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The best predictions of 2011: drawing from a variety of sources throughout the past year, the editors of the futurist take a look at some of the best predictions for the world's future.

What makes a prediction a good one? Like any announcement that must compete for attention in the public sphere, the predictions that gather the most notice are the strangest or the boldest, or that paint a picture of a future state that challenges expectations.

Today, we still largely cling to this somewhat misguided notion of prediction as a remarkable statement. But the nature of prediction is changing as rapidly as our world. The scope of the predictable universe is expanding, thanks to new tools for acquiring and measuring data. The number of people with a platform to share a prediction-a statement about what will happen to the world-has grown and will continue to grow as rapidly as the Internet.

With that it mind, we present to you our list of the best predictions we read in 2011. They are surprising, often conflicting, and rise from a diverse pool. We evaluated each one in terms of what made it a good prediction, what could get in the way of its coming to pass, and what it all means.

While we tried to nail the experts down to specific dates, many made interesting forecasts that could not be tied down to a specific point "In the Future"

A full version of this report, with links to the sources of each prediction, is available to World Future Society members on our Web site. This collection provides, we believe, a fascinating portrait of our present as we attempt to communicate with our ever-shifting future.

-Patrick Tucker, deputy editor, THE FUTURIST

TECHNOLOGY

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.

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

Source: Neal Mohan, vice president of display advertising at Innovation Days Internet Week, June 1.

2015: The majority (61%) of Internet traffic will be via video.

Annual global traffic will reach the zettabyte threshold--that's the equivalent of 250 billion DVDs.

Source: Cisco blogger Thomas Barnett in June.

2020: 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. 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.

Source: Teal Group, an aerospace research firm, in a 2011 market study, reported by William Wan and Peter Finn, The Washington Post, July 4.

2020: Alcohol-detection devices that prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver fails a breathalyzer test could become a standard option for every U.S. automobile.

These features would then become mandatory sometime after 2020, the prediction continues. Alcohol-detection devices--aka, "ignition interlocks"--already exist, and courts sometimes sentence persons convicted of drunk driving to install them in their cars. These machines are flawed, however: They some times mistake mouthwash or caffeine in someone's breath for booze.

A bill proposed by U.S. senators Tom Udall (Democrat-New Mexico) and Bob Corker (Republican-Tennessee) would direct $60 million for five-year development of new, compact, user-friendly, more-effective devices suitable for automobile drivers everywhere.

BUT ... If these devices are only a standard feature, then will enough drivers actually buy them for it to make a tangible dent in drunk-driving accidents?

Source: Jayne O'Donnell, writing for USA Today on March 27. 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.

2020: There will be more than a thousand embedded processors in your home.

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.

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

2020: The International Space Station will be abandoned.

Sometime around then, human conductors will deorbit the ISS and dump it into the ocean. A replacement space station might be built thereafter.

SO ... Should the space station sink into the ocean, the onus will be on the world's governments to not let human space aspirations sink into the ocean along with it.

Source: Vitaly Davydov, deputy head of the Russian Space Agency, quoted in the Russian publication RIA Novosti, July 27.

2020: Fifty billion machine-to-machine [M2M] devices will be communicating with each other wirelessly.

M2M connectivity of devices such as high-definition cameras, e-readers, remote sensors, and appliances could save billions of dollars in health care and other industries. They may be a boon for individuals with disabilities and other chronic conditions.

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

Source: Sprint, news release, January 14.

2020: Soldiers will communicate with telepathic helmets.

No longer relying on radio transmissions, microphones, or hand signals, they will relay their thoughts to each other through "thought helmets."

Source: Gerwin Schalk, an Albany Medical College biomedical scientist, who is working with the U.S. Army to develop the first functional thought helmets, quoted in the April issue of Discover magazine.

2020: A spaceship will be built that is capable of carrying human crews to other planets.

To build this ship, which the NASA team working on it has dubbed 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.

Great because ... Nautilus-x represents several innovative ideas: recycling old space modules for new, more-challenging missions, harnessing the resources of many partner nations, 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: NASA's Technology Applications Assessment Team, January.

2022: Home entertainment centers could be playing movies and television shows as 3-D holographs, no television screen involved.

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.

