Friday, March 16, 2007

The Big, Big Picture

Prospect Magazine has invited 100 of the World's Thinkers to answer the question of what will define the coming century. Here are some answers, and as there are no bloggers in the Prospect sample, I have gratuitously appended my opinion at the last. Have a good weekend everybody.

Bruce Ackerman, political writer -- Cosmos vs patriots. Cosmopolitans come in two varieties: for left cosmos, the pressing need is to deal with world problems—global warming, nuclear proliferation, and the unjust distribution of wealth and income. For right cosmos, it is to break down barriers to world trade.

Don Berry, journalist -- We need a planet-saving alternative to democracy. Mankind is set on exhausting the planet’s resources. Voters in rich nations will not want to give anything up; voters (or dictators) in developing nations will seek what the rich have.

Philip Bobbitt, political writer -- Nation state versus market state. The constitutional order of the nation state saw its role as one of regulating and reversing the results of markets. Market states, by contrast, try to use the market to achieve their governmental goals.

Rudi Bogni, banker and director -- The real problem of the 20th century was that the demographic and economic pressures that fractured the empires gave rise to national states with leaderships ill equipped to face the nihilist challenge.

Joe Boyd, music producer -- The big divide in the coming decades will be between the “reality-based community” and the “ideologically-based community.”

Robert Cooper, EU official -- In this century, freedom will come from international law, but there is no international state.

Meghnad Desai, economist -- Left/right, north/south, east/west are dead. Politics will be global and/or personal. What little the state will be asked to do—mainly local issues—it will fail to do.

Brian Eno, musician -- One of the big divisions of the future will be between those who believe in intervention as a moral duty and those who don't. ... It will be a discussion between pluralists, who are prepared to tolerate the discomfort of diversity, and those who feel they know what the best system is and feel it is their moral duty to encourage it.

Todd Gitlin, sociologist -- The coming cleavage is between zealots and realists.

Charles Grant, EU analyst -- The big divide of the 21st century will be between supporters of openness, globalisation and multilateralism, and partisans of introversion, protection and unilateralism. ... Conservatives remain virulently anti-EU, having failed to see -- as have most continental parties --that the EU is an agent for globalisation.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, scientist -- Global and national politics will turn simple and Hobbesian in 50-70 years. In the interim, energy hunger will drive the US and European countries to squeeze out, and steal, the last drops of oil from under Muslim sands. As bridges between Islam and the west collapse, expect global civil war and triumphant neo-Talibanic movements circling the globe. Should a few western capitals be levelled, Muslim capitals will be randomly nuked in retaliation. The old planetary order is condemned to die. But the human spirit may yet prevail, and a new and better one may emerge.

Nicholas Humphrey, scientist -- How can anyone doubt that the faultline is going to be religion?

Pico Iyer, writer -- The battle between left and right has long been eclipsed by the much more urgent debate between future and past—between, on one hand, those who hold, as the old have always done, that wisdom lies in tradition, community, continuity, and on the other, those who are convinced that transformation lies just around the corner, in whatever we come up with tomorrow.

Josef Joffe, editor, “Die Zeit” -- Samuel Huntington was right: “Islam has bloody borders,” and those borders are not just those of Gaza, south Lebanon, Chechnya or Kashmir. They are also within Islam (see Iraq) and the west—in the inner and outer cities of Paris, Amsterdam, London, Berlin and Rome. And western liberalism is trapped in its own sacred traditions: how to integrate, assimilate or fight the enemy within while remembering our horrifying history of colonialism and racism and honouring our liberal values.

RW Johnson, political writer -- The fact that the birth rate of the Muslim world is significantly higher than anyone else’s will inevitably increase the power of the world’s last great anti-democratic ideology, which is also likely to replace Marxism as the ideology of the third world. At the same time, the rapid rise of China will gradually restore the old bipolar balance of the cold war period. The democratic states are likely to find themselves thrown on the defensive to a degree not seen since the 1930s, and, for the first time, they will become unsure as to whether they really represent the wave of the future.

Tobias Jones, writer -- Rural versus urban. This century’s great division will be less political than geographical: cities will, for the first time in centuries, begin to shrink, causing great tensions in rural locations having to accommodate large numbers of “evacuees.”

Sunder Katwala, Fabian Society -- “Smaller government”—the dominant political theme of the last 30 years – has hit the buffers. Advocates of the minimal state need to be climate change deniers to sustain their political project.

Eric Kaufmann, academic -- In the future, the main conflict in developed countries will be between conservative populism and liberal elitism. Conservative populists will be native-born members of the indigenous majority with below-average education who feel economically insecure about globalisation, existentially threatened by ethnic change and liberal values, and resentful of the wealth and cosmopolitanism of upper-income groups.

Jytte Klausen, academic -- God is back in politics. The new cleavage is between secularists insisting on individual freedoms and the interests of faith groups.

Richard Layard, economist -- The great issue for the 21st century will be materialism vs quality of life.

Julian Le Grand, economist -- The major divide will be between those who think that individuals have choices and are therefore responsible for their actions, and those who believe the opposite.

James Lovelock, environmentalist -- The coming division will be between those who see a future life in the Arctic or on oases and islands, and those who would rather stay put. Those who do stay and can remember life in Britain during the second world war will find global heating, when it starts to hurt, quite familiar. “Don’t you know there’s a climate change on?” will be the put- down to every request for an air conditioner, and Dad’s “green” army will service their windmills; left and right will be in storage for the duration.

Tariq Modood, sociologist -- The ideological divide will be a form of liberalism which emphasises the privatisation of religion, and in its more radical wings the structuring of public life on the assumption that God does not exist, versus a form of liberalism based on inclusivity in which neither religious nor non-religious people have to “privatise” their beliefs.

