Top 10 Forecasts from Outlook 2007

Each year since 1985, the editors of THE FUTURIST have selected the most thought-provoking ideas and forecasts appearing in the magazine. Over the years, Outlook has spotlighted the emergence of such epochal developments as the Internet, virtual reality, and the end of the Cold War.

Here are the editors' top 10 forecasts from Outlook 2007:

    1. Generation Y will migrate heavily overseas. For the first time in its history, the United States will see a significant proportion of its population emigrate due to overseas opportunities. According to futurists Arnold Brown and Edie Weiner, Generation Y, the population segment born between 1978 and 1995, may be the first U.S. generation to have many of its members leave the country to pursue large portions of their lives, if not their entire adult lives, overseas. Brown and Weiner also predict that by 2025, 75% of Americans will live on the country’s coasts.
 

    2. Dwindling supplies of water in China will impact the global economy. With uneven development across China, the most water-intensive industries and densest population are in regions where water is scarcest. The result is higher prices for commodities and goods exported from China, so the costs of resource and environmental mismanagement are transferred to the rest of the world.  As a nation, China already outconsumes the United States on basic commodities, such as food, energy, meat, grain, oil, coal, and steel.

    3.  Workers will increasingly choose more time over more money. The productivity boom in the U.S. economy during the twentieth century created a massive consumer culture - people made more money, so they bought more stuff. In the twenty-first century, however, workers will increasingly choose to trade higher salaries for more time with their families. Nearly a third of U.S. workers recently polled said they would prefer more time off rather than more hours of paid employment. 

    4. Outlook for Asia: China for the short term, India for the long term. By 2025, both countries will be stronger, wealthier, freer, and more stable than they are today, but India's unique assets - such as widespread use of English, a democratic government, and relative transparency of its institutions - make it more economically viable farther out. 

    5. Children's "nature deficit disorder" will grow as a health threat. Children today are spending less time in direct contact with nature than did previous generations. The impacts are showing up not only in their lack of physical fitness, but also in the growing prevalence of hyperactivity and attention deficit. Studies show that immersing children in outdoor settings - away from television and video games - fosters more creative mental activity and concentration.

    6. We’ll incorporate wireless technology into our thought processing by 2030. In the next 25 years, we’ll learn how to augment our 100 trillion relatively slow inter-neuronal connections with high-speed virtual connections via nanorobotics. This will allow us to greatly boost our pattern-recognition abilities, memories, and overall thinking capacity, as well as to directly interface with powerful forms of computer intelligence and with each other. By the end of the 2030s, we will be able to move beyond the basic architecture of the brain’s neural regions.

    7. The robotic workforce will change how bosses value employees. As robots and intelligent software increasingly emulate the knowledge work that humans can do, businesses will "hire" whatever type of mind that can do the work - robotic or human. Future human workers may collaborate with robotic minds on projects for a variety of enterprises, rather than work for a single employer. 

    8. The costs of global-warming-related disasters will reach $150 billion per year. The world’s total economic loss from weather-related catastrophes has risen 25% in the last decade. According to the insurance firm Swiss Re, the overall economic cost of catastrophes related to climate change threatens to reach $150 billion per year in a decade or double the present level. The U.S. insurance industry’s share would be $30–$40 billion annually. The size of these estimates also reflects increased growth and higher real-estate prices in coastal communities.

    9. Companies will see the age range of their workers span four generations. Workers over the age of 55 are expected to grow from 14% of the labor force to 19% by 2012. In less than five years, 77 million baby boomers in the United States will begin reaching age 65, the traditional retirement age, but many are expected to continue working. As a result, the concept of “retirement” will change significantly.

    10. A rise of disabled Americans will strain public transportation systems. By the year 2025, the number of Americans aged 65 or older will expand from 35 million to more than 65 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Individuals in that age group are more than twice as likely to have a disability as those aged 16 to 65. If that figure remains unchanged, the number of disabled people living in the United States will grow to 24 million over the course of the next 20 years. Rising rates of outpatient care and chronic illness point to an increased demand for public transportation as well as special public transportation services in the coming decades.

    All of these forecasts plus dozens more were included in a report that scanned the best writing and research from THE FUTURIST magazine over the course of the previous year. The Society hopes this report will assist its readers to prepare for the challenges and opportunities in 2007 and beyond.

    The 2007 Outlook Report was released as part of the November-December issue of THE FUTURIST magazine. An individual report can be obtained from the World Future Society for $5.