Those yearly “predictions for next year” posts are starting to reach the limit of their usefulness. Not much changes from year to year, and most of what does change is hard to capture in objective probabilistic predictions.
So in honor of this blog’s five year anniversary, here are some predictions for the next five years. All predictions to be graded on 2/15/2023:
AI will be marked by various spectacular achievements, plus nobody being willing to say the spectacular achievements signify anything broader. AI will beat humans at progressively more complicated games, and we will hear how games are totally different from real life and this is just a cool parlor trick. If AI translation becomes
flawless outstanding, we will hear how language is just a formal system that can be brute-forced without understanding. If AI can generate images and even stories to a prompt, everyone will agree this is totally different from real art or storytelling. Nothing that happens in the interval until 2023 will encourage anyone to change this way of thinking. There will not be a Truckpocalypse before 2023. Technological unemployment will continue to be a topic of academic debate that might show up if you crunch the numbers just right, but there will be no obvious sign that it is happening on a large scale. Everyone will tell me I am wrong about this, but I will be right, and they will just be interpreting other things (change in labor force composition, change in disability policies, effects of outsourcing, etc) as obvious visible signs of technological unemployment, the same as people do now. AI safety concerns will occupy about the same percent of the public imagination as today.
1. Average person can hail a self-driving car in at least one US city: 80%
2. …in at least five of ten largest US cities: 30%
3. At least 5% of US truck drivers have been replaced by self-driving trucks: 10%
4. Average person can buy a self-driving car for less than $100,000: 30%
5. AI beats a top human player at Starcraft: 70%
6. MIRI still exists in 2023: 80%
7. AI risk as a field subjectively feels more/same/less widely accepted than today: 50%/40%/10%
The European Union will not collapse. It will get some credibility from everyone hating its enemies – Brexit, the nationalist right, etc – and some more credibility by being halfway-competent at its economic mission. Nobody will secede from anywhere. The crisis of nationalism will briefly die down as the shock of Syrian refugees wears off, then reignite (possibly after 2023) with the focus on African migrants. At some point European Muslims may decide they don’t like African migrants much either, at which point there may be some very weird alliances.
1. UK leaves EU (or still on track to do so): 95%
2. No “far-right” party in power (executive or legislative) in any of France, Germany, UK, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, at any time: 50%
3. No other country currently in EU votes to leave: 50%
Countries that may have an especially good half-decade: Israel, India, Nigeria, most of East Africa, Iran. Countries that may have an especially bad half-decade: Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, UK. The Middle East will get worse before it gets better, especially Lebanon and the Arabian Peninsula (Syria might get better, though).
1. No overt major power war in the Middle East (Israel spending a couple weeks destroying stuff in Lebanon doesn’t count): 60%
2. Mohammed bin Salman still in power in Saudi Arabia in 2023: 60%
3. Sub-Saharan Africa averages GDP growth greater than 2.5% over 2018 – 2023: 60%
4. Vladimir Putin is still in charge of Russia: 70%
5. If there’s a war in the Middle East where US intervention is plausible, US decides to intervene (at least as much as it did in Syria): 70%
Religion will continue to retreat from US public life. As it becomes less important, mainstream society will treat it as less of an outgroup and more of a fargroup. Everyone will assume Christians have some sort of vague spiritual wisdom, much like Buddhists do. Everyone will agree evangelicals or anyone with a real religious opinion is just straight-out misinterpreting the Bible, the same way any Muslim who does something bad is misinterpreting the Koran. Christian mysticism will become more popular among intellectuals. Lots of people will talk about how real Christianity opposes capitalism. There may not literally be a black lesbian Pope, but everyone will agree that there should be, and people will become mildly surprised when you remind them that the Pope is white, male, and sexually inactive.
1. Church attendance rates lower in 2023 than 2018: 90%
The crisis of the Republican Party will turn out to have been overblown. Trump’s policies have been so standard-Republican that there will be no problem integrating him into the standard Republican pantheon, plus or minus some concerns about his personality which will disappear once he personally leaves the stage. Some competent demagogue (maybe Ted Cruz or Mike Pence) will use some phrase equivalent to “compassionate Trumpism”, everyone will agree it is a good idea, and in practice it will be exactly the same as what Republicans have been doing forever. The party might move slightly to the right on immigration, but this will be made easy by a fall in corporate demand for underpriced Mexican farm labor, and might be trivial if there’s a border wall and they can declare mission accomplished. If the post-Trump standard-bearer has the slightest amount of personal continence, he should end up with a more-or-less united party who view Trump as a flawed but ultimately positive figure, like how they view GW Bush. Also, I predict we see a lot more of Ted Cruz than people are expecting.