Anshuman Mondal, academic -- There will also be an increasing challenge to the hegemony of “occidentalism,” the notion that western models of politics, society and economy represent the goal of human development. This will represent the next stage of decolonisation.

Kamran Nazeer, writer -- Nature vs machines.

Peter R Neumann, political scientist -- 21st-century politics is no longer about the tangibles of economic policy. It is about the intangibles of culture, religion and ethnicity.

Philip Pullman, author -- The struggle will continue to be what it has always been: wisdom against stupidity. In the 20th century the odds shortened greatly in favour of stupidity, because stupidity now has the means to destroy human civilisation entirely.

Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad , philosopher -- The most dramatic expression of the economics of the poor, however, will now come from religion. There will be those for whom human purpose is explicable only in terms of religion, and those for whom it is understood purely in terms of scientific processes. All major religions will be involved, facing secular resistance. The deep divide will be evident in debates over how to give succour to those who feel disempowered and without hope.

Jonathan Rauch, journalist -- The question for the next few decades will be whether the centre can systematically reassert itself, even as partisans and ideologues—their shovels flying—dig deeper entrenchments.

Malcolm Rifkind, politician -- The most significant will be the choice between personal freedom and security; between civil liberties and the need to deal with crime and terrorism.

Bridget Rosewell, economist -- Choice vs instruction.

Irwin Stelzer, economist -- My best guess is that almost all of the issues will fall into two categories: markets vs ministers; and making government work.

Martin Walker, journalist -- the left/right spectrum is likely to continue in subtly different forms, shaped more around the distinction between organising society on a communal (heirs of the left) or an individual (the right) basis, with environmentalism and sustainability as the immediate battleground.

Francis Wheen, writer -- The new struggle is between the best of the Enlightenment legacy (rationalism, scientific empiricism, separation of church and state) on the one hand and, on the other, various forms of obscurantism and value-free relativism, often disguised as “anti-imperialism” or “anti-universalism” to give profoundly reactionary attitudes an alluringly radical veneer.

David Willetts, politician -- Increasingly we worry about a society divided by conflicts of culture and identity. But there is another division, just as significant, which can shape the political agenda of the future. We are living in a society increasingly divided by age. We, the baby boomers, are failing to ensure the younger generation enjoy the wealth and opportunities we have enjoyed.

Wretchard, Internet diarist -- The Next Big Thing hasn't happened yet. But given a century in prospect there are significant odds that some contingent event, discovery or emergent technology will organize or divide us in ways we do not yet suspect. "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."


Blogger dla said...

Mental midgets. Why do we quote muscians and poets?

The comming century will see the decline of the west and the rise of the east. The have-nots of the Arabian peninsula will falter in their attempt to promote a world-wide Sharia-law - there's just going to be too many "Great Satans".

Russia will either form lasting alliances with the Islamic have-nots, and possibly reverse their population decline, or Russia will become China's Mexico. Personally I think China should build another wall now.

The EU dude and his "freedom with international law" is most laughable. The women in the EU will be wearing burkas in 100 years.

3/16/2007 09:44:00 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

What a huge fisking opportunity.

3/16/2007 09:49:00 PM  
Blogger John Lynch said...

The century is 100 years, not just the next 10 or so.

The big problem in 1900 was the coming European wars, but no one knew that. Most of the quotes above are dealing with things that won't ever happen, or will be settled soon.

If I had to guess, I'd say falling and aging population. After 2050 or so, we're going to have a decreasing worldwide population. That's never happened globally in modern times, and I suspect that much of our economic system is based on population growth. When it isn't even happening in the developing world, where's the labor going to come from? Dealing with that is going to be an interesting challenge. It's not the end of the world (nothing has been so far) but will be a problem.

3/16/2007 10:08:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Within the compass of the next 100 years most of us will live and die. And the big things, for us, will be the little things no one mentions here. So since I began by quoting Forrest Gump, I may as well end with what for him and for most of us will always be the most important thing. Not the mountains or the trees, but our fragile love for each other, is what ought, at least, to endure.

You died on a Saturday morning. And I had you placed here under our tree. And I had that house of your father's bulldozed to the ground. Momma always said dyin' was a part of life. I sure wish it wasn't. Little Forrest, he's doing just fine. About to start school again soon. I make his breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. I make sure he combs his hair and brushes his teeth every day. Teaching him how to play ping-pong. He's really good. We fish a lot. And every night, we read a book. He's so smart, Jenny. You'd be so proud of him. I am. He, uh, wrote a letter, and he says I can't read it. I'm not supposed to, so I'll just leave it here for you. Jenny, I don't know if Momma was right or if, if it's Lieutenant Dan. I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happening at the same time. I miss you, Jenny. If there's anything you need, I won't be far away.

3/16/2007 10:18:00 PM  
Blogger pantapon rose said...

In 1907, who could have seen that the atomic bomb would dominate the second half of the century? There will be some currently unknown technological achievement that will dominate this century. Unless, of course, we all retreat from these advances beforehand either due to fundamentalist religion (well, Islam) or environmentalism.

3/16/2007 10:26:00 PM  
Blogger rufus said...

Wretchard, and Pantapon Rose are on the right track. Imagine describing the internet, Moore's Law, nanotechnology, missile defense, biotechnology, and gene-splicing to an average citizen of Minnesota in 1907.

Take it to the nth degree, and that's where we're at trying to imagine the next 100 years. Did I mention the theory of relativity, quarks, string theory, quantum mechanics, or light that travels either faster or slower than the speed of light?

