So first off, I know the title is a paraphrase from "The Matrix" but just relax: this is not yet another philosophy of The Matrix thread. This is a thread about where the world is and where it is going in terms of development and increasing standard of living. I don't intend it to be political, but I do forsee some political implications, so we'll just have to see where that goes. And I do have some starting premises that you can feel free to challenge: 1. I don't forsee energy production to be a big, big picture/long term issue. Transitions may be painful, but there are ways to power our needs for centuries if not millenia. 2. I don't forsee a population crisis or food production issue being a limiting factor. Rather, I see certain areas of the world that are going to have major problems until they become developed and control their populations. Eventually, the world population will have to level-off one way or another. So, what I forsee is a gradual leveling-off of the current first-world standard of living, with it advancing not much further than it is today. The main reason is technology: I think it is getting to the point where it is mature, where large advances will become less and less likely. Some history and background to my argument: The industrial revolution is typically listed as being from the 1790s to 1860s and is cited as, on its own, revolutionizing how people live their lives. And certainly many inventions made huge changes in how people did things (particularly the steam engine itself). But it was more fundamental than even that. It was a re-organization or re-purposing of society from on that put the vast majority of its effort into just staying alive into one where people suddenly had time and money to spare to use to make their lives better. In short, it made the focus of society advancement of itself rather than just sustaining of itself. Contrast that to the preceding centuries or millenia where little in the way of sustained advancement happened. To make that advancement happen was the rise of engineering (yes, I know what I am...). The rise of engineerng had a complimentary effect on science, helping it advance even more rapidly the century after the industrial revolution than during the scientific revolution a century earlier. Engineering gave scientists the tools they needed to do their jobs better. Other applied sciences (such as medicine) followed. The working-together of pure and applied sciences in the 20th century led to some truly remarkable advances, such as moving from figuring out how to fly leading to a mature global air travel industry in some 60 years. But I see science as having a hyperbolic trajectory that is leveling off. Sure it will continue to advance, but that advancement seems to me to be a closing of error margins. Perhaps I lack vision, but I don't see much chance of what we learn in the future having as profound an impact on society as what we learned in the 20th century. I see evidence of this in the leveling-off of the advancement of those technological marvels in the 20th century. The Boeing 707 came out in 1958 and since then we've doubled the time since Kitty Hawk with little fundamental change in air travel. The average life expectancy of westerners about doubled in the 20th century, but the human body seems built to last 90-110 years and now we're spending more and more money on smaller and smaller improvements in health (a trend that has a profound impact on the current political scene of course). Computers were one of the last major advances of the 20th century, but now computing power has plateaued and computers are everywhere, to the point where we'd have trouble figuring out where else to put them! So I have trouble seeing how we're going to advance much further than we are today. Sure it is possible that I just lack vision, but consider life expectancy, for example. Prior to the maturation of medicine, life was a minefield, riddled with things that might kill you that today are only minor inconveniences. Even if the average life expectancy was 40, if you were one of the lucky ones to navigate that minefield (and it was pretty much entirely a matter of luck), you could live to 80 or beyond. Fast forward to today and the average life expectancy is 80. But it isn't 80 because we've actually extended the potential lifespan of humans - no one lives to 160 today - it is 80 because we've removed most of the mines from the minefield. If in the next 20 or 30 years someone invents a nanobot that swims throughout your body identifying and killing cancer cells, it would be listed as one of the all-time greatest achievements in the history of applied science. But it wouldn't come anywhere close to the true impact of the invention of vaccines and anti-biotics. It would tick-up the average life expectancy perhaps 5 more years, but that's about it. Removing the first half of the minefields has a big effect on life expectancy. Removing the next half has a much smaller effect. That's a hyperbolic trajectory. For another example, consider what most of us now tend to think of as pretty mundane: heating and air conditioning. I think that for quality of life, there can be scarcely be more profound an advancement than a little box on your wall that ensures that the environment you spend most of your time in is exactly the perfect temperature for you (yes, I realize what I do for a living...). Quality of life-wise, there is nowhere else to go with that. All the future holds for HVAC is to make that most mundane and profound of quality of life enhancements all the more forgettable by reducing how much it costs to have it. So where do we go from here? I think the only major remaining quality of life challenge is toward equality. Not so much for developed nations - I think as the plateau is reached, more and more people get on it and quality of life differences are already pretty small as it is. I recognize that that that is somewhat of a political opinion and many disagree, but considering that development is a hyperbolc curve, plotting inequality on it yields people not very far from each other in development in a first world nation. Consider that even most poor have plenty of food and refrigerators in the first world (in the US it is over 99% of the poor who own refrigerators). But a former boss of mine adopted a couple of Vietnamese kids and could not get them to stop opening the refrigerator. This cold box filled with food may as well have dropped from an alien spaceship. And forget Disneyland - seeing a fairy-tale land of make-believe wonderfulness just took a trip to the nearest supermarket. Flush toilets? Bill Gates has several, but so do I! Those Vietnamese kids had never had access to. That reality - the one devoid of supermarkets and refrigerators and toilets - is the reality that somewhere around a third to half the world's population still lives in. So the big challenge for the next hundred years plus is getting the rest of the world up to our standard of living -- I think our standard of living isn't going to change much more.