This text introduces the three scenarios: Global Grip, Yesterday's Future and Oh My Gawd. It is a draft text, and is intended for critique. You can jump to the scenarios here, but the intervening analysis is important and they may be less than transparent until it is taken on board.
Your comments are very welcome. The comments section is here.
Three archetype scenarios were offered as the basis for comment, and comment they received. The current task is to take what has been learned so as to offer scenarios for 2040.
The three archetypes are:
The archetypes are, of course, rough-cut 'flavours' that may permeate the global bouillabaisse. Some domains of activity will pick up more of one flavour, whilst others will blend all of the possibilities together. A further complication is that the primary actors were once nation states, but that it is far from clear that this will be true in 2040. Our problem is, therefore, both to find a way of segmenting the complexities of the period and also to find things to say about these.
We looked at segmentation in three ways: in terms of the prevailing political narrative and the blocks which these might define, as a set of abstract agents and, third, in terms of the complexity, capabilities and commerce which might be sustained. Each of these had its merits, and gave us useful handles on the issue.
The two dimensions which seem to capture this best are the following, as shown in Figure 1, below. On the horizontal axis, agents – countries, but also cities, companies, networks, military arrangements – show increasing levels of systems integration. On the left, they both lack systems and the integration of them. On the right, one finds semi-aware organisations, structures that are aware of and modelling the attitudes and likely behaviour of all those people and sub-systems engaged with them.
The vertical axis signifies the degree to which agents are engaged with, and in agreement with the prevailing "story" – narrative – of such technocratic and international consensus as there is. At the bottom, there is no such consensus or it is fiercely disputed. At the top, it exists and is either complied with or enforced.
The current range is shown in pink, to give some idea of the scale of change which is proposed.
The five centres of weight that are marked on the chart are indicative, and there are of course a huge number of mixed states and situations that do not easily fit into this structure.
The archetypes gave rise to four variants, depending on pace and timing with which systems issues cam forward. ("Systems issues" range from the provision of clean air, water and food to the bulk of the population to managing military security, financial instability and so forth. Climate change is an example of a systems issue.)
This is probably clearer when symbolised in a figure, which repeats the axes of Figure 1. From left to right, the authoritarian crisis, YF and OMG-in-YF. In each case, the lower left exhibits some or all aspects of FC. The Fearsome Crisis archetype is not a scenario, but a pole that affects the evolution of the other cases.
These lava lamp figures are not, of course, scenarios, but rather the a vague representation of the realistic balance of forces that have come from our discussions. It may well be that in the long term, we are all either in OMG or in FC, but there were no comments that saw the entire world drawn haplessly into universal global crisis, at least in the medium term.
Many comments agreed that YF was what the merging middle classes wanted, and what the established old world would accept as a poor substitute for red meat good old fashioned consumerism. It is the default destination for all agents with aspirations to the good life. They could not have this, but they could have a pale reflection of it, under much greater controls than hitherto.
The shift from individual liberty to state mandate was a feature of any case that we examined, although the reciprocal capacity of the citizen to change the behaviour of the state was also much strengthened in at least OMG and most aspects of YF. The bargain between citizen and state changes to protect collective freedoms "from" bad consequences of individual actions, at the expense of freedoms "to" do things. The age of heroic endeavour is to be replaced by the state – or complicated networks of interest – shaping society and its goals.
The nature of the elite points up some differences between YF and OMG. YF is exquisitely egalitarian, insofar as the state is the arbiter over many things and minutely even-handed. Information systems imply that each will receive precisely according to his or her needs, whether he or she wants this or not. OMG is, by contrast, substantially more elite in that the state is an important adjunct to an adventure that is being undertaken by commerce, or perhaps something motivated less by profit than by creativity and the desire to explore. (Recall that the profit motive reflects the ability to trade in scarcity. If what is scarce is access to groups of people who have good ideas and fulfilling lives, then that is itself the motive and the tradable position. Most positional and virtual goods in even YF will be as much amenable to barter and gift as strict profit accounting. Yes, you will put your resources where they are best used, but what happens when your material needs are assured and 'best' changes to means something less … mundane? But I digress into post-material idealism, a school of thought not yet invented. )
It is important to calibrate the scenarios against reasonable numerical projections. Happily, colleagues in the OECD have made such projections, published in OECD working paper ECO/WKP (2009)4, but modified to give us 2010 and 2040 figures for GDP. (The working methodology uses a simple Cobb-Douglas function to generate GDP growth, based on supply of labour, labour quality, convergence on best practice factor productivity and the growth of factor productivity, assumptions about 2009 debt and long run capital availability.) There have been sensitivities done around a central forecast, and these do not show large perturbations for the period (+ 0.5% - 0.8%).
The figure 3 shows the degree to which overall PPP-adjusted GDP increases as a multiple of today's figure. India is the clear winner, Japan the loser with a multiple of only 1.5. The world as a whole grows to just under four times the present figure.
This has a significant affect on relative national weight in the world economy. The pie chart shows the 2010 and 2040 positions.
The relative reduction of the US and EU is marked, but far from a fall from global power. China grows, but – because its factor productivity growth peaked in 1995, and because its population is aging and not particularly well-educated, it does not fulfil the fairly wild prophesies made on its behalf by some contemporary commentators. Brazil is also a bit-player. India expands greatly, but from a smaller base. Japan and Russia contract in relative terms.
The relative great expansion is, however, to be found in the "rest of the world". These comprise slightly less than half the world's population today, but their numbers double to be six of the nine billion people living in 2040. Economic weight does not equate to political power, but there are plainly strong connections between the two. It is idle to think that this group will not acquire one or more forms of integrated political power, perhaps drawing on others identified in the chart: India, the Islamic world, Latino or 'Middle Income power'.
This points to gap in our analysis. We tended to see global politics as played out between a tendency to yearn for Yesterday's Future – consumerism, economic expansion – and a group which rejected or were unable to achieve modernity. This is the view which is encapsulated in Figures 1 and 2. This may not, however, be a broad enough view. Rather, we seem to have several natural blocks, each of which have rather different interests, quite irrespective of their national narrative.
This gives as a different approach to the figure with which we began. The axes have been retained, but the interpretation of the vertical axis is somewhat different. It still measures the approach to any one group to the prevailing consensus. What has changed is the nature of the consensus: that is, the consensus is YF and the odd ones out are, at one end of the scale the rejectionists, and at the other, the elite networks and expert rich world state entities. The flows are symbolised with the multicolour arrow, which retains the same colour coding as was used in Figure 2.
This arc catches a great deal of our earlier debate. The split facing the poor nations in particular – to react angrily to disparities or to work hard to bridge them – is clear. The universal trend to YF – the blue area – is also clear. So, too, is the branching out of the OMG elements as shown in green. One cannot have the beginnings of OMG unless enough of the world is happily set on a trajectory to YF. One can have the Authoritarian Response (Figure 1) but, as we have seen, this does not last.
There are a couple of points that it is worth extracting from this representation. First, as discussed, YF is the consensus set of goals, values and norms. Second, the green zone representing OMG is not initially, and probably for some time, the consensus global narrative.
Third, the chief movement that triggers the YF-OMG separation is horizontal: it is about capabilities and a different way of operating: not doing more with less, which is the YF style, but doing distinctive things very differently. Some of this difference relates to firmly-defined institutions that have power and legal weight. Much more is, however, to do with intangible structures – such as social networks – and on the maintenance of trust. Those who fall within this framework are eligible to play, those who do not – for reasons of geography or personal capacity – do not. The maintenance of trust and forbearance, transparency and shielded participation is discussed in the section which follows.
Third, where trust fails and collaboration does not grant advantage, advances are blocked. Nations affected do not achieve their potential.
The "lava lamps" can therefore be re-drawn to meet this more complex representation of the world. The ochre areas represent the populations affected by low-trust, low potential environments. The YF 'attractor' is shown in blue, and the OMG offshoot of this in green. The situation in which aggressive responses to systems failure lead to a confrontational case is shown on the on the left. A situation similar to the YF archetype is shown in the in the centre, and one parallel to OMG on the right. The axes remain the same as those which were shown in Figure 5.
We are almost ready to step into the scenarios. However, before we do this we need to put in place one last building block. Its full relevance will become apparent when we discuss the OMG scenario.
Conjoint action is possible just in proportion as human beings can rely on each other. There are countries in Europe, of first-rate industrial capabilities, where the most serious impediment to conducting business concerns on a large scale, is the rarity of persons who are supposed fit to be trusted with the receipt and expenditure of large sums of money.
John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, 1848
Few important decisions are taken with all of the information available to all parties. Each of us has, therefore, how to make guesses as to who we can rely upon, about which rules of thumb it is appropriate to apply and what kinds of continuity we can trust. Societies are governed as much or more by intangible infrastructure – the regularities created by such judgments, exercised en masse and continuously – as they are founded on law.
We know that economic development depends crucially on the quality of the formal institutions which exist in the society. What we are now coming to realise is that the quality of the informal institutions is at least as important. These fall into two broad categories: essentially, those which govern impersonal and personal transactions. The first of these is relatively easy to measure, being only a step away from the formal institutions such as the rule of law.
Figure 7 shows an assessment of these by Credit Suisse, which shows that there is an evident link between the level of wealth enjoyed by a country and the strength of its semi-formal institutions. This should probably be read as saying that a society does not become rich until its institutions are strong.
These data are taken from a Credit Suisse study, undertaken in 2006. The "intangibles index" is based on a range of hard and soft features, from non-performing loans and business services to access to information technology, education and health care.
The second category, that of interpersonal regularities, is much harder to measure. It is generally expressed as 'trust', and countries which report low levels of trust tend to perform badly, both economically and in measures of general social performance. They report a generic lack of trust in government, in commerce, in their fellow citizens and in the law. Figure 8 shows the tight relationship across Europe between how people feel about their government and how much they trust their fellow citizens.
Societies with low trust levels tend to display weak entrepreneurialism, require large amounts of business management time in coping with bureaucracies, have correspondingly high levels of corruption. Corruption rests upon a foundation of low generalized trust and high in-group trust, as noted by Gambetta about the Sicilian Mafia. Low trust and corruption form part of a syndrome of negative social capital.
Poor intangible infrastructure also tends to generate significant personal stress and social friction. Remarkably, social connections are affected to up to three degrees of separation from a "negative" influence: if your acquaintance has been dealing with an individual or group who neither displays trust nor appears to merit it, then there is a high probability that their behaviour towards you will be influenced by this, and will be further reflected in your own behaviour to others. Lack of trust is thus contagious, even in the presence of supporting intangible infrastructure. We see this in so called 'toxic' companies, where life is stressful and performance poor even in locations which predispose others to success.
There is, however, a large and growing body of experimental evidence on what generates trust. There are essentially two factors that must be combined. One of these relates to clarity around goals, values and mechanisms; and the other is concerned with transparency. If a person has expectations placed upon them but they do not know what these are, or do not have access to the required tools and permissions, or has or operates under values which oppose these expectations, then they will feel stress. Unresolved conflict means that they will not feel trust in their surroundings.
Effective transparency has two elements to it: revelation and reputation. It is important that our actions have the potential to be revealed in unpredictable ways if we are to avoid short cuts and worse. Equally, this has to matter to us: if we are far away when the revelation occurs, our behaviour is less likely to be affected. (Of course, all feel some degree of self-policing, but this proves remarkably ephemeral in societies in which 'helping yourself' is the norm.)
Research on this under laboratory conditions has shown that it is necessary to reveal otherwise hidden transactions about one time in six in order to keep an otherwise covert interaction honest. This appears to be true in all of the societies in which this was tested. However, if each transaction occurs with an individual whom you will never again meet, then activities rapidly decline into rapacity. If participants are primed to imagine that others are dishonest, then their actions will mirror this; and if the expectation is of predictability and mutual gain, then this is how they will tend to begin.
Altruism also turns out to be an essential feature of human nature. Game theory shows that forbearance and a degree of altruism greatly increases the collective and individual value of many outcomes. It is, however, suppressed both in situations of low trust and when the recipient of altruism appears undeserving, potentially demanding of a great deal more or in other ways a member of an out-group. The in-group forms around habit – people with whom we have had long-term dealings, whose state of mind we understand and whose motives are relatively transparent to us – and around competence. We do not choose to deal with people, however, reliable, who are ineffectual or who make frequent mistakes.