Statin Drugs? Viagra? genome mapping? What does a car cost when it has "zero" hours of man-labor in it's manufacture?

Maybe, we'll surrender to the Muslims out of sheer boredom.

Maybe the next Glaciation will come on down and we'll just freeze to death. Maybe we'll just have a piece of pie.

Or go surfing.

3/16/2007 11:29:00 PM  
Blogger PresbyPoet said...

Most important: Crash of the American economy. The only question is how far down it goes. At some time we pay a very expensive piper. This has monumental consequences to America & the world. A new dark age may loom.

Secondary ones:
Rise of the Christian south. Major persecution of Christians, & conflict with Islam, as Islam ultimately fades. Liberal christianity dies. Reunion of Catholics & orthodox Protestants?

Possible major disasters, such as 9.4 Cascadia, 8.0 Tokyo earthquakes that smash a major urban area, tip the world economy in depression. Caldera volcanic eruptions, or asteroid strikes are a 2-5% possibility. Another year or two without a summer, causes mass famine because we don't have food stocks stored. Two to twenty cities nuked. Melting of West Antarctic ice sheet (unrelated to global warming), raises sea level 5 feet.

China as a wild card. Does it become a capitalistic democracy, or fascist expansionistic empire? By centuries end, it whatever has happened will seem inevitable.

The end of Europe. It becomes irrelevant. EU regulations cripple the European economy.

The most important long term event (1,000 years) is the start of moving into space, almost certainly not by America. This will not seem important by the end of the next 100 years, but seeds will be planted. 70% chance we find life in other parts of the solar system this century.

Non factors: Global warming, oil shortages.

There will be major inventions, and possibilities, but will anyone take advantage? Given the century's coming chaos, these are likely non-factors. Yet they can be the most important, but least likely to be foreseen.

3/17/2007 12:20:00 AM  
Blogger Meme chose said...

This century will have many story lines, but they are not all equal. One of them is our own, and it will be the same as it was in the twentieth and the nineteenth centuries. Our narrative centers around the preservation of democracy, and whether the clever people who always believe that if it were up to them they could install something better one day get their wish.

As Benjamin Franklin observed so tartly, 'A Republic, if you can keep it', referring to the fact that historically few have ever shown themselves capable of doing so.

I thus identify our own vanity, and particularly that of our 'elites', as our most important challenge. Only blindness due to vanity could persuade us that we are so much smarter than our forebears that we should sweep away what they learnt and start again from a blank sheet of paper, an approach which ended every time it was tried by others during the last century in rivers of blood. Each time the local elites, and usually our own as well, affected surprise, exonerated themselves and 'moved on', offering no apologies and doling out lots of blame to others, according to various theories which gave them pleasure.

Unfortunately I see the unseriousness of our elites as essentially unlimited. The victims of this behavior during the twentieth century, while there were tens of millions of them, were mostly confined to foreigners, members of our armed forces and those attacked on 9/11. There is no reason in principle however that this time they should not include most of us and our children (a consideration which leaves our 'elites', by the way, utterly unmoved).

The common sense of ordinary Americans, whatever portion of it survives several years in contact with our often delusional public educators, is our best and our only chance.

3/17/2007 01:28:00 AM  
Blogger Sparks fly said...

Ladies and Gentlemen please consider what the Bible has already said. And the Bible is and always has been 100% accurate about all it says including prophecy.

The Great Tribulation is bearing down on us. "After two days we shall walk before HIM". The two days is almost up. Jesus is coming and will save the Jews in Israel because they will be under severe attack by the forces of the AntiChrist.

In the process " men will become rare on the earth".The Bible has much to say on this issue including the teaching that true faith will become hard to find but a phoney type of Christianity will conquer the world which will deceive all who have not received a love of the truth.

Read the book of Revelation while it is still called today.

Afterwards Jesus will rule the earth from Jerusalem for 1000 years and men will live as long as trees and much much more.

Just as these events are about to take place they have never seemed to be so rediculous.

So scoffers sleep and dream and vomit in your pillowcase when you see that man of sin appear.

Believers have no fear your redemption draweth near.


3/17/2007 01:35:00 AM  
Blogger Anointiata Delenda Est said...

Biotechnology. Now we really can make ourselves in our own image.

Islam tears itself apart, takes a US city or two with it on the way,and then withers away, except in France where it is the state religion.

Self-indulgent replaces the word Activist in the Oxford English dictionary.

Interstates crumble due to lack of maintenance, because there is no point.

Vintage 2107 is superb, the loaf of bread steams beautifully, as does thou.


3/17/2007 03:45:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Forbidden Hollywood
Don't miss this great commentary on Post Normal Hollywood!
Hat Tip, Allen.

3/17/2007 04:50:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Horowitz will love seeing his old Buddy, professional liar Todd Gitlin on the list.

3/17/2007 04:55:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Many of the experts say that the greatest threat looming in our future will come from conservatives and religious extremists. Something tells me that they are talking about American conservatives and religoius belivers--not muslim terrorists.

And I thought Global Warming is the greatest threat mankind has ever faced. Didn't Edwards just tell us that even world war will seem like heaven compared to GW? Wont the world end in the next 20 years anyway? Who cares about East/West conflict when Gaia is dying?

3/17/2007 05:12:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

World War seems like heaven compared to their Utopia.

3/17/2007 05:38:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Blogs can top the Press

Copeland said the relatively small world of left-of-center political blogs now receives an estimated 160 million page views a month, in the same ballpark as some major newspapers and far more than any opinion magazine.

