The impacts of new technological breakthroughs--and their unexpected consequences--continue to play a major role in shaping the way we work and manage our institutions, according to Marvin J. Cetron, president of Forecasting International Ltd., and science writer Owen Davies.
For some four decades. Forecasting International has conducted an ongoing study of the forces changing our world. Forecasts stemming from these trends range from the very near term (2005-2010) to medium-range futures (up to 2050), but the authors make no attempt to speculate on very-long-range futures that may prove of little practical use. Whatever your concern, some of these trends will have a very direct impact upon it. Others will help to form the general environment in which we live and work. They all merit attention from anyone who must prepare for what lies ahead.
The authors--and the World Future Society--welcome your feedback.
* 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.
** Computers are fast becoming part of our environment, rather than just tools we use for specific tasks. With wireless modems, portable computers give us access to networked data wherever we go.
** Robots are taking over more and more jobs that are routine, remote, or risky, such as repairing undersea cables or space-station components. Flexible, general-service personal robots will appear in the home by 2010, expanding on the capabilities of devices such as robotic vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers.
** Wireless connections simplify relocation of personnel, minimize delays in completing new installations, and let terminals travel with the user instead of forcing the user to seek out the terminal.
** By 2010, 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.
** Superconductors operating at economically viable temperatures 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 retarded U.S. job creation from 2002 through early 2004. Other developed countries are likely to feel the same effect in the future.
New technologies often require a higher level of education and training to use them effectively. They also provide dozens of 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.
New technology also will make it easier for industry to minimize and capture its effluent. This will be a crucial ability in the environmentally conscious future.
* Research and development will play a growing role in the economy.
** Total U.S. federal outlays on R & D have grown steadily in the past three decades. Projected R & D spending in fiscal year 2005 represents 1.1% of GDP, the same proportion as in 1990 but greater than in 2000 (0.7%).
** R & D outlays in Japan have risen almost continuously, to nearly 3% of GDP.
** China has taken third place in the world's R & D spending, with a budget totaling about $60 billion in 2001, the most recent year for which the figure is available. …