Trends Shaping Tomorrow's World: Forecasts and Implications for Business, Government, and Consumers (Part Two)

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INTRODUCTION

For more than four decades, Forecasting International (FI) has conducted an ongoing study of the forces changing our world. One of the values of tracking major trends over such a long period is that we usually can see whether sudden shifts are indicators of seismic transitions or merely temporary anomalies or fads. This has made it possible for us to anticipate many specific developments in fields ranging from terrorist studies to the future of commercial laundries.

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This is Part Two of FI's periodic trend report. It covers technology, management, the labor force and work, and institutions. (Part One, published in the March-April 2008 issue of THE FUTURIST, tracked economics and society; values, concerns, and lifestyles; energy; and the environment.)

Technology Trends

Technology increasingly dominates both the economy and society.

* New technologies are surpassing the previous state of the art in all fields, and technological obsolescence is accelerating.

* For most users, computers have become part of the environment, rather than just tools used for specific tasks. With wireless modems, portable computers give us access to networked data wherever we go. Internet-equipped cell phones are even more convenient for access to e-mail and some Web sites.

* Robots are taking over more and more jobs that are routine, remote, or risky, such as repairing undersea cables and nuclear power stations. Flexible, general-service personal robots will appear in the home by 2015, expanding on the capabilities of devices such as robotic vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers.

* By 2015, artificial intelligence, data mining, and virtual reality will help most companies and government agencies to assimilate data and solve problems beyond the range of today's computers. AI applications include robotics, machine vision, voice recognition, speech synthesis, electronic data processing, health and human services, administration, and airline pilot assistance.

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* Superconductors operating at temperatures that will be economically viable for many everyday applications will be in commercial use soon after 2015.

Implications: New technologies should continue to improve the efficiency of many industries, helping to keep costs under control. However, this increased productivity has slowed U.S. job creation since at least 2002. Other developed countries are likely to feel the same effect in the future.

Technology made international outsourcing possible. It will continue to promote outsourcing, to the benefit of the recipient countries, but causing painful job losses in the donor lands.

New technologies often require a higher level of education and training to use them effectively. They also provide many new opportunities to create businesses and jobs.

Automation will continue to cut the cost of many services and products, making it possible to reduce prices while still improving profits. This will be critical to business survival as the Internet continues to push the price of many products to the commodity level.

Research and development play a growing role in the economy.

* Total U.S. outlays on R & D have grown steadily in the past three decades. In 2006, the United States spent about $330 billion on R & D.

* China has taken second place in the world's R & D spending, with a budget estimated at $136 billion in 2006, up from $60 billion in 2001. Still more spending may be hidden in military budgets. China says it will raise its R & D spending from about 1.23% of GDP in 2004 to 2.5% in 2020.

* R & D outlays in Japan have risen almost continuously, to nearly 3% of GDP. In 2006, Japan spent about $130 billion on R & D.

* R & D spending in the European Union (EU-15) amounted to $230 billion in 2006, about 1. …