Researchers at the University of Arizona 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 too slow--only two frames per second--but could eventually become a working model with more fine-tuning. High-def TV is about to get much, much higher-def. Who wouldn't want to experience 3-D entertainment without the clunky 3-D glasses? Or view movie scenes in all their fully dimensional glory in their 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.

Source: Pierre-Alexandre Blanche, University of Arizona physicist.

2022: Tablet PCs, netbooks, and laptops will be extinct.

Such devices will likely be replaced by some new, yet-to-be-conceived device. SO ... Don't fret about getting the latest consumer gadget. The platform will be passe before you download the first app.

Source: Rama Shukla, vice president of Intel's architecture group in July.

2025: Offices will be ubiquitous-computing environments.

Ubiquitous computing is where almost anything in your environment (door knob, coffee pot, window) offers access to computing and connectivity. 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.

It's the natural next step in the technological evolution that has taken us from home computers to laptops to smart phones and tablets.

Source: 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."

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

Source: Futurist Ian Pearson, in a report for budget hotel chain Travelodge entitled "The Future of Sleep," June.

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.

Source: Jerome C. Glenn, director of the Millennium Project, extrapolating from the work of the J. Craig Venter Institute, in Moving from Vision to Action, edited by Cynthia G. Wagner (World Future Society, June 2011).

2040: Automation and robots will take over one-third of service-sector jobs.

Automation will be facilitated by voice-interface systems, allowing customers to simply speak their orders to the robot like machinery doing much of the work.

Source: James H. Irvine and Sandra Schwarzbach of the Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake, California, in Moving from Vision to Action (WFS, June 2011).

IN THE FUTURE ...

The computerization of everything will signal the end of computers as we know them.

We'll access the Web through our contact lenses not laptops, going online in the blink of an eye--literally. Miniaturization of all things electronic will allow more technology to be embedded on the convenient contact lens.

Source: Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, May 27.

Appliances will no longer need power cords.

Laboratory-engineered "metamaterials" could be used to build outlets that would transmit energy to a device remotely, in the form of radio waves. BUT ... Large-scale metamaterial applications need to be built and proved workable in real life.

Source: Yaroslavl Urzhomov and David Smith, Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering, May 25.

We'll be paid royalties for our personal data.

In the future, people won't care that sites like Facebook sel1 their Personal data, because Facebook will pay them for the data they share.

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. The idea of paying people for their data would mean fewer lawsuits.

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

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

ENERGY

2016: Nanoengineered solar panels will free the world from fossil fuels.

At present, solar meets less than 1% of U.S. energy needs, despite its obvious merits over fossil fuels, nuclear power, and especially coal.

One reason for this lack of progress is that, no matter how it's designed, no more than 70% of the sunlight that strikes a solar panel can be converted into energy. Also, assuming that the U.S. coal lobby still has money in five years, we'll still be using plenty of black rocks.

BUT ... You don't need a nanoengineered solar panel to ask your local utility how much of their energy comes from solar.

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

2016: Solar power will be cheaper than both fossil fuels and nuclear power.

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

2020: Photovoltaic manufacturing capacity could reach S00 gigawatts [GW] globally.

Source: A workshop of 72 internationally recognized experts, 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.

2020: Fifteen percent of Europe's electricity could come from arrays of solar panels in the North African deserts.

Source: Gerhard Knies, chairman of the board of trustees, Desertec Foundation, covered in the New York Times, on June 20.

2030: Fossil-fuel price shocks will intensify as nuclear energy frightens more governments into pursuing earth-friendlier options.

Between now and 2030, Japan, Germany, China, and other nations will increasingly 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. Given the size of their economies, if China, Germany, and Japan all substantially increase their fossil-fuel consumption, the whole world will feel the pinch. Further price hikes, related slowdowns in economic activity globally, and--of course--more smog and greenhouse gas emissions are all likely to follow.

BUT ... 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 the lion's share of national energy production.

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

2050: Renewables will provide 80% of our energy.

Source: "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation," released in May.

IN THE FUTURE ...

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 revolu tions, 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.

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 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. And it will probably take earnest commitments from players in the Middle East and outside it to make this vision happen.

Source: Dan Hind, a British sci ence author and publicist. Commentary, May 17, on Al Jazeera.

HUMANITY

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

Despite persistent talk of an "education bubble," a report from Georgetown University 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 ... Skeptics may simply consider the source and scoff at a university report concluding that "More Kids Should Attend University." The United States does need a more educated workforce, but there may exist multiple paths to reach that goal.

