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Book Reviews: The State of the Future 2015-16

“We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” – Benjamin Franklin.

That is the primary takeaway message in The State of Future 2015-16 report. In reports over the last 18 years, the Millennium Project has provided a framework to assess our prospects, both locally and globally on the 15 Global Challenges. This year, the report refines, updates, and clarifies the 15 Global Challenges with a much clearer focus than last year. Additionally, as technologies advance and the Internet is becoming more accessible to the global population, the evidence is compelling that humanity has the resources to address its global challenges.   But does humanity have the political will?

The 2015-16 report invokes Pope Francis’ admonishment in his Encyclical Letter that “Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster.” The report clarifies that “The challenges are transnational in nature, requiring transnational strategies. Doing everything right to address climate change or counter organized crime in one country will not make enough of a difference if others do not act as well. We need coordinated transnational implementation…Humanity needs a global, multifaceted, general long-term view of the future with bold long-range goals to excite the imagination and inspire international collaboration.”[1]

How do we keep track of all of the challenges and widen the conversation among world leaders, experts, and the public? Such discourse is critical to build a better future, to begin the massive changes in societal constructs necessary to address the current and foreseeable global challenges. As the report points out, because without socio-economic changes, future technologically induced unemployment could reach 25-50 percent by 2050, “Ideas like universally guaranteed basic income and other new economic mechanisms have to be seriously considered now—because it may take a generation or two to make such changes.”[2]

Because the world needs to think seriously about all this now, the Millennium Project has launched a Future Work/Technology 2050 study with eight steps:

  1. Literature and related research review
  2. Real-Time Delphi international survey (summary conclusions are shared in this report)
  3. Road maps and scenario drafts (currently being developed)
  4. Real-Time Delphi feedback on the draft road maps and scenarios
  5. Final scenarios, policy implications, and production of an initial report
  6. Initial report as input to national planning workshops
  7. Collect results of the national planning workshops; analyze and synthesize results
  8. Final report for public discussion

It is also reaching out to professional groups, think tanks and communities to participate in the dialogue and contribute to the research and recommendations.

Citing the need for a better-integrated conceptualization and analysis of holistic problem/solution spaces, the report proposes the following Initial Draft Concept for Discussion of an Integrated Global Strategy:

 

integrated global strategy

This diagram is just an illustrative starting place for possible visualization of an Integrated Global Strategy; readers are invited to contribute their insights and suggest improvements on this initial draft by emailing info@millennium-project.org

As noted in this and previous reports, the 15 Global Challenges are interdependent and of indistinguishable importance. However, each report tells us where we are ‘winning’ (e.g., literacy, energy efficiency, infant mortality, lifespan) and where we are ‘losing’ (e.g., unemployment, renewable internal freshwater resources, income inequality) in the challenges and makes informed recommendations for addressing global challenges.   In addition, each report compels us to consider challenges that are in making, such as

– “What should we begin to do now to prevent long-term structural unemployment due to future technologies?

– What questions need to be resolved to answer whether AI and other future technologies will create more jobs than they replace?

–   If massive unemployment cannot be prevented, what political economic changes would it be wise to begin to develop?”[3]

In the chapters addressing sustainability and clean water, for example, the report recommends that:

– Breakthroughs in desalination, such as pressurization of seawater to produce vapor jets, filtration via carbon nanotubes, and reverse osmosis, are needed along with less costly pollution treatment and better water catchments.

– Future demand for fresh water could be reduced by:

  • Saltwater agriculture on coastlines
  • Hydroponics
  • Aquaponics
  • Vertical urban agriculture installations in buildings
  • Producing pure meat without the mass growth and slaughter     of animals
  • Increasing vegetarianism
  • Fixing leaking pipes
  • The reuse of treated water

– Water should be central to development and climate change strategies. [4]

Events such as the World Summit on Climate Change, and actions such as the recent reforms to USAID (United States Agency for International Development) are heartening and exactly what the SOF reports are aiming toward. Public policy think tanks and organizations such Humanity+ and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) would provide a tremendous and valuable service by participating in the Future Work/Technology 2050 study, contributing their collective wisdom.

The hope is that “Humanity may be emerging from small-minded adolescence to planetary adulthood. We have been trying on roles of what it is to be Chinese or French, engineers or artists, for thousands of years, isolated into our own narrow beliefs of what we think to be true and right. Now it is time to grow up and become an adult planetary species.” [5] This means we come together as a planet to work and solve our problems collectively; no more squabbling in the sandbox we call Earth.   The sentiment expressed in the quote by Benjamin Franklin is also echoed in a recent popular meme: “Live together or die alone.”   For humanity to survive and thrive, coming together to tackle the global challenges is the way forward.

More information about the 2015-16 edition of State of the Future is available on http://www.millennium-project.org/millennium/publications.html.

Notes

[1] Page 2 of the Executive Summary 2015-16 State of the Future , accessible at http://www.millennium-project.org/millennium/201516SOF.html

[2] Page 3 of the SOF Report 2015-2016

[3] Page 13 of the SOF report 2015-16

[4] Page 32 of the SOF report 2015-16

[5] Page 12 of the SOF report 2015-2016

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Linda MacDonald Glenn, JD, LLM is a bioethicist, futurist, and attorney. More can be seen about her background at http://www.linkedin.com/in/lindamacdonaldglenn.