FORESIGHT IS 20/20

By Published on .

Those unfamiliar with futurists should cast aside any images of a mystic hunched over a crystal ball, stardust, or a child vigorously shaking a Magic 8 Ball. Futurism is not hocus-pocus. Thousands of legitimate futurists and scenario planners exist and organizations are hiring them as consultants for their insight and even tweaking corporate strategies based on their findings. Should companies put that much faith in futurists? According to futurists and the companies that hire them, it is decidedly so.

Futurists can be statisticians, demographers, historians, philosophers, analysts or experts in their respective fields. In addition to their own observations, they rely heavily on charts, graphs and trend analysis gleaned from various population, economic and social and cultural trend reports. Some look to the past for guidance, drawing on Greek and Roman philosophy, while others focus on the 20th century, and still others mainly focus on trends over the last five to 10 years. The ultimate goal is to uncover general trends in human behavior and forecast with some degree of certainty where various markets or industries are heading.

To know that Baby Boomers will start retiring in 2011, for example, is child's play. In the following pages you'll find some of the most sought-after futurists, analysts and luminaries including Esther Dyson, Don Tapscott and Ed Cornish, forecasting to the year 2020 in their own words. Each installment features at least one prediction and caveats and concerns within each futurist's respective field. Topics include forward-looking trends in the aging of Americans, immigration, migration, the world economy, technological advances, higher education and social and cultural trends including a philosophical and somewhat critical look at the impact of technological speed on consumers all of which are intended to help you plan ahead.

GREG SPENCER

  • TITLE

    Chief of the Population Projections Branch at the Bureau of the Census

  • EDUCATION

    PhD in Demography from UC Berkeley

  • AGE

    57

  • BOOK PUBLISHED

    2003 Direction of Fertility in the United States

  • FOCUS AREA

    American projections, fertility, mortality, migrations, age questionnaire design and imputation

PREDICTION

Two main [topics] are the aging of the population and the increase in racial and ethnic diversity.

A LOOK AT 2020

The population is steadily becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, the younger the group the more diverse it is. The groups most likely to gain share are Hispanics and Asians. Groups most likely to lose share are the current majority population [white/Anglo]. The African American population will stay roughly the same.

A great share of the growth in households in the future, and the growth in the market for housing is going to be in the ethnically diverse portion of the population. We are having a lot of immigrants moving to this country and they need a place to live. That's a very big driver of our economy. Immigration alone helps drive the growth in the housing market.

The other thing that's obvious, although people don't grasp it is that we know something about the pattern by which people age. I know the leading edge of the Baby Boom is going to turn 58. Fifty-eight is pretty close to 62 and what's significant about 62 is that's when people can start drawing [from] Social Security. The fact that the Baby Boomers are going to turn 65 and start commanding an enormous share of the nation's resources is going to catch people by surprise. As much as we talk about it, I don't think people are going to be prepared.

[Baby Boomer parents] had lots of kids after World War II and [they received] a lot of informal care because they had all those children. Think of the Baby Boomers as they peak into the old age window; they are much more likely to be unmarried or to have very small families. That means less access to informal care. That means they will have to hire people to help them out when they get old and need help. There should be a big growth industry, not just because of the number of old people. There should be job opportunities created, just because people who had a job retire and someone has to fill those jobs.

The Life of the BABY BOOM

The first members of the Baby Boom arrived around 1950. Throughout their lives they have had a profound impact on society and culture, and looking to the future, they will continue to have a dramatic effect on the population by making the over 65 cohort the largest segment.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

ESTHER DYSON

  • TITLE

    Editor at large for CNET Networks

  • EDUCATION

    BA from Harvard

  • AGE

    52

  • BOOK PUBLISHED

    Release 2.0: A design for living in the digital age

  • FOCUS AREA

    Information technology

PREDICTION

A lot of people are going to be in business for themselves.

A LOOK AT 2020

Information technology will be much more pervasive. Every technology device will be information rich. Everything will have an identity [to tell you things like], Is it on or off? Where is it? Things won't get lost because of signaling devices. It's going to make life much easier. If you have kids, you'll be able to find out when the school bus is coming. If you lose your glasses, you'll be able to ask them where they are.

