Ten years ago, in 2010, the Rockefeller Foundation and GBN produced a report that presented four future scenarios, indicating directions in which the world might go. Leading figures in government and industry were encouraged to “read the scenarios, think of them as a journey—four journeys—into a future that is relevant, thought-provoking, and possible…”so that they could “Imagine how the world will function and how it will be organised to tackle the challenges it faces.”
As they not so subtly put it, “Scenarios are a medium through which great change can be not just envisioned but also actualized. The more closely you read them, the more likely it becomes that you will recognize their important but less obvious implications.” I suggest you closely read those words again after visiting the below.
Readers are asked to “immerse yourself in each future world and consider four different visions for the evolution of technology and international development to 2030.”
Four possible scenarios put on the table (their words):
LOCK STEP – A world of tighter top-down government control and more authoritarian leadership, with limited innovation and growing citizen pushback.
Sampling: “Even after the pandemic faded, this more authoritarian control and oversight of citizens and their activities stuck and even intensified…Citizens willingly gave up some of their sovereignty and their privacy…were more tolerant, and even eager, for top-down direction and oversight, and national leaders had more latitude to impose order in the ways they saw fit.”
CLEVER TOGETHER – A world in which highly coordinated and successful strategies emerge for addressing both urgent and entrenched worldwide issues
Sampling: “Pharmaceuticals giants released thousands of drug compounds shown to be effective against diseases like malaria into the public domainas part of an “open innovation” agenda; they also opened their archives of R&D on neglected diseases deemed not commercially viable, offering seed funding to scientists who wanted to carry the research forward.” (oh yeah, sounds just like Big Pharma)
HACK ATTACK – An economically unstable and shock-prone world in which governments weaken, criminals thrive, and dangerous innovations emerge.
Sampling: “In 2021, 600 children in Cote d’Ivoire died from a bogus Hepatitis B vaccine, which paled in comparison to the scandal sparked by mass deaths from a tainted anti-malarial drug years later. The deaths and resulting scandals sharply affected public confidence in vaccine delivery.”
SMART SCRAMBLE – An economically depressed world in which individuals and communities develop localized, makeshift solutions to a growing set of problems
Sampling: “These developments were encouraging, but also frustrating. In the absence of enduring trade and FDI channels, local experiments and innovations could neither scale nor boost overall growth. Scaling was further inhibited by the lack of compatible technology standards, making innovations difficult to replicate. Apps developed in rural China simply didn’t work in urban India.”
The most powerful people running governments and corporations may have unique skills but imagination is not necessarily one of them. You can read through all four scenarios yourself in the very well-crafted presentation.
These future options are presented to world leaders and those owning its largest corporations. Nine out of ten of them, picking from these possible futures would, in my opinion, go for Lock Step, with its spine-chilling “citizen pushback.” We have been taking some liberties, you must confess, and our rulers are not happy about it. How far will they push back?
Written in 2010, Lock Step predictions are not spot on, and the timing was a bit delayed but here’s how it reads:
In 2012, the pandemic that the world had been anticipating for years finally hit. Unlike 2009’s H1N1, this new influenza strain—originating from wild geese—was extremely virulent and deadly. Even the most pandemic-prepared nations were quickly overwhelmed when the virus streaked around the world, infecting nearly 20 percent of the global population and killing 8 million in just seven months, the majority of them healthy young adults. The pandemic also had a deadly effect on economies: international mobility of both people and goods screeched to a halt, debilitating industries like tourism and breaking global supply chains. Even locally, normally bustling shops and office buildings sat empty for months, devoid of both employees and customers.
The pandemic blanketed the planet—though disproportionate numbers died in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central America, where the virus spread like wildfire in the absence of official containment protocols. But even in developed countries, containment was a challenge. The United States’s initial policy of “strongly discouraging” citizens from flying proved deadly in its leniency, accelerating the spread of the virus not just within the U.S. but across borders. However, a few countries did fare better – China in particular…
During the pandemic, national leaders around the world flexed their authority and imposed airtight rules and restrictions, from the mandatory wearing of face masks to body-temperature checks at the entries to communal spaces like train stations and supermarkets. Even after the pandemic faded, this more authoritarian control and oversight of citizens and their activities stuck and even intensified. In order to protect themselves from the spread of increasingly global problems—from pandemics and transnational terrorism to environmental crises and rising poverty—leaders around the world took a firmer grip on power.
At first, the notion of a more controlled world gained wide acceptance and approval. Citizens willingly gave up some of their sovereignty—and their privacy—to more paternalistic states in exchange for greater safety and stability. Citizens were more tolerant, and even eager, for top-down direction and oversight, and national leaders had more latitude to impose order in the ways they saw fit. In developed countries, this heightened oversight took many forms: biometric IDs for all citizens, for example, and tighter regulation of key industries whose stability was deemed vital to national interests. In many developed countries, enforced cooperation with a suite of new regulations and agreements slowly but steadily restored both order and, importantly, economic growth.
Across the developing world, however, the story was different—and much more variable. Top-down authority took different forms in different countries, hinging largely on the capacity, caliber, and intentions of their leaders. In countries with strong and thoughtful leaders, citizens’ overall economic status and quality of life increased. In India, for example, air quality drastically improved after 2016, when the government outlawed high-emitting vehicles. In Ghana, the introduction of ambitious government programs to improve basic infrastructure and ensure the availability of clean water for all her people led to a sharp decline in water-borne diseases. But more authoritarian leadership worked less well—and in some cases tragically—in countries run by irresponsible elites who used their increased power to pursue their own interests at the expense of their citizens.
There were other downsides, as the rise of virulent nationalism created new hazards: spectators at the 2018 World Cup, for example, wore bulletproof vests that sported a patch of their national flag…
The scenario continues and then, as with all four, ends with a personal life story from the projection. Lock Step has a sweet tale of young Manisha who at the age of 12 dipped her feet into the sacred Ganges and got terribly sick as a result. Then, aged 25 and post – Lock Step she is playing a part in cleaning the Ganges and would never dip her foot in it again, such activities being against the law.
I am not saying that the virus was concocted and accidentally, or deliberately, released though that is, of course a distinct possibility. I would suggest, however that Lock Step has been well planned in advance and that the sort of audience reading this report have been eagerly waiting for anything remotely resembling a pandemic to come along and trigger its implementation. After all, the other three scenarios are not acceptable.
You can read them all here, pretend you are a ruler of the world, and decide which option you would lean towards.
Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development From the Rockefeller Foundation and GBN, the Global Business Network