A Global Status Report: January 1, 2050 – predictions of year 2050 world scenario
Jerome C. Glenn
The following is one view of how the world could look in the year 2050, as envisioned by a global network of over 550 futurists, scholars, business planners, and policymakers who comprise the ongoing Millenium Project of the American Council for the United Nations University. However, not all of you will agree that everything in this scenario is desirable–particularly as relates to the questions of liberty versus security and privacy versus convenience.
The world has finally achieved a global economy that appears to be environmentally sustainable while providing nearly all people with the basic necessities of life and the majority with a comfortable living. The resulting social stability has created a world in relative peace, exploring possible futures for the second half of the twenty-first century.
Different explanations have been given for the series of astounding successes achieved during the past fifty years. Some believe that breakthroughs in science and technology were the keys, others that development of the human potential was more fundamental, and still others that political and economic policies made the difference. But it appears that all three themes were important and mutually reinforcing.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Today the Internet has become a right of citizenship. Businesses give free accounts to customers; employers give them as an employee benefit. The connection of virtually all people to the global information and communications system has accelerated the pace of scientific research and the introduction and diffusion of new technology. Biotechnology, nanotechnology, and closed-environment agriculture have fed the world. New and improved sources of energy have made cleaner economic growth. Brain-like intelligent systems use neural networks to augment human intelligence and improve decision making. Molecular manufacturing (nanotechnology) has lowered manufacturing unit cost, requiring less volume of materials and energy usage and, hence, lowered the environmental impact of a population that had almost reached ten billion before starting to decline.
Vaccinology and genetic engineering have eliminated most acquired and inherited diseases, further reducing the need for more frequent pregnancies to have a similar-sized family. This was a factor in further lowering fertility rates, even though generational mini-booms have echoed from the great population explosion in the mid-twentieth century.
Cyberspace has become a major medium of civilization, creating a constantly growing, non-zero-sum economy, and changed day-to-day life as significantly as the Industrial Revolution changed life over 200 years ago. The success of the International Space Station has led to other orbital habitats, the lunar base, and the pioneer communities on Mars. Nearly 250,000 people now work in space communities in orbit, on the moon, and on Mars, providing a new frontier for human imagination and advances in civilization.
Health is a widely accepted human right; equity in coverage and accessibility to quality health services and health information exist regardless of capacity to pay, culture, race, geographic location, or social status. Tele-health and tele-medicine are widely available and easily accessible. Health-care providers adopt new paradigms to forecast and prevent potential health problems through personal and public health approaches, early detection through biomonitoring, and management of problems that do occur.
Some people used to believe that computers would regiment us by forcing us to conform to their specifications in order to use them. Today, computers and the machines that use them have supported diversity through mass customization. Manufacturers make very short production runs of products that are tailored to the specific needs of very small segments of consumers, differing in detail but matching their criteria. The software technology that uses one’s body as password has eliminated toll booths, credit cards, and passports since people can be recognized by machines. Shopping is now augmented by personal databases of everything from one’s buying history to clothing measurements, allowing the online or in-person to say, “This jacket will match the slacks you bought last month” or “Don’t you want to get some matching clothes for your niece’s doll for her birthday next week?”
When it was scientifically demonstrated that certainty of discovery was the most effective deterrent to dishonesty and crime, means for improving certainty of discovery and positive identification based on voice analysis and cross-referencing were developed; global databases were created; and crime rates have fallen as a result. International protocols have been established for sharing police data banks. And the use of non-lethal weapons–such as sticky foams and aerosols that induce sleep–has increased.
Nanotechnology transceivers with voice stress software have been incorporated into clothing and jewelry; these systems alert the user when people are lying or becoming aggressive. Although counter-software will always be a problem, requiring constant upgrades, people have become more honest–or at least behave more honestly than in the last century.
All of these improvements in information technology have resulted in an intricate system of communications that some have called a “global brain” or planetary “nervous system,” which has improved the prospects for humanity. As access has expanded, diminishing costs of educational software (edutainment), any motivated person can obtain a college education and continue to learn about everything she or he wants. Individuals cross political and corporate boundaries in pico-seconds, forming new alliances unknown to traditional power structures. Rich and poor have nearly equal access to cyberspace almost anywhere and anytime. The old distinctions between First and Third Worlds are meaningless in cyberspace.