The biggest fear when combining these technologies with our education system is that people get less educated, less informed, less thoughtful. Watching video games improves your hand-eye coordination, but doesn't make you understand the world around you or make you a better person. That's what scares me. A lot of technology is designed to help people avoid thinking.

People thought television was going to be this great educational media and it turned out not to be. It's not about information distribution. It's about people being motivated to learn, satisfying their curiosity, having an adult around to encourage them to ask questions and help them figure things out.

Another interesting trend is that a lot of people are going to be in business for themselves, contracting out their work or running their own businesses. There's going to be a lot of individuals as [multifaceted] consumers, and businesses as giant organizations will change. You're going to see a lot more individual producers. That's a subtle but really important shift. The balance of power is going to change more toward the individual the ability to blog rather than consume mass media; it's going to be a fragmented world.

Are people going to rise to the challenge, get educated, take action or sit back in their rooms and look at virtual screens all day? I remain optimistic that people will learn good behavior, get together and solve problems. They'll use technology to do what they want it to do it's really just a tool.

CSAR MELGOZA

  • TITLE

    CEO of Geoscape International

  • EDUCATION

    Masters degree in public policy from the University of Texas

  • AGE

    43

  • FOCUS AREA

    Multicultural market intelligence

PREDICTION

The new generation wants to become American but they don't want to quit being Hispanic, or wherever they came from. The implication is that there's much more of a salad bowl than a melting pot.

A LOOK AT 2020

When there is pressure from politics, and when countries have economic crises, immigration happens. The economic crisis in Argentina resulted in more Argentineans coming to the U.S. The political crisis in Venezuela causes more Venezuelans to come to America. A lot of these things are uncertain, [but for now] the economic and political trends in the region basically add up to us continuing to see further immigration from these countries.

Certainly, we'll continue to have a lot of migration from Latin America. We've seen that trend very strongly over the past decade and a half and that will continue. Among the reasons that is so important is that there is a tendency in immigrants to retain their native culture, as opposed to prior generations who shed their culture very quickly, like the Irish, Italian, Polish and so forth. The new generation wants to become American but they don't want to quit being Hispanic, or wherever they came from. The implication is that there's much more of a salad bowl than a melting pot. Before the 1960s, people were encouraged to blend in and learn English and not necessarily retain their native language. Public policy and sentiment made it difficult for people to discriminate. So the implication of that was that people began to feel more at home expressing themselves openly with their culture, and one of those elements is language. It was very common in prior generations for children to be chastised for speaking another language other than English at school. Now the opposite is often the case, where people are often encouraged to retain their native language. There's often even peer pressure for parents to teach their kids their native language. Because we've become such an open society, people are more comfortable expressing their heritage. That indicates we will be more diverse both genealogically and psychographically.

The other thing that may happen is that there are a lot of people in Asia, and the question becomes: will the pressures of politics or economics result in an increase or decrease in the rate of immigration from Asian countries? Various Asian economies are developing very rapidly, so it doesn't look like there's going to be a huge increase in immigration from a country like China.

I'm most optimistic in the way that America will continue to evolve from a sociological point of view, we have become a much more open and accepting society and I think we will continue to move in that direction. We will continue to embrace our differences and learn to not only live with one another but also to enjoy the diversity.

MARTIN HOLDRICH

  • TITLE

    Senior economist at Woods & Poole Economics Inc

  • EDUCATION

    Undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley; graduate degree from U Penn

  • AGE

    46

  • BOOK PUBLISHED

    Annual MSA Profile

  • FOCUS AREA

    Micropolitans, metropolitans, local market economics and 25 year projections of population by age and race, employment by industry, earnings of employees by industry, personal income by source, households by income bracket and retail sales by kind of business.

PREDICTION

We'll see dramatic growth in micropolitan areas.

