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What’s Next? Will Emerging Technologies Help?

This is a confusing time, with the US in gridlock, the Great Recession rolling on, killer tornadoes and forest fires dealing a bitter dose of climate change, post-Bin Laden terrorism possibly spreading to Yemen and other failed states, and more surprises sure to come.

It’s tempting to wait it through, but indecision is suffocating us in a dark cloud of fearful anticipation – like being caught in the eye of a hurricane waiting for the other half of the destruction. Something has to break in the US soon – either Republicans and Democrats strike an historic budget deal to move ahead – or an American financial crisis could trigger another global crash. And how long can Americans ignore the threats of climate and energy while others lead the Green Revolution?

Our work on emerging technologies at TechCast offers a more penetrating grasp of what’s likely.  Economics, politics, and social values may swing madly, but technology forms the foundation of society and the force driving all this change. Today, the continuing explosion of sophisticated IT devices, websites, services, videos, blogs, and social networks is connecting the world in a noosphere of virtual life that is becoming increasingly intelligent. Lots of dumb behavior, of course, but the intellectual capabilities are vast. Take a quick look at our Forecasts sorted by Mostly Likely Year and you will get the message – a huge cluster of IT and E-Commerce breakthroughs is likely around 2015. As one small example, about 6-7 billion people will soon use cell phones with internet access.

No forecast of emerging technologies is perfect (ours certainly are not), but this data provides a fairly solid basis for thinking about the big changes that are coming.  I think it means we should expect a heightened level of global interaction in all aspects of life – international business and economics, social relations, political speech and action, intellectual work, and everything else. I know it’s been said before – but the best metaphor for what’s coming is the emergence of a global central nervous system, a global brain with its own laws of knowledge, behavior, intelligence, and even consciousness.

Just as the Arab Spring shocked us, I think we can expect to see more political upheaval as these forces spread transparency and raise aspirations around the globe, spurred on by the mounting Global MegaCrisis. The path from the collapse of Communism, to the empowerment of women, and now to the Arab Spring forms a well-defined trajectory to some type of new global order we do not yet understand, and I suspect we are not half way there yet. Will China fall next? Will corporations and governments be forced to make the structural changes in governance that are badly needed? What big changes are likely to shock us?

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