My Trip to the Future: Technology, Diversity, and Community

Rora

I spent a week in Brooklyn recently for my daughter’s wedding, and I came back thinking I had seen the future.

Brooklyn is not an easy place to live. My wife and I found a loft that was a bit gritty, but we wanted to share the life of my daughter and her new husband who live in a loft. It turned out to be quite interesting. One may have to face concrete floors, but oriental rugs give them a comfortable look. Exposed plumbing and heating, and walls of uncertain shape and color can be off-putting — until one realizes it’s a metaphor for the messy nature of modern life. One is forced to learn how to float serenely above the rubble.

The most striking aspect of my visit was to see how millennials like my daughter have formed a life of diversity. The wedding was a rich mélange of wildly different lifestyles, clothing, races, genders, occupations, and anything else one might imagine. There was a lovely young woman in a flowing gown, a black man with dreadlocks in a white suit and red tie, unshaven men wearing cargo shorts, people in business clothes, all manner of hair and sexual orientations. This community of the young got along so well that it seemed perfectly normal. No conflict, no cliques, no stress. This looked like the future, and it gave me hope.

One reason for this blissful coexistence is widespread information. They live in a rarified world where smart phones connect everyone together constantly. Travel by Uber-like car services is called up on demand. Places to stay are arranged on the spot using AirBnB. Any question answered with Google. Destination mapped with GPS systems. Food and groceries are just an email away. Texting is like breathing. They sleep with their phones, take them into the bath, and even to bed. One wonders what to expect when the next generation of IT beyond smart phones comes along?

There are many different Brooklyns, with wildly varying cultures, so it is hard to generalize. The Brooklyn of my daughter’s millennial crowd is just one element in this rich mix, but I think it’s the Brooklyn of the future, the America of the future, and even the world of the future. It’s a world of constant contact with everyone and everything, celebrated by a wild mixture of cultures, and held together by strong pockets of community, hopefully merging into a global whole.

Not an easy task, and there will always be conflict and brutality. But I think the world is coming together, and I was fortunate to get a glimpse of the future in Brooklyn.

The Struggle between Left and Right in Italy

Porotfino
Portofino

My wife and took a glorious week in Rome, Tuscany and Umbria recently, savoring the glories of Western thought and life at its height in the Renaissance. Apart from the wonderful sights and food, of course, I was struck by how vividly the central issues of our times can be seen in visiting Italy, and most of the EU.
Our guiding principles of democracy and free enterprise were firmly established in Florence during the Renaissance and have now spread throughout the world, with some exceptions like China. The comfortable lives of Italians and most modern people today are a result of this “liberal” culture favoring knowledge, science, human values. While Western culture has been a great historic success, the unresolved clash between left-  and right-wing politics remains fierce.
I have lived the France and travelled throughout Europe, and I find that life in most of the EU is roughly as good as in the US. Italian roads, transportation, government services, and most aspects of public life are excellent, for instance. With some exceptions, Italians generally live well with little poverty and crime in lovely environments. This makes it very difficult for anti-government critics to condemn “European Socialism.”  Considering all aspects of life quality, EU nations usually excel, with the US down the list with less advanced nations.
This euphoria was punctured when checking into the airport at Rome to return to DC. We faced a harrowing 5 hour ordeal of struggling through a labyrinthine snake line of thousands backed up behind a wall of confused security agents. Our flight had to be delayed almost 2 hours to get passengers aboard, which then cascaded down to hundreds of missed connections.
This is just a single incident, of course, but it show how it is possible to accept such horrible service as something that one has to endure.  It highlights the pervasive problem of bureaucracy that permeates all societies. The agents were struggling to get each passenger to unload their bags to gather all “electronics” (hair dryers, cell phones, attachments, cords, etc) into a single plastic bag. While all this attention is focused on such relatively minor details, studies on tests of airport security show a strong majority of attempts to pass guns and knifes are successful.
I am happy to report that this problem of excessive bureaucracy was in sharp contrast to our reception at US security coming home. As I told one of the TSA agents when arriving at Reagan National Airport in DC, “Italian airport security makes you look good.” Bright and alert, well-trained and competent, they whisked us through, highlighting the entrepreneurial spirit that Americans strive to cultivate. The irony is that Italians are masters of enterprise at the business level. The nations is flooded with thriving shops, small companies, and large global corporations.
That’s the main point to be made by this little anecdote. We live our daily lives balancing the costs of excessive market freedom advocated by conservatives against the costs of excessive government bureaucracy from liberal programs. Europeans enjoy the comfortable lives of social democracy, but they suffer a loss of freedom, innovation and bureaucratic governments. American society rightly celebrates this entrepreneurial dimension (think Steve Jobs), but we are horrible at public services and sound regulation. The US remains alone in not providing universal health care, child support, parental leave, and other common services.
One of the greatest challenges of our time is to reconcile the conflict between left and right to the benefit of both political wings. In the US, Republicans are once again peddling their snake oil of more tax cuts and slashing government. In the Reagan and Bush eras, this exploded the national debt, emptied out the middle class, and produced market failures like the 2008 financial collapse. The Democrats are again proposing government actions to revitalize the middle class with better education, tax breaks, infrastructure spending, and the like. Well-intended, but this flies in the face of ultra conservatives who are now holding governments hostage.
This polarization of left and right is emblematic of our time, with similar conflicts common in the EU, UK, Israel, and many nations,  It is usually thought to be unavoidable, but I think a deeper understanding shows unusual potential. Left and right orientations are like poles on a magnet or battery – the sharp differences are a form of energy that can be harnessed to create power. That’s why collaboration now represents the major source of progress today.
A simple example can be found in the stalemate over the Keystone Pipeline project. A constructive approach would be to “internalize” the social costs of mining into oil prices and let the market sort out supply and demand. The project might then simply fail on its own merits or survive as an honest venture providing net social value. This is only one possibility, but it illustrates the ability of collaborative solutions to serve both right and left wing interests.
There is a huge and growing body of knowledge and practice that illustrates the mutual gains that collaboration can produce for both sides of such conflicts.  But one wonders if serious political change is possible in American institutions. For instance, TechCast forecasts the trend toward “Democratic Enterprise” –  a synthesis of free enterprise and democratic community —  but the odds are slim.  Our experts think there is only a 30% chance the US will make this concept widely acceptable, even though they agree it would represent a big gain with very positive social impacts. Time will tell.