1. Trump wins 2020: 20%
2. Republicans win Presidency in 2020: 40%
On the other hand, everyone will have underestimated the extent of crisis in the Democratic Party. The worst-case scenario is Kamala Harris rising to the main contender against Bernie Sanders in the 2020 primary. Bernie attacks her and her followers as against true progressive values, bringing up her work defending overcrowded California prisons as a useful source of unpaid labor. Harris supporters attack Bernie as a sexist white man trying to keep a woman of color down (wait until the prison thing gets described as “slavery”). Everything that happened in 2016 between Clinton and Sanders looks like mild teasing between friends in comparison. If non-Sanderites rally around Booker or Warren instead, the result will be slightly less apocalyptic but still much worse than anyone expects. The only plausible way I can see for the Dems to avoid this is if Sanders dies or becomes too sick to run before 2020. This could tear apart the Democratic Party in the long-term, but in the short term it doesn’t even mean they won’t win the election – it will just mean a bunch of people who loathe each other temporarily hold their nose and vote against Trump.
1. Sanders wins 2020: 10%
2. Democrats win Presidency in 2020: 60%
It will become more and more apparent that there are three separate groups: progressives, conservatives, and neoliberals. How exactly they sort themselves into two parties is going to be interesting. The easiest continuation-of-current-trends option is neoliberals+progressives vs. conservatives, with neoliberals+progressives winning easily. But progressives are starting to wonder if neoliberals’ support is worth the watering-down of their program, and neoliberals are starting to wonder if progressives’ support is worth constantly feeding more power to people they increasingly consider crazy. The Republicans used some weird demonic magic to hold together conservatives and neoliberals for a long time; I suspect the Democrats will be less good at this. A weak and fractious Democratic coalition plus a rock-hard conservative Republican non-coalition might be stable under Median Voter Theorem considerations. For like ten years. Until there are enough minorities that the Democrats are just overwhelmingly powerful (no, minorities are not going to start identifying as white and voting Republican en masse). I have no idea what will happen then. Maybe the Democrats will go extra socialist, the neoliberals and market minorities will switch back to the Republicans, and we can finally have normal reasonable class warfare again instead of whatever weird ethno-cultural thing is happening now?
1. At least one US state has approved single-payer health-care by 2023: 70%
2. At least one US state has de facto decriminalized hallucinogens: 20%
3. At least one US state has seceded (de jure or de facto): 1%
4. At least 10 members of 2022 Congress from neither Dems or GOP: 1%
5. US in at least new one major war (death toll of 1000+ US soldiers): 40%
6. Roe v. Wade substantially overturned: 1%
7. At least one major (Obamacare-level) federal health care reform bill passed: 20%
8. At least one major (Brady Act level) federal gun control bill passed: 20%
9. Marijuana legal on the federal level (states can still ban): 40%
10. Neoliberals will be mostly Democrat/evenly split/Republican in 2023: 60%/20%/20%
11. Political polarization will be worse/the same/better in 2023: 50%/30%/20%
The culture wars will continue to be marked by both sides scoring an unrelenting series of own-goals, with the victory going to whoever can make their supporters shut up first. The best case scenario for the Right is that Jordan Peterson’s ability to not instantly get ostracized and destroyed signals a new era of basically decent people being able to speak out against social justice; this launches a cascade of people doing so, and the vague group consisting of Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, Jonathan Haidt, etc coalesces into a perfectly respectable force no more controversial than the gun lobby or the pro-life movement or something. With social justice no longer able to enforce its own sacredness values against blasphemy, it loses a lot of credibility and ends up no more powerful or religion-like than eg Christianity. The best case scenario for the Left is that the alt-right makes some more noise, the media is able to relentlessly keep everyone’s focus on the alt-right, the words ALT-RIGHT get seared into the public consciousness every single day on every single news website, and everyone is so afraid of being associated with the alt-right that they shut up about any disagreements with the consensus they might have. I predict both of these will happen, but the Right’s win-scenario will come together faster and they will score a minor victory.
1. At least one US politician, Congressman or above, explicitly identifies as alt-right (in more than just one off-the-cuff comment) and refuses to back down or qualify: 10%
2. …is overtly racist (says eg “America should be for white people” or “White people are superior” and means it, as a major plank of their platform), refuses to back down or qualify: 10%
3. Gay marriage support rate is higher on 1/1/2023 than 1/1/2018: 95%
4. Percent transgender is higher on 1/1/2023 than 1/1/2018: 95%
5. Social justice movement appear less powerful/important in 2023 than currently: 60%
First World economies will increasingly be marked by an Officialness Divide. Rich people, the government, and corporations will use formal, well-regulated, traditional institutions. Poor people (and to an increasing degree middle-class people) will use informal gig economies supported by Silicon Valley companies whose main skill is staying a step ahead of regulators. Think business travelers staying at the Hilton and riding taxis, vs. low-prospect twenty-somethings staying at Air BnBs and taking Ubers. As Obamacare collapses, health insurance will start turning into one of the formal, well-regulated, traditional institutions limited to college grads with good job prospects. What the unofficial version of health care will be remains to be seen. If past eras have been Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Information Age, etc, the future may be the Ability-To-Circumvent-Regulations Age.
