- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2000

The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be (Paul Valery). Asked to speculate about possible scenarios for the next 20 years, a score of futurologists recently came up with projections that were far gloomier than turn-of-the-century forecasts posited only nine months ago.
The Hart-Rudman Presidential Commission on the future of national security (Phase III) asked 20 experts, including scientists, to look at the next two decades in a way that would not be an extrapolation of what is known today. They were divided into four groups of five, each with the same assignment. There was unanimous agreement that the pace of technological change is accelerating faster than the most far-sighted experts could see five years ago. The participants also agreed that the next 10 years will bring more technological change than the entire 20th century and that national governments will not be able to cope.
In the last century, the time that elapsed between the dropping of bombs by hand from Zeppelins over Allied trenches in World War I and the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima was only 28 years. At the beginning of the 21st century, MEMS technology, which is the world of the small, and nanotechnology, the world of the ridiculously small, is now 10 years ahead of schedule. Scientists can already see the entire Library of Congress, which can be transmitted in its entirety in 17 minutes through optical networks at the rate of 80 billion bits per second, fitting into something the size of a sugar cube.
One of the four groups of witnesses before the Presidential Commission could see a global "Perfect Storm" in 2020 beginning with cheap oil in 2000 and a lack of R&D; in alternative energy that led to (1) an energy crisis; (2) global economic instability; (3) U.S. economic recession; (4) a loss of confidence in the Western democratic system as the recession morphed into a depression; (5) South America's economic collapse; (6) a major increase in drug production; (7) the collapse of the plan to prop up Colombia; (8) the spread of the Colombian disease to other Latin American countries, including the Colombianization of Mexico; (9) the emergence of China as a global power; (10) a new Sino-Russian alliance that seized the leadership of an anti-American, anti-capitalist group in opposition to U.S. economic imperialism.
How could this be avoided, the group was asked. "By simply increasing mandatory gas mileage from 27 miles per gallon to 35 and producing fuel-efficient compacts and hybrids instead of gas-guzzling SUVs," came the reply.
A second scenario was also predicated on failed energy policies and a reluctance to address the global digital divide that ignored the fact that half the world's population was living on $2 a day or less. This, in turn, triggered ever larger waves of immigration from places that have nothing to Western Europe and North America. The ensuing destabilization of NATO states led to a break-up of the Atlantic alliance as fanatical leaders took over the leadership of migrant groups in Western countries. At the same time, sub-Sahara Africa's starving millions, plagued by AIDS, flooded North Africa on their way to Europe.
A third scenario spun variations on the first two with the addition of a major act of bioterrorism in the U.S., coupled with a cyber-terrorist attack to silence 911 emergency response capabilities. By 2010, a lapel-size pin will contain the same computing power as today's supercomputer. Electronics will be worn, ingested or implanted. Major anti-U.S. cyber groups around the world will be in constant electronic touch with like-minded cells in the U.S. and the 150,000 Americans who die in the single bioterrorist attack turn America back to isolationism.
A fourth scenario posited that AIDS and other emerging, or old but now resistant diseases, spread to large parts of the world and that AIDS mutated into waterborne and airborne strains. De facto authority of national governments then crumbled, which led to gate communities and the privatization of the criminal justice system. As in medieval times, narrow domestic concerns overshadowed larger problems, and larger units lost control of smaller ones that then mutated into what participants called 21st century feudalism.
In subsequent discussions, all four groups agreed that globalization and fragmentation would proceed along parallel tracks. Whether society will fragment horizontally or vertically was left unanswered.
U.S. arrogance was seen as the main threat at the present, or the sense of superiority that has convinced Americans they are the best God ever devised with a mission to take it to the rest of the world, the rationale for forward-deployment. The rest of the world does not like too much success. The U.S. wants mirror-images but will not accept what the rest of the world wants e.g., an anti-land mine treaty; an environmental treaty; an international tribunal. A common thread that ran through all four scenarios was that by 2020 democracy may not be the cure-all that it is today. Given the world chaos that the participants could see in their crystal balls, they speculated that the totalitarian temptation that has existed from time immemorial will return in both neo-fascist and neo-Marxist manifestations.
Other group conclusions:
Physics is due for revolutionary revision and the time is ripe for a new Einstein.

• The convergence of physics, biology and chemistry will lead to the reinvention of the human species over the next generation.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is chief executive officer of United Press International and editor at large for The Washington Times.



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