The Futurist Magazine's Top Ten Forecasts for 2014 and Beyond
Every year, the editors of the Futurist magazine identify the most provocative forecasts and statements about the future that we’ve published recently and we put them to into an annual report called "Outlook." And every year, we attempt to identify the ten forecasts from that report that paint the most compelling picture of the future as it exists right now. As I recently wrote for Slate, none of these forecasts are meant to be taken as absolute. They represent trends that are of wide relevance and futures that are becoming more likely, (without being perfectly likely.) In presenting these forecasts to you, our goal is only to provide a sense of how the future is shaping up right now. But the future, as I often say, is not a destination. It's the outcome of the decisions that we make today. With no further ado, here are the top ten forecasts for 2014 and beyond.
1. Thanks to big data, the environment around you will anticipate your every move.
The forecast: “Computerized sensing and broadcasting abilities are being incorporated into our physical environment, creating what is sometimes called an ‘Internet of things.’ Data flowing from sensor networks, RFID tags, surveillance cameras, unmanned aerial vehicles, and geo-tagged social-media posts will telegraph where we’ve been and where we are going. In the future, these data streams will be integrated into services, platforms, and programs that will provide a window into the lives, and futures, of billions of people.”
2. We will revive recently extinct species.
The forecast: The passenger pigeon, for example, may be brought back after 100 years. In our September–October issue, geneticist Ben Novak describes a strategy for “de-extincting” the passenger pigeon, which died out in 1914.
The project, dubbed the Great Comeback, involves five research phases:
- Sequencing and analyzing pigeon genomes to understand passenger pigeon biology.
- Producing cells that could be used to engineer a living passenger pigeon.
- Creating the genome from synthesized passenger pigeon DNA.
- Using altered cells to create breeding chimeras (combinations of rock and passenger pigeons) that would ultimately create pure passenger pigeons.
- Reintroducing new passenger pigeons back into the wild.
From “The Great Comeback: Bringing a Species Back from Extinction” by Ben J. Novak, September–October 2013.
3. By 2020 populations will shrink, and wealth will shrink with them.
The forecast: “By 2020, half of the human race will live in countries where the birthrates have fallen below the death rates, and consequently, populations are shrinking. The cause is the combination of older adults living longer and fewer children being born. The countries will grapple with shrinking tax bases and workforces despite widening pools of retirees demanding social-security and health-care payouts. Society will survive, but GDPs will fall markedly throughout the world and probably never fully rise back up."
4. Doctors will see brain diseases many years before they arise.
The forecast: “Brain scans can warn doctors if a patient will suffer Alzheimer’s, dementia, Lou Gehrig’s, or a number of other brain disorders as many as 10–15 years ahead of physical symptoms. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are learning to identify distinct chemical biomarkers within patients’ body and brain functions. Doctors could then slow the progression of the diseases if they start administering treatments years earlier.”
5. Buying and owning things will go out of style.
The forecast: “The markets for housing, automobiles, music, books, and many other products show a common trend: Younger consumers opting to rent or subscribe to pay-per-use arrangements instead of buying and owning the physical products. Shared facilities will overtake established offices, renting units will become more common than owning a home, and sales of books and music might never become popular again.” From “Consumption 2.0,” by Hugo Garcia, January–February, 2013.
6. Quantum computing could lead the way to true artificial intelligence.
The forecast: “Conventional computers cannot make decisions, as humans do, but quantum computers eventually might, says Geordie Rose, creator of the D-Wave One quantum computer. They use programs based on quantum mechanics to see multiple possible outcomes to any given problem and combine information from each to formulate solutions. With another 10 to 15 years of enhancement, they might cross the threshold to truemachine consciousness, Rose predicts.”
7. Phytoplankton death will further disrupt aquatic ecosystems.
The forecast: “The tiny marine plants are sensitive to temperature changes, so global warming poses a major threat to their populations. A Michigan State University study projects that up to 40% of the world’s phytoplankton will die out by this century’s end.”
8. The future of science is in the hands of crowdsourcing amateurs.
The forecast: So-called “citizen science,” which uses networks of volunteers in scientific research, is on its way to becoming the favored twenty-first-century model for conducting large-scale scientific research. Some of the organizations involved in citizen science include the Cornell University Ornithology Lab, the United States Rocket Academy, and NASA, among many others.
9. Fusion-fueled rockets could significantly reduce the potential time and cost of sending humans to Mars.
The forecast: “Space exploration is limited to how much fuel our vehicles can bring with them and fuel weighs too much to get us very far. That may soon change. A University of Washington team has devised a type of plasma encased in its own magnetic field. The magnetic field causes metal rings around the plasma to implode and converge to create a shell that ignites the fusion reaction.”
10. Atomically precise manufacturing will make machinery, infrastructure, and other systems more productive and less expensive.
The forecast: What the term “nanotechnology” really refers to, according to K. Eric Drexler—the father of the concept—is atom-by-atom production, which will allow for extraordinary improvements in manufacturing all things. One major benefit could be far cleaner energy, such as liquid hydrocarbon fuels produced using hydrogen from water and carbon from recycled CO2.
Futurist magazine editors Cynthia Wagner, Rick Docksai, and Keturah Hetrick contributed to this piece.
Patrick Tucker is the deputy editor of the Futurist magazine. His first book, The Naked Future, will be released from Current in 2014.
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