3/17/2007 06:54:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Like Rather, they believe they live in an earlier time when they would not be found out:
"It's 20 or so blocks up town to the heart of the media establishment, the Midtown towers that house the big newspaper, magazine and book publishers. And yet it was here in a neighborhood of bodegas and floral wholesalers that, over the last two months, one of the biggest news stories in the country — the Bush administration's firing of a group of U.S. attorneys — was pieced together by the reporters of the blog Talking Points Memo.

The bloggers used the usual tools of good journalists everywhere — determination, insight, ingenuity — plus a powerful new force that was not available to reporters until blogging came along: the ability to communicate almost instantaneously with readers via the Internet and to deputize those readers as editorial researchers, in effect multiplying the reporting power by an order of magnitude."

3/17/2007 06:57:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Sorry, wrong thread!

3/17/2007 06:59:00 AM  
Blogger RAB said...

The war (WW IV) against radical Islam will continue for ~40 years. It will end because of the start of WW V.

WW V will start and end in a 24 hour period.
This war will take place in space and China kwill win.

By 2100 the earth will be inhabited by 4 Billion
ethnic Chinese.

3/17/2007 07:20:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

The major difficulty obstructing prediction seems to me the present fluidity of relationships among nations following on the dissolution of national socialism as a credible public doctrine, an understanding of which is made more obscure by the persistant tendency to interpret the evolving situation in at least cyrpto-Cold War terms.

Personally I think a lot of this could be clarified by returning to pre-World War I mindset in which nations are presumed to exhibit their ancient habits, and the burden is upon them to show through material advancement how far they have indeed embraced the soft ideology of pragmatism that has manifestly served the Anglosphere so well. That, in my opinion, is the hallmark of modernity, and it may prove to be really just another evolutionary phase of what is a hermetically rather English, rather than exportable, mentality. The persistence of populations like China's 750 million peasant farmers, or the animal ignorance of Africa's vast peoples, or the habits of Russia and its satellites, to say nothing of the Middle East, where the behavior of populations and governments there resonate strikingly with every iteration of those civilizations from almost the time of Herodotus - all these will remain a constant frustration to the power of elite nations, however directed.

The career of post-Soviet socialism will be interesting, attached as it is and dependent as it is to fin de siecle despair, which it therefore perpetuates. This odd defeatism in the midst of superpower plenty in the United States will probably prove mildly calamitous; such power wielded uncertainly and hesitatantly and apologetically is probably more dangerous than that power wielded decisively. After all, human beings can and have accomodated themselves to the most bizarre conditions.

I would predict that a new medieval period will set in, as Jacques Barzun has persuasively urged, but, having familiarized myself with that period and the contrasting periods around it, it is hard to know exactly how we are to interpret what a "medieval period" would mean today. The USA's position does resemble that of Constantinople circa 6th century in some salient respects; Europe is somewhat like those far western provinces of Venice and Greece and non-barbarian Italy and north Africa. Islam's vanguard certainly interprets it that way. Europe's attempt to constitute a disarmed meta-state will probably fail to completely emerge. China will probably become, as John Derbyshire just remarked, not another USSR, nor another USA, but probably more like another Brazil. The Middle East will still be begging for imperial domination to save it from its terrible indigenous habits for the calculable future.

Sorry, way too long and rambling.

3/17/2007 08:01:00 AM  
Blogger Pyrthroes said...

Offhand, we'd say that 80% of the above deep-thunk posts channeled views from 1907.

Human nature, the politics of us-versus-them, descends from Greece battling Cyrus at Thermopylae. Yes, there is a qualitative aspect --free-market democracies vs. Communism and Fascism-- but bloody-minded totalitarianisms such as today's Islam will triumph only by default.

In studying the 17th Century, historians have long since de-focused the Counter Reformation with its Thirty Years' War, Edict of Nantes and such, to highlight a "Century of Genius": Galilleo, Kepler and Newton, Descartes and Milton and Rembrandt with their chiaroscuro blends of light-and-dark... just so, not one notional commentator mentions the 20th Century's true legacy, rich as the magical 17th's: Behind the scarifying wars, the murderous collectivist Statism persisting as Cults of Ignorance today, lie seminal progressions for the ages.

So long as humanity persists, the subtle concepts of Quantum Physics and Relativity, information technology, genomic engineering, space exploration --any number of
specialized disciplines, from Plate Tectonics to pharmaceuticals-- will render 1900 - 1999 the worthy heir of 1600 - 1899.

Politics, socio-cultural upheavals come and go. Genocide persists, even Sagan's "demon-haunted" superstitions evident in the "post-normal science" of "environmentalist" Global Warming (sic). Benighted "post-normalists" fail to realize that their argument-by-stipulation works both ways-- opponents positing just the opposite may equally well shut down these squeaking Enviros, who without a scientific philosophy, method, practice will find themselves helpless to repel assault.

If 20th Century patterns hold, the Great Themes of the 21st will include: Radical conceptual advances such as Artificial Intelligence and Emergent Order; technological leaps from robotics to macro-teleportation; mass migration off-planet in face of an overdue Ice Age (advanced populations will have nowhere to go but up); all but certainly, in whatever form, a "rebirth of spirit" repudiating the abject foolishness of 20th Century "mass movements"-- emphatically rejecting the brutal, bigoted sectarian dogmatism that post-WWII petro-dollars have purchased throughout Muslim polities, accelerating to infantile regressive autocracy and hate-filled rage against "the other".

"Futurologist" pundits cited above recycle literary cliches as commentary. Not one seems to have considered (or even know) that from Giordano Bruno's time (burned alive in 1600, the year Kepler went to Prague) perceptions from Planck and Godel to Church and Turing have blasted Medievalism's comfortable, categoric absolutes forever.

