Philly 2050: What the future will bring

The first forecast from noted futurist and former Drexel professor Arthur Shostak is: Don’t invest in any Jersey beachfront property.

“The rise of the ocean level off the Jersey coast, 40 years from now, is very likely to have done great damage to a lot of summer beach real estate owned today by Philadelphians,” Shostak said, adding that Philadelphia will probably have to build high walls around its ocean-connected rivers to avoid periodic flooding.

But most of his predictions are less dire. “There’s a high probability the city, by 2050, will be greener in terms of environmental ecological adaptation than ever before,” he said. “We expect that homes will have walls that will radiate heat or radiate cool — we won’t need air-conditioners or heaters.”

Many Philadelphia renters will likely live in vertical farms — 20- to 40-story buildings that house produce along with people and use power from solar energy-generating roads.

And the roads themselves may well be less congested. “It’s highly likely by 2050 that Philadelphia traffic jams will be in the history books,” Shostak said. “Humans will not be at the wheel.” Vehicles operated by artificial intelligence will avoid obstacles and choose the most efficient routes. Instead of subways or buses, Shostak envisions low-cost “robotic personal cabs” that are always on call.

My robot, my self

One caveat: Advances in artificial intelligence will likely bring self-awareness, Shostak said. Rather than simply having a robot vacuuming their homes, “Philadelphians are likely to, in 2050, sit alongside at a desk of a robot worker who probably will be a colleague, almost an equal.”

That could have risks. “We want to protect [differences] between our species and the species we’re bringing along,” he said. “We’ll get into enormous trouble if we ever lose sight that we are the father and they are the son or daughter — that’s a risk our great-grandchildren will likely be wrestling with.”


Dr. Ulrich Eberl, renowned German futurist, has more predictions for 2050:

Homes be “smarter,” equipped with electronic nervous systems controlling utilities, security and networked appliances communicating with each other.

“Personal robots” may be more common and have advanced voice control and gesture recognition, allowing them to interpret facial expressions and emotions.

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