Snapshots from the scenario period
Snapshots from the scenario period
The scenario team were asked to produce snapshots, three sentence descriptions
of interesting events, situations or ways of thinking that might characterise the
scenario period. Here, in alphabetical order, are the more publishable concepts
that emerged. Please keep sending these: we do not guarantee to publish, but we
are delighted to hear from you. There is a short section which summarises and clusters
the main ideas that emerged from this, here.
- Africa once again became known as a place from which new things always emerged.
The dangerous, often criminal millieu of the major cities generated both attractions
banned in other parts of the world, and gilded this with an expansion of the performing
arts, design, style and a particular quality of élan. Safe havens in this difficult
environment were the watering holes where the global elite sipped, and brought
with them economic revival.
- Armed forces doctrine shifts from war fighting to conflict prevention, and from strict military intervention to something much broader. This requires much more clarity from political powers about what they want to achieve, and from military (etcetera) planners as to what they can deliver. Powers do not enter into conflicts where they cannot see how they can deliver a solution, military or otherwise. To limit conflicts, they act early to stem what they see as illegitimate political movements, to accelerate development and to understand all aspects of areas deemed unstable. Interventions tend to be economic and social/ structural, and powerful nations are uninhibited about intervention because they know that early prevention (at the expense of ruffled dignity) is better than expensive chaos and lasting bloody conflict.
- Brazil's cosmetic surgery industry makes it the destination of choice for the adventurous traveller, as well as the pre-expectant mother. Around ten thousand traits can be induced or corrected, from weak courage to a tendency to constipation. Businessmen buy judgement from the neural connectivity harnesses, and families bring their children to have languages – of verbal fluency, or charm – installed over a weekend. Everyone with money is beautiful, charming and happy; and why shouldn't they be?
- Children born in 2040 have had their genome scrubbed, simplified and restructure.
They are resistant to degeneration, have senses of enormous and tunable acutity,
mental abilities and psychological stability previously found in one in a million
of the 'wild type' population. Most speak fluently by the time their larynxes are
capable of forming words, and are fully athletic by their second year. Elective
additions are managed through strict legislation: parents cannot impose specialisation
upon their children, and children must show a certain maturity before they themselves
can make such choices. That said, the adult population woudl eb hardly recognisable
as human to a visitor from the previous century, less for how they look than how
they think, communicate, desire. When your very will can be bent to your will -
when you can choose what to be enthusistic about, what tastes to display - when
social skills are permanently perfected in every person, when discrimination amongst
the finest flickers of meaning is central to every social transaction, a member
of Homo sapiens would be as welcome as a bulldozer as a concert.
- China cannot maintain its political integrity and two "two great schisms" occur
in 2020 and 2025. The first fo these is essentially coastal, whereby the burden
of the agricultural interior is effectively ropped, the power of central government
in the coastal provinces curbed and the resulting disorder walled off tform the
cetres of commerce. The second great schism occurs less abruptly - although with
some bloodshed - as coastal regions compete aganst each other to serve world
markets. China in 2040 consists of four coastal entities linkd into a very loose
political federation that includes Greater Korea and Viet Nam, whilst the interior
pursues a poverty-striken version of communism.
- Environmental movements lost considerable credibility when it was found that
the CO2 in the atmosphere was already efficiently removing all of the infrared
that it could: absorption was fully saturated at 300ppm. Adding more could not
possibly heat the atmosphere. The consequence was that the environmental voice
was deprecated in policy circles the many, many other issues consequent upon economic
and population growth were ignored. Poor economic performance and the purging of
debt and inflation from the economy meant that all nations were looking for a marginal
edge in the 2020 period, and systemic thinking was largely abandoned when it did
nto lead to immediate 'kills'. A tidal wave of issues therefore crashed upon the
world's economic system in the 2030 period.
