“Politics is not just the battle for today, it is also the war for tomorrow.”
Welcome to Futurist Friday, where tomorrow intersects with politics, policy and prediction. The point of this exercise is to describe the likely future based on current analysis of trends, curves and activity occurring today. The hope is to encourage discussion and debate on what needs to be changed, what actions can be taken and; why should Alan Boyle have all the fun?
The format of this article will cover five year increments to the year 2100, however since this is 2013, our last two Fridays covered two years, 2014 and 2015. This week, 2016 to 2020 will be covered. A word of caution, some of this will seem rather dystopic, however as history has shown, it is always within peoples’ nature to change. I must give credit to FutureTimeline.net as an invaluable source for the speculations presented.
Welcome to the Future 2016-2020
China Passes US in PPP
As measured by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), the economy of China expanded from $11.2 trillion in 2011 to $19 trillion in 2016. At the same time, the U.S. economy rose from $15.2 trillion to $18.8 trillion.This reduced the U.S. share of world economic output to 17.7%, it’s lowest in modern times. China’s share reaches 18% and continues on an upward track.
US Presidential Election
The 58th Presidential election is held on Tuesday, November 8, 2016. with incumbent President Obama term limited, speculation abounded as to who would succeed him as President. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared to be the strongest candidate of those with Presidential aspirations. Trends within the United States led to a progressive candidate winning, however a flawed gerrymandering system of Congressional elections still causes governmental gridlock.
European Union Expanded
By 2017, the countries of Iceland, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and Serbia have all been accepted into the European Union. This process is completed after finalizing many years of negotiating to bring these countries laws and economics into E.U. standards. Their admission comes at a time of economic lassitude in Europe and the world in general.
These seven countries become some of the last new members to join due to sovereign debt crises and continued weakness of the Euro currency. With 34 members, the European Union has a population of over 500 million and vies to take it’s place as a world power.
Worsening Crisis in Yemen
As the 21st century dawns, Yemen is the poorest and least developed nation in the Arab world. Demographics showed that 45% of it’s population were living below the poverty level, it’s literacy rate was 58% and unemployment was running at 35%. The population was increasing while resources were dwindling. The Yemeni economy relied on hydrocarbons for 75% of government revenues and 90% of foreign exchange.
Yemeni oil production peaked in 2003 and declined steadily thereafter. The “Arab Spring” uprising took hold in Yemen for the same reasons as many other Arab countries, government corruption, rising unemployment and worsening economic conditions.
In a short time, the situation deteriorated. Power blackouts and food shortages became a daily occurrence. Drivers waited in line for hours to purchase gasoline. The country had no plans for a post hydrocarbon economy. Saudi Arabia donated oil to help the situation, but by the middle of the decade shortfalls within the Kingdom caused the Saudi’s to cease their support. Yemen’s entry into natural gas production failed to generate an economic boost.
In addition, even greater problems became evident. In the capital of Sana’a, groundwater levels were dropping 15 to 20 feet per year. Additional wells were needed to service a growing population. Combined with a Shiite insurgency in the south, Al Qaeda’s resurgence and the scourge of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, the situation was becoming untenable. By 2017, oil and gas reserves are at zero and Sana’a has no water. Supply shortfalls can no longer be made up from external sources resulting in looting, rioting and violence. Due to this situation, a majority of the country is abandoned and the resulting refugee crisis destabilizes the Saudi Arabian peninsula and the Horn of Africa.
Missile Defense Shield Deployed in Europe
A continental wide missile defense system, developed and deployed by the U.S. military, shields Europe. Developed in phases, Phase One’s early warning radar was deployed in Turkey during 2011. Phase Two saw the creation of land-based SM3 interceptor sites in Romania, in order to protect from short and medium range missiles. Phase Three, the most important phase, added a more advanced SM3 interceptor and a second land based site, which was hosted in Poland. this would protect against short, medium and intermediate range missiles. This part would be located at the Redzikowo military base, close to the Baltic Sea and Lithuania, about fifty miles from the Russian area of Kaliningrad. A fourth phase will be completed in 2020, with a missile upgrade.
Initially, Russia voiced concern over the systems proximity to their territory and how it’s capability impacted Russia’s strategic forces. Various technical exchanges and inspections were allowed to assuage Russia’s regards in this area.
Oil Drilling Underway In A.N.W.R.
With energy shortages and rising demands, the U.S. commenced drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 2018. Estimated to hold approximately 2.8 billion barrels of recoverable oil, domestic production was significantly increased. Between 2018 and 2030, expenditures on foreign oil decreased by about $200 billion as many jobs are created throughout the country.
