Charting the Global Course of the Information Revolution

The information revolution has brought about sweeping global changes to nearly every aspect of life. RAND's National Defense Research Institute (NDRI) has embarked on a three-year effort, sponsored by the National Intelligence Council, to chart the future course of these changes over the next 10-20 years. 

As the first major step, RAND convened an initial invited conference attended by participants representing a broad range of intellectual disciplines from North America, Europe, and the Asian Pacific region in Washington, D.C. in November 1999 to discuss the political/governmental, business/financial, and social/cultural dimensions of the information revolution throughout the world.

A second invitation-only conference focusing on key developments in information-related technologies and technical trends that could occur during the next 10-20 years took place May 10-12, 2000 in Pittsburgh, PA. 

Where Is the Information Revolution Taking the World? 

The information revolution is taking the world towards a future characterized by: 

  • a rise in information work and information workers; 
  • new business models, for the internal organization and functioning of business enterprises and for their external interactions with customers, suppliers, and competitors; 
  • the rise of electronic commerce; 
  • challenges to the power and authority of the nation state; 
  • the creation and empowerment of a wide variety of new, non-state (often global) political actors;
  • an ever increasing porosity of national borders; 
  • many new winners, and also many new losers; and 
  • new fault lines, within and between nations.

Differences in Regional Emphasis Regarding This Future 

In NORTH AMERICA, the information revolution is viewed as inevitable. It will run its course no matter what. Backlashes of various forms are expected to occur, but these are not considered likely to sufficiently retard or modify the process. In the end, the information revolution will be socially and economically beneficial. 

In EUROPE there is much more of a focus on realizing (economic) value from the information revolution while at the same time maintaining and protecting existing cultural and social values. Europeans believe that they can and must actively shape the course of the information revolution to achieve these ends, including, in particular, the alleviation of disparities (between winners and losers). 

The emphasis in the ASIA PACIFIC region is on realizing value from the information revolution -- primarily economic value. There is less concern with disparities. The prevailing attitude appears to be: "Don't worry about losers; concentrate on becoming a winner." There appears to be widespread confidence that many/most Asian countries can become winners. 

Many in the MIDDLE EAST, AFRICA, and SOUTH ASIA want to use the information revolution to better themselves and their countries, but with widely varying abilities to do so. This part of the world is often characterized by strong differences in focus between leadership/elite groups and mass citizenry. Many leaders/elites want, and use, the benefits of information technology -- but are wary of its influences on the citizenry. 

In some major nations there is a determination not to be left behind by the information revolution (i.e., to be one of the winners, not one of the losers). Some other nations' leaders/elites in the region may already anticipate losing, and may be starting to imagine dire consequences. But many citizens are unaffected and unconcerned now, and will be into the indefinite future. 

Next Steps

RAND plans to hold two more major international conferences in 2001 -- one in Europe and one in Asia -- to expose and vet results before a wider international audience, thereby broadening and deepening understanding of the future course of the information revolution throughout the world.