Daily Management Review

Are We Ready For the Future?


For ten years, Matthew Burrows worked on Global Trends report - futurological key material for the White House and US Department of Defense. This report distinguishes itself by accurate and at the same time bold forecasts. It is this secret document identifies and defines milestones and direction of US policy. Based on the report, Matthew has published a book "The Future: Declassified", where he tells how significant shifts and trends are waiting for us until 2030. And here are some interesting thoughts and expectations.

Are We Ready For the Future?
The heyday of artificial intelligence

The possibility of loss of autonomy and freedom of choice is getting scarier with the development of artificial intelligence. If we do not agree on how technology, robots and other devices should be used, then the vital decisions will be made with little or no human intervention as a result. For many years, some scientists have feared ‘killer robots’ that are guided only by algorithms for deciding what targets should be eliminated from the battlefield. How do we ensure that algorithms will not determine our life, and we will continue to participate in important decisions? We have not even started discussing where to draw the boundary beyond which a device is no longer to take decisions on the basis of pre-defined algorithms. Scientists believe that in the near future, parents will be able to choose the embryo with the preferred combination of genes and then use in vitro fertilization to give them life. There are serious ethical questions. Do we have that right? There is also a social problem, and even geopolitical - what if only the rich people can afford this procedure? What if it is banned in one country, while the rest of the world it carries it out? These are complex subjects even for the most competent experts. The decline in learning natural and physical sciences is frightening, as people are getting worse to understand the technical details that are necessary for decision-making on these issues. It raises concerns and growing pessimism and caution brought out in recent surveys.

Is it possible to have a peaceful world?

The revision of the international system so that each would be responsible for world peace and prosperity is not an easy task. Such an attempt was made after the First World War, when the League of Nations was created. United States’ detachment was one of the reasons for the failure of the League, as well as the formation of the world in the 1930s, which has led to a new war. For many developing countries, the present international order smells a lot like a desire to defend Western interests. Obtaining the consent of the developing countries is not going to be easy, especially if they are unwilling to take responsibility. But the epicenter of global economic activity has shifted to the east, and the US and its traditional Western partners have neither the motivation nor the right to manage it all alone. With George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the United States threatened on the development of strategic partnerships with the new world powers, but the author doubts that it made those nations stand under the banner of the Western international organizations.

Russia and China

The biggest issues are, perhaps, China and Russia. Reliance, with which China operates in the South China and East China Seas, testifies its belief in its right to regional dominance. And statements about de-americanisation of the global financial system seem to be somewhat far-fetched. At least to date, China needs what the United States have already got: the technological know-how and innovation, which it craves. With Russia, it may be more difficult. Many Russians - not just President Putin - believe that Moscow had sacrificed a lot peacefully collapsing the Soviet empire and ending the Cold War, and these victims have been underestimated by the West and the Soviet neighbors. For many Russians, now is the time for revenge. Anyone who believes that the status quo is unjust, is not seeking to restrain themselves. The gap between the West and Russia will have dire economic consequences that will strengthen the country's problems in the long run. Yet we in the West must be careful and not write Russia off, what we have repeatedly done in the past. We have to find ways to keep lines of communication open during this period of alienation. The new Cold War is not in the interests for the West, it may only shatter the international system, which is already very fragile. Russia's main asset is the human capital, and if the mode shifts the focus to the development of this important source of power, the country show signs of recovery. For many years I was believing that China, Russia and other new world powers are destined to rewrite some, if not all, the rules of the international order. Why not strive to do it? All the new world powers have such ambitions, and we should be ready for this. It will be a difficult process, but it does not obliged to end with the conflict. All parties must be prepared to compromise, but at the moment, we have the advantage. Most of the developing world powers are too busy with their own problems. Trying to reform the international organizations, we can help to create an international system that, as before, will be based on the rules and will not return to the historical policy of balance of power, which has already caused a lot of conflict in the past. However, the author fears that the opportunity to revitalize these institutions are melting before our eyes in the face of growing pressure from China and Russia. So, even earlier than the author or anyone else expects, we can find ourselves in a multipolar world with no multilateralism, what would increase the potential for conflict.

Education Recession

The author is particularly concerned about the decline in the education and support of science and technology in many European countries, making them less competitive in the world market. After a couple of decades of stagnation, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes an attempt to spur progress and take a course on a future, different from the gradual economic slowdown. Japan has perhaps the most acute demographic problems, but this small country still represents the third-largest economy, one of the most technologically advanced, as well as home for many global corporations. The picture of the future of Japan might not be so sad, though hardly its economy will grow rapidly. Perhaps the most difficult challenge for Japan may be an adaptation to rapid changes from neighbors and the West. Next door, China is preparing to become the largest economy with a huge influence in the region. As the author said, China will certainly be more confident, following the path of most of the developing world powers. Japanese leaders, perhaps unreasonably, expect that the US will automatically snap to the side of Japan in the case of a confrontation with China. The change can be for better or for worse. And our task is to direct that inevitable change, so that they would turn into opportunities and benefits.

based on 'The Future, Declassified. Megatrends that will undo the world unless we take action' by Mathew Burrows