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. The forecasts are meant as conversation starters, not absolute predictions about the future.

All of these forecasts plus dozens more are included in the annual report that scans 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 ahead. Below, we present Outlook 2000, originally published in the December 1999 issue of THE FUTURIST, at the request of To The Best Of Our Knowledge.


Future farmers may grow vaccines, as well as food. "Molecular farmers" will use genetic engineering to create plants that yield vaccines, chemicals, and biodegradable plastics. The vaccines from plants will help prevent disease at lower costs. One example is a vaccine used to protect livestock from "shipping fever," a disease that costs Canadian ranchers nearly $1 billion annually. -Jan 1999, p. 10

The world's meat consumption will more than double by 2050. Meat production has increased almost twice as fast as population. One of the first things people do when income levels rise is add more beef, pork, and poultry to their diets. -Brown, Gardner, and Halweil, Feb 1999, p. 37

A pet-food crisis may be on the horizon. While human population is expected to level off by 2035, easing some of the growing pressures on agricultural resources, pet populations will continue to explode worldwide. Brazil is already building new pet-food factories to feed an expected 400% increase in dogs, cats, horses, birds, and other companion animals. --Oct 1999, p. 2

From bread basket to shopping basket: Americans are consuming more and more imported foods, turning countries such as the Philippines, Peru, India, Vietnam, and Turkey into major new food exporters. Americans are also investing in foreign agriculture: China has attracted $10 billion in foreign capital to its farm sector, paying for nearly 4,000 agricultural development projects. -Blank, Apr 1999, p. 26

As farmland shrinks and populations expand, meeting future demands for food will require more-productive use of land. The only way to do that without destroying the planet is to bioengineer better foods, says the CEO of Monsanto. -Shapiro, Apr 1999, p. 28

Family farms may soon disappear from the U.S. landscape: Factory farms are driving them out, and consumers are buying cheaper products from overseas. Farmers are (reluctantly) selling out now, turning their land over to more-lucrative uses. -Blank, Apr 1999, p. 22

Super-healthful vegetables will give you more nutrition in fewer portions. Researchers have developed a new maroon carrot with twice as much betacarotene as a normal carrot and an orange cucumber that contains as much vitamin A as a cantaloupe. -Dec 1998, p. 2

Better eating through dynamite? Food technology is a booming business. One food-processing company is using shock waves from dynamite explosions to tenderize meat. And juice makers are sending electric pulses through fruits and vegetables to rupture cell membranes, allowing more liquids, flavors, and vitamins to be released. -Apr 1999, p. 8


Look for "social audits" along with financial audits. Corporations will increasingly transform their activities to reflect their customers' social consciousness. Instituting cleaner production processes or reducing waste, for instance, will benefit the bottom line not just because it staves off customer boycotts, but because these "green" principles save money and allow companies to leverage their "good guy" reputations. -Daviss, Mar 1999, p. 28

Manufacturing firms may remake themselves into service-providing firms-providing clean clothes instead of selling washing machines, for example-in order to reduce costs and operate in a more environmentally friendly way. Service firms are responsible for all the materials and products they use, and thus have a strong incentive to make products that last and can be easily repaired, upgraded, reused, or recycled. - Gardner and Sampat, May 1999, p. 24

The future of business lies not in selling products but in selling dreams and emotions. Many "emotional markets," such as the market for Adventure or Peace of Mind, already exist. -Aug-Sep 1999, p. 9

Competition will grow increasingly ruthless in the twenty-first century. Reasons: More-sophisticated and less-loyal consumers have more access to information about competing products and services, including those available around the world. -Brown, Nov 1999, p. 26

Fueling the Future

Don't bet on alternative fuels anytime soon, says Thomas Hogarty, an economist specializing in energy.

New additives such as oxygenates are making gasoline bum more cleanly and efficiently, and new computer-aided technologies are helping oil companies get more out of existing oil and gas fields. The result: Gasoline will still be the fuel of choice for at least another 50 years. (Mar 1999, p. 51)

But don't bet on gasoline lasting that long, rebuts geologist L.F. Ivanhoe.

