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Research Report

Envisioning 2030:: US Strategy for the Coming Technology Revolution

The Strategic Foresight Initiative
Copyright Date: Dec. 1, 2013
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 40
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. i-ii)
    Frederick Kempe

    The world is on the cusp of another set of major technological transformations. Just as a teenager today has more computing power in the palm of her hand than NASA had when it launched Apollo 13 in 1969, the world of 2030 will feature surprises with benefits—and risks—we are only beginning to imagine.

    This report builds on our report Envisioning 2030: US Strategy for a Post-Western World, issued at the beginning of the Obama Administration’s second term. We may face a future of vast economic and political volatility, environmental catastrophe, and conflicting, inward-looking nationalisms. Alternatively, we could create...

  2. (pp. 1-2)

    You don’t have to be a believer in Ray Kurzweil’s “law of accelerating returns” to recognize the importance of technology in shaping tomorrow’s political, economic, and social trends. Whether innovation has kept pace with population growth— or not as some scholars contend—the technological changes have been mind-blowing all the same: doubling of computing power every eighteen months; a dramatic decline in costs of genetic sequencing from $3 billion when the first human genome was sequenced in 2003 to $1,000 today; the dramatic cost reductions in transmitting a trillion bits of information from $150,000 to just 12 cents over the...

  3. (pp. 3-8)

    Technological transformations seldom occur in linear fashion or according to anyone’s plan or expectations. Rather, they tend to gestate over time and then occur in qualitative bursts. The historical pattern is that sometimes innovation is policy-driven, sometimes market driven, and sometimes driven by serendipity. Not infrequently, the resulting disruptive change reflects some combination of all of the above.

    In the case of energy (not least, the Shale Revolution), there have been elements of all three factors. Energy is a critical enabler to the economy, to economic growth for the developing world, to addressing climate change and other environmental challenges, and...

  4. (pp. 9-14)

    Cities are the key to every nation’s future, from GDP growth to health, education, innovation, and national power. How urbanization processes are managed will determine whether the global war for sustainability and resiliency is won or lost. How cities are managed will go far in determining the shape of global governance and security, for effective management can turn cities into either sources of national and global governance success and security or sources of failure and instability. These are no idle claims, as more than half of all people on Earth now live in cities. Going forward, the world’s urban population...

  5. (pp. 15-22)

    A Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) is emerging that will transform not just production but society itself. The first industrial revolution was the application of steam power to production processes in the eighteenth century; the second was the invention of the modern assembly line at the beginning of the twentieth century.19 Like its predecessors, TIR is changing the way things are made, where and when they are produced, and how they are distributed. It is reducing the energy and raw materials consumed and the carbon footprint of manufacturing. It is changing social relations, creating but also destroying jobs, and altering the...

  6. (pp. 23-25)

    All of the technologies described here will serve up a risky measure of surprise, but the biggest surprises will not come from any single technology. Rather, the greatest changes will come from the cross-symbiotic impact of many emerging technologies interacting with each other. This is a familiar pattern found in earlier periods of expansion. In the 1980s, microprocessor advances intersected with laser-based bandwidth expansion and network protocols to set the stage for the emergence of the World Wide Web. Similar transformations are lurking in our near future. Fully autonomous vehicles will arrive well within the next decade or so, and...