A spiritual dimension nonetheless obtains, for sentience demands it.
Whatever form this takes --not "post" anything, no doctrine but sensitivities vital in and of themselves-- against naysayers we offer a great truth (from "Owen's Alligator"): "Faith in Reason denies reason in Faith-- but Love is not denied."

For all its terrors, we'll take the 20th Century over the 17th - 19th, and the 21st for all its ice-walls over both.

3/17/2007 08:23:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

After reading the comments extracted from the magazine - as well as most of the posted commentary here, I feel like that caveman in the GEICO commercial;

"My response is: What?"

And maybe that is what the 21st Century will be noted for.

Communications appears to be the only technology where the ability to do more of it means we do less. We have phones all over the place but getting people to actually talk to you has become all but impossible. For example, it is not longer possible to call the local Sears and ask them a simple question (try it sometime). E-mail would be useless if my ISP did not shunt off everyone not in my address book. For telephones we had to pass a law to keep telemarketeers from calling us.

Add that to the people deliberately spewing information they know to be false, or info they know to be false but believe to be true, and those emphasizing absurdies (think Scooter Libby and the attorney firings) - and you see that communication is becoming easier to do and harder to use all the time.

We are entering the era where everyone talks a lot but no one communicates very much.

3/17/2007 09:01:00 AM  
Blogger james wilson said...

These 100 ideas are remarkable for their vacuity, when they do not shine through imbecility. Which instructs us why, amidst the groupings of people in millions or billions, it is the individual that becomes cricial in leadng or changing society. For the better and for the worse.
It's that wide open. Only Wretchard had the sense to say the future has a way of arriving unannounced.

3/17/2007 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger ExRat said...

Reading over the comments, I notice that each "specialist" is focused on his or her specialty. Happens with doctors, and of course there's the old adage, "When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." Very few have the ability to truly "think outside the box," i.e., to think nonlinearly.

That said, I think many of the pundits and many of the commenters kind of get it.

I agree with John Lynch and with Wretchard, I think both demographics and technological breakthroughs will have a huge impact on the world in the next century. Sadly, based on what I see now, I I also can't see how a major clash between militant Islam and the West can be avoided.

3/17/2007 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

I wonder why they didn't ask Ray Kurzweil?

The advent of strong AI (exceeding human intelligence) is the most important transformation this century will see, and it will happen within 25 years, says Ray Kurzweil

The Law of Accelerating Returns

An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense "intuitive linear" view. So we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century -- it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate). The "returns," such as chip speed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially. There's even exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth. Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity -- technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.

3/17/2007 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

Globalization - or to me more precise, ever-growing global connectivity and ability to interact freely and in real-time across borders without physically crossing them - is slowly eating away at the Westphalian model of sovereign nation-states, by circumventing their ability to play gatekeeper. The world's nation-states, by and large, have so far failed miserably to keep up with this breakdown, much less slow it down or adapt to it. Unless that changes in the next 10-20 years (and I wouldn't get my hopes up about this), the Westphalian world order will probably die. What alternative model will replace it, how long the transition occurs and how it plays out (including how ascendant Islamic supremacism figures into it) will be the defining story of the 21st century.

3/17/2007 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Aristides said...

Those who--humbly, wisely--assimilate the uncertainty of Life-Becoming, and those who--arrogantly, defiantly--dig their trenches around Life-Become: this is the fault-line across all questions of organization.

The odds are stacked heavily in favor of assimilation-adaptation-response, and those best organized to enable it will remain while others whither or violently die.

So relax. We're still most viable, and will persist for centuries to come.

3/17/2007 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Technologically, the big divide in the 19th century was before and after the railroad. That would be in the 1830's-50's in the USA east of the missippi and in england and in the 1870's west of the missippi. And in various decades between in other parts of the globe.

I think in the 21st century the big divide will be some technologies that collapses the cost of getting into space and staying there. These as well will come in a couple decades maybe out around Kurzweil's inflection point--that is the point where thinking machines become sentient around about 2039.

The ease of getting into space will cause a disjucture between the history of man on earth and the history of man in space much as there was a disjuncture in the 1500's between europe and the Americas. We are already hearing the first tremors of that split.

But in the near term ie in under 10 years the big technological changes will have to do with water & energy. Big changes there will make it economically feasible to turn the world's deserts green and double the size of the habitable planet. The consequence will be that the current crush to get into Europe and America will be reversed.

3/17/2007 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Larry said...

Que sera, sera...the future's not ours to see.

What I find disappointing about the big thinkers is how many of them framed their thought around one key dividing line or another. Mostly religion/culture, but a depressingly large number share a mindset that reduces what is likely to be the most complex period of human history to a simple duality. How unoriginal. How shortsighted.

My two cents is that the current struggle between the ancient past and modernity may take a generation to settle out, but will not be the century's hallmark.

That will be coping with things that today are barely imaginable: the end of material want, the end of death, the intelligent machine, a far deeper understanding of our what it means to be human, and a reconceptualization of our relationship to the world, along with many others that I can't imagine.

Looking back, nationalism, Nazism, Communism, and nukes, for all their horrors, ended up as mountains that civilization climbed over and left behind just as it had done with slavery before. Today's extremists face the same fate, although I expect them to draw much blood before they're done.

3/17/2007 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Habu1 said...

'No one will need more than 637Kb of memory for a personal computer' - Bill Gates

"Predictions are difficult, especially about the future." - Yogi Berra, Baseball player

I think that just about covers the soothsayers about the next 100 years.

3/17/2007 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...


