Each year since 1985, the editors of The Futurist have collected their most thought-provoking ideas and forecasts into an annual Outlook report. The Outlook 2009 report was recently released and we have published it below along with our own comments inlined:
1. Everything you say and do will be recorded by 2030. By the late 2010s, ubiquitous, unseen nanodevices will provide seamless communication and surveillance among all people everywhere. Humans will have nanoimplants, facilitating interaction in an omnipresent network. Everyone will have a unique Internet Protocol (IP) address. Since nano storage capacity is almost limitless, all conversation and activity will be recorded and recoverable. -Gene Stephens, “Cybercrime in the Year 2025,” July-Aug 2008, p. 34
The Hub’s Take: For many of us, we took more photos and short videos of ourselves and our friends and family in 2008 than we did in all previous years of our lives combined. As the tools for recording our lives get smaller, easier to use, and easier to wear and as the cost of storing massive amounts of data continues to plummet the days of recording all or nearly all of what we say, do, see, and hear seems inevitable. Sites like justin.tv are already enabling thousands of individuals to continuously stream live video of themselves to the internet 24×7.
2. Bioviolence will become a greater threat as the technology becomes more accessible. Emerging scientific disciplines (notably genomics, nanotechnology, and other microsciences) could pave the way for a bioattack. Bacteria and viruses could be altered to increase their lethality or to evade antibiotic treatment. Another long-term risk comes from nanopollution fallout from warfare. Nanoparticles could potentially cause new diseases with unusual and difficult-to-treat symptoms, and they will inflict damage far beyond the traditional battlefield, even affecting future generations. -Barry Kellman, “Bioviolence: A Growing Threat,” May-June 2008, p. 25 et seq.; Antonietta M. Gatti and Stefano Montanari, “Nanopollution: The Invisible Fog of Future Wars,” May-June 2008, p. 32
The Hub’s Take: Sadly this threat is real. Technology has always been a double edged sword, providing benefits to those who seek to help others, but also to those who seek to do harm. The internet has brought wonderful positive changes to our lives and is widely seen as a net gain for society even though it has enhanced the capabilities and destructive power of those with ill intent. We can only hope that the coming age of nanotechnology and bioscience will also provide a net gain to society in spite of the threats that they enable.
3. The car’s days as king of the road may soon be over. More powerful wireless communication that reduces demand for travel, flying delivery drones to replace trucks, and policies to restrict the number of vehicles owned in each household are among the developments that could thwart the automobile’s historic dominance on the environment and culture. If current trends were to continue, the world would have to make way for a total of 3 billion vehicles on the road by 2025. -Thomas J. Frey, “Disrupting the Automobile’s Future,” Sep-Oct 2008, p. 39 et seq.
The Hub’s Take: We aren’t so sure about this one. Today’s cars consume huge amounts of energy inefficiently and pollute the earth, but they need not always be this way. Cars of the future could be much more energy efficient and could someday evolve into zero emission vehicles. In the future cars might even become a net positive for the environment, using excess energy to clean the environment as they move around, rather than polluting it. A future with 3 billion of today’s cars would certainly be a disaster, but in the future we will have better cars, not today’s cars.
4. Careers, and the college majors for preparing for them, are becoming more specialized. An increase in unusual college majors may foretell the growth of unique new career specialties. Instead of simply majoring in business, more students are beginning to explore niche majors such as sustainable business, strategic intelligence, and entrepreneurship. Other unusual majors that are capturing students’ imaginations: neuroscience and nanotechnology, computer and digital forensics, and comic book art. Scoff not: The market for comic books and graphic novels in the United States has grown 12% since 2006. -World Trends & Forecasts, Sep-Oct 2008, p. 8
The Hub’s Take: Knowledge is power. We live in the information age. The future for careers and colleges is one where humans are expected to know more and have ever more specialized knowledge in one or more fields. Some will argue that we don’t need to know as much now because everything we need to know is only a google search away, but this thinking is flawed. Looking up information is easy, but understanding information, being able to connect information with other pieces of information, and making proper decisions based on information is the value that humans will continue to seek and deliver through college and careers.
