Mar 31 2009
The World Future Society recently published technology forecasts for 2010 through 2030 (The Futurist, March-April, 2009). Since this interval is essentially the expected 2015 Maslow Window — where exceptional affluence-induced ebullience thrusts many to elevated levels in Maslow’s heirarchy, making major technology and exploration initiatives seem momentarily very attractive — it’s of interest to examine their projections.
Will Virgin Galactic send the first paying customer into suborbital space (70 miles) on/before 31 Dec 2010? The prediction market Intrade says 25% yes, while Cetron’s panel says 2012 is more like it. Click .
The first article, by well-known futurist Marvin Cetron (Forecasting International Ltd.), describes a timeline first developed by British Telecommunications in 1991. Cetron has updated this effort using 6 consultants, including Dennis Bushnell of NASA, William Halal of George Washington University, and just to make it more mysterious, a Department of Defense technology expert “who chose to remain anonymous.” I heard Professor Halal’s well-attended technology talk at the World Future Society’s annual conference a couple of years ago in Toronto, and was impressed. He authors the second article and describes the TechCast Project as essentially a continuous, online Delphi poll of 100 high-tech executives, scientists, engineers etc. who are provided with data and analyses and then supply their best judgment about most likely timeframe for 70 technologies.
Cetron’s timeline is divided into 5-year intervals, a dozen disciplines (artificial intelligence through wearable and personal technology) and includes a few “Wild Cards.”
The first interval — 2010 to 2014 — is the run-up to the 2015 Maslow Window, and thus is likely to be a very stimulating time. The expected level of unusual excitement is suggested by events of about one long wave ago (i.e., in the late 1950s); e.g., Sputnik, the International Geophysical Year, and the formation of NASA. Cetron’s timeline lists the first suborbital space tours — a fairly safe prediction — for 2012. The Wild Card is “Zero point energy engineered/commercialized; all other energy sources become obsolete.” Because it isn’t clear that such uses are theoretically possible, this is a fun Wild Card. Halal’s timeline also shows space tourism in the same timeframe along with “climate control.” It’s very unlikely that a full-blown Angel-style albedo geoengineering scenario could materialize that early (by 2015), so it must refer to something smaller.
Cetron’s forecasts for 2015-2019 include a artificial heart, quantum computer (Halal lists it near 2023), and 25% of TV celebrities that are synthetic — I thought they already were? The Space category lists “Space tugs take satellites into high orbits (2015).” By analogy with the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window, this is likely to be a time of system and technology development (e.g., like Mercury and Gemini programs), including zero-g medical countermeasures at ISS, for upcoming space missions. This may include pioneering space missions such as the first human interplanetary mission to a near-Earth asteroid — a potential stepping-stone to Mars.
The 2015 Maslow Window should be at its peak between 2020 and 2025+ however Cetron’s timeline lists nothing space-y between 2020 and 2024, but for 2025-2029 he suggests a 350 guest space hotel (2025). Wild Cards include a bio/nano experiment that goes haywire on a regional or global scale, and something that hints at the discovery of extraterrestrials: “Discovery of artifacts that force reconsidering significant aspects of common understanding of human history.”
All Cetron’s big space stuff is at or beyond 2040, including a Moonbase “the size of a small village”, and the first manned Mars mission. Based on the last 200 years, this timing is highly unlikely because the next Maslow Window should open near 2015 and remain open only until the mid-2020s, unless its prematurely closed Apollo/Vietnam-style by a major military conflict expected sometime during the 2020s. Unless we establish a permanent beachhead in space at the Moon or beyond by 2025, it’s likely that post-2025 space adventures will be like those since 1973 — no human missions beyond Earth Orbit — because the next Maslow Window opens near 2071. Halal shows a significant Moon base near 2029, which is more consistent with macroeconomic and historical trends of the last 200 years.
One final point: Cetron explains that adoption of a technology depends on it being “technically feasible, economically feasible, and both socially and politically acceptable.” He then uses the space program as an example and unfortunately propagates a common misconception. “The space-related events…assume that putting human beings into space will remain a priority, but that is not guaranteed…(because) future administrations might downgrade human spaceflight…In that case, the events on our timeline…and the dates will need significant adjustment.”
In fact, patterns in long-term trends in the economy, technology, and society — over the last 200 years — indicate that Great Explorations (like Apollo) and MEPs (e.g., Panama Canal) are fundamentally driven by long waves in the economy. For example, during the 1960s Maslow Window, President Kennedy was easily able to initiate the Apollo program that culminated in humans on the Moon, but collapsed rapidly (and predictably) after 1969. On the other hand, the best efforts of President Reagan couldn’t make the space station materialize in the decade after he proposed it — a decade almost the economic opposite of the great boom of the 1960s, that included the Crash of 1987 (Black Monday).
The rule of the last 200 years appears to be: Great leaders help, but the economy rules.
Which suggests “the new 1960s” should begin in only 5 – 7 years.