"coping with things that today are barely imaginable: the end of material want, the end of death, the intelligent machine, a far deeper understanding of our what it means to be human, and a reconceptualization of our relationship to the world, along with many others that I can't imagine."

The next century may bring that but not, alas, the end of evil. Here's a plotline for fiction set in the next century. The year is 2083. It has been fifteen years since the mechanism for manipulating the human aging process has been mastered. Ten since the Earth Party won its struggle to have the human lifespan capped at age 75. Space travel has been outlawed. It is now controls the World Government and has unlimited power. It has been five years since Mohammed Yunis earned his badge as a World Government Global Agent. Now he faces his most challenging mission: to discover whether disturbing rumors of the existence of an underground conspiracy are founded in fact.

It is said to be led by a group called the Reveres, who have an encryption technology which allows them to communicate without the World Government even being able to detect a communication pattern; and the Reveres are working on a project that not only threatens to destroy World Goverment but worse, pollute Gaia fatally; a project which would compel the colonization of unspoiled outer space! Intelligence suggested the Reveres were working, with the fugitive remnants of the Papacy, on something called the Communion of Saints. Its aim was nothing less than to use time travel technology to reach back in history, and without altering it, to capture DNA samples and consciousness profiles of every human being who ever lived and reunite them in the present, where they would never grow old again and be free to explore the Universe.

Intelligence assessments showed that the threat was technologically feasible. Yunis knew it was intolerable threat to World Government. If he failed, there was no telling what would happen. And besides, failure to find the Reveres might mean he would fail to receive his classified ten year life-extension renewal at his next review. Because the deepest secret of the Earth Party was that its leading members had been exempted from the lifespan cap and were going to live forever. Just the few who had the right attitudes and values, you understand. But only if the Reveres could be stopped ...

3/17/2007 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger John F. Opie said...

Hi -

Mental midgets indeed.

The comments here are dead on regarding those from 1907 commenting on the 20th century.

Here's my take:

The 21st century will finally resolve some of the problems of the 20th century, but create new ones that won't be solved at all.

Every country at the end of the 20th century will be legitimized by its people, but not all will be democracies. The idea of wars between states will largely vanish, not because of a change in human nature, but rather because the devastation wrought by the wars of the 21st century (China, South America, Oceania) will make war not obsolete, but rather place it in the same category as eugenics is placed today. The death tolls are simply too large and the rewards too small.

But human conflicts will continue, but they will be in the form that Al Queda initiated: anonymous acts of terror designed to manipulate large population groups that reject instinctively what the terrorists want them to do. These groups also learn their limits after three nuclear devices are used: the destruction of Xxxxx served as the clarion call for nation states never to try to play this card (I've left that deliberately ambigious...).

Population declines in Europe and in Africa led to major redrawing of state borders and the abandonment of many areas in Eastern Europe as nature reserves, while in the US population increases led to the rebirth of serious city planning. The loss of life in China due to the civil war there also radically changed that country.

Designer bodies and serious fiddling with the genetic structure of the human genome leads to serious difficulties with the definition of what is human that remain unresolved at the end of the 21st century.

And oil doesn't run out, but becomes an anachronism. And the idea of global warming becomes as hilarious as the idea that the earth was hollow.

3/17/2007 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...


"Since weight is directly associated with power, aircraft will always be slower than heavier but more powerful land vehicles." - George Westinghouse circa 1903.

The air defense of the United States can be satisfied by approximately 50 P-38's - Lockheed company assumption, circa 1939.

The total requirements for computing for the United States can be satisfied by fewer than 100 IBM mainframe computers - IBM company assumption, circa 1960.

"Old Europe will have to lean on our shoulders, and to hobble along by our side, under the monkish trammels of priests and kings, as she can. What a colossus we shall be." - Thomas Jefferson, 1816

These predictions were all made by absolute top experts in their fields. And the most outrageous and most distant of these was the only one that came true.

3/17/2007 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger bobalharb said...

Bob dies.

3/17/2007 02:50:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

"Because the deepest secret of the Earth Party was that its leading members had been exempted from the lifespan cap and were going to live forever."
Your extreme prejudice toward those more progressive than you is showing here, Wretchard.

I am confident these sterling souls would never THINK of exempting themselves, much less do it.

...but they will have exclusive access to, and be able to trade in, the lifespan credit market

3/17/2007 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Since you have resigned yourself to that fate, Bobal, you might as well live it up quick-like.

Become a Gazillionaire by trading in virtually all of your lifespan credits, and party like there's no tommorrow.

3/17/2007 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger bobalharb said...

It's ok, Doug. I won't have to read sparks fly any longer.
Makes it almost worth it.

3/17/2007 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

I'll take care of Sparks for you.
For just a "few" credits.

3/17/2007 03:18:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

I'll even clean that vomit off your pillocase.

3/17/2007 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger bobalharb said...

All I've got is yours, my man.

3/17/2007 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

To the 'World's Thinkers.' Slowly letting out on clutch, engage brain, gain sufficient thought momentum to shift to second gear and then speak.

3/17/2007 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

The human mind represents the seamless integration of desire with fantasy and cognition, which is why Kurzweil will be proven wrong. Incorporation of mechanical intelligence into human intelligence will be no more difficult than the cell phone revolution.

Humanity will come to prevail over its sea of troubles by developing a social mind of equivalent power and comparable seamlessness. Democratic government will continue as it has, but will be directed and rendered sane by its close association with the Network of Minds. The Gap will shrink to nothing. Borders will become interesting, but unimportant. The rising Chinese power-seeking core will be totally co-opted by the exploding growth of wealth. Our economy will be based much more on insubstantial things, comparable to our present entertainment economy, but moreso.

3/17/2007 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger F said...