A LOOK AT 2020

Woods & Poole is very bullish on Texas and California. The influx of labor from Southeast Asia/Pacific Rim countries, as well as Mexico and Central American countries will have significant impact on the economy and the size of the population in these two states. California will continue to have great exports of technology and agricultural products, and Texas will continue to be a huge exporter of energy, although California does have some constraints on growth of its population because of the lack of water in some areas, while Texas has less of a water problem.

We also foresee some decline in the Midwest although not in the metros like Topeka and Wichita, which will be supported by the aviation manufacturing industry.

With the influx of labor from other countries and the increasing age of retirement, there will be a pinch in the labor market while companies also use new technology and innovation to increase productivity and output with less cost. In turn, GDP will grow and the economy will remain strong, creating new room for growth in the labor market.

There will be large changes in the energy industry due to technological innovations. We have been creating energy the same way for hundreds of years, and I definitely see new forms of energy creation having a significant impact on the economy at large.

There will be an emergence of micropolitan area growth, in satellite micro areas outside of major metros that will benefit from the lower costs of real estate. Some of these are places that no one has heard of before that may become areas of dramatic growth.

The strong growth in some of the new micropolitan areas might be a surprise. For example Edwards, Colo; Rio Grand City; Texas; Daphne-Fairhope; Ala.; Branson, Mo.; Lake Havasu City-Kingman, Ariz. and Kill Devil Hills, N.C. are all expected to have population growth more than three times the national average between now and 2015.

HAMISH MCRAE

  • TITLE

    Associate editor, chief economic columnist for the Independent

  • EDUCATION

    Masters from Trinity College in Dublin

  • AGE

    60

  • BOOK PUBLISHED

    The World in 2020

  • FOCUS AREA

    World economy

PREDICTION

Japan becomes the oldest society on earth in 2020 in terms of the proportion of the population over the age of 65.

A LOOK AT 2020

The greatest and most interesting question is this: Will globalization continue? Do we become more global? I think the answer is yes. I hope the answer is yes. I'm concerned there are counter forces such as terrorism, protectionism, concerns that some parts of the world are excluded and that sets up counter forces.

America carries on being hugely important and maintains or increases its weight in the world because of its technical and intellectual dominance and because of its perceptiveness toward integration. Continental Europe will become much less important, largely a function of demography, but also because of the inability to retain the best brains and stop them from clearing out to America.

China and India become important as well. I buy the China-boom-racing-on argument, but I do think we should be aware there will be some pretty big bumps on the way. Having been in both China and India in the past six months, India's progress is remarkable, due to the brilliance of the high-tech services and the brilliance and depth of the industrial base. Plus, India is now a net exporter [of industrial components] to China.

Japan will inevitably become less important, largely because of demography and lack of desire. There will be excellent Japanese companies, of course, but it won't lead the world as many people thought it might in 1980. Japan becomes the oldest society on earth in 2020, but the oldest society the world has ever known in terms of the proportion of the population over the age of 65. [It is similar in] Europe, where Germany, Italy and Spain are all aging very rapidly.

There are three global trends to watch: We have to accept that energy will cost more. And we have to be more thoughtful about how we use energy. An aging society will become young by developed societies, so we need to make sure older people are properly looked after. Aging is a negative trend in economic growth; it makes people happy that they're not dying, but it costs a lot. The third is inequality within countries and between countries social tensions can become hard to manage. The envy of American lifestyles has contributed to the terrorist concerns. There are a lot of young poor people in North Africa and the Middle East and they look at what they see in America and the wealth and feel puzzled and angered that they can't participate in it, and a few people may want to take the terrorist route.

STEPHEN BERTMAN

  • TITLE

    Professor emeritus at the University of Windsor in Ontario,

  • EDUCATION

    PhD in Greek and Roman classics at Columbia University

  • AGE

    66

  • BOOKS PUBLISHED

    Hyperculture: The Human Cost of Speed; and Cultural Amnesia

  • FOCUS AREA

    Impact of technological speed on human values and historical memory

PREDICTION

The society will be far more interested in sensory pleasure and far more capable of being manipulated

A LOOK AT 2020

We're operating in a world of intrusive technology. Tech is playing a greater roll in our human lives than it ever did before. In the old days, tech was limited to factories, but now our homes are increasingly electronic, which means it's faster than the old tech. It's an accelerant. It speeds things up and will continue to speed things in the years ahead.

