From a million-foot level, what are the biggest problems we have to worry about over the next four or five decades? For no real reason, I thought I'd toss out my short list. Here it is:
- Climate change. Needs no explanation, I assume.
- Robots. Explanation here. Even Paul Krugman is tentatively on board now.
- Immortality. Laugh if you want, but it's hardly impossible that sometime in the medium-term future we'll see biomedical breakthroughs that make humans extremely long-lived. What happens then? Who gets the magic treatments? How do we support a population that grows forever? How does an economy of immortals work, anyway?
- Bioweapons. We don't talk about this a whole lot these days, but it's still possible—maybe even likely—that extraordinarily lethal viruses will be fairly easily manufacturable within a couple of decades. If this happens before we figure out how to make extraordinarily effective vaccines and antidotes, this could spell trouble in ways obvious enough to need no explanation.
- Energy. All the robots in the world won't do any good if we don't have enough energy to keep them running. And fossil fuels will run out eventually, fracking or not. However, I put this one fifth out of five because we already have pretty good technology for renewable energy, and it's mainly an engineering problem to build it out on a mass scale. Plus you never know. Fusion might become a reality someday.
These are the kinds of things that make the solvency of the Social Security trust fund look pretty puny. They also make it clear why it's not worth worrying too much about whether it's solvent 75 years from now. We might all be rich beyond our most fervid imaginations; we might be in the middle of massive die-offs thanks to spiraling global temperatures; or we might all be dead. Kinda hard to say.