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Intelligence report predicts IT in 2030, a world of cyborgs with Asia as top power

Dec 11, 20125 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

The National Intelligence Council, made up of 17 U.S. government intelligence agencies, released Global Trends 2030: Alternate Worlds. In all four of the alternative visions of the future, U.S. influence declines. It also predicts the future of IT in 2030 and human augmentation creating super cyborgs.

A report on Global Trends comes out about every four years and tries to give a strategic overview with various future scenarios. Yesterday the National Intelligence Council (NIC), which is made up of 17 U.S. government intelligence agencies, released the 140-page report Global Trends 2030 (GT2030) Alternate Worlds. In all four of the alternative visions of the future, U.S. influence declines and it may be regarded more as a “first among equals.” By 2030, the West will be in decline and Asia will wield more overall global power than the U.S. and Europe combined. “China alone will probably have the largest economy, surpassing that of the United States a few years before 2030,” the report states.

Before we get too serious, from the let’s-get-freaky department, like was predicted at Def Con’s Hacking Humanity, human augmentation is on the horizon. “People may choose to enhance their physical selves as they do with cosmetic surgery today,” but sadly it may be the same old, same old, available only to the people who can shell out the high cost. “Brain-machine interfaces could provide ‘superhuman’ abilities, enhancing strength and speed, as well as providing functions not previously available,” the report stated.

Future retinal eye implants could enable night vision, and neuro-enhancements could provide superior memory recall or speed of thought. Neuro-pharmaceuticals will allow people to maintain concentration for longer periods of time or enhance their learning abilities. Augmented reality systems can provide enhanced experiences of real-world situations. Combined with advances in robotics, avatars could provide feedback in the form of sensors providing touch and smell as well as aural and visual information to the operator.

GT2030 ‘Megatrends’ include an overall reduction of poverty and the “growth of a global middle class.” NIC also sees a potential world of scarcities as the demand for food and water increase as the world’s population swells from 7.1 billion to 8.3 billion people. Advances in health technologies will help people live longer, but 60% of the world’s population is expected to live in an urban environment. Technological breakthroughs will be needed to meet the world’s food, water and energy demands.  

National Intelligence Council Global Megatrends GT2030

The report also states, “Three technology developments with an IT focus have the power to change the way we will live, do business, and protect ourselves before 2030: solutions for storage and processing large quantities of data, social networking technologies, and ‘smart cities’.”

Information Technology by 2030 from National Intelligence Council's GT2030

The only mention of privacy in the future came from that section of the report:

A significant uncertainty regarding the future development of social networking technologies involves the complex tradeoffs that users must make between privacy and utility. Thus far, users seem to have voted overwhelmingly in favor of utility over privacy, but future events might make large numbers of users change their preferences, thereby depriving social network services of the information they need to stay relevant to users.

“Potential Worlds,” in the Genie-out-of-the-bottle scenario, stated, “Without completely disengaging, the U.S. no longer tries to play ‘global policeman’ on every security threat.” However, that collapse or sudden retreat of U.S. power could lead to global anarchy, according to “Potential Black Swans that would cause the greatest disruptive impact.”

Other potential “Black Swans” include a “severe pandemic” and “crippling” solar geomagnetic storms that could “knock out satellites, the electric grid and many sensitive electronic devices.” Although the report says Iran might become reformed, this doom-and-gloom Black Swan forecast states:

Nuclear powers such as Russia and Pakistan and potential aspirants such as Iran and North Korea see nuclear weapons as compensation for other political and security weaknesses, heightening the risk of their use. The chance of nonstate actors conducting a cyber attack-or using WMD-also is increasing.

While there will be more opportunity for innovation, individuals on the side of good and bad will wield more power. Instead of nation states, individuals or groups will have “greater access to lethal and disruptive technologies (particularly precision-strike capabilities, cyber instruments, and bioterror weaponry), enabling them to perpetrate large-scale violence—a capability that has been the monopoly of states.”

The current Islamist phase of terrorism might end by 2030, but terrorism is unlikely to die completely. Many states might continue to use terrorist group out of a strong sense of insecurity, although the costs to a regime of directly supporting terrorists looks set to become even greater as international cooperation increases. With more widespread access to lethal and disruptive technologies, individuals who are experts in such niche areas as cyber systems might sell their services to the highest bidder, including terrorists who would focus less on causing mass casualties and more on creating widespread economic and financial disruptions.

And yippee ki yay if terrorism decreases then maybe we will finally get rid of the out-of-control TSA and all the ‘you-might-be-a-terrorist-if’ lists . . . however the enemy threat could also morph into a different name just like Commies became terrorists.

The main report [PDF] or Talking Points [PDF] can be downloaded for Global Trends 2030: Alternate Worlds, the source for the chart images.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.