As we approach 2020 it is interesting to retrieve an article from over 20 years ago. In an end of millennium magazine all the forecasts of the future still on the horizon appeared.
Here is what they "saw" at the time, and how many of us today respected the plans. I marked the more or less accurate forecasts for 2020 in green, the more or less wrong ones in red, the “ongoing” ones in blue.
December 30, 1996 - The XNUMXst century will belong to China. This will be the era of Asian tigers and dragons.
When Bay Street bankers sound like Himalayan gurus, you know the world is turning upside down. Welcome to the eve of the 21st century. With the approach of the next millennium, there are now only 36 months left, everyone has become futurists.
However, as Yogi Berra observed so wisely, "The future is no longer what it once was". While some of the events and trends that will dominate the new millennium are already underway, most go beyond our imagination.
Of what we can identify and plan to continue, some are comforting, some are exhilarating, and many others are nightmare-inducing. The diagnosis of "pre-millennium anxiety" will become commonplace, but at the heart of this anxiety will remain a great, even growing, excitement to be alive.
It's a bit like the first days of the universe after the big bang, when gases were congesting and galaxies were forming. No one is really sure how everything will turn out, and it is not yet clear where Earth is.Tony Comper, president of the Bank of Montreal, commenting on the new millennium in 1996
As we move into the next century, a new way of life will take hold. On December 31, 1999, we will feel the flow of our lives cut off; what comes next will be very different from what happened before.
Instead of sticking to the civic virtues of deference and self-denial that have held us back for so many generations, we will follow an ethic of personal fulfillment that emphasizes self-reliance, autonomy and the pursuit of a better quality of life, rather than A higher standard of living.
In the next millennium we will love ideas, not heroes, but we will come to rely on the character rather than the personality.
These trends are already in place, but the midnight turn, on December 31, 1999, will provide these new attitudes with the catharsis necessary to establish them as generational values.
Life takes place according to a sequence of markers. Most of the points are personal but public events (some more important than others) become the seedlings of a new collective culture. The birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the D-Day landings in Normandy, the assassination of John F. Kennedy. All, in their own way, have helped define our culture. To that list must now be added the dawn of the new millennium.
The past two decades have seen an unprecedented acceleration of history. In Europe, the national borders that have been defended by invaders since the time of Hannibal have fallen to be replaced with the European parliament and half a dozen new democracies.
Ideological boundaries will be deleted, their physical manifestation was the symbolic destruction of the Berlin wall.
The pace of change is also accelerating. Its speed will make the world spin even faster on its axis. In Lester R. Brown's 1996 essay, "The Acceleration of History," the president of the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute observed that people born from "1950s saw greater population growth in their lifetime than in the previous four million years." The world economy is growing even faster. It grew from $ 4 trillion in 1950 to over $ 20 trillion in 1995. And in just 10 years from 1985 to 1995, it grew by $ 4 trillion, more than since the beginning of civilization until 1950.
Yes, the pace of change in our world is accelerating to the point of threatening to overwhelm the management capacity of political leaders.
Despite the massive political and social changes that we will have to experience in the next century, it is the sudden flashes of progress in science and technology that will most deeply affect our lives.
In the next decade, genetic engineering will begin to approach a miraculous state of grace that will eventually allow us to program much of the life we wish to lead, although the ethical implications of this new science have yet to be decided.
The disease will not be eliminated, but the boundaries of our well-being (or lack thereof) will be foreseeable and medicine will be able to manage foreseeable problems.
Scientists are also developing therapies that block the development of some malignant cells, which may prove to be the best way to beat cancer, AIDS, herpes and other chronic diseases.
Tissue transplants will promote the treatment of diabetes, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's.
As more human reproduction occurs in test tubes or artificial bellies, sex will become purely a recreational activity.
The most significant scientific discoveries will take place in information technologies, which made the communications revolution possible. Personal computers will accept voice commands and move information on Earth, digitally and via satellite, at the speed of light.
According to Bill Gates, the information revolution provided the platform for the real revolution just around the corner: the reform of a global communications network.
“We will communicate with it through a variety of devices, including some that look like televisions, others like today's personal computers, some will look like phones, and some will be the size and something like the shape of a wallet. And at the center of each one will be a powerful computer, invisibly connected to millions of others ". The effect of this change will be so large, he adds, that the computer will be more than a device: “It will be the passport for a new mediated lifestyle”.
Gates also detailed the characteristics of a virtual reality suit, which would provide between one million and 10 million "contact points" on the body's surface.
This would fool the skin in much the same way that rapidly changing still photographs lead the eyes to believe they are looking at "moving" images. The result would be perceived as a single continuous sensation, allowing users to experience their "virtual" bodies in cyberspace. "It will probably be used first to help people with physical disabilities", Gates predicted.
Over the next decade, the world will gradually be rewired with fiber optic networks that will carry most forms of communication, becoming the 21st century version of the disappeared continental railways.
