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This report is based on a workshop held in New York City in September 2017 to discuss how to better define, anticipate, and address global trends and discontinuities that could shape the world though the year 2040. Nineteen participants from a wide range of disciplines and professions analyzed continuities and discontinuities from previous eras, and anticipated likely or consequential developments in the coming 25 years. Continuities are those trends and events that were unsurprising, even if they occurred at an accelerated pace. Discontinuities, also known as "black swans," are developments that were deemed impossible and so were never considered, yet proved consequential enough to change history. The most consequential continuities cited were that (1) life expectancy in many parts of the world would continue to rise, (2) extreme weather events would increase in frequency, and (3) technological advancement would continue to progress rapidly. The most consequential discontinuities cited were that (1) artificial intelligence could displace a significant portion of the labor force; (2) advanced genomic editing could become a disruptive force; (3) climate change and extreme weather could spark mass migration; and (4) shifts in climate, energy, and demography could alter the international power balance. This report also addresses anticipated changes in warfare, information insecurity, challenges to privacy, and the problems of governance in liberal democracies, which were seen as the fundamental obstacle to designing solutions to the anticipated challenges of 2040.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Lessons of History: A 75-Year View of Surprise

  • Chapter Three

    Participant Views on Likely Economic Transformations by 2040

  • Chapter Four

    Demographics and Dependency Concerns

  • Chapter Five

    Food, Weather, and Climate Insecurity

  • Chapter Six

    Perspectives on Potential Changes in Warfare

  • Chapter Seven

    Views on Information Insecurity and the End of Privacy

  • Chapter Eight

    Views on Amending the Liberal International Order

  • Chapter Nine

    Recommendations for Future Research

This project is a RAND Venture. Funding was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. This research was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center (ISDP) of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD) of the RAND Corporation.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation conference proceeding series. RAND conference proceedings present a collection of papers delivered at a conference or a summary of the conference.

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