Saturday, December 31, 2011

 Making Revolution

The U.S. can compete with China if it gives factory workers smarter tools.

By Rodney Brooks

In October I joined a distinguished panel at the National Academy of Engineering on the future of manufacturing. One argument presented was that the United States needed to find things that it alone could make, ceding other manufacturing to China.

That wrongheaded thinking pervades discussion about the role of manufacturing in America's future. It ignores huge opportunities by equating advanced manufacturing with manufacturing advanced stuff—things like jet engines that only big companies buy.

The United States cannot afford to stop making ordinary stuff—things we buy at the store, like running shoes and cell phones—and hope to compete by doing only design and innovation. Making more competitive products relies on a tight intertwining of design and manufacturing (see "Can We Build Tomorrow's Breakthroughs?"). Once we outsource to manufacturers in China, they soon offer us design, too, since they are the ones who can most easily change existing product lines or introduce new ones. The contractor soon becomes an innovator in its own right, recruiting local designers to work with its now expert manufacturing engineers and get results faster than any U.S.-based design team. We saw this movie already in Japan and then in Korea, and now it is showing in Taiwan and China.

Making ordinary stuff domestically keeps transportation costs low and creates short supply chains that respond quickly to customers. More significant, it offers the chance to empower factory workers with information technology, just as the personal IT revolution has empowered office workers.

Thirty years ago, most office workers could not control information flow. They received paper memos and reports printed from mainframe computers. Distributing your own memo was a multiperson process; changing a printout took weeks and a dozen people. The PC changed all that. By the economic boom years of the late 1990s, any individual office worker could produce memos and automate simple tasks, using tools such as e-mail and spreadsheets.

The same democratization of information flow and automation has yet to come to manufacturing. By analogy, our current industrial systems and robots are mainframes, and advanced-manufacturing innovation is concentrated on supercomputers. But the building blocks needed to create the PCs of manufacturing abound; these will be the robotics and automation tools for the masses. We can create tools for ordinary workers, with intuitive interfaces, extensive use of vision and other sensors, and even the Web-based distribution mechanisms of the IT industry.

It was hard to imagine secretaries becoming "programmers" in 1980, and it is hard to conceive of ordinary U.S. factory workers becoming manufacturing engineers. But people who once would have been called secretaries now routinely use spreadsheets, typeset publications, and move money globally. We need to create the tools to similarly empower our factory workers.

Rodney Brooks is professor emeritus of robotics at MIT and founder of the manufacturing startup Heartland Robotics.

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More than glue: Glia cells found to regulate synapses

Glia cells are central to the brain’s plasticity, Tel Aviv University researchers have found, controlling how the brain adapts, learns, and stores information — and their design can be implemented in neuromorphic computer chips.

Glia cells (Greek for “glue,” also known as glial) hold the brain’s neurons together and protect the cells that determine our thoughts and behaviors. But glia cells have now been found to do much more: a mechanism within the glia cells also regulate the synapses, sorting information for learning purposes, according to Ph.D. student Maurizio De Pittà of TAU’s Schools of Physics and Astronomy and Electrical Engineering.

“Glia cells are like the brain’s supervisors. They control the transfer of information between neurons, affecting how the brain processes information and learns.”

De Pittà’s research, led by his TAU supervisor Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob, along with Vladislav Volman of The Salk Institute and the University of California at San Diego and Hugues Berry of the Université de Lyon in France, has developed the first computer model that incorporates the influence of glia cells on synaptic information transfer.

The model can also be implemented in technologies based on brain networks such as microchips and computer software, Prof. Ben-Jacob says, and can aid in research on brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy.

Regulating the brain’s “social network”

The brain is constituted of two main types of cells: neurons and glia. Neurons fire off signals that dictate how we think and behave, using synapses to pass along the message from one neuron to another. Scientists theorize that memory and learning are dictated by synaptic activity because they are “plastic,” with the ability to adapt to different stimuli.

But Ben-Jacob and colleagues suspected that glia cells were even more central to how the brain works, particularly the astrocytes (a form of glia cells) in the hippocampus. Glia cells are abundant in the brain’s hippocampus and the cortex, the two parts of the brain that have the most control over the brain’s ability to process information, learn and memorize. In fact, for every neuron cell, there are two to five glia cells. Taking into account previous experimental data, the researchers were able to build a model that could resolve the puzzle.

The brain is like a social network, says Prof. Ben-Jacob. Messages may originate with the neurons, which use the synapses as their delivery system, but the glia serve as an overall moderator, regulating which messages are sent on and when. These cells can either prompt the transfer of information, or slow activity if the synapses are becoming overactive. This makes the glia cells the guardians of our learning and memory processes, he notes, orchestrating the transmission of information for optimal brain function.

New brain-inspired technologies and therapies

The team’s findings could have important implications for a number of brain disorders. Almost all neurodegenerative diseases are glia-related pathologies, Prof. Ben-Jacob notes. In epileptic seizures, for example, the neurons’ activity at one brain location propagates and overtakes the normal activity at other locations. This can happen when the glia cells fail to properly regulate synaptic transmission. Alternatively, when brain activity is low, glia cells boost transmissions of information, keeping the connections between neurons “alive.”

The model provides a “new view” of how the brain functions. While the study was in press, two experimental works appeared that supported the model’s predictions. “A growing number of scientists are starting to recognize the fact that you need the glia to perform tasks that neurons alone can’t accomplish in an efficient way,” says De Pittà.

The model will provide a new tool to begin revising the theories of computational neuroscience and lead to more realistic brain-inspired algorithms and microchips, which are designed to mimic neuronal networks, the researchers say.

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US Army unveils 1.8 gigapixel camera helicopter drone

New helicopter-style drones with 1.8 gigapixel color cameras are being developed by the U.S. Army.

The army said the technology promised “an unprecedented capability to track people and vehicles from altitudes above 20,000 feet (6.1km) across almost 65 square miles (168 sq km).

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 Space plan from China broadens challenge to US

The Chinese government on Thursday announced an ambitious five-year plan for space exploration that would move China closer to becoming a major rival at a time when the American program is in retreat.

The plan calls for further development of the Beidou Navigation Satellite System (similar to GPS), which on Tuesday began providing navigation, positioning, and timing data on China and surrounding areas. China intends to have a global system by 2020, with 35 satellites in orbit.
On deep-space exploration, the paper said China planned to launch orbiters that would make soft lunar landings and do roving and surveying. After that, the paper said, China will collect samples of the moon’s surface and bring them back for analysis.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

 Electronic Cotton

Circuits could be woven from conductive and semiconducting natural fibers

A group of researchers in the United States, Italy, and France have invented transistors made from cotton fibers. They envision such devices being woven into clothing capable of measuring pollutants, T-shirts that display information, and carpets that sense how many people are crossing them. "We want to create a seamless interface between electronics and textiles," says Juan Hinestroza, director of the Textiles Nanotechnology Laboratory at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y.

Instead of attaching sensors or processors to clothing after the garments are fully formed, it would be more effective to incorporate such devices directly into the fabrics, says Annalisa Bonfiglio, an EE professor at the University of Cagliari, in Italy, whose student Giorgio Mattana worked on the cotton in Hinestroza's lab.

The cellulose that makes up cotton is naturally insulating, so to make a fiber conductive, the team coated each strand with gold nanoparticles. They then added a thin layer of a conductive polymer known as PEDOT. The fibers proved to be about a thousand times as conductive as plain cotton, while their mechanical properties remained almost unchanged. They were slightly stiffer but more elastic than untreated fibers, Bonfiglio says. The team demonstrated the treated cotton's conductivity by making a simple circuit, knotting one end to a battery and the other to an LED.

To show the versatility of the process, the researchers created two types of devices: an organic electrochemical transistor and an organic field-effect transistor. For the electrochemical version, conductive cotton fibers were used as source, drain, and gate electrodes. To complete the transistor, the team needed to create a semiconductor. They achieved this by doping the conductive polymer with poly(styrenesulfonate), a polymer commonly used to make proton exchange membranes in fuel cells. After a soak in the second polymer, the cotton fiber was coated with ethylene glycol to make it waterproof.

The field-effect transistor also begins with a conductive cotton strand dipped in the semiconducting polymer, which in this case acts as the gate electrode. But the fiber is then given a thin coat of polymer film that acts as a dielectric, followed by a coat of pentacene, another semiconductor polymer film.

Treating the cotton with these various substances is not as complicated as it sounds; Bonfiglio says it's comparable to dyeing the material. Still, don't expect to see underpants doubling as MP3 players anytime soon. The speed of electrons in these transistors is relatively low compared to that of silicon circuits, says Bonfiglio.

"For the moment, I think the most realistic application is in the sensor area," she says. For instance, firefighters' uniforms might be able to detect dangerous chemicals, while security personnel could be alerted to airborne signatures of explosives or drugs. Garments might also monitor heart rate or perspiration. Inside homes and businesses, fabrics—in the form of carpeting, wall coverings, and upholstery—could keep track of humidity levels and allergens.

"If you think about how many fibers you have in your T-shirt, and how many interconnections you have between the weft and the warp of the fabric, you could get pretty decent computing power," says Hinestroza.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Futurist Ray Kurzweil isn’t worried about climate change
By Lauren Feeney

Author, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil famously and accurately predicted that a computer would beat a man at chess by 1998, that technologies that help spread information would accelerate the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that a worldwide communications network would emerge in the mid 1990s (i.e. the Internet).

Most of Kurzweil’s prognostications are derived from his law of accelerating returns — the idea that information technologies progress exponentially, in part because each iteration is used to help build the next, better, faster, cheaper one. In the case of computers, this is not just a theory but an observable trend — computer processing power has doubled every two years for nearly half a century.

Kurzweil also believes this theory can be applied to solar energy. As part of a panel convened by the National Association of Engineers, Kurzweil, together with Google co-founder Larry Page, concluded that solar energy technology is improving at such a rate that it will soon be able to compete with fossil fuels.

I caught up with Kurzweil when he was in New York promoting a new documentary about his life to ask him about his optimistic views on the usually gloomy subject of energy and climate change.

Lauren Feeney: You have made a prediction about the future of solar energy….

Ray Kurzweil: One of my primary theses is that information technologies grow exponentially in capability and power and bandwidth and so on. If you buy an iPhone today, it’s twice as good as two years ago for half that cost. That is happening with solar energy — it is doubling every two years. And it didn’t start two years ago, it started 20 years ago. Every two years we have twice as much solar energy in the world.

Today, solar is still more expensive than fossil fuels, and in most situations it still needs subsidies or special circumstances, but the costs are coming down rapidly — we are only a few years away from parity. And then it’s going to keep coming down, and people will be gravitating towards solar, even if they don’t care at all about the environment, because of the economics.

So right now it’s at half a percent of the world’s energy. People tend to dismiss technologies when they are half a percent of the solution. But doubling every two years means it’s only eight more doublings before it meets a hundred percent of the world’s energy needs. So that’s 16 years. We will increase our use of electricity during that period, so add another couple of doublings: In 20 years we’ll be meeting all of our energy needs with solar, based on this trend which has already been under way for 20 years.

People say we’re running out of energy. That’s only true if we stick with these old 19th century technologies. We are awash in energy from the sunlight.

Feeney: You have a very optimistic view of the future; eccentric, even. You believe that eventually we’ll be able to live forever, and maybe even bring people back from the dead. How would that growth in population affect the environment? A lot of people are afraid of overpopulation as one of the major factors in climate change.

Kurzweil: We will be extending the human life expectancy; in fact, we have done that already. Human life expectancy was 37 years in 1800, 48 in 1900; it’s now pushing 80. But this is going to go into high gear now that health and medicine has changed. It used to be hit or miss. We’d just find things — medicine was just a kind of an organized set of ideas that we discovered accidentally. We now have the actual means of understanding the software of life and reprogramming it; we can turn genes off without any interference, we can add new genes, whole new organs with stem cell therapy. The point is that medicine is now an information technology — it’s going to double in power every year. These technologies will be a million times more powerful for the same cost in 20 years.

