Whether we are just entering our earliest decades of life or cresting into our final decades, no matter our ages, all of us will forever share these times of living through the COVID-19 pandemic. And, next we will share a new decade beginning with 2021 that we submit will be the most life-changing and world-shattering years since the last pandemic of 1920. The extraordinary binary choices we will be facing have very little to do with a virus, although we can expect more pandemics to come. We pray we will be more prepared and disciplined next time.

Rollie column

Rollie Atkinson

By the time 2031 gets here, we will not recognize the internet as we know it today. Our health care, transportation, schools, jobs, governance, foods, sports, freedoms, international powers and interpersonal relationships will all be radically shifted. How we deal with these binary breakthroughs will make the difference between a utopia or a dystopia. For a concrete example, think of the difference between a future with a second term for Donald Trump versus a new administration led by Joe Biden. Without making any political comment, we can see the striking differences this choice represents.

Think of a future internet still monopolized by Google and Facebook versus a democratized communications network that values personal privacy, civic good and benevolence in all things. Think of future health technologies that cure stubborn diseases like Alzheimer’s or Multiple Sclerosis versus GMO biomechanics that promise perfect babies with pre-coded IQs and personalities.

All this and more will be taking place during the decade we are about to enter. Are we ready? Of course we’re not. We will end up somewhere in between a utopia of widespread peace, prosperity and more leisure time than work. Or, we will encounter dystopian scenarios of continued bitter divide, chaos, violence and crushing authoritarianism. The pandemic of 2020 with toilet paper hoarding and facemask shaming will seem quaint. Forget about the virus from China and start thinking about the China global dominance.

Our Sonoma County should still be recognizable except for all the electric and driverless cars. New battery technology and artificial intelligence devices will bring us creature comforts we have yet to imagine. We will eat more and more “deathless meats,” based on technologies already here where farmers are being replaced by scientists who can grow chickens and cows in test tubes. We may see the advent of a new church based on CRISPR (Continuous Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats.) Go look it up; it’s how you make perfect babies. But it’s also how you make the next pandemic-fighting vaccines in just months, and not years.

This new decade we are entering is absolutely the “make or break” decade of climate change choices. Having president-elect Joe Biden getting us back into the Paris Agreement — a treaty by 195 nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — is a promising beginning. The continued work of our county’s Regional Climate Protection Authority and Sonoma Clean Power will ensure a future decade of less fossil fuels, more renewables, more clean air and water — and maybe the beginnings of better wildfire prevention and resiliency.

Artificial intelligence and robotics will greatly alter how we do schooling, communications and local government. All the Zoom sessions we’ve been doing during our COVID-19 shutdown is a tame beginning. By the end of this decade we may no longer have phones or machines with screens, replaced with wearables, bio-implants and the cloning of molecules with machines. Many of our jobs will be done by robots. Lots of us might get paid to not work.

This could be a mostly good or a terrible thing. Lots will depend on how much of our privacy and freedom these conveniences will cost us. What we now call personal assistants like the voices on our smartphones could become our personal tyrants, predicting our bodily and psychic needs and dictating our daily routines. Is it too late to ask for a re-boot?

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