AlternAtive Worlds - a publication of the National Intelligence Council

Status Report From: Director of National Intelligence
Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds is the fifth installment in the National Intelligence Council's series aimed at providing a framework for thinking about the future. As with previous editions, we hope that this report will stimulate strategic thinking by identifying critical trends and potential discontinuities. We distinguish between megatrends, those factors that will likely occur under any scenario, and game-changers, critical variables whose trajectories are far less certain. Finally, as our appreciation of the diversity and complexity of various factors has grown, we have increased our attention to scenarios or alternative worlds we might face.

We are at a critical juncture in human history, which could lead to widely contrasting futures. It is our contention that the future is not set in stone, but is malleable, the result of an interplay among megatrends, game-changers and, above all, human agency. Our effort is to encourage decisionmakers--whether in government or outside--to think and plan for the long term so that negative futures do not occur and positive ones have a better chance of unfolding.

I would like to point out several innovations in Global Trends 2030. This volume starts with a look back at the four previous Global Trends reports. We were buoyed by the overall positive review in the study we commissioned, but cognizant too of the scope for needed changes, which we have tried to incorporate in this volume.

Our aim has been to make this effort as collaborative as possible, believing that a diversity of perspectives enriches the work. We have reached out to experts far beyond Washington, D.C. We have held numerous meetings, many in universities, in Indiana, Texas, California, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Colorado, Tennessee, New York, and New Jersey.

We also sponsored a public blog which featured blog posts and comments by experts on key themes discussed in Global Trends 2030. The blog had over 140 posts and over 200 comments. As of mid-October, it had 71,000 hits and had been viewed by readers in 167 different countries. To ensure that the blog posts can continue to be consulted, we are linking them to the web and e-book versions of the final published report.

We expanded our engagement overseas by holding meetings on the initial draft in close to 20 countries. Many times this was at the invitation of governments, businesses, universities, or think tanks. One beneficial outcome of the NIC's quadrennial efforts has been the growing interest elsewhere in global trends, including elaboration by others on their own works, which we encourage. Because of the widespread interest in how Global Trends 2030 is seen elsewhere, we have detailed the reactions of our international experts to the initial draft in a special box following the introduction.

In this volume, we expanded our coverage of disruptive technologies, devoting a separate section to it in the work. To accomplish that, we engaged with research scientists at DoE laboratories at Sandia, Oak Ridge, and NASA in addition to entrepreneurs and consultants in Silicon Valley and Santa Fe. We have also devoted strong attention to economic factors and the nexus of technology and economic growth.

Finally, this volume contains a chapter on the potential trajectories for the US role in the international system. Previous editions were criticized--particularly by overseas readers--for not discussing at greater length the US impact on future international relations. We believe that the United States also stands at a critical juncture; we have devoted a chapter to delineating possible future directions and their impact on the broader evolution of the international system.

Scores of people contributed to the preparation of Global Trends 2030, and we have sought to acknowledge the key contributors from outside the NIC in a separate entry. Within the NIC, Counselor Mathew Burrows was our principal author in addition to orchestrating the entire process from beginning to end. He was assisted by Elizabeth Arens as senior editor; Luke Baldwin, who established the first-ever NIC blog; Erin Cromer, who oversaw logistical support; and Jacob Eastham and Anne Carlyle Lindsay, who created the design. Dr. Burrows worked closely with regional and functional National Intelligence Officers, who reviewed and contributed to the draft. Among NIC offices, the NIC's Strategic Futures Group under Director Cas Yost rates special mention for its participation across the board in Global Trends-related work. I would especially like to acknowledge the work of the late senior analyst Christopher Decker who provided critical help with the forecasts on global health and pandemics before his untimely death.

I encourage readers to review the complete set of Global Trends 2030 documents, which can be found on the National Intelligence Council's website,, and to explore possible scenario simulations using the interactive material. We also have published the work in an e-book format so readers can download it for their use on a tablet. These formats are available for downloading from our website.

As with our previous Global Trends studies, we hope this report stimulates dialogue on the challenges that will confront the global community during the next 15-20 years--and positive and peaceful ways to meet them.

Christopher Kojm, Chairman, National Intelligence Council

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