However, the same technologies that are going to extend life and nudge up the biological population are also going to expand the resources. We just talked about energy, because we are running out of it, but actually we are awash in energy. We are awash in water — pun intended. Just most of it is dirty and polluted. And we know how to convert it, today, but it takes energy, which is why it’s expensive. Once energy is inexpensive, we can create water.

There is a whole set of new food technologies. We are going to go from this revolution that happened 10,000 years ago of horizontal agriculture to what’s called vertical agriculture, where we grow plants, fruits, vegetables and meat in computerized factories by artificial intelligence; hydroponic plants tended by intelligent robots to create fruits and vegetables, in-vitro cloned meats, basically just cloning the part of the animal that you want to eat, which is the muscled tissue. There is no reason to create a whole animal to get to the parts that we want to eat.

The point is that the same technologies that are going to increase human longevity are also going to expand the resources and ultimately make them very inexpensive.

Feeney: You talk about what will happen instead of what might happen. But there are so many obstacles to dealing with climate change — political gridlock, consumer apathy. Are you concerned that these things might not happen because of obstacles like these?

Kurzweil: My main thesis, which I call the law of accelerating returns, is not affected by the kind of things you are referring to. The exponential growth of computation is measured in many different ways continued through the entire 20th century, completely unaffected by the little things like World War I and II or the Great Depression. It was not affected at all by the recent economic downturn. This exponential growth of solar energy has continued through thick and thin.

As the cost per watt of solar falls significantly below coal and oil, people are going to go to that for economic reasons. It won’t be a political issue.

Feeney: A lot of climate scientists say that we have about 10 years to turn the situation around, otherwise we’re going to hit this tipping point and we are all doomed. So you think we’re going to make it?

Kurzweil: Even if those timelines were correct, there will be quite a transformation within 10 years and certainly within 15 or 20 years. The bulk of our energy will be coming from these renewable sources. So, I think we have plenty of time. I think we can make it to the point where these renewables are taking over. And I think there are reasons besides climate change to move away from fossil fuels — that whole oil spill, remember that, that’s not climate change, that’s just pollution. But I don’t see a disaster happening before we can get there because it is pretty soon at hand.


Global Source and/or and/or more resources and/or read more: ─ Publisher and/or Author and/or Managing Editor:__Andres Agostini ─ @Futuretronium at Twitter! Futuretronium Book at ─
Predictions by Sector and Industry by the World Future Society

PREDICTION:  Nano-engineered solar panels will free the world from fossil fuels by 2016.

Who: Ray Kurzweil, speaking to Lauren Feeney of the online environmental magazine “Grist” in February.

Why Great: At present, solar provides less than 1% of U.S. energy needs, despite it’s obvious merits over fossil fuels, nuclear power, and especially coal.

BUT… No matter how it’s designed, no more than 70% of the sunlight that strikes a solar panel can be converted into energy, thanks to those pesky laws of thermodynamics. Also assuming that the U.S. coal lobby still has money in five years, we’ll still be using plenty of black rocks.

Bottom Line: You don’t need a nano-engineered solar panel to ask your local utility how much of their energy comes from solar.


PREDICTION:  Renewables will provide 80% of our energy by 2050.

Who: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation released in May.

Why Great: The most credible body in climate science is sending a clear message to policymakers: renewables can work, here’s how!

BUT… The plan is contingent on policy-makers taking action on climate change, which could mean voting against the interests of labor and big business. Good luck.

What to do about it: Check out the report. Cite the stats in your windfarm business plan. Get a bank loan. Start a company. Get rich and save the planet at the same time.


PREDICTION:  Photovoltaic manufacturing capacity could reach 200 gigawatts (GW) globally by 2020.

Who: 72 internationally recognized experts brought together for a workshop organized by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), results summarized in Foundations for Innovation: Photovoltaic Technologies for the 21st Century, released in April 2011.

Why Great: This is a conservative estimate; by comparison, the current generating capacity of the world’s nuclear power plants is estimated at 377 GW. Photovoltaics represents a major growth area because it could potentially produce cleaner energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

BUT… It’s an expensive alternative to other energy technologies.

Bottom Line: The challenges are to improve the engineering and design of solar cells and enhance their longevity and performance. But it’s not just a science and technology issue; the workshop participants also note the challenges of tax and regulatory policies. The United States currently has 8% of the world’s share of photovoltaics manufacturing, but this could double with technological advances.

Source: NIST,

PREDICTION:  Solar Power will be cheaper than both fossil fuels and nuclear power within five years.

Who: Mark M. Little, the global research director for General Electric speaking to Bloomberg Business News on May 28th.

Why it’s great: Little is putting his money where his mouth his. GE is opening a new solar thin film plant in 2013.

BUT… Right now, GE’s thin film panels have an efficiency of just 12% (meaning they can convert only 12% of the light that hits them into energy.

Bottom Line: In the words of Little, “If we can get solar at 15 cents a kilowatt-hour or lower, which I’m hopeful that we will do, you’re going to have a lot of people that are going to want to have solar at home.”


PREDICTION:  By 2020, 15% of Europe’s electricity could come from arrays of solar panels in the North African deserts.

Who: Gerhard Knies, chairman of the board of trustees, Desertec Foundation

Background: Conceived a quarter century ago, the North African solar project is a plan to erect a network of solar plants across Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Algeria, and Egypt, with a grid of high-voltage transmission lines that would deliver the electricity to Europe.

Why Great: According to proponents of Desertec, the controversial mega-project not only would help Europe increase its use of renewable energy (its target is 20% by 2020), but it would also create jobs and economic development in a region that sorely needs it.

BUT… Skeptics see the Desertec as yet another way for developed countries to co-opt the resources of less-developed regions. Though investment would boost the economies these North African countries, it would also increase energy demand domestically.

Bottom Line: Desertec has support from the World Bank, but like many grand visions for solving cross-border problems, time is needed as much to build trust among all interested parties as to build the project itself.


PREDICTION:  Fossil-fuel price shocks will intensify between now and 2030 as Japan, Germany, China, and other nations turn away from nuclear energy. Japan’s fossil-fuel imports alone could rise to 238,000 barrels of oil a day and 1.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day.

Who: Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College

Why It Is Great: Given the size of China, Germany, and Japan’s economies, if all three countries substantially increase their fossil-fuel consumption, the whole world will feel the pinch. This is especially so when the whole world is suffering higher oil prices than ever already. Further price hikes, related slowdowns in economic activity globally, and — of course — more smog and greenhouse gas emissions are all likely to follow.

BUT… Few buts, in this case. Klare’s logic is hard to dispute. Solar and wind technologies are certainly improving, to the point that the German government promises to replace all its nuclear power with wind and solar power by 2030. But that is 20 years from now, and in the meantime, these alternative systems are nowhere near ready to take up lion’s share of national energy production.

Bottom Line: In worldwide energy markets, as in any other area of life, every action — i.e., the Fukushima nuclear disaster — does indeed have an equal and opposite reaction.


PREDICTION:  The global Muslim population is projected to grow from 1.6 billion to 2.2 billion (an approximately 35% increase) by 2030.

Who: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, in a report entitled “The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for 2010-2030.”

Why Great: The growth can be attributed to increased life-expectancy rates and better living conditions in many Muslim-majority countries.

BUT… The population growth rate for Muslims is slowing. This decline is also being attributed to better living conditions in many Muslim-majority countries as well as two other developments occurring there: increased educational opportunities for women and greater urbanization.

Bottom Line: The Pew Forum reports that “globally, the Muslim population is forecast to grow at about twice the rate of the non-Muslim population over the next two decades. … If current trends continue, Muslims will make up 26.4% of the world’s total projected population of 8.3 billion in 2030, up from 23.4% of the estimated 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.”

PREDICTION:  The United States will be 20 million college graduates short of demand by 2025.

Who: The Georgetown University Center on Education in the June 27th report “The Undereducated American.”

Why Great: Despite persistent talk of an “education bubble” the report finds that the United States has not been graduating enough college students to meet workforce demand, and this has persisted for more than 30 years now.

BUT… The alternate headline on this trend reads: University Suggests That More Kids Should Attend University.

Bottom Line: We need a more educated workforce. But there may exist multiple paths to reach that goal.


PREDICTION:  Half of the world’s poorest countries can escape poverty by 2020.

Who: UN, report by the Group of Eminent Persons appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Why Great: Of the world’s 48 least-developed countries (LDCs), half may be able to achieve poverty-reduction goals within the next 10 years. This will require more-targeted development aid, as well as more advantageous trade agreements (i.e., quota-free access for exports), plus investment in education and agricultural productivity.

Reducing global poverty promises also to significantly reduce conflict. Economic well-being also reduces demographic pressures and could contribute to lowering birthrates in countries least able to support increasing populations.

Many LDCs have made social and economic improvements in the past decade, including trends toward democracy, increasing opportunities for women, and strengthening weak legal and economic institutions.

BUT… Only three out of 51 LDCs have “graduated” from that status since the UN first established the category in 1970.

Bottom Line: Consider fair trade and investment schemes promoting the development of LDCs’ assets, such as strategic minerals, arable land, and eco-resources.

Source: AllAfrica news service (UN), March 29, 2011.
PREDICTION:  Schools won’t have days off for inclement weather anymore. Instead, homebound students and teachers will conduct lessons online, with in-person lessons to resume once the snow/hail/etc. subsides.

Who: Sina (Chinese media company)

Why Great: It is a boost for school productivity if learning continues even when the roads are icy. Also, although the article does not mention this, school systems in heavily polluted areas or areas particularly impacted by climate change will be much better able to protect their students’ health and safety — i.e., they can stay home and learn on those days when smog is acute or floods, heat waves, or other harsh weather is in effect.

BUT… For students to reach their teachers via Internet, they must first have Internet access. Not every rural, inner-city, and low-income home is connected yet (though this is slowly changing, as more Internet services set up shop in low-income communities and more low-income young people acquire inexpensive mobile phone-based Internet connections).

Bottom Line: In teaching, as in any other human activity, it is always good to have a backup plan. Distance learning, which is clearly spreading, could provide schools with a very convenient bad-weather backup — as long as students’ Internet access spreads as quickly.


PREDICTION:  India will be the largest country in terms of population in 2050, with China in second place. United States will be the third largest, with 423 million people.

Who: The U.S. Census Bureau’s International Data Base.

Why Notable: According to the census bureau, China’s population seems to be stabilizing, while western Europe’s could slightly rise. In the United States, most of the population growth is occurring and will continue to occur in minority communities.

Also, there will be around 9.4 billion people living on the planet by then.

BUT… A growing population in India could hold the country back economically and foment internal struggles over already limited resources and access to basic necessities. The same holds true for countries in Africa, especially Nigeria and Ethiopia, which according to the census bureau’s projections will experience the largest population growth in the coming decades, percentage-wise. On the other hand, declining birth rates could continue to cause problems in developed countries, particularly Japan and Russia.

Bottom Line: The United States and the world will continue to see demographic shifts. Also, in addition to birth rate, increased life expectancy (particularly in developed countries) is another variable to take into account.


PREDICTION:  Every book will be interactive and cross-platform by 2020.

Who: Author James Warner (All Her Father’s Guns), in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

Why Great: Say goodbye to outmoded linear text-based reading. Warner writes, “Future ‘books’ will be bundled with soundtracks, musical leitmotifs, 3-D graphics, and streaming video.” These enhanced objects of desire will also feature built-in social networking functions to provide further distraction from actually having to read them.

BUT… Digital simulations of the analog reading experience will appear in the decades thereafter. Breakthroughs in augmented reality will be able to perfectly recreate the now-illegal process of enjoying an actual book, down to the “sensation of turning the pages, the crack of the spine, and even the occasional paper cut.”

Bottom Line: Warner’s cleverly-argued, well-informed satirical take on the future of books cautions people not to be too quick to champion digital technologies over analog processes.