The old one-way media tended to be conflict-oriented; audiences were held by the drama of disagreement. Interactive media tend to be cooperation-oriented; users are held together by the satisfaction of collaboration. Cyberspace has distributed the new wealth of information more democratically than previous systems. As a result, anyone can get the training, market research, planning, credit, and other resources to start her or his own unique businesses and sell to the global cyberspace market. Over the past fifty years, this development has become a major factor in reducing unemployment worldwide.
The invention of secure electronic money has revolutionized retail transactions and international trade and provided extraordinary growth of employment. While retail use of the Internet got most of the early publicity and attention, business-to-business transactions have grown phenomenally. Today, businesses of any size identify suppliers and partners worldwide, barter, order, and track order status simply and instantaneously around the world. Rules preventing wild currency fluctuations have limited financial crises and allowed small-business growth with security. Around the world, currency speculation has been reduced by a fee-based system for central banks that has made currency transactions transparent with online prices, information on counterparties, and purposes of trade.
The synergy of telematics and micro-genetics has provided a jump in human evolution, eliminating many diseases and increasing human capabilities. Robots–both giant and nano–do the dangerous, repetitive, and precision work in surgery, security, health care, space industrialization, house cleaning, sewer pipe cleaning, bridge inspections, mining, laboratories, and even the preparation of fast food. These robots are, for the most part, adaptive to their environments, are single-purpose, and employ biosensors that are derived from both living cells and manufactured microprocessors.
Telecitizens–born in poorer areas but working in richer ones–have helped their original countries as televolunteers, accelerating the development process. The development of artificial intelligence and its use in communications have provided individuals with needed and timely medical, financial, and other information. Software for multilanguage translators has increased communications among different language groups.
The Great Cyber Games contain links to databases that describe global problems, opportunities, challenges, strategies, and tactics. Players receive points as they identify answers that match or improve on those in the database or identify new problems judged to be critical enough to add to the database. When a person scores enough points, he or she wins “reality” and gets a prerecorded message from a policymaker working on the issue for which the player has received the highest score. The message challenges the player to play in the “real world game.” The current real world situation is given to the player by the policymaker, researcher, or potential employer. When the player comes up with something considered valuable, the player gets connected live to discuss her or his insight. Winners get to play in the real global game with real actors, and many get new jobs and careers.
The Great Cyber Games are attractive to policy- and other kinds of decision-makers because they filter out all the noise of computer conferences and print media and get right to the person with the ideas. The players like them because they have the potential to see their ideas realized and to earn a living at meaningful work. Basic research labs use them to identify the young scientists with the greatest potential to participate in their research. An unintended byproduct of the games has been a global personnel selection system that today is credited for contributing to the phenomenal growth in new theoretical principles, which has led to many improvements. Another surprise is that they perform the role of a global employment agency.
The Great Cyber Games also have become an informal way to prevent some of the destruction caused by information warfare by promoting more precise, honest, and compassionate thought around the globe where it is needed, when it is needed, and in the form that is needed, so that constructive action has a chance to keep ahead of destructive action.
Global idea management systems have been integrated into the Great Cyber Games, further accelerating the progress of more environmentally friendly economic and technological development. Common data protocols for unconventional science and an international registry of new and unconventional ideas with national copyright protections have been connected to clearinghouses that report success, failure, and inconclusive research. Software that prompts users to see potential synergies of their work with research in other fields, which they might not have otherwise considered, have now become a useful protocol in all fields.
