2020 starts in 26 days. 2020 is a milestone year and those are years when people love to make long-range predictions.
I, Brian Wang of Nextbigfuture, have been tracking global developments for over 40 years. I will make some long-range predictions and review some old predictions. I am a professional futurist and my last large set of predictions was made in 2006 at the nanonews-now website.
Many of the predictions were accurate. Many were for a more distant future and have not happened or not happened yet.
I will review and update some interesting or notable predictions from 156 predictions I made in 2006:
* First 10 petaflop supercomputer predicted for 2012-2013. The Fujitsu K Supercomputer surpassed 10 petaflops in November 2011. It was originally scheduled to activate June 2012.
* Quantum computing 100 qubits 2010-2014. This occurred in 2010 with the 128 qubit D-Wave Quantum Annealing system being sold for $10 million. A prediction I made on Long Now in 2006 was even more precise on the timing and saying it would be commercially sold by Dec 31, 2010.
* Quantum computing 1000 qubits 2015-2020. The 2000 qubit D-Wave Systems were announced in 2016 and the first sale occurred in 2017.
* Other predictions in electronic communications, computing, materials and digital imaging were accurate.
* The nanotechnology predictions mostly have not panned out so far.
* Manned trip to Mars 2021-2026. This surprisingly still has some shot and if it is wrong might only be wrong by as little as four years. SpaceX and Elon Musk are targeting an aspirational 2024 for an unmanned mission and possibly 2026 for a manned mission.
* Mining on asteroids and the moon 2019-2025. Asteroid mining companies were formed but failed. There is activity to possibly begin water mining on the moon. I update this to open up the range from 2020-2040. I think it will happen sooner and possibly by 2025 but the more interesting question is whether large amounts of lunar ice or asteroid ice reduces the costs for activity beyond low-earth orbit. Technically accurate asteroid or moon mining of a thimble of water at an earlier date is not relevant for the world.
* 20+ million people who are millionaires (HNWI 1-5 million). This would be triple 2004 levels in 2018-2020. The latest figures are about 18 million in 2018 and a slight decrease in 2019. If there is good economic performance in 2020, then this would hit 20 million in 2020. I will predict a doubling of millionaires to 40 million by 2033-2045.
* China second-largest economy in straight currency conversion measures 2013-2015. China passed Japan in 2010.
* China largest economy in PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) terms 2009-2012. This happened in 2014.
* MNT-enhanced world imager, MNT mass produces billions of satellite telescopes, large precise mirrors, network to form 1,000,000km telescope, 10-meter resolution at 30 light-years (2040-2050). A NASA NIAC study indicates that inflated mylar spheres could be 40 to 100-meter space telescopes and they could have a 1000 kilometer baseline or more. Building a radio telescope on the moon is being considered for 200,000+ baseline radio telescope by arraying with earth-based telescopes. I now open up the date range for the super telescope arrays to happen between 2020-2080.
Predicting the future is somewhat like batting averages for baseball. If you are not playing t-ball then getting 20-40% accuracy is very good. However, there are different ranges of difficulty. Certain predictions are actually just statements of fact. The US Tricentennial will be 2076. This would only be falsified if the US were to breakup in the next 57 years. Even if one or more states left, there would likely a substantial portion that would continue to call itself the United States. The European Union could lose the UK to Brexit and even lose other members but Germany can lead something called the European Union for a long time.
One lesson learned from the predictions made in 2006 is to have larger date ranges and to sometimes to leave them open-ended.
It is actually time-consuming and difficult to make good and useful predictions. The usefulness of predictions is to be able to identify what is and will be important. It is also having enough information and bounds to understand why it will be important whether something happens or does not happen.
I have to determine how precise to make the prediction. Many futurists and pundits will not put in the effort or avoid any metrics. It then becomes impossible to falsify the prediction. A prediction that cannot be judged as false is not a prediction but a rhetorical opinion or coded statement of some kind of fact. Bounding or making a prediction precise involves analyzing the range of variability and the processes driving trends or possible outcomes.
There is also more interesting questions than just overall population levels. It is important to know where the growth is. The Western US had four times more population from 1950 to 2010. The current trends are for growth over a decade to be 15+% in Texas and Utah and 6-13% in the east and west coast areas.
The statistics for world population is the figure below is no longer accurate. The UN now predicts almost 10 billion people in 2050 and 8.5 billion people in 2030. The world population figures are likely inaccurate by a few percent. This is because several fast-growing African nations have purposely avoided new census for political and societal reasons. There is even debate about the world population in 1950 and 1940 and earlier dates. Estimates vary for 1950 from 2.4 to 2.6 billion.
Unless there is a technology-driven economic boom, the world is in for slower growth for the next 10 years. Self-driving and AI will provide some boost in GDP growth but at moderate levels, those only offset an economic slowdown. I think the technology breakthroughs do happen over the next ten to 20 years but they take another few years to scale to world-shaking levels. I will take the time for a more detailed breakdown in a follow-up article.
Asia and China still have relatively solid growth (4-7% per year) but not amazing economic growth (8+%). The growth is also less consistent. However, it is still faster in general than the USA (2-4%) and Europe (0-2%). Asia should still double on a per capita basis relative to the developed countries but it will take 20-35 years.
Asia (not including Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea) moves from $2000-15,000 per capita to $5000-50,000 per capita in 2040-2060. Most of the population of Asia (China, India, ASEAN) will be in the $15,000 to 35,000 per capita range in the 2030-2050 time-frame. This will be in the high South American to Southern European GDP levels.
I will continue this look at predictions in the next article.