These levels of ordering are nested, as shown in the figure. Merely to have cliques, in the absence of the other structures, equates to corruption and mafias, for example. Transparency is useless if these is not follow up to what is revealed. The various levels interact in complex ways. Wealthy, complex societies need finely defined institutions at every level, and increasingly complex interactions between these. Much of the information economy consists of getting complexity sorted out, and much of its value added, harnessing these structures around clear terms of reference to do things which are impossible in less structured environments.
In summary: we find that societies which are ordered, transparent and open require a hierarchy of rules to be in place, the bulk of them undeclared and vulnerable to exploitation. Societies which do not manage these structures, and actively build them, tend to slump into low trust, low performance environments where the best that can be hoped for is the least bad of a range of negative sum outcomes. Trusted groups are clique-like, relying upon local conditions, and a high-trust society will have many such cliques within which more refined rules apply than in the general society. Companies are an example of this, as are many other forms of association. Such structures can achieve things which individuals, primed only by the institutions of the broad society, cannot.
When an industry has thus chosen a locality for itself, it is likely to stay there long: so great are the advantages which people following the same skilled trade get from near neighbourhood to one another. The mysteries of the trade become no mysteries; but are as it were in the air, and children learn many of them unconsciously. Good work is rightly appreciated, inventions and improvements in machinery, in processes and the general organization of the business have their merits promptly discussed: if one man starts a new idea, it is taken up by others and combined with suggestions of their own; and thus it becomes the source of further new ideas. And presently subsidiary trades grow up in the neighbourhood, supplying it with implements and materials, organizing its traffic, and in many ways conducing to the economy of its material.
Principles of Economics. Alfred Marshall (Book Four Chapter 10 1890)
The archetypes have served their purpose. One, Fearsome Chaos, is rejected. It is a characteristic of some parts of the world in almost any case but is not, except under the most extreme of cases, a global scenario. Rather, as the world seems to move in that direction, a new dynamic emerges which is that of an authoritarian response, broadly supported by much of the world out of necessity, and probably handled chiefly by the powerful through state to state relationships. It generates considerable opposition, however, and polarises much of the world that would otherwise have aspired to consumerism-lite. It needs a name, so let us use Global Grip (GG) until someone thinks of something better.
The archetype Yesterday's Future is promoted to being a scenario, and we need to put flesh on its bones. It is the default case, the state to which most of the world's nine billion yearn.
The Oh My Gawd archetype, which may also need a new name, is retained. It is important because it represents a long term new way forward. Even in 2040, it remains a practical potential for a minority of the world's population. It is, however, the seed of the less grim future.
Several workshops have questioned the "purpose" of OMG: to what problem is it a solution? The answer to this comes in several tranches. The popular YF scenario is an end game played against rising scarcity, population and other pressures. It is not, in the long term, stable, and becomes less stable as time goes by. There needs to be a way out, or the alternative truly is Fearsome Chaos. Many extraordinary new tools and sources of efficiency become possible – indeed, required - by YF, but the social structures that are needed to harness these into intangible infrastructure that transcends the limitations of YF go beyond what can be achieved in a consumerist society. It is not that consumerism denies the tools their place, but that using the tools opens up ways to a different way of operating altogether.
The challenges of a stable, rational 2040 are something of the following:
Readers can probably add more of their own, but this is already a list that is formidable in its implications to individualism, liberties "to" – as opposed to "from" – and in its general intrusiveness. The scenario OMG has to generate a flexible response that "solves" these issues and permits a return to unlimited horizons. It goes beyond the end game of coping and hoping that the sky does not fall just this year, which is the sub-text to YF.
How might that be achieved? Almost certainly, we can assert that the drivers will come from an act of design, although top-down considerations may apply as events unfold. Rather, they will come from many dispersed examples of things which work, which have wider application and which are absorbed where the capability exists to do this.
Here, of course, we need to turn to Figure 9, with its cliques operating within their shells of intangible, informal and formal institutions. These may be virtual communities playing immersion games, asset trading networks, manufacturing chains, political communities or things for which we do not yet have a name. (“Personal career development counsellor networks for political aspirants within ecology brokerage communities.”) Each of these cliques are subject to incessant churning from new ideas, technologies and from old pressures and lobbies. They respond with mercurial experiments, some of which succeed and some of which crash and burn. The winning memes are quickly absorbed by other such structures.
All of that requires clarity, permissions, legitimacy, consensus, transparency, common values and the machinery to bring it all about. In other words, it needs the entire, deep panoply of the intangible structures that we have already discussed. Social groups which exclude themselves from this, or which are excluded by personal reputation or lack of capability, or which as a class have been excluded by history, wealth, geography or politics, are as a consequence unable to participate. That is their tragedy. However, despite the existence of peole who are not 'players', the outcome is the development of parts of the YF environment into something else, entering the green area that is shown in Figure 6.
Nobody is consciously making this happen: the innate drivers of the time create an accelerando from which nobody who can participate would want to do anything else.
The nearest analogy is the 1955-65 period in the US. Here was an endless frontier of commerce, science and technology, of the prosperity and liberty to rove the land and its ideas, with its freedom from drudgery and dependence; tight social cohesion formed in warfare, a young population with unlimited social energy, a vast market, unlimited resources and stable or falling prices. Within this, however, the irresolvable, seemingly endless Cold War threatened sudden annihilation to a helpless population. Tensions cut across class and racial grounds, and a new generation that had conspicuously different values from their parents. The times were permeated by the loss of innocence that came from WWII, the cold knowledge that banal, normal humans were capable of sweeping horrors that were based on the most everyday of political dynamics. Despite technology and capability, Yesterday's Future has more of the negatives, and much les of the positives, that this picture paints. Oh My Gawd, emerges with as little planning as did the nineties resolution of at least some of the 1950s issues, as gradually and with as little insight as to what is happening.
The following are tentative, and will need to be substantiated.
The period after 2010 is characterised by lacklustre economic performance from the old industrial powers. The industrialising economies continue to perform well, selling increasingly to their domestic markets, and commodity prices remain at historically high levels. This places pressure on the poor nations, and continues to stimulate those which primary resources to lop-sided wealth. The global narrative is awkward, somewhat protectionist, seeking more to place blame than to arrive at solutions. The emergent powers such as China experience internal political upheavals, not least due to the stimulus applied to internal markets, and they do not take on an effective international leadership role.
Attempts to manage economic imbalances and to address environmental concerns are weak; in part due to the loss of momentum amongst the rapidly ageing industrial powers, in part as a result of limited international amity.
Structural crises occur with increasing frequency as the world approaches 2025. Resources are costly, but investment is constrained due to nationalism, volatility and poor trust. Un-coordinated financial markets blow regional and occasional international bubbles. Potentially dangerous technologies are being exploited without what many regard as due controls. Intellectual property is stolen and so guarded carefully; and both of these trends constrain technology transfer from the industrialised world to the rest. Productivity therefore grows relatively slowly, exacerbating energy and other resource needs.
The cluster of crises that characterised the 2020-30 period have their roots in these issues. No-one had been watching the shop. The political calamity in the Gulf was one such issue that commentators had seen coming for decades. Little or nothing had been done to manage or even establish dialogue between the relevant forces. The sequence of infectious diseases emerging from sprawling urban agglomerations dotted around the world was another disaster foretold.
The quick-fire financial crises and corrections that marked each of these – and the concealed data, the data intrusions, the deliberate subversion of aspects of the trading system by criminals – all helped to amplify these events. Sabotage was a common tool against complex infrastructure, carried out from motives that ranged from political blackmail through criminal extortion to a simple desire to slow change, express exasperation, 'save the planet' or express a religious view. The tools were all too ready, the restrictions strong only at the national level.
This demanded a response, and it took the world five years to put this in place. Powerful nations established the rules which suited their interests which – in the case of public hygiene and similar issues – were seen to be coincidental with those of everyone else. Matters were seen as being too urgent and the issue too well-defined for political equivocation. A habit of dictated solutions became established, and quickly extended to those issues where the general interest and that of the powerful was less obviously aligned.
Evident crisis produces temporary acquiescence. However, complex problems are not solved quickly, and it became clear by 2030 that the patched-together measures were as much about self-interest as solutions. Political alignments began to form around three camps: those who had taken the initiative, those who had in general benefited from them and, frequently, become clients of the central powers, and those thoroughly opposed to them. The first were keen to retain their power, but also desperate to escape from the framework in which they had imprisoned themselves as the global judge, jury and police force. The second, involving a significant number of the world's poor, increased their claims on the wealth of the powerful: at least! They had something to sell: compliance, the use of efficient technology, the suppression of crime. Finally, there was a block that is opposed to the central power, opposed to change, wanting the world back the way it was before "they" spoiled it.
The winding down to this is slow and painful. The centralised mechanisms do indeed succeed in mitigating some of the worst impacts of the systems issues: disease, financial instability. They have the potential, if complied with, of achieving inroads into the les tractable issues, such as resource security, pollutant management and so forth. Polarisation and suspicion make this improbable, however, and the blocks tend to develop internal solutions that suit their politics, or no solutions at all. Much of the poorer world remains poor, and its institutions, although policed by international structures, are under pressure from internal instability. The global police force simply does not have enough policemen to handle all and every civil crisis; or, indeed, most of them.
The path from 2010 is smoother than anyone could have imagined. Factor productivity in the wealthy world grows surprisingly quickly, as under-performing state activities are pruned back, and as unprecedented competition enforces commercial change. The divisive and painful years of the early decade were forgotten as growth resumes, but tempered by the understanding that it is impossible entirely to go back to the situation as it was before.
The chief changes are institutional. Throughout the 2010-2015 period, one accord after another is put in place to guarantee data transparency: around statistics, financial flows, criminal records, energy demand and emissions, human rights and the like. Efficient policing was at first poorly managed but ultimately came into its own as extremely large sums of money and contractual liabilities became contingent on these data; and upon these, a mass of derivatives and other instruments.
One particular area of control and scrutiny involved dual use and military capable technologies. The mechanisms that handled this not so much fused as collaborated and enabled with those which were concerned with the maintenance of intellectual property rights. In parallel, transnational commercial realities were recognised in a growing body of contract agreements, extra-legal documents that transcend national jurisdictions. These are a body of precepts that parties agree to treat as binding in any subsequent arbitration. Enforcement is handled by bonds, or more commonly through default insurance funded by all parties to the agreement. This is a step typical of the meta- or non-national nature of global commerce, as it wrestles with the increasingly burdensome and restrictive regulatory environment.
Commodity prices began to rise as prosperity spread more widely. Demand growth seems unstoppable, and the drive to do 'more with less' becomes a practical theme that is broadly echoed in regulation. Near-magic materials appear, in which behaviours are embedded, much as the flexure of a bird's wing is intrinsic to its mechanical form. Common cellulose, for example, is able to cross link into materials that have the strength of metals and the stress resistance of collagen, such that what appears to be a sheet of paper can support the weight and vibration of a car motor. Goods are made specifically to deconstruct easily into their constituent parts, so that "waste refineries" are widely used to separate used goods into feed streams, ready for re-use.
Primary supplies remain an issue. Energy supplies still rely upon conventional sources. Liquid hydrocarbons are located in limited places, and peak oil discovery occurs in the early 2020s. Progress is made in liquefying methane on site to more portable forms, such as formaldehyde. High carbon reserves – coal, heavy tars – are easily exploitable and open to conversion to oil derivatives at competitive prices, but at the expense of heavy carbon emissions. Renewables remain elusive, in the sense of being reliable and cost competitive. Plans are afoot for huge ocean thermal plants, and tests of exo-amospheric solar power are underway, promising and also promising to be extremely costly. Economically-viable negawatts are pursued with all available tools.
Water is an increasing issue for many countries. The major use for water remains agriculture, but with increased stress of both its efficient use - for example, with drip irrigation – and through the use of drought tolerant and water efficient varieties. What to do with saline water run-off remains a major issue. Ion-flow desalination takes off, enabling sunny desert nations to irrigate huge swathes of land. The Sahara may turn green, but at the expense of further salting the Mediterranean.
