In 2122, our ‘time capsules’ from the 2022 Census will be opened and pored over. We ask experts on space, climate, science, culture and medicine what living here might look like in a century’s time
The Central Statistics Office called it “a unique and exciting opportunity to write a message to the future”. Our recent Irish census forms included the new feature of a ‘time capsule’ section in which citizens had a vent or a laugh, judging by some of the complaints, poems and drawings shared online.
The idea was to offer our descendants “glimpses of life in Ireland in 2022”; the forms will be stored securely until their release in 100 years.
But what might life be like in 2122? How might Ireland’s geography have changed? Will there be a united Ireland? Will Irish still be spoken? How will advances in science and technology have changed our daily lives?
“In 100 years’ time, more than likely we would have a permanent presence on the moon,” says Dr Niamh Shaw, a European Space Agency champion for education and the author of Dream Big: An Irishwoman’s Space Odyssey.
Ireland already has a burgeoning sector in space, she says, and she predicts that “by 2122 it will be a very healthy sector here because it is growing exponentially”.
Shaw recently returned from Nasa where she saw the rollout of Space Launch System, an “enormous rocket” scheduled for a crewless first launch to the moon in June.
“Their plan then is for the next few missions to have people on board. For the third one, they’re planning to actually get people to drop down onto the moon. After that, they’re going to build another space station around the moon called the Gateway and the European Space Agency is involved in that.” She is hopeful that there will be “footprints on Mars” in 100 years’ time too.
“But the biggest message about space is always about looking back and finding smarter solutions for living better here. So that we adopt a working relationship with this planet rather than a parasitic one.”
Peter Thorne, Maynooth University climatologist and professor of physical geography, would agree.
“What Ireland will be like in 2122 is really dependent upon Ireland’s choices between now and then. We know how, and have the tools, to change. The optimistic future I’d like to see is one where we stabilise climate to about one-and-a-half degrees [warmer]. We could have a much more liveable place where we are producing much more of what we consume locally and that includes the food. So we’ve moved from an agribusiness which is all about exports of beef and dairy products, to an agribusiness that is more about sustaining us as a country.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group weather report shows that by the end of this century, sea levels globally could be anywhere between 30 centimetres and one metre higher.
“In Ireland, it might be slightly higher or slightly lower than that. One thing that is abundantly clear is you cannot protect all the coast. We will have to manage the retreat of portions of our coastline and make the hard choices. In a century’s time, that will be the start of it.”
Should the global climate become three or four degrees warmer, he says, we would almost certainly be taking in significant immigration. “So it would be a very, very different Ireland on multiple levels.”
Dr Ebun Joseph is founder of the first Black studies module in Ireland in UCD and author of Critical Race Theory And Inequality in the Labour Market.
“In 100 years, there will be many more cultures and many more Black and brown people in Ireland. Because Ireland, like the rest of the world, will be in need of people — and the fastest-growing population is the Black population. We have to teach children from a young age — preschool and primary school — how to be accepting of difference.
“There’s no shortcut, unfortunately. I wish we could just be zapped on the head and just wake up and be accepting of difference.”
Broadcaster and fashion designer Brendan Courtney recently completed a master’s of business in equality, diversity and inclusion from the Institute of Art and Design.
“It is predicted that in 200 years, with the migration of populations around the worl,d the human race will have a much more universal look. So in a utopian world, it will transpire that skin colour never mattered and all this fighting over race was a waste of time, energy and lives. Maybe races will be more blended in Ireland in 100 years’ time.”
In his own CSO time capsule Courtney wondered whether social media will be regulated by 2122.
“That’s my big question. In 100 years’ time, will they laugh at us and ask, ‘Can you believe they used those things willy-nilly without any legality around them?’ Because look at the effect social media has had on global politics. It is dividing people and building hate.”
Many children alive today will still be around when Courtney’s question is answered.
“According to the epidemiological prediction statistics, we are going to continue to live longer. So for babies born alive today, the prediction is that about 50pc will live to 120 years and some will live beyond that,” says Rose Anne Kenny, professor of medical gerontology at Trinity College Dublin and author of Age Proof: The New Science Of Living A Longer And Healthier Life.
“I also predict that in 100 years’ time, we will have eradicated dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, and we will have cured arthritis, which are two big issues which impair brain function and physical function as we get older. I think we will vaccinate against bacteria and be less reliant on antibiotics.”
Pharma and tech companies are spending billions developing drugs to slow down the ageing process.
“We already have some in the pipeline. The science in this field is moving terribly quickly,” says Kenny. “I also think that in 100 years’, we will all probably have an implantable chip, a little device under the skin, which will constantly feed back to us our biorhythms so that we can have early detection of anything that’s going wrong. We are already doing it with diabetes, so it is only a matter of time.”
