Saturday, January 05, 2008

This blog is back: Outloook 2008

In 2006, this blog, written by Glen Hiemstra, moved with the entire website, to www.futurist.com/blog.

I've decided to cross-post my own entries here, in order to increase audience and increase the cross-links with other bloggers. At Futurist.com, we have more than one writer. Here, I will cross-post only my own writing.

Enjoy. Check out the full Futurist.com site when you can.

Here is my outlook for 2008, recorded December 21, 2007.






Overview – 2008 will be a year that feels like a whip-saw. Promising innovations. Economic turmoil. Large events

The Economy 2008 - Paradoxes

2008 will be one of paradox, innovation balanced by turmoil. Because of the tremendous interconnectivity of researchers, the availability of money for innovation investment, the technical tools available, and the urgency of certain needs, there will be more opportunity for innovation in 2008 than ever. Innovation is needed in energy, in health care, and in so many fields. But, innovation will be balanced or held back by turmoil in the financial markets. Some 2 million more “teaser rate” mortgages will re-set in the next 18 months. The resulting debt crisis is not near its end, not even near the mid-point, but still in its early stages. One estimate is that 5.6 million home owners in the U.S. are upside-down, owing more than their house is worth. If prices fall another 10-20%, as some predict, then perhaps 10 million home owners will go upside-down. This would drive losses from $100 billion to nearer a trillion dollars.

Globally, China will continue to grow at a rapid rate, 10-12% per year. It will attract increasing investment and become more of an innovation center.

2008 will also see income disparity come to the fore as a social and political issue. The nature of the current economy is such that small groups of highly creative people can reap super rewards, while the large middle class sees little progress

Technology 2008 - Nano + Solar

The hottest tech areas in 2008 will be nano plus solar. Nanotechnology, particularly the work being done with nanotech batteries, will stand out. AltairNano will ship a 20MW stationary battery in 2008. Nanobatteries will impact the introduction of plug-in electric cars in 2008, and the supply of electric cars from Phoenix, Tesla and others will fall far short of demand. AltairNano will debut an electric garbage truck. In the field of solar, NanoSolar will, according to reports, complete its fabrication plant for printing thin-film solar cells, enough of them to be equivalent to a third to a half a nuclear plant per year.

Nanotech will also impact water filtration. Seldon Tech is using carbon nanotubes to manufacture water filters, actually printed on old newspaper equipment. The carbon nanotubes used to cost hundreds of dollars an ounce, but now have come down to 20 cents an ounce. The Seldon Tech water straw will appear in early 2008.

Beyond nano and solar, the IT development of note in the U.S. will be fiber to the home. Verizon’s FIOS product will challenge the cable franchises to move from the “triple play” (TV, phone, internet) to a quadruple (TV, phone, internet, wireless) or quintuple play (TV, phone, internet, wireless, home management). The question will be whether consumers want all these things bundled for convenience, or whether they care.

Energy 2008 - Oil Rising

As 2007 came to a close, oil was at about $95 a barrel. Some experts predict a dramatic price decline in 2008, following historical patterns. We disagree. The new floor price is about $90, and we will see $100 in 2008, and as much as $140-150 by mid-year. Why? Increasing global demand from countries like China and India, an obvious development. But the real hidden force is increasing demand in the oil producing nations. In fact, the key metric to watch is not oil production but oil exports. Countries like Russia, Venezuela, and Mexico see their exports falling faster than their production, as they use more internally. The same is true in Saudi Arabia. Oil prices are not coming back, and 2008 is the year we realize this is true. [I recorded the video on December 21, 2007- and oil hit $100 on January 2, 2008.]

Environment 2008 - The Big Stall

2007 was the year of the turning point as regards the global climate crisis. Thanks to Al Gore and the IPCC, co-winners of the Nobel Prize, even the die-hards like the U.S. President now acknowledge that global warming is real. But, will 2008 then become the year of action? No, not yet. Instead it will be the year of the big stall, as debate rages about what to do, and mostly all of the relevant institutions and decision makers have to wait until the U.S. administration turns over. We will see private initiatives in energy and transportation, but concerted global action will wait another year.

