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HOME > ON THE BOOKSHELF > May-June 1998 > Bookshelf Detail


The Long View

David Morrison

2025: Scenarios of US and Global Society Reshaped by Science and Technology. Joseph F. Coates, John B. Mahaffie and Andy Hines. 516 pp. Oakhill Press, 1997. $27.95.

Thirty years ago, Herman Kahn and Anthony Wiener published The Year 2000: A Framework for Speculation on the Next Thirty-three Years, based on studies done under the Commission 2000, sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Daniel Bell, commission chairman, described the study's intent as "not an effort to 'predict' the future, as if this were some far-flung rug of time unrolled to some distant point, but the effort to sketch 'alternative futures'—in other words, the likely results of different choices, so that policy makers can understand the costs and consequences of different desires."

The new book takes a bolder approach, drawn from Project 2025, conducted by Coates and Jarratt Inc. The authors have developed 14 scenarios for the future, "a picture of the world in 2025, as shaped by science and technology and based upon forecasts and assumptions about that future world." This world is shaped by a world orientation toward environmentalism and by changes in so-called enabling technologies—information, materials, genetics and energy. The world of 2025 is divided into three broad population groups: World 1, including the United States, Japan and affluent nations of Europe; World 2, the middle, making up the bulk of the world's population, whose immediate needs and resources will be in balance; and World 3, the destitute nations, those on the brink of starvation, living with the constant threat of disaster.

The book challenges readers to test the conclusions and images about the future against their own knowledge, values and ideas about the future. Given the business-report style in which the book is written, with very limited documentation on the path that has been traveled, most readers will find the book intellectually challenging, perhaps frustrating. The authors have attempted to relieve this frustration by inventing organizations, giving them names or even acronyms, and citing future actions. For example, the Morrison Act in 2003 requires approval of all new materials as safe from leaching of toxics in solid waste. Some predictions are easy to accept—for instance, that "the universal ability of information technology and multidimensional modeling have drastically reduced the amount of hands-on experimentation and greatly increased the amount of experimentation and design on computers." It is not so easy to accept that by the year 2003, 2 percent of California's new vehicles will be electric and that the human genome will be fully mapped. It is not clear how the likelihood of missing these near-term projections will affect the long-range issues. In fairness to the authors, however, I should note that they do present two summary tables at the end of each chapter; one lists the critical developments from 1990–2025, the other unrealized hopes and fears.

Futurists will find the book worth reading as a framework for scenario development. Others will be interested in it for how the future could be shaped by advances in science and technology.—David L. Morrison, Nuclear Engineering, North Carolina State University


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