Demand is growing along with world population and economic development rates, while the planet's supply of petroleum is not only finite, but diminishing rapidly. Global oil demand will begin to exceed world production in about 2010. (Mar 1999, p. 54)


The top 10 candidates for "supercity" status for the twenty-first century are Bangalore, India; Wuhan and Shanghai in China; Istanbul; Bangkok; Cancun-Tulum, Mexico; Madrid; Vancouver; and Denver and Atlanta in the United States. The top requirements for cities hoping to attain "supercity" status include an international airport, reliable suburban and exurban connections, a technology center, efficient public transportation, a sophisticated waste-disposal system, and a "green" infrastructure of parks and urban forests.-Conway, June-July 1999, p. 28

Small towns are seeing booming population growth while megacities are growing only sluggishly. The fastest-growing cities in the United States have populations of just 10,000 to 50,000. Tiny Mesquite, Nevada, grew from 1,871 in 1990 to 10,125 in 1998-that's 441%. Meanwhile, New York City grew by just 1.3%. -Oct 1999, p. 2

Crime is on the decline in some cities that are involving citizens in crime-prevention programs, such as aggressive citizen patrols, volunteer mentors, and training gang members in disputeresolution techniques. Six U.S. cities-Boston, Fort Worth, Denver, New York, Hartford, and San Diego-saw their levels of crimes reported cut by up to 47% between 1986 and 1996. -Oct 1999, p. 18

Urban redevelopment is becoming more democratic. In the past, downtown revitalization schemes were imposed on communities without their consent, leaving them with big sports complexes but little community enhancement. The urban-husbandry approach consults with neighborhoods on specific needs and involves residents in planning and monitoring small-scale projects. -Mar 1999, p. 10


As many as 90% of the world's languages could become moribund or extinct by 2100, according to Michael Krauss, director of the Alaska Native Language Center. -Ostler, Aug-Sep 1999, p. 16

Reading and writing may soon be pass--and that's a good thing, according to marketing consultant Geoffrey Meredith. Text is outmoded: A total switch to image and/or oral forms of communication will be more in line with the right-brained, intuitive thinking skills necessary for a true Knowledge Age.-Meredith, Oct 1999, p. 27

Hearing-impaired people and normal-hearing individuals will soon be able to communicate with each other more easily, thanks to a device that converts sign language into speech and vice versa. A system under development in Japan translates voice messages into signs that are represented as animated characters on a video screen. -Dec 1998, p. 9

Who needs wire? The growing popularity of cell phones, pagers, and other wireless communication systems means more people are letting their plain old telephones collect dust. To compete, local wireline phone companies will aggressively offer more services, such as high-speed Internet access. -Apr 1999, p. 59

The number of telecommuters will rise above 100 million in about 2015, and this increase will distribute worldwide wealth more rapidly, reduce global pollution, and transfer real estate values. -Pelton, Aug-Sep 1999, p. 25


Public schools will lose influence to private educational efforts as venture capitalists move into the lucrative education market. Professional educators may quit the public system and go into business for themselves.-Buchen, May 1999, p. 38

More teachers will be hiring themselves out to businesses. Private companies hoping to grow a more-skilled local work force are training teachers to train students in technical skills. As competition for teachers grows, look for annual salaries of $100,000 or more, says John Challenger. -Mar 1999, p. 2

The number of jobs requiring science and engineering expertise will grow three times faster than other occupations between 1994 and 2005, but schools are not keeping up with the demands of an increasingly tech-driven economy. More money per pupil is now being spent in the United States, yet math and reading skills remain stagnant. -Apr 1999, p. 20

Prospects for the undereducated poor in the United States are grim. Despite the growing prosperity nationwide, noncollege youth are losing ground. Partly to blame is a school system that is not adequately preparing youths for the high-tech jobs that the economic boom has been based on. -Apr 1999, p. 14

Lauded as the key to fast information and knowledge, the Internet could actually decrease our thinking skills. Having access to more information does not necessarily give students the criticalthinking skills to evaluate that information, and future generations may be more easily led astray. -Sawyer, Feb 1999, p. 45

Within two decades, look for electronic tutors with encyclopedic knowledge of dozens of subjects and the ability to download instructional information and interactive assignments in dozens of languages, at a cost of one penny per course. -Pelton, Aug-Sep 1999, p. 26

Pressures on schools will be especially severe in developing regions such as Africa and the Middle East, where the population of children will increase an average of 93% over the next 50 years. And in more-developed countries, education systems will be expected to help support a growing emphasis on lifelong education. -Brown, Gardner, and Halweil, Feb 1999, p. 39


