Each year since 1985, the editors of THE FUTURIST have selected the most thought-provoking ideas and forecasts appearing in the magazine to go into our annual Outlook report. Over the years, Outlook has spotlighted the emergence of such epochal developments as the Internet, virtual reality, and the end of the Cold War.

UPDATED 1/1/2009

NEW FORECASTS AVAILABLE



Here are the editors' top 10 forecasts from last year's
Outlook 2008:

1. The world will have a billion millionaires by 2025. Globalization and technological innovation are driving this increased prosperity. But challenges to prosperity will also become more acute, such as water shortages that will affect two-thirds of world population by 2025. --James Canton, author of "The Extreme Future," reviewed in THE FUTURIST May-June 2007, p. 54

2. Fashion will go wired as technologies and tastes converge to revolutionize the textile industry. Researchers in smart fabrics and intelligent textiles (SFIT) are working with the fashion industry to bring us color-changing or perfume-emitting jeans, wristwatches that work as digital wallets, and running shoes like the Nike +iPod that watch where you're going (possibly allowing others to do the same). Powering these gizmos remains a key obstacle. But industry watchers estimate that a $400 million market for SFIT is already in place and predict that smart fabrics could revitalize the U.S. and European textile industry.  --Patrick Tucker, "Smart Fashion," Sep-Oct 2007, p. 68

3. The threat of another cold war with China, Russia, or both could replace terrorism as the chief foreign-policy concern of the United States. Scenarios for what a war with China or Russia would look like make the clashes and wars in which the United States is now involved seem insignificant. The power of radical jihadists is trivial compared with Soviet missile capabilities, for instance. The focus of U.S. foreign policy should thus be on preventing an engagement among Great Powers. --Edward N. Luttwak, "Preserving Balance among the Great Powers," Nov-Dec 2006, p. 26

4. Counterfeiting of currency will proliferate, driving the move toward a cashless society. Sophisticated new optical scanning technologies could, in the next five years, be a boon for currency counterfeiters, so societies are increasingly putting aside their privacy fears about going cashless. Meanwhile, cashless technologies are improving, making them far easier and safer to use. --Allen H. Kupetz, "Our Cashless Future," May-June 2007, p. 37

5. The earth is on the verge of a significant extinction event. The twenty-first century could witness a biodiversity collapse 100 to 1,000 times greater than any previous extinction since the dawn of humanity, according to the World Resources Institute. Protecting biodiversity in a time of increased resource consumption, overpopulation, and environmental degradation will require continued sacrifice on the part of local, often impoverished communities. Experts contend that incorporating local communities' economic interests into conservation plans will be essential to species protection in the next century. --World Trends & Forecasts, Nov-Dec 2006, p. 6

6. Water will be in the twenty-first century what oil was in the twentieth century. Global fresh water shortages and drought conditions are spreading in both the developed and developing world. In response, the dry state of California is building 13 desalination plants that could provide 10%-20% of the state's water in the next two decades. Desalination will become more mainstream by 2020. --William E. Halal, "Technology's Promise: Highlights from the TechCast Project," Nov-Dec, p. 44

7. World population by 2050 may grow larger than previously expected, due in part to healthier, longer-living people. Slower than expected declines of fertility in developing countries and increasing longevity in richer countries are contributing to a higher rate of population growth. As a result, the UN has increased its forecast for global population from 9.1 billion people by 2050 to 9.2 billion. --World Trends & Forecasts, Sep-Oct 2007, p. 10

8. The number of Africans imperiled by floods will grow 70-fold by 2080. The rapid urbanization taking place throughout much of Africa makes flooding particularly dangerous, altering the natural flow of water and cutting off escape routes. If global sea levels rise by the predicted 38 cm by 2080, the number of Africans affected by floods will grow from 1 million to 70 million. --World Trends & Forecasts, July-Aug 2007, p. 7

9. Rising prices for natural resources could lead to a full-scale rush to develop the Arctic. Not just oil and natural gas, but also the Arctic's supplies of nickel, copper, zinc, coal, freshwater, forests, and of course fish are highly coveted by the global economy. Whether the Arctic states tighten control over these commodities or find equitable and sustainable ways to share them will be a major political challenge in the decades ahead. --Lawson W. Brigham, "Thinking about the Arctic's Future: Scenarios for 2040," Sep-Oct 2007, p. 27

10. More decisions will be made by nonhuman entities. Electronically enabled teams in networks, robots with artificial intelligence, and other noncarbon life-forms will make financial, health, educational, and even political decisions for us. Reason: Technologies are increasing the complexity of our lives and human workers' competency is not keeping pace well enough to avoid disasters due to human error. --Arnold Brown, "'Not with a Bang': Civilization's Accelerating Challenge," Sep-Oct 2007, p. 38

All of these forecasts plus dozens more were included in the report that scanned the best writing and research from THE FUTURIST magazine over the course of the previous year. The Society hopes this report, covering developments in business and economics, demography, energy, the environment, health and medicine, resources, society and values, and technology, will assist its readers in preparing for the challenges and opportunities in 2008 and beyond.

The Outlook 2008 report was released as part of the November-December 2007 issue of THE FUTURIST magazine. An individual report can be obtained from the World Future Society for $5 in both print and online PDF format. Information on subscriptions can be obtained from the World Future Society, publisher of THE FUTURIST.