What challenges could we face by 2045? A UK military think tank predicts there may be significant climate change affects, intensified spying, corporate armies, sophisticated weapons allowing targeting by DNA, and terrorists synthesizing new fatal viruses.
“Widespread and challenging implications for defense and security will almost certainly be generated by this increasingly connected world, with its rapidly advancing technology and evolving societies,” the document prepared for the British Defense Ministry says.
Within the next 30 years the world population may surpass 9 billion, which combined with technological progress and a range of other factors, will significantly change the world and result in new threats, according to the fifth edition of Global Strategic Trends by the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC).
Among possible future dangers, the study names “failed and failing cities” posing major security threats for nations, and an increase of flooding and droughts in some regions causing significant damage and loss of life.
Yet another problem may come from growing urbanization, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. As many as three billion people may end up living in slums within three decades if there is no investment in essential services and infrastructure.
“Such areas are likely to be more prone to social unrest,” the document says.
As 70 percent of the global population is expected to live in cities by 2045, it is likely that “some future adversaries will be found in larger, more complex urban environments, possessing a greater level of information and better access to technology than they do today.”
Increased spying and cyber-attack threats
As information, communications and critical national infrastructure become more integrated, there could be an increasing threat of cyber-attacks from criminals and terrorists, the study warns. For instance, transport systems could become a target for such offenses.
“As more of our work and social activities depend on interconnected information and communications networks – which may, in places, be extremely vulnerable to attack – there could be more opportunities for criminals and terrorists to have a greater impact on our day-to-day lives,” DCDC suggests, adding that is likely that keeping secrets may become increasingly difficult.
“An increasing number of devices capable of collecting sensor data could intensify levels of surveillance. Stealth vehicles may find it more difficult to remain hidden and the ability to prosecute covert operations, especially in urban environments, is likely to become more technically challenging,” the study says.
With increasingly cheap unmanned drones and satellites, criminals and terrorists are likely to make use of those capabilities.
“By 2045 or earlier, criminal organizations could secure payload space on rockets operated by private companies – this would allow them to launch their own surveillance satellites, potentially threatening individual and corporate privacy,” the study authors predict.
New weapons targeting by ‘digital signatures’ may appear
According to a picture of the future painted by the study authors, technology development is likely to play a major role in the shape of future armed forces, make weapons more precise and alter the nature of conflicts.
“The face of some armed forces may change, with an increasing use of unmanned systems and women in combat roles. Military and security forces may be asked to meet the challenges of more humanitarian disasters, and attacks by non- state actors and cyber-criminals may increase.”
Unlike civilian gadgets though, military equipment is unlikely to get cheaper. As military spenders, the US and China are likely to top the list, accounting for 45 percent of global defense spending, while India could have a defense budget similar to that of the EU.
Coupled with significant money inflow, technological progress is likely to give humanity new weapons.
“Directed energy weapons, such as lasers, could be capable of discrete target discrimination, producing a focused beam (or wider field) of electromagnetic energy or atomic radiation to cause disruptive or damaging effects to equipment and infrastructure,” the study says. “Such weapons may also be capable of delivering non-lethal effect on human targets at considerable distances.”
Also, as civil and military sensors become more sophisticated and widespread, targeting accuracy is likely to increase and hiding people or equipment – more difficult. Targeting an individual by their “digital signature” or even DNA may become a reality by 2045, the study suggests.
“We could also see sophisticated environmental warfare, capable of spreading plant and human diseases by insects or insect-machine hybrids. Crops and cattle could be destroyed, as well as people being incapacitated or killed,” the document predicts.
‘Obesity epidemic’, mental disorders
Rogue regime, terrorists or criminals may get an opportunity to synthesize highly contagious, fatal viruses with long incubation periods and use it as a tool to extort money or achieve political goals promising an anti-virus in response.
“It is even possible that viruses could, in future, be engineered to target specific individuals or groups, making them a more viable weapon,” the study adds.
On a positive note, however, the study authors predict that thanks to medicine and health improvements, people could live longer in future. Still, because of lack of physical activity and unhealthy diets, there is a danger of an “epidemic” of obesity and a rise in non-communicable diseases such as dementia.
As for things that are expected to remain stable, “corruption will almost certainly continue to be a destabilizing factor” disproportionately affecting the poor.
“The challenge of looking 30 years ahead cannot be overstated,” said Rear Admiral John Kingwell DCDC Director.
“Importantly, Global Strategic Trends does not seek to predict the future, instead it describes plausible outcomes on the basis of rigorous trends analysis. It is a truism that in an increasingly complex, competitive and connected world, the challenge is not responding to what we know today, but rather preparing for what tomorrow might bring.”