PREDICTION:  Medicare reform is likely doomed, whether proposed by Democrats or Republicans.

Who: Greg Ip, covering the Peterson Foundation’s fiscal summit for The Economist magazine on May 25th.

Why it’s great: This quote, which sums up the current American Medicare debate with perfect, post-partisan aplomb: “Any serious attempt to reform Medicare is going to be unpopular because it will cost the elderly something, and the elderly are on the way to becoming 30% of the voting population. Thus, the opposing party is inevitably going to use such a proposal to kill the other at the next election without advancing an alternative. And since both parties know this, the only Medicare plans they offer voters will be lemons.”

BUT… Multi-generation families are on the rise. More grandkids taking in elderly relatives could reduce reliance on social safety nets.

Bottom Line: Because no elected politician can afford to alienate the Baby Boomer voting block, Generations X and Y are going to be paying higher taxes for fewer government services than did their parents. At some point, they might decide that’s just not fair.

PREDICTION:  Every book will be interactive and cross-platform by 2020.

Who: Author James Warner (All Her Father’s Guns), in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

Why Great: Say goodbye to outmoded linear text-based reading. Warner writes, “Future ‘books’ will be bundled with soundtracks, musical leitmotifs, 3-D graphics, and streaming video.” These enhanced objects of desire will also feature built-in social networking functions to provide further distraction from actually having to read them.

BUT… Digital simulations of the analog reading experience will appear in the decades thereafter. Breakthroughs in augmented reality will be able to perfectly recreate the now-illegal process of enjoying an actual book, down to the “sensation of turning the pages, the crack of the spine, and even the occasional paper cut.”

Bottom Line: Warner’s cleverly-argued, well-informed satirical take on the future of books cautions people not to be too quick to champion digital technologies over analog processes.


PREDICTION:  The number-one factor affecting quality of life for South Koreans in 2040 will be health; employment will drop from first to eighth place.

Who: Choi Hangsub, associate professor of sociology, University of Kookmin, Seoul, South Korea

Background: To foresee how satisfied citizens may be in the future, and to plan how to invest resources to improve quality of life, policy makers must be able to forecast what sectors (e.g., state of the environment, opportunities for leisure, income gaps) will be of greater importance to people in the future. A survey of specialists concluded that, whereas employment was the most important element underlying life satisfaction for Koreans in 2010, that factor will drop in rank to just eighth place by 2040, as concerns over an aging population’s health moves up from second to first place among happiness-seekers’ priorities.

Why Great: Sociologists are warning us that what will make us happy in the future aren’t necessarily the same things that make us happy now (at least according to quality-of-life researchers). As having a family decreases importance in the next 30 years, access to the Internet will increase, suggesting that the impulse for human contact will take on a more mobile character.

BUT… This particular study focused on South Korea, so it is difficult to make broad generalizations. However, the researchers’ point that happy cultures begin with happy citizens is well worth noting.

Bottom Line: Quantification of quality of life (i.e., happiness or life satisfaction) is of growing interest to policy makers and all who study macro trends underlying what we loosely call “progress.” This is a departure from traditional economic theory that looks only at GDP, income, employment, and marriage rates. (For example, those quantifying divorce rates might consider whether the impacts are perceived as positive or negative by the parties involved.)

Source: “Sociological and Futuristic Study on Quality of Life in 2040” by Choi Hangsub in Moving from Vision to Action, edited by Cynthia G. Wagner. (the World Future Society’s 2011 conference volume)
PREDICTION:  The proportion of world population over age 65 will grow to 22.3% by 2100, up from 7.6% in 2010.

Who: UN

Why Great: World population grows two ways: more people being born and fewer people dying. The shift to a more mature world has social, economic, and political implications. More-mature cultures tend to be richer, more stable, and less violent ones.

BUT… More-mature nations tend to be weaker in terms of health and military might, making them vulnerable to threats from younger, poorer nations.

Bottom Line: Immigration is a third way that cultures can balance themselves demographically, as young people seek opportunities in wealthier countries around the world, thus offering a potential solution to the issue of the so-called pensioner crisis.

Source: UN data via The Economist, (posted May 13, 2011)

PREDICTION:  In the world’s wealthiest countries, spending on long-term care could double or even triple by 2050.

Who: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in new (May 2011) report, “Help Wanted? Providing and paying for long-term care”

Why Great: Increased longevity is considered good news for individuals but bad news for the institutions that need to pay for their care. The proportion of the frailest elderly in OECD countries (age 80 and older) will grow sharply to 1 in 10 by 2050, up from 1 in 25 in 2010. To meet the care gap, these wealthier societies will become more open to importing care workers as well as innovative technologies such as caregiving robots.

Bottom Line: Individuals, institutions, and governments can all invest now in future care, whether it be improving the health monitoring capability of smart houses and devices or educating a homogenous citizenry about the value of immigrant workers.

PREDICTION:  The Middle East could be the host of a new scientific revolution that fosters huge breakthroughs in renewable energy.

Just as science in Europe was reborn in the seventeenth century following a series of political revolutions, the upheavals now sweeping the Middle East could free the region up for an intellectual liberation and the emergence of a democracy-driven science research base dedicated to people’s needs, contrasting with Western science industries that work primarily at the behest of their corporate and national-security sponsors.

Who: Dan Hind, a British science author and publicist. Commentary ran May 17, 2011, on Al Jazeera.

Why Great: The global implications would be massive: a bastion of fossil fuels becomes the source of solar energy to power the world; a region beset with tens of millions of unemployed and impoverished people could suddenly generate jobs and revenue streams; and R&D industries that are now based mostly in North America and Europe would soon have powerful new potential partners — and potential competitors. Worldwide innovation and economic growth might accelerate, emigration might slow, and terrorist movements would be further marginalized.

BUT… It depends on whether true democracy does take root in the affected countries, and that is far from assured.

Bottom Line: Hind’s vision is very desirable, but it will probably take earnest commitments from players in the Middle East and outside it to make it happen.

PREDICTION:  Traffic congestion will increase by more than 30% in 18 U.S. cities by 2030. The biggest increase (54%) will be in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Who: Harvard Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA) at the School of Public Health

Background: If no further improvements are made to transportation capacity and infrastructure, cities already plagued with traffic problems will see things get worse. Smaller cities like Raleigh, which anticipate population growth as retirement meccas, will likely experience more premature deaths due to increased pollution and traffic accidents.

Why Great: Models for studying the range of trends and impacts — from urban growth to regional migration to the replacement of gas guzzlers with clean hybrids — are becoming increasingly sophisticated, thus giving policy planners in public health and transportation a great chance to invest the necessary resources for improving the quality of transportation.

BUT… In a business-as-usual scenario, the researchers project that U.S. traffic woes will cost a total of 1,900 premature deaths and $17 billion in social costs.

Bottom Line: How you get from here to there makes up a big part of your daily planning. You can also make it a bigger part of your life planning, such as simply deciding to live within walking distance of your office (or even working from home). It could save not just a lot of time, but also your life.

Source: Harvard Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA) at the School of Public Health, cited by The American Road & Transportation Builders Association
PREDICTION:  Biofuel-powered hypersonic jets will shuttle passengers from London to Tokyo (and vice-versa) in less than two and a half hours by 2050.

Who: Airbus parent company EADS.

Why Great: High-speed international air travel that doesn’t generate air pollution would constitute a major achievement. The ZEHST (Zero Emission Hypersonic Transportation) would travel over 3000 mph powered by a combination of hydrogen and oxygen derived from seaweed, emitting water vapor instead of carbon dioxide. Also, at cruising altitudes just above the atmosphere of the Earth, it’s almost like space travel.

BUT… Commercial flights won’t be available for 40 years. What’s more, it may not be commercially viable: The aircraft will only be able to handle 100 passengers at most, so tickets would be prohibitively expensive. (MSNBC reports that seats on the ZEHST “will likely cost in the neighborhood of $10,000 to $30,000, according to aerospace industry experts.”)

Bottom Line: This ambitious project literally aims for the stratosphere.


PREDICTION:  48 metropolitan areas in the United States will not return to pre-recession employment levels until 2020.

Who: The United States Conference of Mayors.

Why Not So Great: But wait — there’s more. Most U.S. metro economies “will suffer persistently high unemployment beyond 2011, many of which will continue with high rates into the middle and latter part of the decade,” the report claims. It pinpoints 198 cities that will still face over 6% unemployment by 2015.

BUT… According to the report, “the vast majority of employment gains the U.S. will experience in the coming years will be provided by metro economies,” adding, “by the close of 2014 over half of the metro areas will have returned to their previous peak employment level.” It’s not exactly a silver lining, but it’s something, anyway.

Bottom Line: The report highlights the need for both short- and long-term solutions from federal legislators. It also calls for them to earmark some of the money being spent on military actions abroad to improving domestic cities and creating jobs at home.


PREDICTION:  Dubai’s airport will be the busiest in the world, serving over 75 million passengers annually by 2015.

Who: Dubai Airports.

Why Great: “Increased liberalization, GDP growth, and increasingly affluent and mobile populations in emerging markets will combine to propel air travel growth worldwide,” according to Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths.

BUT… Two words: carbon footprint. Air travel isn’t exactly the most environmentally friendly way to get around. The question is: Can the planet handle an increase in fossil fuel-guzzling, greenhouse gas-emitting international air travel?

Bottom Line: Dubai will continue to be a major point of connection between emerging and established national economies.


PREDICTION:  Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Russia will be responsible for over half of all global economic growth by 2025.

Who: The World Bank, in the report Global Development Horizons 2011 — Multipolarity: The New Global Economy.

Why great: These emerging countries’ economic growth will likely pave the way for improvement in other developing nations’ economies via increased financial and commercial activity across borders.

BUT… According to Mansoor Dailami, manager of emerging trends at the World Bank and lead author of the report, “A key question is whether existing multilateral norms and institutions are sufficiently strong to accommodate the passage toward multipolarity. The challenges of managing global integration among power centers makes strengthening policy coordination across economies critical to reducing the risks of economic instability.”

Bottom Line: The title says it all: Multipolarity. Global economic influence will be shared by various developed and developing countries and the U.S. dollar will no longer solely dominate the international monetary system. The likelihood of this scenario seems strong — the economic rise of these countries has been forecasted for quite some time prior to the World Bank’s report.


World Bank Pubs, Emerging economies will grow by 4.7% a year by 2025, and their global GDP will expand to 45%. Read
PREDICTION:  Prices for staple grains — i.e., food — will increase by 120% to 180% in the next two decades. [2030s]

Who: Oxfam

Background: Environmental, political, and economic forces are all driving up food prices, including climate change and pressure from the biofuels lobbies. Meanwhile, demand for food will increase by 70% as the global population reaches a projected 9 billion by 2050.

Why Great: Individuals, communities, and organizations are taking the future in their own hands — literally — by either growing their own food or joining cooperatives, and by supporting hunger-fighting politicians. Even Big Agriculture could benefit from nurturing the diversity of smallholder farmers, says Oxfam.

BUT… Failure to build a sustainable future for farmers could result in food wars, just as any resource scarcity provokes competition and conflict.

Bottom Line: A “new prosperity” is possible, says Oxfam: “The race to a sustainable future is on, and there will be huge opportunities for those who get there first.”

Source: “Growing a Sustainable Future” by Robert Bailey, Oxfam GB/Oxfam International, May 31, 2011,

PREDICTION:  There may be a major cocoa shortage by 2020.

Who: Mars, the global confectionary giant.

Background: At issue is standards and certification for sustainability in cocoa production. Without sustainable practices, along with innovative agricultural technologies, “the industry as a whole can expect a shortfall of more than one million tonnes of cocoa in just nine years.”

Why Great: Mars Chocolate is a powerful influencer and has pledged to purchase 100% certified sustainable chocolate by 2020, focusing on “technology transfer that puts farmers first; innovations in agricultural science; and rigorous certification standards.”