What If Lincoln Had Let the South Go? A Counterfactual Thought Experiment

Although Americans are justly proud of the heroic way President Lincoln kept the South in the United States, it is interesting to speculate on what would the nation look like today if he had let the rebels secede from the Union? Think of this as a thought experiment that attempts to explore an alternate path of US development.

The first difference would be that the lives of many millions of men who died in the Civil War would be spared.

Yes, the Southern slaves would not have been freed. But how much longer could slavery persist after seeing the North free their slaves and with the nation modernizing in the Industrial Age that was taking off then?

The major difference would be to divide the United States into two very different nations stressing very different values. The “Northern States of America” (NSA) would likely have been distinguished by their adherence to democratic ideals of community, human welfare, and the role of government, much like the Democratic Party today. The “Southern States of America” (SSA) would have valued the right of property, free markets, and limited government, like the Republican Party. These 2 cultures may not be quite so neatly divided, but please bear with me as I use this distinction to make an important point.

The two nations could have worked together on common issues, possibly, and they might have fought occasionally, but they could have co-existed rather nicely out of necessity.

The interesting question is, how would the paths taken by the NSA and the SSA have taken these nations in different directions and to different places?

The NSA could have created a more equitable and just society that works together well. They probably would have taken better care of women, the young, and other needy groups, and they would have addressed the climate change crisis. Favoring the use of government to pursue these goals, would the NSA have grown over controlled by Federal regulations and mounting debt, as conservatives warn? Or would they learn to temper the need for control to allow enterprise to thrive?

The SSA would have thrived economically for some time with cheap slave labor, and they likely would have been inventive in their freedom to be entrepreneurial with minimal government restrictions.  The social costs of this laissez-faire capitalism would likely have fomented slave rebellions, and social decay would have taken a heavy toll.  With no interest in dealing with climate change, the South would likely have become near uninhabitable due to drought, sea level rise, and extreme weather.

There are other paths that could be explored, but I suggest this little thought experiment illustrates the perils of ignoring the concerns of either the left or the right wings of politics. Both positions alone would lead to extremism, and they need each other to provide balance and tempered policy. When we become tired of the endless debate, the specter of either an extreme NSA or SSA would be a valuable lesson to remember.