Biotechnology has created high-yield plant species that are disease- and pest-resistant, use less fertilizer, and are more tolerant of drought and brackish water. More recent applications of biotechnology are completely changing the l0,000-year-old traditional use of seeds, water, and land to grow crops. Today, large-scale factories using genetic techniques produce much of the world’s food. Food factories use genetically altered microorganisms to organize raw materials. The inputs are primarily sunlight or other energy forms, carbon dioxide, water, and nitrogenous materials. The output is amino acids and directly consumable foods. In another approach, cells from natural foods such as carrots or meat are cloned, and the outputs of the food factories are edible duplications of the parent cells. Such techniques have made agricultural production possible without land. It is also beginning to reduce the need for farmland for meat by producing novel protein, replacing meat from cows and chickens. Such meat substitutes for fish have promoted the recovery of ocean fisheries and the establishment of ocean plantations. Perhaps equally important, inventions in this field have also produced the current counters to biological weapons and removal of pathogenic microbiological agents from food.
The mapping of bacterial, human, and plant genomes has provided knowledge of genetic processes and, to some extent, information on how to control them. Some of the diseases that have been eliminated or controlled are cancer, cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, rheumatoid arthritis, AIDS, hypercholesterolemia, and some forms of mental illness. Monoclonal antibodies, sometimes mounted in biochips, are being used in sensitive diagnostic tests and drug delivery systems that pinpoint specific sites in the body. Techniques in this field have led to genetic medicine in which the genetic properties of humans are modified, in vivo, to cure or ameliorate diseases caused by genetic anomalies. Disease diagnosis based on the analysis of one’s genetic material is routine; these diagnoses relate to not only existing diseases but also the propensity to future disease and, in some cases, the propensity to aberrant behavior.
The traditional view of human reproduction is still undergoing changes simultaneously with the increasing progress toward self-determination, equal rights, economic autonomy of women, and the evolution of male and female roles. Some of the more controversial advances have centered on long-term male and female contraceptives, the ability to select the gender of a child before conception, and the ability to influence genetics and biochemical processes.
The World Energy Organization, created in the early twenty-first century, has coordinated research and helped improve policy leading to today’s safer mix of sources that have reversed the greenhouse effect. These include hydrogen, third-generation fission plants, solar power satellites, renewable energy sources, and the orbital satellite energy grid for world distribution.
The synergies of advanced research in biology and physics necessary for human space flight have generated an extraordinary number and range of inventions; stimulated thought about the meaning of life, history, and our common future; and created many opportunities for peaceful international cooperation. International research and development cooperation, led by INSPACECO (the international public-private consortium) has lowered launch costs to under $500 (U.S.) per pound, making it possible for an individual to move to a space community with a basic support package for $250,000. This, plus the growing space tourism and space lottery business (winners get a free visit to an orbital space vacation center), has opened a political debate on space migration. Some argue that migration from Earth is inevitable; it’s in the myths of many cultures. People advocate accelerating the construction of alternative habitats in space as insurance for the human species should some catastrophe threaten life on Earth. Others argue that life always moves to new niches and our curiosity will drive us one day beyond the solar system.
Space-related inventions have created new industries and tax sources for social programs, improved living standards, and expanded access to tools by miniaturization and production processes, which have lowered the costs of many technologies from satellite communications to medical diagnostic techniques. Income from satellite communications, solar power satellites, orbital energy relay satellites (orbital electricity grid), lunar and asteroid mining, weightless manufacturing, and space tourism has led to an enormous growth of private sector ventures in space. This acceleration of the privatization of space applications has avoided the cycles of public interest and non-interest in space support, so common in the last century.
Hierarchical institutions of the twentieth century have given way to network organizations and a plethora of short-term, task-oriented, individually initiated teams made possible by intelligent software agents in cyberspace. Cyber-UN and other international organizations can only be understood in cyberspace because “employees” are not concentrated in one building or geographic center from which they operate. Instead, people are connected around the world under the cyberumbrella of international organizations, but they may also be working for other institutions, such as nongovernmental organizations, corporations, universities, other United Nations systems, and traditional systems like nation-states and regional organizations. These cyber-organizations are better thought of as executive information systems with knowledge visualization, which are available in cyberspace for improved decision making by a user or group of users. This is the medium through which harmonization of global standards was achieved and through which accountability, transparency, and participation in the range of human enterprise today is reinforced.
Despite the technological progress and scientific insight upon which today’s society is based, most scientists and engineers believe that there is still more to come–that the future holds further excitement, progress, and discovery.