Population and Venture Capital 2008 - Oh to be Young

The leading edge of the digital native generation is now 18-25 or so. The first generation to grow up in the personal computing and internet age is now at work. The venture capital world increasingly focuses on this generation, the very young creatives, for the breakthrough ideas. Thus 2008 marks a change-over to the next generation for innovation leadership.

Wildcard 2008 - Iraq and McCain

I once heard Alvin Toffler say that predicting likely trends is of less value than is anticipating unlikely events that would really change things if they happened. The wild cards, in other words. Here is my wildcard for 2008: calm in Iraq, not just the level of violence but actual political reconciliation. Were this to happen, in time, the odds for John McCain becoming the Republican nominee, and later being elected U.S. President increase greatly. If four more years of Republican rule resulted, then progressive policy change in health care, taxes, and to a lesser degree the environment and energy becomes much less likely. Another wildcard may scuttle this possibility, regardless of Iraq. That is immigration. Conventional wisdom says a candidate must demonstrate an anti-immigrant stance to be elected. However, the large Latino vote in the U.S. could turn this assumption upside down, and thus work against a McCain win.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Tipping Point on Public Warming to Global Warming

It seems clear to me that a tipping point was reached in the public perception of Global Warming with the broadcast on November 13, 2005 by FOX Television of their special on the subject, "The Heat is On."

This broadcast, by what is essentailly a propodanda operation, is the final act in a continuing and steady accumulation of news and events that is shfiting the public debate from "is global warming real?" to "what can we do about global warming.?"

The news made public yesterday on November 24, 2005 that studies of ice cores in the Antarctic offer firm proof that carbon dioxide levels are at their highest in 650,000 years simply tips the balance further. This study puts to rest the argument that the recent rise in atmospheric CO2 is merely part of a regular global fluctuation (a claim made based on a wish and a prayer, rather than actual evidence).

The reaching of this tipping point does not yet mean that anything will be done, simply that the debate going forward will about whether to do anything in response to a trend now accepted as real. This is no small thing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Hubris of an all-powerful administration comes to naught

At a key moment in the movie All the President's Men, the famous character Deep Throat/Hal Holbrook says to Bob Woodward/Robert Redford/, "Forget the myths the media's created about the White House. The truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand." This week, the week of October 24, 2005, it looks like we will see history come around the spiral again. In a case more serious than the Clinton impeachment, and more serious even than Watergate, all the President's men face the prospect of charges that they revealed the secret name of an undercover CIA agent. But evidence now seems to indicate that the real target was the front company that she worked for, Brewster Jennings and Associates, which needed to be destroyed because it could reveal the greater secret, that the evidence for going to war with Iraq had been fabricated.

See sources like these:
VP Cheney revealed name of secret agent: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/24/politics/24cnd-leak.html?pagewanted=1

The most important criminal case in American history, by James Moore: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-moore/the-most-important-crimin_b_9183.htm

Was Plame Outed by a Foreign Spy: http://antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=7717

Monday, April 11, 2005

Sometimes things are so easy. Like fixing Social Security.

Social security set the official retirement age at 65, when it was created in 1935. The program was a response to a country in which some 70% of seniors lived in poverty.

In 1935, a male retiring at 65 expected to live 11-12 additional years, a woman about 15 years. So the program imagined supporting people in dignity for that length of time.

Today men live on average 16.5 years after 65, women nearly 20 years. Thus, life span after age 65 has improved by about 5 years (and continues to improve about a month per year). Suppose you were inventing Social Security all over again, but with similar assumptions about an appropriate span of retired life. You would set the retirement age at 70.

What would be the result? Outlays for Social Security would decline by at least 12%, and as much as 40% if the retirement age in 2050 increased to 73 (which it could assuming further advances in life spans).