What the Pope Should Tell Congress: Americans Should Strive to Realize Their Ideals

Image result for Images of the Pope

          As a scholar, forecaster, strategist, businessman, American Catholic, and all-around know-it-all, I wondered what I would advise the Pontiff to say in his speech to the US Congress.  I give talks myself, and I think I would suggest the following to help Americans realize their potential.   

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Dear American Friends:

          I am delighted by the warm embrace I have received from Americans, and honored to be with you in this seat of great power. This is especially fitting because I wish to speak with you about the use of American power.

          America is a great nation because it professes ideals of democracy, freedom, human welfare, and other virtues that move us toward the transcendent. Your marvelous technological ingenuity, creativeness, zest for knowledge and adventure, and economic advancement are holy attributes that express the sacred power of life and carry it forward.

          I must caution you that there are signs of illness in the American spirit that do not live up to your God-given ideals. The gap between your wealthy and ordinary citizens is beyond reasonable standards, and it harms your society gravely for many reasons. The extravagance of American life and the market push for consumption is a serious failing when much of the world struggles with poverty, and while the planet’s life itself is threatened.

          I understand many of you do what you can to alleviate these harms, but I think the basic problem is that American institutions celebrate self-interest and money rather than the society they should serve.  Your business corporations are dominated by Wall Street and the bottom line, while your political parties are supported by the moneyed class.

          Money is an essential part of any economic system, of course, but it cannot be the dominate purpose of a society.  I urge you to reframe your political system, business corporations, government agencies, and other institutions to serve others. You will be rewarded manifold.

          Take your great American spirit and use it for good. Please free your politicians from the burden of raising campaign funds so they can do their jobs and do them honestly. Ask your business leaders to include their employees in the conduct and rewards of their work. And please also ask them to work for the welfare of their communities. American business can help the developing nations prosper, and they will be rewarded in turn. Saving the Earth from climate change will challenge us all for decades, so addressing this problem will produce a large and sophisticated green economic sector with good jobs and solid returns on investment.

          I humble advise you that this is the path to the fulfillment of your great American ideals. Turning your energy to others is what we all need to find the Lord’s peace. That is what I am inviting you do with me. Let us recreate our institutions to serve others, and thereby help us all find a better measure of happiness. I know this is very difficult to do, and I am asking much of you. That is why I also ask you to do this by working together.

          Your conservatives and liberals have polarized the nation, but this can be resolved with honest collaboration to satisfy both sets of interests. Nobody today doubts the creativity of free markets, and we all know how essential strong communities and governments are to a healthy society. Other nations are exploring how they can integrate both philosophies into a more powerful whole, and I know you can lead the way. The same polarization of societies is happening around the world, and America was born to take us into a new global era.

May the Lord bless you all. Francis    

Why the GOP Loves Trump and the Odds of His Election

The amazing rise of Donald Trump to lead the Republican race for president is a highly symbolic event, and I think it signifies that American conservativism is in crisis.

At a time when trickle-down capitalism has failed and the wealth gap dries up market demand from a squeezed middle class, why would the GOP support a multi-billionaire who advocates more of the same pro-business policies?

With climate change threatening the planet, a hyper-consumer who brags about his extravagant lifestyle seems exactly wrong in an age of limited global resources and mounting environmental costs.

And now that the Nation supports gay marriage and cultural diversity, an aging white male who insults anyone he dislikes sounds like a prescription for political disaster.

Trump has great strengths, mainly his ability to take on big real estate projects successfully, and he has support among rank and file Republicans. A recent focus group thought him “one of us,” “tells the truth,” and is “like Reagan.” But the odds are strongly against him winning a general election, so this rage for Trump doesn’t make much sense, and one wonders what’s really going on?

I study economic cycles to better forecast change, and I think the Reagan Revolution of 1980 has run its course. The deregulation, privatization, and business tax breaks that stimulated the boom of the 90’s are over and Reaganism is in decline.

The overhyped booms and busts of 2000 and 2008 lost Americans trillions of dollars and still spook markets around the globe. Middle-class wages have been flat for decades while the 1% thrive, ironically fulfilling Marx’s prediction about the “immiseration” of the working class. In a world growing to 9 billion people, the single-minded focus on money is almost blind to the exploding need for good jobs, community services, environmental damage and climate change. These disparities in wealth in the face of mounting social concerns provoked Pope Francis to call capitalism immoral.

In the face of such daunting limitations, one would think new principles are in order. But the lure of “a self-organizing market economy with minimal government” is so great that the GOP can’t forsake Reagan’s legacy. Yes, Trump draws on the public’s anger at politics, but it’s a lot more than that. They like Trump because he exemplifies their free market ideals, even though he’s a caricature of a rich capitalist.