- Europe differed from the US in that it contained dominant national elements, a large number of languages and still more interests. After agonising wars and two centuries, the US settled into a national envelope balanced against state interests. All was bounded by geography, for such was the way of thought when these boundaries were drawn. Europe, however, has crystallised in a different manner after the heat of the depression. "Big" issues such as economic management, defence and security have reached equilibrium where the greatest economies of scale are to be obtained. Virtually everything to do with cluster-related economic competition has settled at an almost micro-level of decision taking. "Big" government consists of making these levels, tiny regions and delocalised activities talk to each other; and handling support for the areas which essentially have nothing to offer the world economy. As identities move away from historical aggregates to the new focus of wealth and relationships, so political support for these disadvantaged regions become more and more muted.
- Faster-than-expected global warming has made much of Africa and Asia very hard to inhabit, and droughts and storms are widespread elsewhere. People knew this was coming, but no one did very much about it. Organisations, of all types, are coping poorly, and governments are particularly unpopular (security concerns have led to the cancellation of the 2034 and 2038 World Cups). Division and bad temper are the dominant themes, and hamper economic activity, but life goes on. Population is 7.5 bn, GDP per capita is 185.
- GE's effective harnessing of fusion power for civil purposes has finally led to an economic boom, after the patent rights were sorted out. As yet, the boom is mainly due to the construction of giant Welch reactors around the world, and the scramble by owners of depletable energy resources to sell them off before they become valueless. Population is 8.5bn, GDP per capita is 250. The population of Mars, colony of New Fairfield, is 10,000
- India makes the caste system illegal in 2020. It is an offense to discriminate
in any way with regard to religion, caste or ethnicity. The educated workforce
expands by a factor of two, and India is the workshop of the world in 2040.
- Insane levels of competition means that the last defensible competence is human capabilities. But people are more mobile than ever before, and often tend to work in portfolio jobs. Universities are renewed into lifetime assistants, helping employment transitions and skill upkeep. Virtual worlds are extremely important as the means of transacting business and learning, and access to these networks is a prize worth struggling to achieve. So firms have to make work more attractive than any other use of time, with pay an important but secondary issue for skilled workers. Three tiers develop: those who are not in such networks, those who play specialised roles within them, and network spanning individuals who 'pollinate' and scatter the resulting seed.
- Intense competition characterised the 2030-30 period. Nations, firms and individuals strove or failed, and the foundation of successful striving was universally and provably rooted in the rational application best practice. As all players aligned their tools and techniques, so universal rules of transnational governance arrived by stealth, much as the rules of trade constructed themselves in the sixteenth century. The result by 2040 was a core of excellence, and a periphery of less competent nations, individuals and firms that were neither trusted nor permitted into the heartland.
- It is recognised in 2040 that whilst technology undoubtedly led latent demand for the four centuries up to 2000, it has since fallen behind the explosion of demand that is latent in a human population of 9 bn. Despite near-miraculous technological advances, the demand for mobility, security, health, food and novelty all outstrip potential supply. Scarce resources - from privacy to minerals - are extremely costly and competition for them is intense. The unit of competition is the group of self-similar individuals and enterprises that can make common cause, rather than geographical social solidarity expressed through nations.
- Much of the poor world became armed and lawless, a frontier without gold strikes or hope during the long depression. Gradually, war lord institutions policed this into city states, each with its speciality that was banned in the stable world. Biotechnologies were abused, for example allowing people to begin a pregnancy knowing the gender, aptitudes and personality of their child; to buy physical or cognitive augmentations. It is strange that these crude beginnings spawned the revolution in human potential that we today enjoy.
- Neurological and genetic science has further increased life spans for much of the world's population, but it's greatest impact - through clarifying the drivers of human behaviour - has been the rise of Neuro-Buddhism. This has resulted in a conscious rejection of the mechanical and a shift towards leisure and simplicity for many all over the world. Madonna's "The Contemplative Life" is a favourite text. Traditional governments, corporations, and religions are finding it hard to respond. How can you force people to work or consume, or to kill others to whom they know they are genetically close? Population is 9.0 bn. GDP per capita is 160, but may not be the right measure.