Source: The Georgetown University Center on Education in the June 27 report "The Undereducated American."

2030: The global Muslim population is projected to grow from 1.6 billion to 2.2 billion [an approximately 35% increase].

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

Source: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, in a report entitled "The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for 2010-2030," released January 27.

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

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.

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 in 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.

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: Choi Hangsub, associate professor of sociology, University of Kookmin, Seoul, South Korea, in Moving from Vision to Action (WFS, 2011).

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

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.

Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in a May 2011 report, "Help Wanted? Providing and paying for long-term care."

2100: The proportion of world population over age 65 will grow to 22.3%, up from 7.6% in 2010.

Source: The United Nations, May 13.

IN THE FUTURE ...

Schools won't have days off for inclement weather anymore.

Instead of being given free snow days, homebound students and teachers will conduct lessons online, with in-person lessons to resume once the snow/hail/etc. subsides.

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.

Source: Chinese Web media company Sina, May 15, 2011.

CITIES AND TRANSPORTATION

2015: Dubai's airport will be the busiest in the world, serving more than 75 million passengers annually.

Source: Dubai Airports, in May.

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

If no further improvements are made to transportation capacity and infrastructure, cities already plagued with traffic problems will see things get worse. 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.

Smaller cities like Raleigh, which anticipate population growth as retirement meccas, will likely experience more premature deaths due to increased pollution and traffic accidents.

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.

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 in May.

2050: Biofuel-powered hypersonic jets will shuttle passengers from London to Tokyo (and vice-versa) in less than two and a half hours.

High-speed international air travel that doesn't generate air pollution would constitute a major achievement. The ZEHST (Zero Emission Hypersonic Transportation) would travel more than 3,000 mph, powered by a combination of hydrogen and oxygen derived from seaweed, and emitting water vapor instead of carbon dioxide. At cruising altitudes just above the atmosphere of the Earth, it's almost like space travel.

BUT ... The aircraft will only be able to handle 100 passengers at most, and seats will cost between $10,000 and $30,000.

Source: Airbus parent company EADS at the Paris Air Show in June.

IN THE FUTURE ...

Space will become too littered for safe travel.

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.

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 National Research Council'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.

Source: National Research Council, reported by Ian O'Neill, Discovery News, September 2.

COMMERCE

2015: The majority of "innovative" organizations will galvanize the innovation process via gaming.

"Gamification"--applying game mechanics, such as scoreboards and rules of play, to non-game systems--is a well-known trend under way 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 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.

Source: Gartner Inc., in April.

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

Source: PayPal President Scott Thompson, in June.

2015: Iraq's per capita GOP will double, thanks to oil revenues.

Source: Majid Al-Suri, a Central Bank of Iraq economist, in March.

2016: Worldwide, government debt will increase 40%, reaching $48.1 trillion.

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.

Source: Eswar Prasad and Menjie Ding, writing in the Financial Times in June.

2020: 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.

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 education itself, also: If people come to associate college degrees with underemployment and lifelong per sonal debt, then large numbers of young people may decide to forgo 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 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?

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: Sarah Jaffe, contributor to Alternet.org.

2020: There will be a major cocoa shortage.

At issue are the 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."

Source: Mars, the global confectionary giant, in June.

2020: India will become the world's third-largest auto market.

BUT ... According to a J.D. Power report, "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 deficit in terms of skilled engineers and large-scale automotive parts production.

Source: J.D. Power and Associates, in the report "India Automotive 2020: The Next Giant from Asia," June.

2021: 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 relative to 2010 levels.

The Federal Reserve is not un aware that stock prices "have been closely related to demographic trends in the past half century," particularly in regard to "population dependency ratios"--that is, how many active workers and investors there are in relation to retirees on fixed incomes.

This outlook from the Fed is an unusually honest appraisal of how changing demographics influence equity valuations. In broaching it, the authors of this prediction 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 predict a robust bull market for stocks between 2025 and 2030. Good news for the grandkids!

BUT ... Even the authors of this letter from the Fed acknowledge that their metric is just one among many. Technological breakthroughs creating new enterprises, a loosening of immigration policy, and other events could render the prediction moot. Bottom line, beware of stockbrokers bearing "buy" opportunities.

