Predictions for the 22nd Century

(for those who missed out on both the C-SPAN TV program and its significance)

On April 12, 2017 at the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado, three scientists prognosticated on the world of the 22nd century.  Portions of the conference were broadcast on C-SPAN with the following predictions made by Michelle Thaller (NASA), Seth Shostak (SETI Institute) and David Grinspoon (Planetary Science Institute).

Michelle Thaller, Ph.D.

NASA Science Communications Deputy Director

Dr. Thaller is an American astronomer and research scientist. Thaller is the assistant director for Science Communication at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.  Dr. Thaller chose to predict breakthrough events in science and culture over the next 50 years, instead of the next 100 years as predictions that far out, she felt, are seldom realized.

  • On astrobiology: Thaller says that there will be a “revolution” in the discovery of extraterrestrial-originated life. Thaller acknowledged that NASA’s principle mission is the search for microbial life, not intelligent life.  She is very optimistic about NASA finding microbial life on Mars and the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.  She suggests that something like “pond scum” will be discovered on Aurora, one of Jupiter’s 69 moons [although not specifically mentioned by Thaller, Enceladus, is the likely moon of Saturn].  Carbon-rich meteors will be found to be the sources of life on planets.

Europa [1]

  • On global climate change: Thaller expresses concern over the loss of 200 billion tons on ice per year from Greenland alone. Also, although Antarctica was largely stable until about five years ago, she emphasized that it also is losing about 200 billion tons of ice each year as well.  She says, “We can’t stop the ice caps from shrinking.”  Pacific islanders are now moving to New Zealand since their ancestral islands will be under water 100 years from now.  Thaller also questioned how this will affect a multitude of other climate refugees around the world and how new treaties will have to be created to deal with rising ocean levels.
  • On technology: fossil fueled-aircraft have a huge carbon footprint. Thaller says that we should question how “green” is green energy. One hundred years from now we will be weaned away from fossil fuels and instead will be using virtual reality (VR) to replace much of our travel for both business and human interaction.  She says NASA routinely uses Microsoft VR to view various locations on Mars in high definition.

Virtual reality will supplement world travel [2]

  • On social changes: In the next 10 years differences in gender and race will no longer play a significant part in the determination of who will be part of top management as it is now at NASA and elsewhere.

Seth Shostak, Ph.D.

Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute

Dr. Shostak is an American astronomer at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute and former Director of Center for SETI Research when it was a separate department. Shostak is the author of Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

On the subject of the 22nd century, Shostak says that humanity will be transformed and life then will be very different than today.

  • On climate change: Shostak claims that climate change is a short term problem and says that 1950s London was a case in point.  During that time air quality was poor and unhealthy, public buildings were stained with fallout from air pollution caused by coal dust.  The city ended the use of coal and the air quality improved.  The same will happen with climate change. “Things are happening in this century that will transform humanity.  This is a special century [the 21stcentury]. Climate change is solvable. When climate change gets bad, things will [eventually] get better.”
  • On space colonization: In the 22ndcentury we will have colonies on the Moon and Mars. There will be massive space cities in orbit around Earth to assure the continuity of human life.  “In space, you will make your own environment — no mosquitos and no snakes!”  Bases on other planets and in space will assure that humanity will survive in the event of meteor impacts or warfare.

Space colonies in orbit [3]

  • On understanding biology: Shostak says that biology is complicated as it’s a bottoms-up system based on mutation, natural selection and survival of the fittest.  By better understanding biology we will cure diseases.  We will no longer have sex to procreate. Instead, we will have “designer babies” and have the ability to select skin and eye color, intelligence and physical prowess.
  • On SETI: Shostak says that the SETI Institute is looking for life in space too, but it’s, “Life that you see in the movies — the ones with big eyeballs, no hair, no clothes, gray skin and no sense of humor.” We will discover the existence of extraterrestrial life during the next 20 years.  It will be intelligent life, not just “pond scum.”
  • On future engineering design:, Shostak says that the world has been designed from the “bottom up.”  Biology is “bottoms up,” since it started with microbial life and evolved to what we are today.  Small changes here and there over the millennia created the plants and life forms that we have now.  “It’s complicated, it’s messy and it doesn’t work.  Cars on the other hand are designed from the “top down.”  You design whatever it is that you want.” That will be the way it is in the 22nd century.

David Grinspoon, Ph.D.

Astrobiologist, Planetary Science Institute

Dr. Grinspoon was the former inaugural Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology for 2012-2013.  Grinspoon is the author of A Brief History of the Future and Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet’s Future.

Grinspoon emphasized that we are now living during the “best time” in history.  This is due to lower infant mortality, decreasing extreme poverty, lower fertility rates and higher education.  But we are also facing the “Great Acceleration.”  We are at the intersection of both positive and negative human influences on our planet.  Although there is an explosion of human knowledge about the Earth, there is also global climate change, increasing carbon dioxide, the damming of rivers and increasing extinction rates.  And everything is increasing at greater rates of acceleration. 

Grinspoon says that the reason why we are not proficient in forecasting the future is that, “We extrapolate current trends and that is why we’re always wrong.” He, not unreasonably, says that we are only good at our predictions for the short term.  “Nobody can predict the future, but we can give you some insight as to how to think about the future.”  He says that in the 20thcentury, we missed forecasting communication satellites, the Internet, the end of the Cold War — what he calls the “game changers.” Today, he says that we see our major issues —such as the prospect of nuclear war, climate change and extreme poverty — as intractable.  He says, “Things that seem intractable can change.”  He sees that major changes toward the end of the 21stcentury will be due to the explosion of knowledge about how we affect the Earth.

Here are his predictions for the 22nd century:

  • On world population: Our exploding world population will stabilize and start to reduce by the end of the 21st century due to education. Women will have a full range of choice and as a result world population will stabilize.
  • On energy: there will be unexpected breakthroughs in energy generation. By the 22nd century, “We’ll be off of fossil fuels.” We’ll need energy breakthroughs and quickly.  The problem, he says, is, “How do we get there?  There are technical solutions and there will be energy breakthroughs.”  The only thing is, “How quickly can we make that adjustment and how much pain and suffering we will have to endure.”  Grinspoon goes on to say that, “If we do this wrong, the 21st century will be as bad as the 20th. We need to make the transition in our energy systems quickly and if so it will be much less pain and suffering.  I’m optimistic that we can accelerate that change and avoid the worst case scenarios.”

Will ZPE be the “energy breakthrough”? [4]

  • On SETI: By the 22nd century, intelligent extraterrestrial life will be discovered.
  • On artificial intelligence: Grinspoon simply said that the impact of artificial intelligence on our planet will have been transformative by the 22nd century.

AI industrial scene from I, Robot. [5]


1. Courtesy of Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,



4. King, Moray B., Quest for Zero Point Energy: Engineering Principles for “Free Energy,” Adventures Unlimited Press, 2001. ZPE is the abbreviation of zero point energy. ZPE is an energy field that is diffused throughout every part of the Universe (as we know it).  Capturing the ZPE field would provide nearly cost-free electrical energy.  Scientific definition: zero point energy is the lowest possible energy that a quantum mechanical physical system may have and is the energy of the ground state (i.e., at absolute zero degrees).  The concept was first proposed in 1913 by Albert Einstein and Otto Stern.

5. Scene from I, Robot, courtesy of 20th Century Fox and Davis Entertainment, 2004.

© T L Keller 2019

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