Production in the A.N.W.R. peaks in 2027 at 780,000 barrels per day, declining to 710,000 barrels per day by 2030. As a comparison, the U.S. produced 5 million barrels per day in 2010.
As one of the most pristine and cherished wildlife areas in the world, the opening of A.N.W.R. is extremely controversial. Containing the greatest number of plant and animal species than any other protected area in the Arctic. Until this time, it had been undisturbed by an human activity other than aboriginal hunting and gathering. While major concerns for the development for this area were expressed, the need for economic growth were put ahead of environmental stewardship. This development policy was discovered to be extremely detrimental in the future.
China’s First Stealth Fighters Enter Service
In 2019, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force introduces the Chengdu J-20 (Annihilator 20), a fifth generation stealth fighter jet. Prior to this time, the United States was the only country to operate a stealth fighter jet, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, slightly smaller than the J-20.
Though slightly less agile and slower than the F-22, the J-20 has a longer range and is a powerful addition to the Chinese air force. It is built using several Russian components and is believed to be of Russian pedigree. Armaments include long and short range air-to-air missiles together with lateral weapons bays.
The avionics and navigation electronics are highly advanced and regarded with secrecy by the Chinese government. This raised concerns of cyber-espionage, as the J-20 seems to share some of the characteristics of the F-35 Lightning II. Investigations point to leaks by government contractors, which leads to tense international relations between the U.S. and China. The J-20 continues to demonstrate China’s intention to be regarded as a regional and global power in the 21st century.
Generation X Reshaping Global Politics
With 2020’s arrival, a fresh generation of leaders and decision makers are coming to the fore of world politics. Born between the late 1960’s and the early 1980’s, “Generation X” begins to supplant the aging “Baby Boomers” and the passing “Silent Generation”.
Generation X represents a greater heterogeneity than previous groups with greater diversity in race, class, culture and ethnicity. They tend to be more liberal and progressive than their parents with less respect for rules, authority and established policies. They are likely to be less religious. For most of their lives, they have grown up around computers and are therefore comfortable with technology, flexible and more open to new ideas. They have more concern for the environment, accept the reality of climate change and are accepting of science.
Disappointed with the social, economic and politic legacies left to them, Gen-Xers use their new found power to build a different world. They no longer bow to the wishes of the Boomers, who many feel have squandered this generations legacy. At the same time, they’re not letting the Millennials get away with not contributing substantially.
Because of this, there is a shift of money and resources away from senior citizens and toward those in their middle years. Property and inheritance laws, retirement and pension plans and other elderly benefits are reformed as Gen-Xers work to re-align the elderly’s needs with pressing priorities.
Banks and financial institutions are reformed during the decade, though the financiers exercise their clout to keep reforms from going as far as voters want. Focus is shifted from short term profitability to long term goals and accountability. Employees gain more rights in the workplace, with offices becoming casual and informal. Social media and technology continue to drive the spread of democracy worldwide.
Because of Gen-Xers, many countries begin to relax laws on various social “taboos”, including recreational drug use, prostitution and gay marriage. Legalization of cannabis increases tax revenues while decreasing crime. Scientific research and environmental protection are given higher priorities, this was already beginning, Gen-Xers are just accelerating the pace.
Agricultural Robots Appearing on Farms
Significant numbers of robots are being utilized on farms. In development for 20 years, they are now within the price range to allow them to be used prominently. New scanning, imaging and articulation technologies have allowed these machines to differentiate between light and shadow, green and ripe fruits, leaves and vines. Complex “learning” algorithms allow the machines to become more adept at their tasks as they complete each harvest.
This technology allows for the reduction of pesticide application due to pinpoint use. With the abilities of uninterrupted output, greater efficiency and speed by the 2020’s entire farms are becoming fully automated.
High Def. CCTV Cameras are Ubiquitous
With the shift from analog to digital technology, closed circuit television cameras have improved markedly. Used to discourage crime or “provide security”, these cameras are used in almost all major metropolitan areas. Combined with increased memory storage and sophisticated facial recognition software, the specter of “Big Brother” looms large as concerns about people being targeted for protesting and “civil unrest” rise. Citizens begin to lobby for legislation to prevent abuse of this powerful surveillance technology.
M1A3 Abrams Tank Enters Service
The M1 tank was first used by the U.S. Army in 1980. Variants of this tank, the M1A1 and M1A2 have been used in every American conflict since Desert Storm. These tanks are the principle tanks of the militaries of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Australia and Iraq.