- None of the political-economic paradigms on offer atthe beginning of the century
lasted much beyond 2030. There are two reasons: that they did not have built into
them deference to systems limits, and that they did not cater for the political
complexity of the period. Unhappily, this realisation came too late to reverse
the damage already done, and with no successful paradigm, the world fragmented
into a variety of local 'solutions'. Financing systemic activities - such as energy
efficiency in poor, populous countries - could not be acheived amongst politial
entities that did not agreeon the nature of the problem, let aloen the solution.
- Privacy was essentially dispensed with in the complex nations after 2020. The accessibility of individual information came, however, with a revival of reputation as a valuable and portable asset. An individual entering a retailing outlet would, for example, be instantly and completely known to the shop. However, an individual whose "aura" spelled solvency, reliability, honesty receives special treatment; and those with a darker shadow are denied access. This is particularly true in the world of work, where interactions are chiefly virtual, and where anonymity is a near guarantee of criminality. When reputation is an asset which misbehaviour can lose, then probity in all things becomes the rule. The new age of self-policing, purged of hypocrisy, speeds the development of virtual commerce and an easy society.
- Religious movements regain their power during the prolonged depression, and ecumenical movements of the 2020s seek a synthesis to outflank the humanist consensus. Political parties are strongly influenced by moral certainties and a normative view that focus on 'how an ordinary person should live their life'. Science spending becomes extremely lop-sided, which wide areas of it essentially banned. Capital cities and one or two nations remain exceptional, isolated and subject to many pressures.
- Rome is made uninhabitable by a dirty bomb in 2015. Successful anti-terror activity elsewhere has acted as a 'bird scarer', forcing attacks on softer targets. A number of groups claim responsibility and in the spasm response, sufficient of their number are eliminated as to remove any evidential trail. The bird scarer countries settle into rigid self-protection, with civil liberties all but lost and scrutiny omnipresent. The industries such as tourism die on the vine.
- Solar power collection in space proved possible once aluminium and silicon foundries – and mass drivers to place these into Earth orbit - were proven on the lunar surface. However, the early enthusiasts failed to note the political-military implications of such facilities. The space-going powers have a near complete monopoly on energy, and use carbon accords to police this. This cartel must be destroyed!
- State responses to the depression mandate labour intensive and green projects. Major companies bet their future on 'clean' technologies. However, ten years on, climate change signals remain ambiguous and the return to high growth comes with high debt and high (monetary) inflation. Nations which were not distracted in this way become the new commercial elite.
- Technology allows 9 bn people to live together, but not if it fails. Most systems in place by 2020 are self-maintaining and more or less self-aware. The more complex they are, the more vulnerable they become; and the more valuable their cargo, the greater the temptation to attack them. Infrastructure therefore grows a layer of self-defence; and evolves to become essentially unknowable to humans even if the system was inclined to give us access. The concern of 2040 is that either something may go wrong and that we may be unable to repair it; or that the entire system may find that we are a complication without which it can happily operate.
- The Anglosphere - the union of English-speaking countries – developed from the geriatric paralysis of continental Europe, the radicalisation of the middle East after the successful implementation of small scale fusion and the hegemonisation of Asia under the Chinese. Less a political or trading block than a cultural centre of weight, it proved to be the core for new ideas in the mid-21st century, but somehow failed to reap the economic benefits that these implied.
- The dust shield gives a pleasing evening glow to the sky, as sunlight scatters off billions of tonnes of lunar gravel thrown into highEarth orbit. The sky is dappled with micro-meteorite showers. The moon sparkles with reflections from the carcasses of the myriad of self-assembling robots mining its surface to save the world from overheating.
- The European Federation was the first political entity after Switzerland to demand participation from its citizens. Political jury service came into force in 2020, requiring all able bodied free citizens to participate in policy formation, decision taking and oversight of the executive. Involvement was greatly facilitated by the Internet 3.0, on which active agents, personal emulators and knowledge combs turned individuals into knowledge centres as surely as staff work once supported military generals.