The technological speed accelerates change. In terms of consumerism and consumer products, it shortens product cycle time so more products and services burst on the scene, come up and disappear faster. It's very much like the pixels on our computer screen, the power of now an insistent present that forces us to exist in the moment and then the moment is gone, and we fixate on another moment. The more commercial the society the more it defines what our psyche is. Then our own identities become extremely fluid. We become protean, with no fixed values, allowing ourselves to be defined by an external world that is continually morphing.

We'll become more focused on desires and gratification, more hedonistically focused on material things. We're talking about not only physical objects, we're talking about experiences that will provide people with sensory gratification. The society of the future will be far more interested in sensory experience, sensory pleasure, and far more capable of being manipulated because we're so dependent upon sensory pleasure and comfort. These are the things we look forward to things we need and want. If you live in a consumerist society, you're talking about a society of individuals who are concerned about gratifying their desires. These are people who can be manipulated not just by Madison Avenue, but by politicians who promise security and greater comfort. If we're not connected to some deep and set values, but we are creatures that morph with change, then we're able to be manipulated like Silly Putty.

We're shifting to a personality that is fluid and not rooted, and because it's not rooted it's corresponding more to the Greek philosopher Plato in his book The Republic. There are three parts of the human personality, the highest part is the intellect access to wisdom and truth and the lowest part is the appetite and we're seeing the growth of the dominance of the appetites as the principle determinants of our decision-making. It's scary and predictive of a dark future. We have democracy, but democracy is one of the most dangerous forms of government because it's dependent on the peoples' thoughts, and if they're not well thought out, our nation can be in danger. There's an organic connection between being a consumer society and choices we make as citizens, because the consumer products are addressing us on a level that is lower and deeper than the mind. Civilizations are born, rise, mature and fall. I don't know if what we're seeing here is the beginning of the decline of American society.

DON TAPSCOTT

  • TITLE

    CEO New Paradigm Learning Corp

  • EDUCATION

    Master's degree in education and honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Alberta

  • BOOKS PUBLISHED

    co-author of The Naked Corporation: How the Age of Transparency Will Revolutionize Business, co-author of Digital Capital: Harnessing the Power of Business Webs and author of Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation (200,000 copies sold)

  • FOCUS AREA

    Business strategy and organizational transformation

PREDICTION

During the next decade we'll see the rise of the Hypernet . Everything we've come to know about our basic privacy can be destroyed.

A LOOK AT 2020

The children of the Baby Boom Echo are the first generation to grow up with [interactive digital media] and there are some profound conclusions from that. TV took away 24 hours per week from Baby Boomers in the U.S. these kids watched a lot of TV. Instead of passively watching TV, [the Baby Boom Echo kids] are reasoning, thinking, watching, learning, organizing their thoughts and authenticating. They think differently than their Boomer parents. It's also the first time in history where they are an authority on something so important, so rather than the generation gap that we had in the 1960s, the big difference is over lifestyles, values and ideology. Kids and parents today get along pretty well. We have a generation lap where kids are lapping their parents in technology.

During the next decade we'll see the rise of the Hypernet, where the Internet becomes the Hypernet, creating pervasive computing with many different objects from cars to doors to fire extinguishers to shirts and shoes. Every pair of Nike running shoes has a radio frequency [identification] tag so they communicate as they move through the supply chain. There will be trillions of objects that will be infused with knowledge.

These inert objects will have intelligence. Sales of film dropped 15 percent from last year because cameras have become smart devices. My cell phone is a camera, an mp3 player, a video camera, a stereo, a diary and a video game controller. So the physical world is becoming smart and connected. Consumers will interact with companies through trillions of inert objects and products will be infused with services. Look at the cell phone, for example. Cell phone companies make money through the services they provide. An automobile may become part of a new model where the customer doesn't pay more for the car but the service it provides maybe download another 50 horsepower for a date on the weekend. So pervasive computing and ambient intelligence can create new classes of experiences for consumers.

