Forecasts for the Next 25 Years

So, given the last few weeks, how would you like to do a 25-year forecast of major trends? Me neither. But I would like to read one. I got an update last week from the World Future Society, which has just published its WFS Forecasts for the Next 25 Years.

Here are the top five forecasts:

  • Forecast #1: The world will have a billion millionaires by 2025. Globalization and technological innovation are driving this increased prosperity. But challenges to prosperity will also become more acute, such as water shortages that will affect two-thirds of world population by 2025.

I can’t resist commenting on this one. A couple of points bother me. First, why is this number one on the list? Look at number five, for example, or number three. Second, why isn’t "water shortages will affect two thirds of the world population" number one on the list (and it’s not even on it)?

  • Forecast #2: Fashion will go wired as technologies and tastes converge to revolutionize the textile industry. Researchers in smart fabrics and intelligent textiles (SFIT) are working with the fashion industry to bring us color-changing or perfume-emitting jeans, wristwatches that work as digital wallets, and running shoes like the Nike +iPod that watch where you’re going (possibly allowing others to do the same). Powering these gizmos remains a key obstacle. But industry watchers estimate that a $400 million market for SFIT is already in place and predict that smart fabrics could revitalize the U.S. and European textile industry.
  • Forecast #3: The threat of another cold war with China, Russia, or both could replace terrorism as the chief foreign-policy concern of the United States. Scenarios for what a war with China or Russia would look like make the clashes and wars in which the United States is now involved seem insignificant. The power of radical jihadists is trivial compared with former-Soviet, now-Russian missile capabilities, for instance. The focus of U.S. foreign policy should thus be on preventing an engagement among Great Powers.
  • Forecast #4: Counterfeiting of currency will proliferate, driving the move toward a cashless society. Sophisticated new optical scanning technologies could, in the next five years, be a boon for currency counterfeiters, so societies are increasingly putting aside their privacy fears about going cashless. Meanwhile, cashless technologies are improving, making them far easier and safer to use.
  • Forecast #5: The earth is on the verge of a significant extinction event. The twenty-first century could witness a biodiversity collapse 100 to 1,000 times greater than any previous extinction since the dawn of humanity, according to the World Resources Institute. Protecting biodiversity in a time of increased resource consumption, overpopulation, and environmental degradation will require continued sacrifice on the part of local, often impoverished communities. Experts contend that incorporating local communities’ economic interests into conservation plans will be essential to species protection in the next century.

To me it’s not just an interesting set of predictions. It’s also a view into the art of forecasting — and I say art, not science. With a good forecast, as we sit in today and look at it, we can see the bricks that it’s built from; we can see why each point makes sense.

It’s also hard for me to understand the order of importance here. I noted that in the comment in the middle, but, on the same line, how does fashion go wired become more important than a significant distinction event.

Still, well done, very well presented, and thought provoking.

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