As we enter the year 2015, it seems like the headlines have never been worse. A conflict in Ukraine has sparked a new Cold War between Russia and the west. Deadly terrorist groups like ISIL and Boko Haram threaten entire states. The Ebola outbreak threatened to become a global pandemic.
And economically, except for the US—which just reported 5% GDP growth for the 3rd quarter and appears to be taking off—the rest of the developed world, including Japan and the EU, still remains mired in recession. It almost seems like we might never get back on track.
Yet still, despite these data points, we’re doing still pretty well. While the problems we face have never been greater, our capacity to meet challenges is outpacing them. That might not grab headlines (for example, the decline of Ebola received far less coverage than its rise), but, in the end, it’s what really matters. Here’s why we should be optimistic about the future in 2015.
1. There Will Be Less Poverty And War
Although the developed world has been sluggish lately, global incomes are on a steep upward trend. The World Bank reports that extreme poverty has declined by 43% since 1990. This has led to other positive trends, such as increased global life expectancy and ever expanding Internet penetration.
That’s not all, as Steven Pinker shows in a recent article in Slate, violence is also declining. We have fewer wars that are less deadly than ever before. Genocides are way down as are homicides generally. Even other types of violent crime, like rape and violence against children are falling (except school shootings in the US, which are up).
Not all the news is good. Income inequality in developed countries is rising at an alarming rate. The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 report shows a number of looming challenges, such as food and water shortages and increased access to deadly weapons, but it also makes clear that these too can be met, with effective action.
2. Our Technology Will Become A Million Times More Powerful
Ten years ago, the world was very different. In 2004, Google was still relatively new and just had its IPO. There were iPods, but no iPhone and no real mobile Internet. A 42 inch flat screen TV would cost you $4000. There was no social media, no cloud and very few location based services. Life was recognizable, but certainly not the same.
Twenty years ago there was no commercial Web. Even simple mobile phones were expensive, relatively rare and so big that we mostly kept them in our cars. We listened to music on CD’s and had very little personal technology. It’s hard to imagine a present day millennial living in 1994.
In very much the same way, life today will look very different in the not-too-distant future. By 2030, our technology will be a thousand times more powerful and by 2045, it will be a million times more powerful. Things that seem futuristic today, like virtual reality, will be old hat by then.
Another difference is that for the past generation most of the progress has been confined to information technology, but now the world of bits has begun to invade the world of atoms. We will are beginning to see similar trends in manufacturing, healthcare and, perhaps most importantly, energy.