As we interact countless times per minute with technology and with companies, we are leaving a trail of digital crumbs and they're being collected into massive databases. We're creating a virtual image of ourselves. The virtual you may know more about you than you what you bought at age 13, and what you said. Everything we've come to know as our basic privacy can be destroyed.

However, there's nothing inherent in the technology that says this will help or hinder society. It's not technology that designs organizations, schools, government or families. It's people. The next 15 years is a period of vast promise and peril. The promise is that we could harness this new technological genie for massive economic development, social advancement, environmental protection and human justice on the global scale but whether or not we'll do that depends on how various institutions react.

DR. RICHARD SUZMAN

  • TITLE

    Associate director for social and behavioral research at the National Institute On Aging

  • EDUCATION

    Advanced degrees from Harvard, post-doctorate at Stanford

  • AGE

    61

  • BOOK PUBLISHED

    The Oldest Old

  • FOCUS AREA

    Basic social and behavioral research and research training on the processes of aging at both the level of the individual and the society

PREDICTION

There are likely to be very big advances in the integration between genes, behavior and the environment and will benefit not only dementia and Alzheimer's but also the actual slowing the of the process of aging and perhaps even life extension.

A LOOK AT 2020

Firstly, the population structure is changing dramatically as the Baby Boom ages and reaches what I call, the oldest old. The U.S. will be aging significantly faster, but not as fast as some countries such as Germany and Japan, where fertility is low and there is not the same level of immigration.

Secondly, we are going to see cohorts with increasing levels of education reach old age and that will continue for another 10 or 15 years before the educational improvement slows down. Education is a critical variable in both life expectancy and health expectancy. We've also seen a general improvement in the financial health in people reaching retirement, but there is some concern about the decline of defined benefit pensions, private pensions people are going to reach retirement with fewer resources.

There is uncertainty about the future of life expectancy and health expectancy in old age. Many of the researchers that NIA funds have projected higher increases in life expectancy than the Census Bureau or the Social Security Administration. If you look at the growth of the oldest part of the population (85-plus), which is the group that has the highest level of chronic disease and associated disability, and project to 2040, there are huge variants in the projected numbers in the different assumptions. Small declines in the mortality rate today compound and create very large population increases in projections for the future.

Another trend I think is critically important is the decline in disability, and a potential worrying counter trend, obesity. In the late 1980s, a Duke researcher found that disability was declining in the population. The dominant belief was that life expectancy would go up but modern medicine would not be able to keep up and there would be a piling up of chronic disease and disability. The study found that there was instead a decline and it is accelerating. The impact of this is very large; if the rate continues, the actual ratio of disabled to the non-disabled will remain constant with the aging of the Baby Boomers. What is driving the decrease? It's perhaps a combination of improving education, prenatal nutrition, income level and advances in medicine. Although a set of researchers, such as Dr. Dana Goldman, have posited that if the obesity levels in the middle-age cohorts continue, it could neutralize the declines in disability in 10 or 15 years.

EDWARD CORNISH

  • TITLE

    Editor of The Futurist magazine

  • EDUCATION

    Harvard College

  • AGE

    76

  • BOOKS PUBLISHED

    The 1990's and Beyond; The Computerized Society: Living and Working in an Electronic Age; The Study of the Future: An Introduction to the Art and Science of Understanding and Shaping Tomorrow's World; Alternative Futures for Global Society; Communications Tomorrow: The Coming of the Information Society;Careers Tomorrow: The Outlook for Work in a Changing World; Global Solutions: Innovative Approaches to World Problems; Futuring: The Exploration of the Future

  • FOCUS AREA

    Forecasts, trends and ideas about the future

PREDICTION

Increasing de-culturation. By that I mean the traditional customs we have had in the past are being destroyed weakened in general.

A LOOK AT 2020

Right now, the U.S. labor force is being threatened by Chinese workers, and I think there will be some loss in the ability of certain American workers to maintain the level of wages that they have had. Certainly, the differential between the amount of American workers and Chinese workers will shrink.