Food, too, is problematic. There is limited good land that is un-exploited in areas of high population, and agricultural inputs such as fertilizers cost energy and consequently, carbon emissions. Food trade increases as does the clearing of pristine land. Biodiversity is heavily impacted by this.
All of this takes collaboration and openness, and the core nations are able to manage this through the 2020s until it is institutionalised in the 2030s. However, the new solutions that are brought forward are increasingly marginal. The underlying logic is simple: there are ever more and more people, and every effort is bent to keep them living long and healthy lives. All of these people want to consume more and have an ever increasing standard of living. The entire economic structure of the planet is set up to further this ambition.
Confronting this unstoppable force is an immovable object: the carrying capacity of the planet. Efficiency gains have only so much space in them, and consumption has to switch to goods that have low replication costs, such as software, bioware and related easily replicable entities in which the thought content is high and the material substrate correspondingly low.
This situation is the closest that a global population can come to fulfilling its desire to consume. Rich areas will continue to do better than this, but will also follow the dematerialisation trend, perforce. International scrutiny and harmonisation is high, and there is a perpetual fear that some action or oversight will precipitate a crisis that will, very easily, bring down this high wire act.
This is not a world in which to be poorly trained. It is inevitable that like will be paid in line with like, wherever they live in the world. Low skill tasks will be able to maintain relative income disparities only by curtailing immigration. Less able people will be idle, or subsidised at work if that is a national political choice. Managing the people that the world economy really does not need in order to function will be a global issue. Handling the transition to demographic decline in the currently young world – for example, Africa – will exacerbate this.
The importance of state agencies in handling all of this has already been discussed. The habit of oversight and intervention will increase as the scenario develops, reaching near GG levels as issues become increasingly critical at the end of the scenario period. They will, of course, use less authoritarian language but the intention will be much the same. It will be apparent to all informed observers, and particularly those in the state engine rooms, that "we can't go on like this", and the habits of planning for billions will cause them to cast about for an alternative.
The path into OMG might be similar to that into YF, or it might be through an economic environment that is more depressed, in the manner of GG before the onset of the systems crises. The distinguishing feature of early OMG is the success of expert networks and cliques – Figure 9 – and the social and other structures which support these. YF also has these, but in OMG they are seen to be at the root of technology adoption, innovation, commercial success and, incidentally, politics, entertainment and other aspects of daily life. Anyone and everyone is immersed in an ocean not of data – although that is plentifully available – but of increasingly contextually-aware, intelligent interpretation.
This is not to say that networks somehow replace or supplant society. Rather, societies generate fertile niches, some of them industries, some of them companies, some activities such as science or medicine, all deeply rooted in a geographical context such as a city and a firm set of institutions. These support, nurture and propagate ways of behaving that are found to be vastly productive. That they happen to look like networks is fortuitous.
The chief thing to be said of these structures is that they accelerate the growth of factor productivity, on the one hand, and that they make copious quantities of wealth on the other. YF is a chiefly consumption-led world, fulfilling existing consumer dreams, whilst OMG is strongly biased to wealth creation in ways that consumers would not have thought of for themselves.
Cliques and networks often inter-connect much more effectively than does the general world. That is because their members share education and insight, values and management talent. Individuals often belong to several networks and information flows across these bridges. The fertile niches are also nested, in the sense that more general connectivity encloses the more dense specialist frameworks.
The figure shows first neighbour links for a social networking site, with yellow symbolising dense traffic and black nodes too dense to render. The issues that are discussed in various parts of this space also cluster: right wing politics here, religion there, technology in yet another cluster. Individuals may penetrate several of these issues clusters whilst retaining a distinct social clustering.
The change that develops as we move towards 2030 is that these networks become less the passive conduit for conversations and begin to act purposefully and independently. One can see the early stages of this today: Internet structures which suggest who you might want to link with, discussions you might wish to enter, products that match your personal preferences. However, by 2030 IT will have gained contextual understanding: it will monitor conversations and understand them, be able to prompt, suggest and guide in ways which go well beyond individual abilities. Corporate structures will have the organisation's purpose and values explicit within them and will increasingly manage procedures, discussions and the use of knowledge. Done badly, this can be catastrophic, done well and it confers superhuman powers on mere mortals. Such systems may one day think for themselves, but at this stage they need human intermediation.
There two capabilities – universal trust-within-infrastructure and truly smart communications media – have a profound affect on the societies which are their hosts. They radically change and democratise politics, giving voice to the able and the thoughtful, rather than to the eminent or the machine politician. They alter commercial structures beyond recognition. They make membership and reputation the scarce resource within the society, not conventional factors such as capital. Such assets become tradable and fungible, with networks focusing on their capability and brand as their core value and brand. Issues such as the ownership of networks and of their product become of critical importance.
There is an additional affect at play. Of their essential nature, knowledge networks ramify into domains that stretch beyond their primary activities: they tend naturally to holism, to the incorporation of every consideration that might be relevant. They are natural systems thinkers, and it is the systems of the world that need attention. Here, at last, is an open, expert mechanism that couples directly into the politics of the powerful, through which systems issues can be tabled, debated by a wide range of expertise, each element of which is assisted in its deliberations by mechanisms that guide process, test content and précis and filter rhetoric.
All of this is elite, It occurs in those locations and social groups which create the required infrastructure. It occurs chiefly in commerce, in science, within state administration and particularly within the defence and security wings of this. It also occurs in a more democratic way where people have fun: in virtual reality, in purely social formats and in areas such as activism, specialist interests and religion. An individual might spend time in a consensus reality that mirrored their religious beliefs about the afterlife, for example, meeting others of like mind and together working for the construction of Heaven. However, structures that have the magic of trust, embedded in the required intangible infrastructure, are able to achieve things which less free environments can deliver.
By the mid-2030s, this style is increasingly and universally dominant in the capable regions, and occasionally present in structures that span the rest of the world. These last are highly organised and highly secured structures, embodying systems that support important features of these societies: commerce, perhaps religious, perhaps transnational political machinery. Most of the world is still living in or aspiring to YF, but this is a YF that has had its political heart transplanted, and which is able to offer intense, fulfilling non-material attractions to the capable.
One of the great winners from this style is science; and beyond this, its application to commercial and other useful ends. The reason is clear: science is the most international of human activities, and highly responsive to group debate, critique and endless re-evaluation. It is also intensely responsive to resource flows: the number and quality of the practitioners, their interactions, cash and related inputs. The vague connections between deep research and practical applications is made clearer by mass participation, and resources become more targeted to potentially practical insight. Corporations, states and others mine this information flow more or less automatically, and translate it into products, policy, potential very quickly. As we have seen in an earlier paper in this series, the current return to expenditure on science runs at around 35% real when measured directly, and nearer 70% real when social issues - such as the reduced care costs that flow from a successful treatment of a chronic disease – may amount to twice that figure. In the 2030s, the flow of knowledge is much augmented, and the application of it greatly enhanced. The consequences are a greater creation of value: essentially, the factor productivity of knowledge creation is enhanced.
One additional consequence of the managed intangible infrastructure is the improved flow of human capital. There are three arms to this. First, medical capabilities are remarkably improved: people are born healthy and remain so. Their raw cognitive capacities are improved in a number of ways, most of them connected with an understanding of how the brain works and how a given individual is therefore best treated. Second, education is continual and expert: everyone has a virtual coach and counsellor that advises, educates, helps an individual to socialise, progress a career, anticipate new technologies and generally keep sharp and socially-acceptable. Third, the environment of the developing child alters beyond recognition.
This last has already been discussed in a supporting paper. Just as adult have a virtual mentor, so children are continually 'managed' by virtual systems that keep them safe, perpetually challenged by novelty, educated in formal skills in context-sensitive ways and socialised in ways that suit the individual and the society. An example may help to visualise this:
John wandered off through the park shrubberies, bored with the game. He pinged his Mother's friend-net and found that she was still immersed in her work-game. Worrying that she might not have eaten or slept, the pushed the house into carer mode, and left them to get along together. His mentor picked up his mood and suggested three possibilities: some boys were designing a fireworks display – but they were all older than him, and this would take tact to manage them – but there was also a music event three miles away that would cost some money to get to and to get in; or he could perhaps make some money by delivering a meal to an old man, who he had served on previous occasions and who was a bit over-friendly, but easily manageable without getting to serious warnings. That would pay for the music festival! But he first had to find the place where the food was being prepared by a volunteer, which meant reading road signs, which meant a reading class; so...
All of this depends on John's parents trusting the mentoring system, and on the environment being physically safe, from vehicles, predators, bad influences. John's parents' trust would need to extend to the values and boundaries that they had built into it, and on the state to validate these and to check that John was getting a complete exposure to the influences that he needed. In other words, the structure would need a great deal of infrastructure, work, maintenance and oversight, all of which costs resource and adds to the value of the society.
The nucleus of OMG has influence far beyond its strict economic and demographic weight. It embodies a habit of thought which permeates successful organisations, and the policy levels of strong countries. Plainly, there are groups who regard some of these developments with anything between distaste – "giving up their rights as parents!" – to outright horror: "Their machines are a blasphemy!" These groups are present in all and any scenario, clustered around the ochre regions in Figure 6.
Security is also an omnipresent issue in any scenario. The period after 2020 offers a huge array of tool to those who bent on causing harm. Some of these tools are so accessible, and so harmful, that they cannot be permitted at any cost. The consequence is that surveillance is omnipresent: of flows of money, of movements of people, of communications and personal behaviour. In GG, this is not undertaken in a spirit of cooperation, and state-mediated as a part of the defence effort. In both YF and OMG, a huge number of organisations an entities collect and exchange data about every aspect of life.
In OMG in particular, young individuals exist within an invisible cocoon of scrutiny and behaviour modelling. Their mentor systems know what they are going to say before they say it. Adults are equally exposed and nearly as scrutable to general systems, and probably even better known to dedicated structures such as company Mother-nets. (One far beyond the Intranet, to those who wonder what that means.).
Projection of power in this world consists of getting people to do what you want by presenting them with a path that is immediately attractive and which leads them all in different ways to the generic solution that you require. This entails knowing each individual and their circumstances in exact detail. It is no more than what used to constitute well-head village politics, but writ large and without the occasional beatings. Of course, to do this, you need to have something to offer and this is why the rich world remains the fount of power. Its commerce is tightly entwined with its security, insofar as the two both collect information, and it is commerce that can offer network access, jobs and other good things.
The approach to 2040 is marked by a rapid transformation of the YF part of the world to modes of operation that are increasingly similar to the OMG centres. It is the only way to compete effectively, people find much of it deeply attractive, and the style seems the only modality that offers the project heroism that transcends the trap of YF. It takes OMG to put sunlight-collecting satellites in the Lagrange points, and beam power to equatorial collection towers. It takes OMG systems to crack the mysteries of physics and open the way to utterly new technologies. It takes the restless, watchful optimisation of OMG to keep the world balanced on the knifepoint of peace and stability.
The scenarios explore a complicated space that does not easily reduce to two or three dimensions. Figure 11 is therefore a simplified view. On the horizontal axis, it sets up a contrast of issues that are not truly mutually incompatible. However, taking this into account, the left side of this axis is dominated by systems issues that demand an international response: epidemics, for example. On the right, water, minerals and food may become scarce, but this is handled through price mechanisms, efficiency gains and the entire consumer-lite syndrome. The gray arrow running from the right to the left suggest the inevitable flow of events as nine billion people try to live lives that involve consumption and self-betterment.
The vertical axis is concerned with how the world's dominant populations go about seeking solutions. Is there a common, generally agreed approach to how to organise a society, or are there multiple, competing models that may be in conflict with each other?
Three boxes mark the years 1980, 1990 and 2000 on this figure, and a gray arrow shows the trajectory through these and into 2010. The years 1980 and 1990 were, of course, embedded in the Cold War, and there were multiple competing political narratives. As the systematic threat that this posed began to wane, so systems of organisation moved increasingly towards market mechanisms, culminating in the position immediately before the financial crash. Equally, expansive 'GG-like' foreign policy - invasions and 'pece keeping' - became more prevalent, at least until public opinion became formly entrenched against these.