Interesting discussion. Two things stand out: readers of this club have made more sensible predictions than the original 100, and we really cannot know what will define the coming century because the technology/idea/development is still beyond our grasp, just as nuclear power and space travel were to people in 1907. I was struck thinking about Pantapon Rose's thoughts on the atom bomb dominating the century just past: if it indeed did so (and I would not argue), it was not the bomb's USE that dominated our world; it was the threat of its use. About what other answer can this be said? None. Prospect Magazine did not come up with a very impressive list of ideas, did it? Thanks, Wretchard -- in my estimation you're closer to what will be than all of Prospect's 100. F

3/17/2007 07:22:00 PM  
Blogger trangbang68 said...

Dang,Presbypoet,who peed in your cheerios?
"I'm reading last year's papers
Although I don't know why
Assassins,cons and rapers
Might as well die.."

Donald Fagan/Walter Becker
"King of the World"

Doug, I was amused as well by the inclusion of Todd Gitlin,the self important little leftist prick at Columbia University.His comment was hilarious.The conflict will be between zealots and realists.He no doubt considers himself a realist all the while he's been a zealous acolyte of the false god Marxism for 40 years or so.

3/17/2007 08:19:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

I tend to side with Don Berry, journalist --

We need a planet-saving alternative to democracy. Mankind is set on exhausting the planet’s resources. Voters in rich nations will not want to give anything up; voters (or dictators) in developing nations will seek what the rich have.

Democracy, such as it is, is nearly completely subverted and made a sham by the money, position, power of the Ruling Elites in the West and by the "even fauxer" power structures.

I do not see an interconnected world accepting globalism if they are the great losers, but instead carving out regional economic spheres that do trade in the best interests of the member states of the Bloc, but do not allow their economies to be destroyed by free flight of capital & technology to the loswest bid labor force outside the Bloc.

I do not see new technology running how human society exists. I see human societies growing determined to themselves decide their fate.

I see a return to nation states after the collapse of certain "globalist" economies grown too fragile and dependent on forces outside their control.

I see the need to narrow wealth gaps, a new determination by mankind to eliminate unaceptable concentrations of power - even if that means confiscation of Ruling Elite's wealth hoards and concluding there is necessity to kill a good deal of them. As periodically has happened in various eras and was vindicated by history as unavoidable - small cancerous groups only lose power when they are eliminated from it - and killing them is the surest way.

The 21st Century will be marked by power blocs that attempt to avoid war, but will war and attempt to make them as lethal and fast concluded as possible, without mutual destruction. Nuclear weapons will probably be used, hopefully by smaller powers that do not threaten all civilization.

At a certain point, despite globalists counting on overpopulation driving labor costs even lower to better reward the already fabulously wealthy of the Ruling Elites, (before their wealth is taken, power destroyed, possibly killed...)it will have to be controlled. Despite technology worshippers saying new high tech magic will make everyone wealthy, own their own yachts in their 1,000 acre waterfont ain't gonna happen. Despite the demands of special interest groups saying that nations like America are obligated to continue to take in 100s of millions of "honest job seekers, legitimate political refugees preferring to flee rather than fight oppression elsewhere." - the breaking point will be reached. Borders closed.

3/17/2007 09:38:00 PM  
Blogger xstrange said...

My prediction on the biggest single breakthrough, which will send enormous ripples through the world in the coming century: The continuing loss of the ability to keep secrets. In the near term, combine the miniaturization of video cameras, with the ability to transmit and store unbelievable amounts of data, and the mass production of tiny electronics devices for pennies. Add in super computer analysis of radar, IR, and audio scans. Extrapolate this a few decades. It may be routine to saturate all public places with sensors that will record and store every movement and sound.
On the macro scale, it will become easy for nations and governments to watch everything that their allies and competitors are doing. And, countering that, it will become even easier for private individuals to watch everything that their governments and leaders are doing. And how many decades will it be before we can read the entire contents of a human mind, everything ever seen and thought by them?
So many of the conflicts between humans are grounded in deceit. How will the human race handle it, when it becomes very difficult to hide anything or to surprise anyone? The technology is heading that way at an exponential rate, and probably can't be stopped.

3/18/2007 04:24:00 AM  
Blogger tckurd said...

Well the good news is that in the next 100 years, Cedarford will join Bob [sorry Bob], and his poppycock notion of redistributing wealth will be 1 the weaker. Hopefully his "New Deal" Social Security will be dead too, and future generations can save 6.2% of their income to much better results than the Nanny-FDR-State.

Yes, I'm a Paleocon, and am enjoying these times more than ever. Especially when it allows gasbags like Cedarford to squirm. Liberalism, like tofu, is death wherever it's ingested in quantity.

3/18/2007 06:54:00 AM  
Blogger Teresita said...

Xstrange: My prediction on the biggest single breakthrough, which will send enormous ripples through the world in the coming century: The continuing loss of the ability to keep secrets

You are making the same mistake people make when they freak out over the provision in the Patriot Act that allows the government to find out what books you checked out. And that mistake is the delusion that anyone else cares. You could make a huge database containing every library user in the country, and every book they ever checked out, but it would only be so much sound and fury, signifying nothing. There isn't enough manpower to keep tabs on what all the Moose Limbs are reading, let alone Gramma Doris from Peoria.

3/18/2007 09:08:00 AM  
Blogger xstrange said...

