Global Trends 2030: “Technological Center Of Gravity” To Shift To Asia

A new report by the U.S. National Intelligence Council projects a shift in the ‘technological center of gravity’ to Asia by 2030.

AsianScientist (Dec. 14, 2012) – A new U.S. report projects a shift in the “technological center of gravity” to Asia by 2030, as Chinese and Indian companies become competitive internationally.

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) report, “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” describes a world that will be radically transformed from what we know today.

The quadrennial report, in its fifth edition so far, is put out by the U.S. intelligence community to provide a framework for thinking about possible futures over the next 15 to 20 years.

Written for a general audience, the 160-page report says Asia will surpass North America and Europe combined in indices of overall power, namely GDP, population size, military spending, and technological investment.

It predicts a diffusion of power across the world, as U.S., European, and Japanese share of global income is projected to fall from 56 percent today to well under half by 2030. It says China will have the lion’s share of the global economy, surpassing that of the United States a few years before 2030.

‘Black swan’ events

Readers may find interesting the discussion on “black swans,” which are rare and unpredictable events that have the potential for a major impact on the world.

A severe pandemic, for example, could start with an easily transmissible novel respiratory pathogen that kills or incapacitates more than one percent of its victims. Such an outbreak could result in millions of people suffering and dying in every corner of the world in less than six months, says the report.

Much more rapid climate change could also shatter previous predictions and lead to catastrophic results.

“Rapid changes in precipitation patterns – such as monsoons in India and the rest of Asia – could sharply disrupt that region’s ability to feed its population,” says the intelligence report.

Even more dramatic possibilities are solar geomagnetic storms that could “knock out satellites, the electric grid, and many sensitive electronic devices.” Crippling solar geomagnetic storms occur at intervals that are less than a century, and pose a substantial threat because of the world’s dependence on electricity, the report cautions.

The rise of the robots

Futuristic robots are also discussed extensively in the report. It heralds advancements in robotics that could lead to remote and autonomous vehicles and additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing).

While these technologies have the potential to improve productivity, they also come with a catch: robots could end up making low- and semi-skilled manufacturing workers redundant, which would exacerbate domestic labor problems.

Total automation may be even more cost effective than outsourcing manufacturing to developing economies, which would change the manufacturing dynamics observed today.

Although more R&D is required to improve robots’ cognitive abilities, many of the building blocks could be in place by 2030, blurring the boundary between industrial and nonindustrial robots.

In the military, next generation robots may reduce human exposure in high-risk situations and environments as well as the number of troops necessary for certain operations, says the report.

‘Smart’ health-care and elder-care robots could interact with humans, provide surgical support, and assist with daily living, it says.

And these robots could be immensely important in a rapidly aging world, a “megatrend” that was predicted in 2030.

“Robotics addresses some of the impacts of an aging society, but in the next 20 years the effect is likely to be most pronounced in specific countries like Japan and South Korea,” says the report.

Whereas in 2012 only Japan and Germany have matured beyond a median age of 45 years, most European countries, South Korea, and Taiwan will join them by 2030, says the report.

A world with 8.3 billion people

In 2030, the world is projected to have a growing global population of close to 8.3 billion people, up from 7.1 billion in 2012. Growing demands on resources such as food and water might lead to scarcities, says the report.

Demand for food is expected to rise at least 35 percent by 2030 while demand for water is expected to rise by 40 percent. Nearly half of the world’s population will live in areas experiencing severe water stress, with China and India particularly vulnerable due to their large populations, it says.

Climate change will worsen the outlook for critical food and water resources, says the report. As the severity of existing weather patterns intensify, wet areas will get wetter and dry and arid areas will get drier.

“Much of the decline in precipitation will occur in the Middle East and northern Africa as well as western Central Asia, southern Europe, southern Africa, and the U.S. Southwest,” the report says.

Healthcare advancements

Continued progress in healthcare is expected in 2030. There will be better quality of life for those aging, while non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity will contribute increasingly to the global disease burden.

“Even in the face of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the global disease burden has been shifting rapidly for several decades from communicable to noncommunicable diseases,” says the report.

In the absence of a pandemic “black swan” scenario, global deaths from all communicable diseases – including AIDS, diarrhea, malaria, and respiratory infections – are projected to decline by nearly 30 percent by 2030, according to modeling studies.

AIDS appears to have hit its global peak at around two million deaths per year in 2004. Although great strides have been made toward wiping out malaria, donor fatigue and growing resistance to malarial treatments may curtail progress, the report cautions.

The NIC publishes a new edition of Global Trends every four years, in a presidential election year, to assist the next – in this case the returning – administration in its strategic review.


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