There was, however, a background disenchantment with market mechanisms that grew under the excesses of the 1995-2005 period. For example, the climate change issue became one of the central political issues in at least some countries. The crisis therefore underpinned a greater public awareness and acceptance of latent systems issues, illustrated by the sharp change in direction between 2000 and 2010. The current position is shown as a black box.
Yesterday's Future is shown in blue. It begins as a return to the 1980-2000 trajectory, recapitulating business as usual. As scarcities develop and prices rise, however, it moves into an end game that necessarily takes increasing account of systems issues. Around 2020, however, it represents the consensus set of values as to how the majority wish to live. This consensus begins to break thereafter, and it drifts down the figure to its endpoint in 2040.
Global Grip is shown in ochre. Systems issues arrive more promptly than expected, and the world's political systems are initially unable to cope. (The line is shown as running directly from today. This is done for clarity, but a family of GG curves can be drawn off the YF trajectory.) The response is authoritarian, with an imposed and centrist international response. This lasts until either the precipitating issue is managed, or until dissenter nations break from the grip imposed on them. The line plunges down the axis that measures global consensus, falling into bitterly opposed groups which are able to pay less attention to systems issues than hitherto. Its end trajectory could take it to a range of destinations, some of them not unlike the Fearsome Chaos archetype for at least some parts of the world.
Oh My Gawd branches gradually away from YF, as shown by the green line. Its participating entities – cities, companies, groups of people in virtual environments – demonstrate that this approach delivers superior results, and simultaneously delivers solutions to complex problems. Although it is slow to manifest itself, it becomes the dominant model that many would like to emulate by 2030, and is in fact adopted by all significant commerce, most important governments and a wide range of the population by 2040.
Response 1: I am not entirely happy that you have dropped the Fearsome Crisis case. It seems real to me. You should at least put a boundary on the Fig 11 to show where GG stops and FC starts. (Done: Ed.)
Response 2: My response is Oh My God. I'm glad I'm going to be dead. I do not want to live in any of these. My more practical comment is to ask how these are going to be useful to people. I have tried to think of my old job in government and how that would shift to accommodate what you have described and I am simply stuck, and I know my colleagues would feel the same, or run about like the home guard in Dad's Army, crying 'don't panic, don't panic' whilst in fact denying the whole thing.
Perhaps we need to feel that we are about to be kicked into an alien world. I don't know. If this is realistic - and frankly, I couldn't find a Dad's Army alternative for us Hobbits - then maybe we do need our noses rubbed in it. But I wouldn't know how to start.
Response 3: I want to go after this "elite" thing, because it seems a poor choice of words and that is going to offer an easy weapon for people who do not want to hear all of this. Imagine a hill with pine trees that are growing up it, with the really big pines at the top and scrubby little ones all around its base. Each tree is a narrow column with a sharp tip: this one represents professional golf, another the climb to being recognised as the best dentist. Each is elite in its way - some people have climbed up higher than others - they are also democratic because pretty much anyone can try a sport, or start dental training. The point is that there are lots of elites. Some of them are not so democratic, such as company hierarchies. The hill itself represents your intangible infrastructure. If you are not at the top of the hill, you do not get to climb any tall trees, just little ones, because that is all that there are. This might be to do with the country you live in, or the class your were born into. This is kind of elite, but also the way of the world.
Response 4: The economic projection is very interesting. It says EU, US, China and India are big economic powers. However, rest of world also a big power. You say that rest of world maybe make their own politics. I think certain that they do this. So big issue is if China or India are leaders of this, or outside of it.
Second thing is that you talk about the weaker nations, with people getting organised across national boundaries. We have heard much of that during Communist time! But it did not occur, due to many things. However, your world could make this occur because of communications. So then I wonder if words like Indian and US really mean so much in 2040? You have rich China - like the coast is now - and you have poor China inland. Maybe poor China finds politics with poor people in India? Not like nations, like tribes scattered everywhere. Or maybe like one big nation, with something like political parties that push this way and that. The GG thing is like two nations, one pushing, the other maybe right pushing back. OMG is kind of four - poor, basic middle class, angy people and the social parts that are going very fast and are special.
So I think you need some more on politics and who gets into which group, or even which kind of group you find.
Response 5: Felicitacions on a fine paper the which we and the students are going to work over during the week and then return to you. Perhaps you can come here in 2010 and work with us and our friends in the federal government on this? I want to make us ready for OMG, which really touches me in my heart.
The big thing for us is how to get to be modern. We have the great neighbour that sits to the North and the which is going to be a part of this, or the centre of it, maybe. We need to bind ourselves into that core, not wrap ourselves only in the low skill side of immigration and bad service jobs. ¿So how do we build this 'intangible infrastructure', which to us seems to present itself as the first step?
Response 6: Really thought-provoking. Congratulations. The key things I take away - and concur with - are:
With best wishes
Response 7: The cost of capital is going to be high in all of these. Governments are going to raid savings; inflationary pressures will be high on the supply side; it all sounds volatile and risky. You have though pretty much devalued capital as the limit factor. It is all network-y ability-based things. Is this sound?
How would it change YF if it was acknowledged to have a high cost of capital?
I think there is a feedback loop which kills YF off rather quick. Look, it's anyway expensive; and driving itself for efficiency. That means capital intensiveness. But capital is very expensive; so... You cannot get around that be getting the latter-day version of the Chinese to do the work. You can't do remote labour supply when transport is being limited, or perhaps do they use huge, huge efficient ships? (I always wondered if you could tow ships - more submarine containers, really - on huge transoceanic cables, like an upside down funicular.)
Digression aside, I think you quickly get in a world in which the margin cost of production is sharply pushed up by the cost of the increased capital intensity. Add the state taking and spending rather than investing everything it can, and the economic surplus is cut to the bone. I cannot see how YF can sustain itself one people see it as an end game.
Response 8: I just wonder if what you call OMG is a bunch of necessary truths about any rich part of the world in any future that has these? Network, IT, reputation, enforced tranquility seem innate. However, what good is a network when the seas are going bad on you? You have early and late systems failure as key variables, but kind of just assume that the later ones get fixed. That seems a bit of an arm wave. Also, the GG one seems to fix whatever caused it. What happens if one or more of the 'doom' themes come about: a dirty Nuc. in the main Gulf oil fields, the climate really does change, whatever? Are these "not scenaric", like Martian landings and so on? I don't think you can just push this aside.
What i am saying is that there are viable cases that look a bit like GG but have a small bit of the world hanging onto stability and coping, and the rest not. That is, if the doomsters are right. I was pretty shaken by what I read in the climate and systems paper, because it went against everything the media have been saying about this. But I have checked it out and a lot of it seems true, so doom or no doom? Well, I reckon that nine billion gives you a fairly good chance for something to go wrong, but that puts this into the end of the scenario period. So you get a YF which dives into something else: not GG, perhaps, but across the line into what we used to call Fearsome Chaos.
Response 9: As you recognise, you will have to change the name of OMG. To recognise the serious break from what has gone before that it implies, that it is really a process rather an outcome, and to avoid using the word Future again, what about: "From Here to Eternity"? (Ed: Um. Other thoughts out there?)
Response 10: I reply to Response 9. Fenghuang (F-uh-ng W-ah-ng) is the Chinese phoenix, the opposite and consort of the dangerous male principal dragon. Its head is the sky, eyes are the sun, back is the moon, the wings are the wind, the feet are the earth, and the tail signifies the planets. It signifies femininity, the South, the Spring and the Confucian virtues of loyalty, honesty, decorum and justice.
The Fenghuang represents the power sent from the heavens to the ruler. The phoenix remains only when the ruler is without darkness and corruption. It also stands for loyalty and honesty, for the union of opposites. It is seen only at the beginning of a new era, and hides in bad times. It lands only where there is something valuable in the land, where it alights gently so that it crushes nothing, and eats only dewdrops.
So I suggest Returning Feng Huang for the new name of OMG.
Response 11: I have had the weekend to read this through twice, and mostly I like what I have seen. However, whilst I hear a lot about how OMG works I don't see much about what it actually does. Yes, I know I can't ask you for comprehensive planet-saving recipes; but there has to be more to it than all this trusting and networking, surely? That's all doubtless valuable 'how', but I want 'what'.
Here is my take. YF is a pretty passive situation: keeping consumers happy with less and less physical input. It is a poem to efficiency and social management, but it is also an end game and it knows that it is.
OMG is about a rethink. Not "we must reinvent human values" or language of that sort. We keep the same values, but we feed them differently. You go on wanting a safe society, excitement and fun, health and so on in whatever case that does not reinvent humans. (Try changing those to negatives: "we want a dangerous boring and unhealthy society...") So there is nothing epistemological about this - people stay People 1.0, and they are not reinvented, or not necessarily reinvented for the scenario to work.
What changes in OMG is the collective intelligence. (I have linked this to the Wiki entry, which is pretty comprehensive and shows that CI is a lot more than a metaphor, admittedly in somewhat utopian terms.) CI is usually seen as the outcome of successful cooperation amongst tightly-knit knowledge workers, a community which is operating under an agreed set of rules and metrics which include self-criticism and which therefore avoid group-think. The measure of CI is that the collective capacity to think is greater than the sum of the individuals: there is a gestalt. (The efficient market hypothesis implies the existence of CI, but unhappily lacks the necessary element of critical self-management.)
Collective intelligence is found in rather specific conditions: where the 'game' is absolutely clear and the rules and their policing are firmly in place; or else where the rules are unclear, and a very small group works together under conditions of trust to make them clearer. Let's call the first of these Type 1 CI and the second, Type 2 CI. Financial markets are a (part-valid) example of Type 1 CI, as are some kinds of science. Generally, however, it is a rare and rather special situation that supports Type 1 CI. Instead of them, we use systems that have had all potential variability purged out of them, such as traffic regulations. These are not collectively intelligent, but are set up to cope with the less intelligent/ responsible/ honest moments of their individual participants. One might call them 'collectively dumb'.
The second kind of Type 2 CI is much more common, but scattered into small "creative" groups. We encounter it amongst artists and in music groups, in effective company boards, in a certain kind of medical team, in team sports and some militiary groups who have faced danger together for a long time. Here, the outcome is a way of operating that generates more 'intelligence' than any one individual could have achieved, even if cloned however many times. From the diversity of the group comes strength and new things. The trouble with this sort of CI is that we cannot consciously make it happen, and it is limited to flashes and peak experiences, amongst usually very small groups. My own guess is that Type 2 CI is currently limited to groups of fewer than ten people.
Now, in contrast to this, what we usually have is a collective dysfunction. Either the group adds nothing, or actually weakens the outcome. We all know the meeting minutes which represent the lowest common denominator; the time-wasting meandering discussion that get nowhere; the loud voice that even excellent chairing cannot quell.
Wouldn't it be great is we could extend Type 2 CI to much larger groups, and keep it switched on all the time? Equally, it would be fine if we could extend and police Type I CI. But, that is exactly the situation what you say OMG creates.
We are probably much better at thinking together about complex issues that our ancestors were. We think effectively together in short, erratic bursts, but we don't usually have joined-up thoughts, or well criticised or tested thoughts, unless we are in a Type I environment where the rules are clear. The OMG style connects up these dots.
Imagine a world where the CI was always switched on, always working. Creativity flows across boundaries, and very large numbers of minds could get involved in re-thinking extremely technical or complex issues. The upshot would be that the right thing to do becomes much clearer. But not in some magical way - using artificial super-brains and all that - but just because lots of superlatively educated and intensely informed people have had a look at it from many angles and thought about it and discussed it, simulated it under disciplined, critical processes. The IT widgets and context-sensitive helpers that you discuss as universal adjuncts for individuals and companies give you that filtration, and prevent group- and double-think. That's my OMG.
Response 12: The collective intelligence (CI) concept is both exciting and a terrible muddle. We recently spent a lot of money exploring what it means, so perhaps I can share a bit of what we learned. Essentially, I think that Response 11 is absolutely right, but there is a long way to go before we see it happen. But 2040 is the right sort of long way away.
First, a bit of history. The CI notion came from enthusiasm about Web 2.0, that is, about user-generated content on the Internet and the possible consequences of this. There were at least three pre-existing communities that became interested in this.
