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A magazine of forecasts, trends, and ideas about the future
January-February 2010


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2020 Visionaries

Andrew Hessel / Robert Freitas / Janna Anderson / Mark Bauerlein

Don’t be alarmed, but the next 10 years could be the most significant in the history of the human race. The unsolved problems of the last century have grown in size and urgency. Issues such as climate change, governmental fiscal imbalances, the demographic shift to older populations, depleting resources, and increasing technological complexity could cause major disruptions in the next decade as our species arrives at what futurist William Halal calls a “crisis of maturity.”

Some of the questions we will have to address in the next decade include:

  • How do we deliver inexpensive and reliable health care to a rapidly aging population?

  • How does a civilization maintain economic growth and prosperity in the wake of overdevelopment, misuse of wealth, and profligate exploitation of resources?

  • Will the Internet bring democracy and freedom to the people of the world who live under authoritarian rule? Or will nondemocratic regimes appropriate the power of information technology to spy on their own citizens?

  • What’s the best method for educating our children for an ever-more competitive and demanding economic environment?

In a series of essays to run in this magazine throughout 2010, we hope to bring you some answers. We will ask 20 individuals, each with a unique vision and a unique voice, to share with you their hopes, fears, and ideas for the next 10 years and beyond. Some of these voices offer a new approach to the problems that we’re facing today. Other voices highlight an issue or dilemma that will grow as a major concern. All of these individuals offer solutions, and all are highly independent.

Why is independence important? Look closely and you’ll see signs that a global shift is occurring. Technological breakthroughs and globalization are imbuing ordinary people with new powers, from the street activist in Beijing organizing a flash demonstration on his phone to the entrepreneur in Kenya who’s just made a biofuel breakthrough.

History has seen the transfer of power from mobs to empires and from empires to states and corporations. This most-recent transmission of control, from giant institutions to small groups and citizens, could be our last if we fail to wield power properly.

We have the opportunity to redefine “progress” for a new era. Technology and globalization are presenting us with opportunities to build entirely new futures from the ground up.

In this first series of essays, we tackle health and education. Andrew Hessel showcases his vision for open-source drug manufacturing and noted nanoscientist Robert Freitas details the medical future of nanorobotics. Then two teachers — Janna Anderson and Mark Bauerlein — present two distinct visions for education in the twenty-first century.

Let the visioning commence. — Patrick Tucker


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