Monday, March 8, 2010

Predicting the Future: The Interrelationship between Technology and Politics

Did you ever want to know the future? Invest in stocks that you knew would soar in value, start a venture at just the right time to take advantage of a new technology (as we did with SMT in 1986), and avoid pitfalls along the way.

I’ve recently been reading about trends — a brief history of the 21st century titled The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman, and The Next 100 Years, which forecasts the geopolitical future of the world and is written by an unrelated George Friedman.

Thomas Friedman talks about how technology has become global and how it has enabled the rise of China and India in manufacturing and services in the electronics supply chain. Bangalore, he points out, is one of the most wired places in the world, and rents and wages are less than one-fifth what they are in Western hemisphere capitals of London or New York. Economics follows technology and technology follows production in areas with an educated population that will work for low wages.

The world is now a global environment for technology and innovation spurred by scientific infrastructure. Where that innovation happens is the fuel that feeds the growth of a rising middle class, T. Friedman contends. If we want to keep innovating in the U.S., then we need to support university research and R&D efforts overall. The World is Flat is filled with Friedman’s findings of a flattened playing field as he visits electronics manufacturing (EMS) firms in India.

George Friedman, on the other hand, is not a journalist like T. Friedman. He is the founder and CEO of STRATFOR (, a private intelligence firm. The major export of the U.S. in our recessionary crisis has been unemployment in China, to where the U.S. outsourced EMS industrial plants. G. Friedman predicts the political rise of Turkey and Poland, the decline of Germany, the instability of China, and the rise of Mexico to one of the major economic powers in the world. “By 2080, I expect there to be a serious confrontation between the United States and an increasingly powerful and assertive Mexico,” he writes.

By 2050, advanced industrial countries will be losing population at a dramatic rate. Birthrates will decline. “The shift will force the world into a greater dependence on technology — particularly robots that will substitute for human labor, and intensified genetic research (not so much for the purpose of extending life but to make people productive longer),” G. Friedman writes.

I highly recommend both books and both authors, if for nothing more than making you look at the world of technology through different eyes. In both books, the ability to innovate and educate are the keys to politics.

Gail Flower, editor-at-large
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