In 2017, the latest variant, the M1A3 is fielded. Various improvements include the latest in armor and ballistic shielding, communication networking and ultra-accurate guided missiles. The weight has been reduced by one-fifth to allow for greater bridge crossing ability. Over the next several decades, the M1A3 will remain the favorite battle tank of the American and other militaries.
Sales of Electric/Hybrid Vehicles Reach 100,000 Annually
Electric and hybrid trucks surpass 100,000 units in annual production worldwide. Included in these statistics are hybrid electric, plug-in hybrids, battery electric and plug-in power take-offs. Between 2011 and 2017, the overall truck market grew 4% per year. However, the market for hybrid and electric trucks grew almost 12 times as fast, 47% per year.
While cost is the major barrier to purchasing these vehicles, improvements in battery and motor technology cause the cost to drop rapidly, allowing more vehicles on the market. As oil prices increase, electric vehicles become more cost effective than internal combustion ones. This trend contributes to the slowing of carbon pollution in the atmosphere.
Many Complex Surgeries Performed by Robots
In 2010, many large universities and hospitals had their own automated robotic surgical systems, continual tests and trials greatly improving their accuracy and reliability. The growing numbers of successful surgeries made patients more willing to trust robotic procedures.
By 2018, the majority of large hospitals throughout the developed world used robotic surgeons on at least a semi-routine basis. These systems handle cardiothoracic, gastrointestinal and orthopedic surgeries. South Korea in particular leads the way, with almost every hospital using them routinely. The latest models have greater dexterity and multi-tasking, high quality incision tools and higher levels of automation. New fiber optic cameras give controlling surgeons extreme close-ups of the procedure reducing invasiveness and allowing for more complete repairs and/or excisions.
Robot Insect Spies Are In Use
No larger than a common housefly, “micro aerial vehicles” have been in development for over a decade. The main hurdle to overcome has been to provide a power source light enough to get them airborne with enough power to be useful. This problem was overcome by 2016. Afterwards, these robots were deployed to transmit GPS, audio-visual and radio frequency intelligence. Although they increased national security, privacy issues remain a concern.
Computers Break Exaflop Barrier
By 2019 the world’s top supercomputers will have reached the ability to perform a million trillion calculations per second. This Exaflop performance represents a thousand fold improvement over computers of a decade earlier.
Personal computers are becoming more compact and powerful, with mobile devices and laptops far surpassing the number of tower or desktop computers. Massive hard drives will be either on board your device or in the “cloud” as broadband speeds and wireless connections increase markedly. Web based AI programs now become ultra-sophisticated, acting as virtual valets and concierges, allowing people access to information, goods and services unimagined even a decade before.
Connected Vehicle Technology Deployed in Many Countries
As more vehicles become linked to the Internet, another layer of technology is added in 2019. Using a combination of GPS and Wi-Fi, cars will alert their drivers to potential hazards in the roadway. By communicating with each other and the roadway infrastructure, cars are safer, while congestion and pollution are decreased. It soon becomes mandatory as the obvious safety and economic benefits are realized.
Automated Freight Transport
By 2019, autonomous rapid transport is used in significant numbers, with driverless trucks appearing on many highways and roads. Because these vehicles can travel 24 hours a day, diagnose their own mechanical and software issues and are easily programmed, they become the mode of choice for the trucking industry. By 2030, all vehicles will be automated in this fashion.
High Resolution Bionic Eyes Are Commercially Available
After years of trials, high-res bionic eyes are available for patients with degenerative vision loss. the first prototypes are somewhat pixilated, with less than 100 dots of resolution. By 2019, newer versions provide over 1,000 dots, allowing people to recognize faces and read large print. Eventually, bionic eyes will have better optical quality than normal human eyes, causing some people to get upgrades with this new technology.
Texting by Thinking
By 2020, phones are available with the option of texting by thought alone. By using a combination of eye tracking technology and a sensor mounted headset, brain waves are detected and converted into digital signals which are displayed as letters on screen.
While the process is rather slow and requires a high degree of concentration, advances in the coming years will enable smooth and fast interactions, creating a virtual telepathy and revolutionizing communications.
30,000 Drones Patrolling U.S. Skies
In 2012, the FAA Reauthorization Act was passed into law in the United States. This legislation was the result of a major effort by lawmakers and defense contractors to expand drone use in U.S. airspace. In addition, by 2015 commercial entities would be allowed to use drones also.