The acknowledgement that education is the solution to many problems and that the knowledge economy is spreading rapidly has stimulated governments and corporations worldwide to increase their investments in education, training, and applications of cognitive science. The race to educate the world began after the World Summit on Cognitive Development in 2010.
The transition from a mostly illiterate global population to a mostly educated world was achieved by the mid-2040s. The interconnection of many separate programs into a global system of education has created a cyberspace in which all can get the best education at their own pace and in their own learning style and language. Ethical and effective decision making is a new focus of education. The availability of data of all sorts, married with an integrated global scholarly and scientific knowledge base, has increased the speed of problem solving in all fields. It has provided a logically structured framework into which existing and newly acquired knowledge can be placed and assimilated in a non-redundant way for examination, discussion, and extension by scientists and scholars worldwide and for a full range of educational applications. Academic and business interests have collaborated to create a sophisticated body of principles and techniques for knowledge visualization and the use of artificial intelligence to make it possible to rapidly navigate the knowledge of the world. This has allowed for content and context to be connected, reducing confusion and culture shock in cyberspace.
In addition to the vast improvements in educational technology, the content of conventional public education also has changed. Education has successfully linked human ecology to decision making in an increasingly global society, providing the moral basis for decisions, the nature and management of risk, and dealing with uncertainty. It emphasizes compassionate behavior and socially acceptable values, such as tolerance and diversity. Instruction on how to learn and the scientific method has been given greater emphasis in both educational systems and professional training programs. And multi- and transdisciplinary techniques and nonlinear thinking approaches have become common in most curricula.
The turn of the millennium provided the focus to foster collaboration among the various interreligious dialogues on human values and morals that continued over several decades and through all forms of media. This accelerated the interreligious studies that found common moral values and attitudes acceptable to all cultures. Religious leaders publicly acknowledged the existence and value of a variety of approaches to spiritual enlightenment and to becoming a virtuous person. These public acknowledgments and dialogues helped to reduce the hatred created by the many ethnic conflicts of the late twentieth century. The personal intervention of some religious leaders, who condemned those who called for violence in the name of religion, reduced the use of religion as a justification for ethnic conflict.
Philosophers and artists created terminology and imagery that communicated the premise that the strength of diversity is its underlying unity, as well as our ethical responsibilities to future generations. Global ethics have become generally understood and scientifically documented for social stability. This does not mean that all people adhere to global ethics but, rather, that it has become a force for social stability. Advertising and social marketing have taught tolerance and respect for diversity and equal rights. All managers today have received training courses in ethical behavior in a multiethnic context. As a result, thinking globally includes responsibility about global impacts.
Changes in global frames of reference and philosophies, due in part to understanding of the interaction of population and economic growth with environmental degradation, have given rise to the more enlightened age of today. The merger of the environmental movements and human rights groups in collaboration with many leading multinational corporations has made possible the global educational campaign that has made access to clean air, water, and land accepted as a human right. Consequently, many changes in environmental policies and behaviors have resulted. It has become unthinkable to establish an environmentally dangerous project.
In the late twentieth century, it was scientifically documented that the behavior and values of most astronauts changed as a result of the “breakaway phenomena”-the psychological reaction to leaving Earth. Seeing Earth from space caused psychological and even neurological changes, which created new neural connections associated with the concept of humanity and, hence, the value-forming process. Since then, human consciousness has become more compassionate with the daily flood of images of Earth from orbital communities, the lunar base, and the Mars pioneers. Many children born in space have developed careers related to conflict prevention and reinforcing the value of ethnic diversity. Their increasing interaction with Earth-based groups has provided a calming influence on potential social conflicts.
By the end of the twentieth century, many norms underpinning peace were widely accepted, such as territorial integrity; nonuse of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; the immunity of civilian aircraft and ships; international obligation to help refugees; the inadmissibility of colonial rule; the unacceptableness of officially sanctioned racial discrimination; the undeniable equality of women; and human rights. However, not until the world education system became more efficient did these norms become almost universally perceived as normal.
The transition from authoritarian regimes to democracies has been smoothed by advanced training programs and seminars for senior political officials to discuss with their international peers successful transition strategies in the areas of the rule of law, respect for human rights, free media, tolerance of political opposition, free elections, and an independent civil society.
