Trends and Forecasts for the New Millenium

By Molitor, Graham T. T. | The Futurist, August-September 1998 | Go to article overview

Trends and Forecasts for the New Millenium


Molitor, Graham T. T., The Futurist


A professional forecaster who spent five years compiling the Encyclopedia of the Future offers his vision of events and developments that will affect your live in the next millennium.

Predicting the future requires the perspective of history. The future is part of a seamless continuum and emerges from roots deep in the past. For example, if we think of the computer as a computational device, we can trace its history back more than 4,000 years to the abacus. If we think of computers as merely the latest advance in the development of communications, the timeline traces back tens of thousands of years, or perhaps millions if we include gestures and speech.

Broadly speaking, there is nothing new under the sun; there are only evolutionary adaptations to changes that are brought about by new understanding.

Besides historical perspective, predicting the future requires special expertise. Because the storehouse of knowledge has become so vast and complex and the growth of knowledge is accelerating, advances in society are becoming increasingly dependent on people with specialized knowledge. So when we need sound thinking about long-term possible developments in any field of inquiry, we usually consult those few experts at the tops of their fields. But there is a danger: Expertise and specialization can lead to parochialism and tunnel vision, limiting the specialist's ability to see interconnections with other fields. Thus, professional futurists need to draw upon wide-ranging information from many areas. Futurists' ability to see connections among many topics allows them to identify the broader impacts of various trends.

It is this unique combination of perspective and expertise that enables futurists to see beyond current trends and construct useful forecasts about the future.

Here is my best advice for gathering materials to provide a solid foundation for forecasts: Voracious reading is imperative. I regularly scan up to 60 different magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. I annually acquire and peruse 100-1,000 books focused on futuristic themes and areas of interest. I go out of my way to collect chronologies and timelines of important developments. I rely heavily on statistical compendia, almanacs, and chartbooks. I listen to or view meaningful TV features, debates, and topical forums. I hire consultants to conduct global computer searches of scientific, technical, and professional literature databases on points whenever I am conducting specific research projects. Correspondence with experts on topics of interest, political leaders, and fellow futurists' research is relentless. There are no shortcuts.

The forecasts in this report are largely my own, based on data from a wide variety of authoritative sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, government statistical reporting services, major trade and industry-specific journals, and other journals such as Vital Speeches of the Day, Future Survey, and national weekly news magazines (U.S. News and World Report, Time, and Newsweek). For the most part, references to specific sources have been omitted for the sake of brevity.

This article offers a variety of selected trends and forecasts, based on my 40 years of experience developing, implementing, and teaching foresight techniques, including five years organizing and editing the Encyclopedia of the Future. They offer insights that can help individuals build their personal bridges to the new millennium.

Investing in Communications

1. Building the infostructure: Monumental investments are being made to develop and enhance the information superhighways. In the United States, a total of between $100 billion and $500 billion is being committed over the next several years to extend and upgrade competing information handling modes.

2. Business investment in computer technologies represented half of all capital investment ($1 trillion) in the decade from 1984 to 1994. …

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