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predictions

1) Intelligent life (as we would recognize it) is remarkably prevalent throughout the universe. All the necessary building blocks are there, and we have no reason to believe that our solar system is particularly special. Intelligent life elsewhere closely resembles us and our mammalian cousins. That isn't to say there aren't variations -- just look at all the various "early versions" of humanity -- but the end results are probably similar. Silicon-based life is improbable, as silicon is incompatible with all that we understand about cell respiration. There are no doubt other kinds of complex, massively interconnected systems -- some having emergent properties we aren't advanced enough to understand as intelligence -- but that is a different matter entirely. Star Trek-style "first contact" scenarios are probably vanishingly rare: the distances are too great, and in order to cross them, a civilization would have to reach a stage of advancement that necessitates having been around for a really, really, really long time. The odds of this happening are very low -- and I'm not just talking about wars and pollution and stuff; I'm talking about shit like asteroid strikes and non-anthropogenic climate change. Still, it's possible....

2) Kim Jong Il will die, and the border between North Korea and China will become increasingly permeable. This will happen long before any sort of re-unification with the South. I'm tempted to think that the N. Korea / S. Korea situation will eventually cool down into a US/Cuba-style long-term stalemate, but it's possible that the DMZ will go away within a few decades, since the two Koreas are populated by essentially the same people.

3) Iran will eventually get the bomb, but it won't really change much. All they want is a bigger slice of the pie, and they will inevitably get it.

3) Israel will ultimately absorb the West Bank and make the Palestinians equal citizens, forming a peaceful, bi-national state. Unfortunately, it will take many generations to reach this point, and it certainly won't happen within my lifetime. No predictions about Gaza. Maybe it will become some kind of Middle-Eastern Luxembourg?

4) Prop 19 (legalized marijuana) will pass next month, and probably by a significant margin. Pretty much the only people who will care enough to vote on it will be in favor. Ironically, I don't think the opposition is terribly motivated at this point in history.

5) Something better than Facebook will come along. Probably something decentralized, on the order of Diaspora. But I think a few things need to happen first. For example, your "server" won't be an actual server, it won't be running on a computer, and it won't require any sort of sysadmin knowledge. It will probably live on your cellphone.

6) The US political culture will continue to be annoying, consumerist, capricious, easily-manipulated, and essentially stagnant -- at least for the next couple of decades. The only thing that will affect positive change will be deprivation and desperation. This isn't as bleak as it sounds; tough times sometimes have a way of making people more practical. Barack Obama was a step in the right direction -- I really liked what he said during the election, and I think a lot of people did. Unfortunately, things need to get a lot worse before people are ready to accept actual change. But I'm hopeful for my generation, and I think we'll be a lot more practical than our parents' generation. In the near-term, the major advances of the Baby Boom generation will continue -- womens' empowerment, gay empowerment, ethnic minority empowerment -- but we won't actually address the widening gap between rich and poor until my generation is in power. Turns out our parents weren't that different from their parents after all. The rampant Islamaphobia in the US will eventually dissipate once we begin to see more Muslim (or Muslim-descended) celebrities. This is only a matter of time; the US is, by nature, pluralistic : it is our major strength.

7) New movements in popular culture will originate in the developing world, as computer and telecommunications technology continue to get cheaper. These movements will then be appropriated by mash-up artists in places like the US and UK, which is probably how you will hear about them. Do not underestimate mash-up culture : it is (and will be) my generation's greatest contribution to culture.

8) Internet radio is still in its infancy, and will be the primary vector for the spread of new music. Expect some new music service that's a cross between Pandora and Facebook. I feel like it's been tried, but hasn't succeeded yet because of some necessary, missing element.

9) Collaborative filtering will get better. It's already pretty good. Expect to see it in places you would never expect to see it -- art? decorating? fashion? Pandora and Netflix are the very tip of the iceberg. Lots of interesting problems to solve here.

10) Detroit will become the city of the future. Urban farming will make it the first US city to provide for all of it's own food needs. Hipsters will move there en masse and throw awesome loft parties. You'll wish you lived there, but it will be too late : you will have already put down roots in places like NYC, SF, Portland, or Austin. Sorry 'bout your bad luck.

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June 2011

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