Book Review: 2015-16 State of the Future

The world’s so uncertain, the decisions so adhoc its almost impossible to gauge change. At times when it is nearly possible to foresee alternative futures emerging from exponential degree of global conversations on technological breakthroughs, rise of lone wolf terror threats, power-shifts somehow all these developments amongst many others can not be ignored. And these are just few of the most critical insights in to the future.

The State of Future (SOF) by the Millennium Project a Global Futures Studies and Research Think Tank, each year launches its publication that has been tracking and observing “how can ethical market economies be encouraged to help reduce the gap between rich and poor” for the past 18 years by continuously updating its Global Futures Intelligence System (GFIS); across 15 global challenges which include: sustainable development and climate change, clean water, population and resources, democratization, global foresight and decision-making, global convergence of IT, rich-poor gap, health issues, education and learning, peace and conflict, status of women, transnational organized crime, energy, science and technology and global ethics. Since 1997, the millennium project through a series of international Delphi surveys and global scanning systems have been continuously renewing and revising the 15 challenges in order to decipher global with an agenda to improve futures.

Where the World is at?

The IPCC reports that each decade of the past three was consecutively warmer and that the past 30 years was probably the warmest period in the northern hemisphere over the last 1,400 years. Even if all CO2 emissions are stopped, most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries. Hence, the world has to take adaptation far more seriously. An additional 2.3 billion people received access to safe drinking water since 1990—an extraordinary achievement—but this still leaves 748 million without this access. Water tables are falling on all continents, and nearly half of humanity gets its water from sources controlled by two or more countries. The current world population is 7.3 billion. It is expected to grow by another 1 billion in just 12 years and by 2.3 billion in 35 years. To keep up with population and economic growth, food production should increase by 70% by 2050. A global consciousness and more-democratic social and political structures are developing in response to increasing interdependencies, the changing nature of power, and the need to collectively address major planetary existential challenges. Meantime, world political and civil liberties deteriorated for the ninth consecutive year in 2014 (61 countries declined; 33 countries improved). Decision-makers are rarely trained in foresight and decision-making, even though decision support and foresight systems are constantly improving—e.g., Big Data analytics, simulations, collective intelligence systems, indexes, and e-governance participatory systems. The race is on to complete the global nervous system of civilization and make supercomputing power and artificial intelligence available to everyone. How well governments develop and coordinate Internet security regulations will determine the future of cyberspace, according to Microsoft. Extreme poverty in the developing world fell from 51% in 1981 to 17% in 2011, but the income gaps between the rich and poor continue to expand rapidly. In 2014, the wealth of 80 billionaires equaled the total wealth of the bottom 50% of humanity, and Oxfam estimates that if current trends continue, by 2016 the richest 1% of the people will have more than all the rest of the world together. The health of humanity continues to improve; life expectancy at birth increased globally from 67 years in 2010 to 71 years in 2014. However, WHO verified more than 1,100 epidemic events over the past five years, and antimicrobial resistance, malnutrition, and obesity continue to rise. Much of the world’s knowledge is available—either directly or through intermediaries—to the majority of humanity today. Google and Wikipedia are helping to make the phrase “I don’t know” obsolete. The vast majority of the world is living in peace, and transborder wars are increasingly rare. Yet half the world is potentially unstable, intrastate conflicts are increasing, and almost 1% of the population (some 73 million people) are refugees or IDPs. The diplomatic, foreign policy, military, and legal systems to address the new asymmetrical threats have yet to be established. Empowerment of women has been one of the strongest drivers of social evolution over the past century and is acknowledged as essential for addressing all the global challenges facing humanity. The percent of women in parliaments doubled over the last 20 years from 11% to 22%. However, violence against women is the largest war today—as measured by deaths and casualties per year—and obsolete patriarchal structures persist around the world. Transnational organized crime is estimated to get twice as much income as all military budgets combined per year. Distinctions among organized crime, insurgency, and terrorism have begun to blur, giving new markets for organized crime and increasing threats to democracies, development, and security. Solar and wind energy systems are now competitive with fossil fuel sources. Fossil fuels receive $5.3 trillion in subsidies per year compared to $0.12 trillion for renewable energy sources, according to the IMF. Energy companies are racing to make enough safe energy by 2050 for an additional 3.5 billion people (1.3 billion who do not have access now, plus the additional 2.3 billion population growth). Computational chemistry, computational biology, and computational physics are changing the nature and speed of new scientific insights and technological applications. Future synergies among synthetic biology, 3D and 4D printing, artificial intelligence, robotics, atomically precise fabrication and other forms of nanotechnology, tele-everything, drones, falling costs of renewable energy systems, augmented reality, and collective intelligence systems will make the last 25 years seem slow compared with the volume of change over the next 25 years. Although short-term economic “me-first” attitudes are prevalent throughout the world, love for humanity and global consciousness are also evident in the norms expressed in the many international treaties, UN organizations, international philanthropy, the Olympic spirit, inter-religious dialogues, refugee relief, development programs for poorer nations, Doctors Without Borders, and international journalism

Looking ahead…

This year SOF 2015-16 as it publishes its book also highlights why and how ‘addressing the future of work and income gaps’ is a top priority for national governments. What is so striking about the current edition is that it actually makes ground for an optimistic future. So perhaps the future is way better than most of the leadership and the community is willing to explore. And here is a dimension, which is relatively a new discourse being established within the global futures network of professional.

Although Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates warn the world about the potential threats that may emerge as the use of artificial intelligence moving from human to robotic control. Robotics, synthetic biology, computational science, nanotechnology, quantum computing, 3D and 4D printing, Internet of Things, cognitive science, self-driving vehicles will change the market scenarios. Widening income gaps, concentration of wealth in the hands of the few; where future technologies will replace human labour would be a leading driver of change for long-term structural employment. One of the most alarming future that arises within context of the future of jobs; was that by 2100 there will be zero employment and the very idea of employment or unemployment will cease to exit. And without political or economic changes it is quite possible that half of the world could be unemployed by 2050.

The Future Work/Technology 2050 Real-Time Delphi explains in the last section that the nature of work and political-economic systems will have to change by 2050 or else there could be massive long-term unemployment. Avoiding this could lead to the beginnings of a new kind of self-actualization economy in transition from issues of scarcity to issues of abundance. So what is suggested and what needs to be rigorously pursued is the research component, and the quest for identifying important question that have either not been asked or have not been answered satisfactorily with respect to how governments, organizations, communities improve the prospects for the future of jobs while also reducing the income inequalities. The Millennium Project encourages its worldwide network of 56 nodes which will develop two to three scenarios on future of work and income gaps to illustrate plausible cause and effect links and decisions with impacts for research, training, innovation systems, education, and future economic policy and systems.

The State of the Future is not a regular read. It is simply a reference literature for decision-makers, legislators, strategists, development scientists, academics to build a sound comprehension of the global scenarios. This book should be on every one everyone’s desk, those making decisions, thinking strategic, desiring development – and each year they need to look back refer and see how do they and their decisions fit in to the global developments. This book encourages long-term vision and strategies required to address the dire need to focus on unemployment and income gaps. The present-day governments will struggle to devise holistic policy frameworks shapes an environment where acceleration, globalization and integration of technological advancements become a norm and not an uncertain snag. This book stresses on how nations need to think together to make signification transitions much smoother. As it may take decades for major global structural changes, what will be unique at this point in time is to pursue long-range futures thinking; creating substantive attention to potential massive job displacements and increased income gaps.

You can download the 2015-16 State of the Future at:

http://millennium-project.org/millennium/201516SOF.html

The review also published on www.agahi.org.pk 

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