ENROUTE
editorial opinion

Forecasting the next 150 years

Some events are certainties but you can bet on some wild cards as well.


Society

In 2025, more than half of all Americans carry some form of tracking technology embedded in their bodies. Ladbrokes rates this dystopian idea 100 to 1 against. We would put the chances even lower.

The technology is available now, and we can imagine people using it voluntarily when traveling to regions where kidnapping is a realistic fear. Pushing their number to even 10% of the population would require a government mandate, meaning that it will never happen.

Bangkok needs massive sea walls to protect it from rising ocean waters. Another dystopian fear, this ranks 4 to 1 against for 2031. Again, the odds depend very much on time. Bangkok's average elevation is less than 5 ft above sea level, and much of the city is well below. Even as climate change slowly raises the water, the city is sinking through erosion and subsidence of clay soil. More than 1 million buildings, mostly residential, are at risk.

"In 2059, a base has been established on Mars" is rated at 33 to 1 against. At the US space program's current rate of progress, that seems about right. However, we'll reserve judgment. In 1950, most people would have given even longer odds against setting foot on the Moon.

At least one AI being has the status of a corporation in 2107. Ladbrokes guesses the odds are 100 to 1 against. At this point, guessing is all anyone can do.
"In 2150, someone now living has passed his 150th birthday" is given odds of 40 to 1 against.

We would give better odds than that. One day, probably in the next 20 years, headlines will declare, "100 is the new 60." They will be right, at least in mouse years. Soon after, biomedical research will build on that advance to deliver the first practical method of extending human vigor beyond the century mark.

The artificially long-lived beneficiaries will be around for the next advance in aging research, and probably for any thereafter. We have no idea whether future extensions will add up to a 150-year human lifespan, but we would not rule it out.

Conflicts to watch in 2013

Our next forecast takes a much closer view of the future. Writing in Foreign Policy (foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/12/27/10_conflicts_to_watch_in_2013), Inter­national Crisis Group Pres Louise Arbour offers a list of 10 trouble spots that could blow up in 2013. She concedes that there is "an arbitrariness to most lists [and that] one person's priority might well be another's sideshow, one analyst's early warning cry another's fear-mongering." Yet her choices are as reasonable as any we have seen. They include some places that corporate pilots could find on future itineraries.

In all of central Asia, only Tajikistan has a good chance of stability. Its neighbors can expect future conflict.

Afghanistan

The argument here will be familiar to any American, and to many people elsewhere.

This country is plagued by factionalism, governed ineffectively by corrupt leaders, and home to an undefeated Taliban eager to regain power after the US withdraws in 2014.

President Hamid Karzai's term also ends next year—and, although he says he will leave gracefully, there is little hope of free and fair elections that might offer some hope for stability if he carries through on that commitment.

The potential for more bloodletting and the return of a government sympathetic to international terrorism is high.

Central Asia

North of Afghanistan and Pakistan lies what may be the world's highest concentration of potential failed states. Ethnic tensions, human rights abuses, totalitarian government, Muslim extremism—the "Stans" have it all.

In the past 3 years, Tajikistan has experienced the country's first suicide car bombing, a mass prison break by militants, ambushes that killed 28 soldiers in one case and 30 in the other, and several incidents of fighting.

A possible separatist movement is brewing in the Gorno-Badakhshan region in the east, where the country's repressive, effectively single-party government has little influence. Relations with Uzbekistan have been deteriorating as Islamist radicals from the western neighbor have found unwilling and unofficial sanctuary in Tajikistan.

China, in contrast, has pledged security cooperation with Tajikistan. Beijing sees the possibility of Muslim extremism filtering over the border into the Uighur area of western China as a significant threat to regional stability.

Perhaps surprisingly, Tajikistan has been approved for membership in the World Trade Organization in 2013—a development that is expected to bring greater prosperity and stability.

In Kyrgyzstan, protests in Jun 2010 against government corruption and a rising cost of living deteriorated into rioting between the Kyrgyz ethnic majority and the Uzbek minority. Ethnic clashes still continue.

Most recently, the Bishkek government declared a state of emergency this Jan 15 after small-scale fighting broke out between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks along the country's border with Uzbekistan.

Kyrgyzstan exports enough gold, uranium, natural gas and other resources to maintain at least some interest in the outside world. If you fly for an energy or mining company or for a firm that supplies those industries, Kyrgyzstan could become a likely destination in the next few years.

So, too, Arbour's next trouble spot. Kazakhstan is more prosperous than other Stans thanks to vast oil, gas and mining resources. It is, however, not greatly more stable. In Dec 2011, police and government troops opened fire on oil workers and bystanders, killing 12.

A crackdown on strikers, political opponents, journalists and civil activists followed. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan next door and the terrorist groups Jund al-Khalifa and Ansar al-Din have both targeted the country for attention once Afghan­i­stan has been restored to Taliban rule.

A hotbed of human rights violations—tolerated, and perhaps encouraged, by a totalitarian government—Uzbekistan is known for such practices as human trafficking and forced labor, including forced child labor in its annual cotton harvest.

Human Rights Watch has documented abuses including police torture, imprisonment of activists, a 2005 massacre of peaceful demonstrators by government forces, and denial of access to international aid organizations and journalists.

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