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

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

Source: The World Bank, in the report "Global Development Horizons 2011--Multipolarity: The New Global Economy, " May.

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

The World Bank states, "A multicurrency 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 currencies denomination system would send the price of oil much higher.

Source: The World Bank, May 17.

2030: China will have nearly four times as many middle-class consumers as the United States, and India will have nearly three times as many.

Source: Oppenheimer Funds, in a tweet, May 10.

2030: Prices for staple grains-i.e., food-will increase by 120%-180%.

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.

Source: Growing a Sustainable Future by Robert Bailey for Oxfam, May.

IN THE FUTURE ...

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. 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 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.

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.

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.

Source: Mark Perry, University of Michigan economist, in August.

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

BUT ... The prediction reflects the historic German fear of hyperinflation, 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.

Source: Polish Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski, speaking before the European parliament in Strasbourg in September.

EARTH

2020: Eighty percent of energy-related C [O. sub. 2] emissions projected for 2020 have already been "locked in" in 2011

These emissions will originate from power plants either already in use or in the process of being constructed.

Source: The International Energy Agency in May.

2022: The Sun may be cooler for at least the next 10 years, 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.

So far in Earth's history, periods of reduced solar activity have almost always instigated prolonged cooling of the climate. Some even brought on ice ages. This cooling could be a good thing if it is steep enough to offset some 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.

Source: National Solar Observatory and Air Force Research Laboratory in June.

2050: It will be possible to feed everyone in the world-all 9.1 billion of us.

A French report, "Agrimondel," asserts that there are viable ways to end world hunger. Among the good news reported: Africa's agricultural productivity doubled between 1961 and 2003.

BUT ... Agricultural productivity either doubled or tripled in other continents as well. Thus, agricultural productivity in Africa is still the lowest in the world. Many looming questions remain as to how best to address food shortages in a way that is sustainable over the long term.

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.

Source: Two French organizations, the National Institute for Agricultural Research and the Centre for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development, in the joint report "Agrimondel," covered by Barbara Casassus for Nature News in January.

2050: Ocean-dwelling plant and animal species will disappear on a scale equal to the five great global extinctions of the past 600 million years.

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.

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

Source: International Programme on Casassus the State of the Ocean (a three-day workshop, convened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, bringing together 27 researchers from 18 nations; proceedings released in June).

2070: The Arctic summers will be mostly ice-free.

Arctic ice will make a brief resurgence this decade, only to later melt away for good. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (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.

Source: National Center for Atmospheric Research, covered by Tim Wall for Discovery News in August.

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

Source; Miguel B. Araujo et al., a team of European biodiversity and ecology researchers in a paper published in May.

2100: The Maldives Islands may disappear into the Indian Ocean.

BUT ... President Mohamed Nasheed hopes to prevent this from happening, stating: "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: President Mohamed Nasheed, in an interview with May Hoff for Utne magazine.

2100: Carbon emissions from Canada's large-scale drilling of its tar sands will tip Earth's atmosphere past the threshold of irreparable climate damage.

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. NASA climatologist James Hansen warns that an atmospheric C [O. sub. 2] 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 it will push humanity's carbon footprint upward over the long term.

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

Source: James Hansen, NASA climatologist, talking with environmental journalist Bill McKibben for The New Republic in June.

2100: Tornadoes, heat waves, dry pells, and other extreme weather events will be "the new normal."

We should expect to see plenty more of them month by month through 2100, due to human activity that is inducing global climate change.

Extreme weather patterns of all kinds have been occurring more and more frequently since 1980, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Source: Gary McManus, associate state climatologist for Oklahoma government, quoted by Julie Cart and Hailey Branson-Potts in The Los Angeles Times in August.

GOVERNMENT

By 2015: Algeria will be the next country to undergo an "Arab Spring" revolution.

The conditions that bred uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya exist in full in Algeria: a surging youth demographic, a dearth of jobs, and a political system that allows its citizens little voice and no chance of holding officials accountable in any serious way Plus, Algerians have already been staging massive demonstrations against their government's oppressive ways since late 2010. If any Arab country seems ripe for an upheaval, Algeria would be it.

