CiNum 2030 scenarios

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Albert Einstein said that the distinction between past, present and future is only a “stubbornly persistent illusion”. Henry Ford was less eloquent: History, he said, is more or less bunk. Without presuming to acknowledge the wisdom of these pronouncements, we offer our own assumption: There is no past and there is no future. Neither exists in its own right to be experienced or examined as objective phenomena. We can argue with some rigor that there is a present, something experienced in the now. The past, however, is always much more constructed, but informed by our collective memory, our connective activities and discursive practices, by books, films and archives. Constructing events in the past leads us to better understand the present. And to the extent that this happens, our understanding will always be qualified by our views about what happened, our rationalization for what occurred, our wishful thinking about what went on.

Future thinking is also a limited, if not an illusory, activity to uncover what holds in the landscape ahead. The future cannot be “discovered” or known in an objective manner. Scenario thinking subscribes to this assumption. It is not an attempt to know or capture events and happenings that will define the future. Instead, scenarios are attempts to better understand the present and are intended to inform our thinking and the actions we take- here and now. It is an exercise that enriches our thinking about the past, connecting us with precedents that brought us to this point in time. It sharpens our understanding of the politics of the present, and strengthens our ability to discern the implications of the decisions we make. Rather than indicate where things will go, scenarios suggest how we can better inform our decision-making within the present context, much as our present actions are informed by our knowledge and understanding—our memories-- of the past.

The spirit of Ci'Num's scenarios

The scenarios described in CiNum are modest attempts to look 30 years ahead, endeavoring to think through humanity’s somewhat disconcerting relationship with technology in the 20th Century. In the EU, and to some extent in the US, there is a general assumption that things will get increasingly difficult and life will get worse. The outlook is unique for a period in post-Enlightenment. To be sure, this discouragement is not a global phenomenon; in places such as China and elsewhere, the assumptions are different. The scenarios presented in this paper are an attempt to look beyond the current set of revolutionary technologies to ask ourselves what kind of societies, systems and situations are being created; and to bring a measure of coherency to our answers.

Compared to other foresight exercises, Ci'Num intends to produce two distinctive contributions:

  • By lending more attention to the role of technology in the construction of the future. Emerging technologies provide us with an unprecedented power of understanding, imagination and action - along with the risks and uncertainties proportionate to that power.
  • By focusing on the ways, tools and methods through which we may shape our individual and collective futures, and increase the options available to future generations. In other words, Ci'Num is not about forecasting or choosing any given future, but about identifying what is needed so as to empower each and everyone to alter his or her future, whatever their present comes to be...

The project began as long term scenarios into the future of digital civilization—a topic as intimidating as it was limiting in its stress on technology. This presentation represents a shift in the project where the focus is more on the context in which technology operates, rather than on technology per se. We believe that technological inventiveness and progress will continue unabated. However, talking about the technology was not a conduit to better understanding of the context in which it operates, and would be a cul de sac in exploring technology’s role in society. Thus the scenarios are trained on the broad space around technological developments, the key uncertainties they generate, and the kind of environment—the communities, institutions and situations— they are creating.

Four assumptions, three questions

The mechanics of 2007's scenarios is based on one major assumption: That the form wich our future will take will largely depend on how we address global planetary constraint in terms of environment, climate and exhaustible natural resources. Our departure point is the premise advanced by the Club of Rome in its 1972 report, The Limits to Growth: That the biosphere has a carrying capacity beyond which natural systems collapse and the earth can no longer support our life and livelihoods. The scenarios assume the following:

CiNum07 Scenario Tree V2.PNG

As a tool for acting in the present, the scenarios should be seen as a modest start to a broader attempt at bringing a sense of tomorrow into the debates of today.

The 4 scenarios

Scenario 1- "Collapse"

Quick summary:
Despite having the necessary technologies at hand, we have collectively done nothing to reduce global warming and to plan for shortages in fossil energies, fresh water, arable land, etc. Crises of growing frequency and seriousness occur, seriously hurting the world economy and producing severe human damage, both nature- and man-made, especially in developing countries. Hundreds of millions of refugees roam Asia and Africa and the migratory pressure on the North becomes unbearable. Borders close, local conflicts multiply and threaten to extend, mobility decreases, economies and societies try to relocalize. Public spirit is low; it spontaneously produces both local conflicts and solidarities, but this solidarity can no longer extend globally, since each group fights for its own survival. Technology is mostly used to plan for and cope with coming or present difficulties, as well as to provide alternatives or escapes from an uninspiring daily life. Alternatives are found in frugal, hyperlocal community-building. [...]

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Scenario 2- "Long war(s) / Imperialism"

Quick summary:
The way around climate change and resource shortages is found through the simultaneous modernization of rich countries and slowing down of growth in rising countries, especially in Asia, while the path to industrial growth remains essentially closed to least developed nations. This is achieved by a de facto alliance of governments and large firms in the North, to hoard global natural resources and distribute them in an "ordered" way, giving priority to their home countries and their spheres of influence. This produces a permanent state of low-intensity, mostly economic, sometimes military conflict, mostly involving minor countries, but also using terrorism as a constant threat. Nation-states regain strength as the need for security grows, both internally and externally. International trade is slightly reduced and becomes a political weapon, as does the economy in general, producing erratic movements, inflation and high savings. Technological developments are fast but mostly targeted towards security and sustainability, and unequally shared. Public spirit is incensed, both against exterior enemies, as within countries, with strong opposition movements. Technology also becomes the tool of choice for the emergence of counter-cultures, hoping to bring about major changes in the state of the world and, meanwhile, trying to implement them at local, community- or project-based levels. [...]

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Scenario 3- "New enlightenment"

Quick summary:
Citizens and governments achieve a level of global consciousness that allows them to make a deliberate, common effort to prepare for a better future. Rules and regulations are enforced at local and global scales to reduce emissions and energy consumption. Taxes and other incentives try to orient corporate and consumer behaviours towards sustainability. Major projects with global or continental funding produce huge windfarms or solar plants, and test new technologies at a grand scale. Development becomes a priority, with the aim of helping fast development beyond the resource-intensive, heavy-industry phases. "Guilds" emerge as ways of organizing people at a less-than-global scale, along geographic or community bounds. Strong collective pressure is imposed on "deviant" behaviours, be they individual, corporate or national. Democratic discussion is open, but decisions are strongly enforced. Scientific research and technological innovation is subject to strong ethical overseeing and funded according to its contribution to common goals, including the will to broaden the public domain of knowledge and share capabilities. [...]

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Scenario 4- "100,000 Flowers"

Quick summary:
A combination of widespread innovation and bottom-up initiatives at local and global scales produces significant changes in energy consumption and production patterns: decentralized energy systems, substitution of products by services, innovative materials in everything from building to clothing to transportation, "cradle-to-cradle" product design, etc. Consumers strongly reward eco-friendly corporations and punish the others, helped by evaluation tools as well as private and public labelling mechanisms. Networks become the primary infrastructure, and the immaterial component of all economies becomes the main source of wealth, trade and growth. Markets and co-operative initiatives compete in achieving desirable goals for all. Global initiatives are mainly directed towards free trade and open markets; powerful, pervasive and mostly free communication networks; and education, whose role and process change deeply. Individuals and groups form the fabric of society, lowering levels of solidarity between groups or with disenfranchised individuals. Armed conflicts decrease while global crime becomes a major, almost recognized force. Diversity and autonomy are primary values at the expense of more common values. Technology developments are targeted towards human enhancement, peer-to-peer communications, empowerment. Crises and catastrophes are more difficult to fight but their occurrence does not destabilize the overall system. [...]

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