Politicians have always enjoyed segmenting us into predictable voting blocks over divisive wedge issues. We continue to debate abortion decades after Roe v. Wade, while the Supreme Court decides whether gay couples should be considered equals in the eyes of the law. As slow as the process of establishing civil liberties may be, these noisome final stages are surely the death rattles of issues gaining common acceptance – soon to be gone the way of slavery, women's suffrage and prohibition.
So what will the civil liberty battles of tomorrow be? What will we be arguing over when we disagree about the future we'd like to design for our children? Will euthanasia still be a hot topic when our population and life expectancy skyrockets to the point of crippling our economy? Will robotic artificial intelligence become self-aware and demand equal rights? Will polyamorous marriages follow the gay marriage victory? Will people have to fight for their right to drive cars?
Here are the four things we'll go to war about in the not-so-distant future:
1. Genetically Modified Children:
Far from being a sci-fi fantasy, the possibility of genetically altering children is fast approaching fruition. We continue to map the human genome at an ever-accelerating pace, and the introductory option of removing birth defects and diseases will soon be readily available. But what about superficial changes and the possibility of "designer babies"? With companies increasingly seeking to patent the genes they discover, and a growing market for utilizing desirable genetics, we could soon see a marketplace where parents can choose the eye color, height, intelligence and muscle mass of their children. Want an athlete son? A scholar daughter? Just tinker away and watch your design come to fruition.
But what kind of class system will we create, when genetic and evolutionary changes can be purchased within every generation? What do we sacrifice by removing the chaos and randomness of the birth process? Will the rich be able to create an entirely superior class of human in their children? If you splice the genetics of several geniuses into your baby, is it still technically your biological offspring? And what if we found the gene for sexual orientation? How heated will the gay rights debate become if parents can actively select heterosexuality or homosexuality for their child? Where will we agree to draw the line on acceptable and advantageous changes, parental control and equal rights?
2. Animal Consumption
With a global population explosion, growing middle classes in India and China, and an increasing demand for meat, the world will soon have to face some tough decisions regarding our food supply. The vast majority of arable land is used for livestock farming, and new territories are aggressively being converted. But we can't sustain that growth from an environmental standpoint or an economic one. The UN has already proposed that the far more efficient option of insect consumption be introduced on a global scale. 3D printed synthetic meats are still far away from feeding the masses, and as more and more species grow extinct, eating meat may soon become an unsustainable luxury.
Bug farming is more efficient, and can produce a bountiful protein yield while being far less harmful to the environment. Will people have to fight for the right to eat meat, or will killing an animal be considered an offense as egregious as poaching an endangered species for their horns?
3. Cybernetic Enhancements:
As well as being able to tinker with our genetics, advancements in robotics will soon offer us an array of internal and external modifications to our body. Replacing lost limbs with mind-controlled prosthetics will be the introductory mechanism by which we normalize the use of cybernetic enhancements, but what about a mechanized heart? A synthetic liver that filters out toxins at 500% efficiency? People may soon have the option of opting out of their frail organic organs, and substituting them with an Apple or GE model robotic version — guaranteed for 5 lifetimes!
Doctors will have to question whether the idea of voluntarily inserting prosthetics into an otherwise healthy body challenges their Hippocratic oath. Is it a quality of life issue like plastic surgery? Or will people have an unfair advantage with increased life expectancy and strength? Will health insurance companies charge you more on your premium if you refuse to "upgrade" to mechanical options? Religious groups will find the advancements an abomination on God's design, and the opposite camp will claim rights over their own body and make it an issue of free market consumerism.
4. Internet Rights and Anonymity:
As the 3D-printed gun joins pirated films and music in the ever-expanding debate over what is acceptably shareable information online, we will continue to see attempts by governments and corporations to control the chaos of the internet. Rather than remain focused on particular products, the argument for modifying the nature of the World Wide Web will take a grand scale approach by tackling issues like privacy, freedom of speech, and access to classified knowledge. Iconoclasts like Aaron Swartz and Julian Assange will continue to advocate a free, open-sourced platform where all information is accessible by everyone. Governments around the world will be more eager to administer the flow of information, deciding what is appropriate for people to view … and at what cost.
The internet has all but become an inalienable right and necessary function of modern society. The sudden access to limitless information has utterly transformed societies and the manner in which we interact with each other. It has also given governments and companies an ability to track our behavior with an unprecedentedly accurate digital record — our political opinions, shopping habits, social connections, travel habits, etc. We are only starting to understand the potential implications this dynamic presents, and will see many civil liberty battles manifest when people want to challenge the degrading nature of their privacy. What if the vast majority of the human population is wearing Google glasses, and facial recognition technology allows you to essentially search live feeds for people's faces out there in public? Don't think your husband is really "working late" — search the local bars for his face and find out!