Because of the speed and ubiquity of communications systems, decision-makers and the general public have become increasingly aware of the consequences of their decisions–almost as they occur. Today, feedback on the results of actions is so rapid that it allows for new, self-correcting decisions. This has reduced the time from early warnings to timely and effective responses and contributed to the solution of many of the seemingly intractable problems of the twentieth century.
Just as bodybuilding became fashionable among many in the late twentieth century so, too, mindbuilding became fashionable in the early twenty-first century. Parents learned that giving their babies diversity of environment with consistency of love enhanced cognitive development. Nutritional supplements known as “brain food” have become common. However, rumors persist that we have crossed the threshold of using gene therapy to increase intelligence.
Cognitive science and the behavioral sciences have increasingly intermingled, helping policymakers to understand how to improve mental as well as social well-being. One of the most successful software applications of cognitive science is Think Smart, a self-customizable virtual-reality program with telepresence options that directly stimulate neural development. Eye tracking, voice commands, and neural output in a virtual-reality eyepiece allow people to visualize their capacities as virtual icons and use their mental strengths to improve their weaker areas. The more adventurous use this software inter-activity when connected to telepresence global education systems and the Great Cyber Games. Telerobots give the sense of telepresence by letting people hear and often feel what a remote robot is seeing, hearing, and feeling at the time. Such telepresence makes people actually feel like they are swimming in the ocean, standing on the surface of Jupiter, or inside an ant colony–all while sitting at home. Unfortunately, some people prefer these simulations to real life. But despite the problems it has generated, simulation is a new educational tool of great power.
With global consciousness (everyone considering the world as a whole), institutional forms have continuously reinvented themselves. Today, few hierarchical or network institutions exist in a continuous sense as they did in the twentieth century. Most have become fields for collaborative actions of varying time durations. Every four years the Olympic movement has reinforced this consciousness through its games in both cyber- and three-dimensional space. In 2040, when the Mars Pioneers won the first Olympic competition in solar sailing between Earth and lunar orbits, humanity seemed to pass some threshold of consciousness. We became aware that we were no longer an Earth-only species but had become a spacefaring one.
Our human capacity is just now beginning to be understood. The current debate about a possible signal from extra-terrestrial intelligence is revolutionizing our values, philosophy, and views of the human potential as we enter the second half of the twenty-first century.
POLITICAL ECONOMIC POLICY
The number of wars decreased as democracies and respect for cultural diversity increased in the early twenty-first century. Although old cultural conflict wounds of the past still flare occasionally, we can successfully avert and prevent them from growing into larger conflicts. The resulting social stability has nurtured economic growth, creating two billion people in the global middle class by 2010. This increased conditions for further stability and sustainable growth that have now moved more than five billion people into the middle class.
The UN Secretariat’s early warning and monitoring system, coupled with a new rapid response capability, have been instrumental in preventing international and internal wars. Its indicators of peace and security are transparent for cross-referencing by media, governments, NGOs, and the public. This transparency–especially with the media–has connected early warning with appropriate and timely action. Instead of a standing UN army, nations have agreed to identify troops that would be immediately available for rapid response peacekeeping and peace-building missions. These troops train together and with other national troops, using compatible equipment and communications. NGOs cooperate with this system by establishing networks to monitor indicators of conflict and to discuss and link strategies for rapid deployment of non-military resources.
States have been able to reduce their military budgets by paying a “security insurance fee” to the UN Security Insurance Agency to work in tandem with UN Peacekeeping as a rapid development and peace-making contingent. The UNSIA is able to avoid the veto by being governed by a public-private-civic governing council that works in partnership with the UN Security Council. Today, the UN Secretariat and Security Council have been streamlined and are now supported by advanced executive information management systems, software agents, and knowledge visualization systems. Nearly all the work of the UN now occurs in Cyber-UN, leaving the Secretariat building in New York City more for ceremonial duties.
The International Criminal Court has been established with enforcement powers to punish those convicted of atrocious collective and communal violence. In close cooperation with the court, the UN Secretariat has created a parallel early warning system focusing on potential and emerging crime threats.
