Web 4.0 is transforming the Internet landscape
Further convergence of the physical world and the Internet has led to the emergence of “Web 4.0”. By now, practically every document in existence has been digitally encoded, backed up and archived online. This includes full copies of all books, journals, manuscripts and other literature ever published – forming a complete repository of human knowledge going back thousands of years. These documents can be retrieved and analysed using real-time speech commands, translated from any of the world’s 6,000 languages, and accessed via 3D holographic imaging.
Semantic analyzing programs are resulting in new forms of AI of startling power and efficiency. These are now performing a huge range of automated tasks, both in the world of business and for personal use. Governments, the military and security services make particular use of this technology. Running on massively parallel networks, these applications roam the Internet, proactively hunting for data – both textual and visual – and combining the most subtle capabilities of humans (such as pattern recognition) with ways in which machines are already vastly superior (such as speed, memory, and the ability to download skills and knowledge).
These programs – a form of highly advanced search engine – aren’t just limited to the online world. They are beginning to play a major function in the real world, gathering information from the array of sensors, cameras and other tracking devices now present in the environment, on vehicles, and even on people themselves.
Although many privacy and civil liberties issues are being raised, a new generation of information technology is emerging which promises to bring enormous benefits to society as a whole. Crimes are far easier and faster to solve thanks to these intelligent virtual agents; research projects are becoming increasingly automated with less need for human staff; transport and logistics networks are becoming smoother and more efficient; resources can be managed and distributed far more accurately.
Web 4.0 is also democratising the Internet more than ever before. News agencies are finding themselves increasingly outmoded by bloggers and other social media when it comes to unfiltered, trustworthy information and quality of content.
Married couples are a minority
By now, marriage has been reduced to the status of a lifestyle choice enjoyed by a minority, rather than an essential institution of modern society. This trend, which began in the 1980s, has seen the married population shrink from almost 50% of adults in 2009, to just 41% now, and this figure is continuing to fall.
Increasing pressures of work and money, together with the general stresses of the outside world (including the ongoing energy crisis), are putting an ever-greater strain on couples. The decline of religious institutions has also played a part here. Unmarried partnerships no longer carry the stigma they once had, while divorce is becoming more acceptable too.
In addition, increasing numbers of people either working from home, or living with their parents, are making it difficult for some to meet potential partners.
Another contributory factor is a rise in the use of virtual reality – and other such technologies – which has led to increased individual isolation. People of all ages spend increasingly large amounts of their time engaged in fully immersive online experiences, requiring little or no interaction with the outside world.
Of those who are married, the number of children per couple is also declining.
Thames Barrier in London is replaced
Following a major flood – triggered by a combination of rising sea levels and extreme weather – the Thames Barrier in London has had to be replaced by a larger successor. The original barrier was raised a total of 62 times between 1983 and 2001. It was raised with increasing frequency as the decades went by, and required a complete overhaul during the early 2030s.
Towards the end of the 21st century, its successor may have to be raised over 200 times every single year to cope with the combined impact of stronger storms and sea level rise.
Water meters in all UK homes
While rising sea levels threaten to flood coastal regions, many parts of the UK are faced with crippling shortages of fresh water. By this date, every home in the country has a water meter installed, and there are strict rations on how much water can be used.
Wildlife is being put under severe environmental stress – especially amphibians – with a number of well-known species going extinct. Agriculture is being hit hard, with less water available for irrigation, and record heatwaves are killing tens of thousands of elderly, sick and vulnerable people.
Dozens of new desalination plants are being constructed at enormous cost to the taxpayer.