As we remind you all the time, the future ain't what it used to be. We have no jetpacks or robot butlers, and we've still not upgraded from Land Wars to Star Wars. The dreamers fell short ... but it turns out that some of the pessimists came pretty close to the mark. In the same way that no one in the '50s thought "millions of strangers across the world accidentally saw your dick" could ever become a realistic problem, our near-future will be filled with annoyances that sound completely ridiculous to us now.
Here are seven incoming issues that will make you yearn for an ape and/or machine uprising. At least in such a case, you wouldn't have to put up with ...
Any denizen of the digital generation knows that anything you say on the Internet can and will be used against you, especially if it's embarrassing fan fiction. However, that's a logical extension of using written material as evidence, as we've done for centuries. The newest way to incriminate yourself online has far less precedent: the data collected from wearable technology, such as the Fitbit.
Yes, your clothes could send you to jail. It may sound like Law & Order: The Jetsons, but there's no real reason this kind of data can't be admissible in court. In fact, it's already happening. A woman in Pennsylvania called 911 and claimed that a home invader raped her, but her Fitbit contradicted her story (she was awake and walking around when she said she was fast asleep). Her own fitness watch helped prove that she'd pulled the whole story out of her ... you know, and now she's facing misdemeanor charges.
So wearable tech can help bring criminals to justice. That's good, right? Well, here's where it gets fishy. There are already "alibi apps" -- programs that covertly record all your interactions and surroundings to prove you weren't (for example) holding a chandelier in the study when Colonel Mustard got whacked. Sounds innocent enough, until you remember that there's a term for people who intentionally go around establishing alibis: "guilty as fuck." Using this app is a little bit like going up to a cop and saying, "By the way, I'll be at the movies this afternoon when my wife gets murdered."
The idea that people are already thinking ahead to use their trackers as alibis means that these things will have all sorts of clusterfuck legal potential. What happens when someone pays a hobo to hold their smartphone (or straps it to a dog) while they go out and do crimes? Or what if someone borrows your Fitbit to incriminate you? These things will happen at some point. Hey, maybe that's why everyone becomes a couch potato in WALL-E. In the future, being fit won't be worth the hassle.
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The future of travelling will involve shooting into the stratosphere instead of rolling along the highway, but that doesn't mean all family vacation traditions will change. "You should've gone before you left" is still going to be a common phrase, except that in the future, it's going to be much direr. Why? Because in space, everybody can see you shit.
All of the companies designing prominent commercial space shuttles have clearly forgotten Newton's Fourth Law of Motion: Everybody poops. None of these shuttles include bathrooms. A trip to the International Space Station can take between six and 30 hours -- that's a hell of a long time to "just hold it," dad. Hell, even the earthbound high-speed Hyperloop being developed by Elon Musk lacks a comfort station. Oh, or windows. If you thought making eye contact with the person sitting in front of you in the train was awkward, wait until you're trapped in a windowless, toilet-free metallic cylinder with someone for hours.
Getting carsick is another tradition that won't be changing any time soon; in space, it'll simply get much more intense. There will be no windows to wind down and no side of the road to stain. If you're shuttle-sick (and let's face it, you probably will be), your little chunder-cloud will be hanging around, becoming another passenger of the craft. Developers admit that clearing out the odor and presence of space vomit will be extremely important, as nobody wants to play Space Invaders with the contents of your bowels.
One of the main benefits of living in the future is that we no longer drop dead at age 40. Now we get to stick around for decades and decades! And decades. And decades. This will eventually have some weird effects in some areas of our (increasingly lengthy) lives, starting with the workplace. To avoid crushing the Social Security system, people will be working much longer. Fifty Shades Of Grey won't only be a literary masterpiece; it'll be the lineup behind the counter at your local Starbucks.
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The job market will become even fiercer as kids fresh out of college have to compete with "midlife re-trainees." Of course, some people will always prefer to stay in their careers for life ... which will have even more frightening implications. Career politicians, judges, and tenured academics might stick around for the better part of a century, as would their old-fashioned ideas. Remember Supreme Court Justice James McReynolds, the old bastard who spent a good chunk of the 20th century effectively pushing back against every type of social change? Now imagine a Highlander version of that guy.
It gets weirder. Grey becoming the new black will completely shift what we think of as family. With longer lifespans and later marriage ages, we'll have more grandparents to take care of and fewer brothers and sisters to share that load. Family reunions will transform into an angry mob of cybernetic geriatrics telling kids to stay off the lawn. Instead of robust family trees, we'll have rickety family beanstalks.
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Living longer will even change the very concept of marriage -- or marriages. Single lifelong unions will become more demanding, so psychologists predict that marriages might become less "until death do us apart" and more "until we get bored of each other in a few decades." Older couples who would decide to tolerate each other if they only had 15 years left to live might say "Screw this, I'm out" when they realize they have 50 instead.
Finally, with all the pressure living to three digits puts on the employment and housing markets, leaving the nest will have to be delayed. So you don't have to be ashamed about reading Cracked at 35 in your mother's basement; you're merely ahead of the curve.
As more and more virtual reality companies pop up, we're already starting to see them working to differentiate themselves from each other. Some are trying to appeal to hardcore gamers, some want to attract filthy casuals, one is aiming at people who don't want brain damage ... wait, what?
Yep, VR company Magic Leap is boasting that its headset is totally brain-damage-free. Sure, their competitors' products might fry your mind into a smoldering little ember, but their extremely similar one definitely won't! This does not sound as reassuring as they probably imagined.
While people said the same about video games, television, and probably even pinball machines, this time, the brain-frying alarm has a basis in reality. VR gets your eyes to behave in ways they should not -- they'll go along with it, but there'll be side effects. Some researchers studying VR hire cabs for participants after sessions, because after you've been in polygon-land for a while, it takes time for you to relearn how to reach for things that are actually in front of you without overshooting it. It's dangerous to drive in such a state, but we doubt your console will call an Uber for you if you're playing alone.
