21st century

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Centuries: 20th century - 21st century - 22nd century
Decades: 2000s 2010s 2020s 2030s 2040s 2050s 2060s 2070s 2080s 2090s

In calendars based on the Christian Era or Common Era, such as the Gregorian calendar, the 21st century is the current century, as of this writing. It spans 2001 to 2100, and the 3rd millennium spans 2001 to 3000, since counting for the first century begun with the year 1 [1]. Frequently common usage regards the 21st century as spanning 2000 to 2099, and the third millennium as spanning 2000 to 2999. In 2000 the ISO implicitly backed the common usage by defining a calendar that places the origin of the counting in a Year Zero. In practice, the question of common usage seems definitively settled by the wide use of January 1st, 2000, to mark the beginning of the 21st century. Decades are almost always considered as starting with the "0" year and named accordingly ("2010s", etc.).

Similar to the 20th century's place in popular culture as part of names such as 20th Century Fox, the 21st century has been used in the names of a number of companies and organizations.


The 21st century has had an influence on culture since well before it began. Speculation about future, social, cultural, and technological trends frequently centered on the year 2000, starting with late-19th century essays and novels (often of a utopian nature) such as Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. It's been said that the event horizon of Western culture was steadily shrinking in this period, since as late as the 1990s people were still often focusing on the year 2000 in their discussions of the future.

Religious beliefs in a "millennial apocalypse" were supplemented by genuine concerns about the Y2k computer "bug" and about possible terrorist attacks centered on the year-2000 celebrations, but the actual turn of the millennium (both the popularly-celebrated one in 2000 and the "purist" one in 2001) went by in a fairly anticlimactic manner.

However, the years since have continued in the tumultuous manner people of the 20th century were accustomed to expect, with wars, terrorism, and other conflicts, as well as continued advances in science and technology including the continuing expansion of the use of computers and the Internet (despite the "tech bubble burst" where the overexuberance of early Internet companies was deflated).

More Y2k-style computer date failures are due before the end of the 21st century; the Unix datestamps, consisting of a count of the number of seconds since 1970, may overflow in 2038, while the family of operating systems descended from MS-DOS (including the various versions of Microsoft Windows) can't handle dates beyond 2099.

Important developments, events, achievements


Science and technology

Conflicts and civil unrest

Worldwide deaths from war and terror attacks

Furthermore, there are several wars and dictatorships continuing from the 20th century. In most cases, the death toll is unclear.

See also [4].

Natural disasters



Issues and concerns

Some of the things that have dominated discussion and debate in this century include:

  • Overpopulation. The United Nations estimates that world population will reach 9.1 billion by mid-century. Such growth raises questions of ecological sustainability and creates many economic and political disruptions. In response, many countries have adopted policies which either force or encourage their citizens to have fewer children, and others have limited immigration. Considerable debate exists over what the ultimate carrying capacity of the planet may be; whether or not population growth containment policies are necessary; to what degree growth can safely occur thanks to increased economic and ecological efficiency; and how markets should accommodate demographic shifts. Evidence forms that developed countries (such as Japan) suffer population implosion, and the population debate is strongly tied with poverty.
  • Poverty. Poverty remains the root cause of many of the world's other ills, including famine, disease, and insufficient education. Poverty contains many self-reinforcing elements (for instance, poverty can make education an unaffordable luxury, which tends to result in continuing poverty) that various aid groups hope to rectify in this century.
  • Global power. Issues surrounding the cultural, economic, and military dominance of the United States and its role in the world community have become even more pointed given its recent military activities, problematic relations with the United Nations, disagreement over several international treaties, and its economic policies with regard to globalization. Integration of the European Union and the African Union have proceeded.
  • Intellectual property. The increasing popularity of digital formats for entertainment media such as movies and music, and the ease of copying and distributing it via the Internet and peer-to-peer networks, has raised concerns in the media industry about piracy. Much debate is proceeding about the proper bounds between protection of copyright, trademark and patent rights versus fair use and the public domain, where some argue that such laws have shifted greatly towards intellectual property owners and away from the interests of the general public in recent years, while others say that such legal change is needed to deal with the threat of new technologies against the rights of authors and artists (or, as others put it, against the outmoded business models of the current entertainment industry). Domain name "cybersquatting" and access to patented drugs to combat epidemics in third-world countries are other IP concerns.
  • Technology developments show no sign of ending. Communications and control technology continues to augment the intelligence of individual humans, collections of humans, and machines. Cultures are forced into the position of sharply defining humanity and determining boundaries on desire, thought, communication, behavior, and manufacturing. It is predicted that by the middle of this century there will be a Technological Singularity when artificial intelligences are created that are smarter than humans. As these then create even smarter AI's technological change will accelerate in ways that are impossible for us to foresee.
  • Energy is becomng scarce and more expensive, due to the esclating demand for petroleum ("oil") and oil-based products such as gasoline and kerosene, unmatched by production. Discovery of new oil fields has not been sufficient to sustain current levels of production, and some fear that the earth may be running out of economically viable oil. While complete depletion will not happen in the near future, some fear that a peak in production will cause an end to the trend of economic expansion in modern society, perhaps resulting in a collapse of modern civilization itself. Others believe that alternative sources of energy will prevent this disaster.

The United Nations lists global issues on its agenda here and lists a set of Millennium Goals to attempt to address some of these issues.

Significant people

Influential people in politics as of 2005

(in alphabetical order)

Influential people in religion as of 2005

Influential people in technology as of 2005

Influential people in science as of 2005

Influential people in mathematics as of 2005

Astronomical events and predictions

Scientific Predictions

Science fiction set in the 21st century

Television and film

Computer and video games


Decades and years


External links

  • Long Bets Foundation to promote long-term thinking
  • Long Now Long-term cultural institution

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