Biotechnology may help save endangered species of animals, such as pronghorn antelope and wild turkeys. By keeping the gene pool more diverse in small populations, scientists can help rare animals avoid the problem of inbreeding, which reduces their chances for survival if a new disease emerges. -Apr 1999, p. 7

Global population grew by 132% in the last 50 years while the area of land growing grain has only increased 19%. By 2050, per capita grain area in the world's fastest-growing large countries-Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Iran-will shrink to less than a quarter of the grain area in 1950. -Brown, Gardner, and Halweil, Feb 1999, p. 36

Bioinvaders-exotic species inadvertently transported to new ecosystems--may do long-term ecological damage. Like weeds, they spread through their new environment and displace local species. Bioinvaders are blamed in some 68% of fish extinctions in the United States in the past century. -Mar 1999, p. 6

A "toilet gap" is growing between those who have access to decent sanitation and those who do not-about half the world's people. Poor sanitation increases the risk of diseases. Adequate toilets need not be economically prohibitive: Composting toilets cost a fraction as much as flush toilets and sewer systems. -Dec 1998, p. 16

Paperless offices? Not yet! Paper consumption will continue to rise in industrialized countries through 2010. While overall wood consumption will increase by 20%, paper consumption will grow by 49%. To help ease the burden on the world's forests, environmentalists recommend recycling paper and using more ecologically friendly substitutes for wood in manufacturing. -June-July 1999, p. 18

There will be a billion automobiles on the world's roads by 2050, but they will be far lighter, cheaper, and more fuel efficient than today's models. -Morrison and Tsipis, June-July 1999, p. 60

Most of the future growth in motor vehicle use will occur in developing countries. To help stem increases in pollution, countries such as Nicaragua and Honduras have begun phasing out leaded gasoline. Nevertheless, industrial pollution will continue to plague impoverished countries facing energy demands from growing populations. -Dec 1998, p. 11


Family cohesiveness is endangered by the accelerated pace of life made possible by information technologies, suggests Stephen Bertman, author of Hyperculture. Our faster-moving, experienceoriented society has made us less patient for longterm commitments to marriages and child rearing. -Bertman, Dec 1998, p. 21

No more empty-nest problem for the elderly: Growing numbers of older people around the world are becoming caregivers for a spouse, sibling, or other relatives. -Nov 1999, p. 13

More children are being raised by their grandparents. In 1997, 6% of U.S. children were living with a grandparent, up from 3% in 1970, eliciting calls for more governmental assistance to grandparent caregivers. -Mar 1999, p. 18


Look out, Republicans and Democrats: Young Independents are on the rise. Vers are the most likely generation to be registered as political Independents (45%). Traditional terms such as "liberal" and "conservative" are becoming less meaningful to these individualists, who may be conservative on economic matters but liberal on social issues. -Mar 1999, p. 16

More people are taking the law into their own hands-creating new rules to govern previously unregulated situations like Internet use and gated communities. Private communities with homeowner associations claim to do a better job than governments do in providing security, collecting garbage, and performing other services. And successful use of the Internet has grown dependent on shared systems of values and protocol, demonstrating "government by the people" in action. -May 1999, p. 12

Population is growing so rapidly in dozens of countries that governments are becoming less able to provide basic services such as education, let alone respond to new threats like epidemics, food shortages, and water scarcity. "Demographic fatigue" could be alleviated through more familyplanning programs and improving the social and economic standing of women, according to the Worldwatch Institute. -Oct 1999, p. 15


Most major types of disease will be virtually eliminated by 2050, thanks to a combination of improved diet, lifestyle and environmental factors, and advances in gene therapy and drugs. Healthcare costs will fall, as expensive procedures such as surgery will be restricted to treating accidents and traumas. -Schwartz, Ian 1999, p. 51

By 2010, your DNA profile will be part of a complete electronic medical record tracking your susceptibility to heart disease, cancer, and other conditions. Your wristwatch-type biomonitoring device will provide accurate, ongoing readouts of your health status that can be downloaded into an inhome expert system for diagnosis. -Bezold, Apr 1999, p. 30