BUT… The challenge is to improve the sustainability certification process, which will require industry investment in giving farmers access to advanced agricultural methods, including genetically improved cocoa that is more productive and more-resistant to disease.

Bottom Line: Mars recognizes that improving farming practices is good for farmers, the industry, and the planet. Whether chocoholics care much how their candy bars get to them, the prospects of major shortages could increase their interest in supporting sustainable chocolate.


PREDICTION:  The world will no-longer rely on a single reserve currency by 2025.

Who: The World Bank, Tuesday, May 17th.

Why It’s Great: In the words of the study, “A multi-currency regime would more broadly distribute lender-of-last-resort responsibility and make it easier to boost liquidity during times of market distress without as much disruption as is often the case now.”

BUT… Since oil is denominated in dollars, a change to a basket of currency denomination system would send the price of oil much higher.

Bottom Line: The above-outlined emerging economies will grow 4.7% annually (on average) a year between 2011 and 2025, according to the World Bank. Advanced countries will grow on 2.3% a year, on average. This will affect the price of lots of things.


PREDICTION:  Student loan debt will spark worse economic turmoil in the United States than the credit-card debt crisis or the housing bubbles. Young people ages 16-24 suffer higher unemployment rates than any other U.S. demographic group, even though most have racked up gargantuan amounts of loan debt to earn their degrees. Organized student protests, and eventually civil unrest, will unfold unless the government takes action.

Who: Sarah Jaffe, contributor to [Michael Bloomberg predict]

When: 2010-2020

Why It’s a Great PREDICTION:  Defaulted debts in the U.S. economy already contributed to one major global economic catastrophe in 2007-2008, one from which the world has yet to fully recover. Can any country on earth afford another, in this case tied to student loans rather than housing loans? The situation is ominous for the education itself, also: If people come to associate college degrees with underemployment and lifelong personal debt, then large numbers of young people may decide to forego college. America’s knowledge base will wither, and its standard of living — and by extension, that of the rest of the world — will sink further. The worldwide pain intensifies even more if Jaffe’s warnings of youth riots and violence come to pass.

But… Concerted political reforms and a robust economic recovery might pave the way toward a brighter alternative future. So, too, might more U.S. students turning to more fiscally sane education alternatives — like enrolling in Canadian colleges, eh?

Bottom Line: The United States is a world leader in coming up with overly expensive, credit-busting approaches to the good life. But this cannot go on forever.

Source: Jaffe, Sarah. “The Next Bubble is About to Burst.” June 2, 2011:

PREDICTION:  India will become the world’s third largest auto market by 2020.

Who: J.D. Power and Associates, in the report “India Automotive 2020: The Next Giant from Asia.”

Why Great: India has already risen to become the sixth-largest market for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. This growth is tied to general economic improvements (greater market liberalization and more foreign investment, in particular) and a growing consumer-driven culture, according to the report. “India could find itself well-positioned to fulfill the needs of the small car segment,” says John Humphrey, senior vice president of global automotive operations at J.D. Power and Associates. He adds: “That said, profit margins are thinner in the small car segment, so automakers are going to need to manage their businesses carefully to optimize profits.”

BUT… According to the report, India’s auto market has three “deficits” to overcome — in international trade, budget, and infrastructure (which is singled out as the largest challenge) — if it is to realize its full potential. Humphrey asserts, “Much of India’s future growth in the automotive sector will depend on successfully creating the infrastructure to support its economy.” The report also points to a fourth “deficit” in terms of skilled engineers and large-scale automotive parts production.

Bottom Line: 700,000 light vehicles were sold in 2000, and around 11 million are predicted for 2020.That represents some serious growth — but it’s far from guaranteed at this point.

PREDICTION:  The United States will need to create 21 million jobs by 2020 in order to achieve full employment.

Who: The McKinsey Global Institute, in their report “An economy that works: Job creation and America’s future.”

Why: The report’s authors looked at the current high level of unemployment (approximately seven million are still out of work as the U.S. enters into an extended “jobless recovery” period) as well as projected population growth over the next decade to arrive at this number.

BUT… If current trends continue, this is unlikely to occur. The economy will not be as strong as it needs to be and many will lack the necessary skills and education for the jobs that will likely exist.

Bottom Line: According to the report, which looks at the potential for job growth across 6 industry sectors, demand for college graduates is likely to rise, so government investment in higher education is imperative. “Our analysis suggests a shortage of up to 1.5 million workers with bachelor’s degrees or higher in 2020. At the same time, nearly 6 million Americans without a high school diploma are likely to be without a job.” The report concludes with a series of policy suggestions, including attracting greater foreign investment and supporting new industries and start-ups, which could help reverse the trends, given a healthy economy.


PREDICTION:  Digital currency will be accepted virtually everywhere in the United States by 2015.

Who: PayPal president Scott Thompson.

Why Great: People will no longer have to worry if they have enough cash on them or go out of their way to stop by their bank’s ATMs. On a larger scale, a mostly cashless society would go a long way towards eliminating illegal underground economies and reducing criminal activity, as David R. Warwick points out in “The Case Against Cash” (THE FUTURIST, July-August 2011).

BUT… The news is coming from PayPal. Surprising? Also, it’s good news depending on how you feel about information gathering and privacy issues. There will be data on every transaction made and that data will need protecting (of course, this is already an issue).

What to do about it: In Thompson’s words, “embrace a digital lifestyle” and stop using cash and checks.

Bottom Line: Wallets may be destined to become antique collector’s items in the next few years.

PREDICTION:  By 2015, the majority of organizations that manage innovation processes will galvanize innovation by making a game out of it.

Who: Gartner, Inc.

Background: “Gamification” — applying game mechanics, such as scoreboards and rules of play, to non-game systems — is a well-known trend underway in IT, Web development, and many other types of businesses and organizations. Their management teams are all looking to increase customer feedback, employee engagement, and idea generation. They achieve all three by creating game-like platforms that make the work of discussion and correspondence feel more like a game. For example, Great Britain’s Department for Work and Pensions created a social collaboration platform for its 120,000 personnel. Called Idea Street, it features points, leader boards, and a “buzz index.” In its first 48 months, approximately 4,500 users had registered and had generated 1,400 ideas, of which 63 had gone forward to implementation. The World Bank developed a similar application, called Evoke, which crowdsources ideas from players across the globe to solve social challenges.

Why Great: Plenty of adults, just like kids, enjoy friendly competition. The Department for Work and Pensions, the World Bank, and other organizations are clearly coming up with creative ways to channel grownups’ proclivities for games and, in the process, get higher volumes of serious work done. And who can argue with that?

BUT… No app is going to work magic. It is only as useful as the people who use it (or don’t use it). The two organizations above may have the dual benefits of an engaged population willing to contribute ideas and an open-minded leadership willing to receive new ideas. Both of these are important, and unfortunately, not every organization has them. Those that don’t will probably not see as much gain from gamification.

Bottom Line: Businesses and organizations are looking for, and often finding, highly productive ways to combine business and pleasure.

PREDICTION:  Worldwide government debt will increase another 40% by 2016 (reaching $48,100 billion; up from $34,400 billion this year). Financial stability of every major economy on earth will be in jeopardy. Advanced economies are the ones running up the negative balances; emerging market economies account for 17% of global debt now and will account for 14% in 2016.

Who: Eswar Prasad and Menjie Ding, Financial Times

Background: Debt constitutes “a major threat to global financial stability,” according to Prasad and Ding in this report, and they detail steep aggregate debt increases across the global financial system to make their case. The causes are many. Sagging economic performance is setting back the United States and Europe. Japan’s economy is underperforming, too, while simultaneously contending with the aftershocks of the 2011 tsunami disaster.

Why Great: One need look no farther than Greece and Portugal to see what happens if debt is allowed to spiral out of control. If this report’s analyses are correct, there could be many more Greeces and Portugals across the world in the years ahead: No region is free of looming debt. What’s even scarier is that the major economies, such as Europe, have the most crushing debt problems. This matters because these larger economies are bailing the troubled smaller ones out now. If the larger economies remain in the red, they will have no more bailouts to spare, and troubled economies everywhere will be on their own.

BUT… Could BRIC growth soften the blow?

Bottom Line: It happened in Greece, and it happened in Portugal. It could apparently happen in a lot of other places, too.

Source: Brookings,

PREDICTION:  “micro-multinationals” will dominate the planet (with a little assistance from cheap robots) by 2025.

Who: Hal Varian, chief economist for Google, in an article for Foreign Policy.

Why Great: Thanks largely to the Internet, “even the smallest company can now afford a communications and computational infrastructure that would have been the envy of a large corporation 15 years ago,” Varian writes. These small businesses, known as micro-multinationals, can distribute their products (especially those that are Web-based) — and hire employees — in virtually any country in the world. Varian points to Skype, based in Estonia, as a successful example of such a company. Micro-multinationals can help prevent “brain drains,” too, since employees can work remotely from anywhere in the world. And soon, according to Varian, inexpensive robotic devices will be available to boost these businesses. This technology, which previously only large companies could afford, will further level the playing field.

BUT… Varian adds, that terrorists and others who seek to create disruption and chaos have also “benefited enormously from the same proliferation of information technology that has enabled micro-multinationals and robotics.” He further points out that any problems with the communications infrastructure itself could cause “catastrophes.” In addition, he mentions that legislative and regulatory issues, among others, could prevent the potential of inexpensive robotic technology from fully being realized.

Bottom Line: In summing up. Varian says, “A simple way to forecast the future is to look at what rich people have today; middle-income people will have something equivalent in 10 years, and poor people will have it in an additional decade.” While this may come across as an overly-simplistic (and overly-optimistic) forecasting shortcut, it does seem applicable in the business world.


PREDICTION:  Thanks to a rebound in housing construction, unemployment will fall below 7% by 2013, earlier than the Federal Reserve is predicting.

Who: Warren Buffet on the Charlie Rose Show, following the publishing of his most recent Op-Ed in the New York Times.

Why It’s Great: It’s a bold, direct, and unapologetically optimistic statement about the resiliency of the U.S. economy from the world’s most successful investor. More importantly, it might actually be right. U.S. Commerce Department Data released the week of August 26th showed that 165,000 new houses were on the market in the month of July. That’s the lowest inventory of new homes on the market since the government began keeping track 47 years ago.

BUT… Buffett may be a great investor, but he’s not an impartial voice. Forecasting a rebound in home construction overlooks the fact that millions of Americans still face difficult credit conditions, U.S. consumer debt remains at historically elevated levels. In this environment, the consensus credit-worthy consumers will delay home purchases until the economy improves, which is a function of unemployment receding, which is a function of people buying houses.

Bottom Line: The U.S. economic recovery is surprisingly dependent on housing and consumer spending and thus will be volatile for some time.


PREDICTION:  Baby Boomers easing into retirement will continue to dump U.S. stocks in favor of less risky assets, causing a 13% decline in the U.S. stock market by 2010 (relative to 2010).

Background: “Despite theoretical ambiguities, U.S. equity values have been closely related to demographic trends in the past half century. There has been a tight correlation between population dependency ratios… and the price/earnings ratio of the U.S. stock market. In the context of the impending retirement of baby boomers over the next two decades, this correlation portends poorly for equity values.”

Who: The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, August 22, 2011.

Why it’s Great: It’s an unusually honest appraisal of how changing demographics influence equity valuations. In broaching it, the authors of the letter are trying to look out for retail investors (which is probably more than their brokers are doing). Also, the authors use the same metric to product a robust bull market for stocks between 2025 and 2030. Good news for the grandkids!

BUT… Even the authors acknowledge that their metric is one just one among many. Technological breakthroughs creating new enterprises a loosening of immigration policy, other events could render the prediction moot.

Bottom Line: Be careful of stock brokers baring “buy” opportunities.

PREDICTION:  Iraq’s per capita GDP will double by 2015, thanks to oil revenues.