This mixture does not make for happy bed-fellows. The first two combine to make vapourware, and also ephemeral and intensely specialised applications. The second two generate the blogosphere, with its 50-60 million blogs, most of which are never accessed or read.
There is, therefore, a great deal of distraction concealing the useful heart of CI. That heart is concerned both with process - how you do it - and content, what you do. Gartner consulting defined Collective intelligence as "an approach to developing intellectual content, such as code and documents, through individuals working together with no centralised authority. (2005) "
I see that as being fine, as far as it goes, and provided that "centralised authority" means "doing what the boss/ system says". If, by contrast, this is supposed to means that a formless democracy of opinion will yield good outcomes, then it seems foolish. There has to be structure if not hierarchy, and that structure must be quite formal. In our study, we arrived at five precepts that capture some of what is needed. (The fifth is more of a look forward.)
For anyone to be illuminated, three conditions have to be true. You need to know what your problem is. There has to exist at least the elements of a solution to the problem. You need to intellectual and 'conduit' means of connecting the two. If any one of these is missing, the bulb will not go on.
We have all seen the cartoon of the guy with the bulb illuminated over his head. The popular model is: she sees a problem; she thinks; the bulb goes on; we all fall down in worship. Actually, what she sees that a bit of someone else's territory could be improved; so she lobbies to get them to recognise this; and they don't. Or he wants to do something, and has to convince others of both a new way of seeing – "You've got a problem" – and a solution – "Hey, aren't I smart?" This presents many social hurdles, which at best slow progress.
So, to go back to precept number 1, it is the affected group that needs to identify the problem to be solved. However, it's only going to do that is challenged correctly – perhaps by events, perhaps by ideas – and it may mis-define the problem. Actually, it will almost always mis-identify the problem, making busy by solving fake problems that are easy to handle. As a result it has to circle around the issue quite a lot. This is where open debate is very helpful, and where many hands make light (bulb) work.
Metcalfe's Law works if you have good filters in place. That is, the value does increase faster than the number of participants if and only if the input from those individuals is subject to distillation at an even greater pace. You can do this with process architecture (see Precept 4., below). You can also achieve it through the useful kind of self-censorship that is generated through having clarity of purpose, and the desire to maintain a reputation for being useful.
That has two consequences. CI occurs when those involved understand the problem. It occurs when the group are exclusive, in the sense of bringing in people who have useful things to say. The open Internet, where the very young test out their machismo with flame wars around ill-defined issues is the very antithesis of CI.
In addition to the foregoing, process architecture is basic and key. You need to do things in the right order. That does not prescribe linearity – going smoothly through Phase 1,2,3…, but it requires a change of gear – social norms, what is open to challenge - when 'this' is settled so that you can go on to 'that'.
Second, you need to think hard about the focus. For example, consider a plan for a project. If the information focus is the person of the project manager, then he or she will quickly be overwhelmed as the scale of participation (or project complexity) increases. Collective intelligence will rise to a plateau, or begin to fall. By contrast, the value added in a project focused network expands linearly or exponentially with numbers and complexity.
Database software can undertake miracles when compared to what could be done a decade ago. Natural language parsers and similar systems are able to extract the sense of documents and cluster them accordingly. Statistical structures are able to data mine with enormous subtlety. However, what are missing are symbolic representative structures – automatically generated influence diagrams, for example – which allow us to visualise how a group think or act. However, remarkable things are being done around, for example, counter-terrorism, complex logistics management and consumer and political preferences that are beginning to come close to this. When truly interactive media develop from the gaming environment, we shall see the ability to form such structures into visualisations that allow us to see a new universe of concept and connection.
Response 11 made a truly helpful division between the Type 1 CI (rigid systems with clear goals, for example financial markets) and loose, Type 2 CI, which is trying to solve ill-defined problems. Most of the world, and all of us for most of the time, are in neither of these systems. The OMG scenario has most of us inside one or the other, or both, for most of our lives. How does that happen?
A large number of service industries work by "intermediation". Banks, the media all stand between multiple sources of something and the myriad consumers of it, such as savers and borrowers, proivers of news and the public interest in it. Intermediated news is selected, packaged and disseminated in ways that have as much to do with brand management as they do objective journalism. It can be argued that there can be no objective view, for we are all creatures of our culture and formed by what we have experienced. One view is that what we need is a swarm of opinion, from which views which history comes to regard as correct emerge by a Darwinian process. As noted, there are great problems with this.
“Professional journalists acquire their craft through education and through first-hand experience of reporting and editing the news under the careful eye of trained professionals. In contrast, citizen journalists have no formal training and routinely offer up opinion as fact, rumour as reportage and innuendo as information.” (Keen, A. The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing. 2007)
“So what I think we need to do is look at how the production of trust works online and in the new media environment. And derive from that the set of principles that are maybe better than objectivity. Or better adapted.” Rosen, J. (What Are Journalists For? New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 1999).
The first quote bewails low standards, the second suggests that standards can be repaired through 'trust'. What we need, perhaps, are processes and tools. That is, if we could focus citizen journalism, it might be improved, If we could make individuals eager to gain trust, it would improve. If we could condense the result and make it available to other contributors, then the result would improve. Taking those in order:
Focus: if the subject is climate change, for example, solicit input only around the tiny subset of the issue that this thread represents. Filter any given contribution against things already said, facts established, the contributor's known position.
Trust: the aim of a contribution is, presumably, to be accessed by others. A trust rating, based on access, followership, thread 'parentage' and so on is already in place for Usegroups and Twitter. If you have a poor rating, nobody reads you; so you strive to improve.
Précis: as a theme develops, so a running précis in the form of a knowledge representation – networked icons, other schemes – tell people where they are "at" without reading the whole thing through.
But do we actually need mass participation to get a good result? Cass Sunstein is a co-author of the very influential book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness. (YUP 2008) He is now a member of President Obama's government. The book shows that policy is at its most effective when it predisposes people to behave in certain ways, rather than mandates that outcome. Mandated outcomes may be too rigid and too much of a given period and political administration. His views on the mass media are that they tend to exacerbate tribalism by playing to the issues of brand and segmentation that we have already met. He also remarked that “groups are often asked to answer questions that are not purely factual. Issues involving morality, politics, and law require judgments of value, not merely fact."
It is not currently possible to reduce such issues to analysis: indeed, that is why we have politics, to handle issues too contentious or too complex to address through more analytical means. If we have a constellation of views, capturing all possible value balances, then we have a path towards a different kind of policy formation. If this is connected to a CI structure that refines, focused, collects facts and manages debate in its own terms, then we truly have something new.
Surowiecki (The Wisdom of Crowds. London: Little, Brown. 2004) did say only that: “Under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.” The crucial thing is the qualifier: the right circumstances. Maybe OMG is that circumstances, or perhaps those circumstances enable OMG. What OMG is not, however, is the rule of the technocrat. Surowiecki noted that what we call Type 1 CI systems value experts because their skill exactly parallels the system; but that such expertise is over rated because it is “spectacularly narrow.” That is, it may be expected to contribute very poorly to Type 2 CI structures unless the framework is extremely closely managed.
Response 13: Lots of stimulating ideas, but I think we need to widen the structural architecture of the new scenarios. By structural architecture, I mean the framework of drivers for the new scenarios and the foundations that anchor them to the present. I.E. we need a starting point of currently discernable trends, observations and developments which build to shape a different future.
We have this, but it is focused very much on the evolution of social systems and I believe we should have wider agenda of PESTE issues to build into the structural formulation as drivers of the scenarios: rather than as add-on cladding to the finished article.
At present I feel anyone wanting to use the scenarios in a more technical or political context will have difficulty in extracting a relevant story line to work with. Now of course this can be built in as a retrofit but I think this would miss something. We should have the wider agenda actually driving the shape of the scenarios to a greater extent. (Ed: There are at least some drivers of this sort here.)
Response 14: Really elitist this stuff - you talk like its all stitched up by a few Big Minds and the rest dont matter. Well you need a moral side to this. University big brains like you kind of think and dont feel, and youve got to feel. Weve a moral crisis here because more than half the worlds not going to get through the crisises like climate change and thats going to leave the rich ones on top and the rest underneath. OK you say that they all want to consume and that they can mayeb consume if there really efficient, but the Environment isnt going to let that happen so then what? Maybe we need a new way of being people, like a change in our hearts?? Why dont you have a scenario that is that people change their hearts?
Response 15: I rather side with Response 13, in that I want to see the path laid out for me. Here's my take on this, drawing heavily on earlier papers.
These scenarios sound to me like phases of development: a sort of embryogenesis, if you like. This is more than somewhat reflected in Figure 5 and in your second lot of lava lights, Figure 6. To get to the OMG/ Collective Intellect state you need to progress through other states. Here's a figure for you:
The vertical axis shows a progression from hunter gatherers to the collective intelligence phase. Some phrases may need clarification. For example, 'institutional hardening' means the process by which soft, new structures get leathery and usable. Think of the callow untested post-independence constitution of a former colony, and the mature structure that has been tested by law, dictatorship and accident. Or the mature constitutions, tested by fire, of the old industrial powers.
The horizontal axis shows the logarithm of time – that is, condensed on the left, concertina-ing out on the right. The blue chevron pattern shows an idealised trajectory that flies through these phases, doing so smoothly if nothing gets in the way. Two diversion show how totalitarianism makes time stand still, and how rent capture in resource-rich countries make progress also stand still.
Thing do, however, do get in the way, as symbolised by the dark cloud. This interference intensifies over time and makes all but the most basic (and sophisticated) systems of government difficult. These are the systems issues that we have discussed at length.
If the blockade sets in early, you ricochet into GG. The majority of the world (somehow) wobbles into YF if the onset is late, or they already have the structures and resources to cope. OMG sits above the murk, approached out of YF or directly by nations (?) that have the capacity to do so.
I drew these lines in a horrible pink because they seem pretty problematic paths. I can see that YF is the best that can be filtered from the majority's wish for consumerism in a world of rising costs, emission constraints and over-population. (There, I said it: unmentionable truth. There are too many damned people.) OK, so it's the best-least-worst, but what happens if it is not achievable? Where do these populations go? Where do those without a hope of getting into YF go? Here's Africa in 2040, with a wrecked environment, a now-aging population and a tradition of bad government. Where is it?
OMG seems rather the same. It's a game that a few can play, and for them it will be liberating. Either they run the rest of the world, though, or the rest literally goes to hell. I am not sure you can drop Fearsome Chaos, therefore. It sits there in those lava lamps, and cannot be wished away.
Response 16: Belatedly, our thoughts on the scenarios. First, we like them & their images, we find them all plausible and as we would expect well argued. Congratulations on chewing splintered glass & coming up with a goblet (or similar metaphor). (Ed: Slightly disgusting metaphor, but thanks
One point, which does not alter the thrust, the OECD 2040 projections - since RoW is about 40% by 2040 it might be good to sub-divide e.g. Africa, SE Asia, Latin America ex Brazil, other RoW. (Ed II: data not available, but I'll ask.)
Response from Ed. The comments in Responses 1, 4, 13, 15, 16 demand a reply. All of them want more structure, and wonder if the down-side is low enough.
There have been attempts to explore the down side of the global situation. Team members may recall my e-mail announcing these draft scenarios as: "[The scenarios] do not explore the exotic hinterlands of crisis and collapse. One security-focused seminar explored such extremes, which it is quite easy to generate with the instability that we have now built into the system. The results of this were much less interesting than the balancing acts that the scenarios represent [...] One diagram of catastrophes was described as "28 ways of getting f****ed", and ultimately told us nothing.
Equally, third party vendors of catastrophe are not hard to find, peddling expectations of water shortages, mass migration, failed crops, ethnic conflict. These are generally of use in scenario generation only if they are an organic part of the engines of change, and not symptoms of it. That is, India's future is affected by the real possibility of water shortages, and not that India's future is forced down a particular course by a specific, hypothetical drought. The latter is a sensitivity, not a scenario.
I think that there are three profound concerns that need to be addressed.
These issues interact. The issue of the poorest and the question of the worst cases have much to say to each other. Equally, mechanisms that can ignore the least able parts of the world for some issues will not work for others. In a pandemic, the smallest and poorest nation can be a reservoir of infection, and so demands attention from the rest. In other situations, their misery impacts on the rich world only through its elastic conscience.
