The next 100 years in geopolitical affairs

George Friedman — founder & CEO of the geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor — has a new book coming out Jan. 27: “The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century.” Now Friedman acknowledges that forecasting 100 years into the future may seem audacious, “but, as I hope you will see, it is a rational, feasible process, and it is hardly frivolous.”

“In this book, I am trying to transmit a sense of the future. I will, of course, get many details wrong. But The Next 100 Yearsthe goal is to identify the major tendencies — geopolitical, technological, demographic, cultural, military — in their broadest sense, and to define the major events that might take place.”

I stumbled across this news at “John Mauldin’s Outside the Box” blog. Maudlin hints that the book can be hard to believe in places, but ultimately he calls it fascinating and thought-provoking.  “George’s strength is his ability to take geopolitical patterns and use them to forecast future events, sometimes with startling and counter-intuitive results,” Maudlin says.

For example, Maudlin notes that Friedman’s book forecasts the following:

  • By the middle of this century, Poland and Turkey will be major international players
  • Russia will be a regional power — after emerging from a second cold war
  • Space-based solar power will completely change the global energy dynamic
  • The border areas between the U.S. and Mexico are going to be in play again
  • Shrinking labor pools will cause countries to compete for immigrants rather than fighting to keep them out

Related: Anticipating wild cards in world affairs
Twitter: RT @mitchbetts Preview of George Friedman’s new book “The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century.”

Future shocks: Killer robots, hyperaging, space tourism, intelligent cars, resource wars

The Washington Post Outlook section (4 January 2009) is full of articles under the label “future shocks.” A sampling:

The world won’t be aging gracefully. “For the world’s wealthy nations, the 2020s are set to be a decade of hyperaging and population decline. Many countries will experience fiscal crisis, economic stagnation and ugly political battles over entitlements and immigration. Meanwhile, poor countries will be buffeted by their own demographic storms. Some will be overwhelmed by massive age waves that they can’t afford, while others will be whipsawed by new explosions of youth whose aspirations they cannot satisfy. The risk of social and political upheaval and military aggression will grow throughout the developing world — even as the developed world’s capacity to deal with these threats weakens. The rich countries have been aging for decades, due to falling birthrates and rising life spans. But in the 2020s, this aging will get an extra kick as large postwar baby boom generations move into retirement.” — Neil Howe and Richard Jackson are researchers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and co-authors of “The Graying of the Great Powers: Demography and Geopolitics in the 21st Century.”

Coming to the battlefield: Stone-cold robot killers.Armed robots will all be snipers. Stone-cold killers, every one of them. They will aim with inhuman precision and fire without human hesitation. They will not need bonuses to enlist or housing for their families or expensive training ranges or retirement payments.” — John Pike is the director of the military information Web site

The next big things:

  • Space tourism in 2012 (+/- 2 years) >>>>

    Spaceship for space tourism
    Spaceship for space tourism
  • Intelligent cars in 2014 (+/- 4 years)
  • Telemedicine in 2015 (+/- 4 years)
  • Thought power (brain signals controlling systems) in 2020 (+/- 9 years)
  • Artificial intelligence in 2021 (+/- 7 years)
  • Smart robots in 2022 (+/- 7 years)
  • Alternative energy in 2022 (+/- 9 years)
  • Cancer cure in 2024 (+/- 8 years)

William E. Halal, president of TechCast LLC

Global warming could lead to warfare over scarce resources (e.g., arable land and fresh water); mass migrations; and territorial disputes over newly available energy resources (e.g. Arctic oil). — James R. Lee runs American University’s Inventory of Conflict and Environment project. He’s at work on a book on climate change and conflict.


Gee-whiz technologies being developed for homeland security

Government contractors are whipping up a slew of quasi-military technologies for “homeland security” purposes, such as the following:

  • License plate recognition systems — infrared cameras that quickly match images to police databases — already are stopping criminals in cars in New York City, the District of Columbia and 23 states.
  • New satellites that can daily collect up to 750,000 square kilometers of imagery, allowing analysts to pick out suitcase-sized objects.
  • Biometric scanning devices that can read fingerprints from about five meters away — all 10 prints.
  • Under development: The remote-controlled “nano air vehicle,” which resembles the seed of a silver maple tree, can be outfitted with a payload the size of an aspirin. For example, it can be used for chemical or biological detection. Or, swarms of the winged devices could fly over a disaster area to detect signs of survivors.

