Thinking about the future has always been a weird experience for me. I mean, sure, I can make plans for myself, mostly for the short term of the next couple of years, which sort of sets the course for the long term, of maybe a whole decade. But trying to make any kind of prediction for the next twenty years, let alone the next two centuries, is clearly too much, at least for any "realistic" estimation. But this is exactly what @ecotrain is asking us to do, in part of the current Question of the Week. So let me put on a blindfold, spin around a few times, and take my best shot in the dark.
Twenty Years is a Long Time, Especially in Times of Change
Let's start out with the "short term" of twenty years. I actually really like this time span, as it is typically the length of a generation (the time between the birth of a person and the first time they reproduce). And during this timespan a lot can happen. Take 1969 for instance, the year of the moon landing, where the US finally outpaced the USSR in the space race. Twenty years later, in 1989 the entire iron curtain came down, ending the cold war and the Soviet Union completely. Or consider 1925, when Hitler first published Mein Kampf. Twenty years later Germany, and most of Europe, was emerging from a massive nightmare that leveled most of the continent. Even from our current perspective, twenty years ago was still before smart phones (regular cell phones were just going mainstream), streaming services (Blockbuster was in the process of "automatizing" its checkout, before closing shop for good), or even the war on terror (it was still before September 11th). So what can we expect from the next 20 years?
At first I was going to suggest to expect the unexpected, but I believe even that won't last for too long. There are too many factors accumulating, which in turn are likely to affect many other things. A changing climate and the continuous environmental degradation is prone to make certain areas of the world unlivable and unarable, displacing the population and causing food shortages elsewhere. All of these factors become strains on an already failing economic system, cutting into the life arteries of nation states with their centralized banking and financial systems. Meanwhile automation will have taken over even the most specialized jobs. The resulting social tensions put further pressure on countries headed for bankruptcy, leaving them with their military as the only way to maintain their power. Also in that regard, even countries as highly armed as the US would be outgunned by private entities who have more access to financial resources. It would be in anyone's interest to buddy up with these groups, as any formal rule of law would be way out of the window by this point.
But wait, on the upside there is major technological development about to change our world in many other aspects: Blockchain technology is revolutionizing not only the financial world, but also that of anything having to do with documents, contracts, news, science, and verifiable information of any kind. As a result, our entire concept of trade, communication, but also legislation, jurisdiction, and even the execution of said laws would be completely reorganized. Does that mean that anyone could start their own internationally recognized nation as easily as one can start a new tribe on Hive today? Maybe... Or maybe, that would just be the start of other, even more incredible developments? Probably! Though only for those who survive social unrest, food shortages, and other devastating aspects of these large-scale changes.
Two Hundred Years Later, Clearly Without Us
So now, having discussed the "short term" future, let's look at the next 200 years. Wow, just imagining it is a challenge! Two centuries ago Europe was on the height of the romanticist movement, while many Latin American nations had just won their independence. Nation states were a mere dream, as was socialism, ironically dreamed up by the same dreamers. The industrial revolution was only emerging as a transformative force, and the US was just starting its westward expansion. It all really seems like a lifetime ago, and strictly speaking we can easily call it TWO long, full lifetimes. Can we look that far ahead?
The rapid rise in life expectancy notwithstanding, I guess we can assume that in 200 years none of us will be around. Of course, in such a long timespan even that could change, and we may as well be surprised, reading these very lines in 2221. But from our current viewpoint, I'd still say that such a turn is less likely. Though I'm willing to be corrected.
At the same time anything is open to possibilities: a flourishing colony on Mars, or in earth's orbit, or the moon... why not? And down here on earth? Will there be utopian hi-tech cities, like in futurist visions from the 1950's? Or are devastated landscapes going to be the norm, highly toxic and devoid of all life? Will a man still be a alive, and can a woman survive, as the old song goes? Looking at the ongoing global extinction, there is a chance that none of our offspring will make it, which ultimately would leave nature alone to ... well, I suppose reorganize life on this planet without us. Because either way we look at it, humans have had too much of an impact to let all other species continue in the same way without us. But change has always been a major constant, so nothing new here.
A Period of Calm
Assuming, what I kinda believe, that the next 20 years (even up to a hundred) will be full of major changes and a radical transformation of most things we've known, I would expect the following time period to be a quieter, less volatile time, where the world would come to terms with what it has become. Even for humans, should they still be part of the equation, some time of relative stability will be essential, otherwise our mere existence may not be sustainable. Who knows, maybe it already isn't.
So whether we find ourselves in a high-tech utopia, or a neo-primitive society, or maybe both, or some place in between, it seems like there are so many possibilities that one option is as likely as all others. The only certain thing is that life will go on, with or without humans, in its multitude of forms, as it always has. This alone is enough to make me feel optimistic. So until then (or at least while I am here) I can't wait to see the next steps in this crazy journey.