to think about it: if you have more choices of technology to invest in, more infrastructure to maintain your current level of technology, less resources to do it with, more population to support, and less of an ability to agree on anything than the result has to be a decrease in the rate technological progress. In my opinion that's really the only logical conclusion.
So it's really just a matter of time before the exponential growth of technology starts to slow down. You see, technological growth has been increasing by matter of a positive feedback loop for a very long time now. However, a negative feedback loop exists in the background (consisting of limitations such as resources and energy) and it will eventually strengthen and slow the growth down. When the rate of technological change reduces to a manageable level, developing and underdeveloped countries will finally have a chance to "catch up" to the nations who are already experiencing affluence. The result is an increasingly homogenized world which can then help lay the ground work for a true state of equilibrium.
Another point to ponder in regards to a slow down of technological progress is that world leaders may finally be able tackle the problems the directly undermine our ability to have a sustainable future. When the rate of change is manageable, government systems may actually have a chance to function in a timely fashion. As you have probably seen, government is very slow when it comes to resolving societal issues and even slower when it comes to resolving issues regarding our resources and the environment. Instead of focusing on regulating new technologies, perhaps this will open up opportunities to invest more in renewable energy sources and better food production techniques.
Humankind's Self Reflection
During the time of transition that exists before the equilibrium state is reached, a slowdown in technological change will allow us to look back at our past and ask ourselves how we arrived to today. Taking the time to evaluate our past decisions is really the key to understanding both the present and the upcoming future. Using the past as a guide, we can only hope that better decisions will be made regarding our resources, systems of governance, and utilization of technology. For if we want to have any chance of a long, prosperous, and sustainable future this is what we must do. It's never easy to perform an honest self assessment, but the results are well worth the effort that was required to do it.