Algeria means a lot of things to a lot of people. First, it is the largest country in both the Arab world and Africa, so the fall of its government might mean unusually large outpourings of refugees to neighboring African countries and to Europe. Second, the country holds some of the biggest reserves of oil and natural gas in the Middle East, so Western powers are bound to intervene. Future wars, like that in Libya, are sure to follow, and given Algeria's centuries-old tradition of localized self-rule among clans that spat with each other frequently, could become Very destructive. Third, Algeria is home to several militant Islamist movements, including a large branch of al-Qaeda, which makes any Algerian power vacuum all the more dangerous.

BUT ... Many outcomes could follow, some better than others. If prodemocracy revolutionaries prevail, and they receive adequate support from donor countries after the revolution, then a stable and viable new Algeria could emerge.

Northern Africa won't be quieting down anytime soon. Concerned nations across the Mediterranean had best stay attentive.

Source: Bruce Riedel, senior fellow in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, writing in The National Interest in August.

2020: The rich and powerful will be forced to share authority with formerly disempowered individuals and groups.

Thanks to the Internet and social media, a new equilibrium will arise between the traditional holders of power and unexpected influencers arising from the grassroots.

Source: Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist.org, in a guest editorial on Wired.com appearing in June.

2025: The world will be truly multilateral.

Source: Anne-Marie Slaughter, Princeton University professor of politics and international affairs (and former director of policy planning for the U.S. Department of State), in an article for Foreign Policy appearing in August.

IN THE FUTURE ...

Military conflict in East Asia and the Western Pacific will be centered in the South China Sea throughout the next few decades.

Source: Robert D. Kaplan, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, member of the U.S. Defense Department's Defense Policy Board, writing in Foreign Policy magazine in August.

HEALTH

2015: New HIV infections among children could be eliminated or reduced by 90%.

Source: UNAIDS, launching a plan called "Countdown to Zero" at the 2011 United Nations High Level Meeting on AIDS in June to do just that. The plan was developed in conjunction with the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

2018: A computer-brain interface will make it possible for a person in a medically vegetative state to fully communicate with the outside world.

Traumatic brain injury reduces some patients to persistent vegetative states, affecting about 250,000 to 300,000 persons in the United States alone. Activity goes on in isolated pockets of their brains, but normal functioning cannot emerge from it since the neural pathways that would connect them are severed.

Currently, patients with moderate damage--i.e., impaired but not totally catatonic--can get some motion back with electronic implants that pick up lone neural signals and translate them into physical actions: controlling a computer cursor, moving a wheelchair, etc. These electronic aids will not work on patients who are severely damaged, however. Researchers hope that, within five years, improved implants will restore function in even these latter "lost" cases.

Source: Adrian Owen, Medical Research Council of Cambridge, England, talking to Kat McGowan for Discovery magazine.

2022: LSD and Ecstasy could be available as legitimate prescriptions.

A growing number of scientists attest that these hallucinogenic drugs, when administered in proper doses, are very effective and--believe it or not--safe treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and chronic pain. Their study findings suggest that drug laws should make exceptions for their medicinal use.

Source: Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, on the site Alternet.org in June.

2030: Amputees will use "neuroprosthetics" that move their limbs with their minds.

These devices will link to the body's neurons to send and receive signals from the brain so as to move, feel, and operate just like real limbs.

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. Medical-device manufacturer Micro-Transponder has been testing use of VNS to treat many other neurological disorders, such as tinnitus and phantom limb pain. Whole limbs that interface with neurons could emerge from labs in another two decades.

BUT ... Currently, no electronic system can interact seamlessly with nerves, so it's unknown how we might make a neuroprosthetic that has all the mobility of a natural limb. In any case, such limbs are bound to be expensive.

Source: Will Rosellini, CEO and president of MicroTransponder, interview on Discovery magazine's blog, August 16.

2030: Almost half of British men, 40% of British women, and as many as 63% of children 4-5 years old will be obese.

BUT ... Taxing cheap processed "junk" food and regulating the ways that manufacturers market such products--especially to children--could help slow, stop, or even reverse this trend.

Sources: U.K. National Heart Forum chair Klim McPherson et al. and the United Kingdom's National Health Service, respectively, both in August.

2100: Overuse of antibiotics will result in worldwide rates of disease mortality that are close to those of the early, pre-Penicillin twentieth century.