By celebrating this outdated ideology, Trumpmania could produce a conservative disaster. It gives Trump great appeal for the nomination but a likely defeat in the general election. Yet a “President Trump” is entirely possible. Remember, Reagan was considered a buffoon up until he took office,

Let’s strategize this issue using scenarios. The three most interesting possible outcomes are outlined below, along with my estimate of the probabilities:

Normalcy Returns – 60%     Trump blows it by becoming too insulting on a sensitive issue, so Bush or another normal Republican run against Hillary Clinton.

Trump Wins GOP Nomination – 40%   Trumpmania gets the Donald over the top, and Trump runs against Hillary or other Democrats.

Trump Wins the Presidency – 40% X 30% = 12%   Trump convinces conservatives, independents, and angry democrats that he can be presidential, while Hillary implodes.

Trump Loses the Presidency – 40% x 70% = 28%   Trump can’t pull it off, and is revealed as incapable of being an effective politician.
These are just my estimates of course, and I invite you to provide your own and do the math. You are likely to come up with roughly similar numbers. If Trump were nominated (40% probability), I think there is a 70% chance he could not beat a Democratic, so the probability of losing the electron would be 24%. To win, Trump has to beat a Democrat (30% probability), producing a 12% probability of winning the election.

A Trump Presidency may be a wild card, but it is entirely possible, and even plausible. By supporting a comic capitalist who appeals to their outmoded ideology, the GOP is likely to suffer a historic defeat that ends Reaganism.  And there is a small but realistic possibility that Americans would have to accept Donald Trump as president. 

Dystopias like the great movie “Idiocracy” are fun to watch, but reality often beats fiction. It could happen here in the Good Old USA.

A Poke in the Eye and the SONY Hack: How Will Americans Handle the Clash between Freedom and Violence?

The Interview (2014) Poster

 The North Korean attack on SONY raised the issue of America’s vaunted “freedom of expression” to dizzying heights as the company withdrew the offending film. There is intense concern over yielding to this cyber-attack because that would encourage other attacks, and they could become more frequent and damaging. If a backward nation like N. Korea can bring down a major corporation, we are in new territory of “cyber-feedback” where angered leaders can impose damage on enemies at will.

While it may be reasonable for Americans to see this as an assault on basic freedoms, it can appear very different from a broader perspective. At the symbolic level where we all impute meaning, the offending movie is seen as a poke in the eye of N. Korea. Yes, the movie’s criticism may be valid, and comedy has always been used to promote change. But that’s not how N. Koreans see it, and the result is to provoke conflict.

Americans have a habit of speaking truth to power, and our independence is the source of robust creativity and enterprise. But we often overdo it badly. When Westerners mock the Prophet Mohammed, for instance, this incites violence among Muslims around the globe. If we really want to insist on total freedom of expression, we should also expect a lot more retaliatory violence.

From this broader perspective, America seems more like a rowdy teenager than a global colossus. Issuing offensive media in an increasingly emotional and connected world looks not too different from the way teens attack one another on Facebook. What’s worse, those who favor showing the offending movie are like parents who tell their child it’s OK to continue the eye poking.

Americans face a tough choice. If we continue pushing the freedom to say anything, regardless of how hurtful it may be, we should not be surprised if people fight back. Or we could temper our indulgence in being candid to avoid provoking conflict, and become a little more mature. After all, most adults usually withhold gratuitous insults simply because they want to avoid confrontations.

Forecasting Threats Like Ebola

Eleven months into the world’s worst Ebola outbreak, there have been more than 9,200 suspected cases and 4,500 deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 2.5 times that many have gone unreported and warns that there could be up to 10,000 new cases each week by December. At the current rate of spread, there could be 6 million infections by early April 2015 and over 6 billion by the following Halloween.

In Vietnam, Myanmar, and several major Chinese cities, health workers are screening international visitors for fever before they are allowed to leave the airport, though there has not been a single case of Ebola in Asia.

In the US, Congressional leaders are calling for a ban on travel to West Africa. President Obama found it necessary to warn that Americans “can’t give in to hysteria or fear” over Ebola and appointed a “czar” to deal with the crisis.

