Michael Lee is a futurist who founded the World Future Society’s Southern African Chapter and the Institute of Futurology. He’s also an IEET contributing writer. His point-of-view is an essential contribution to IEET’s African Futures Project.
The future of nations is not written in the stars but in their demographics. In particular, a futurist can study national fertility rates, urbanisation trends and the age structure of population groups to get a picture of a country’s long-term future.
Remarkable polymath Benjamin Franklin was one of the founding fathers of America and, back in the 1770s, he enjoyed unbridled optimism about the future of his nation, which at the time was still overwhelmingly rural and comparatively “backward”. Why, then, was his prognosis so rosy?
Innovator Elon Musk was widely reported in the media when he described artificial intelligence (AI) as probably the most serious threat to the survival of the human race.  But while artificial intelligence systems will certainly take over an increasing range and number of jobs formerly carried out by people, humans will remain infinitely more dangerous than robots for generations to come.
Surprising as this may sound, nature is full of automatic processes, as will shortly be shown. And computers and mechanical devices are automating social processes on an ever-increasing scale, from assembly lines and the new 3-D printers to self-service devices like ATMs, kiosks and vending machines, from robots to computerized flight programs. As you read this, you may receive a pop up meeting reminder on Outlook or a message texted on your mobile phone indicating it’s time to submit your tax returns. That’s the efficiency of automation.
Adopting a satirical tone, self-confessed sceptic Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s bestseller The Black Swan ridicules the idea of predicting the future. Instead, he argues that the world is dominated by the impact of rare, unforeseen, random, highly improbable and yet influential events. These Black Swans, he says, happen abruptly, coming from outside the range of our vision.
Everyone has a favourite iconic Japanese consumer product – the Sony Walkman, a Panasonic DVD recorder, Blu-ray disc player, a Canon, Nikon, Minolta or Pentax camera or even a Toyota Prius. But this century will witness the long, slow sunset of Japan’s power.
A generation of far-reaching social change lies ahead for Australia. There will be a serious struggle to adapt to climate change as water security becomes a critical issue for many coastal cities and for agriculture.
Expect increased nationalism, including the flexing of military muscle, from China between now and 2050. Although I predict a surge in nationalistic sentiment and policy-making, one cannot rule out the possibility that a great new peaceful Chinese civilisation could emerge towards the middle of the century which would benefit, rather than harm, humanity.
Everyone can see that North Korea is trapped in a tragic time-warp, a kind of living museum of 1950s style Cold War socialism. Its political bubble of unreality is likely to burst open with great force well before mid-century.
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