Verdict on round 1

Verdict on round 1

Reports 363 REPORTS It is not often that a new society of futures studies gets coverage on US television. Unusual, but understandable when-as the h...

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It is not often that a new society of futures studies gets coverage on US television. Unusual, but understandable when-as the headline of this brief report says-the subject is the Society of Futures Studies, Peking. Set up this year, the society now has over 100 individual members and more than 30 institutional members, ranging from universities and town planning institutes to seismology research centres. The general secretary is Du Dakong and committee members include researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Social Sciences, Peking. The society, a nongovernmental organisation, promotes meetings and

conferences among its members, and plans to publish a newsletter this year. The central secretariat has no research staff of its own, but it does coordinate research projects. Currently research is principally oriented towards China’s immediate goals (ie up to 1985) and focuses on population, modernisation, national and regional resources, energy, and the best use of science and technology. The last reflects the society’s close links with the All China Association of Science and Technology. Longer-term projects (some of them up to the year 2000) are in the pipeline, including work on a world model which is still at an early stage.

Verdict on round 1 is too conservative. The response to round 1 of the Delphi (and we thank all those who took part) indicates that respondents believed that the ten events listed were more likely to happen than Futures estimates indicated.1 Table 1 shows the medians of the responses (after they had been weighted by self-assessed expertise).2 Of the 30 median estimates, only two are less than the original Futures estimate (the likelihood of a cancer cure or moon colony within ten years). On the other hand, Table 1 shows that the median likelihood of a nuclear exchange is five times



Auguot I#78

the Futures estimates for each of the next three decades. Table 2 lists reasons given by respondents for diverging from the initial Futures probabilities. In brief, events are technologically driven, but politically (or economically) constrained. One area of uncertainty is eliminated when technological push coincides with political pull ; as in the 1940s and 1950s with nuclear weapons, and in the 1960s with the space programme. Energy and health may (if fears of pollution and rising prices allow) make similar progress in the 1980s.



Respondents often agreed about technological progress, and thus the final event probabilities were greatly influenced by the readers’ political judgements. Let us look at four events where agreement among the respondents was






Moon colony Fusion electricity : Artificial protein t Cancer cure 10 ‘Intelligent’ computer 30 Direct dialling Nuclear war 2: Genetic engineering 46 World per capita




(Futures estimate)a and quartilesb (%)



I:;) (40) (
I-20 l-10 l-5 1O-20 30-70 20-35 I-IO 12.540 0.25-l

20-60 1030 3-30 20-50 50-80 30-80 2-25 27.5-87.5 5-25

:: 15 96 50




50 (50)

10 years

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

greatest.3 They were: direct dialling, cancer cure, USA/USSR agreement, and the ‘intelligent’ computer (in order of increasing agreement). The first and third of these events had a large political component, but there was widespread agreement on the likely

I:;’ (1) (20) (30)

30 years

quartiles 60-90 50-70 10-60 50-75 60-90 50-95 3-50 60-95 lo-65

I: I::; 17.5 (IO) 60 (60) I;!; (3) (90) (50)


Nofes: a See Fufures, December 1978, 70(6), pages 534-535, which gives a fuller definition in round 1. b The figures given are lower received were in the range shown. TABLE




Event 1. Moon colony

2. Fusion electricity

3. Artificial protein 4. Cancer cure 5. ‘Intelligent’


6. Direct dialling



given for event




Surveillance: astronomical data gathering: effort by USSR: profitable for industry in the long term: political prestige Extraordinary research effort; longterm need; progress with lasers: no alternative; technological and political progress in the long term Exists already; technological advances Intense research effort Technological progress; lacks only good programming: exists now Technological progress: satellites


9. World per capita income doubles 10. USA/USSR

ie half the weighted

of events responses


~~_ less likely No political will; comparison with Antarctic colonisation; better alternatives available: no clear benefits

Very complex subject; wrong orientation-solution via prevention not cure Human capabilities should not be underestimated East-West politics: poverty and politics in Third world; restrictions in closed societies

Proliferation; likelihood of tactical use; accident; USSR first strike, resource scarcity; debasing of mutually assured destruction (MAD)

7. Nuclear war

8. Genetic

and upper


23% real growth in developing countries; advanced countries will expand fast enough to pull up average Meaningless tokenism: USSR wants advanced technology; they both like signing agreements

Political constraints; very complex religious and social constraints Real income declining; resource limitations make this impossible Ideological



August 1979


this political environment. Compare with the four events where there the widest disagreement among the respondents (in order of increasing disagreement) : increase in global per capita income, artificial protein, moon colony, nuclear war. The anomaly here is artificial protein -it gains its place in the top three through a combination of uncertainty about market prospects and the current state of the technology. The other three events plainly require economic or political judgement; indeed the distinction between proponents of high growth and low growth has almost become a political category in its own right. Once one has cleared the problems of event definition, awareness of current technology, and impact of political judgements made by respondents, there is still the question of interpretation: just how significant is the event anyway? This is most clearly seen in the responses to the event 10 in the first round (USA and USSR sign agreement on joint approach to underdevelopment). There was disagreement among respondents as to how likely this event was, but this should not be allowed to obscure the significant degree of consensus-even those who felt that an agreement was likely believed that there would be no meaningful cooperation. Suggested


Most of the suggestions for additional events fell into three categories: international relations, resources, and technology. The remainder dealt with food, social trends, health, and global wealth distribution. Soviet policy attracted a lot of interest and events suggested included war with China, encirclement of the Middle East, collapse of the Saudi Arabian monarchy, the domination of Western Europe, the breakdown of relations with Eastern Europe, and the reunification of Germany. The subject of oil, too, received a lot of attention,


August 1879


but focused on oil use rather than reserves: eg what would the industrial uses of oil be; what proportion of the world’s energy would it supply ? Sea-bed farming was suggested by two of our respondents; others wanted an estimate of the likelihood of the Third world increasing its share of global wealth by 25O/,, or of crime in the developed world being reduced by half. We eventually chose two new events, one on health, the other from resources; they are numbered B3 and BlO over-leaf. The events they replace are the commercial production of artificial protein and the joint agreement between the USA and the USSR on the Third world. The former goes because of the difficulty of framing a precise question, the latter because of the widespread, albeit cynical, agreement among respondents. Your probability estimates for the ten events should reach us by 1 December 1979. Notes and references 1. Futures Delphi, Futures, December

1978, 10(6), pages 534-535. 2. The original Futures estimates were given an expertise rating of ‘A’ and added to the 18 entries completed by readers. To simplify calculation, each A-rated estimate of an event’s likelihood was counted as four equal responses, each B-rated estimate as three, and each C-rated estimate as two. The resulting weighted total of n responses differed for most events (since people had rated themselves more or less expert on different events). Once the responses for each event had been arranged in ascending numerical order, the median was at position +(a + 1) and the lower and upper quartiles were at positions &(n+ 1) and $(x+1). For example, event 4 had a weighted total of 39 responses : the median was therefore 20th and the lower and upper quartiles 10th and 30th respectively. 3. The disagreement index, a, for a given time period, t, was calculated as follows: ocr= (upper - lower)

quartile x 100

lower quartile