Vietnamese children walking home from school Vietnamese children walking home from school.

The Map of the Future

Our story of the future begins and ends with a paradox: The same global trends suggesting a dark and difficult near future, despite the progress of recent decades, also bear within them opportunities for choices that yield more hopeful, secure futures. In the pages to come, we use multiple time horizons to help explore the future from different perspectives, to illustrate the risks for sudden discontinuities and deep, slow-moving shifts, and to flag decision points.

We start with an exploration of "Key Trends" that are changing the global landscape and illuminate today’s paradox. We discuss as well how these trends are "Changing the Nature of Power, Governance, and Cooperation" as a way to diagnose why and how global dynamics have become more challenging in recent years.

Absent very different personal, political, and business choices, the current trajectory of trends and power dynamics will play out in a "Near-Future of Rising Tensions."

Shifting gears, we explore trajectories for how the trends could unfold over a 20-year horizon through "Three Scenarios for the Distant Future: Islands, Orbits, and Communities." Each scenario identifies decision points that might lead to brighter or darker futures, and develops implications for foreign policy planning assumptions.

Finally, we discuss the lessons these scenarios provide regarding potential opportunities and tradeoffs in creating the future, rather than just responding to it.

Throughout the document, we have placed imagined headlines from the future to highlight the types of discontinuities that could emerge at any point from the convergence of key trends.