The 19th century idea that human civilization follows (hidden) laws of (economic) history, is certainly wrong. As we have painfully learned in the 20th and 21st century, it is human decisions that make the difference between war and peace. Human ingenuity can also provide technology which opens up completely new development paths. Without the invention of steam engines, trains, cars, airplanes, telephones, computers or the internet, the human civilization would be quite different from what we experience today.While the "cone" of possible future development paths is enormous they probably will include the following four principal types of civilizations:
World 1: A creative civilization of scientists, artists and philosophers.
In this rather contemplative civilization most people would be relieved from work by advanced AI systems and robots. They would spend their time in pursuing research, creating art, or contemplating philosophical and ethical problems. Food, housing, safety and entertainment would be provided by specialized service robots and AI systems so completely, that people would cease to be interested in economic entrepreneurship. Money would no longer play a role - everyone would be provided with all goods and services he or she desires. This civilization would be equivalent to a "first class only" flight.
World 2: A Harsh civilizations of warriors, tribes and violent rulers.
In this civilization fiercely aggressive tribes or "nations" would compete with each other for dominance in endless succession of conflicts and wars. They would enter varying coalitions and use anything from deception and threats to massacres and terrorism to gain dominance. These tribes or nations would each develop their own (military) technology, such as battle robots; and they would implement their own social, religious and political order. Some might be religious fundamentalists - like the Islamic terrorists of today, who try to spread their faith and establish a coercive religious regime.
Others might be criminal thugs and brutally fight for profit and power. They might use drugs, gambling, sexual exploitation to generate income for weapons and other military technology. In this fractured world of hostile nations, we might also find enclaves of peaceful "kingdoms" in remote areas - such as the Athos monk republic in Greece today.
World 3: A global hedonistic civilization.
Among the many possibilities a hedonistic civilization might perhaps be the most likely. It typically would be split into two social "classes" of powerless hedonists and a controlling elite of entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists and political leaders. This would be societies, where most people are not involved in any serious work, but would spend their lives in a multitude of leisure and thrill activities. They will be supplied and serviced by an army of service and production robots. AI systems will entertain and guide them. Only very small minorities will still be involved in highly specialized and advanced science, technology development, or artistic innovation. This elite will also includes a few entrepreneurs, engineers and business managers, who essentially run the whole economy with robots and advanced AI systems. A small group of politicians that basically replace each other within a few years make up the political leadership of this civilization.
World 4: Finally, we might see a civilization of pioneers, which will include explorers and conquerors. This civilization would aim for the stars. They would have many engineers and entrepreneurs, but also people who would strive for big risks to explore new worlds - either by colonizing the moon or mars, or by experimenting with totally new forms of human activities. This pioneers might try to reach other solar systems by developing advanced technology of propulsion or time-travel. Their society would be highly competitive and would place high prestige on risk taking and thrills.
These four civilizations can be roughly characterized by two dimensions:
They are either relaxed and tolerant or rigid and disciplined (Dimension 1) and they are either intrinsically motivated or externally guided (Dimension 2)
Civilization 1 (philosophers, scientists, artists) would be a civilization, where the creative individual has center stage. We can imagine this future world as a peaceful society of relaxed individuals who pursue their own ideas, fantasies and insights. Most people would be intrinsically motivated; many would actually work hard to create new works of art or undertake scientific research. Some would also follow their own philosophical ideas or meditate for seeking the meaning of life. Imagine this future world similar to a college society - like we see today in Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard or Stanford - combined with artist's towns and Ashrams or Monasteries.
Civilization 2 (warriors, tribes, despots) is the complete opposite. This would be a most rigid future world where discipline is demanded from ruthless leaders. Most people would not follow their own, intrinsic motives and desires, but would be externally guided and controlled. This world might be split into small tribes or "nations" of warriors constantly fighting each other following orders from their leaders. Imagine this future world to be a civilization that amplifies ethnic, racial, religious or criminal diversions and conflicts - like a world with the Islamic State, the IRA and Columbian drug cartels fighting the Italian and Russian Mafia for dominance.