At the same time, artificial intelligence (an oxymoron for our times, given the scarcity of the real one) will become less and less artificial and getting smarter. Computers will not only learn to think, but also to learn, beyond human guidance.
The microchip will take its rightful place among the four greatest inventions in history: the others are fire, the wheel and hotel room service.
But it is the Internet and its many siblings that will have the most devastating effect on society in the next century. An operational and universal digital information highway (of which the Internet will only occupy one lane) it will destroy much of the personal privacy we now enjoy.
Never since Johannes Gutenberg printed his Mazarin Bible with movable type in 1455 (making possible the mass distribution of the written word) has there been such a profound revolution in communications.
Yet the information superhighway runs in the opposite direction to the Gutenberg revolution. Where cheap and abundant Bibles allowed medieval populations direct access to the word of God, The Internet will allow people to mediate access to Omniscence, or at least its digitized equivalent. The Deus ex machina will be the machine itself, providing its users with a "virtual" reality so credible that it defies the attraction of the "real" reality that surrounds them.
The virtual marketplace will eliminate the need for "real" real estate agents, bank clerks, travel agents, stock brokers, and almost any other service sector worker whose employment is based on simple buy and sell transactions.
These will be much easier to manage at pit stops along the information superhighway, but that raises the more complex legal issue of cyberspace security: how will electronic transactions, which are expected to reach at least $ 100 billion at the start of the new millennium, be taxed and regulated? A group of lawyers who recently discussed the issue decided that the only effective way to maintain legal control of cyberspace could be to punish tax evaders and unethical users with the maximum penalty: banning from the network.
(Perhaps they will be granted a "separate virtual reality", just as British prisoners were once sent to the Australian penal colonies.)
This will be the era of Asian tigers and dragons, the maturation of China as the world's dominant power.
In the meager four years from 1991 to 1995, China's economy grew by a staggering 57%, increasing the per capita income of its 1,2 billion citizens by more than half to about $ 680.
China will become the largest economy in the world as early as the beginning of the 21st century, overtaking the United States as a generator of wealth.
Many of its urban citizens will enjoy higher living standards than the wealthier Americans and Europeans.
The few remaining legacies of communism will be dumped and Greater China will include not only Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, but its powerful and rich diaspora.
Shanghai, whose skyline is already challenging Hong Kong, will emerge as a commercial headquarters for the People's Republic.
As Chinese commercial mandarins dominate world trade, that country's politicians, writers, artists and scientists will be recognized internationally, just like Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov and Khrushchev during the flowering of the Soviet empire.
Education will be an integral part of China's industrialization. China already has at least 200 million more high school graduates than North America, and anyone visiting a campus quickly realizes just how significant the Asian presence has become. (Test results reveal that their quality is even more impressive than their quantity).
As these young men and women return home to join the group of previous foreign graduates, Chinese society is set to become increasingly free, its citizens will not be afraid to express their rights and grievances.
Exposure to Western society will increase the demand for political freedoms, but even more so for cars, televisions and appliances.
Growing tensions could become unbearable among most of the largely rural population of China, who lived through a half century of communist rule and remains Maoist, and the new educated urban class, who loves long limousines during the long march.
Over 200 million farmers are expected to be uprooted from their common farms over the next decade by current market reforms and chronic fertilizer shortages.
They are moving to China's overcrowded cities and nobody knows how these internal exiles will make their way to places that are unable to manage their existing growth rates. At the moment, nearly 100 Chinese cities are already exploding with over a million inhabitants.
Meanwhile, demographers agree that Earth's population will increase by nearly 100 million per year in the early part of the next century. Much of this growth will take place in what is now called "the Third World".
If western industrialized democracies only admitted 10% of this growth bubble, that would be equivalent to admitting 200 million people by the year 2020, making industrial powers unrecognizable.
Of the eight billion people expected to live on Earth by 2025, the five billion living in Asia will produce at least a quarter of the world's assets.
According to Riccardo Petrella, until recently the official futurologist of the European Union, a large part of the Asian population at that time will live in 50 cities with 20 million inhabitants each. The environmental and social problems this will cause are beyond belief.
Petrella, whose official title was Head of the Futures Assessment in Science and Technology (FAST) program at EU headquarters in Brussels, makes some brutal predictions.
It visualizes a world dominated by “a hierarchy of 30 city-regions connected more to each other than to the territorial hinterlands to which the nation-state once bound them. This rich archipelago of urban regions (with more or less manageable populations of 8 to 12 million) will be managed by alliances between the global merchant class and metropolitan governments whose main function will be to support the international competitiveness of the global companies they host ".
The scariest aspect of Petrella's vision is that beyond the walls of these rich "islands", he envisions what he calls "plains of poverty", where "citizens exiled from free trade and unemployment try to survive in settlements. megaurbans of 20 million or more people, full of violence and degradation.
