2010 State of the Future
by Jerome C. Glenn. The Millennium Project. 2010. 90 pages plus CD-ROM. $49.95
Human society could grow vastly healthier, more peaceful, and more prosperous later this century, or it could be devastated by ecological damage and domestic strife, according to the 2010 State of the Future, by Jerome Glenn, Theodore Gordon, and Elizabeth Florescu, scholars of the futures-studies think tank Millennium Project. The report calls for decision makers to become more collaborative and responsive to change.
“The world has the resources to address its challenges. What is not clear is whether the world will make good decisions on the scale necessary to really address the global challenges,” says the report.
Like the other annual State of the Future reports that preceded it, this year’s edition combines input from experts across the globe to measure the world’s progress on benchmarks of human health, political freedom, safety, conflict resolution, education, and environmental welfare.
On the plus side, the 2010 report notes clear signs of recovery in most economies from the 2008 recession. In addition, the explosive growth of the Internet and mobile-phone-based Web technology is a boon for intercontinental communication and cultural exchange.
Many other quality-of-life factors are trending positive: Poverty rates are falling in most parts of the world; wars are fewer in number; and literacy rates, women’s representation in government legislatures, and life expectancies are all on the rise.
The report cites other trends that are cause for alarm, however. For example, climate change is occurring more rapidly and more dramatically than anticipated. Also, as the information economy grows, so do the volumes of electronic waste discarded into the environment. Moreover, communities on every continent suffer unacceptably high rates of organized crime activity, violent crime, and violence against women.
Fostering the positive trends while minimizing or reversing the harmful ones will require “trans-institutional decision-making” processes that bring together as much expert opinion as possible in minimal time, according to the report. Global, national, and local systems must work together to anticipate disruption and navigate challenges.
“There are many answers to many problems, but we are flooded with so much extraneous information every day that it is difficult to identify and concentrate on what is truly relevant,” says the report.
Technology may be a valuable bridge. The report describes South Korea’s Climate Change Situation Room, which receives insights and research data from climatologists worldwide into a central information system. Situation Room staff researchers analyze the entered data, tag it, annotate it, and link it. The end result is a synthesis of expert advice on best responses to the changing climate.
The Early Warning System with SOFI Capability, in use by the Prime Minister of Kuwait, is another promising system. It uses the Millennium Project’s own Real-Time Delphi software to continuously survey experts inside Kuwait and across the globe on the variables that they deem most critical to ensuring a better future for Kuwait.
The Real-Time Delphi program even combines all the factors to calculate an overall score for Kuwait’s future prospects. This score allows the prime minister to gauge how making changes to one variable might affect other variables and sway the overall score.
“These are systems that facilitate the interaction and feedback among human judgments, information, and software so that each can change in real time,” says the report in reference to the South Korean and Kuwaiti systems.
The report further details the Millennium Project’s own compilations of global research in a survey of the future research activities of the Millennium Project’s nodes. It also has several new studies not seen in the 2009 edition. These include a series of developments likely to significantly impact Latin America before 2030. Also, the report contains an international review of the concept of creating a Partnership for Sustainable Development.
The 2010 State of the Future presents descriptions of both formidable challenges and exciting new technology-enhanced foresight systems that could help world leaders meet them. The report makes a compelling case for international cooperation and then displays fascinating, successful test cases in how such cooperation can work. World leaders, policy makers, and private citizens of all walks of life would find the report both impressive and enlightening.