8/19 – 2015-16 State of the Future – The Millennium Project

Notes from the Field / August-November 2015

2015-16 State of the Future
Jerome C. Glenn, Elizabeth Florescu and The Millennium Project Team


Concerned for “the” and “our” future? Highly recommended report by the UN sponsored Millennium Project. The report contains much more useful information than can be offered in this space. The link above provides access to the full report and the executive summary from which the following has been excerpted. –rv

Through a series of international Delphi surveys beginning in 1997 and global
scanning systems, The Millennium Project has identified and has been updating the
following 15 Global Challenges. They can be used both as a framework to understand
global change and as an agenda to improve the future:

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

“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. If leaders
do not make the decisions on the scale necessary to address the global challenges,
then future advances in artificial intelligence may be needed, just as the autonomic
nervous system manages the basic workings of our bodies. However, this will require
attention now to create the conditions to address the warnings of Elon Musk, Bill Gates,
and Steven Hawking about AI growing beyond human control. It is time for intolerance
of irrelevant speeches and non-actions by leaders. The stakes are too high to tolerate
business as usual.”

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