This is an extension of our earlier set of Predictions for 2050.
Assistive Technology Meets in the Middle
Early hearing aids sucked. Your options were pretty much limited to asking people to shout, or using one of those giant ear trumpets. The first major advancement seems to have been smaller ear trumpets, shaped like seashells and worn on a headband:
Digital hearing aids started appearing in the 1980s, though you still had to wear a big transistor strapped to your chest. But things slowly got better and better with behind-the-ear devices and eventually in-canal hearing aids.
One of our family members wears hearing aids full-time, and modern hearing aids, while still expensive, are pretty impressive. They’re almost invisible, and they sit deep in the ear — you can use them to boost or block out certain frequencies, and if you turn them down, they essentially function as earplugs. They have bluetooth, so you can listen to music or have your phone calls go straight to your ears. They’re basically just a slightly fancier kind of earbud.
Apple introduced AirPods in 2016. While they are still cheaper than a high-quality pair of hearing aids, that won’t last forever. Eventually these two devices will meet in the middle, and it won’t take until 2050.
This is an especially clear case, but the same thing will happen with lots of assistive technology. Inventions that are meant to restore our senses or abilities will begin to surpass them, and then everyone will benefit from using them, not just people with disabilities. It will happen with hearing aids first, but it’s easy to imagine a world where AR glasses become better than unassisted eyesight, or robotic leg braces end up better than your knees. You can already buy basic assistive exoskeletons for about $900, it’s coming.
Medical Science Realizes that Women are People too
More women’s health problems will be solved, and this will lead to greater understanding of how the human body works in general, since women and men are basically the same except for small differences in the amounts/ratios of their hormones. An obvious example is the role of hormones in thermoregulation — women usually feel colder than men, despite having slightly higher core temperatures and slightly more body fat, and hot flashes are the stereotypical side effect of menopause. This seems kind of weird but everyone just takes it for granted.
(For what it’s worth, men have hormonal cycles too, which are if anything even less well understood.)
Certainly this covers anything about menopause and hormonal rhythms, but women are also more likely to have IBS, arthritis, and celiac disease, and twice as likely to have migraines. About 2/3 of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. Figuring out why women are more likely to have these diseases will help us treat everyone more effectively, and lead to medical breakthroughs.
Everything Will be on Video
For a long time no one really knew what a tsunami looked like. They strike rarely and without warning, so there isn’t much time for you to send your local landscape painter or a camera crew to the scene. They don’t tend to leave a ton of eyewitnesses — if you’re close enough to get a good look at what’s happening, you’re probably dead. So for a long time, most people imagined a huge cresting wave like the ones you see at a surfing beach, just ten or a hundred times bigger.
But it turns out they were wrong. We’ll let XKCD describe:
The real picture is slightly more complicated (Randall goes into more detail here) but in general he’s right. Do a google image search for “tsunami” and you’ll see a lot of photoshopped images of giant cresting waves rising up above major cities.
But video from the 2004 tsunami showed that a tsunami isn’t a wave at all — the water level just goes up 20 feet all at once, which is really really bad all on its own. Since then, every major tsunami has been captured on video. And why not? Even in the developing world, nearly everyone has a video camera in their pocket at all times.
Giant squid have long been monsters of legend, but the whole 20th century came and went without anyone photographing a giant squid alive. All this changed in (also) 2004, when a Japanese team managed to capture a photograph of a giant squid using a lure. Not long after that, we had video — first on the surface in 2006, and then in its natural habitat in 2012.
The 2020 Beirut explosion caught everyone by surprise. But there were still multiple videos and images available immediately, within minutes, to anyone on twitter:
You probably heard about the recent volcanic eruption near Tonga. Like Beirut, we immediately had multiple videos within hours. Unlike Beirut, some of these were satellite videos. Partially we point this out to say, you can see this shit from space. But partially we want to emphasize that even satellite video now ends up on twitter and reddit in a matter of hours, if not minutes.
This is the world we’re living in. Almost everyone has a video camera in their pocket at all times. This isn’t entirely true in the developing world, but it’s getting more true there all the time. And when the event is something that can’t be captured on your cellphone, like a volcanic eruption visible from space, the footage will make its way to twitter in a few minutes anyways.
From here on out, anything interesting will be captured on video, and usually that video will be publicly available. When we were looking into the leanest and fattest cities in the US, and learned about the explosion at the Chemtool lithium grease factory in Rockton, IL, we were able to find not one but several videos of the explosion publicly available on the internet. We didn’t even have to look that hard.
“Never seen anything like this” is right, and that’s the byword of the next several decades. This will probably be humdrum by 2050, but between now and then there will be a lot of firsts. Like the first (decent) video of a tsunami in 2004, and the first video of a giant squid in 2006, there will soon be the first video of Halley’s Comet, maybe the first video of an asteroid impact, and of course the first video of the Loch Ness Monster.
So unless we have a total civilizational collapse, from now on expect that all important historical events will be captured on video. By 2050, expect them all from multiple angles, in glaring HD. If Napoleon is brought back to life through the power of cloning, and marches across Europe in 2034, expect to be able to count the pores on his nose in the newsreel footage.