by Matt Chessen
March 16, 2017

from BackChannel Website


meat eating,

and fossil fuels

will all one day be





I often wonder what people in the future will find barbaric about my life.


We tend to look back on our ancestors with a mix of amusement and disgust: amusement that those poor fools managed to survive without things like toilets, electricity, and selfies; disgust that their lives were filled with things we find vile.


But are we any better?


Humans have always done things that were considered normal at the time, that now seem horrific. People kept human beings as property. Doctors bled clients to release evil humors and treat medical conditions.


Lobotomies were thought to cure mental illness. Urban dwellers flushed sewage and industrial pollution into their drinking water, then swam and fished in their own poop. Eventually it got so bad that our rivers were catching on fire. Violent and deadly wars were far more common.


The list is long and frightening. History was a nasty place to live. The present is much, much nicer.


Yet the future will be even better, and our descendants will scorn us for our backwardness.


I've rounded up some candidates for the things that are most likely to cause future folk to shudder.





Slaughtering animals for their meat


In the future, we will breed or genetically engineer animals for the tastiest cuts of flesh.


But we won't kill and eat them. Our offspring would find that brutal and disgusting. Instead, we will take tiny samples of their delicious bodies and use them to grow large amounts of tasty artificial meat in industrial labs.


Aside from the humanitarian aspects of not killing and eating animals, cultured meat will be good for the environment. Animals like cattle and pigs don't efficiently morph into food.


Growing feed, transporting it, and managing animal waste comes with significant environmental costs - not to mention that cow farts contribute to global warming.



Spencer Weiner

Getty Images



This technology is nearer than you think.


Only a few years ago, meat cultured in a lab cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per pound.


Now? The price is down to about $30 a pound. Perhaps that will open the door to human meat, as well.


Once you remove the ethical lapse of needing to murder someone in order to eat homo sapiens, it's not hard to imagine mass market cannibalism taking off. We could grow meat from harmless tissue samples taken from live humans.


Celebrities might even sell their most famous cuts.


Imagine this dinner party conversation:

Host: Here, have a bite of Beyoncé tenderloin or enjoy the BBQ LeBron chops.

Guest: No thanks, I filled up on Brad Pitt's rump roast at the other table.

And the cycle of disgust will continue as their descendants are similarly repulsed.





Growing babies in our bodies


Most future folk will find pregnancy - and especially the delivery of an infant through a birth canal - messy and risky. In the future, most infants will be gestated in artificial wombs from which they won't be born so much as removed.


Creating a baby inside another human being is hazardous.


The child's health is dependent on the mother's physical security as she navigates the world, and the fetus is susceptible to infections, poor nutrition and other threats.


Artificial wombs will provide safe, sterile environments for ectogenesis that will deliver optimum nourishment for ideal growth. It may even enable parents to lengthen gestation beyond 40 weeks, perhaps until icky poopy (barbaric!) diapers are unnecessary.


Abortion will probably be regarded as a moot debate.


Advances in genetic engineering will allow men and women to turn their fertility on and off: a more advanced birth control that will make unexpected pregnancies extremely rare.





Burning fossil fuels for energy


Air pollution still kills over 200,000 people in the United States annually.


That's over 60 times the deaths from the 9/11 attacks every year. (Where's the war on radical particulate extremism?) But even US pollution is nothing compared to countries like China.


This is what Beijing looks like after two days of rain and on a normal day:



What happens to the gunk

the rain washes away?

Bobak / CC BY-SA 2.5



Globally, air pollution kills five million people per annum.


The smoke from burning coal from India, China, and other coal-heavy countries falls into the oceans and is contaminating the ecosystem with mercury, including the fish we eat.


Future folk will be appalled that we spend hundreds of billions of dollars to prevent small-impact yet high-visibility risks like terrorism, but tolerate hundreds of thousands of deaths per year to produce energy - especially when renewable energy provides clean power and free fuel.


(Let's say that again, fellow fiscal conservatives: free fuel. Green energy may be for hippie liberals, but renewable energy is for capitalists and conservatives.)





Tolerating homes and bodies infested with critters


Right now, there are hundreds of millions of insects living on your body and in your home.


Tiny dust mites inhabit your mattress, your pillow, your carpeting, and your body, regardless of how clean everything is. Microscopic demodex mites live in the follicles of your eyelashes and prowl your face at night.


And this doesn't even consider the trillions of bacteria and parasites that live inside us.


Our bodies are like planets, full of life that is not us.



Millions of these infest everyone's

bed, sofa, home and body.



Future folk will be thoroughly disgusted.


They will have nanotechnology antibodies  -  tiny machines that patrol our homes and skin, hovering up dust mite food (our skin flakes) and exterminating the little suckers.


