A new report from the National Intelligence Council is worried about some of the trends that are emerging as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In short, the world will not be back to “normal” for many years and some promising trends in poverty reduction and gender equality may actually be reversed.
The National Intelligence Council examines global trends and its report is released every four years. In the latest report, the NIC doesn’t pull any punches.
“The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic marks the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political and security implications that will ripple for years to come,” says the report.
“The response to the pandemic has fueled partisanship and polarization in many countries as groups argue over the best way to respond and seek scapegoats to blame for spreading the virus and for slow responses,” while contributing to low levels of trust in political institutions, the report says.
The report, Global Trends 2040, envisions a rough ride ahead for the planet, with accelerating contests over resources, governments struggling to meet citizens’ aspirations, and increased fragmentation of communities where “people are likely to gravitate to information silos of people who share similar views, reinforcing beliefs and understanding of the truth.”
It sees some bright spots. Population growth in Latin American and South Asia could spur economic expansion, the report says, even as China, Japan and South Korea deal with aging populations. The advent of artificial intelligence, by boosting productivity, could help governments deliver more services and tackle rising national debts, it says.
The report isn’t meant to predict the future. It sketches out likely scenarios so that policy makers won’t be totally blindsided by events.
But that hardly matters. I doubt very much whether the last report in 2017 foresaw the coronavirus pandemic or anything remotely like it. But this report has no problem predicting climate disasters.
“During the next 20 years, the physical effects from climate change of higher temperatures, sea level rise, and extreme weather events will impact every country,” with the costs falling disproportionately on the developing world, the report says. This will lead to fiercer debates on how to implement greenhouse gas emission cuts, it says.
The report anticipates that technology will continue to play an integral and expanding role in everyday life, fueling global competition—especially between the U.S. and China—and hyperconnectivity. An accelerating pace and reach of technological breakthroughs is likely to be so seismic as to transform society’s collective understanding of the human experience, it said.
And if it’s dystopia you want. I’ve got your dystopia right here.
“Privacy and anonymity may effectively disappear by choice or government mandate, as all aspects of personal and professional lives are tracked by global networks,” the report states. “Real-time, manufactured or synthetic media could further distort truth and reality, destabilizing societies at a scale and speed that dwarfs current disinformation challenges. Many types of crimes, particularly those that can be monitored and attributed with digital surveillance, will become less common while new crimes, and potentially new forms of discrimination, could arise.”
It’s all very depressing and makes me pine for the days of three major networks, no internet, and no identity to hack.
There will be a reaction, of course. Some of us will probably choose to drop out and turn out backs on this Brave New World. But most of us will stay tuned in and endure. I can only imagine the streaming opportunities 20 years from now.