Who: Majid Al-Suri, a Central Bank of Iraq economist

Background: Oil may be one of the few bright spots in Iraq’s attempts to rebuild itself post-Saddam. National oil output in July 2011 stood at 2.8 million barrels a day — higher than pre-invasion oil production, which hovered at around 2.6 million barrels a day in early 2003, and equal to or higher than production at any time since. Al-Suri projects that output will keep growing and, when combined with steadily rising prices for oil in the global market, will push Iraq’s per-capita GDP from its present-day level of $4,500 up to $10,000 by the end of 2015.

Why Great: Iraq is still on the brink: Insurgent attacks are rising, security forces are weak, standards of living remain low, unemployment is horrendous, and corruption is rampant. A failed-state future looks increasingly certain, and that would be a scenario no good person wants to see: outpourings of civil warfare; mass flight of refugees; catastrophic drop-off in the global oil market; a resorgimento for Islamic terrorist networks; and the annihilation of movements for Middle Eastern democratic reform. Iraq’s government could still avert this implosion, but only if it massively boosts security, economic activity, and public infrastructure. Strong GDP growth would make all that possible.

BUT… Al-Suri sounds awfully optimistic, given the present-day mess. Does he really believe his prediction? Or is he just saying it to entice more foreign contractors and placate the U.S. government that has been getting on his country’s case of late about the lack of progress? No one disputes that Iraq has lots of oil to be drilled, but there needs to be law and order on the ground before anyone can drill it. Iraq is still plagued with sectarian violence that shows no signs of quitting. As such, the country is going to have a hard time convincing oil companies to set up shop. Ergo, revenue growth is going to be hard to achieve.

Bottom Line: Iraq needs economic growth to achieve stability, and it needs stability to achieve economic growth — it’s a nasty catch-22, no matter what rosy predictions a Central Bank of Iraq economist may dish out.

Source: Iraq Business News,

PREDICTION:  The euro zone will collapse, many of its member nations ditching the Euro for their own national currencies, by 2016.

Who: Nouriel Roubini, a French economist and the president of Roubini Global Economic LLC. He holds great renown in France for having accurately predicted the 2008 financial crisis back in 2006.

Background: France, Germany, and several other major European powers founded the euro zone in hopes that Europe’s many economies could be most successful if they pooled their resources and interests into one common market. In Roubini’s opinion, the member nations have not stuck to the plan. Their economic policies remain too divergent and too competitive with each other. Today’s European fiscal crisis is the outcome — bad fiscal management in Greece and Portugal drags down Spain and Ireland. He sees only two ways out. The first is that all euro-zone members adopt one single budgetary policy and tax system. In the absence of this, he says, the euro zone’s less successful member nations will give up the Euro and reinstate their own national currencies.

Why Great: This is bound to shake up global markets — but in a bad way, good way, or both? It’s debatable. On one hand, collapse of the Euro could hugely disrupt trade across Europe, which could wreck Europe’s stock markets. Unemployment and budget crises across the continent could worsen, possibly triggering the elections of extremist politicians and more global chaos. Immigration into Europe would slow, and emigration out of Europe might accelerate. But on the other hand, the countries who abandon the Euro might come out winners. Their new, purportedly crash-proof currencies might be held as more credible by domestic businesses and outside investors. Europe could see a new era of economic prosperity, just one with different centers of gravity.

BUT… Many European officials believe in the deep integration of which Roubini speaks and are trying to get it implemented. If they succeed, then his second, default scenario will not have to come to pass.

Bottom Line: Europe’s financial system gets few votes of confidence. Major overhaul now might be necessary to avert major collapse late on.

Source: Le Figaro,
PREDICTION:  The present-day economic troubles now growing across the world will culminate in a new Great Depression by 2013.

Who: Nouriel Roubini, a French economist and the president of Roubini Global Economic LLC

Background: Roubini notes the simultaneous slowdowns of economic growth in the United States, United Kingdom, and the euro zone with alarm. He fears that they are the makings of a new, even worse financial crisis that will sweep the globe no later than 2013. He urges national leaders everywhere to quickly institute massive new stimulus initiatives to avert it.

Why Great: A new stimulus is definitely not going to happen in the United States. Few European governments seem disposed to it, either. In all, there is no good reason to think that Roubini’s prescription will be taken. That’s dire news for economies everywhere, if “Dr. Catastrophe” — as Roubini is sometimes called for having foretold in 2006 of the 2008 U.S. housing crash — is correct on his diagnosis of another impending global recession.

BUT… Hamilton hasn’t always been right. As Bloomberg reporter Scott Hamilton notes, “When the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell to a 12-year low on March 9, 2009, (Roubini) said it probably would drop to 600 or lower by the end of that year. Instead, the U.S. equity benchmark gained 65 percent for the rest of 2009.” Let’s all hope that he’s wrong about this new Great Depression, too.

Bottom Line: If you’re looking for good news on the economic front, you’re not going to get it from Roubini.

Source: Bloomberg,

PREDICTION:  By the 2020s, the Americas will supersede the Middle East as the world’s go-to source for petroleum. Geopolitics will shift considerably, as OPEC will no longer have so much clout.

Who: Mark Perry, University of Michigan economist

Background: North and South America combined hold far more underground oil reserves than the Middle East and North Africa. The Middle East was favored last century, however, because the Americas’ oil exists primarily in less accessible forms and environs — offshore deposits, shale rock, oil sands, and heavy oil formations. More recently, though, innovations in drilling and mining have made accessing these oil sources much easier. Consequently, oil industries in the Americas have grown quickly in short order. Perry thinks that the United States could become a prominent oil exporter and, in addition, share its oil-accessing technologies with European countries that want to tap their own domestic supplies instead of being at the mercy of oil-rich Russia.

Why Great: It’s good news for economic growth and job creation in the Americas. It’s not so good news, however, for environmental sustainability. A burgeoning oil industry in the United States would likely slow societal momentum toward weaning off fossil fuels and eradicating carbon emissions. Not to mention it could put a slough of hitherto-untouched wilderness areas in harm’s way.

BUT… Perry’s expectation that the United States would exploit more of its domestic oil reserves is very believable. It doesn’t necessarily follow, though, that the OPEC countries will lose business because of it. Many energy analysts expect worldwide energy consumption to grow enormously as the century wears on. Odds are there will be enough global hunger for oil that both the Middle East and the Americas will go on reaping huge oil revenues drilling their oil wells to quench it.

Bottom Line: Human civilization has room for many oil giants, though the same can’t be said of earth’s ecosystems.

Prediction High Levels of unemployment will haunt young people until 2012. The number of young people forced to delay their careers due to the recession of poor labor market will suffer diminished earnings ability for decades.

Who: Andrew Sum, an economist and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University

Background: Today’s young adults are facing the highest unemployment since World War II. Nearly one out of five lives in poverty.

Unemployment is two to three times worse for Gen Y then it is for baby boomers.

For Gen X, debts have been rising and incomes falling. In the words of Derek Thompson at the Atlantic, “They’re working harder — a two-parent family worked 26 percent more hours in 2010 than in 1975 — and making less. Thirty-something men had an average income of $40,000 some 30 years ago; today, it’s $35,000.”

Why Great: Acknowledging the debt and dim economic prospects of today’s young people is the first step in drafting federal policies (a student loan forgiveness bill?) to fix the problem.

BUT… Robust growth could reverse this trend.


PREDICTION:  The European debt crisis could lead to war in 10 to 20 years.

Who: Polish Finance minister Jacek Rostowski, speaking before the European parliament in Strasbourg on September 15.

Why great: The sooner you recognize a worst case scenario, the sooner and easier you can avert it.

BUT… The prediction reflects the historic German fear of hyper-inflation, which some German policy makers believe will ensue if euros are printed to cover the bad debts in Greece (and elsewhere.) Hyperinflation in Germany following World War I resulted in unprecedented social unrest and, eventually, fascism. But deflation, rather than inflation, remains the larger threat to the global economy.

Bottom Line: It isn’t the 1930s. The euro zone members should focus on the crisis at hand.

in Sci/Tech

PREDICTION:  In the next 25 years [timeline year 2035], synthetic biology — the creation of life from nonliving chemicals designed on a computer — could produce thousands of synthetic genomes and life-forms not yet imagined.

Who: Jerome C. Glenn, director of the Millennium Project, extrapolating from the work of the J. Craig Venter Institute

Why Great: Scientists are expanding the tools available to solve a myriad of problems, from enhancing health to improving energy supplies.

BUT… If no one yet knows what can be created, neither can we know what mischief such creations could create.

Bottom Line: Technological development has always been a double-edged sword. Researchers who ignore potential side effects or the ethical implications of their work, and who do not govern their own activities, risk having government regulators (and public disdain) thwart any hope of achieving positive breakthroughs.

Source: “Global Situation and Prospects for the Future” by Jerome C. Glenn, in Moving from Vision to Action edited by Cynthia G. Wagner (World Future Society, 2011), page 8.

PREDICTION:  Robotic aerial drones will be the must-have weapon for air forces across the globe. A global rush to build drone arsenals is on and may push global spending on drones to $94 billion — double its current level — by 2020.

Who: Teal Group, an aerospace research firm, in a 2011 market study.

Background: More than 50 countries have bought drone technology recently. Many may be attempting to catch up to the United States, whose Air Force now extensively uses drone aircraft for both reconnaissance and combat missions. China has been particularly diligent: Chinese analysts say that every major manufacturer for the Chinese military now has a center dedicated solely to drone development.

Why Great: Clearly, there is a huge new market opportunity for aerial engineering firms; expect many more collaborations between them and the world’s armed forces. Also expect a few more degrees of separation to rise up between human soldiers and the battlefields, with robots taking on more of the most dangerous missions that in years past would have claimed pilots’ lives. The prospect of wreaking more damage on enemy infrastructure while sustaining fewer casualties is real and obviously attractive to military planners the world over.

BUT… As the article points out, some academicians worry that drones will make warfare more common. They argue that since governments will perceive the drones as minimizing human casualties, they will have fewer reservations about launching military strikes on other nations. This fear sounds valid. The more that the sights and sounds of warfare become relegated to video screens, the less impact they will have on us — even if they remain as palpable as ever to the soldiers and unarmed civilians on the receiving ends of the drone attacks.

Bottom Line: Every century, a few huge technological innovations come along and change how wars are fought. The repeating rifle, the railroad, and nuclear weapons are a few examples. Aerial drones just may be the next big thing, militarily speaking. As with previous technological innovations, though, human planners will have to use moral restraint to make sure that it changes war for the better and not for the worse.

Source: Reported in the Washington Post,

PREDICTION:  Alcohol-detection devices (to prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver’s breath indicates he or she has had one too many) could become a standard option for every U.S. automobile by 2020 and a mandatory feature sometime thereafter.

Who: Jayne O’Donnell, USA Today, reporter. She cites a Congressional proposal to develop prototype devices; a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) spokesperson who wants to see the devices installed in every car; and an American Beverage Institute spokesperson who says that she fears this MADD aspiration will actually come to pass.

Background: Alcohol-detection devices — a.k.a, “ignition interlocks” — already exist, and courts sometimes sentence persons convicted of drunk driving to install them into their cars. These machines are flawed, however: They sometimes mistake mouthwash or caffeine in someone’s breath for booze. They are also hard to use: Drivers must blow into them several times for their cars to start. Further, they are too clunky, cumbersome, and ugly for any average driver to want to install them voluntarily. A bill proposed by two U.S. congressmen — Sens. Tom Udall, D–N.M., and Bob Corker, R–Tenn. — would direct $60 million for five-year development of new, compact, user-friendly, more effective devices suitable for automobile drivers everywhere.

Why Great: Alcohol-related driving accidents kill horrendous numbers of U.S. drivers every year. And stopping the offenders eats up massive amounts of law-enforcement budgets and manpower. Ideally, these devices could go into widespread use and prevent many drunk-driving tragedies from ever happening.

