In 2050, people will be more empowered than ever to share knowledge, be aware about their environment and take informed and responsible decisions. The emergence of communities of empowered individuals will likely challenge the roles of the representative decision makers currently running politics, information, education and welfare systems.
There will be a shift in democracy, particularly in the democratic process and the underlying principles. 20th century's long-cherished practices and concepts such as voting every few years, party manifestoes, horse trading in which some issues and wishes are compromised in the need to reach agreement on others, etc. will simply be history.
Citizens will express their opinions in a more immediate, direct way, on the issues that count for them. A new model of decision making will take account of the particularities of a street, village, community, region, country, block, or whatever in a flexible and adaptable way. It would enable direct consultation on issues, large or small, on different scales and for different implementations. This doesn't mean demagogy - safeguards can be built in to avoid silly outcomes - but it can address a pressing need for accountability.
As a consequence of the digital and social transformation, representative democracy will evolve and its actors will rely on online participatory democracy practices to harness collective knowledge and create co-ownership around it. New forms of liquid democracy will emerge where elected representatives are given agile, mission-oriented mandates to address particular challenges or opportunities.
New e-Democracy tools will be adopted by governments and communities at all levels. They will implement customisable policies to govern the sharing of resources similarly to the algorithms used by computers' operating systems (e.g. time sharing). A new societal operating system will therefore emerge as a federation of multiple operating systems (e.g. city operating systems).
The capability to inter-connect brains and thinks with increasingly faster and reliable forms of communication (e.g. quantum internet) will mark a significant step towards the vision of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin of a supreme point (Omega Point) toward which the universe is constantly developing to reach increasingly higher levels of consciousness and unity.
In this context, the social contract of the 21st century will likely change to take account of new power balances, i.e. "state powers" vs. power of individuals and the growing role of communities.
Governance will likely evolve to take account of the unprecedented capability of individuals, communities and states to sense, monitor and decide on globally shared resources and infrastructures. In 30-40 years, most of the sectors, e.g. the internet, media, energy supply infrastructures, water, food etc. will be regulated in a more participatory and "algorithmic" way. New power balances will be reflected in new forms of self and co-regulation. A new world order dominated by agile co-decision will emerge.
Key transformative forces (partly already visible in today's trends)
Related to individuals:
- Anytime and anywhere access to the right information by anyone, particularly the possibility to retrieve data and draw meaningful and actionable knowledge instantaneously.
- The ITU reports that from 2007 to 2013 (estimated), world wired broadband subscriptions increased from 346 million to 696 million, mobile broadband subscriptions increased from 268 million to over 2 billion, and mobile cellular subscriptions increased from 3.4 billion to 6.8 billion
Related to technology:
- Smart infrastructure and the internet will enable to monitor the impact of policies more rapidly and to produce more accurate projections and forecasts (e.g. through big data and simulation).
- According to Cisco IBSG, the number of connected devices will increase from 500 million in 2003 (0.08 per person on the planet) to 50 billion by 2020 (6.58 per person)
- The ability to gain insight into the status of the real world (individuals, society, economy, environment, etc.) will make it possible to inform policy decisions more accurately than ever.
- New technologies (e.g. mixed and augmented reality) that enable rapid learning in all kinds of contexts, resulting in a shift from linear education patterns to personalised and spontaneous lifelong learning.
- 50,000 augmented reality (AR) glasses were shipped in 2012, which is expected to rise to 124,000 by the end of 2013, and potentially 10 million by 2016 (in the long run)
- The augmentation of human's cognitive and intellectual abilities through the plug-in of artificial implants, as well as the widespread adoption of medical treatments and applied psychology to improve performance.
- “A survey of 1,400 adults carried out by Nature found that one in five said they had taken Ritalin, Provigil or beta-blockers to stimulate focus, concentration or memory”
Related to society:
- New platforms for social networking that allow citizens to self-organise into communities to address shared problems in a more structured, responsible and concurrent manner.
- According to Pew Internet & American Life Project, 39% of Americans take part in political activities on social networking sites; in 2008 3% of American adults posted political stories or links on social networking sites, rising to 17% by 2012
- Increased awareness of citizens of the possibilities offered by social networks to organise political movements and exert influence on politics.
- Increasing people awareness of other people's actions, including the right to access personal data granted by trusted peers and the right to revoke decisions on owned data.
Related to governance:
- Increasing capability of national security intelligences and states to access data from the real world, including personal data, which could otherwise require complex legal and political transactions.
- The American National Security Agency has direct access to search history, emails, file transfers, and live chats via internet services such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and others.
- The ability of governments to enable their constituencies to 'influence' policy decisions, i.e. by empowering stakeholders (including citizens) to co-create ideas to provide better grounds for the decisions that matter to them
- The reduced power of states to enforce their own policies on global communities (e.g. Google, Facebook, etc.), because of the direct or indirect pressure exerted by public opinion when dealing with communities that are perceived as part of their personal sphere.
- The limited capability of today's local, national and global democratic institutions to put in place effective responses to the system crisis. The global financial crisis started in 2008 is persisting and there is an evident difficulty to find sustainable solutions.
- Most western countries are financially poorer today than they have been in a generation. They are frequently mistrusted by their citizens and are struggling to find their feet in a digital world. Consequently the role, relevance and in some cases even the legitimacy of governments becomes precarious.
- According June 2013 data from OECD central government debt as a percentage of GDP for “Western” countries has risen over the last five years, from 2007 to 2012:
- Greece: from 119% to 166%
- Euro area: from 72% to 104%
- United States: from 66% to 106%
- UK: from 47% to 104%
- Canada: from 65% to 86%
The results of all brainstormings undergone at the "Ground-breaking Policies for Future Societies" workshop, including this very vision, can be found here.