How about the labor market growing older, with less of the older members of the workforce retiring, creating a glut of lower-skilled, younger workers that can't advance to the higher-skilled jobs occupied by the older people? I have a feeling that people may begin to value the lower-skilled work more than they do now. A lot of jobs can be upgraded and should be upgraded. For example, if you want a household worker/butler/maid, you want someone who knows his or her job. Yet, we don't have schools for butlers, but I think that is likely to become more prevalent, because people will appreciate the value of having someone who is really competent and trustworthy. If these jobs are upgraded in terms of compensation, I think the job would not be so bad.

I don't think we are running out of work by any means, because people always would like to have things that other people could provide for them, so I think that we just need to make these adjustments.

I think that we are most aware in recent years of the acceleration of communication and the speed information travels around the world, which makes a lot of things possible, [such as] electronic immigrants like the workers in India who answer U.S. customer service calls. These things will continue as people adjust to the ability to make that happen. [Within the U.S.] a lot of people are able to work where they would choose to. Clearly, electronics have made it possible to do a lot more of that.

DR. FREDERICK BRODZINSKI

  • TITLE

    Associate director of the Institute for Transportation Systems at the City College of New York

  • EDUCATION

    Doctorate in higher education administration from Columbia University

  • AGE

    55

  • BOOK PUBLISHED

    Annual MSA Profile

  • FOCUS AREA

    Higher education, new learning paradigms and quality management

PREDICTION

Changes in technology will require regular if not continuous education.

A LOOK AT 2020

By 2020, we'll finally figure out how to use the Internet as a legitimate academic research tool. This is going to become pretty much standard, maybe a lot of classes will be recorded and stored and if you miss a class you will be able to access it via the mainframe of the institution.

Traditional brick-and-mortar campuses will be replaced by interactive Internet study opportunities, satellite campuses and on-site corporate education programs. You currently have the ability for anyone in the world to attend class via the Internet. As these technologies become more sophisticated and widely available it will be easily possible to have students on three different continents in the same class attending an MBA program.

The ability to have access [to education via the Internet] will change the mindset that in four years you get your degree and the fairy godmother touches you with a wand and you're educated forever; changes in technology will require regular if not continuous education. The half life of scientists and engineers is getting shorter and shorter, people having graduated 10 years ago may not know the latest technological developments.

The incoming [college] cohort, 18 to 21, will decrease in size, which will be balanced by an increase in the Baby Boomers returning for personal enhancement and more mid-level people [in the workforce] coming back for advanced degrees and technical enhancements.

GRANT MCCRACKEN

  • TITLE

    Adjunct Professor, McGill University

  • EDUCATION

    PhD in anthropology from the University of Chicago

  • AGE

    53

  • BOOKS PUBLISHED

    Culture and Consumption, The Long Interview, Plenitude, Transformation, Flock and Flow, Culture and Consumption II

  • FOCUS AREA

    Contemporary culture

PREDICTION

People are going to have more difficulty keeping order in their personal lives, it will be literally tougher to stay married and raise kids.

A LOOK AT 2020

What strikes me most is that businesses are in the game of change in a way they didn't used to be. They used to be reactive, not proactive, they changed when they had to. Now they're alive to the possibility that the marketplace is constantly evolving.

What that means is that, now that they're in the game in a proactive way, everything will jump in order of intensity. The rate of change has been relatively steady, but now that corporations have become change producers instead of change reactors, the whole dynamism of our culture goes up dramatically. It jumps in its intensity.

This has a whole range of implications, one of which is the steady pressure on personal lives. People are going to have more difficulty keeping order in their personal lives; it will be literally tougher to stay married and raise kids, because the world will be so much more dynamic. For instance, kids now live in a very dynamic culture, they're highly individualized and they change faster than they used to. Kids and spouses do this, so that creating a family, getting everyone on the same page is going to be a huge problem. The hope here is that as the corporation learns to embrace complexity, it will give people new adaptational skills. My hope is they will take these home and use them to recreate how the family works.

The big deal in some managerial circles is complexity theories. Corporations will learn to become complex adaptive systems and they will have to change most of the rule book. They'll be teaching people how to live with dynamism in the corporation. The hope is that people will take that training home.

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