We do not wish to make more of this than technology itself has to offer .In simpler times, early futurists occasionally forecast that science would bring world peace —— often by making war too terrible to contemplate —— or universal prosperity. We will not make the same mistake.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the so-called Green Revolution brought hybrid crops and new agricultural methods that multiplied farm yields. Even today, with a far larger global population, the world produces more food than it really needs. Yet there is recurring famine in Africa, less severe than in some years of late, but essentially unchanged from any period in recent memory. Technology has yet to overcome the limitations of Third World transport and tribal politics.
Since the 1940s and 1950s,antibiotics have all but eliminated infectious disease from developed lands. In all the world, smallpox exists only in the refrigerators of two closely guarded research laboratories. Yet cholera, diphtheria, and even the flu kill tens of thousands of people each year. In the United States, polio and tuberculosis are making a comeback. And AIDS—a disease unknown twenty years ago—is epidemic. Many of these ills represent problems of funding and distribution. Cholera is almost a trivial disease if patients receive antibiotics and clean water. Many do not. But nature also has proved more resourceful than doctors once imagined. Viruses previously unknown appear each year to strike us down. Despite scientific advances, we will still be battling these unpredictable killers in 2010.
In the developed lands, the average citizen enjoys conveniences not available to the wealthy of an earlier age. We eat nutritious food, drink clean water, benefit from modern medical care, drive air-conditioned cars, and tape our favorite television programs. Yet in the United States — the wealthiest of nations—malnourishment, infant mortality, and illiteracy are on the rise. These are matters of social policy, and technology alone is powerless against them.
What technology does promise is a better life for all whose economic and political situations allow them to take advantage of its wonders. And practical comforts it has delivered beyond any possible expectation. If we, on average, are better fed, live longer and healthier lives, enjoy a broader range of choice in both material goods and lifestyles than our ancestors could have conceived, science and technology deserve most of the credit. And so it will be in the decades to come. Technology is not the only power that will shape our future for good or ill. Yet it is the critical force that more than any other single factor, although not uninfluenced by the rest, will determine what is possible for us.
As forecasters, we spend most of our time writing and talking about the future. Unlike many in our profession, we hold to a relatively cheerful view of the years to come. Though humanity still confronts problems that have burdened it for decades or millennia, the early twenty-first century will be a time of relative peace and growing comfort throughout most of the world. Our future will be constrained by demographic, economic, and political forces that should be under our control yet seldom are —— but our expanding knowledge of science and mastery of technology will drive it. In lectures, magazine articles, and several previous books, we have tried to account for all these influences.