Expert Forecasts for 2020

Countries in the scientifically lagging group tend to be at the bottom of the development ladder. Promoting rural economic development, improving public health, and reducing the use of resources and improving environmental health commonly rank highest on national agendas. All five applications could also help these countries use fewer resources and improve environmental health. Cheap solar energy would provide energy without fuel combustion, reducing environmental emissions. Solar energy and cheap autonomous housing might help reduce the indoor air pollution generated by wood- and coal-burning stoves. Less reliance on firewood would promote healthy forests that would help control soil erosion; improve the quality of underground water; reduce sediment flows into rivers; and supply food, medicine, and con-struction materials. Rural wireless communications could help local and national governments monitor resources, environmental conditions, and pollution. GM crops would help conserve the natural resources used for agriculture and eliminate or reduce the magnitude of sources of pollution. Filters and catalysts would help conserve water and reduce waste streams. Strengthening the military and warfighters of the future is often a prominent concern for countries in the scientifically proficient group. For example, as a new EU member, Poland needs to modernize its military for greater compatibility with its new security partners. Russia wants to preserve its former status as a world military power. Strengthening homeland security and public safety can also be a relatively high priority. Russia, for instance, faces considerable internal security problems, such as organized crime and armed opposition in Chechnya. As the global technology revolution proceeds, market forces will moderate and vector its course, its technology applications, and their implementation. Predicting the net effect of these forces is predicting the future—wrought with all the difficulties of such predictions. But current technology trends have substantial momentum behind them and will certainly be the focus of continued R&D, consideration, and debate over the next 15 years. By 2020, countries will be applying many of these technologies in some guise or other and the effects will be significant, changing lives across the globe. • Filters and catalysts: Techniques and devices to effectively and reliably filter, purify, and decontaminate water locally using unskilled labor.