SCHWARTZ: Unintended consequences are the reason we really need to think about these coming changes. It’s almost impossible, but absolutely critical, for a democracy to do this. In our system, we haven’t really done very well with regard to unintended consequences. We need to do better and could do better. But I could paint you a scenario where the ‘naturals” rise up against the “engineered” and there is a new kind of racial conflict. The 2050 viewers said that racism doesn’t exist anymore, in the way we think of it. Think of the difference in just our lifetimes, how much that issue has changed. When I was a boy seeing an interracial couple was very unusual but today no one would remark on it. For most young people it’s not an issue anymore. There is a meritocracy arising that trumps race. Not for everyone, I should add, but as a generality. So I think we’re going to be looking in 2050 and beyond at a world where it is much more important whether you got the benefits of genetic engineering than what race you are. And that the more affluent countries are going to control this and benefit from it in ways that lesser developed countries are not.
REDWOOD: The more affluent countries then may or may not be the ones that are the more affluent countries now.
SCHWARTZ: Back when I was in government, everybody was yelling about the Japanese, but from my perspective the real issue was the Chinese. However, I did not see the Indians. The Chinese were obvious, because China is so big and the Chinese have a long history of private sector activity. It was only briefly interrupted by Communism. But if you look at the world that is emerging now, you look at a world where China and India become much more powerful factors in the world than, for instance, France.
REDWOOD: In your 2050 Project, to get from what is relative overpopulation now to relative, or absolute, underpopulation . . .
SCHWARTZ: In some areas.
REDWOOD: . . . was there some sense of what shifted, if it wasn’t a nuclear catastrophe?
SCHWARTZ: Oh, yeah. They said this blood disease (which I now take to be AIDS) is just the first of several that sweep across the world. That’s one of the reasons that I think we need to be paying much more attention to the World Health Organization’s current concerns about this avian flu virus. Because I’ve seen projections [from WHO and others] that it could kill up to a quarter of the human species in less than six months.
I was concerned, being an intellectual futurist, about nuclear war. As I said, this was in the 1980s, around the time of the nuclear freeze movement. So I go to these people and do these sessions -- I did hundreds and eventually thousands of them -- and they all say no, that’s not what you need to be concerned about. You need to be worried about these diseases that come up and that we’re completely unprepared for. These “bugs,” as they called them. These are non-technical people I interviewed for the most part, ordinary folk, so they don’t use complicated words.
REDWOOD: How did you find these viewers?
SCHWARTZ: They’re self- selected, people who came to conferences or read about it in magazine articles and called me up and I did a session with them. And they very consistently said what you need to be concerned about are these diseases that sweep across the country and kill millions of people.
Aside from the changes I’ve already mentioned, they also said that [in 2050] people don’t travel much anymore. Businesses don’t have to travel anymore. I asked why. The answer was that they have this kind of thing that you put on, and it sort of hooks up with your nervous system and it allows you to project your consciousness into an electronic place, and other people meet you there, and that’s where you have meetings. What? What do you mean? Well, you know, it’s like this thing, and it has wires, and you put it on and it’s like an extension of your senses and you’re not in the reality you’re in, you’re in this other reality, and other people are in there with you. That didn’t mean anything to me.
Soon after, I went up to MIT and I was invited to go up to their computer lab, where they were doing the early virtual reality work. As soon as I saw it, I got immediately that the viewers were talking about virtual reality. You put on something, you project your consciousness into another place, other people can join you there, and it’s interactive. What was happening was, business travelers didn’t physically travel. It takes a long time to fly to Hong Kong. You don’t need to fly to Hong Kong. The people in Hong Kong and you can each go into virtual reality and you can have your meeting. As this gets more and more sophisticated, I can already see this emerging. But when I first started getting these descriptions, they were so incomprehensible to me that I would go over and over this stuff with these people. What do you mean, you put on a thing and project your consciousness? Are you, you? Well, yes, you’re you, but you could also be somebody else. You could be whoever you want. And in virtual reality, that’s true. You could be a wizard or a princess or a pussycat. You can define yourself and the people see you as the princess or the pussycat or the Zorgonian warrior, whatever it is. So they say that in 2050, a lot of business travel is done this way.
REDWOOD: So this is beyond what we call teleconferencing?
SCHWARTZ: Beyond teleconferencing, a next step. They also say that money has almost disappeared. That there’s some sort of central accounting system, not even requiring that you have a card. I can’t figure out whether it’s that you use your thumb print or what it is. But they’re all electronic transactions.
The 2050s say that many people have left the cities, that cities are now quite small.
REDWOOD: Did they say why?
SCHWARTZ: Yes. Because people have organized themselves according to personal taste. Because there has been an energy revolution and there has been another information revolution, which I now take to be the wireless revolution.