Comment suggests that we feel that the world is in a binary state: either it "fixes stuff", or a large amount of it will eventually fall into Fearsome Chaos. This is a perspective that needs to be challenged, but it is a common contemporary narrative that we need to accept, or explicitly reject. Response 15 laid down a particular challenge that is well illustrated by its fine graphic: how do the world's billions find their way through the looming black cloud? We have already suggested that market mechanisms will force consumerism-lite onto the emerging middle classes, so the model is not without its machinery. Nevertheless, YF has to accept other disciplines, and it is not clear where these come from. IF YF fails, it drops into FC, so - in a realist world of weak institutions - how much of the YF lava lamp feels like FC?
This brings us to the first issue, that of solution mechanisms. Problems are not all the same, and there seem to be three dimensions through which to sort them apart.
First, does the problem have a clear solution, or not? A pandemic is a fine example of a clear problem with neat mechanisms that point to a solution. A GG-like response makes sense, and could work. Global poverty is exactly the opposite: huge sums have been spent to little affect.
Second, if the issue local or global? Local issues - water shortages in the Gulf, for example - maybe very heated, but are resolved with a limited number of players. Others issues are more diffuse, and cohesion and clarity much harder to generate. A GG response would not work, but - as indicated in the scenario text - and the political need to be seen to be taking action might well trigger events which lead only to polarisation.
Third, is this a situation in which game theory comes into play: should individual agents collaborate for collective optimisation, or else play for individual advantage? A global pandemic is likely to provoke a quite different response from an energy crisis, for example. In the epidemic, there are no obvious national advantages to be gained from anything but cohesive action. An energy crisis is different: there are national advantages to be gained. Strong nations will crowd out weak ones, and collaboration will fail.
Regional political accommodation
Largely global accords
Global block formation
Regional political accommodation
Aggressive ideology; blocks
This gives a complex pattern of relations, as sketched in the table. The "killer" elements are marked in pink. They are combinations which require a global solution, but which either lack clear or economically viable solutions, or which pitch the agents into a scramble for advantage.
With these "killer" issues in mind, we need to ask ourselves the first of the three big questions that were tabled earlier. What are the mechanisms that are likely to generate solutions?
The essence of these "killers" is that the dynamic of cooperation is absent. One collaborates with those with whom one has most in common: rich with rich, resource providers with their peers. Power balances itself, and the powerless tend to lose. Von Bismark was said to have "created a graveyard, and called it peace". If by 'solution' one means 'stability' - more or less temporary - then a balance of power delivers a solution.
As a more constructive approach, however, how much collaboration re-emerge? Obviously, if it becomes possible to bypass the the issue with better ways of operating, or simply make the issue irrelevant. That sounds like knowledge, technology, organisation... The ominous dark cloud in the graphic in Response 15 begs entrepreneurs to punch through it. The OMG style, CI and all, would greatly help them to achieve this.
Response 17: Well, let me try. I like the GG that gradually loses its grip. I think it needs to have the fact that it moves from a phase in which "collaboration pays" to one where anyone with sense "plays to win". Sense, not because this is the right thing to do in the long term, but in the game theory sense that this minimised your particular pain. The tragedy of the commons - if you don't grab it, then someone else will. And that second phase is underpinned by real losers, by people who resent the initial authoritarian phase. The analogy with the end of WWII is not exact, but a period of wartime discipline allowing the transition to cold war, with dissent quashed and the media managed.
YF is only going to work if there is a lot more than market forces at play. Yes, energy is expensive and so we use less of it. Yes, market forces do deliver products that are efficient to use and efficient to make. But, there has to be something else: this collective sense of responsibility, of trust in international regulations, of this being a world where collaboration pays and "play to win" does not, or does not outside of strictly commercial circles. It feels pretty authoritarian, normative, controlled. Well, of course, you did say all that in the scenario.
But I have a worry, and my itch is what happens if that doesn't work out, but neither does GG either? Is it just a matter of degree - a bad GG - or a different scenario altogether? I confess that I like OMG, but I sense a weakness in it that relates to your question about the people who are left out.
So I have an alternative that goes like this. YF develops, but at the "bad" end of the spectrum there is considerable antagonism between those who make it and those who don't; between the old rich and the new and so on. It hangs together, but it is insecure and always likely to break. There are bits of the world in Fearsome Chaos, there is terror, there are dangerous technologies that nobody can control, there is a strong element of "play to win".
The OMG style evolves from this as a mechanism of self-protection. It starts in the military (sensor fusion, multi layer battlespace) and in commerce (market oversight, visualising cash and other flows, smart compliance and security, integration with momentary customer needs.) It flows into civil administration, as much as a means of managing hiccups as a specific source of advantage. Once there, it spreads like an infection through all of the agencies of government, which as you have shown have a life of their own. The real thing is that CI and OMG are the same thing, really, and CI has to be the most important source of power since steam. If it happens, then it spreads to anyone which can use it. IF those people are challenged by their world, they will use it that much more willingly.
GG starts in collaboration and authoritarianism, fades into statist, prescriptive world in which blocks form and struggle for their particular advantage. the atmosphere is fraught, war-like.
YF develops as you have indicated, but niceness fails to break out everywhere and all the time. the state is strongly authoritarian, and does things to you and your children "for your own good". Market forces abound, but are supplemented by regulation. As time passes, the relations between the consumerist-wealthy and the rest deteriorate, as the latter begin to slide backward in real terms. YF holds off the deluge, but it doesn't fix it.
OMG evolves from a down-side YF, almost inevitably if the technology and social mechanisms that you describe work. This creates an oasis of tranquility from which more effective coordination of a transition to a collaborative style can develop. But - pace Response 14 - I don't expect a "change of heart", just the pursuit of advantage, ideally collective advantage.
Response 18: Just a quick point. The logic seems to be "there is a crisis or several crises coming, and how are we going to get through them?" Is that really a valid perception? Yes, there could be problems ahead, but where there's sunshine, and music, and love and romance... I think humanity has a lot more resilience than you give it credit for. OK, you have to say how we get through the energy supply issue, say, but hey! that's why we have scientists.
Response 19: To Response 18. In essence, there is a race between efficiency and economic growth. If we get efficient as quickly as we grow, then our net demands on resource supply will be static. If we do not do this, then demand will increase, and with it, prices. It may be helpful to dig into this a bit, and i am going to use energy as a proxy for all the many things which a richer world needs to support its wealth. I am, however, going to look only at the supply side, although - of course - there are issues of emissions and pollution to consider as well.
If you generate economic activity then this requires inputs, such as minerals and energy. Now, it turns out that there are good measures of how much, on average, a unit of value added - of output - requires. This is called an "intensity", and is just a measure of the required input for every unit of output: energy divided by dollars, or tonnes of aluminium divided by the volume of building construction that is going on.
Here is a figure that shows the energy intensity of most of the countries in the world, plotted against their wealth, measured by GDP per capita. The year is 2007.
The very high measures on the upper left are former Soviet states - the USSR made no provision for energy efficiency, and left a terrible legacy of building without insulation or thermostats - or else they are oil producers, or both.
There are two things to note from this figure. First, poor countries are, on the whole, less efficient in their use of energy than rich ones. (A common objection is that a great deal of activity in poor countries is not measured, and this inflates the intensity. Actually, the GDP that is not counted in statistics and the use of non-commercial energy, such as fire wood, will usually roughly cancel each other out.)
Second - excepting the very inefficient nations already mentioned - everyone uses pretty much the same amount of energy to generate a unit of GNP. That is, the US has a big energy bill because it has a big economy, not because its general behaviour is in some way unusual. Cries of "gas guzzling greed" are misplaced.
What that means is that if everything remained the same, but GNP grew, then energy would grow in parallel with it. If the world economy is to quadruple to 2040 - following the OECD analysis - then so would energy demand, heavily focused on the inefficient yet supposedly fast growing low income countries. Recall, however, that energy demand is here just a proxy for minerals, for food, for construction materials and paper, packaging and a host of other raw materials, and one can see an all-round quadruple surge in pressures on supply.
The good news is, however, that "everything else" does not remain the same. The figure below shows the 1997 and 2007 energy intensities for a range of rich countries. All except Iceland have shown at least some decline, have become more efficient.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has just released its 2009 Energy Outlook, looking out to 2030. This sees OECD country energy demand as essentially static, although altering in its composition. That is, efficiency growth will increase sharply in these countries and match economic growth. There will be gloal energy demand growth, but 90% of this increase comes from the less wealthy nations. Their share of global primary energy demand rises from 52% to 63%, with just China and India making up 53% of incremental demand to 2030. The Middle East adds a further 10% to this demand growth.
Global supply systems can easily accommodate such growth, but at the cost of increased investment and energy prices. A cumulative $26 trillion dollars ($2008) must be invested to meet projected 2030 demand, or an additional 1.4% of global product. Price pressures are all upwards. OPEC revenues from oil and gas exports quintuple by 2030. China passes the US as the major importer of oil and gas by 2020, and India passes Japan to third place in the world by 2030.
The poor nations will make weak progress in this environment. The IEA estimate that 1.3 billion people will lack access to electricity in 2030, as compared with 1.5 billion people today. A higher proportion of their exports have to be used to pay for energy imports. New energy capacity competes with many other projects - education, health, transport - for resources. They will need net foreign direct investment, but only stable nations are able to attract foreign investment inot long term projects such as these.
Resources costs will be absolutely higher than today, and on a rising trend. High prices have two affects. First, they deter consumption. Second, the motivate industries to develop and invest in efficient technologies. These consequences can be amplified by state policy. The world in the period after 2020 will see the increased dominance of a few energy producing states, and importing governments will work to spread the risk which this implies. Equally, states are increasingly committed to cutting emissions. The overall thrust must accentuate trends to productivity as it applies to energy. Much the same is true in other areas, such as minerals use. A major proportion of both steel and aluminium are now recycled, with - for example - aluminium being "mined" from construction into which it was built in the post WWII building boom.
However, "start up" countries cannot recycle minerals that they have not yet acquired. They need to build their cities and roads, establish their transport fleet and so forth. They face a cliff of investment that has a large import component to it.
The IEA quantified the Copenhagen commitment to a 2°C stabilisation target, which is generally thought to imply a long terms carbon dioxide concentration of 450 ppm in the atmosphere. They estimate that this would need an additional investment of around 10 trillion between 2010 and 2030. Remarkably, this investment is easily offset by cost savings: currently-feasible transport efficiency improvements would alone save $6.2 trillion. Overall, the target could be reached with existing technology, backed by a combination of price signals and mandated standards of energy efficiency. Particular importance is placed on the retirement of old coal fired power stations in the US and China, and on the expansion of nuclear power. There is some growth in renewable energies, but the publicity that these receive is out of all proportion to their potential. Transport biofuels contribute only 3% to overall carbon reduction, for example.
So: we find that in a stable world, nay nation which pay for them can easily meet their energy needs, and that they can do this without adverse pollution or unduly restrictive legislation. However, this is very far from true of the poor nations.
Supply stability depends on a predictable operating environment, which in turn relies, in part. on that very stability of supply. A rational, predictable environment is essential to the investment that is required to generate that supply. Of course, the general political stability of producer nations has much to say to this. It is largely predetermined that the major hydrocarbon producers will become further geographically concentrated, and much richer. Their motivation has to remain that of economic optimisation, where the resource production is seen primarily as a balance between "value in the ground" and "value in the bank".
In an unstable world, however, things are less attractive. Immense investment is needed, and few are willing to invest when the situation is uncertain. This is true both in respect to new technologies, developed for global use, and the investment in specific energy projects in areas where political uncertainty is high. If investment is low, then prices will be high, often exacerbating instability.
A particularly challenging scenario is the one in which low global growth persists, prices are moderate and other priorities therefore divert states away from the difficult policy choices about plant, standards and end user prices. Investment is likely to be low, and so production capacity will also grow slowly or not at all. Demand will closely follow supply capacity, leading to price instability, sudden booms, misplaced legislation and further instability. We could move suddenly from a low price, stagnant regime to a permanently unstable situation in which price spikes succeed each other but political turmoil prevents investment.