1. Percent of people in US without health insurance (outside those covered by free government programs) is higher in 2023 than 2018: 80%
2. Health care costs (as % of economy) continue to increase at least as much as before: 70%
Cryptocurrency will neither collapse nor take over everything. It will become integrated into the existing system and regulated to the point of uselessness. No matter how private and untraceable the next generation of cryptocurrencies are, people will buy and exchange them through big corporate websites that do everything they can to stay on the government’s good side. Multinationals will occasionally debate using crypto to transfer their profits from one place to another, then decide that would make people angry and decide not to. There may be rare crypto-related accounting tricks approximately of the same magnitude as the “headquarter your company in the Cayman Islands” trick. A few cryptocurrencies might achieve the same sort of role PayPal has today, only slightly cooler. Things like Ethereum prediction markets might actually work, again mostly by being too niche for the government to care very much. A few die-hards will use pure crypto to buy drugs over the black market, but not significantly more than do so today, and the government will mostly leave them alone as too boring to crush.
1. 1 Bitcoin costs above $1K: 80%
2. …above $10K: 50%
3. …above $100K: 5%
4. Bitcoin is still the highest market cap cryptocurrency: 40%
5. Someone figures out Satoshi’s true identity to my satisfaction: 30%
6. Browser-crypto-mining becomes a big deal and replaces ads on 10%+ of websites: 5%
Polygenic scores go public – not necessarily by 2023, but not long after. It becomes possible to look at your 23andMe results and get a weak estimate of your height, IQ, criminality, et cetera. Somebody checks their spouse’s score and finds that their desirable/undesirable traits are/aren’t genetic and will/won’t be passed down to their children; this is treated as a Social Crisis but nobody really knows what to do about it. People in China or Korea start actually doing this on a large scale. If there is intelligence enhancement, it looks like third-party services that screen your gametes for genetic diseases and just so happen to give you the full genome which can be fed to a polygenic scoring app before you decide which one to implant. The first people to do this aren’t necessarily the super-rich, so much as people who are able to put the pieces together and figure out that this is an option. If you think genetics discourse is bad now, wait until polygenic score predictors become consumerized. There will be everything from “the predictor said I would be tall but actually I am medium height, this proves genes aren’t real” to “Should we track children by genetic IQ predictions for some reason even though we have their actual IQ scores right here?” Also, the products will probably be normed on white (Asian?) test subjects and not work very well on people of other races; expect everyone to say unbelievably idiotic things about this for a while.
1. Widely accepted paper claims a polygenic score predicting over 25% of human intelligence: 70%
2. …50% or more: 20%
3. At least one person is known to have had a “designer baby” genetically edited for something other than preventing specific high-risk disease: 10%
4. At least a thousand people have had such babies, and it’s well known where people can go to do it: 5%
5. At least one cloned human baby, survives beyond one day after birth: 10%
6. Average person can check their polygenic IQ score for reasonable fee (doesn’t have to be very good) in 2023: 80%
7. At least one directly glutamatergic antidepressant approved by FDA: 20%
8. At least one directly neurotrophic antidepressant approved by FDA: 20%
9. At least one genuinely novel antipsychotic approved by FDA: 30%
10. MDMA approved for therapeutic use by FDA: 50%
11. Psilocybin approved for general therapeutic use in at least one country: 30%
12. Gary Taubes’ insulin resistance theory of nutrition has significantly more scholarly acceptance than today: 10%
13. Paleo diet is generally considered and recommended by doctors as best weight-loss diet for average person: 30%
There will be two or three competing companies offering low-level space tourism by 2023. Prices will be in the $100,000 range for a few minutes in suborbit. The infrastructure for Mars and Moon landings will be starting to look promising, but nobody will have performed any manned landings between now and then. The most exciting edge of the possibility range is that five or six companies are competing to bring rich tourists to Bigelow space stations in orbit.
1. SpaceX has launched BFR to orbit: 50%
2. SpaceX has launched a man around the moon: 50%
3. SLS sends an Orion around the moon: 30%
4. Someone has landed a man on the moon: 1%
5. SpaceX has landed (not crashed) an object on Mars: 5%
6. At least one frequently-inhabited private space station in orbit: 30%
Global existential risks will hopefully not be a big part of the 2018-2023 period. If they are, it will be because somebody did something incredibly stupid or awful with infectious diseases. Even a small scare with this will provoke a massive response, which will be implemented in a panic and with all the finesse of post-9/11 America determining airport security. Along with the obvious ramifications, there will be weird consequences for censorship and the media, with some outlets discussing other kinds of biorisks and the government wanting them to stop giving people ideas. The world in which this becomes an issue before 2023 is not a very good world for very many reasons.
1. Bioengineering project kills at least five people: 20%
2. …at least five thousand people: 5%
3. Paris Agreement still in effect, most countries generally making good-faith effort to comply: 80%
4. US still nominally committed to Paris Agreement: 60%
And just for fun…
1. I actually remember and grade these predictions publicly sometime in the year 2023: 90%
2. Whatever the most important trend of the next five years is, I totally miss it: 80%
3. At least one prediction here is horrendously wrong at the “only a market for five computers” level: 95%
If you disagree, make your own predictions with probabilities. I’m tired of people offering to bet me on these and I’m not interested unless you provide me overwhelmingly good odds.
Current list of updates here.