They can't completely eliminate all the insects and bacteria  -  human beings have developed a symbiosis with them; we need bacteria to do things like digest food - but the nanobots will police this flora, keeping it within healthy bounds and eliminating any micro-infestations or infections that grow out of control.


And forget about infestations by critters like cockroaches. Nanobots will exterminate larger household pests en masse.


The real terminators of the future wont wreck havoc on humanity:

They'll massacre our unwanted insect houseguests.




Radiation, chemotherapy, craniotomies, and much of "modern" medicine


In the future, cancers will be treated with precision-guided drug delivery or gene therapy.


The idea of exposing patients to massive doses of radiation or chemicals to kill off the cancer  -  hopefully before the treatment kills the patient  -  will horrify future folk. Similarly, craniotomies and other invasive surgery will be replaced with non-invasive medical nanobots.


These microscopic robots will enter the body through the mouth or via injection, travel to the problem area, and perform microsurgery without a single incision or suture.


Later, we may just use force fields to manipulate tissues inside the body totally non-invasively. Still, we shouldn't feel bad about this one. Every society finds the medical practices of their ancestors abhorrent.


Medical science continually progresses from barbarity to civility, until the civility becomes the new barbarity.





Lack of brain-computer interfaces


Just as I marvel that my parents grew up without television, and millennials wonder how we ever survived without the internet, our great-grandchildren will be amazed that we could function without direct brain-computer interfaces.


This technology is already here, albeit in its infancy. Brain-computer interfaces allow people with locked-in syndrome  -  a state where someone is conscious but paralyzed  -  to communicate.


But in the future, we'll all have computers in our heads. Hard to believe? Just look at the evolution of the smartphone and how many devices it has replaced:

  • the camera

  • camcorder

  • photo album

  • fax machine

  • scanner

  • music player,

...and so on.


Twenty years ago, it would take a large table to display all the tools that are now in an iPhone. The Apple watch is the next step. Soon you won't wear your mobile, you'll have it integrated into your body and attached to your brain.


We may even have technology-enabled telepathy.





Some other candidates for condemnation by our evolved offspring


  • Loneliness


    In the future, people socially isolated due to illness, injury, or distance will find companionship through AIs and in virtual reality.


    They may even take on human-realistic, robotic AI lovers, which will cause a whole new set of problems.



  • The war on drugs


    In the future, everyone will take a custom daily pill with supplements and pharmaceuticals designed for their DNA and specific needs.


    These will be so effective at providing pleasure and happiness that people will turn away from illegal drugs. Society will also embrace "better living through chemistry," and the stigma around mood alteration will wane.


    Eventually, we'll just alter our genes so our bodies can produce the mind-altering drugs we want on command.



  • Punitive prisons and executions


    In the future, prisons will focus on treatment and education to ensure felons become productive members of society after release.


    Future folk will understand that state-sponsored executions are horrific and do not deter murder. Only the most disturbed, heinous, or insane convicts will be incarcerated for life.


    We may even have "slap-drones" that follow offenders around for the rest of their lives to ensure they don't commit additional crimes.



  • Starvation, hunger, and extreme poverty


    Our descendants will probably not look favorably on the fact that today's first world lives relatively comfortable - and in many cases extremely affluent - lives while hundreds of millions of people live in abject poverty.


    (Just think of how appalled we are that ancient civilizations built great palaces, pyramids, and cathedrals while the masses starved.)



  • Plastics


    Future folk will condemn us for creating so much damn plastic.


    Most plastics are toxic and degrade slowly  -  some over hundreds of years. Plastics kill wildlife, especially sea- life, in significant numbers. Microplastics in the ocean enter the marine food chain and can contaminate our food supply.


    All so you can wrap your sandwich and carry your groceries home.



  • Decimating the oceans


    Ocean-going ships still dump most of their trash overboard into the sea.


    We have overfished 85 percent of the worlds fisheries. We dump huge amounts of toxins into the seas and we may be permanently altering the chemistry of the oceans.


    Future folk might just hate us for this.



  • Money


    If humanity survives long enough it will advance to a post-scarcity society where all material needs are met by machines, nanotechnology-additive manufacturing, Star Trek-style replicators, or some unknown technologies.


    Future folk would see money as a sign of poverty and probably consider it barbaric as a medium of exchange for material goods.



  • Bans on the organ trade


    Fears of exploitation and religious objections have led us to ban the trade in human organs. Tens of thousands of people die annually for want of an organ due to these bans.



  • Politics?


    In the future, sentient or highly intelligent artificial intelligences may manage the efficient and fair allocation of resources, eliminating the need for most politics.


    Or, strong AI could lead us to a post-scarcity society, so there would be no scarce resources to struggle over.



    • Will this mean the end of politics?

    • Or will humans just find something other than resources to argue over, like ideology?