A few infectious-disease specialists have speculated that Ebola could mutate into a form that spreads through the air. “It’s the single greatest concern I’ve ever had in my 40-year public health career,” says Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota. If Ebola can be caught from a cough or sneeze, that would be a nightmare, and a catastrophic global pandemic would be all but guaranteed.

Is the global pandemic envisioned by TechCast’s Wild Card already at hand? Our forecasts offer some perspective on the odds for Ebola and other pandemics. The TechCast panel of experts estimates a 22-percent probability that “A new pandemic devastates a major region, destabilizing global society.” They also think the impact would be serious, measuring -4 on a scale of -10 to + 10.

Although an Ebola pandemic is possible, these estimates suggest that it is unlikely there will be 6 million infections. The Ebola outbreak spread because of basic mistakes. WHO experts in Africa downplayed the risks in reports to headquarters. Many countries were slow to react. Budget cuts at WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control impaired their preparations and hampered their response. In general, the world was unequipped for a major outbreak of a disease formerly limited to isolated villages in Africa.

This has changed dramatically. WHO estimated it would cost $600 million to end the epidemic. Governments and philanthropists have pledged nearly $2.1 billion. Funding for CDC’s work on Ebola has been restored. Experimental drugs from the U.S. and China are on their way to Africa, and development work has been ramped up.

As a result, there has been major progress against the epidemic. WHO has declared both Senegal and Nigeria free of Ebola. Success in Nigeria is especially good news. The slums of Lagos, variously estimated at between 15 and 25 million people, were considered the worst danger zone for a pandemic.

No matter how many new patients appear in December, the balance clearly is tipping. Ebola will be controlled long before infections soar into the millions.

The real danger comes from superbugs that develop resistance to antibiotics. It is widely believed that the excessive use of penicillin and other drugs for minor medical problems, and especially in livestock, is promoting the development of far more ferocious bacteria that could devastate modern societies. TechCast experts estimate a 38-percent probability that “Antibiotic-resistant superbugs become common threats to health.”

These TechCast estimates are just that—expert estimates—but they help give us a better basis for our judgments and actions. In the case of today’s Ebola outbreak, they suggest the dangers are manageable and there is no cause for panic. They also remind us there are far more likely and enduring health concerns, like superbugs, that deserve our attention.

For more forecasts, See www.TechCastGlobal.com

Testing Forecast Repeatability: Before and After Data on the Move from TechCast.org to TechCastGlobal.com

 

TechCast’s recent move from its 6th generation website (www.TechCast.org) to its new 7th gen site (www.TechCastGlobal.com) offered a rare opportunity to test the repeatability of forecast data.

As the move was approaching, we captured one of the last data sets from the old site on Jan 29, 2014. The extensive background data framing each forecast (research breakthroughs, applications, new ventures, adoption levels, etc. organized into trends) was transferred to the new site, but we decided to drop the old expert estimates and have experts enter new estimates from scratch.  Below is a summary of forecasts from the Jan 29 data (Before) and the most recent data (After) on Oct 13, 2014.


FORECAST

BEFORE

AFTER

CHANGE
3-D Printing 2017 2017 0
Cloud/Grid 2016 2017 +1
Space Tourism 2015 2018 +3
Intelligent Web 2017 2018 +1
Climate Control 2022 2018 -4
E-Government 2017 2019 +2
Global Brain 2017 2019 +2
Fuel Cell Cars 2019 2019 0
Biometrics 2018 2020 +2
Virtual Education 2018 2020 +2
E-Healthcare 2018 2021 +3
Intelligent Interface 2019 2021 +2
Green Economy 2020 2021 +1
Internet of Things 2020 2021 +1
Hybrid Cars 2019 2021 +2
Synthetic Biology 2023 2022 -1
Small Vehicles 2023 2022 -1
Virtual Reality 2019 2022 +3
Intelligent Cars 2021 2022 +1
Commercial Space 2023 2023 0
Power Storage 2020 2023 +3
Precision Farming 2021 2023 +2
Water Purification 2028 2023 -5
AI 2024 2024 0
GMO Crops 2021 2024 +3
Nanotechnology 2022 2024 +2
Smart Grids 2024 2025 +1
Aquaculture 2025 2025 0
Modular Buildings 2026 2025 +1
Replacement Organs 2026 2026 0
Personalized Medicine 2025 2026 +1
Smart Robots 2026 2027 +1
Alternative Energy 2025 2027 +2
Next Gen Computing 2025 2027 +2
Cancer Cure 2029 2029 0
High-Speed Rail 2030 2029 -1
Thought Power 2025 2030 +5
Gene Therapy 2029 2031 +2
Organic Farming 2025 2031 +6
Solar Satellites 2036 2031 -5
Humans On Mars 2037 2033 -4
Moon Base 2035 2034 -1
Neurotechnology 2031 2034 +3
Child Traits 2034 2035 +1
Life Extension 2040 2037 -3
Star Travel 2073 2055 -18

MEAN CHANGE = +.38 years

Note:  Forecasts are for varying adoption levels.

