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Which World Will We Face in 2030?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Medallion made by 3-D, or additive, printing was a memorable bit of swag at the Global Trends 2030 conference. Such emerging technologies were the subject of much discussion. Credit: Mariette DiChristina

Last week, I and some 200 other attendees of the Global Trends 2030: U.S. Leadership in a Post-Western World conference got a thought-provoking look at the current “megatrends” leading to four possible futures for the world some 10 to 15 years from now. Cutting across all of them is the disruptive influence of emerging technologies—which was the theme of the panel I moderated at the event, held at Newseum in Washington, D.C., on December 10 and 11.

The main subjects of the conference were the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds” report, which was released with the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative’s companion opus, “Envisioning 2030: US Strategy for a Post-Western World.” The conference brought together policy leaders, technology experts, business leaders and futurists for an expansive discussion of how the U.S. should respond to global trends. “If we’re wise and steady,” we can navigate current transition to a better world, said Chuck Hagel, chair of the Atlantic Council and a former U.S. Senator, during his opening remarks.

The 2030 report dubs the four futures: Stalled Engines (the U.S. draws inward and globilization falters); Fusion (China and the U.S. collaborate broadly, leading to greater global cooperation); Gini-Out-of-the-Bottle (inequalities increase disruptive social tensions and the U.S. is no longer “global policeman”); and Nonstate World (with emerging technologies, nonstate actors take the lead in confronting global challenges).

“How the U.S. turns out will affect all the other game changers,” said Frederick Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council, referring to the broad trends identified in the report, such as a crisis-prone global economy and the impacts of emerging technologies. But, he added, “At the same time, tech center of gravity—innovation and so on—is moving away from the U.S. as we speak.” Ultimately, he warned, “The U.S. will either dynamically shape trends thru 2030 or be unfavorably shaped by them.” Other factors in that shaping will include collaborating with other nations and the economy.

In the panel I moderated, “Emerging Technologies that Could Change Our Future,” we explored several themes that brought home the yin and yang of any technology: how it can be both a tool for our benefit or detriment.

As you’ll see in the video below, panelist Mikael Hagstrom, executive vice president, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific for SAS, kicks us off with some thoughts on the need for governance for digital assets. Paul Saffo, managing director of Foresight, Discern Analytics; Senior Fellow, Strategic Foresight Initiative, The Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Atlantic Council, identifies the problem of new technologies that increase wealth without creating many jobs. And Gen. James E. Cartwright, Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies, Center for Strategic and International Studies, talks about how moving knowledge around is key to success in many venues—from military engagements to the kinds of man-machine interfaces in advanced prosthetics. Along the way, we touched on the force of social media; the potential of additive, or 3-D printing for manufacturing; robotics and automation; remote operation of devices; and even transferring knowledge stored on a chip from one brain to another. All three men were incredibly articulate about these complex issues, and I hope you enjoy the discussion.

Mariette DiChristina About the Author: Editor in Chief, Mariette DiChristina, oversees Scientific American,, Scientific American MIND and all newsstand special editions. Follow on Twitter @mdichristina.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. outsidethebox 7:55 pm 12/18/2012

    I understand the name of this magazine is Scientific American. But sometimes other factors than science are the reason the world progresses (or doesn’t). Politics and economics for starters.From 1945 to today the US has had the largest economy in the world. Almost 70 years – quite a run. But by 2105 it will be China. And even then comparative growth rates will be greatly in China’s favor after that. 2030 will be much different than 2012. To the extent that Chinese scientists will be making progress that progress will likely to be much less widely shared than when the West was leading in that regard.

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  2. 2. outsidethebox 7:56 pm 12/18/2012

    That was supposed to be 2015 not 2105.

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  3. 3. fireofenergy 11:58 pm 12/18/2012

    It will be machines that create wealth in abundance. They will create hundreds of thousands of square miles of solar install jobs (once the collection is made dirt cheap and giant football stadium sized molten metal/salt batteries are built, also dirt cheap). But then the machines will be developed that also install, thus displacing even more jobs (we’ve all heard about driver-less cars).
    How are we to deal with such coming massive unemployment?
    I’ll tell you… It’s called (machine created) wealth re-distribution (some call it a basic income guarantee or BIG). Yep, everyone will have to receive checks for free in order to keep the machines “well oiled”, and thus the economy running smoothly enough to tackle the global problems such as curbing XSCO2 and proper resource distribution based on (machine) extraction within environmentally sound principles (dig below the biosphere for unlimited resources!). The making of a better world in general is the ONLY solution to social ills.
    China, the U.S. and etc, will merge most all technologies in order to automate which will create MORE wealth, more efficiently, which is vital to our problem solving goals.

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  4. 4. Fossilnut 2:46 pm 12/19/2012

    All kind of silly. What will be will be and happen in spite of analysis. Individuals, governments, companies, Nature, etc. just move forward day by day responding to the moment. I’m not a Marxist but agree with him that the structure is just a reflection of what’s going on in the economy and society….not the other way around.

    ‘If we are wise’…no, actually the future will come regardless. the next 35 years will be like the last 35…dominated by changes in technology…the VCR to the Internet, etc. Stuff ‘happens’. there will be changes in digitl world, changes in manufacturing, some quantum understanding, medical breakthroughs…these are what will impact societies. there won’t be much guidance from above. It’s just about irrelevent what formal ‘policies’ are proposed.

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  5. 5. Sciencefirstandforemost 4:07 pm 12/19/2012

    The world in 2012 is shaped by Microsoft and Google more than anything else. Macro structures will be irrelevent on the day to day level that impacts most lives whether it be China or the USA. Kids are going to get a chuckle out of parents who identify more with geography than what apps are on the latest device. The kids of those kids will look upon borders like the Equator, …imagary lines.

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  6. 6. Crasher 4:22 pm 12/19/2012

    The name of the mag is Scientific American and this is a reflection of current science, or have you not heard of ‘social science’? The study of behaviour of humans as individuals and collectives is a legitimate form of scientific endeavour. So whenever SA makes comment upon happenings in the social word it is about science.

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