Source: Reuters, via The Boston Globe (21 September 2007)

Pentagon studying space-based solar power platforms to prevent energy wars

Space-based solar power has been studied since the 1970s but the U.S. Department of Defense is giving it a new look, according to an article at (19 September 2007).

The deployment of space platforms that capture sunlight for beaming down electrical power to Earth is under review by the Pentagon, as a way to offer global energy and security benefits – including the prospect of short-circuiting future resource wars between increasingly energy-starved nations.

A proposal is being vetted by U.S. military space strategists that 10% of the U.S. baseload of energy by 2050, perhaps sooner, could be produced by space-based solar power (SBSP). Furthermore, a demonstration of the concept is being eyed to occur within the next five to seven years.

A demo of the technology is a critical first step (to prove it can be done and to identify the remaining challenges), says the director of the SBSP study, Col. (Select) Michael “Coyote” Smith, chief of the Future Concepts Branch in the National Security Space Office. (Smith’s shop is known as the “Dream Works” of the National Security Space Office.)

Smith says he sees the Defense Department as a customer of the resulting clean energy — not as the deep-pocketed financial backer of the project.

The U.S. Department of Defense has an “absolute urgent need for energy,” Smith said, underscoring the concern that major powers around the world – not just the United States – could end up in a major war of attrition in the 21st century. “We’ve got to make sure that we alleviate the energy concerns around the globe,” he said.

Proponents of the technology are looking at this scenario:

[B]y 2050 the goal is to have forty or so concentrator-photovoltaic space-based solar power (SBSP) satellites in geostationary orbit, each broadcasting via microwave between 2-5 gigawatts of power to terrestrial electrical power grids, with 1-to-5 broadcast antennas that can beam power to as many locations.

Gigawatts! Reminds me of the great movie Back to the Future (1985), where wacky scientist Dr. Emmett Brown discovers — back in 1955 — that he needs 1.21 gigawatts to ignite his Flux Capacitor for time travel.

Brown: “1.21 gigawatts? 1.21 gigawatts? Great Scott!”
Marty McFly: “What the hell is a gigawatt?”

According to the movie, it requires either nuclear energy (via plutonium) or a bolt of lightning.

But I digress. Back to the future of solar power satellites…

On the positive side, there have been technical advances in “micro- and nano-electronics, lightweight inflatable composite structures, ultra-small power management devices, as well as laboratory demonstration of photovoltaic arrays that are close to 68% conversion efficiency.”

But, of course, there’s no shortage of challenges, such as:

  • extreme complexity and scalability issues
  • a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars
  • the need for a long-term political commitment (i.e., budget)
  • the need for technology breakthroughs, such as “wireless power beaming”
  • the need to manufacture the satellites in space using lunar materials
  • legal issues
  • and did I mention the need to scrounge for hundreds of billions of dollars?

By the way, as one proponent acknowledged, “the microwave beams will heat the atmosphere slightly and the frequency must be chosen to avoid cooking birds.”

Personally, I put solar power satellites in the same category as the space elevator: Fascinating, ambitious, but ultimately so gigantic and expensive and fraught with complexity that it’s hard to imagine it really happening.

The Space Frontier Foundation’s discussion blog on Space Solar Power

Does this spacesuit make me look fat?

In the four decades humans have been traveling into space, the suits have remained bulky, weighing in at about 300 lbs. They’re so clunky that about three-quarters of the energy astronauts exert on space walks goes towards trying to make the suit bend. But MIT researchers are designing a stretchy, skintight BioSuit that’s custom-fit for the individual astronaut. (Think Spider-Man instead of John Glenn.) As David Butcher of ThomasNet reports:

For the last seven years, MIT engineers have been designing a new, slimmer spacesuit that features full range of motion for the astronaut — one small step for space fashion, one giant leap for space travel.

Photos of the prototype are here and here.
Boston Globe story: It’s one small step for fashion, one giant leap for spacesuits
Sunday Times (of London) story: Space chic: to the catwalk and beyond!