Results

This simple test is a good way to check repeatability of a research method. It is often thought that such results are “anchored” by the existing forecast data, which is another way of saying experts are “biased” by the present results. The resulting mean error of .38 years seems remarkably small, especially considering that the average forecast has a time horizon of at least 10 years out.

Repeatability is not the same as accuracy, of course, and that’s where our annual accuracy studies come in, We have found from previous studies that TechCast accuracy is on the order of +3/-1 years at about ten years out. That is, there is a tendency for experts to be over optimistic by about 3 years and under optimistic by about 1 year. This tendency toward optimism is well-reported in the literature on forecasting. We call this “forecast creep” – the tendency for forecasts to slowly creep into the future by about 3 years over a ten year horizon.

Since the elapsed time between our Before and After data is about 9 months (Jan to Oct), forecast creep probably accounts for significant portion of the .38 years error. We also note that another form of the anchoring likely accounts for this repeatability. In our system of collective intelligence, the background data provides an empirical foundation of knowledge which experts use to make their estimates, thus anchoring the results to an accurate knowledge base.

Conclusions

This simple test demonstrates that the TechCast system is remarkably repeatable and robust. The results also confirm other studies we have done comparing results from two different groups of experts, which also seemed remarkably similar. Considering that the expert panel changes over time, and the conditions affecting forecasts also change constantly, these results support the utility of collective intelligence forecasting. There may be a small zone of error, but pooling knowledge is a great way to get good answers to tough questions.

 

A Carbon Bubbble in 2015?

The dot.com bubble caused a market crash in 2000, a housing bubble almost brought down the global economy in 2008, and today’s gushing excitement over new US oil and gas discoveries could also prove to be a bubble that is likely to collapse about 2015 – a “carbon bubble.”

My TechCast Project (www.TechCastGlobal.com) has been cautious about the new energy discoveries, and the following trends suggest good reasons for thinking the bloom is off the rose. Yes, abundant optimism abounds, but that’s how it always looks at the top of a bubble – endless opportunity and other exaggerated promises. Our forecasts reported below suggest it would be wise to consider the prospect of a major oil shock to the global economy in the next few years, triggering a global downturn.

LIMITED     The new discoveries are a boon to Americans, but they only add a few percent to global supplies. The US’s 3 million barrels/day output pales in comparison to global demand of 90 million barrels/day, which. is increasing rapidly as China, India, and other nations industrialize. The new oil in the Dakotas, for instance, is considered the greatest find ever in the US, yet this is only 0.5 percent of global reserves.

DECLINING     It is also clear that the supply of carbon is declining. The International Energy Agency reports that four million barrels are being depleted every day, and the rate of loss is increasing. The US Energy Information Administration thinks oil and coal seem to be flattening and gas is likely to peak in a decade or two. (MIT Technology Review, Jul 3, 2013) Shale gas only produces about 1 percent of transport fuel, even while the first gas mines are now declining. Some think gas will peak in a decade. (Atlantic, May, 2013)

OVERSTATED    There is also evidence that energy companies are overstating the supply to discourage competition from alternative energy. Shell’s head of exploration stated: “I am sick and tired of lying about the extent of our reserves.” Because of low output, Shell’s $24 billion investment in unconventional oil and gas in North America has been disappointing. The outgoing CEO said “Unconventionals did not play out as planned.” (Guardian, Mar 28, 2014)

ENVIRONMENT BACKLASH   This imbalance between growing demand and declining supply is likely to worsen as environmental limits press back. With climate change becoming serious, our Social Trends cite dozens of major protests as people demand environmental protections, carbon taxes, and other changes to curtail carbon use. Economist Jeffery Sachs predicts the next spate of big hurricanes, droughts, fires, and sea level rise will foment a revolt against coal, gas, and oil. (Washington Post, Nov 17, 2013)

IN THE FOOTHILLS NOW    Other new carbon sources are coming online as fracking spreads to some nations, potential deposits in the Arctic Circle become available with global warming, and energy efficiencies keep increasing. But these are like foothills in the huge mountain of carbon we have exhausted over the past century.

