A US intelligence report to the president on global trends to the year 2030 is generally upbeat. But like any futuristic study, its foresight needs hindsight in the reading.
Every American president needs to keep a pinch of salt in the Oval Office. It can come in handy when reading an official report on “global trends” that has been given to every incoming or returning president since 1996.
The forecasts, which are compiled by the National Intelligence Council from “experts” in nearly 20 countries, come with their own pinch of salt. They include a critique of past reports. The current 167-page study, titled “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” admits to “blind spots and biases” in previous forecasts – one lapse was not paying enough heed to new ideologies.
The reports themselves fit into a decades-long trend of trendspotting. Since World War II, rapid changes in society and science have driven a demand for “futurists,” or people who use various methods from historical analysis to polling to supercomputing to offer up probable scenarios. Some, like Alvin Toffler or Herman Kahn, achieve pop-star status. Most, however, work in the trenches of places like the RAND Corporation, academia, and hedge funds. Their work goes by different names, such as strategic planning, technological foresight, or trend extrapolation.