Used in Afghanistan and other war zones, these UAV’s are now more sophisticated than ever, with cameras that can read a milk carton from 12 miles in altitude. Some models are equipped with rubber bullets and tasers, while others can intercept cell phones and text messages. By 2020, more than 30,000 of these vehicles roam the American skies, with privacy concerns growing as rapidly as the drone population.
First Hotel in Space
The year 2016 sees the Russian space group Energiya, in conjunction with the U.S. firm Orbital Technologies launch the world’s first space hotel. Capable of supporting seven people, it offers incredible views of Earth while boasting a menu created by celebrity chefs. It can also function as an emergency shelter in case of a malfunction on the International Space Station.
Total Solar Eclipse in U.S.
On August 21, 2017, a total eclipse occurs in United States. This is the first visible eclipse in the contiguous U.S. since 1979.
Totality occurs along a path curving from Oregon to South Carolina and lasts roughly 2 minutes and forty seconds. The location of the “greatest eclipse” is on the western edge of Christian County, Kentucky at 36.97 degrees North and 87.65 degrees West, occurring at 18:25 UTC.
First Test Flight of NASA Space Launch System
The Space Launch System, or SLS, is the successor to NASA’s Shuttle program, and is envisioned as a launch system that is usable for both crew and cargo. The rocket design incorporates proven technology from the Shuttle program and the cancelled Orion program.
The first unmanned test flight takes place in 2017, with a manned trip around the Moon scheduled for 2021. As advanced versions are created the payload is expected to go from 70 tons to 130 tons. This will enable manned missions to Mars.
James Webb Telescope is Launched
The successor to the Hubble Telescope is launched in 2018. The James Webb telescope is placed in an L2 orbit about 930,000 miles from Earth. It’s primary mirror has a collection area six times larger than that of the Hubble. Originally planned for deployment in 2014, it was delayed due to budgetary constraints.
ExoMars Rover Touches Down
The ExoMars joint mission between the European Space Agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency exists in two parts. The first part, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, is launched in 2016 and arrives 9 months later. This consists of an orbiter which will search Mars for emissions of methane and other gasses to determine the best location for the follow on rover to study.
In 2018, the rover is launched and arrives in 2019. This rover will use the “sky crane” technology pioneered by the Curiosity rover to land. After landing it will search out Mars for signs of life past or present. It’s main tool will be a drill probe, capable of drilling over six feet deep, which will analyze samples in it’s on-board lab. The rover has a life span of six months, during which it is expected to sample multiple sites.
Europe’s Galileo Satellite Navigation System Fully Operational
Galileo is a global navigation satellite system similar to the American GPS, Russian GLONASS and Chinese Compass. In 2011, the first two of four satellites were launched to validate the system. Two more were launched in 2012 to test Galileo “end-to-end”. Once this In-Orbit Validation phase was completed, more satellites were launched, reaching Initial Operating Capacity by the middle of the decade. Full completion of the system was completed in 2019.
With it’s own satellite navigation system, Europe provides free of charge basic navigation services accurate to within 3 feet. Galileo provides a Search and Rescue function, which relays distress signals to a Rescue Coordination Center, which begins rescue operations. At the same time, it transmit’s a signal back letting the individual needing rescue know the signal has been received. Low-precision services of Galileo are free and open to everyone. High precision services are available for commercial customers and the military.
Mars 2020 Rover Mission
In 2020, NASA deploys it latest rover, based on the Curiosity rover but carrying a different payload. This new rover has three objectives, to look for signs of past life, to collect samples for return to Earth and to demonstrate technology for human exploration.
On this mission, 30 rock core and soil samples are captured for lab analysis, measurements of Martian dust hazards are made, and CO2 is collected for rocket fuel manufacture. It also will perform a form of precision landing critical to human exploration of the surface. Overall, this is a major step towards the agency’s goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030’s.
Statistical Likelihood Of Devastating U.S. Quake Increasing
Stretching 600 miles from northern California to British Columbia, there is a converging plate boundary known as the Cascadia Subduction zone. This fault causes a major earthquake about once every 300 years. The last event took place in 1700 and was estimated to have had a magnitude of at least 9.0.
Since then, the movement of the two plates has steadily built up pressure. In the first half of the 21st century, the fault exceeds the vast majority of previous time intervals in it’s recorded history. Eventually, the plates slip, resulting in the single most devastating earthquake in U.S. history. Centered in the state of Oregon, with a duration of several minutes, it inflicts deadly damage to population centers such as Portland, Seattle, Olympia and even Vancouver and Victoria. While many structures were retrofitted to withstand earthquakes others were left vulnerable.
