global mega-trends

The world is being fundamentally transformed by the impact of the Information and Communications Revolutions of the last three decades. The following five aspects of change require a reinvention of global governance (set out inUN-GLOBENET).

A world in which telephone service was an elite luxury has been transformed in three decades into one with mobile networks spanning the globe. Phone service is now accessible to almost the entire world population, and 165 countries also have ‘4G’ high-speed mobile networks offering smart phone access to the Internet. More than 3.5 Billion people – over half the world population – have broadband access to the Internet.

 The world’s largest data processor is Google; in 2015 it was dealing with 3.5 billion requests per day and storing 10 exabytes (10 billion gigabytes) of data. Total Internet traffic has grown dramatically, from approximately 100 GB of traffic per day in 1992 to 100 gigabytes per second (GBps) in 2002; in 2015, that had risen to more than 20,000 GBps. In 2015, global IP traffic was an estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data (that’s 2.5 followed by 18 zeros); by 2020, that is projected to increase to 2.3 Zetabytes (add another three zeros) per year.

 To put that in more comprehensible terms, by 2020, the gigabyte equivalent of all movies ever made will cross the global Internet every two minutes and it would take more than 5 million years to watch all the video shared in a month.15 This vast acceleration of Internet traffic has led scientists to speculate if a global neural network is emerging that will at some point generate an autonomous planetary consciousness, a Global Brain.

Governments have made a rapidly accelerating effort over the last decade to create a system for global geospatial information management (GGIM). Guided by an ECOSOC expert committee, countries around the world have been cooperating on capacity-building, norm-setting, data collection, data dissemination and data sharing aimed at creating a global geodetic frame of reference to manage all aspects of GGIM.

 Once it is in place the planet will be able to grow a “skin” of location-specific data integrating all available economic, social, environmental and cultural information, viewable on any smart phone in perspectives ranging from Big Data visuals to weather forecasts and local entertainments. Smart phones could also be programed to report automatically to the nearest database on a variety of variables, including environmental conditions; that would make the analogy of a planetary “skin” exact.

The basic technology for 3D printing dates back to the inkjet printers of the 1980s. The first patent for a printer that shaped three-dimensional forms (by layering and hardening materials), was granted in 1987 and the first operating printer was made in 1992. Since then 3D printing has made astonishing progress:

  • In 1999, a 3D printed frame coated with a layer of cells taken from a patient was used for an implant that faced little chance of rejection. In 2002 a 3D printer made a fully functional miniature kidney.
  • In 2006 3D printers were making prosthetic limbs and engineering industrial products.
  • In 2008 an open source program produced self-replicating printers. The same year, a human leg complete with knee and ankle joints was printed out as a single prosthetic.
  • In 2009 the first blood vessel was printed out, the first robotic aircraft and drivable car were produced, and gold and silver used to print jewelry. Other materials in use now include plastics, polymers, resins, titanium, concrete, food and human tissue.
  • In 2017 an entire house was printed using concrete in sub-zero weather. Developers are aiming at a 3D “desktop factory” capable of printing out any and all industrial products of the finest quality.

Renewable energy production has been increasing at historically unprecedented rates and has remained competitive despite a dramatic decline in global fossil fuel prices; it is now a mainstream source of power, accounting for about half of newly added electricity generating capacity. By the end of the next decade India is projected to be drawing on non-fossil sources for over 56 per cent of its power. By 2030, the use of clean energy will probably be double the level of 2014, with the largest share being solar energy.

The UN medium variant projection shows world population increasing to 9.3 billion by 2050 and 10.1 billion by 2100. A fertility level just half a child per woman below the medium projection would push population growth into the “low” variant, reducing the total number of people on the planet to 6.2 billion in 2100, the same as at the start of the 21st century.

  • Experience has shown that such a change can be caused by educating women, giving them access to reproductive health care, and eliminating child, early and forced marriage. In short, the change can be made by improving the status of women in the context of economic and social development.
  • Such development will also be of critical importance in creating jobs for the 1.9 billion youngsters who will turn 15 before 2030, and providing adequate care for people over 60 (who will increase from 10 to 16 per cent of the world population in the same period). Effective global governance is essential to ensure the rapid development necessary for optimum outcomes.

The trends noted above point to a series of dramatic changes that will shape the world in the rest of the 21st Century. Consider the following:

As small and medium enterprises use the Internet and the Worldwiwe Web to locate and sell to niche markets they will disaggregate the mass markets shaped by advertising that giant corporations need to support their mass production. As mass markets erode, large hierarchically organized corporations will become progressively less competitive. The industrial era megatrend towards corporate gigantism will be reversed and eventually mega-corporations will lose their economic rationale and cease to exist.

The plummeting price of off-grid renewable energy and increasingly sophisticated 3-D printing will allow the highest quality of industrial product in the remotest locations. 

  • That will make most factory-scale production unnecessary.
  • Without mass production there will be no need to concentrate labor, energy and other commodities at particular locations: manufacturing will become widely decentralized.
  • As small and medium manufacturers return to the historical norm of sourcing locally/regionally available raw materials global trade will reorient into regional patterns.
  • Most bulk shipping of commodities, oil pipelines, goods trains and long distance trucking will become unnecessary.
  • Decentralized manufacturing will reverse the trade and industry-driven urbanization of the last four centuries. 
  • Cities will revert to being cultural/educational centers and hubs for regional trade. 
  • Urban real estate valuations will increasingly reflect aesthetic and social considerations.

Trends such as the shift from brick and mortar retailing to e-commerce, the borderless sprawl of social media, and the shift of advertising from broadcast television to digital media, point to a new globalization driven by individual preferences and disruptive of realities imposed by corporate profitability. 

  • The rapid development of artificial intelligence and robotics will thus not serve corporate profitability and cause mass unemployment but support economically self-sufficient or entrepreneurial communities.
  • With better global governance and much better funding of human development through crowd-funding (see below) progress towards all 17 goals of Agenda 2030 will be accelerated. 
  • That will shift the growth of world population from the medium to the low variant UN projection. 

In sum, the trends indicate the reversal of every negative legacy of the industrial era, including climate change.

Dealing with Disruption

The outcomes of the projected changes will be uniformly positive but the process will be unavoidably disruptive. We can already see in the most advanced economies the type of problems that are likely to develop globally. The surge in American e-commerce is decimating the traditional retail industry; and the shift from broadcast to digital advertising is changing the economics of  branding and marketing.

 Far more disruptive changes lie ahead as mass production becomes uneconomical and the financial infrastructure supporting giant corporations falls into disuse. The unemployment effects could lead to widespread social disruption unless small and medium manufacturing takes up the slack. For that to happen, it will be necessary for governments to invest massively in promoting the use of off-grid renewable energy and 3D printing, and cooperate in sharing technology and other resources. UN/Globenet can enable the close and flexible intergovernmental cooperation necessary; the system for crowd-funding described below should be able to generate almost unlimited financing.

Key Conclusions
To sum up, the world is trending towards a series of positive changes that can reverse the deeply negative legacies of the industrial era. For the first time in human history the technologies coming into mainstream use will allow democratic governance of both political and economic systems. The regulated lottery as a new form of crowd-funding will make it possible to fully fund the implementation of Agenda 2030, equalizing human development around the world and accelerating the demographic transition. However, the short term impact on jobs and livelihoods could be extremely disruptive unless the transition is taken in hand through intensified and effective governance. The transformation of the United Nations into UN/Globenet is thus an urgent priority.