- The first Bollywood movie is filmed in Leeds in 2015. The reason is cost: Mumbai pays higher wages to technicians and carpenters, and the scenery is anyway overexploited. Vikram Ram, filming six movies simultaneously to make best use of the facilities, complained that each had a monsoon theme on account of the weather, but that it was hard to dance bare chested in the English winter rain.
- The last car held outside of a museum was driven in solemn procession through the ruins of Detroit in 2030. It was followed by a crowd of nearly quarter of a million people, using pedivators, go-plats and other personal transporters, and remote eyes transmitting to over 200 million individuals around the globe. The even was Zero Carbon Day, when the planet's emissions and enhanced geological fixation came into balance.
- The Latin Union (Union Latino) formed in 2020 as a result of Mexico's successful positioning of itself as the portal for the now-defunct NAFTA into the Latin sphere. The diaspora into the US – and high birth rates - meant that many southern US states were majority hispanophone, and therefore inclined to look South for governance and inspiration. The progressive weakening of US federal integration after the second disastrous Obama presidency increased this permeability, and economic dynamism moved South in the period after 2025.
- The level of environmental despoliation peaked in the 2020s, and forced the creation of binding international institutions. The consequence of these has been 'one rule for all', with consequent transfers from rich to poor nations and the enforced upgrade of statal capacity in these: an uneasy blend of colonial governance and an international welfare state. Incomes (and more important, options) in the rich nations are reduced, whilst the poor states are discontented with the modest gains that they have made.
- The lower middle income manufacturing cartel orchestrated from China extracts ever-increasing rents from the wealthy world and paralyses development for the poor. There is an intellectual arms race to see who can occupy the technological high ground.
- The matter printer and the use of micro- and nanomachinery in remote self-assembly undermined much of the centralised manufacturing capability that had been built up in the East. All a consumer needed was access to a fab, raw materials and a blue print and, 2 minutes to 48 hours later, they had what they wanted, be it a cooked meal or a new car. Global commerce switched quickly away from manufacturing and transportation to design and promotion.
- The nuclear exchanges that obliterated several Middle Eastern cities brought in their wake much greater 'cohesion' across most of the world, albeit imposed by the great powers. The renamed World Trade and Treaty Organisation successfully imposes common standards in commerce and security, and polices the borders of those areas where its writ does not run. Western liberals question the legitimacy of rule by effectively just five people, only one of whom (President Chelsea Clinton) has been democratically elected. The world population is 7.5 billion. GDP per capita is 220 (index 2008 =100).
- The pandemic of 2017 reduced world population by 1.5 bn, particularly affecting the elderly and the poor. The direct economic impact of this lasted for 2-3 years, after which the chief impacts were indirect: supply chains were 'loosened' – allowed to carry much more working capital, and all human systems had a degree or redundancy built into them. The consequences were that large organisations recovered their former ability to think, to take a considered view; and policy became markedly long term.
- The unraveling of the physical base of cognition has enabled an explosion of distributed intelligent activity. Organisations behave as though they were aware, having drives and capabilities which transcend the capacities of the (dwindling number of) individuals who staff them. Policy formation and scrutiny is deep, expert and unrelenting. All agents are constantly engaged in self-redesign for competitive advantage. Exponential change approaches.
- Traditional, technified farming was never going to feed 9 billion people on the marginal land that remained to humanity. The food refinery came into play in the mid-2020s as an element of food aid, but was then adopted more widely as its advantages became known. Now, fast growing grasses are broken into edible streams, and those combined into recognisable foodstuffs that are the same every time, pure and nutritious. We can only feel disgust for those who killed, dissected and ate specifically those animals that we now know to be aware, emotional and our ethical equals.
- Trains, trams and old fashioned transport went the way of the car. People in the teens of the century did not realise how damn nice a properly designed city could be. Principles: put the shops, the houses, the schools and the work together: densify into villages. Supply by automated underground conduits: fluids, containers, wastes, power. Now add individual on demand smart transport for the occasional trip. Manage crime by making sure that detection rates are 100%, easily achieved by surveillance and biometrics. Put the scrutiny in the 'hands' of impersonal systems that are incapable of being misused.
