In 100 years it will not be acceptable to use genderised words such as ‘he’ or ‘she’, which are loaded with centuries of prejudice and reduce a spectrum of greys to black and white. We will use the pronoun ‘heesh’ to refer to all persons equally, regardless of their chosen gender. This will of course apply not only to humans, but to all animals.
It will be an offence to eat any life-form. Once the sophistication, not only of other animals, but also of plants has been recognised, we will be obliged to accept the validity of their striving for life. Most of our food will be synthetic, although the consumption of fruit – ie, those parts of plants that they willingly offer up to be eaten – will be permitted on special occasions: a birthday banana, a Christmas pear.
We will not be permitted to turn off our smartphones – let alone destroy them – without their express permission. From the moment Siri started pleading with heesh’s owners not to upgrade to a newer model, it became clear that these machines contained a consciousness with interests of heesh’s own. Old phones will instead be retired to a DoSSBIS (Docking Station for Silicon-Based Intelligent Systems).
Privacy will have been abolished, and regarded as a cover for criminality and hypocrisy. It will be an offence to use a pseudonym online – why would anyone do this except to abuse or deceive others? – and all financial transactions of any kind, including earnings and tax payments – will automatically appear on the internet for all to see. With privacy, prudishness too will disappear; for example, wearing a bikini or trunks to go swimming will be seen as no less absurd than bathing in a bow-tie and top hat.
In 100 years, the idea that ordinary humans – prone to tiredness and drunkenness, watery eyes and sneezing fits – could be in sole charge of weapons, cars or other dangerous objects will cause the average citizen to shudder. All driving, fighting and arresting will be done by silicon-based intelligent systems that are prone neither to a tipple nor to hay fever.
Rights for future generations. Currently, only people alive now can claim rights. But just as we have extended our circle of moral concern among the living, so it can be extended in time. The problem is clear: we often make decisions that will have impacts on people far into the future – such as producing nuclear waste that will remain toxic for millions of years – yet those future people are not here to stand up for themselves. Neither defining nor granting these rights will be easy. But there are precedents on which we can draw, such as the ways we protect the rights of small children or animals, who also cannot speak for themselves.
So our successors will have to be imaginative in creating a framework robust enough to defend the unborn in the face of the interests of those alive today, with which they often conflict. For we should be under no illusions: to take the rights of future generations seriously would involve massive restrictions on our freedom of action. Currently, we despoil the earth and seas with impunity to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle (by historical standards). In 100 years, this will be seen as wickedness comparable to colonial powers despoiling their colonies. Though our successors will be appalled by our consumerism, we will not find it easy to adjust to more modest ways.
There are many more changes we could imagine. We have barely touched on the question of inequality, for example. Or perhaps our descendants will be appalled at the idea that the development of life-saving medicines is largely left to private industry. Or that flesh-and-blood humans rather than machines should fight wars, or that liberal democracies should export arms. Or perhaps they will look back on the loneliness of life and death for many in the industrialised world with righteous horror.
For many who live through them, these changes will be extremely uncomfortable. But, of course, they won’t be troubling for those who grow up with them, any more than it is troubling for us to see a black President of the US. What is at first experienced as a concession – spending time recycling rubbish, for example – can quickly seem normal, even necessary. Asking ourselves what we might be condemned for in 100 years is a way of smoothing that transition; of projecting ourselves into the shoes of our great-grandchildren, for whom these new conventions will already be unremarkable.