Meanwhile, Samsung's new headset has a huge list of warnings, including that if you start having a seizure, you should take it off. After all, it's expensive technology -- you wouldn't want to damage it.
Health issues aside, virtual reality also raises complex moral problems. In one Sony VR demo, the simulation makes you flirt with a young-looking woman, while it's clear that you're an old man. At the end of said demo, the developers continue the "No brain damage!" marketing trend by assuring you that the character you were interacting with was definitely played by an adult actress.
Whether there's meant to be a wink with that disclaimer or not, it raises a whole host of questions for what VR should and shouldn't be allowed to show. Can they get away with a pedophilic simulation if they say "No, it's all actors and actresses"? What about a torture simulator? What about people watching VR reruns of Two And A Half Men? These are the dangerous elements of our society. But would giving them virtual simulations eradicate or exacerbate their tendencies? That's a question we can't answer right now, but we do know that those in the group watching Two And A Half Men don't need to worry about any more brain damage.
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Every US holiday is firmly associated with the weather that accompanies it. Christmas and snow, Halloween and pumpkins, July 4 and stinky sweat, etc. However, climate change is starting to, uh, change that. West Coast skiing, for starters, might be on a steady slope into the history books. While it looks like the fickle snowfall gods have decided to favor the West Coast this winter, the trend has been for them to get stingier each year, putting the ski industry in serious trouble. Last winter, the lack of snow forced some West Coast resorts to close early, while others had to find ways to improvise.
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What's more, researchers are expecting winter to start ceding some of its territory to spring, which sounds like some Doctor Who bullshit, but it's true. If this expansionist policy is left unchecked, by 2100, spring will be starting three weeks earlier. On the other side of winter's border, the forces of fall are also advancing. Leaves are changing color later than ever, with delays of up to 20 days predicted for 2100. Of course, what we think of as traditional fall colors might not even exist by then, since the hotter, drier climates are destroying the pigments responsible for the traditional autumnal palette. So ... yay?
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But the most heartbreaking victim of all of this is the humble fall pumpkin pie. Pumpkin crops in the Midwest are down to as low as 50 percent of their usual yields, due to increasing wetness. On the other end of the spectrum, extremely hot weather has led to pumpkins in Oregon ripening early. As unthinkable as it might seem, pumpkin products will soon be an end-of-summer tradition instead of a fall one. If people already lose their shit over pumpkins in the cool months, imagine the devastating riots that will take place in the heat.
But as the name implies, global warming isn't limited to America. Southern Europe's tourism hot spots are becoming too-hot spots thanks to climate change, with increasing heat making them more and more uncomfortable and unsafe to visit during their classic summer peaks.
Even wine country is changing location. That pesky heat is pushing suitable vineyard conditions out of France and into the north, which in turn is causing England's wine industry to double in size. Will our grandchildren think of Brits as horny drunkards? Only time will tell.
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The advent of driverless cars is a win for both safe and dangerous drivers, with the former being free of the threat of the latter, and the latter finally able to safely post Instagram photos from behind the wheel. Legally, anyway.
Driverless cars are supposed to be a lot safer than current models, since they eliminate the human errors that come from distraction, tiredness, and color blindness at traffic lights. However, they'll still raise a whole host of complex issues when they hit the roads ... or pedestrians.
The most pressing issue is the "moral algorithm" that these cars should be programmed with, which is taking this product into some grim sci-fi territory. When a driverless car is forced to choose between its passenger and the public, whom will it save? That might sound like the tagline of Speed III: The Bus That Fell In Love, but it's puzzling manufacturers and consumers at the moment. When surveyed, the public supported the utilitarian approach, sacrificing the life of one passenger for many pedestrians. However, when they were asked if they would buy such a car, they weren't comfortable at all getting into a vehicle which would kill them if it came down to it. Other people, though? Oh yeah, they should totally buy it. There's still no consensus here. Consumers and manufacturers both know that "Will Only Kill You If It Has to Make a Choice" isn't a great slogan.
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A less fatal but even weirder consequence of self-driving cars is that this technology might be the thing that finally kills off our sense of direction, which we've been gradually abandoning in favor of using GPS for years. Our very ability to mentally map things out might become atrophied. So when that car crashes itself and your immortal body ends up in pieces, good luck remembering how to put it back together.
The word "Orwellian" gets used a lot these days. But in this case, George Orwell's estate might be owed some damages for straight-up plagiarism. Many police departments are using apps to help fight crime, and not in the adorable "middle-aged people learn to trust the wonder of technology" way, but in the frightening "the comments you post on this article are being archived by the cops" way.
One of the most significant applications is called "Beware." In a single moment, it can scan your online presence and return a threat level of either red, yellow, or green. It seems that no matter how much progress we make, police departments keep profiling people by color.
In addition to stuff like past arrests, Beware also sifts through your social media accounts and potentially even purchases you've made online. Any comments which might be offensive (see: all of them) are going to affect your threat level, which determines how the police will approach any sticky situations you're involved in. Yes, this is the "Wanted" mechanic from Grand Theft Auto and no, they don't bring the SWAT team at five stars.
The company behind the software won't elaborate on which words it highlights as dangerous or threatening, but there's already at least one case of them completely misreading what is out there. It was discovered that one particular woman in Fresno had her threat level raised for making a Tweet featuring the word "rage," even though she was talking about this:
Let that be a lesson to you: If you're about to commit a serious crime and have to share it with your Facebook pals, write about it in Ned Flanders-ese, and you'll be fine.
Hoss uses all the offensive words he can to get more officers following him on Twitter @M_Hossey.
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