5. There may not be world law in the foreseeable future, but the world’s legal systems will be networked. The Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), a database of local and national laws for more than 50 participating countries, will grow to include more than 100 counties by 2010. The database will lay the groundwork for a more universal understanding of the diversity of laws between nations and will create new opportunities for peace and international partnership. -Joseph N. Pelton, “Toward a Global Rule of Law: A Practical Step Toward World Peace,” Nov-Dec 2007, p. 25
The Hub’s Take: The world is increasingly globalized and interconnected. It seems logical that nearly all fields, including world law, will succumb to this trend.
6. Professional knowledge will become obsolete almost as quickly as it’s acquired. An individual’s professional knowledge is becoming outdated at a much faster rate than ever before. Most professions will require continuous instruction and retraining. Rapid changes in the job market and work-related technologies will necessitate job education for almost every worker. At any given moment, a substantial portion of the labor force will be in job retraining programs. -Marvin J. Cetron and Owen Davies, “Trends Shaping Tomorrow’s World, Part Two,” May-June 2008, p 41
The Hub’s Take: Knowledge is changing faster and faster, but many of its underlying principles remain the same. Although it is true that we must continuously update our knowledge, it is not true to say that previous knowledge becomes obsolete. Take computer programming for example: the algorithms and the syntax may change, but the underlying principles endure. Our careers and our lives in the future will more and more demand that we update and refresh our knowledge on a continuous basis, but this does not mean that our previous knowledge acquisition was all for naught.
7. The race for biomedical and genetic enhancement will-in the twenty-first century-be what the space race was in the previous century. Humanity is ready to pursue biomedical and genetic enhancement, says UCLA professor Gregory Stock, the money is already being invested, but, he says, “We’ll also fret about these things-because we’re human, and it’s what we do.” -Gregory Stock quoted in “Thinking Globally, Acting Locally, Living Personally,” Nov-Dec 2007, p. 57
The Hub’s Take: Absolutely! The melding of man and machine is well underway. Human enhancement and modification through biological and mechanical means is a virtual certainty. Isn’t that one of the underlying premises of Singularity Hub?
8. Urbanization will hit 60% by 2030. As more of the world’s population lives in cities, rapid development to accommodate them will make existing environmental and socioeconomic problems worse. Epidemics will be more common due to crowded dwelling units and poor sanitation. Global warming may accelerate due to higher carbon dioxide output and loss of carbon-absorbing plants. -Marvin J. Cetron and Owen Davies, “Trends Shaping Tomorrow’s World, Part One,” Mar-Apr 2008, p. 52
The Hub’s Take: Although cyberspace allows us to talk and interact with almost anyone anywhere, we still live largely in a physical world and people still find great advantage in being near each other. The trend of increased urbanization seems destined to continue.
9. The Middle East will become more secular while religious influence in China will grow. Popular support for religious government is declining in places like Iraq, according to a University of Michigan study. The researchers report that in 2004 only one-fourth of respondents polled believed that Iraq would be a better place if religion and politics were separated. By 2007, that proportion was one-third. Separate reports indicate that religion in China will likely increase as an indirect result of economic activity and globalization. -World Trends & Forecasts, Nov-Dec 2007, p. 10
The Hub’s Take: we really don’t feel qualified to judge on this one.
10. Access to electricity will reach 83% of the world by 2030. Electrification has expanded around the world, from 40% connected in 1970 to 73% in 2000, and may reach 83% of the world’s people by 2030. Electricity is fundamental to raising living standards and access to the world’s products and services. Impoverished areas such as sub-Saharan Africa still have low rates of electrification; for instance, Uganda is just 3.7% electrified. -Andy Hines, “Global Trends in Culture, Infrastructure, and Values,” Sep-Oct 2008, p. 20
The Hub’s Take: Is this observation really worthy of the top 10?