BUT… If it is only a standard feature, then will enough drivers actually buy it for it to make a tangible dent in drunk-driving accidents? Chances are most hard-core alcoholics who are responsible for most of the accidents will not. In that case, mandatory device installation would be the only solution — and it’s no sure bet that Congress will ever enact that. Industry interests are already gearing up to fight it; the American Beverage Institute spokeswoman is proof of this. Privacy hawks and libertarian groups would surely come out against it, too: “Big Brother is trying to control our automobiles!”

Bottom Line: Good intentions are behind this, but they may run aground against political realities.

Source: reported on,

PREDICTION:  Hotels will offer customers a selection of dreams as well as the opportunity to study and learn while they sleep by 2030.

Who: Futurist Ian Pearson, in a report for budget hotel chain Travelodge entitled “The Future of Sleep.”

Why Great: According to the report, “We will be able to replay our favorite dream from a menu just like choosing a movie. Also, we will be able to link into dreams with our partner or family and friends and enjoy a shared dream experience.” Furthermore technology could also monitor a hotel guest’s health and mood and adapt in such a way to ensure them a perfect night’s sleep: “Video, audio, smells, and tactile experiences produced using our bed or bed linen will play a key role in helping to make our dreams feel real.”

BUT… Such technological breakthroughs hinge on a vastly greater understanding of the human mind than currently exists. Also, do you really want a budget hotel chain — or anyone, for that matter — controlling what goes on inside your head?

Bottom Line: These types of predictions typically garner a lot of media attention (it’s almost as if they were calculated attempts to do just that), but the report also mentions more likely ways that augmented reality will be incorporated into hotel rooms over the next two decades (guests could have the option to digitally “decorate” their rooms themselves, for example). And remember — if the spinning top keeps spinning, then you’re still in the dream.

PREDICTION:  By 2015, people will have a direct say in 25% of the display ads they see when they go to the computers and use services like Google.

Who: Neal Mohan, Vice President of Display Advertising at Innovation Days Internet Week, June 1st.

Why Great: According to Mohan, we are on the verge of a “ user-focused revolution, where people connect and respond to display ads in ways we’ve never seen before.” He sees display ads becoming a $200 billion per year industry and predicts that by 2015:

    The number of display ad impressions will decrease by 25 percent per person. (People will see fewer and better ads)
    Engagement rates across all display ads will increase by 50 percent.
    35 percent of campaigns will primarily use metrics beyond clicks and conversions.
    Over 40 percent of online Americans will name display ads as their favorite ad format.

BUT… The big loser in this vision is traditional media. Also, the personalized a display ad, the more personal information it’s using about you to sell you things.

Bottom Line: Web advertising is going to get more user-specific, eerily so, in the next three years.


PREDICTION:  Global Internet traffic will quadruple by 2015, thanks in large part to over 3 billion Internet users and15 billion networked devices.

Who: The Cisco Visual Networking Index.

Why Great: New business opportunities are arising for tech entrepreneurs. Also, increased Internet traffic will lead to increased economic growth in developing countries, particularly Africa and the Middle East.

BUT… In just 3 years or so? That’s really soon. On the one hand, Cisco’s previous industry predictions on Internet growth seem conservative in hindsight. On the other, the technology and telecommunications giant only stands to gain from exploding online traffic, so it’s unlikely they’d be anything other than optimistic in a public report.

Bottom Line: The world will likely enter the “Zettabyte era,” as the report refers to it, sooner or later, if not necessarily by 2015.

PREDICTION:  The majority (61%) of Internet traffic will be via video by 2015, with annual global traffic reaching the zettabyte threshold — that’s the equivalent of 250 billion DVDs, according to Cisco blogger Thomas Barnett (June 23, 2011):


PREDICTION:  “Computers” will cease to exist. We’ll access the Web through our contact lenses, going online in the blink of an eye — literally.

Who: Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.

Background: Miniaturization of all things electronic will allow more technology to be embedded on the convenient contact lens.

Why Great: Imagine never having to say you’re sorry when you don’t remember your telecommuting colleague’s name or what project you’re supposed to be working on with her. The information you need will arrive discreetly and instantly on your contact lens in a 3-D display visible only to you. You’ll even get subtitles if your partner is speaking a different language.

BUT… Augmented reality has a way of taking over your life. If people can’t even text and walk at the same time. look out for those whose visual displays are distracting them.

Bottom Line: The long-term trend in communications technology has been toward integration and convenience. As cool as things like the iPad and other tablets are, they are still stuff and have to be handled and carried and cleaned and protected. Computer contacts will be seen as a great boon to many people, and not just the usual early-adopter gearheads.

Source: various individuals cited by Australian blogger James Adonis “Internet via contact lenses, as computers die out” (May 27, 2011), Work in Progress, Sydney Morning Herald

Read more:

PREDICTION:  The International Space Station won’t continue past 2020. Sometime around then, its human conductors will de-orbit it and dump it into the ocean. A replacement space station might be built thereafter.

Who: Vitaly Davydov, deputy head of the Russian Space Agency

Background: Since its first modules commenced operations in the 1990s, the International Space Station has been a focal point for human operations in space. Crews from the United States, Europe, Russia, China, and other countries have shared its facilities and jointly conducted hundreds of on-board space research initiatives. Its developers had expected to keep it up and running until at least 2020, but its future beyond 2020 had always been uncertain. Davydov apparently sees no post-2020 future for the space station at all.

Why Great: If he’s right, it would be an anticlimactic end to an endeavor on which the world’s space agencies have jointly invested several decades, hundreds of billions of dollars, and myriad space-flight missions. It would also be a major setback for the near-term future of human space exploration. That space station is the only earth-orbiting docking point that space vessels with human crews currently have. Exploring space will be considerably harder once it is gone.

BUT… Will there be a successor station? Who will take the lead on it? Russia and China seem like the most probable candidates now, all things considered.

Bottom Line: Should the space station sink into the ocean, the onus will be on the world’s government’s to not let human space aspirations sink into the ocean along with it.


PREDICTION:  In another 10 years, home entertainment centers could be playing movies and television shows as 3-D holographs, no television screen involved.

Who: Pierre-Alexandre Blanche, University of Arizona physicist

Background: Still-life holographic images are with us today in visual displays across the globe. They function via lasers that project off a tiny film screen on which the laser’s light shines in some spots and cancels out in others to produce a complete image. Blanche and colleagues have been working on a projector that displays moving holographic images. Their prototype uses a screen that can create one image, automatically erase it, and then create another, thus generating an ongoing image sequence like the slides that make a cartoon. Their current model is currently too slow — only two frames per second — but could eventually become a working model with more fine-tuning.

Why Great: Who wouldn’t want to experience 3-D entertainment without the klunky 3-D glasses? Or view movie scenes in all their fully dimensional glory in ther living room, free of the confines of a TV screen?

BUT… Researchers need to come up with lasers that are more refined and film that is many times more sensitive in order for commercially usable products to emerge from this technology.

Bottom Line: High-def TV is about to get much, much higher-def.

Source: Discover,

PREDICTION:  50 billion machine-to-machine (M2M) devices — such as high-definition cameras, e-readers, remote sensors, and appliances — will be communicating with each other wirelessly by 2020.

Who: Sprint

Background: Traffic on wireless services is already dominated by data, having surpassed voice traffic in 2010. Machines will increasingly communicate with each other automatically, without human intervention.

Why Great: Good news for efficient remote monitoring, such as in telemedicine and insurance companies that can monitor your driving habits and adjust your premiums accordingly.

BUT… Bad news for meter readers and anyone concerned about their machines tattling on them.

Bottom Line: M2M promises potential savings of billions of dollars in health care and other industries, and may be a boon for individuals with disabilities and other chronic conditions.

Source: Sprint M2M: Better 3
PREDICTION:  “Voice interface systems will permit automation of about one-third of the current service sector jobs” [in the next 25-50 years]. “By 2040, robotlike machinery will inhabit the world alongside people, doing much of the work.”

Who: James H. Irvine and Sandra Schwarzbach of the Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake, California

Background: Also, “robots could replace as much as 25% to 50% of the current, low-end labor force in the agricultural, industrial, and service sectors of the U.S. economy.”

Why Great: “This could mean vastly higher productivity for the remaining labor force.”

BUT… obviously this will disrupt the lives of many workers unprepared to move to higher-order occupations, with societal repercussions.

Bottom Line: The increased “infiltration” of robots in the workforce is not unlike immigrants taking over more and more service jobs in advanced economies. Conflicts will likely arise, but many of these jobs were not that desirable in the first place. Human–robot cultural understanding might be included in workplace diversity training to help ease some of the pain in the transition.

Source: the authors’ paper, “New Technologies and the World Ahead: The Top 20 Plus 5,” in Moving from Vision to Action (WFS, 2011)

PREDICTION:  50 billion machine-to-machine (M2M) devices — such as high-definition cameras, e-readers, remote sensors, and appliances — will be communicating with each other wirelessly by 2020.

Who: Sprint

Background: Traffic on wireless services is already dominated by data, having surpassed voice traffic in 2010. Machines will increasingly communicate with each other automatically, without human intervention.

Why Great: Good news for efficient remote monitoring, such as in telemedicine and insurance companies that can monitor your driving habits and adjust your premiums accordingly.

BUT… Bad news for meter readers and anyone concerned about their machines tattling on them.

Bottom Line: M2M promises potential savings of billions of dollars in health care and other industries, and may be a boon for individuals with disabilities and other chronic conditions.

Source: Sprint M2M:
PREDICTION:  Soldiers will communicate telepathically. No longer relying on radio transmissions, microphones, or hand signals, they will relay their thoughts to each other through “thought helmets.”

Who: Gerwin Schalk, an Albany Medical College biomedical scientist, who is working with the U.S. army to develop the first functional thought helmets.

When: Soldiers outfitted with thought helmets could be deploying as soon as 2020.

Why It’s a Great PREDICTION:  A combat area is by nature chaotic and unnerving. Soldiers operating in it could probably be a lot less overwhelmed and make far fewer mistakes if they are able to stay in touch telepathically and thereby understand each other perfectly no matter how much background noise they might be enduring. Also consider how it might cross-apply to gaining enemy intelligence. Torture will no longer have any excuse whatsoever (not that it is already hard to defend) — why go through the trouble of waterboarding or isolating a prisoner when all you have to do is strap a thought helmet onto his head and read any secret of his that you want?

BUT… How secure will it be? Enemy operatives could sow a lot of chaos if they learn how to infiltrate thought helmets and implant their own false thoughts.

Bottom Line: Technology that can read thoughts is bold, edgy, and to some a little frightening. We don’t know yet if it is feasible, much less what harms might result from its misuse. But it is an exciting — and to military personnel, potentially lifesaving — all the same.


PREDICTION:  By 2030, doctors will be fitting amputees and persons who are missing limbs with “neuroprosthetics” that link to the body’s neurons and receive signals from the brain so as to move, feel, and operate just like real limbs.

Who: Will Rosellini, CEO and president of MicroTransponder (a medical device company)

Background: Machines that interface with the human nervous system are already here: Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS), an electrode therapy that uses electric impulses to reorder a patient’s neural circuits, has been successfully treating epilepsy and severe depression since the 1970s. Rosellini’s own company has been testing use of VNS to treat many other neurological disorders, such as tinnitus and phantom limb pain. Extrapolating from the current trajectory of development, Rossellini sees whole limbs that interface with neurons exiting labs in another two decades.

Why Great: Millions of people across the globe live without one or more limbs, either because of an amputation or because they were born that way. Any one of them would rejoice to have the kind of fully functional prosthetic that Rosellini describes. Its development would go far to expanding each person’s options in life and quality of living.

BUT… As the article points out, no electronic system today can interact seamlessly with nerves. So it’s unknown how we might make a neuroprosthetic that has all the mobility of a natural limb. And in any case, such limbs are bound to be expensive. Even if they are available by 2030, how many patients will be able to afford them? And will insurance policies cover them?

Bottom Line: We must all hope that the future prosthetic arm or leg will not only work as well as the real thing, but that it won’t cost a patient an arm and a leg to buy it.