Both of these alternatives are pretty bad for the poor, resource importing nations. Poor nations do badly when energy costs are high, but probably worse where they leap about unpredictably. The general outlook is for rising prices, and unless they can invest for efficiency they will be doomed to spend more and more on imports. However, efficiency growth implies rising internal prices that knock on to lower growth, require that important subsidies to the poor bye dropped, demand a rigorous redesign of urban transport, electricity supply and a host of other factors. (Added by Ed: Nepal has about 80 gigawatts of hydro capacity: enough to supply north India. It has tapped less than 1% of this, and Kathmandu currently experiences 7 hours per day of black outs. Indonesia is forced to supply either its domestic or industrial customers in Jakarta at peak periods, but not both.)
Energy is a microcosm of something much wider. The poor world can only get into YF is it can meet the standards of YF. The IEA has spelled out what YF feels like for energy in 2030. It is attainable with organisation, collective will and anticipatory action. None of these three items are much in evidence in the poor world, with noble exceptions such as India (or a few parts of India) standing out. I like the lava lamps, but I fear that the lower, brown-beige areas are too small in the diagrams. Rich men can enter earthly Heaven with relative ease: it is the poor camel that cannot pass the eye of the needle.
Response 20: Response 19 is indeed an excellent contribution and, in line with my earlier Response 13, we need to consider whether this contains issues that might actually shape one or more of the scenarios.
The problem over resource allocation reinforces that of work allocation. The future looks even grimmer for those countries that are waiting for China to move into a post industrial age - i.e. run out of cheap labour. Another feedback loop that I think might be worth considering is the impact of the scenarios on global political power blocks and international relationships.
Response 21: Response 19 said: "A particularly challenging scenario is the one in which low global growth persists, prices are moderate and other priorities therefore divert states away from the difficult policy choices about plant, standards and end user prices." I've read your new book in pre-print, Oliver, and this sounds a lot like your Low Road scenario.
The case that you call Global Grip here is interesting, but I think that it can be improved. Here's how.
Suppose that you start with something along the lines of the quote I've just given: debt-ridden OECD grows slowly, resource prices are moderate, the climate change thing gets challenged at all sorts of levels and tends to be sidelined. Electorates do not have an appetite for radical changes or increased costs. China and India go on growing, but at 3-4% off their peaks. Commodity prices moderate.
However, competition still remains really stiff. Production capacity is underused. Customers are careful with their money and you need new, excellent products. They are less interested in efficiency than new features, like aircon and so on has soaked up a lot of efficiency gains in cars. Developing countries feel low commodity prices, but benefit from low import costs. However, their population keeps growing, there is a long queue - starting with China and India - that block entrance to manufactured export markets, and growth is at best moderate.
In other words, the present is extrapolated unchanged, on a low growth profile, with no dispositions being made. There is no clear, single political dynamic at play. That gets you into the 2020s, when the game changes.
Here, I graft in the GG narrative. Things start to go wrong. Authoritarian and hasty responses are imposed, greatly disadvantaging some directly. All are affected indirectly by the consequent instability, high prices and sharp economic slow down. Worse, confidence is hit because there is no global solution in sight, and each 'unified' policy initiative runs out of steam, achieves unintended consequences or is just blocked. The political polarisation of GG then follows, and persists particularly in the poor nations.
Polarisation: I go back to the Agents paper that was so hard but so useful to read. I got from that that you can't think of this as just geography. And that's what makes the politics so difficult to resolve. I can see at least three value blocks in play:
How do you get out of this? I see two routes. One is a gradual emergence of something like YF, as described in Response 19: a late response, more costly, but developing to of the rich world. It is extremely hard to see how effective interaction with the poor world (or the oligopolies) can be brought into this, however.
The other route is classic GG: something egregious goes wrong: pandemic, real and unarguable climate change, something that makes all the squabblers stop and listen. Like the Western bar room fight, when the hero fires the gun into the roof. Then you get the "right" to intervene, and the GG story. But perhaps with a happier ending: mostly YF, but with some of the agents listed above still going their own way.
Response 22: Ed., responding to Response 16, asked:
I think that "solutions" sound increasingly like sensible, piecemeal steps that we take in anticipation and in concert with other reasonable people. I am glad to hear the IEA assessment. We have been looking at other issues, and find that they all have solutions if you go for the detail and forget the headline doom-saying. But, big but, you do need reasonable people acting transparently and in concert, and for that, you need everything else to be working. Putting it off is a sure way not to get that. So, timely, transparent, rational and collective, or at least collective amongst the powerful.
What happens to those left behind is that they are left behind. In a fine world where everything is growing happily, they will grow too. It may well be that OMG generates the means to accelerate their growth. But India shows how a basket case can become a superpower, and most of Africa the opposite. My twin caveats are that (1) the security implications of a disaffected poor world are managed and that (2) resources in chaotic poor countries are still accessed. It is not a 'fair' universe.
The third question seems to be well treated in subsequent discussion. Pretty much any world is going to be a continuum from the miserable to the splendid. The precise proportion of these is going to change, and the nature of the achievable splendour will depend on what happens up there at the top end. Misery stays just plain old misery, subject to the two caveats above.
The lava lamps do catch this pretty well. The world's like that, India's like that, and no doubt even Zimbabwe has a few glimmers of tatty splendour is the scattered mansions of the ZANU-PF elite. The real issue is how the different sized blobs get made, their relative size and the nature of their interactions.
Response 23: To the author of Response 21 - you have mostly paraphrased the description of GG in the main text, I think? But more emphaisis on the early years may be helpful.
In my opinion, the real problem with GG is the name, because it does not have a global grip, or indeed a grip on anything at all. Global Gripe, maybe.
What might be better? We want to convey a slow start, eyes off the ball, consequent crises, imposed semi-solutions, gradual working out for most of the world and most problems, but residual antagonism and a lot of people left out. All in two or three words. Well, there's a good word for the first part of this, which is procrastination - doing your homework on the way to class. So Sullen Procrastination? It doesn't exactly trip off the tongue. I turned to the Thesaurus, which helpfully offered offered cunctation and prorogation, but also "irresolute". How about Irascible Irresolution?
Response 24: Students and I have made for you picture, which I attach. It needs not explanation I hope.
Well, perhaps that yes it do. On the left, we have made a figure that show how the world would go if there was not limits. The colours are to show the stages of development, the which we put on the vertical axis. So CI is a red colour, and the words next to the axis have a red point to show this, is like a key.
But is not possible so to go ourselves forward normally. So on the right we show an area which gets in the way, the impossible zone. You have two tracks over the impossible zone, the one at the top is OMG and the lower one is YF, which can reach up to OMG. Then you have the GG track, the which goes into this zone. There is a crisis. One group of peoples are pushed down below the zone, and another climb themselves up to a bad YF. But what we show is that the top group and the bottom group cannot connect - there is no way through for them - unless a bridge is invented. That may come later, but in the actuality this is really difficult for the people at the bottom.
Now I come to the question. This is a picture, it is not life. If I live in my country and some of it is in the red and yellow bit and I am in the green bits at the bottom, can I jump up to red? I guess that I can, or maybe my son can. Not much is different, except that I have to get my son to study even longer so he can make is old parents happy.
Perhaps then I am in a country where there is no red and yellow. Maybe things here are not so happy. Your Figure 9 and all the things about CI means that it is not like now for these people. Now, they have a little bit of the top end usually in every country. Bolivia, Zambia, they have scientists, they have international companies and they learn from this. People get jobs and carry the knowledge around after. But I think in the like Zambia countries of 2040 there is no top end. And getting better is very difficult because the impossible zone puts itself in the way. So they say to the hell with the impossible zone - its is not really impossible, it is just what those rich people say is impossible. Yes, energy is very expensive, but not if we do not tax it the way the UN wants. And more thus.
So these people they do not cooperate with the people of influence and power in the red area. And that makes things worse. So for that I think GG is a good scenario, but I really want to see you make this point that there exist two rivers that flow themselves apart. Smart people and smart countries can flow up. Not so educated people flow down. Maybe one day they get together again.
Response 25: First, names. I agree that OMG has had its day, but I don't like "From Here (Hell?) to Eternity" and the Chinese phoenix, although a pretty notion, isn't very accessible to the average person. YF seems just fine to me. Then we have the many modifications on GG. I suggest this:
"Awakening" may be a bit too New Age: Minds Awake! was my first choice, but it does sound like a Broadway musical. The choice of Negligent Parents goes thus: those who ought to be orchestrating the necessary changes to international and local behaviour are negligent. As a result, there is a crisis. The general lack of discipline and respect leads to a dysfunctional global family. Police, social workers, long term dereliction...
The lava lamps are nice, but I reckon that you can do the same thing more clearly with a table. In the rows, I have the archetypes. In the columns, the draft scenarios. The scores are the proportion to which each archetype exists in each draft scenario: let's say, the proportion of people living in this mode globally. Obviously, if you chose "proportion of value added coming from this mode," then the figures would change dramatically. I've tried to show this in a second table, below.
|Percentage of people living in archetype||
Oh My Gawd
I have substituted the word "Shambolic" for the more terrifying "Fearsome" in the FC archetype. I do not to imply that I am consigning 25-60% of the world's population to Fearsome Chaos, which was a pretty terminal archetype. Rather, some of it is Fearsome (Somalia today, for example) but the remainder is simply as shambolic as much of the developing world is today. They are populations which are drifting along in a political limbo, considerably trashed environmentally and in respect of their natural resources, not connected to what is happening in the world economy and not developing the potential of its people. Institutions are broken - or never properly formed, as Response 15's fine zebra striped figure - and there is scant trust or respect for the concept of abstract, impersonal law.
|Proportion of value added coming from style||
Oh My Gawd
I have treated today's mainstream economic activity as YF in the table, although of course it is not. The large amount of value added in NP as compared to current values reflects the OECD estimate of the "other" country's growth. They of course migrate upwards in YF and AM. The extraordinary success in the AM style is reflected in its dominance of value added. (Very rich, those involved, given their numbers.)
I hope useful, and also the possible route into quantification, as urged by at least one earlier comment.
Ed comment: I put these names to the scenario group and got a broad response. Everyone liked Yesterdays' Future. Two did not like Awakening Minds, the rest did; but a substantial subset said that "Waking Up" sounded less - er - grand. Negligent Parents did not do so well, I fear. The idea was good, but B- for execution. Neglect & Fracture was suggested, which does what it says on the packet, and I rather like it.
Response 26: I am not much good at making graphics, but this follows on from the discussion of the poor nations.
I have followed two previous diagrams with the vertical axis. I can't do chevrons, but Response 15 and its zebra pole is the same as this. So is the first curve, the track made by e.g. Britain when it industrialised and -one hopes - goes on to collective intelligence and stuff like that.
Now we know that later development leapfrogs the earlier one. Britain (or Italy or someone) had to invent the joint stock company, but China doesn't. So it climbs faster, doubling output in an eye blink compared to seventeenth century Europe. Each goes faster than the other. Then there is the problem set by Response 22 about the poor, and texts leading to that. I show that as the pair of scissors, which cut the development thread. Those above the cut bleed a bit - ok too literal - and the rest basically fall back. They've got nowhere to go.
I see something like this in the technicolor Response 24 - the Zambias of 2040 are basically stuck by permanently high import costs, and with nothing that anyone wants to export. Is this really too bleak? How did little island at the end of a hot, pirate infested peninsula become Singapore? How did Egypt be a superpower for several thousand years? Why can't these poor countries pull themselves up by finding something they can do and working on that? Kenyan roses are in my supermarket, Zimbabwean nurses are looking after my wife in hospital. So I wonder about those scissors: is it too neat a metaphor? Do they get stuck, or just move more slowly?
Answer is, I think, to do with how much openness there is at the time. In a tough world, lots of FC in it, they do really badly and the scissors are real. So that makes something like GG have a hard downside. But in YF and its like, I think they do pretty much what they do now - migrate, remit cash, get educated, start internal consumption, climb the same line line as their predecessors.
Well, why does it matter for the scenarios? Because a lump of hopeless and angry people is going to make a bad case worse. IF there is upward mobility, the problem's less. I see an amplifier here: it makes bad, worse.