Overall, I agree with you that the "Big Brother" scenario isn't likely to happen now or soon, for the reasons you suggest. Right now, building a massive database requires a lot of work, and the government doesn't have the interest or the manpower to do it.
But my point is that, in a few decades, the technology for capturing and storing data may become so cheap and common, that it may not require any real effort to record everything that happens around you on a continuous basis. Everyone from government agents to business owners to homeowners to teenagers to children may be continuously recording everything around them. Look at what teenagers today are doing with YouTube, and imagine what they would do with a handheld device that could store a days' worth of video, and a home computer that could store 20 years of video.
Imagine wearing a micropod device which records everything you see, hear and say, all day. You're not wearing it because Big Brother is making you wear it, nor does Big Brother have access to its data. You're wearing it because it cost $50 at Radio Shack, and it's handy to be able to check back on things at the end of the day. And if someone you talked to later contradicted what they said earlier, you could play it back to them. But they also have one, and could show the scene from their viewpoint, literally.
I'm not judging whether this is good or bad; I'm saying that the technology is on the way, and as it spreads it could profoundly change human behavior. And the transition is bound to have its ugliness. The Church of the Anti-Microchip will preach of the evils of recording your fellow man. The Privacy Foundation will advocate leaving history alone! After some turmoil, we'll get used to it, and our world will have changed. Just like after trains and the internet.

3/18/2007 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger Mannning said...

Death, as several commenters have stated, will happen. Many of the very annoying people of this age will be long gone, to be replaced, of course, by other very annoying people that will "stand on the shoulders of past annoyers."
No win there.

Taxes will be levied, perhaps at a much greater percentage than now if the Dems have their way.

Neither Social Security, Medicare, nor the Medical system will be fixed until almost too late, and patchwork cures will make it hard for some to get the attention they need. The reason for this failure will be the financial recession of the first half of the new century.

Islam will make it very hard indeed for us to keep from having a citizen's revolt to prevent Muslims from gaining power somewhere around mid-century.

Illegal immigrants will still flood into the country as fiscal matters in Mexico and elsewhere go downhill, thus making our problems even worse.

At some point in this process, a major segment of the population is going to say "Enough!" and begin to organize to stop whatever they can of the whole mess.

The political peanuts and the left wing will not have the gumption to make any real stabs at the problems we will become embroiled in, which will leave it all up to Mr. Average Citizen to act.

First, he will act by voting into office those who they think will work in the people's behalf, and when that does not work...well, people can be very irrational after they become fully aware, afraid, and frustrated.

Before all of this gets too far out of hand, however, the President will take a stronger role in restoring our nation, and will lead Congress into reforms that go a long way towards solving the most important problems we face.

The Golden Years of the US will be in the latter half of the 21st century, as technologies help us out of our financial woes and into prosperity once more.

We will then be in a position to help the rest of the world cope with such things as water shortages, oil dependence, food production, decent and sanitary living conditions, solid education, and meaningful jobs.

I am certain that I will not like the first half, or even the first quarter!

3/18/2007 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger Whitehall said...

The 20th Century history was of too much excess energy, too quickly and easily obtained.

The 21st Century will be about coping with energy more difficult to extract and utilize.

Before the the 19th Century, history was largely about control of land and its energy product, agricultural surpluses. The 19th was about learning to use coal to make power rather than just heat. The 20th Century got oil and gas in a big way and it burst into flames. Remember that the best way to slow Hitler's war machine was to bomb the oil fields and refineries.

The current century will indeed see peak oil and gas production and probably sooner rather than later. The second tier energy sources are coal (again) and uranium. Neither offers the spectacular net energy of East Texas or Ghawar.

I see China topping out in the near future. Without oil, their transport system will be lower the whole economy's productivity. The US has the most energy-productive economy in the world, in large part due to our excellent transport system based on the auto.

The world will be a safer place (I hope) with wars focused on scaubles over resources - no one will have the energy to attempt world domination again.

3/18/2007 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger Aase's death said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/18/2007 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger Aase's death said...

There always has been and always will be the divide between the gingham dogs and
calico cats
of life-- just who is which changes with time and circumstance. But why even bother identifying them this century, when, thanks to bio-engineering and quirky tastes and tech applications, there’ll be fabricated species of all types soon enough.

In a few years, I’ll be ordering pima cotton grandchildren with pretty grosgrain hair.

3/18/2007 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger The Wobbly Guy said...

My take?

The war of -isms going on since the end of the middle ages will continue unabated, but will likely reach its apex about 2050, after which religious fanaticism in all its forms will be neutered and rendered largely irrelevant for a time. Liberal capitalist democracy will be a tired victor, and the patterns will probably lead to a resurgence in secular socialism at the end of the century.

3/18/2007 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger Larry said...


I don't predict a utopia, just changes that are larger and stranger than we can now imagine.

Together they might eliminate the need for individuals to defend and nourish freedom, but I doubt it.

Curious why you chose Yunis as your foil. I regard him and Berners-Lee as the Johnny Appleseeds of the age, creating orchards of modernity in the vast wilderness.

3/19/2007 06:30:00 AM  
Blogger Kierkegaard said...

If history is any guide, the next few decades of the new century will feature death camps for bloggers.

3/20/2007 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger RonWF said...

Philip Pullman, author -- The struggle will continue to be what it has always been: wisdom against stupidity.

Spot on for my money.

3/20/2007 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger John Hawkins said...

The point about 1907 not recognizing the looming world wars made me think. The 20th Century saw the fall of Titled Nobility from power, since, through vanity, hubris, and decadance, they utterly failed to preserve the societies they led from disaster.

Sitting here in 2007, I wonder how comfortable the academics, lawyers and professional politicians/ministers (like the EU folks quoted above) who took their places should feel?

3/20/2007 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

We discover intelligent life somewhere is deep space.

It changes everything.

3/22/2007 01:41:00 PM  

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