PREDICTION:  By 2020, the world could have a space ship capable of carrying human crews to other planets, says a NASA team. To build this ship, which the team dubs Nautilus-x, engineers would take the International Space Station and outfit it with artificial-gravity mechanisms, modules for supply storage, and hangars for landing vehicles. The whole project could be completed for a mere $4 billion.

Who: NASA’s Technology Applications Assessment Team

Why Great: Anything that could ferry human to other planets for less than $4 billion would be a momentous development for humankind. This is the kind of cost-effective infrastructure that we would need if we are to ever break free of Earth. As an added plus, it would ensure a future for the International Space Station, which the U.S. government does not plan to fund beyond 2015.

BUT… Nautilus-X’s short timetable and scant budget both sound incredibly optimistic. They may be correct, but we will never find out unless the proponents can win over a lot of skeptics within NASA’s leadership circles. The timing is anything but auspicious. Not only is there an ongoing budget crunch that would discourage bold ideas such as this, but NASA is also already planning for Orion 6, a more compact (and more expensive) vehicle for human flight into deep space.

Bottom Line: Nautilus-x represents several great ideas: recycling old space modules for new, more challenging missions; harnessing the resources of many partner nations, not just one; and cutting spacecraft construction costs by building and testing them in space. These ideas have staying power and will probably be guiding principles in many future space missions, whether Nautilus-x is constructed or not.

Source: Future in Space Operations Group,

PREDICTION:  Appliances will no longer need power cords, according to two Duke University researchers who say that laboratory-engineered “metamaterials” could be used to build outlets that would transmit energy to a device remotely, in the form of radio waves.

Who: Yaroslavl Urzhomov and David Smith, Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering

Why Great: This metamaterial method would be much more energy-efficient than wire transmission, which loses large quantities of energy as waste heat and friction. Besides, eliminating wires and cords from many household products would be a quick way to cut society’s consumption of plastics and metals. As an added plus, through further adapting this technology to broadcast media, engineers could achieve far more powerful and clearer communications transmissions, as well.

BUT… Metamaterials’ potential is so far only a theory. Urzhomov and Smith still need to build large-scale metamaterial applications and prove that it will work in real life.

Bottom Line: Cost savings, lower energy use, and getting to do away with pesky, tangle-prone extension cords are all great things to look forward to, but only time will tell if they come to pass.


PREDICTION:  Online gambling is the future of the casino industry. Gambling venues will reap much bigger dividends if they expand into cyberspace than if they simply build more old-fashioned live casino halls.

Who: Two casino executives presenting at the 2011 East Coast Gaming Congress.

Why Great: This could spell a reshaping of many local economies throughout the world: Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, and other historic gambling meccas that have always staked their livelihoods on casino-going tourists would probably quiet down considerably, as more and more would-be tourists opt to save the airfare and travel time by squelching their gambling fixes at home on their laptops.

On a more ominous note, it might also imply a rising toll of victims: Online gambling breeds many gambling addicts, and also exposes users to malware, viruses, and identity theft. Depending on how many new online ventures emerge and how aggressively their founders market them, rates of gambling addictions and cybercrime may rise considerably.

BUT… The casinos will have to win a few rounds against lawmakers first. The U.S. federal government and many other national governments restrict online gambling activity, though some regional and local governments are more allowing. Enough casino lobbying could dilute the national laws, but even that is less than likely: Casino officials don’t rank highly in the court of public opinion.

Bottom Line: Humans have gambled for millennia and will continue to do so. The Internet just creates more opportunities for engaging in it, which also means it magnifies the societal harms. Lawmakers will need to anticipate increased pressure from gambling interests, as well as develop proactive policies for keeping online gambling in check. Individual consumers, on their end, will have to exercise their judgment as diligently as ever.


PREDICTION:  In ten years, tablet PCs, netbooks, and laptops will be extinct, replaced by a new device as-yet-to-be-conceived.

Who: Rama Skukia, vice president of Intel’s architecture group speaking at SEMICON (semiconductor conference) in San Francisco in July.

Why Great: The rapid evolution in the consumer technology space will affect chip makers like Intel profoundly. Skukia stood up in front of a room of Intel’s customers and said, in effect, “We’re going to have to innovate faster. You’re going to have to innovate faster, too.” (Bonus, he also forecast that graphics performance on chips for mobile devices will rise by a factor of 12 by 2015.)

BUT… Skukia would have been more convincing if he had offered a guess on the sort of device that will replace these other gizmos.

Bottom Line: Don’t fret about getting the latest consumer gadget. The platform will be passé before you download the first app.

Source: V3.Ko.UK

PREDICTION:  In the future, people won’t care that sites like Facebook sell their personal data, because Facebook will pay them for the data they share.

Who: Jess Kimball, former speech writer for Faith Popcorn, on Twitter, May 13, 2011.

Why It’s Great: In May, Facebook was sued by two individuals in a California court for violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Stored Communications Act, and California’s Computer Crime Law and Consumers Legal Remedies Act. What happened? A group of advertisers accessed the users’ personal information from Facebook. The lawsuit came on top of numerous public assurances by company founder Mark Zuckerberg that “We do not give advertisers access to your personal information.” Oops. Kimball’s remedy means fewer lawsuits.

BUT… For this to work, the company would have to make its privacy settings easier to use and become much more transparent.

Bottom Line: People should be able to sell their information to third-party advertisers if they want to; Facebook is in a great position to serve as a broker for that sort of exchange. If you understood your private data was worth money, you would probably keep better track of it. Kimball’s idea is a win-win-win.

Sources: TechCrunch, Guardian.


PREDICTION:  By 2015, there will be no more textbooks in South Korea’s schools. All learning material will be digitized.

Who: South Korean Ministry of Education

Background: Many South Korean schools have been phasing out their printed textbooks and replacing them with netbook computers — after all, anything you can publish in a book, you can run on a computer monitor. The South Korean Ministry of Education expects this to become the standard model for curricula in all of its schools. By 2015, it projects, all of the country’s students will glean their class notes and homework not from textbooks but from smartphones, netbooks, and tablets. The ministry recently announced that it is investing $2.4 billion specifically to make this happen.

Why Great: It is impressive that any country could digitize all learning content in every one of its schools, no matter how rich or poor the school’s community might be. Consider how widely textbook quality can vary from one school district to another: Wealthy districts outfit all their students with brand-new editions while poorer districts’ students make do with either outdated, worn-out textbook copies or no copies at all. Digitized learning could be a great equalizer if a country goes about it properly.

BUT… What if a country goes about it improperly? Poorer school districts that cannot afford new laptops or phones for every student risk falling even further behind. Besides, the jury is still out on whether kids learn better from computer screens or from printed material. All the more so when the screens happen to be on small mobile devices — since those screens are much more compact than typical textbook pages, they are not as easy to read. And then there’s the matter of eyestrain — what long-term wear and tear could kids’ eyes suffer from being transfixed to computer screens every moment of the school day? We’ve never encountered this before in human history, so we’ll have to wait and find out.

Bottom Line: Ditching the textbooks and bringing in the digital notebooks sounds like a nice idea, but there may yet be some bugs to work out.

Source: Technology Review,
PREDICTION:  Offices will be ubiquitous computing environments by 2025.

Who: 360KID CEO Scott Traylor in a video interview with game designer Jesse Schell. The short video is part of Schell’s YouTube series called “The Crystal Ball Society,” which is described as “a place where people make concrete predictions about the future.”

Why Noteworthy: “Computers would exist in the walls and the floor — in the elements of architecture instead of in a big machine on your desktop,” says Traylor. They would form a context-aware system that could sense where a person is and automatically access (and capture) any relevant data. “We won’t necessarily be tethered to the larger hardware devices for computing. … It will just be in the cloud, it will be in the architecture, it will be in the spaces around us,” he explains, adding that a natural user interface could boast visual components as well as verbal. Traylor believes that businesses will be the early adapters, since ubiquitous computing offers the greatest advantages there, and that it will eventually extend to public spaces and homes as well as offices.

BUT… Hardware devices will not be obsolete. In fact, they will still be needed for more complex operations. However, for more basic computing and communications activities, people could just “speak it into the walls.” Also, Traylor wonders how great demand would be outside of businesses for such a system.

Bottom Line: This concept, which has been kicking around since at least the 1980s (and begins appearing in science fiction much earlier), seems to be moving increasingly closer to becoming a reality. Traylor sees ubiquitous computing as “another step in that evolutionary chain” that has taken us from home computers to laptops to smart phones and tablets.


PREDICTION:  Auto safety will improve in a myriad of ways by 2020.


Why Great: Vehicle-to-vehicle locating, pedestrian detection, night vision, collision-mitigation systems, and blind spot monitoring systems that utilize cameras and radar could become commonplace. According to the article, “rearview cameras are likely to become standard equipment, thanks to a proposal by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that would require all light passenger vehicles to have the technology by 2014.”

BUT… Cars won’t be driving themselves. Hopefully all these built-in features (not to mention the distraction that is in-car Wi-Fi) won’t cause drivers to pay less attention to the road.

Bottom Line: All of these technologies currently exist — but they are expensive and vehicles don’t come standard with them. However, this situation seems highly likely to change over the next decade.

PREDICTION:  If we don’t clear out the buildup of space junk now orbiting Earth, within a few decades, spacecraft won’t be able to leave Earth’s airspace — there will be too much floating debris crashing into them and wrecking their circuitry.

Who: National Research Council (NRC)

Background: With almost every mission that launches into space, some amount of scrap or garbage escapes and winds up drifting permanently in orbit around earth. Some space shuttles and space satellites have already suffered structural damage due to collisions with this space junk. Sometimes, the damage is severe enough to thwart the whole mission. Such accidents are about to become very common, according to a recent report by the NRC’s Committee for the Assessment of NASA’s Orbital Debris Programs. The report states that the debris already up there continually collides with each other and shatters into ever more floating pieces. The space surrounding earth will become increasingly inhospitable to space missions until we finally remove some of the junk.

Why Great: Needless to say, this space-junk dilemma makes future Moon and Mars missions just a little more impossible. But also consider everyday life on earth: GPS systems, weather forecasts, and telephone, television, and Internet connections on every continent rely on satellites in space relaying signals. They will all go out of service if we get to a point where we can no longer safely fly a satellite. The space-junk problem poses a major challenge for human life on earth and in space both.

BUT… NASA is exploring possible methods for capturing and removing the space junk. The report discusses some of them. They are expensive and not yet ready to deploy, but they do offer some hope.

Bottom Line: Littering is a bad habit anywhere — even in outer space.

Source: Discovery News,

PREDICTION:  There will be over 1000 embedded processors in your home by 2020.

Who: Rich LeGrand, president of robotics technology company Charmed Labs, speaking at SXSW Interactive in March (“Congratulations, Your Robot Just Accepted Your Friend Request”).

Why Great: Many smart devices in our homes will perform useful tasks, saving us time and making our lives more comfortable in the process.

BUT… Then there are those pesky privacy issues. Your home devices may know more about you than you’re comfortable with.

What to do about it: According to LeGrand, the key to making the technology feasible is ensuring that you can drive your devices (and that they can communicate with each other) on any network.


PREDICTION:  Stemming climate change at no more than 2° Celsius — the scientifically recognized threshold for dangerous warming — seems at this point practically impossible.

Who: Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency

When: 2040-2050

Background: Despite the global economic slump, greenhouse gas emissions still climbed to their highest recorded levels in history last year, according to International Energy Agency data. In this context, it defies imagining how human civilization could realistically reform itself toward true sustainability.

Why Great: As Birol pointed out, a 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures would spark massive disruptions that would affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

BUT… Birol added that it is still not too late. If the international community undertakes radical change right now, it could yet dodge the direst after-effects.

Bottom Line: Radical action on a global scale is an unlikely scenario no matter what the issue at hand may be, least of all climate change. Birol is sounding a bleak tone, but only because he is trying to be realistic.