Antibiotics will lose their potency due to overuse, leading to new waves of evolved, antibiotic-resistant pathogens, predicts Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Agricultural sectors pump their livestock with antibiotics, not to cure diseases, but to make the animals grow faster. And humans use antibiotics for many infections that do not really warrant them. All the overuse spurs an aftereffect that doctors have been registering for the last four decades: more and more strains of resistant bacteria. Meanwhile, the rollout of new FDA-approved antibiotics has been slowing steadily year after year.

BUT ... A lot can happen in the next few decades--and it must. Doctors need to curtail their prescriptions of antibiotics, and farmers need to stop giving antibiotics to healthy animals. And pharmaceutical companies need to ramp up their R&D into new drugs.

This is one health problem that will take many steps to solve. None of those steps will be easy, but our survival depends on us taking them.

Source: Margaret Mellon, Union of Concerned Scientists, on the site Remapping Debate in June.

IN THE FUTURE ...

Marijuana will not only be legalized, but it will also be recognized by the medical community as a "wonder drug"

Proponents of legalization argue that this would be an important step forward in ending the disastrous war on drugs.

Source: Lester Greenspoon, MD, speaking to the 2011 NORML Conference, May 31.

The cost to achieve indefinite life-extension technology (the so-called "Methuselarity") will only be in the trillions of dollars.

Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey believes that developing indefinite life-extension technology could cost less than expected, due to projected advances in artificial general intelligence (AGI) that "will cut the cost of those later stages as well as of the early stages."

Artificial intelligence researcher Ben Goertzel argues that the trillions-of-dollars price tag is actually not prohibitively expensive, but in fact "quite affordable by society, given the massive amount we [the United States] spend on healthcare"

BUT ... The cost to develop artificial general intelligence isn't exactly cheap, either. Also, de Grey isn't entirely convinced that it's possible to achieve AGI or to make it "safe" anytime soon.

Indefinite life extension remains a highly speculative area. Goertzel forecasts along two possible lines: that developed without AGI (the longer path) and that developed and enhanced by AGI (tibe shorter path). De Grey and Goertzel project that the "Methuselarity'' could take anywhere from 20 to 50 years.

Source: Aubrey de Grey in an interview with Ben Goertzel for H+ in June.

RELATED ARTICLE: WORST PREDICTION OF THE YEAR: MAY 21, 2011: THE RAPTURE WILL BEGIN.

So what happened? Billions of people woke up on May 22, surprised to still exist. Preacher Harold Camping had made this prediction many times on his nationally syndicated radio show, ever since his last "end of the world" prediction failed to come true in 1994. Camping thus joins a long line of misinformed prognosticators-from the Jehovah's Witnesses to former U.S. presidential candidate Pat Robertson-to issue public pronouncements about the end of the world and then miss.

Predictions such as these are inherently bad because they suggest that the future is predetermined and unchangeable. No matter how gloomy any of our forecasts may seem, there is still time to make the future better, today.

RELATED ARTICLE: BULLS AND BEARS BARE HOOVES AND CLAWS

2013: WE'RE SAVED!

Thanks to a rebound in housing construction, unemployment will fall below 7% by 2013, earlier than the Federal Reserve is projecting, predicts Warren Buffet.

It's a bold, direct, and optimistic statement about the resiliency of the U.S. economy from the world's most successful investor. More importantly, it might actually be correct. U.S. Commerce Department data released the week of August 26 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. Home prices were on the rise during the summer, according to the Case Schiller home price index.

BUT ... Buffett lost $6 billion in 2011 on bad calls. The oracle is looking foggy.

Source: Warren Buffet on the Charlie Rose Show, following his op-ed in The New York Times in August.

2013: WE'RE DOOMED!

The present-day economic troubles now growing across the world will culminate in a new Great Depression by 2013, predicts Nouriel Roubini, who 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.

Roubini urges national leaders everywhere to quickly institute massive new stimulus initiatives to avert it. [In a subsequent interview with the French paper Le Figaro, he forecast the breakup of the euro zone by 2016.]

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 "D r. Doom "-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 ... Roubini hasn't always been right. As Bloomberg reporter Scott Hamilton notes, "When the Standard B 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.

Source: Nouriel Roubini, president of Roubini Global Economic LLC, talking to Bloomberg in September.

About the Authors

This report was compiled by the editors of THE FUTURIST magazine, including Aaron M. Cohen, Rick Docksai, Patrick Tucker, and Cynthia G. Wagner.
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