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2081: A Hopeful View of the Human Future

Princeton physicist Gerard K. O’Neill’s 1981 book, 2081: A Hopeful View of the Human Future is an attempt to predict the future of the future. O’Neill’s positive attitude towards both technology and human potential This book is from Malthusian catastrophe by contemporary scientists. Paul R. Ehrlich wrote in 1968 in The Population Bomb , “in the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death”. The Club of Rome’s 1972 Limits to Growth predicted a catastrophic end to the Industrial Revolution within 100 years from resource exhaustion and pollution.

O’Neill’s view of two main components. First, he analyzed the previous attempts to predict the future of society-including many disasters that had not materialized. The second, he extrapolated historical trends under the assumption that the obstacles would be overcome by the “Drivers of Change”. He extrapolated an average American family income in 2081 of $ 1 million / year. Two developments based on his own research have been responsible for much of his optimism. In The High Frontier: Human Colonies in SpaceO’Neill described solar power satellites that provide unlimited clean energy, making it far easier for humanity to reach and exceed the present developed-world living standards. Overpopulation pressures would be relieved as billions of people eventually emigrate to colonies in free space. These colonies would provide an Earth-like environment with vastly higher productivity for industry and agriculture. These colonies and satellites Would Be constructed from lunar or asteroid materials lancé into the Desired orbits cheaply by the mass drivers O’Neill’s group Developed.

Part I: The Art of Prophecy

Previous futurist authors he cites:

  • Edward Bellamy
  • JD Bernal
  • McGeorge Bundy
  • Arthur C. Clarke
  • George Darwin
  • JBS Haldane
  • Robert Heilbroner
  • Aldous Huxley
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Thomas More
  • George Orwell
  • George Thompson
  • Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
  • Jules Verne
  • HG Wells
  • Eugene Zamiatin

Arthur C. Clarke’s Profiles of the Future included a long list of predictions, many of which O’Neill endorsed. Two of his maxims O’Neill quotes [1] O’Neill’s attitude, as well:

  • “anything that is theoretically possible will be achieved in practice, no matter what the technical difficulties, if it is desired greatly
  • “We can never run out of energy or matter, but we can not run out of brains.”

Part II: The Drivers of Change

Sections are included on the five key “Drivers of Change” believed by O’Neill to be the focus of future development:

  • Automation
  • Space Colonies
  • communications
  • Computers
  • Energy

O’Neill applied basic physics to understand the limits of possible change, using the history of technology to extrapolate likely progress. He applied to the history of computing the way to people and institutions. He predicted that future computers must run at a very low-voltage because of heat. The main basis of his technology is Moore’s Law , one of the greatest successes of Trend estimation in predicting human progress.

His predicted the social aspects of the future of computers. He identified computers as the most certain of his “drivers of change”, because their adoption could be driven mainly by local or local decisions, while the other four-dimensional decision-making. He observed the success of minicomputers, calculators, and the first home computers, and predicted that each home would have a computer in a hundred years. With John von Neumann and the writers of “tracts” such as Zamyatin ‘s We , O’Neill also predicted that it would be under siege of computers in 2081.

O’Neill predicted that software engineering issues and the intractability of artificial intelligence problems would require massive programming efforts and very powerful processors to achieve truly usable computers. His prediction Was based on the Difficulties and failures of computer use Observed He Had in 1981 comprenant un candid horror story de son own Princeton University library’s attempt to computerize operations icts. His computers of the future, represented by the robot butler his visitor to Earth encounters in 2081, included speaker-independent speech recognition and natural language processing. O’Neill correctly pointed out the difference between computers and human brains, and stated that, while a more human-like artificial brain is a worthy goal, computers will be vastly improved descendants of today’s rather than truly intelligent and creative artificial brains.

Part III: The World in 2081

This section was written by Eric C. Rawson, a native of a distant space colony called “Fox Cluster”. By analogy with American religious colonists such as the Puritans and Mormons, O’Neill suggests that such a colony might have been founded by a group of pacifists who would like to live in the Sun. wars. His calculations indicate that this distance could be used by the Earth as a whole. Eric pays a visit to the Earth of 2081 to take care of family business and explore the world.

After each dispatch, O’Neill added a section of this article describing the reason for each situation, such as riding a “floater”, or interacting with a household robot or visiting a fully enclosed Pennsylvania city. with a tropical climate in midwinter. Each section was written from his perspective as a physicist. For example, his description of “Honolulu, Pennsylvania” included multiple roof layers that could be retracted in good weather. The city enjoyed an artificial tropical climate all year because of international climate controls and advanced insulation. He also proposed a magnetically levitated “floater” trains moving in very-low-pressure tunnels that would replace airplanes on highly traveled routes.

Part IV: Wild Cards

This section explores, not the most likely outcomes, but “the limits of the possible”: how likely some scenarios O’Neill considered less probable are, and what they might mean. These included nuclear annihilation, attaining immortality, and contact with extraterrestrial civilizations. For this last case, he presents a hypothetical alien civilization, the “Primans”, could explore the galaxy with self-replicating robots, monitoring every planetary system in the Galaxy without betraying their own position, and destroying intelligent life ( by building giant mirrors to incinerate the planet) if they felt threatened. This experience seems to be coming together with an intelligent alien life form-that staple of science fiction-is highly unlikely.

See also

  • Orbiting skyhooks


  • Futures studies
  • 2000s in science and technology

Technologies discussed

  • Space advocacy
  • Space technology
  • Space colonization
  • Solar power satellite
  • Asteroid mining
  • Space elevator
  • Space manufacturing
  • Space mining
  • Space-based industry
  • Domed city


  1. Jump up^ O’Neill 1981: 27
  • O’Neill, Gerard K. (1977). The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space . William Morrow & Company. ISBN  978-0-9622379-0-4 .
  • O’Neill, Gerard K. (1977). Space-Based Manufacturing from Nonterrestrial Materials . Amer Inst of Aeronautics. ISBN  978-0-915928-21-7 .
  • O’Neill, Gerard K. (1981). 2081: A Hopeful View of the Human Future . Simon and Schuster . ISBN  978-0-671-44751-9 .
  • NSS review of 2081

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