No tax increase. No decrease in annual benefits. (Actually a surplus available to fund real, additional private accounts rather than some phony replacement scheme like the Bush plan. The best idea is that of Paul O’Neil, former Treasury Secretary: use the surplus to give each child $500 or $1000 at birth, invested in a mutual fund-like account, add $500 a year until age 10 or so.)

Then again it can be hard to do the easy thing.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Amsterdam Summit for the Future Day 3

Day 3 of the Club of Amsterdam Summit for the Future 2005.

This was a day for summarizing and wrapping up. Before I get to that, let me go back to Day 2 and a few more words on the Media & Entertainment “Knowledge Stream.”

See Day 2 blog down the list for more on this, but Gerd Leonhard, co-author of The Future of Music (Manifesto for the digital music revolution) made a splash in this session. What really struck me was how sweeping a change the music and other media content businesses face, given the emergence of ubiquitous, always on broadband, delivered to your home and office but most especially to your mobile devices. This is something I have talked about, and certainly heard from many sources for a while. But Leonhard crystallized the coming changes in a succinct and powerful way.

A few highlights, taken from his presentation, and appearing also in the book and at Gerd’s website, http://www.musicfuturist.com/:

In less than 10 years, probably 5, everyone in rich counties will be always on line with decent band width, and in fact people won’t realize when they are off line. (This will be a growing reality in poor countries as well.)
All content that can be digitized will be always online, legal or not.
Music & entertainment will live on the network, not in your box.
It will not matter to you where content is, access is all that matters.
With more and more digital content available, browsing is out, filtering is in.
The future is in having access to music, rather than owning it. But having access will enable all kinds of up-selling and the music/entertainment community can make much more money, not less money if they get this.
In the future new artists will likely pay you to download their music.
Delivering this access to phones via subscription is the likely business model of choice. Imagine access to the entire Sony music library for $5 annual subscription on 300 million Chinese cell phones.

Ok, so that was eye-popping.

The summary was also excellent. First a panel of students, who came from many places in Europe. Their comment: the oldies were insufficiently global in our outlook, and concentrate too much on “luxury problems” rather than core problems of the have-nots of planet earth.

The keenest student observation went like this: “Look, you all are waiting for us to morph into the idealist generation that you were long ago. We are the MTV generation, so we party. But we are no less concerned about the future, in fact we are more concerned than you were because the problems are worse. We will be driven by stark realism, not idealism. If we don’t act, we may not survive.”

Next came the panel of “philosophers”, a nice innovation of the Club of Amsterdam. Each Knowledge Stream had an assigned philosopher. Not all were trained in philosophy, but all attempted to take a philosophical perspective. Key observations: We say we are becoming and should become a more integrated world, but what do we mean by integrated? We say we are becoming and should become knowledge societies, but what do we mean by that? Most interesting, they said, is the term, preferred future, which the Club had urged as a key outcome.

Preferred future comes down to questions of value. And the concept of “the” preferred future seemed dangerous to them, suggesting that a single preferred future ought to eliminate all other alternatives. Instead, what seems valuable and worth working toward is a world where each person can create their own version of their own preferred future, that is improving the conditions and increasing the capacity for people to choose.

Finally, several futurists including me joined in a final panel for summarizing. This panel emphasized the need for wisdom beyond mere knowledge, which is becoming a commodity. You can find or purchase knowledge more and more easily. To make any progress we need insight, wisdom, and the will to act.

So that was the Summit for the Future. A few things are more clear as a result, for me. Gatherings to consider the future have a power to them. When you see how far there is to go, and how tiny, in the grand scheme, is even a sizable group of participants, you can still be heartened by the common purpose.

Standing out above everything else is the clear impression that we are far more global a society than we even know, even as we mouth the phrase all the time. The cross-cultural commonality of concerns is obvious when you are in this kind of setting. The commonality of mental models for seeing the future is striking. We are in fact becoming one even as it can appear we are coming apart.

The conference several times referred to the Digital Native generation after I introduced that concept (and Gerd Leonhard later reinforced it). As we closed, a young person coined a new one. We are not only the first digital natives, he said, but also the first true global natives.

