The global future is looking dark and stormy

A new 20-year-forecast for the world: increasingly fragmented and turbulent.

The big picture: A major report put out this week by the National Intelligence Council reflects a present rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. How the next two decades will unfold depends largely on whether new technologies will ultimately unite us — or continue to divide us.

Driving the news: Many, if not most, of those trends identified in the new report from the U.S. government are trending negative.

  • “Shared global challenges — including climate change, disease, financial crises, and technology disruptions — are likely to manifest more frequently and intensely in almost every region and country,” the report’s authors write.
  • Theypredict that those intensifying challenges will collide with a geopolitical structure that will become increasingly fragmented and fragile, as the U.S. competes with China for global leadership while citizens of both democracies and autocracies grow more dissatisfied with their leaders.

Details: The clearest trend lines are in demographics: Over the next 20 years, richer countries will grow older and in some cases even begin to shrink, while whatever slowing population growth exists will be concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

  • That will produce “extensive strains on infrastructure, education, and healthcare” in megacities that aren’t prepared for it, the report’s authors write.
  • Another fairly certain trend line is intensifying climate change, which my Axios colleague Andrew Freedman reports“will lead to a less secure, more crisis-prone world that will strain global institutions.”

The social responses to these trends are less certain, but they’ll play an even more important role in what the world will look like in 2040.

  • The scarcest resource in the decades ahead won’t be oil or rare earth metals, but social trust.
  • According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, the majority of respondents in more than half of the countries polled are pessimistic that they and their families will be better off in five years — an increase of 5% from the previous year.

By the numbers: There is real fear that decades of global progress against extreme poverty and disease may be petering out and even reversing. About 150 million people fell out of the global middle class last year, the first time that demographic shrank since the 1990s.

  • Raised expectations suddenly dashed by the reversal of growth is a recipe for pessimism, anger and social fragmentation — all of which could be further stoked by the spread of the internet.

What’s next: The report lays out five scenarios for the future, ranging from a democratic renaissance led by a stronger and more united America to a chaotic world where no country is powerful enough to counter the challenges we face.

  • Which future we get will depend in large part on technology — AI and automation, clean energy, gene editing and more.
  • If technological progress can jump-start economic growth for all while forestalling the worst effects of climate change, the world in 2040 will be a much easier place to navigate.
  • If it can’t, we may look back on 2020 as the good old days.

What to watch: Unexpected X-factors.

  • Should we experience something truly world-changing — a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, a pandemic much more severe than COVID-19, a leap forward to true artificial general intelligence — all bets for the future are off.

• Illumina CEO on a genomics-forward future

The head of the world’s leading genetic sequencing company predicts a future where genomic data will increasingly drive health care.

Why it matters: As our ability to read genes gets faster and cheaper, genetic sequencing could pave the way for everything from enhanced disease surveillance to truly personalized care.

Driving the news: Illumina, which controls roughly 90% of the market for genetic sequencing machines in the U.S., announced earlier this week it earned record revenue of $1.09 billion in the first quarter of 2021.

  • The company is projecting revenue growth of 25–28% in fiscal year 2021 over the previous year.

Details: That growth is due in large part to “the extraordinarily massive and urgent human needs of the pandemic,” Illumina CEO Francis DeSouza told Axios in an interview.

  • Genetic sequencing machines like the ones produced by Illumina were how scientists were able to rapidly decode the genome of SARS-CoV-2 and start building both tests and the mRNA vaccines that will ultimately curb the pandemic.
  • Our ability to track more dangerous virus mutationslike B.1.1.7 was only possible because gene sequencing technology had gotten faster, cheaper and more widespread.

What’s next: It cost $1,000 for Illumina to sequence a human genome in 2014, but the company expects to reach the $100 level within a couple of years.

  • Ultra-cheap sequencing — combined with an ever-increasing understanding of the genome — will result in genetics becoming “the foundational element of your health record,” he says.

What to watch: The growth of liquid biopsies — tests that can find the genetic markers of cancer in blood samples.

  • Illumina is in the process of a $7.1 billion acquisition of Grail, a company that has developed liquid biopsies for dozens of cancers, but the Federal Trade Commission last week moved to block the acquisitionon competitive grounds.
  • DeSouza contests the FTC’s case that the acquisition will ultimately increase the cost of liquid biopsies, arguing Illumina can help get Grail’s diagnostics to market faster and accelerate reimbursements for “underserved populations that can’t afford the test.”

The bottom line: Just as WWI helped accelerate the development of airplanes and WWII nuclear technology, “I believe we will look back and view the pandemic as ushering the era of biology and the era of the genome,” says DeSouza.


Σχετικά Άρθρα