I have trouble writing stories about the far future—even one or two hundred years from now. I’m afraid they’ll end up like Star Trek and many other SF tales: essentially 21st century humans interacting with 23rd or 24th century technology. I’m sure it won’t really be that way, so to write scenarios like that feels knowingly misleading.
You may think the people of the distant past were more primitive than we are, maybe even less intelligent. I disagree, and I think the great literature of history should be proof enough that our intellects, emotions, desires and motivations are really not different from our ancestors of many centuries ago. Our bodies aren’t either.
But can we say that about our descendants of even a hundred years from now?
Our physical bodies have been changing over the past generation and more because of our sedentary lifestyle and abundance of high-calorie foods—eventually adaptations will show up in our DNA—but technology will change us much sooner than that.
We’ve already become hooked on tech like Google searches and smartphones, to the point that some studies show we’re losing short-term memory and other cognitive functions in ways comparable to victims of head injuries. The new catchphrase for that is Digital Dementia. “Use it or lose it” is an integral part of brain development and maintenance throughout our lives. So if we continue to grow dependent on technology, our brain functions, personal interactions, and even conversations may be very different in a hundred years (I already have a hard enough time understanding the language of teenagers!)
We can also deliberately change our bodies in an increasing variety of ways. A not-quite-finished novel of mine postulates that within a few years smartphones will give way to direct brain-computer interfaces that we’ll routinely attach to, or even implant in our heads. Like Google Glass with a direct brain connection, they’ll keep us linked to the future version of the internet 24/7, to the point that we won’t know or care whether the answer to a question comes from our own memory or a digital database somewhere. Forget phone calls or texting—we’ll be able to communicate almost like telepathy, except that the messages will travel through the ‘net via wifi or its successor. I truly believe this will happen within decades, not centuries. Heck, by then artificial intelligence may have advanced to the point where our implant will have a mind of its own, like a little angel or devil sitting on our shoulder. Who can possibly guess how that will change our behavior? Futurist Ray Kurzweil has famously predicted that such a cultural shift (part of what he calls The Singularity) could happen as soon as 2045.
Medical engineering will allow us to replace limbs and other body parts with efficient and more versatile replacements that will make the Six Million Dollar Man look quaint. Within the lifetime of most of us, we’ll probably undergo medical procedures that will involve nano-devices travelling our bloodstream to pinpoint problems and maybe even treat them. (And a little internal ‘nip & tuck’ while they’re at it? Why not?) Geneticists are making great advances in deciphering and manipulating DNA. Screening embryos for desirable traits might become routine. Perhaps we’ll even be able to get injections of DNA cocktails or nano-gadgets that will replace plastic surgery in making us stronger, more youthful, and more attractive.
My point is, in a hundred years from now human beings won’t be the same as we’ve been for millennia, and an author who doesn’t reflect that in their vision of the future is missing the mark. That’s what makes this job so hard. Or just think of it as a challenge. Yeah, that sounds better.