Ruth Freeman, director of science for society at Science Foundation Ireland, concurs that we are “on the cusp of so many amazing discoveries in medicine”. While the “overwhelming issue that scientists are talking about is climate change”, she is hopeful that there will be time and opportunity for future generations to reap the benefits of health innovation.
“Things like printing organs and bone where we can repair bodies in ways that we’ve never been able to do before,” she says, of 3D-printed medical implants.
“And rather than having a generic implant or a knee replacement or a hip replacement, you’ll be able to get an implant that is designed especially for your body.”
Everyone will have a “digital health twin” — an online model of their genetic make-up, physiological characteristics and lifestyle, including any ‘biomarkers’ or indicators of disease.
“And you will have personalised medicine, so if something goes wrong, doctors will be able to diagnose or prescribe a treatment that is specific for you based on the way your body is at that time, which is going to be a combination of your genes and your environment.”
Denis Horgan, founder of European Alliance for Personalised Medicine, explains that the future is not about treating diseases, but avoiding them.
“In 100 years’ time, there will be greater emphasis on diagnostics. Now it’s very much in therapeutics. But the game-changer is diagnostics.”
Mark Kelly, chief customer officer at Alldus, and founder of AI Ireland, believes one of the biggest changes will be autonomous transport.
“Over 1.25 million people die on our roads across the world every year, so it is a major issue, and the vast majority of death is because of inattentiveness at the wheel. What we’re going to see is that people no longer own cars. The cars will be there, they will pick us up and drop us to different destinations. And the technology is pretty advanced now to allow that to happen. But what has to change is our road infrastructure, which isn’t set up for AI cars. But this will change.”
We will have robots in the workplace and in our homes.
“They will be engaging with us and potentially we will be paying those robots as they become self-aware.”
People will work less and enjoy more leisure time, as artificial intelligence takes on more responsibilities.
“Currently, we have humans in the loop for the vast majority of things that happen with AI. But what’s going to happen in the future is AI are going to be posing the questions. So that’s going to be the major change.”
People will need to remain alert to potential bias in the data AI uses to make those decisions.
“That is crucial. That’s something that we’ve been very strong on and advocating for in the European Union.”
Ireland will be “the battery of Europe” in 2122, predicts Noel Cunniffe, CEO of Wind Energy Ireland.
“We have something that a lot of other countries in Europe don’t have, which is a very large sea area — seven times the size of Ireland — in our ownership or control. If you google ‘the real map of Ireland’ you will see it,” he says. “In 100 years we will 100pc definitely be powering ourselves from wind energy. Right now, about 40pc of our electricity comes from renewables, most of it wind energy. We should have an Ireland that’s completely powered by zero-carbon renewable resources within the next 13 years. After that, it’s all about how we can help to decarbonise Europe.”
Ireland might be a power player in a European renewables supergrid — but it will retain its own cultural touchstones too.
“The Irish language will be alive and thriving without a doubt in 100 years’ time,” says Julian de Spáinn, general secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge. He points to the fact that one-fifth of new recruits to the public service must be Irish speakers by 2030 since a recent legislative amendment to the Official Languages Act. However. we need to emulate Wales, which has set a goal to have one million Welsh speakers and 40pc Welsh-medium schools by 2050.
“Only 6pc of schools are Irish-medium education at the moment. If we were to increase that to 25pc for our first target and then increase it to over 50pc after that, in 100 years that will make a massive difference.
Paul Rouse, professor in UCD School of History and author of Sport & Ireland: A History is not convinced that our sports organisations will be the same in 2122.
“But, what we can say with certainty is that people will be playing with a stick and ball. If you look at the amazing exhibition by Clodagh Doyle in the National Museum of Ireland in Mayo you will see a hurling ball that has been carbon-dated to the 12th century and a hurley carbon-dated to the 16th Century. This tells you of a record of play that is real and fundamental and will continue.”
But will we have a united Ireland? Gary Murphy, professor of politics in Dublin City University, and author of Haughey, says, “Theoretically, yes, we could. All the demographics in Northern Ireland in relation to population would suggest that there will be a Catholic majority at some stage over the next couple of decades.
“And in that context, one would think that there would be perhaps an extra demand for unity. But it’s obviously much more complex than that. All this talk about British sovereignty could lead to a scenario where the question of sovereignty in Northern Ireland from the unionists’ perspective becomes quite strong.”
Along with the more Catholic demographics is the likelihood of a Sinn Féin government in the Republic in the meantime.
“If you take those things into account, I do think there is a significant chance that there would be Irish unity in 100 years. But it would not be without its difficulties.”