It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development
The Rockefeller Foundation supports work that expands opportunity and strengthens resilience to social, economic, health, and environmental challenges—affirming its pioneering philanthropic mission, since 1913, to “promote the well-being” of humanity. We take a synergistic, strategic approach that places a high value on innovative processes and encourages new ways of seeking ideas, to break down silos and encourage interdisciplinary thinking.
The goal of this project was not to affirm what is already known and knowable about what is happening right now at the intersections of technology and development. Rather, it was to explore the many ways in which technology and development could co-evolve—could both push and inhibit each other—in the future, and then to begin to examine what those possible alternative paths may imply for the world’s poor and vulnerable populations. Such an exercise required project participants to push their thinking far beyond the status quo, into uncharted territory.
LOCK STEP – A world of tighter top-down government control and more authoritarian eadership, with limited innovation and growing citizen pushback
CLEVER TOGETHER – A world in which highly coordinated and successful strategies emerge for addressing both urgent and entrenched worldwide issues
HACK ATTACK – An economically unstable and shock-prone world in which governments weaken, criminals thrive, and dangerous innovations emerge
SMART SCRAMBLE – An economically depressed world in which individuals and communities develop localized, makeshift solutions to a growing set of problems
In 2012, the pandemic that the world had been anticipating for years finally hit. Unlike 2009’s H1N1, this new influenza strain—originating from wild geese—was extremely virulent and deadly. Even the most pandemic-prepared nations were quickly overwhelmed when the virus streaked around the world, infecting nearly 20 percent of the global population and killing 8 million in just seven months, the majority of them healthy young adults.
At first, the notion of a more controlled world gained wide acceptance and approval. Citizens willingly gave up some of their sovereignty—and their privacy—to more paternalistic states in exchange for greater safety and stability. Citizens were more tolerant, and even eager, for top-down direction and oversight, and national leaders had more latitude to impose order in the ways they saw fit. In developed countries, this heightened oversight took many forms: biometric IDs for all citizens, for example, and tighter regulation of key industries whose stability was deemed vital to national interests.
By 2025, people seemed to be growing weary of so much top-down control and letting leaders and authorities make choices for them. Wherever national interests clashed with individual interests, there was conflict. Sporadic pushback became increasingly organized and coordinated, as disaffected youth and people who had seen their status and opportunities slip away—largely in developing countries—incited civil unrest
The recession of 2008-10 did not turn into the decades-long global economic slide that many had feared. In fact, quite the opposite: strong global growth returned in force, with the world headed once again toward the demographic and economic projections forecasted before the downturn.
But two big problems loomed. First, not all people and places benefited equally from this return to globalized growth: all boats were rising, but some were clearly rising more. Second, those hell-bent on development and expansion largely ignored the very real environmental consequences of their unrestricted growth. Undeniably, the planet’s climate was becoming increasingly unstable. Sea levels were rising fast, even as countries continued to build-out coastal mega-cities.
Devastating shocks like September 11, the Southeast Asian tsunami of 2004, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake had certainly primed the world for sudden disasters. But no one was prepared for a world in which large-scale catastrophes would occur with such breathtaking frequency. The years 2010 to 2020 were dubbed the “doom decade” for good reason: the 2012 Olympic bombing, which killed 13,000, was followed closely by an earthquake in Indonesia killing 40,000, a tsunami that almost wiped out Nicaragua, and the onset of the West China Famine, caused by a once-in-a-millennium drought linked to climate change.
In the context of weak health systems, corruption, and inattention to standards—either within countries or from global bodies like the World Health Organization—tainted vaccines entered the public health systems of several African countries. In 2021, 600 children in Cote d’Ivoire died from a bogus Hepatitis B vaccine, which paled in comparison to the scandal sparked by mass deaths from a tainted anti-malarial drug years later. The deaths and resulting scandals sharply affected public confidence in vaccine delivery; parents not just in Africa but elsewhere began to avoid vaccinating their children, and it wasn’t long before infant and child mortality
rates rose to levels not seen since the 1970s
The global recession that started in 2008 did not trail off in 2010 but dragged onward. Vigorous attempts to jumpstart markets and economies didn’t work, or at least not fast enough to reverse the steady downward pull. The combined private and public debt burden hanging over the developed world continued to depress economic activity, both there and in developing countries with economies dependent on exporting to (formerly) rich markets. Without the ability to boost economic activity, many countries saw their debts deepen and civil unrest and crime rates climb. The United States, too, lost much of its presence and credibility on the international stage due to deepening debt, debilitated markets, and a distracted government. This, in turn, led to the fracturing or decoupling of many international collaborations started by or reliant on the U.S.’s continued strength.
By 2025, collaboration was finally improving, with ecosystems of research and sharing—many of them “virtual”—beginning to emerge. Yet without major progress in global economic integration and collaboration, many worried that good ideas would stay isolated, and survival and success would remain a local—not a global or national—phenomenon
As you have seen, each of the scenarios, if it were to unfold, would call for different strategies and have different implications for how a range of organizations will work and relate to changes in technology. But no matter what world might emerge, there are real choices to be made about what areas and goals to address and how to drive success toward particular objectives.
We hope that reading the scenario narratives and their accompanying stories about philanthropy, technology, and people has sparked your imagination, provoking new thinking about these emergent themes and their possibilities. Three key insights stood out to us as we developed these scenarios.
Quite an interesting forecast and considering the state of play they all hold some perspective in how things are going and where they are going. A failing of standards and practice in international law is very much a part of the decent and breakdown of social cohesion that all of these senairos represent.
The management of conflict resolution is one key topic that does need some attention to avoid a lot of these future cataclisims. A movement towards simplifying the rights and responsibilites rather than adding more lengthy and confusing documentation will help. There are still many social functions that do require a lot of documentation, but to establish some common ground it does need to be short, consise, easy to undersand and to the point. With clearer aims and motiviations of the law it will cut through a lot of the technacilites that are sometimes detrimental to legal application and enforcement.