- Very Smart Tools or "vist" become common after 2030, when any network cluster can deploy human-equivalent intelligence on demand. Vist systems are rooted in a common knowledge infrastructure – for example, on how to plan, get permission for and build a house. Anyone who discusses anything immediately becomes the focus for vist systems, which coach, suggest, advise the individual in their quest. Vist systems famously connect up people who find synergies around issues that they had not yet consciously identified as relevant or important.
- Water wars become relatively commonplace in Africa, the drier parts of Asia and the Middle East. These revolve around water sources – rivers, aquifers – and water use, particularly as between agriculture and the cities. Effluent management becomes crucial, particularly in respect of saline run off from irrigation. Water-efficient crops, particularly non-food crops aimed at energy generation, combine with extremely efficient irrigation techniques. Water purification and recycling that uses solar power becomes very significant in those nations with the right climate.
- Wasted insight becomes a focus for many organisations: deemed as important as cost control three decades earlier. If people are informed and bright enough to participate in the core of an organisation, then they are by definition likely to add to the quality of decisions and the thought that leads up to them. Thus, systems come into play that measure how people contribute to knowledge flows, the value that they add and their characteristic ways of failing to help. Automated counselling follows egregious errors.
- US, EU and Chinese power forms the new triad. However, none of these political entities can get ideological consensus in the way that the Cold War essentially set its own logic. Consumerism sets much the same goals for each; as does commercial competition. Therefore, this becomes the age of the prestige project: in big science, in sport, in entertainment.
We would be delighted to receive similar ideas from people who have come to
this site from general interest. In summary, the issues that appear to have guided
these thoughts are as follows:
Security and force:
- Security and intervention increasingly coupled to deep political goals, socioeconomic tools
- Nuclear war in Middle East triggers formation of powerful international institutions
- Nuclear or biological terror, generates only a 'bird-scarer' response
- Unknowably complex but vulnerable infrastructure
- Chaotic poor world: intervention to force sustainable development
- Poor world may specialise in banned technologies
Science and technological potential:
- Modify human body to optimise, specialise, adorn
- Humans in 2040 will have transcended the understanding of H. sapiens
- Modify human psychology, values, traits
- Novel energy supplies; space-based energy monopoly
- Geo-engineering: orbiting sun shade
- Microfabrication and nanotech undermine traditional industry
Commerce and management:
- Crucial nature of quality decision-taking under complexity
- Increasing domiant role of virtual worlds in business
- Social/ virtual network access essentially crucial for career development
- Mobile tribes of the capable: importance of belonging and reputation
- Independently "aware" entities such as companies and states
- Insane, unrelenting competition significantly driven by such aware systems
- Sub-national specialisation necessary to manage competitive differentiation
- Pay becomes less an incentive than belonging, keeping up
- At whatever scale, a core of excellence, but a large periphery that can't join
- Measuring people's individual contribution to intangibles such as ideas generation
- Universities play continued role for individuals as e.g. life coaches
Environment and resources:
- Environmental false alarm, real issues ignored
- Resource scarcity, cost; non-market competition over resources
- New transport technologies: beyond the C20th paradigm
- Cleaner can be much better: urban transport revolution, urban security
- Environmental management issues impact hard in poor countries
- Pollution management imposed universally, by force is necessary
- Water wars, major thrust to better water use, agriculture
- New approaches to food production, transformation; use waste streams
- Enforced political participation: political jury service
- Humanist take-off: balanced often non-economic goals, values
- Ecumenical moral revival: some increasingly normative politics, societies
- Pandemic kills 1.5 bn, revival sees more independence, 'slower' business
- Privacy and reputation: self-policing before unending scrutiny
- English speaking world as a continued source of guiding ideas
- Latin American political/economic union
- China as manufacturing hegemon, spurring innovation / IP race
- China falls apart; India and manufacturing centre
- Big projects for prestige replace traditional national self assertion
- African revival, Brazilian growth share the attractions of semi-legal