Source: Harvey, Fiona. “Worst Ever Carbon Emissions Leave Climate on the Brink.” The Guardian. May 29, 2011 (

PREDICTION:  The Maldives Islands may disappear into the Indian Ocean by the end of this century.

Who: President Mohamed Nasheed, in an interview with Utne Reader and Momentum magazine.

Background: Climate change threatens to raise sea levels by 1.5 meters during the twenty-first century, which causes President Nasheed alarm since that is his tourism-dependent island nation’s average altitude.

Why Great: The fact that a political leader has taken notice of a major threat should be heartening. Already, Nasheed notes, the Maldives suffer from other effects of climate change, such as coastal erosion. His government is looking for solutions that are appropriate to the economy (building huge sea walls is out, since it would spoil tourists’ views), and has announced a goal of becoming “carbon neutral” by 2020.

BUT… The Maldives is extremely energy insecure and heavily dependent on imported oil, making it economically vulnerable to fluctuations in global oil prices. A goal of transitioning rapidly to 80% renewable energy without increasing electricity prices is ambitious, to say the least.

Bottom Line: Global problems beg global solutions. Said Nasheed: “The Maldives will continue to plan for adaptation with the modest income that we have and we will work with reliable partners that have already provided us help, such as Denmark. If we are given further international assistance, then all well and good, but we are not holding our breath.”

Source: Mary Hoff on the Utne Blogs
PREDICTION:  Industrialized nations won’t really curb their carbon-dioxide emissions; they’ll just outsource the pollution to developing countries. George Monbiot notes that his native Great Britain sets emissions-reduction targets and technically meets them — because its businesses are moving more and more industrial-plant operations out to other countries, such as China, where regulations are weaker and they can pollute with relative impunity.

Who: George Monbiot, ecology writer and author

Why Great: Monbiot’s observations cast a cynical pall over most of the existing international accords on greenhouse-gas emissions. The implication is that decades from now, industrialized nations will tout on paper that they have achieved major reductions even while actual emissions continue to climb and the planet’s biosystem continues to alter.

BUT… None of this is a foregone conclusion. China and other developing nations are voicing greater environmental concern now than they did 10 or 15 years ago. If their new green consciousness really takes hold and translates to major action on curbing emissions — as it did in Europe and North America decades ago — than catastrophe can be averted, in reality and on paper both.

Bottom Line: Environmental conservationists may have to become a more effective political force at the international level, not just at the local or national level. Those who are concerned for the Earth’s well-being will need to hold public officials across the globe accountable for achieving tangible progress against climate change and other human-caused environmental ills.

PREDICTION:  More than half of species protected in European sanctuaries could perish by 2080.

Who: Miguel B. Araújo et al., a team of European biodiversity and ecology researchers

Background: Sanctuaries are not preparing for climate change, according to a team of European biodiversity researchers. “The models predict that towards the end of the twenty-first century, some 58% of Europe’s terrestrial vertebrates and plants may no longer have suitable climatic conditions to survive in the protected areas of each country”, says Miguel B. Araújo, lead author and researcher in the department of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology at Spain’s National Natural History Museum.

Why Great: The researchers have learned that higher altitudes offer greater protection against climate change, while Europe’s Red Natura 2000 network is so vulnerable that it would lose more species than unprotected areas.

BUT… Even in higher altitudes such as in Scandinavia, species will become vulnerable. Climate change will bring warmer temperatures to the extreme north, shrinking the habitats of cold-tolerant species.

Bottom Line: The researchers urge conservationists to focus on making protective habitats more resilient to climate change and to integrate the protected and unprotected natural environments to make dispersion of local species easier when habitats become intolerable.

Source: Miguel B. Araújo, Diogo Alagador, Mar Cabeza,; David Nogués-Bravo, and Wilfried Thuiller, “Climate change threatens European conservation areas,” Ecology Letters 14(5): 484-492, May 2011. (via PlatformaSINC, a science and information news service based in Madrid)
PREDICTION:  80% of projected energy-related CO2 emissions in 2020 are “already locked in” and will originate from power plants either already in use or in the process of being constructed.

Who: The International Energy Agency

Why Great: The report is strikingly, if dismally, honest in its assessment. According to the IEA, there is little chance of achieving the ambitious goal set during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December 2010 to limit the global increase in temperature to 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) or less over the next ten years. In order to meet that goal, the percent increase in emissions from now until 2020 must be less than the percent increase that occurred between 2009 and 2010.

BUT… Because the increase in emissions was directly linked to the global economy’s emergence from recession, a double dip would send emissions back down.

Bottom Line: Climate, meet change.

PREDICTION:  The Sun will play it cool between now and 2022, or maybe longer. Recent measurements indicate an unexpected drop in solar activity, which will manifest itself as few or no sunspots, and reduced radiation reaching earth.

Who: National Solar Observatory and Air Force Research Laboratory

Why: So far in earth’s history, periods of reduced solar activity have almost always instigated prolonged cooling of earth’s climate. Some even brought on ice ages. This cooling could be a good thing if it is steep enough to offset some of earth’s global warming. Of course, if it is too strong, then it could introduce a whole new set of problems. At the very least, it will require space satellites and telecommunications systems to reconfigure many of their settings, since they are impacted by solar output.

BUT… The observation measurements could be wrong, and the cooling might not happen at all. Or it could happen but have minimal effects on earth’s climate.

Bottom Line: We are dealing with a lot of unknowns here. They will clear up soon enough, though.

PREDICTION:  The deadly triad of pollution, overfishing, and climate change are impacting the world’s oceans to greater extents than even the IPCC’s worst-case scenarios had predicted. By 2050, at the going rate, oceangoing plant and animal life will disappear on a scale equal to the five great global extinctions of the past 600 million years.

Who: International Programme on the State of the Ocean (a three-day workshop, convened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It brought together 27 researchers from 18 nations.)

Why Great: It would be a tragedy to lose so many species of fish, coral, aquatic mammals, and other cherished wildlife, not only for their sakes, but for humans who depend upon the oceans for their livelihoods, as well — as the report’s authors explicitly state, fishing and maritime industries, large and small, across the globe, could be driven out of business.

BUT… The world community can avert this massive loss of life, the report states, through concerted international action to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions, rescue endangered oceanic ecosystems, and protect the oceans’ health on a global scale.

Bottom Line: Concerted international action has generated only lackluster progress so far on averting global warming. Why expect them to be any more effective at monitoring the earth’s oceans? The future may be bright for a few oceanic ecosystems, thanks to local conservationists who are pulling as much weight as they can, and certain individual nations that are making exemplary progress. But for the oceans as a whole, things will probably have to get much worse before they get better.

PREDICTION:  Canada will become a climate wrecking ball. The carbon emitted during drilling of its tar sands will tip earth’s atmosphere past the threshold of irreparable climate damage by 2100.

Who: James Hansen, NASA climatologist

Background: Alberta’s soil holds reservoirs of bitumen, a hardened form of petroleum. With the prices of Middle East oil soaring, Canada and the United States have been rushing to build drills, pipelines, and other infrastructure to capture this oil alternative. All this activity bodes ill for global climate. Hansen warns that an atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentration of 350 parts per million would alter the climate enough to significantly harm life across the planet. At present, we are at 390 parts per million. Canada has enough bitumen that, were it all burned in one day, it would raise the atmospheric concentration to 600 parts per million. Clearly, the burning will take place gradually, but that only means that that it will push humanity’s carbon footprint upward over the long term.

Why Great: Earth’s atmosphere suffers enough from China and the United States’ massive carbon footprints. It would be a disastrous development if Canada, too, became a globally significant carbon emitter.

BUT… There is always hope that environmental awareness will prevail. The Canadian and U.S. governments both make job creation their top priority, not conservation, but this may gradually change after the pangs of the economic recession fully subside. Also, as the article notes, Brazil has been making remarkable progress in reducing its carbon emissions, even as Canada and the United States have been increasing theirs. Perhaps aggressive conservation in other parts of the world could offset the climate recklessness of North America.

Bottom Line: By pursuing economic growth instead of environmental well-being, Canada and the United States may ultimately forfeit both.

Source: Reported on Climate Progress,
PREDICTION:  Tornadoes, heat waves, dry spells, and other extreme weather events are “the new normal”; we should expect to see plenty more of them month by month through 2100. Thank human activity, which is inducing global climate change.

Who: Gary McManus, associate state climatologist for Oklahoma government

Background: Extreme weather patterns of all kinds have been occurring more and more frequently since 1980, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. McManus’s home state has borne more than its share of it. In this year alone, Oklahoma has set more climate records than the climatologist would care to count (even though it’s his job): lowest-ever temperature (-31 degrees Fahrenheit), highest 24-hour snowfall (27 inches), and the most tornadoes in one month (50 in April 2011), to name just a few. Climatologists say that its human civilization’s indirect influence on earth’s climate patterns that is behind all this.

Why Great: Extreme weather kills people. Just ask the New Orleans residents who witnessed Hurricane Katrina. It devastates the livelihoods of others, as any farmer in monsoon-prone India will surely tell you. Deaths, famines, poor health, and homelessness will run rampant across the globe if climatologists’ warnings prove true.

BUT… This prevalence of harsh weather might be just the kick in the teeth that humanity needs to take aggressive action to stop polluting and climate-altering behavior. Climate deniers can quarrel with climate scientists all they want about the hypotheticals of tree rings, ice cores, and hockey sticks. But there is no denying the tornadoes that have obliterated your neighborhood, the monsoon that has destroyed your farm fields, or the cold spell that is claiming the lives of homeless people all across your city. People will realize the depth of the problem and demand that their leaders finally act.

Bottom Line: We’re in for nasty weather, no doubt about it. But the sun will shine again — in measured, manageable quantities, that is — if we act objectively and decisively in the face of the storms.


PREDICTION:  It will be possible to feed everyone in the world — all 9 billion of us — by 2050.

Who: Two French organizations, the National Institute for Agricultural Research and the Centre for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development, in the joint report “Agrimonde1.”

Why Great: A report that finds there are viable ways to end world hunger is good news indeed. Also, the organizations report that Africa’s agricultural productivity doubled between 1961 and 2003. However, agricultural productivity ether doubled or tripled in other continents as well. Thus, agricultural productivity in Africa is still the lowest in the world.

BUT… Many looming questions remain as to how best to address food shortages in a way that is sustainable over the long term.

Bottom Line: The report examines two possible scenarios. The first emphasizes economic growth over environmental concerns and necessitates an 80% increase in agricultural production. The second takes global ecology into account, and requires only a 30% increase in agricultural production while necessitating a cutback in overall food consumption in developed countries. Subsequent reports will look more closely at other issues, such as changing standards of living, climate change, and land usage.


PREDICTION:  Arctic ice will make a brief resurgence this decade, only to later melt away for good.

Who: National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

Background: NCAR’s computer climate models forecast that even if temperatures keep rising, Arctic summer sea ice will stop its shrinkage and might even expand over the next 10 years. After that, however, warming will gain the upper hand. The Arctic summers will be mostly ice-free by 2070.

Why Great: Wait until the climate-change deniers get hold of this. Arctic ice sheets holding steady and even growing — see for yourselves, the planet is doing just fine; nope, no warming problem here! More science-deficient consumers and their public officials will listen, and the already-sluggish global efforts against climate change will grow more sluggish still. Never mind that it is just a temporary blip and that disaster still looms at the end of it. Regular people will not see the problem, and environmental advocates will have an even harder time making it visible to them. Like they didn’t have a hard enough time already.

BUT… A more optimistic way to read this is that the temporary ice surge could buy the Arctic some time. If the world really gets its act together on curbing climate change in the next 10 years, then by the time the Arctic ice melting is supposed to resume, the worst of global warming will have already been averted. In that case, we and the Arctic will both be spared a lot of grief.

Bottom Line: Don’t let the widening ice sheet fool you. The long-term climate change outlook still looks pretty bad.


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