The Atlantic Council recently released the results of its 2023 Global Foresight survey, gathering predictions on the state of geopolitics, technology, climate, and more over the next decade from nearly 300 experts worldwide.
The overall prognosis is gloomy, with 60% saying the world will be worse off in 2034. However, behind the pessimism are nuanced and sometimes surprising findings across domains offering both warning signs and cautious optimism.
The Age of AI: Promise Tempered by Generational Divide
The survey reveals a complex set of views on the trajectory of artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential impact over the next ten years. Overall, 51% of experts believe AI will have a somewhat or very positive effect on global affairs through 2034, compared to 38% expecting a negative impact.
However, a significant generational divide emerges in the data. Those under age 50 are much more skeptical, with 52% anticipating AI will negatively affect the world versus just 39% forecasting a positive impact. The ratios flip for respondents over 50, at 56% positive and 33% negative.
The pessimism of younger experts also manifests in 24% of under-50 respondents identifying AI governance as the area likely to see the greatest expansion in international cooperation — over 2.5x more than those over 50.
So why this pronounced split in generational outlook? Potential factors could include:
- Digital native younger experts better understand AI's risks
- Concerns of job automation threatening careers for those earlier on
- Older cohorts harboring more optimism due to progress witnessed
Regardless of age group, the private sector stands out as particularly bullish on AI's trajectory, aligned with tech industry messaging. Sixty-three percent of private sector respondents predict a positive AI impact versus a negative view from all other employment categories.
While views diverge on the exact shape of the AI age, expert consensus clearly points to emergent technologies drastically reshaping global affairs over the next pivotal decade. Monitoring generational and sectoral differences in outlook will be important for anticipating future policy and governance challenges.
The Threat of Climate Change: Key Concern, But Emissions Reduction Seen as a Stretch
Far and away, the top threat identified to global prosperity over the coming decade is climate change, named by 37% of experts — well ahead of a major power war at 25%. This aligns with climate also being singled out as the area most ripe for expanded international cooperation by 49% of respondents.
Those viewing climate change as a more serious threat unsurprisingly expect greater global collaboration to address it. For example, 63% of experts identifying it as the top risk also predict climate mitigation and adaptation efforts will see the biggest boost in multilateralism.
However, relative optimism on climate cooperation is offset by doubts over real-world progress in driving down emissions. Fifty-three percent don’t expect global greenhouse gases to have peaked by 2034, whereas the IPCC says it is imperative before 2025 to restrict warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Potentially, in recognition of the emissions challenge, over 50% anticipate humans will have begun large-scale, deliberate geoengineering of the planet by 2034 to counteract climate change impacts.
There are also telling differences by employment sector - only 23% of private sector experts view climate as the number one prosperity risk, versus 32% fearing a major power war more. This suggests those responsible for commercializing green tech view the climate threat as less immediate.
In summary, while climate change is broadly considered the leading danger on the 10-year horizon, confidence appears lacking around the world’s ability to rapidly decarbonize - hence bets are being hedged through unconventional means like geoengineering. Tracking both global emissions and multilateral climate efforts will be essential to gauge true progress.
- On Israel and its neighbors, 60% foresee normalized Israel-Saudi ties by 2034, while nearly 20% surprisingly expect an independent Palestinian state.
- On the conflict over Taiwan, only 50% now expect a Chinese invasion, down from 70% in 2022.
- On Russia, 71% predict Putin will be out of power, but 35% expect subsequent civil war or revolution.
- On the trajectory of US power, 81% see the US remaining the dominant military power in 2034, but only 33% foresee it being the top diplomatic power.
- In terms of faith in international institutions, 0% said the UN Security Council will be fully capable of solving challenges to its mission.
- On the nuclear landscape, 84% predict at least one new country will obtain nuclear weapons by 2034, with the most likely being Iran.
- On Ukraine’s future, 54% expect it to join the EU within 10 years.
Don’t like the forecast: You can change it!
While this article covers salient findings, there is much more depth and many additional insights in the Atlantic Council's full 60-page Global Foresight 2034 report. I highly recommend reading it to grasp the nuances across the ten key areas and 300+ expert perspectives surveyed.
The report aims not just to forecast but to help leaders across sectors shape strategies and policies that can drive more positive outcomes. The experts themselves may lean pessimistic, but that doesn't mean their predictions can't be proved wrong through responsible, ethical actions.
If anything gives you hope or concern for the future, make your voice heard and get involved. Whether you work in business, government, or civil society, we all have a role to play through the choices we make today.
You can help change the trajectory of the future forecast in this report and make it brighter; here is a non-exhaustive list of possible opportunities and actions you can take or influence:
- Invest heavily in clean energy R&D and deployment to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. Make climate-conscious choices in daily life - reduce energy use. Widespread lifestyle changes can impact emissions. This could help mitigate some of the expected impacts of climate change and reduce emissions more quickly.
- Strengthen technology governance frameworks domestically and globally to ensure AI and other emerging technologies are developed and used responsibly. This could help allay some of the concerns expressed in the report about potential downsides of technologies like AI.
- Take concerted action to reform and reinforce international institutions like the UN. This could bolster faith in multilateralism and provide more effective global coordination on issues like climate change and nuclear proliferation. Governments and business leaders can vocally support reforms.
- Take steps personally, domestically and internationally to reduce social media toxicity and curb the spread of mis/disinformation online. This could help mitigate a key concern expressed in the report about the trajectory of social media. Policy and platform changes could help.
- Increase investments in education and skills training to prepare workforces for the AI age. This could ease concerns about automation displacing jobs and better position countries/businesses to harness AI's opportunities. Public-private partnerships could drive training.
- Support educational initiatives in local communities that boost skills for the AI age. Citizens can volunteer time, donate, or advocate for quality training to be broadly available.
- Champion new platforms and norms for great power competition that reduce risks of conflict. With concerns expressed about potential US-China divides and Russia-NATO tensions, business and policy leaders could promote guardrails.
- Spearhead collaborative technology projects that serve societal needs. Global cooperation on using technologies to address challenges like disease could help shift mindsets from the prevailing pessimism described.
The next ten years will emerge from the collective decisions of leaders and citizens around the world - what part will you take to make 2034 brighter?
The future remains undetermined. Let's work to ensure these expert forecasts shift toward the positive by the time 2034 rolls around.
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