The result is that a serious energy shortage seems to be growing. Consider the following conclusions by global energy institutions and authorities:

* The UK Peak Oil Task Force reported: “Global peak production for oil would likely occur within the decade, very likely by 2015.” (Markpg, Apr 4, 2013)
* The International Energy Agency finds “Global oil production will drop 1% a year from 2015 on… supply would fall short in 2015.” (IEA, May 12, 2014)
* Geologist and energy expert Dr. Jeremy Leggett thinks “systemic energy risks could trigger a global crash sometime between 2015 and 2020.” (Guardian, Mar 28, 2014)

If the carbon bubble were to burst, this new oil shock would likely coincide with an overheated stock market that is also heading for a major correction. Equity prices are reaching the same atmospheric price/earnings ratios that preceded the crashes of 2000 and 2008, and the piercing of this carbon bubble could serve as the trigger for the next global downturn.

On the other side of the bubble, what seemed an endless supply of oil and gas may be viewed more accurately as limited, costly, and dirty remnants of a fading energy past. The declining cost of alternatives is even now disrupting markets for carbon fuels. See our recent breakthrough Solar Taking Off. In our forecast on Alternative Energy, TechCast experts estimate that 30 percent of global energy will come from alternative sources in one decade, about 2025, taking renewable energy mainstream.

Is Soft Power a Breakthrough?

My TechCast Project (www.TechCastGlobal.com) has published breakthroughs for years, usually for emerging technologies. This is our first “social breakthrough”—social trends that reach a critical tipping point that transforms society. Think of the Collapse of Communism, the Women’s Movement, and the Tea Party.

President Obama’s foreign policy raises the question, “Will soft power prove to be another breakthrough?” When the leader of the world’s most powerful nation shows a commitment to engagement, sanctions, and diplomacy to avoid war, it seems a shift in international relations may be entering the global mainstream.

The Republicans, Big Media, and almost everybody else thinks Obama is timid in foreign policy, while many love Putin’s show of strength in Ukraine. Obama has certainly make mistakes, and avoiding action on crossing red lines has left many wondering “What would America fight for?” (Economist, May 3, 2014) This may not mean that Obama is weak, however, but that people are confused over the changing use of power.

Soft power is poorly understood because it represents an historic shift in international relations. The concept was defined by Joseph S. Nye, Jr., as the move from war to  engagement. (Soft Power: The Means To Success In World Politics, NY: Public Affairs, 2004). The top ten nations using soft power are the UK, US, France, Japan, Sweden, Australia, Switzerland, Canada, and Italy, so Obama is not alone.

Consider some long-term benefits of America’s soft power policies:

SYRIA  The slaughter of civilians goes on, but Obama may be wise not to get sucked into what looks like a great civil war between Shiites and Sunnis. Putin has earned the condemnation of the world by helping Assad continue the slaughter, while Obama eliminated chemical weapons in Syria without firing a shot.

IRAN  After decades of futile sword rattling by American hawks, Obama’s policy of engagement has finally brought Iran to the bargaining table, and it looks like a solution may be possible.

UKRAINE  Putin may be enjoying his display of bravado, but he has demonstrated that Russia remains a backward nation bent on cold war violence. Apart from the energy companies rushing to tap Russia’s gas and oil, who would want to invest in an economy based on extractive industries, corruption, and force? In contrast, Obama’s patient use of sanctions has taken the air out of Putin’s sails and avoided escalation.

Soft power doesn’t provide the satisfaction of a decisive victory, but when has that been possible since WW II? The indecisive outcome of wars in North Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan show the futility of expecting triumph.

Soft power is also difficult and messy, and force may be necessary at times. Yet, the idea is compelling because collaborative problem-solving is often more productive than the alternative. All parties can win and it’s far better than war.

This is especially true because the world has become too complex and turbulent to tolerate conflict. Think of the enormous costs of having the US Congress in gridlock for years. And the massive threats of climate change, energy, financial collapse, and terrorism require working together if the world is to survive.

There is also a comparable trend toward the rise of a collaborative business model. But TechCast’s forecast for Democratic Enterprise is not promising, showing only a 27% probability of arriving and suggesting resistance to the change.

We will be following this trend at www.TechCastGlobal.com and reporting on future prospects. Stay tuned.