Demographic trends are powerful and sweeping. It took 250,000 years for the world’s population to reach one billion people. In just 200 years, population growth accelerated faster to reach seven billion. In 2050, Earth will be home to nine billion people.
This growth will not be uniform: some nations’ populations will soar. Half of the population increase by 2050 will happen in Africa, which will hold three times as many people as Europe. Nigeria will have about 390 million citizens by 2050, roughly the same as the US; by 2100, Nigeria will be the world’s third most populous nation.
By 2050, some 30 megacities will hold more than 10 million people each and 70% of the world’s people will live in cities. More people will speak Mandarin, but because it is so difficult to learn, Mandarin will not replace English, which will remain dominant.
Islam will have expanded due to population growth. The number of people who follow a religion will grow just because China has recently allowed its citizens to be openly religious, and its enormous population ensures that religions will gain more adherents.
The world of 2050 will be far more connected. Since 2025 cloud computing will have become the one computing paradigm, and let anyone store data anywhere. People will gain more control over their data and will try to protect their privacy. Crowdsourcing will play a larger role in generating ideas. The public will be a greater force in driving communication, which will be simpler and more networked. Social networks won’t just be for entertainment; they’ll play bigger roles in the work world, as we can expect more than half of the population will be always connected and online in a social supercloud.
Democratic countries, striving to make a meaning of the word ‘citizenship’ out of geographic boundaries — 200M Italics widespread all around the world have a much greater impact than 60M “Italiani” in Italy — will become more authoritarian, while countries with more rigid systems will experience pressure from their citizens to become more open.
Nations like Brazil and China have already surpassed expectations because economic growth builds on itself. Emerging nations will keep growing and by 2050 they’ll be fully emerged. Goldman Sachs predicts that China’s gross domestic product will hit $70 trillion, far more than US GDP. Europe will have to raise the pitch of its voice and say even more interesting things to be the bearer of values that have grounded the development of Western society as we know it.
History indicates that as the middle class grows, it invests in education. This will accelerate emerging economies even more, since innovations spread more quickly through an educated workforce.
Globalization will fully develop by 2050, as today this global trend is not as developed as people think. Foreign direct investment is less than 10% of all fixed investment, and only a few people study (2%) or work (3%) outside their homelands. Globalization will coincide with Asia’s re-emergence as the dominant force in the world economy.
During this globalization, Asia’s share of the world economy will almost double, and the US’s and Europe’s shares will shrink proportionally. As the economy globalizes, so will innovation, with disruptive innovations taking place in transportation (self-driving cars), wearables, neuromarketing, labor, stem cell and genome research, nano tech and at least one major breakthrough research that we are not able to predict here.
We will continue to explore space, but more pragmatically than in the early decades of the space race. Satellites, robot and space-based observatories will multiply, but manned flights will decrease. Several more decades of observation should let people determine if life exists on other planets. This will further challenge the definition of what it means to be human: are we alone in the cosmos searching for meaning, or is life on Earth one of the many variations of life in the universe?