Plummeting sperm counts in the United States and Europe may result in widespread infertility and falling birthrates in the twenty-first century. Sperm counts in these regions have dropped by more than 50% since the late 1930s, perhaps due to the rise of hormone-mimicking chemicals in the environment that disrupt normal sperm development.-Nov 1999, p. 14

Doc-on-a-chip: A bioprocessor chip with microscopic electrodes may soon be able to diagnose deadly infections such as meningitis or tuberculosis within minutes. The small, credit-card-sized device will analyze samples of blood, urine, stool, or water to identify bacteria. -May 1999, p. 11

"Superbugs" resistant to antibiotics could soon become a global crisis, due to the overuse or misuse of antibiotics. Bacteria can develop chemicals that degrade a drug's potency, and resistance spreads rapidly in interconnected ecosystems, where bits of DNA travel among different species of bacteria. -Feb 1999, p. 9

A growing trend toward "behavioral medicine" means physicians will increasingly prescribe "responsible pleasures" such as artistry, sexuality, and satisfying work. -Lippin, June-July 1999, p. 34

AIDS has lowered life expectancy by 20 years in southern Africa. Almost one-third of the adult population will be lost in the next decade in Mozambique, Namibia, and Botswana, where the loss of skilled workers is expected to reduce productivity and raise labor costs. -May 1992, p.2

Genetic research may enhance your mood. New drugs could result from research investigating the combinations of genes working together to cause mental illnesses such as manic depression. -May 1999, p. 11

One unintended consequence of growing immigration may be new, imported epidemics. Tuberculosis is already making a comeback in the United States, and some officials believe contagious migrants traveling throughout the country may be partly to blame. -June-July 1999, p. 12

Future surgeons will use silicon scalpels that are 10 times as sharp as conventional instruments. The hightech scalpels will also contain built-in sensors and monitors giving the surgeon instant feedback on whether tissue is diseased or healthy. -Aug-Sep 1999, p. 2

If needles frighten you, relax: Medicines could soon be delivered from a tiny array of hundreds of microscopic needles rather than through a single hypodermic. You could even do it yourself, simply sticking the microneedle array onto your skin. -Dec 1998, p. 9


Identity fraud is on the rise. The Internet and computerized database services have given criminals new opportunities to steal your personal information-Social Security number, date of birth, mother's maiden name, etc.-in order to establish credit, run up debt, file false tax returns, and commit other crimes, ruining your credit history. -Feb 1999, p. 15

The Internet will open more job opportunities for the deaf. E-mail has already essentially replaced the TTY teletype communications device, making workplace communication with hearing people far simpler-and more equal. -Mar 1999, p. 2

The Internet is changing the very nature of business. For instance, newspapers, once a mass medium, are becoming interactive, allowing individuals to customize their own news package. Newspapers will serve both readers who still want ink and the growing numbers who want links. -Mar 1999, p. 12

The rise of the information-based service economy is good news for Mexico, with its proximity to the strong U.S. economy, according to policy analyst Michael Mazarr. By attracting U.S. investment, Mexico could grow its economy, and Mexicans may become less inclined to emigrate, legally or illegally. -Mazarr, Oct 1999, p. 24


Artists, musicians, and other creative people will increasingly collaborate with computer software programs. Cybernetic music-creation systems, for instance, will allow nonmusicians to compose original music from their own brain waves. -Kurzweil, Nov 1999, p. 17

The future of sports is extreme. The fastest-growing sales of sporting equipment are climbing machines, in-line skates, mountain bikes, snowboards, and other adrenaline-pumping equipment. -Dec 1998, p. 2

Exercise could increasingly be used for mindbuilding as well as a body-building regimen. Researchers have found that exercise can help alleviate mental problems such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and perhaps even chemical dependence and schizophrenia. -Nov 1999, p. 37

No more company picnics? Businesses may increasingly abandon social activities such as company picnics and office parties as American society becomes more and more litigious. Office parties are sources of sexual harassment suits, and employers can be held responsible for workers' alcohol-related misdeeds at company-sponsored functions. -June-July 1999, p. 21

As electronic commerce steals more shoppers away from traditional stores, malls will increasingly offer nonstop entertainment to lure people back into "real world" venues. A new mall in England features cruise-ship decor, a 20-screen cinema, a bowling alley, and computer game arcades. -Johnson, Nov 1999, p. 60