As the world has progressed toward peace, the reduction in military personnel and in the research and development, production, stockpiling, and trade of arms has accelerated along with the efforts to convert military technology to civilian use. This has contributed to government debt reduction. The synergies of advanced research in biology, physics, and engineering necessary for human space habitation have created new industries and tax resources for universal education programs. This has helped to justify government investment in research that lowers launch costs. While government funds for the initial solar power satellites, orbital habitats for space manufacturing, lunar base, and Martian station were necessary, the majority of space applications are financed and owned by global corporations, INSPACECO, or a combination of both.
Since the turn of the millennium, the growth and integration of regional trade groups has nearly completed the transition to the World Trade Organization objective of free trade with common standards of behavior. The globalization of markets, media, information technology, education, and urbanization and the harmonization of international standards seem to be sufficient to prevent regression to dictatorships and national wars. The International Monetary Fund has issued new special drawing rights (SDRs), which have made it easier for developing countries to pay off their debts. Standard central bank rules on the insurance of currency are now observed by all countries, which helps control inflation. The Global Securities and Exchange Commission has been established to tame currency markets, and central banks now make currency transactions sufficiently transparent to reduce speculation. Small businesses are promoted through access to land, credit, technology, and training. Special attention has been given to enterprises by women.
Increasing numbers of people now accept that access, not possession, is the measure of wealth. This new cultural norm has helped to change consumption patterns. Global dialogues about ethics and common values have helped the new wealth indicators (NWI), which has replaced the gross domestic product as the primary focus for national accounting. This has stimulated more ethical and free markets. The increasing participation of those aged sixty-five to eighty-five in the labor force has provided additional wisdom for increasing ethical considerations in business.
The World Sustainable-Development Organization (WSO) has been created to provide a global focus for business, government, and individual efforts to invest in sustainable development. Among its achievements, the WSO has provided a global collection point for contributions and investments in alternative sources of energy, energy storage, and efficiencies to extend non-renewable energy sources. In response to global warming, it has worked with oil companies to help them expand into renewable energy sources. It has also provided political leadership to place Earth rectennas for solar power satellites in China and India during the first round of receiving countries to reduce their use of coal. Global zoning and land-use planning efforts by the WSO have helped local authorities, in cooperation with farmers, agribusinesses, and environmental NGOs, to provide natural habitat corridors and integration of habitat in agriculture to protect biodiversity. The WSO’s collaboration with local authorities has helped set new goals and limits for percent of land use for natural pristine reserves and both low- and high-intensity agriculture.
Ecological and energy taxes have been initiated to create disincentives for inappropriate energy use and tax incentives have been created for less-polluting alternative energy sources. All stages of the production process have been included–extraction, production, distribution, and consumption.
Better government policies have been stimulated through the establishment of national accounts, which include the economic, social, and health impacts of the depletion of natural resources. National laws have been enacted to compensate victims of pollution and other environmental damage. Tradable pollution permits are used to ensure international compliance to fix global emission limits for both countries and industrial sectors. With broad public support, governments now enter into voluntary agreements with industry to commit themselves to go “beyond regulation” in exchange for a relaxation of administrative and compliance costs of regulations (data collecting, reporting, and verification).
Similarly, there are now government incentives for smaller and healthier families, effective long-term contraceptives, and low infant-mortality rates. Since family planning or spacing has become acceptable in nearly all cultures, it is unlikely that birth rates will increase in the near future. Birth rates have fallen sufficiently that now more people worry about sufficient population growth to support the world’s increasingly aging population.
The synergies among the successes in political economic policies, human development, and technology have resulted in a better world in 2050 than few at the turn of the century believed was possible.
Jerome C. Glenn is executive director of the American Council for the United Nations University (4421 Garrison Street NW, Washington, DC20016). Theodore J. Gordon is founder of the Futures Group in Vero Beach, Florida. Both are planning members of the Millennium Project and welcome your comments on this article, which was adapted from the 1999 State of the Future: Challenges We Face at the Millennium.
COPYRIGHT 1999 American Humanist Association
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group