Some of the world in 2020 will look like it does today. For example, people will still get around in gasoline-powered automobiles, and terror will still be used as an intimidation tactic throughout the world. But much of the world in 2020 look drastically different from today due to a rate of change even more rapid than that experienced in the 20th century.
Nanotechnology and its applications will come to dominate our lives much as the internet has in the last 12 years. China and the United States will be in an important worldwide alliance. Karadzic will still be on an extended vacation in Holland, and Mladic will be long dead. And surprisingly, presently patriotic New York City will have succeeded in breaking off from the rest of the United States. In sum, the world in 2020 will be more polarized than ever with not much middle ground: people will be either English speaking or not, modern or traditional, globalized or tribal, wealthy or poor.
Below are my predictions:American Life
In 2020, Americans drive larger automobiles and live in larger homes than ever before, effecting a bubble-like existence where few who can afford to are forced to be outside or interact with others in their communities. Well-to-do Americans now drive on a new network of low-traffic private toll roadways. Rising crime concerns have furthered the separation of wealthy churches, grocery markets, and recreational opportunities from the communities around them. Social commentators bemoan the nearly complete loss of American common identity, and the sharpest divide ever between the haves and have-nots. The best example of what American urban life will be like in 2020? Look to turn-of-the-century Sao Paolo, Brazil, where the extremely wealthy rode in bulletproof cars or helicopters on their commutes from armed gated communities through the sprawling slums and prisons to their guarded office buildings.
The most significant development in national politics is the decline of long-standing two-party dominance. Republicans and Democrats are increasingly indentified as parties of the wealthy, and now must share their common support with both a far-left Green party (whose Chomskyesque platform espouses socialism, anti-globalization, anti-nanotechnology, welfare and labor) and a far-right Patriot party (whose Buchananesque demographic is anti-immigrant, xenophobic, rural, poor, and white). Thanks to the California, Florida, and Texas electoral votes, America has its first Hispanic president in 2016, whose platform urges decreasing American global commitments but increasing America's western hemispheric influence, a Monroe Doctrine strategy aimed at crippling the nascent and debilitating anti-globalization violence now found in Central America and most of the upper 2/3rds of South America.
There are secession talks within America... but surprisingly not by California. Rather, New York City (fervently patriotic after 2001) is in the process of re-inventing itself as a mini-Switzerland that is autonomous from the rest of the United States. In arguing for independence, New Yorkers point to their role as host to many important international institutions, financial headquarters, and adjudicatory bodies, and argue that the interests of all of these are disserved by their position on American soil. These arguments are further aided by East Side liberals, who point to an increasing disconnect from the rest of American life, as well as Staten Island conservatives, who are attracted by the billions of dollars in federal income and estate tax savings that they will accrue as a direct result of secession. The only resistance to this secessionist momentum is from working class New York, which in the end limits actual secession to Manhattan and Staten Island (and thus leaving Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens as parts of New York State).Technology
In a manner reminiscent of the fin de siecle
trade battles between the U.S. and EU over genetically modified food, world trade controversy centers over the regulation of nanoparticles used in food processing, consumer goods, and industry. The European Union in particular (which now includes Turkey, Ukraine, Serbia, Morocco, and Canada) insists on high standards for regulating nanomanufacturing in order to mitigate the chances of unforeseen health risks and environmental catastrophes from now-widespread autonomous nanomachines. The United States and China, both countries where commercial interests consistently outmuscle regulatory priorities, are allied against the EU (protective of consumers) and Japan (protective of niche high-precision Japanese nanomanufacturers) in a broad trade war.
Technological developments in anti-virals have combined with distribution and education successes to help prevent millions of deaths from HIV and malaria around the world, and have helped transform these epidemic scares to satisfactorily remissing phenomena. While these successes are cause to celebrate the real results from mass targeted philanthropy (a growing 21st century trend developed in the west but spreading east), they are also offset to a degree by a rising worldwide deathtoll from bacterial outbreaks caused largely by increasingly dwindling and polluted freshwater levels.World Affairs
The Global War Against Terror has ground to an unsatisfying standstill, with two important developments. First, pirating, immigration strains, kidnapping and religious fundamentalism lead Australia to enter into a drawn-out counterinsurgency battle against terror and crime sponsors in Aceh, Borneo, and other Indonesian provinces under weak or no control of the national Indonesian government. Second, an increasingly sophisticated but also more tribalistic media network in southwest Asia helps to refocus the fundamental rivalry between Arabian Wahabbism and Persian Shiism, which has the positive effect of decreasing organized and state-sponsored terror targeting against the United States.
Terror is increasingly decentralized, and is now a tactic used just as much by anti-globalization activists as by religious extremists. Terror targets expand to include symbols of western thought and progress, such as attempts at destroying the Mona Lisa painting, the Roman Coliseum, corporate headquarters of GM or Exxon, and the Hollywood letters. For practical disruptions, anti-globalization groups aim to disrupt trade through the Panama Canal, with the implicit support of newly leftist regimes in Panama, Colombia, and Brazil, in addition to standbys in Cuba and Venezuela. The most feared measure these groups take is to resume the manufacture of Stinger-cloned anti-aircraft missiles, which are bought, seized, and destroyed by the United States with the same vigilance used to disarm Russian nuclear missiles in the 1990s. State-sponsored anti-globalization violence throughout the Americas, a result of pan-American indigenous movements, is the greatest threat to American security in 2020.
Russia will reassert its position as a global power after finally quelling rebellion in Dagestan and Chechnya, then invading and asserting dominion over Georgia, a blatant move met with scorn but no practical resistance from most of the international community. A strengthened security alliance between Russia and Iran serves to not only protect their common interests as oil-rich states (oil will still be the engine of world commerce in 2020), but to also prevent unrest and secessionist movements in Indo-Iranian areas of Russia such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and client state Azerbaijan. Russia in 2020 is the most politically oppressive country in the world, a place where Vladimir Putin is still the president and oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky is still in prison.
Relations have warmed significantly between China and the U.S., who both have come to recognize their common interests (world leadership, consumerism, oil dependency, resistence to EU-promulgated world regulatory bodies) and threats to those interests (piratage from Indonesian-backed anarchists in the Strait of Malacca, terrorism in and around the Panama Canal, anti-aircraft missiles, and threats from oil producers from West Africa, the South Caribbean, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Caspian Sea states). Modern Chinese research universities, largely modelled on American ones, are now becoming mature, and are limited in garnering a large share of scientific Nobel Peace Prizes only by the limitations of the Chinese written alphabet to be able to reduce complex scientific terms into more abbreviated written form, as is possible in the acronyms of western written language. Thus, China becomes increasingly bilingual in English in addition to Mandarin or Cantonese.
Singapore, fed off of the continuing economic boom in the Pacific Rim in the second decade of the 21st century, has easily replaced London and New York as the financial capital of the world, and is the wealthiest country in the world per capita.
The Korean Peninsula lives up to its 19th century moniker as the "Hermit Kingdom," since South Korea by 2008 had quickly replaced newly disapproving China as the principal state backer of recalcitrant North Korea. The North Korean juche
philosophy spreads south, as the South Korean "Sunshine Policy" continues to guide the work needed towards a still unresolved total reunification. The Korean peninsula is increasingly xenophobic and based on Korean ethnic identity, and a place where traditional alliances with the China and the United States are now mostly severed.Conclusion
Will any of these predictions come true? I suppose you could say that hindsight is in 2020.