Response 27, from Ed.: (This was written for SAMI Consulting, and perhaps summarises something of where we have got to. It also gives the new scenario names an airing.)
We have been developing global scenarios for 15 years and, without question, these have been the most challenging so far undertaken.
I recall scenario work with 2010 as its target. The assumption was that human nature and the state of the world would not be that different from 1980, give or take a cold war. Merely slightly skewed, bigger and with better technology. This has proven to be broadly correct. The situation is simply not the same for 2040. Why is this so?
There are three broad reasons.
First, we are heading for a series of systems issues for which we do not have the adequate tools. These range from financial instability to the many environmental issues in which our faces are daily rubbed. In a world in which scientific advance makes access to dangerous technologies potentially easy, and in which there is no privacy, security takes on a new and invasive face. The world population will be a third greater, unprecedented demographic hurdles will have been jumped or refused, and the world economy will be perhaps four times its present size. Mineral and energy prices will be high. Adapting to all of this involves ceding or at least pooling much hitherto national power. It implies an increasingly authoritarian and technocratic state. It enforces a convergence of standards that makes economic commoditisation both quicker and more thorough.
Second, the primary agencies may not be nation states so much as informal clusters of interest and influence that increasingly transcend national boundaries. The emerging global middle class, for example, has common interests that are directed to consumption, and which extend very little sympathy to Western liberal opinions about ethnicity, class, tolerance or self-restraint. Politicians will operate in an environment in which technocratic rule leave little room for manoeuvre, and in which international interest groups - the aged, the newly wealthy, all shades of ideologue - propagate highly professional political narratives.
Third, and of perhaps the most profound importance, we will understand ourselves - how we think, how our bodies work and age - and we will have the ability to act upon this understanding. If we know how people are aware, we can probably emulate this in machinery. If we know how effective groups "work", we can use aware systems to build this into our organisations. Various forms of cognitive augmentation will be available, from personal advisors which comment and assist us in our way through daily life - the remote descendents of the mobile telephone, perhaps - to grand structures which maintain civil peace and direct flows of idea and opinion the way that traffic systems handle urban transport. Company systems will take on many of the roles of senior management, of the legal department, of counsellors and become both omnipresent partners and spurs to achievement.
We have three draft scenarios under development:
It is likely that different parts of the world will be in all three of these cases in almost any 2040 case that does not explore catastrophe or science fiction, but will do so in sharply differing proportions.
In N&F, the world vacillates about systems issues as prolonged slow growth focuses attention elsewhere. An early crisis stimulates acute, badly managed and poorly considered responses. These are quickly captured by nationalist interests for local benefit, and the brief unity descends into mistrust and recrimination, block formation and the general sense that it is better to play for local advantage than to be the statesman. It is hard to generate the necessary accords, technology transfer and general coordination that a response needs, and adjustment is limited to an elite group of countries. Ideologies permeate the population held outside of these bound.
In YF, the world is more thoughtful and systems crises present themselves less immediately. The three billion newly rich enjoy a life style that is what we have called 'consumerist-lite', focused on services and positional goods rather than material- or energy-intense activities. This is enforced by both market forces - costly energy and material inputs - and by international standards which mandate efficiency in all things. To maintain this, and to permit technology transfer to the poor countries, extremely close scrutiny is maintained over civil populations, not least over those with access to potentially dangerous knowledge.
Waking Up, WU, grows from YF. Humans have ben through a series of social phase changes - from scattered populations to the first large cities, the formation of nation states and empires, industrialisation, democratisation - and this step represents a similar discontinuity. It begins amongst elite organisations and the societies which they inhabit. What happens is based on the growing integration of individual minds, organisations and communities of trust. Everything from your car to your commercial association (company, if the form still survives) appears to be aware and is intent on managing both itself your life for the better. Children exist in an absolutely safe, adventure-rich learning environment, in which they are perpetually and contextually coached in factual knowledge and social capability. Economic environments are constantly nudging individuals to make connections which they could not have found for themselves.
Such societies are based on the growing importance of reputation and trust, something central to societies in which every move and contribution is registered and distilled. The collective becomes trans-personally intelligent, embodying all of the knowledge that it can access towards goals which are constantly changing to adapt to new information. A blur of new science, technology, social capability and ways of having fun and exploring one's potential encompasses the populations which are able to participate. The style is clearly potent, and no old economic institution can stand for long against it. The insight, the connectivity, the capabilities lead on to new things to which we cannot presently put a name - any more than the concept of a video game would mean much to a cave man - but the looming dead end that faces the consumerist-lite scenario, or the gathering fearsome chaos of the first, are both absent. Mankind begins to properly wake up.
Response 28: The 2040 scenarios in draft: a few observations
What struck me more than before, is that the scenarios highlight the various players, but not “the kind of world that will emerge”. It seems that none of the players, or even groups of players, are able to impose on the world a sense of logic, a widely accepted model, or a body of concepts and principles. However, even in the disaster-corner of Figure 1, with both a lack of systems and a lack of consensus, there may still be a set of rules that are obeyed - most of the time by most of the players.
These rules will be the most appealing of an unappealing lot, with the highest degree of validity in relative terms, however low that may be. Especially under more normal circumstances, there will be a “global mood” which indicates the rules of the game as accepted, grudgingly or otherwise, by most of the players. The question is whether these rules will be remnants of the Western or American 20th century, or will to a large extent bear the hallmark of the billions in China and India. In the latter case, the next question is whether, for example, China will make its presence felt as the super-materialist society it seems to be becoming at present, or the ancient culture inspired by Confucius.
If the ‘rest of the world’ re-introduces non-Western and non-Christian elements into the global discourse, this must have a major long term impact on the way the global community will behave. John Gray (see note, below) has convincingly shown how “special” (or aberrant) the Western world is in the world at large - with its teleological worldviews that seem to justify almost anything in the name of “progress”, and hence see history as a straight upward-sloping line.
I wonder whether this dimension of “the global mood” is sufficiently represented in (at least one of) the scenarios. (In YF, perhaps? Ed.) In historical terms, we have seen how powerful this dimension can be - from the era of eugenics and fascism at the beginning of the 20th century, to the cold war and MAD-thinking, followed by the commercialised world order, and now perhaps an era of religion-inspired ideology.
“The shift from individual liberty to state mandate was a feature of any case that we examined,…”, you state in the Introduction. I think that this statement requires very precise definitions. If we think in terms of ‘institutions’ and assume that only they have the power and authority to get things done, and if in addition we assume that these institutions are, or are derivatives from, “states”, one might indeed conclude that state mandates can only grow. This irrespective of the question whether these mandates will be used to actually achieve the new century’s global goals, or whether they will contribute to antagonism, ideology and paralysis.
As far as the other side of the equation is concerned, individual liberty, I wonder whether this will indeed by definition be reduced. If defined as the freedom of individual citizens to do things they like, to contact people they like, to travel where they want, to live and work in other jobs or in other countries, individual liberties are expanding (the main constraint being money). One could even go one step further and suggest that the ability of individual people to link up with anyone anywhere for whatever reason, is an irreversible and unstoppable trend, in almost every scenario. Vice versa, the ability to form networks represents a form of power that is most likely to compete with, and limit, state mandates.
This comes back to our earlier debate about “bottom up” changes : in my opinion, these are not dependent on wealthy and mature individuals who see the personal and philosophical attractions of a “bottom up” –change process, but on new technology that is available to all. Many people may even strongly object to the “bottom up” development, because they see it as fragmentation and the end of society as they know it. But even they will, also when helped by the state, not be able to reverse the trend. At best they can use the state mandate to counteract the trend, by institutionalising new forms of solidarity in society and rousing new forms of nationalism.
Following from the above comment, I wonder to what extent a model can be based on nationalities and nation-states to the virtual exclusion of all other connecting mechanisms. You make the same point in your Response 27 : “the primary agencies may not be the nation states”, but implicitly, the nation states are, in various constellations, still the elementary building blocks. This is where the authority and legitimacy, and the power to act, is concentrated. For analytical purposes, the national angle is attractive, as almost all quantitative data are (only) available on a national basis. National comparisons are always interesting and enlightening.
But it could be one of the main features of the world in 2040 that which passport one holds, will be far less important than at present. For countries like China, who have not even thought about foreigners who might want to immigrate and become Chinese citizens, this would be a revolutionary step, but it is not unthinkable. There could be a movement that sees such formal barriers as costly and largely unnecessary, in spite of the millions of officials thinking otherwise. Europe might be a test-case, moving in the direction of the open space for artists and professionals, and royals, that it used to be during the Middle Ages.
Multinationals started detaching themselves from their national roots long ago, even if a revival of protectionism might convince them that the world is not as flat as they thought. In an OMG scenario, people might even start wondering whether it is normal that hundreds of millions of people cannot escape from abject poverty whereas a few people in Dubai obviously do not know what to do with their money, - all because God gave them oil.
The responses to the scenarios indicate that it is not yet clear what, in essence, is at stake. Given the panorama of the three scenarios, what is the kind of disaster most likely to happen, where and how does it start, and who will be most affected ?
I agree that disaster-scenarios are not the answer to this question : there are too many of these already, without much scope for a follow-up. But who will be the judge of what “disaster” actually means ? A few extreme cases are obvious, such as an epidemic that kills 10-20% of the world’s population. But war, unfortunately, is already a less clear-cut case : some people believe in war as the road to a better world, in which case the victims become martyrs or heroes. Others see the positive effect war can have on their nation’s togetherness, which, to their dismay, will be lost once peace has been agreed. Shortages of raw materials can in principle be ‘disasters’, but for people who currently need such materials but are unable to pay the free market prices, that kind of disaster is nothing new. Climate change will be a disaster for the Maldives but it would not be the first time in history that people moved out of areas that became uninhabitable.
This brings me to the other side of the scale : heaven. So seems to me the description you gave, in the Editor’s response #27, of the WU scenario. “Mankind begins to properly wake up”. In this version, the scenario has, in my opinion, become too good to be true, because all kinds of positive developments interact with, and reinforce, each other.
Personally, I do not consider this a desirable future at all. The idea of everything being aware and “intent on managing your life for the better” is to me a threatening, unstable and undesirable future – even if I assume I will be part of the elite that defines what is “better” and will be in charge of imposing so much goodness on the people. A ‘collective that becomes trans-personally intelligent’ may be the way of the future, but I hope it will be the means rather than the ends of our development.
This takes me back to the question ‘what is at stake’, and what is the prize ‘we’ should have in our sights. The answer to this question is, as we all know, personal. Some of us see a ‘fair world’ as the absolute condition for a desirable global future, others will give top priority to less fundamentalism and a world at peace, or focus on ‘wisdom’ and sustainability in the sense that material targets will no longer be all-important. If WU is going to be the most positive, optimistic and hopeful scenario of the three, it should make an explicit statement on which kind of progress mankind is, in this scenario, supposed to make.
Note: John Gray was professor of politics at Oxford and is now professor of European thought at the LSE. His latest book - Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia - is published by Allen Lane and reviewed at length by the Times here. Gray's world view is bleak - we are aggressive animals with reason, but the reason is seldom far divorced from the animalism. Liberal approaches to political debate are idealistic, in that all our knowledge cannot change our nature. Gray does not see 'progress' as inevitable, in part due to the relativistic nature of the idea of progress, in part from a pessimism of human capacity to pursue any ideal thoroughly or for long.
Comment: Johnson, commenting on Berkeley's irreal world, kicked a stone and said: "I refute it thus". Real is what we say is real, the word being no more than a useful label, and one should not over-extend it or it will cease to be useful. So, too, with the word "progress", which is not a physical state of being but a more or less useful term of description. If my house is warm, that is preferable to burst pipes. Yes, perhaps we are less tough for being pampered; yes, perhaps we may melt the ice caps, but given the chance, humanity in its billions wants peace and plenty, health and hearth and home. We need a word for that yearning, and we call it "progress". The word is a useful label, and there are other useful labels - irredentist nastiness - that apply to other trends. One has to hope that during one's life time and in one's bit of geography, the first label is more pronounced than the second.
But, in terms of Response 28, there is certainly no guarantee that societies will evolve to harmony any more than natural evolution guarantees anything but a tendency to increased diversity and the specialisation that comes from full niche occupancy.
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