Check out the Club of Amsterdam, their free newsletter, great website, and multiple programs they do through the year. If all goes well. Futurist.com will be joining forces with the Club in some fruitful ways.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Amsterdam Summit for the Future Day 2

Day 2 of the Club of Amsterdam Summit for the Future 2005. It was an amazing day. I attended the “Knowledge Stream” called Media and Entertainment. It is really late here, so a longer report tomorrow. But the highlight was a mind-blowing presentation by Gerd Leonhard from Switzerland, co-author of The Future of Music (Manifesto for the digital music revolution).

If you are interested in the future of music and media content, or just listen to music and wonder how it is all going to work – the making the buying the selling the downloading, etc. – then run, don’t walk, race, don’t waddle to buy this book.

I’ll give some highlights tomorrow as I said, but here are a couple. In as little as 5 years virtually all content that can be digitized will be and available on-line always, legal or not. What does that mean? How about this: imagine a music world in which artists pay you to download and listen to their music.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Amsterdam: Summit for the Future 2005

Amsterdam: Summit for the Future 2005

This week I am attending the Summit for the Future 2005, organized by the independent Club of Amsterdam. They invited me to be one of four keynoters, which I did at the conference opening today.

The Club of Amsterdam has been an extraordinary force for exploring the future in the past two years, establishing a great network and conducting several conferences. Their basic philosophy, that the future ought to be explored in four arenas: the commons (environment, health, etc.), technology, spirituality, and values is bold in asserting a holistic approach to the future.

The theme of the Summit is what it will mean to move Europe toward becoming a Knowledge Society, and stated goal of the EU.

This conference follows through on core philosophy. Each topic stream includes content presenters and a “philosopher” to assist in discussion. The opening session had interludes with musical performances between speakers, a nice touch, performed by Marcus Weiss.

There were three keynoters besides myself. International business consultant Tom Lambert spoke on the need to decrease the rich-poor gap in the world if we are to flourish in the future. Vladimir Petrovskiy, former Director General of the UN in Geneva, told the audience about the importance of the knowledge society goal to the future of Europe. I suggested that the European shift toward a knowledge society is the continuation of the larger techno-economic-social revolution of our time, leading to a shift in the nature of work, retirement, home, learning and business processes. Further I urged the audience to listen to the future as it calls us to shift to the next energy era, become learning societies, shift to no-waste manufacturing, rationalize the global labor force, and re-kindle the idea of space ship earth, that we are all in this together for the long haul. Finally, Wendy Shultz, formerly with the University of Houston Clear Lake and now an independent futurist in the UK delivered a talk on the power of and need for preferred future vision, complete with quotes from Polak. It was a talk I could have done, and which captures the Futurist.com spirit.

Later there were breakouts into “knowledge streams” like energy, entertainment and media, health care, science and technology, business services. I attend the Sci-Tech breakout, which had a reasonably good discussion of how to increase innovation in the EU. They were right in describing how this might be increased within University settings or things like the MIT media lab. But, the group on this day neglected to mention the importance of educating young people.

Over-all a couple of distinct impressions emerge. First, the European speakers take a much more global view of everything they address, in contrast to the US, which is so generally myopic. Second, in both formal and informal discussions, I heard many Europeans express a lack of confidence in their own cultural ability to risk, a key component in creativity. This lack of confidence is overstated generally, I think.

Europeans would do well to notice all the innovations they already lead in, including cellular technology, some digital entertainment, energy, smart solutions to transportation, and many more, most especially simply knowing how to live satisfying urban lives. I think they sell themselves short, at least on this first day.

As a part of this, I was surprised to hear so many people staunchly defend the quality of American universities, and also the quality of risk-taking and entrepreneurship in the States. In this, I think the conference participants overstate these U.S. attributes, as they fail to see how far we have slid from these kinds of ideals and attitudes.

Finally, today no-one asked a single question about Iraq, the re-election of the current president, or his bellicose inauguration speech. I was disappointed in that.

I came here thinking that in Europe lays the future. So far I continue to think that is true.