“That the marginalized classes turn into criminality (drug trafficking, children, transplant organs and illegal immigrants) is obvious. But since these downtrodden classes will have access to CNN, they will have a media window into the prosperous city-states next door, just as televised images of life in the decaying West helped convince East Berlin residents to break the wall. "
Even if this bleak scenario proves extremely exaggerated, the gulf between rich and poor is bound to grow even more in the next millennium. At present, according to UN data, 358 billionaires in the world control more wealth than 45% of the earth's population.
As this imbalance becomes greater, social unrest will increase. In response, the upper classes may share their wealth, but its members are more likely to retreat behind enclaves of guarded and fenced fortresses. There they will live in perpetual security (and fear).
The climate of fear will fuel another growing industry: personal safety. Along with day-to-day defenses such as watchtowers, dogs, and armed response teams, the security industry will expand into sophisticated aerial surveillance. The most advanced gadgets will include satellite images and helicopters with infrared cameras capable of detecting the heat of a lit cigarette. The proving ground for such equipment is the Los Angeles Police Department, which already operates four Aerospatiale helicopters with projectors capable of turning night into day and a fleet of aircraft that can carry SWAT teams into action at a moment's notice. . It is only a matter of time in the business world of tomorrow before these services are privatized and offered to the highest bidders.
If all of this wasn't frightening enough, seismologists predict that Tokyo and Los Angeles, both built on geographic faults, are likely to be razed to the ground in the first half of the next century.
The engine of economic growth was once powered by oil; in the next millennium, the precious fuel will be water.
According to the World Bank, chronic water shortages affect 80 nations and 40% of the world population. The demand for water doubles every two decades and much of it is not where it is needed most. The main sparks of war for water will be the demands for fresh water from the Jordan, Mekong, Ganges, Indo, Tigris, Nile, Zambezi, Danube and Rio Grande rivers. Indeed, in a little-noticed watershed, the government of Mexico made an unusual loan application in May 1995 to the United States. Unlike the widely publicized loans following the previous year's Peso crisis, the demand was not for dollars but for water: about 100 million cubic meters. It was a chilling indicator of things to come.
Business in the 21st century will flourish, as free enterprise adapts to its global playground and takes the place of an exhausted and largely failed public sector.
In addition to taking all possible profits, the main obsession of multinationals will be how to minimize their taxes.
With governments repressing tax havens, companies will flee to a sort of promised land in the next millennium, a tax-free Shangri-La of their own invention. How governments will impose taxes on businesses whose owners live in one country, build a factory in another, sell their products in a third and invest their profits in a quarter, without claiming corporate residence in any of them ?
Carl Gerstacker, former president of Dow Chemical, had once fantasized about buying "an island owned by no nation" that would serve as "truly neutral ground" so that people could “To operate in America as US citizens, in Japan as Japanese and in Brazil as Brazilians. "
Outsourcing and co-sourcing will be on the agenda.
The vertical firm will follow the fate of the Dodo bird, as companies fragment their operations and share resources with their competitors. The agreements between banks to share the costs of developing banking electronics are a good example. The life cycles of new products will become so short that there will be no time for most of the new items manufactured by the companies that developed them. Instead, companies that make technological breakthroughs will authorize them, even their fiercest rivals, and collect royalties.
The average life of new consumer electronic products will be reduced to 60 days.
A curious new phenomenon known as the "bimodal factor" will kick off in the next millennium, prompting very large and very small companies to thrive, while medium-sized companies disappear.
The search for jobs will become even more desperate in the next millennium, and we will realize that the era of work for life is truly over.
By the new millennium, most citizens will be overworked or underemployed, with millions of "involuntary entrepreneurs" working in their shared homes or offices.
The workforce will be further distorted as the traditional demographic balance is reversed. In several countries there will be more retirees than children as early as 2020.
In a dramatic reversal of the First Industrial Revolution, which pushed a craft company into the age of machines, people will again be repelled about their individual talents and resources. That transition will be exhilarating, energizing, and tough. Even working at home will come under pressure, as Third World entrepreneurs, clicking on computers and modems on, offer to complete freelance assignments at a fraction of current rates.
The closer we get to 2000, the clearer it will be that change has become the only constant in our life. The millennial marker will give us a moment to focus on the future and assimilate the past, to find meaning in who we have been, so we can decide where we are headed.
Surviving the pressures of the next millennium will require great inner strength. The sense of individual vulnerability can only be reduced by strengthening our spiritual resources. The indispensable lesson we must learn, on the cusp of the 21st century, is to remain open to new experiences, so that instead of worrying about the details of an unpredictable future, we allow our lives to unfold with hope and euphoria.
Only by claiming our future (and that of our families and communities) will the human spirit prevail in the next millennium.
In that clear midnight, in three years, we could share a moment of mutual understanding.