People alive today will be among the first generation of humans who simply need not die, claims Ben Bova, former editor of Omni. New tools and techniques to reverse aging are on the way, such as eliminating malfunctioning genes, selectively killing cancer cells, and even regenerating entire limbs, organs, nerve fibers, and brain tissue. -Dec 1998, p. 50

The number of centenarians worldwide will increase 16-fold by 2050, reaching 2.2 million persons, up from 135,000 currently. Women will far outnumber men in that age group, but men who survive into their 100s-avoiding Alzheimer's disease in their 80s and 90s-will retain sharper mental fitness, researchers predict. -Wagner, May 1999, p. 16

Despite living longer, Americans are retiring earlier than ever. The average age at which workers start receiving Social Security has dropped from 68.7 years old in 1940 to 63.6 in 1995.-Feb 1999, p. 11

A population boom of seniors is now under way The U.S. population as a whole grew by about 45% from 1960 to 1995, while the segment over age 85 grew by almost 300%. -Schwartz, Jan 1999, p. 51

Parents' resources maybe diverted from their children to aging relatives, as people live longer and longer. There is likely to be a growing market for services used by the elderly-medical, home care, etc. In addition, products designed for disabled elderly people, such as drugs and prosthetics, should be in growing demand. -May 1999, p. 19

As the American population ages and some adults are obliged to take care of elderly parents as well as their own children, employers may offer more "elder care" facilities to complement child care. -June-July 1999, p. 10


Protestants are facing a great political division between Mainline liberals and evangelical conservatives. The evangelicals are gaining the upper hand by exploiting a wide variety of media such as television, rock music, and the Internet. But younger people are redefining religion in more individualistic ways, suggesting that the evangelical movement may not survive past Generation X. -Aug-Sep 1999, p. 12

Faith in the existence of God will remain unshaken among a majority of the world's people for the near future. Religious fundamentalism and adherence to traditional values is on the rise in Christianity, Muslim, and Judaism; in the United States, 96% of the population say they believe in God, up slightly from 50 years earlier. -Mellert, Oct 1999, p. 30

Is God an evolutionist? Darwin's theory of evolution suggests that all things constantly change: If God is immune to change, then He cannot intervene in human affairs, rendering Him impractical for people of faith seeking comfort or aid. Future believers may increasingly embrace a "relative" God who will continually grow and evolve. -Mellert, Oct 1999, p. 32


One billion people will be facing absolute water scarcity by 2025. Countries such as China and India will have to drastically reduce water use in agriculture to satisfy residential and industrial water needs. -Brown, Gardner, and Halweil, Feb 1999, p. 36

Tree plantations are a booming business, providing wood for industrial uses such as construction and paper.-Dec 1998, p. 11

In Mexico, microbe prospecting-discovering microorganisms with beneficial properties-may yield many important new drugs and industrial products. Mexico contains more than 14% of the world's plant species in its richly diverse habitatstropical jungles, deserts, volcanoes. -Apr 1999, p. 2


Robots will surpass human capabilities both mentally and physically by 2050, allowing humans to retire from work forever, predicts robotics expert Hans Moravec. Computer-robots already handle most manufacturing jobs as well as accounting, product design, and other "white collar" jobs. Next on robots' to-do list: research and development, engineering, executive decision making, and building better robots. -Feb 1999, p. 8

Autonomous submarines will explore the ocean depths, gathering vital information from places too dangerous for humans. During storms, the robotic subs could record surface data to be retrieved by researchers when the storm has passed. -Mar 1999, p. 8

Future robots will model themselves after successful biological forms such as trees and starfish. Robotic surgeons with multiple arms and trillions of fingers will be able to complete complicated medical procedures almost instantaneously. -Feb 1999, p. 9


The top five reasons for voyaging to Mars:

  • 1. We can increase our knowledge about Earth's and the solar system's origins by searching for clues to Mars's origins.
  • 2. We can increase our knowledge about Earth by studying patterns of environmental change on Mars.
  • 3. We can channel the human instinct for meeting challenges in ways that de-emphasize war and other destructive endeavors.
  • 4. We can motivate young people to study science and technology; even if they don't ultimately travel to Mars, the investment in their education will have great benefits on Earth.
  • 5. We can begin to create the next New World that will one day be home to yet unborn civilizations.