Civilization 3 (hedonists & addicts) would be a future world, where people are extremely relaxed and super-tolerant. But most people would not be intrinsically motivated (as in civilization 1), but externally guided. People would follow fashion trends and patterns of consumption and leisure that are essentially dictated by massive advertising or even mind-control. Imagine this future world as an extreme form of a consumer society, where people are constantly tracked, brainwashed and seduced to buy things, undertake certain activities or establish particular social and sexual relations. "Big Data" and "mind control technology" would allow small elites to run this future world of consumer-slaves, like a Google-Facebook-Twitter world combined with Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality Porn - perhaps including humanoid (sex) robots.
Civilization 4 (explorers) would be a disciplined society of intrinsically motivated pioneers. People would work together to "go to the stars" and start extra-terrestrial civilizations or pursue other daring excursions into uncharted territory. Other than a relaxed civilization of scientists, philosophers and artists, this future world would be one of "dare-devils", men and women of action, who take personal risks to explore the unknown. Imagine this future world similar to the pioneer society of the first American settlers, or the community of NASA engineers and astronauts.
These civilizations might exist concurrently, side by side, in different parts of the world - similar to our political and social
systems we have today.
However, they might also each rise sequentially, dominate at the global level for some time and then falter or disintegrate.
And, these civilizations might even exist within one larger heterogeneous "nation" - similar to the social classes or sub-cultures we have today. In fact, we might have a global super-state, in which various "civilizations" would flourish in their own niches.
We don't know, how people and states will organize themselves thousand years from now; but we can be pretty sure that somehow these basic four types of social organization will still exist, because they are based on fundamental human characteristics of (a) contemplation and scientific thinking, (b) fighting and conflict, (c) leisure, joy and addiction as well as (d) adventure, curiosity and exploration.
To better characterize these four types of future civilizations, we can describe them within a set of 12 analytical concepts. These are:
3. External guided
4. Disciplined / Strict
7. Privacy / Individualism
9. Intrinsically motivated
10. Tolerant / Liberal
For instance, surveilance would be very minor in World 1 (scientists, artists, philosophers), but extensive in World 2 (warriors, tribes, despotes). The rigidity of World 2 (worriors) would high, while it would be very low in World 1 (scientists) and World 3 (hedonists). People in World 2 (warriors) and World 3 (hedonists) would be externaly guided to a great extent, while in World 1 (scientists) and World 4 (pioneers) external guidance would be minimal. For more details see the two figures below:
A De-volution World: Over the next 1,000 years the human species might be affected by some kind of virus or poison which would slowly modify the human genome in such a way that we would degenerate into a ape-like species. We might slowly lose our ability to invent new technology or even handle existing machinery. For a few hundred years we probably could survive with poorly patched-up infrastructure; but eventually we would fall back into a primitive type of social organization. We would no longer be able to maintain current systems of food production and health services. The genetic defects might also cause a decline in our natural fertility. In any case, without modern technology we would no longer be able to sustain a multi-billion population on earth. Eventually, we would live as small bands of ape-like creatures - dispersed between the ruins of modern urban areas that would slowly be overtaken by nature.
A Machine World: Some of the most respected scientists and IT entrepreneurs have speculated for years, that advanced computers and algorithms might soon take a quantum leap and surpass human intelligence and creativity. This would create what they call a "singularity" in human development, after which machines would take over evolution. Hyper-smart Artificial Intelligence and robots would program themselves to build ever more advanced systems - without human intervention or even ability to guide the process. Essentially, machines would take over und create a new machine civilization.
An Old World: What if biomedical research would find a "cure" against aging? What if the average human lifespan could be expanded to some 500 years within the next few centuries? People born in 2300 could perhaps still be alive in 2800. Without an equivalent drop in fertility, the number of humans would increase substantially. But the most profound change would not be population size, but the age composition of the population. The proportion of older people would rise dramatically. Children and youths would be a tiny minority in a huge population of adults. This would change all social and economic relations between generations. Many generations would live concurrently - not just 2 or 3 as is currently the case. There would be Grand-Grand-Grandparents living together (or at least at the same time) with their Grand-Grand-Grandchildren.
Scott J. Shapiro (2023): Fancy Bear Goes Phishing: The Dark History of the Information Age, in Five Extraordinary Hacks (432 pages)
Cal Newport (2021): A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload (320 pages)