Looking over the Horizon

Over the past few weeks, I’ve shared some details about the National Intelligence Community’s capstone publication, “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress.” Just to recap, this publications provides a unique window – and valuable insights – into the typically secretive world of our U.S. intelligence agencies.

In this post, we’ll look at a more distant horizon and examine three plausible scenarios for what kind of world we’ll find ourselves in decades hence. Scenarios are important, because attempting to “predict” the future, that is, calling out a definite end-state, is fraught with danger and we ought to be wary of anyone who claims to be able to do so. As management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.”

For precisely this reason, the National Intelligence Council team that put together Global Trends: Paradox of Progress made no point-solution prediction regarding the future. Rather, they offered three scenarios to help readers imagine how different choices and developments could play out in very different ways over the next several decades. This report suggests that the more distant future will be shaped by which of three different scenarios: Islands, Orbits, and Communities plays out.

In the introduction to the scenarios section of Global Trends, the NIC team paused to explain why the use of scenarios is helpful to peer into the future. Here is what they said:

Thinking about the future beyond the next five years involves so many contingencies that it is helpful to consider how selected trends, choices, and uncertainties might play out over multiple pathways—as told through a set of short stories, commonly known as scenarios. While no single scenario can describe the entirety of future global developments, scenarios can portray how the foremost issues and trends might characterize the future, much like the terms “Cold War” and “Gilded Age” defined the dominant themes of past eras.

More on “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress” in my next National Security blog post.

Want more now? You can read Global Trends: Paradox of Progress here