-The Mars Society declaration, Mar 1999, p. 60

Hospitals on space stations or the Moon could be attractive to wealthy patients suffering a variety of ills that might be relieved by very-low-gravity environ-ments. -Kistler, Jan 1999, p. 45


You may one day be fitted with microchip implants that will communicate with your environment. A miniature electronic device contained in a tiny capsule will be implanted in your forearm. It will then send messages to a computer that controls light and heat in intelligent buildings. Such implants could even replace credit cards, keys, passports, and other official documents. -Oct 1999, P. 9

Science-fiction author Frederik Pohl predicts that airports, traffic jams, computers, television sets, and hospitals will all disappear by 2150: Airports and overcrowded roads will give way to more-efficient forms of transport such as highspeed rail and personal rapid transit systems. TVs and computers will first converge, then gradually disappear into clothing and other ordinary objects. Hospitals will become obsolete as microsurgical techniques eliminate the need for long recovery times for patients. -Pohl, Feb 1999, p. 30

Messy desks will disappear as computing and communication technologies converge into clutterfree consoles. A console developed by British Telecom is making stockbroker dealing rooms and financial houses more efficient, eliminating overcrowded desks that impede trading activity.
-Feb 1999, p. 2

Diamonds will become future engineers' best friend, making airbags smarter, factories cleaner, computer screens thinner, and aircraft faster. Diamonds are tough, but they give up their electrons quickly, allowing engineers to create paper-thin TV and computer screens. Diamonds also make good semiconductors at high temperatures and pressures.-June-July 1999, p. 14

Glass bullets? Metallic "glass" may be the material of choice for future ammunition. The superstrong material is produced by heating a metal quickly to a liquid then cooling it too quickly for the atoms to return to their usual structure. The result is a material that retains its shape upon impact rather than flattening out like a mushroom, making it an ideal choice for projectiles. -Jan 1999, p. 12


Emotional skills will increasingly become as important as technical skills. People will be judged more on how well they handle themselves and other people-clients, customers, and colleagues. Unfortunately, children are not being taught such skills as self-control, conscientiousness, and optimism-a trend that bodes ill for the future workplace. -Mar 1999, p. 14

Too "creative" for an office job? Sorry, you're going to be in demand soon. Managers are increasingly seeking more-creative thinkers and nurturing innovation among workers. Employees who work more closely with customers are especially being encouraged to come up with cost-saving and customer-satisfying ideas. -Aug-Sep 1999, p. 2

The growth of electronic media and the emphasis on lifelong learning add up to tremendous opportunities for people who can combine the excitement of computer graphics and animation with educational content. This "edutainment" field will be open to everyone from the entrepreneurs who package and market the products to computer programmers, graphic artists, animators, and educators.-Moses, Aug-Sep 1999, p@ 34


Governments may consider stockpiling drugs for treating victims of chemical or biological attack.-Dec 1998, p. 15

Nuclear weapons may gradually be replaced by smarter conventional and electronic weapons. The newer weapons will combine great lethality with great precision: Miniature warheads could carry explosives that are five times more powerful than today's explosives, but their precision would produce fewer casualties than a limited nuclear war.-Feb 1999, p. 14

Civil disturbances will be less deadly in the future, as police and military forces deploy a wider arsenal of nonlethal weapons: sticky foam, beanbag rounds, stingballs, rubber or foam batons, pepper sprays, stink bombs, and explosive pulse power-electromagnetic weapons that produce enough electrical energy to destroy electronic equipment. -Alexander, Oct 1999, p. 38

A backlash against global institutions may be growing as the world's disenfranchised band together in culturally isolated tribes. Ordinary people are growing increasingly frustrated to see the cultural and political elite benefiting more from development programs and other international aid. Unless the elite improve communications with majorities-and share their wealth-clashes are almost certain. -Moller, Mar 1999, p. 22

Putting Nature to Work

Human hair may provide a natural-and convenient-solution for oil spills. Since oil clings to hair but is not absorbed by it, bags of hair may be used to snag oil out of water, leaving clean water behind. And the oily hair could be burned as fuel. (fan 1999, p. 2)

More and more solutions for such environmental problems will be found from nature itself: Chili peppers are being used to fend off zebra mussels, which cling to docks and boat bottoms. (Jan 1999, p. 2)