Again, this is the 1970s or early 1980s. I got my first computer in 1978 so I understood the idea of computers. They said no, you can carry your computer around with you. I had an early computer called an Osborne, which had a very small screen and weighed as much as a full suitcase. It was a sort of metal box and seemed very slick at the time. I said, “Oh you mean like a portable computer.” And they said, “No, it’s like this little tiny thing.” I’m looking back through this data now, and I think they’re also talking about a national identity chip that gets implanted.
So they said that people didn’t have to be in cities anymore. You could live anywhere you wanted to live because you had energy and you had information access, so a lot of the reasons that people lived in urban settings were no longer operative. What happened is that people sorted themselves out by personal taste. They live in, for want of a better term, colonies, or communities.
REDWOOD: What about the United States as a nation?
SCHWARTZ: They say that the United States doesn’t exist as it presently does. That it still exists as a kind of overarching federal structure that does certain things, but that much control has devolved back to the more local level. There has been a schism, a really fundamental split about how things ought to be done. At the time that I was doing this, no one knew about the red-blue split that increasingly dominates our political landscape today. In the 1970s and 1980s when we were doing these interviews, it wasn’t there. I mean, it was nascently there, but not fully expressed. Anyway, they say that in 2050 the United States does not exist in the sense that it does today. That people have moved out into small communities that are spread out all over the country, because energy and information transmission are no longer restrictive influences. Some of these are like hippie communes and some are militaristic. It’s a kind of re-tribalization process. People like to hang out with people that agree with their point of view and don’t like to hang out with people who don’t agree with their point of view. I think we see that happening. You don’t see a lot of fundamentalists hanging out at bars, for example.
So you sign up for that and find a community that does what you want to do. You can see that already happening on the Internet; you see people sorting themselves out in discussion groups. What happens with greater information transparency is that people who have common interests find one another and they align with those people.
The 2050 viewers describe these communities. Some of them are domed so that they can even control the weather. The weather has become a big deal. This was before global climate change [became a news item], but they described these huge weather changes and I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about. Huge droughts that have rendered parts of the country uninhabitable.
REDWOOD: Which parts?
SCHWARTZ: The Southwestern United States. Look at Phoenix. This week for five days in a row it was over 119 degrees. I mean, imagine living out there if you had to experience that weeks at a time? I worked in the Libyan desert with the Bedouins. When it gets to be over 114, they quit. They don’t work. They go back into their tents, “Come see us tomorrow.” They work from dawn until about nine o’clock in the morning. By 10 o’clock, it’s the full heat of the day and they don’t come out until late in the afternoon.
REDWOOD: So Phoenix as we know it would become unsustainable.
SCHWARTZ: I can’t imagine how they’re going to maintain a city where they’ve got temperatures in the summertime that could typically run 110 to 130 degrees. It’s like breathing oven air. Even now, they’ve got people dying. Then look at Europe, where they’re having a drought and a heat wave, and they lost 15,000 people last year in France, because there’s no air conditioning. The effects on the settled patterns of societies are going to be dramatic. Europeans don’t have any air conditioning in their subways or in most houses. When it gets to be 100 degrees, [some] people die, old people particularly.
I would say as a generality, that as time has gone on the descriptions that the 2050s gave me, have become more and more real to me, more and more accurate. So I’m re-examining all this data to get a sort of second order of information out. Because when I was analyzing a lot of it in the Seventies and Eighties and early Nineties, I just couldn’t understand what they were talking about.
REDWOOD: Were there other significant changes widely agreed upon by the 2050 viewers that we haven’t yet touched upon?
SCHWARTZ: Let’s see. The fall of Russia, global climate change, the diseases, no nuclear war, the energy revolution, the virtual reality revolution. Oh, yes, health care! Very interesting. In the experience, I asked them to go to a place where health care is delivered. Stand outside of it, describe it, now go to the door. When you go in, who do you meet? What do you smell? Odors, textures? And what is it like, health care in 2050? First of all, there is emergency care. You fall off a ladder or have a car accident. There’s trauma medicine which has become very highly evolved. Pharmacological medicine has almost disappeared, because most of the things that people take pharmaceuticals for no longer exist. That was of great interest to me, because I have hypertensive disease, it’s a genetic predisposition. And they say, “Oh, no, all those diseases are gone.”
REDWOOD: Because of genetic engineering.
SCHWARTZ: Yes. We don’t have cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes. Those things are gone. They describe hospitals as being very peaceful and very organic, in a way.
REDWOOD: A bit of a change.
SCHWARTZ: Yes. There’s crisis medicine, it’s clear. One viewer, a rock climber, said she had a bad fall. “I broke my leg and one of my arms, but they took me there and they didn’t have regular casts. They had this thing that they use to put your arm in the right position, and they put it in a little trough, and they spray this stuff and it kind of hardens, kind of like very stiff Jello, like a stiff plastic of some kind that breathes and there’s something they put in so it doesn’t itch.” And she said that they use electricity and thereby cause the bones to heal very quickly. And, of course, there’s now research on this, so that makes sense.