As bridges and highways collapse, the ground in Seattle bay liquefies, dragging buildings under water. Broken gas mains and downed power lines cause numerous fires. Tsunamis race up and down the Pacific Coast, flooding towns and cities from Alaska to California. The death toll reaches into the thousands, while the financial cost exceeds $100 billion.
Experts also warn of a similar scenario in the Los Angeles basin. Either one of these scenarios would cause massive suffering and untold economic devastation to the western United States.
China Completes Largest Environmental Clean-up in It’s History
China’s rapid growth has led to truly appalling environmental conditions in the country, in 2011, 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities were located in China. Numerous rivers and aquifers were also endangered.
To combat this, in 2011 the Chinese government instituted an ambitious Five Year Plan to stem the flow of pollutants and clean up the damage. Heavy polluters were taxed based on the volume of their pollution. The revenue went to restore the damaged environments. Many non-profits assisted the government and new regulations were introduced, such as capping energy use.
While some progress was made over the five year period, the vast amount of damage coupled with explosive growth made the problem difficult to rectify. It would be many decades before China was able to manifest significant achievements.
World’s First Kilometer High Skyscraper
After six years of construction, the Kingdom Tower opens in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Measuring 3,280 feet tall, it becomes the tallest building in the world.
Costing $1.2 billion to build, it has over 200 floors and 59 elevators. It contains 5.7 million square feet of office and hotel space and hosts the world’s highest observation deck. The Kingdom Tower becomes the centerpiece of the $20 billion Kingdom City development that becomes a new district in Jeddah. Many see it as a positive statement about the wealth and power of the Saudi kingdom. Others see it as a white elephant and believe it will ultimately be a financial loss.
First Floating Liquefied Natural Gas Platform
Given the remote nature of many deepwater natural gas resources, large-scale exploitation of these resources has been virtually impossible. A new project by Royal Dutch Shell attempt to overcome these barriers. In 2017, the Floating Liquefied Natural Gas platform begins operation off the coast of Northern Australia over Shell’s Prelude gas field.
Basically the world’s largest ship, the FLNG is anchored over several wellheads in the isolated field, in water around 250 meters deep. It pumps natural gas continually, storing it within several massive tanks, chilled at -162 degrees C. When fully loaded, the ship contains 600,000 tons of natural gas. It is as long as four soccer fields laid end to end.
Last of Nigeria’s Rain Forests Felled
Nigeria was once among the earth’s most ecologically vibrant places; home to 4,700 plants and 550 species of breeding birds and mammals. During the late 20th century, however, rampant deforestation took hold, with tree loss reaching nearly 4% per year. The most bio-diverse areas-the old growth areas- were disappearing at an even faster rate, about 11% being lost every year from 2000 onward.
Logging, subsistence farming, road building, mining and dam construction all contributed to the damage. Despite some attempts at preservation, the bulk of Nigeria’s rain forests eventually disappeared, the last few pockets disappearing into insignificance around 2018.
Aral Sea Disappears From Maps
As recently as the 1970’s, the Aral Sea was the world’s fourth largest lake, with an area of over 42,000 square miles. However, Soviet irrigation projects cut off the rivers that fed into it. By 2004, the sea had lost 75% of it’s surface area, becoming so salty that all the natural flora and fauna perished. By 2009, it had lost 90% of it’s surface are, splitting into three lakes, two of which were to salty to support fish. The once thriving fisheries and fishing towns were devastated and the shoreline became a ship graveyard.
The Aral Sea was also heavily polluted, due to weapons testing, industry, pesticide and fertilizer run-off. The wind blown salt from the lake damaged crops and became a persistent health hazard for residents in the region.
Although a dam project in 2005 saved what little remained of the northern part of the sea, the much larger southern part continued to shrink and by 2019 had evaporated entirely.
Oil Prices Become Dangerously High
Having reached a plateau in 2005, global crude oil reserves are in serious decline, causing havoc on global markets. In 2019, food and energy prices have soared, creating the worst financial crisis the world has ever seen. With most of the remaining oil located in the Middle East, further conflict there seems inevitable.
Public Smoking Banned in Every U.S. State
The number of states with comprehensive indoor smoking bans went from zero in 2000 to 25 in 2010. The success of the anti-smoking lobby continued, with every state having a ban in place by 2020. The health effects of secondhand smoke have been well documented. In the U.S., they caused 46,000 heart-related deaths and 3,400 lung cancer deaths in 2010.
The future depends on what you do today. - M. Gandhi