Plants such as sunflowers and poplar trees will help clean up contaminated soil. Certain plants can absorb soil contaminants such as heavy metals, storing them in their tissue; other plants use their roots to stimulate the degradation of microbes. Using nature to clean up the environment can cost as little as one-fifth of conventional cleanup methods. (Apr 1999, p. 6)

Willow trees not only can purify water, but they can also replace coal and oil as fuel. In Sweden, willows now provide 15% of the nation's commercially produced renewable power. The trees also absorb up to 90% of the nitrates and phosphates from water. (May 1999, p. 14)

Nature will also be put to work in manufacturing processes. In 50 years, scientists will learn to use enzymes-nature's own nanomachines-to provide us with many substances, such as ingredients for plastics and paints, that were once made in chemical processing facilities. (AugSep 1999, p. 6)

A "By the Year 2000" Scorecard

Here are a few predictions for the year 2000 from early issues of THE FUTURIST


Bacterial and viral diseases Will be virtually eliminated.

-Hubert H. Humphrey (Jan-Feb 1967, p. 2)

What really happened: More than 30 new viruses have appeared around the world in the last two decades, and several diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis have reemerged as major threats. Among the possible reasons are increased global travel, climate change, and the misuse of antibiotics, which allows resistant strains of bacteria to develop.

Planets will be colonized. -Arthur C. Clarke (Jan-Feb 1967, p. 14) What really happened: Budgetary constraints due to the Vietnam War, skyrocketing oil prices, and a severe recession led to cutbacks in the U.S. space program.

Americans will work 1,100 hours a year, on average.

-Herman Kahn (Oct 1967, p. 67)

What really happened: American men worked an average of 1,905 hours in 1993up by 100 hours from 1976-and women worked 1,526 hours-up by 233 hours, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Monthly Labor Review, April 1997).

For short journeys around the world, people will ride in magnet-controlled luxurious flying saucer type devices, similar to guided missiles.

-A Xerox Corporation forecast (Apr 1969, p. 36)

What really happened: The development of a commercial aerospace plane (whether shaped like a flying saucer or a Boeing 777) is still in the future.

Energy needs will be largely met by nuclear sources, even in small ways. Appliances will run on long-lived batteries fueled by radioisotopes.

-Isaac Asimov (Apr 1969, p. 49)

What really happened: While nuclear power did grow as a percentage of energy sources (from 1.5% in 1973 to 9% in 1997), fossil fuels such as coal, crude oil, and natural gas are overwhelmingly the dominant sources of energy.


Hereditary defects will be corrected through the modification of genetic chemistry.

-Hubert H. Humphrey (fan-Feb 1967, p. 2)

Comment: The first disease approved to be treated with gene therapy was adenosine deaminase (ADA) deficiency. Gene therapy is still experimental and highly controversial, but early breakthroughs for such conditions as hemophilia and sickle-cell disease-and the progress made in mapping the human genome-justify then-Vice President Humphrey's optimistic forecast.

Artificial intelligence and a global library will be developed.

-Arthur C. Clarke (Jan-Feb 1967, p. 14)

Comment: The Internet and World Wide Web may arguably qualify as the "global library" Clarke envisioned. Speech recognition, natural-language understanding, and other components of what was described as artificial intelligence have been developed, though we are still waiting for true artificial intelligence, according to Ray Kurzweil, author of The Age of Spiritual Machines. He notes that artificial stupidity has certainly been achieved: Buy-and-sell computer programs were blamed for the stock market crash in 1987.

Small household computer consoles will be connected to a large complex of central station computers that would help with family budgeting, tax calculations, school work, purchasing and menu planning, banking and credit, library and reference sources, and mail order and shopping services. -Glenn I Seaborg (Apr 1967, p. 17)

Comment: Like Clarke, Seaborg was one of many futurists of the 1960s predicting the advent and impacts of what would become the Internet and the World Wide Web.

The Dow Jones average will hit 10,000.
David Bostian (Sep-Oct 1992, p. 14)

Comment: The Dow first pierced 10,000 on the morning of March 16,1999, and closed above 10K for the first time on March 29. ("Dow 10,000?" June-July 1999, p. 33)


World population will be 6.4 billion. -Herman Kahn (June 1967, p. 35)

Comment: "Child 6 Billion" was born October 12,1999, according to the United Nations Population Fund. (Aug-Sep 1999, p. 13)