Sunday, November 13, 2011

Future of Forecasting - Black Swan Events

Director of the Future Planet Research Centre- David Hunter Tow, contends that the survival future of humanity will be contingent on our ability to forecast the Black Swan disruptive events likely to impact global society over the next decade.
Standard forecasting methods by definition have a poor track record in predicting Black Swan events, such as the GFC and Arab Spring. These are often be triggered by subtle environmental, technological, economic or social changes. They can however cause massive disruption, both to the detriment and benefit of the social status quo and therefore need to be predicted and managed much more effectively.
A number of advanced projects are currently underway worldwide, including the EU flagship FuturICT simulator, to attempt to provide better modelling and forecasting of such events. But it is doubtful whether coordinated action based on such models can be implemented to the required level of confidence and within the timescale needed to avoid many of the potential disasters looming over the next decade to 2020.
This level of uncertainty is increasing as natural disasters across the world, such as more frequent droughts and floods as well as recurrent earthquakes in high population areas such as Japan, create social flow-on disruption on an unprecedented scale. As society becomes more complex and the planet’s climate more volatile such events will proliferate, producing increasingly unexpected and violent outcomes.
But natural and man-made disasters are only part of the story however. New innovative technologies in the cyber and knowledge environment that have the potential to help solve social problems, also have the capacity to cause disruptive Black Swan events, because of the hyper-speed speed of their introduction, allowing insufficient time to assess critical side-effects.
No community or country will be exempt from these consequences. Therefore it is vital to develop early warning systems to mitigate their capacity for chaotic outcomes.
Three examples are provided of Black Swan events that are likely to occur over the next decade from the Centre’s quarterly Risk Review Report. All are scenarios that are likely to impact humanity on a global scale.

Black Swan Event 1- Evolutionary Thrashing
As the frequency of natural and human generated change increases it will become much more difficult for society to adapt to the consequences, before a new wave of change occurs, triggering the phenomenon of ‘evolutionary thrashing’ at the social as well as environmental level, with dire consequences.
Impacts with a high probability of occurrence due to such adaptive incapacity, will include global recession and collapse of markets, waves of unrest particularly in developing countries leading to spreading conflict and mass human migrations as well as disruption of major public and private scientific, engineering and social programs, creating increases in global poverty, malnutrition and disease.
Evolutionary Thrashing has been previously associated mainly with rapid biological change leading to destruction of ecosystems and species, triggered by global warming. But several research groups, including the Centre have recently extrapolated such a phenomenon to the social environment, including additional disruption caused by rapid technological and cultural change.
The potential for damage to the social fabric from ongoing evolutionary thrashing therefore poses one of the most dangerous threats to our society in modern times.

Black Swan Event 2- Global Conflict triggered by Food Scarcity
Evolutionary thrashing impacts will be amplified by increasing food scarcity and depletion of fresh water sources over the next decade.
At the current rate of consumption by a global population of 7 billion and rising, combined with the increasing risk of drought, the planet is rapidly running out of fresh water and food. Survival will be contingent on continuous adaptation in the form of re-allocation and prioritisation of all major natural and man-made resources on a global scale.
A recent report by the Cambridge Centre for Complexity estimates that increasing food shortages in developing countries, will likely trigger conflict as early as 2013. If not addressed this could spread globally. The precedent has been set by history. Food shortages triggered by drought and expanding populations have lead to the demise of a number of earlier nation states, empires and civilisations.
Food scarcity is already in train, due primarily to the melting of the mountain snows caused by global warming leading to the eventual drying of the major river systems in all continents, combined with disruption to monsoon weather patterns in Asia, increasing populations, the expansion of monocultures such as palm oil and biofuel production, as well as groundwater pollution from shale gas production.
Although desalination plants are now being commissioned in drought affected areas such as the Middle East and Australia, these have only the capacity to service major cities and urban environments in the short term. Genetic engineering techniques to increase crop yields in drying regions will also be extremely valuable in the future, but will have only a marginal mitigation effect over the next decade.
It is estimated that the drying of the major food bowls of China, India and Africa, will force another billion people into poverty and malnutrition. This will bring to around 20% of the global population at at risk, and presents a huge challenge for the International community.

Black Swan Event 3- The Intelligent Web 4.0 becomes a Decision Partner
Managing the complexity of the decision-making required to mitigate such risks to human civilisation will be largely contingent on the ability by humans to harness the enormous growing computational intelligence of the Web. In its future incarnation as the Intelligent Web, it will combine AI techniques and semantic reasoning, to find solutions to social problems autonomously and implement them in the form of advanced computational processes and algorithms.
This will create a new societal decision framework never before contemplated by human society, requiring responses in real time and with minimal human intervention in a manner similar to managing a modern manufacturing plant or flying an aircraft on autopilot.
Accepting the decision capability of the Web as an equal and in the future- senior decision partner, integrating up to 10 billion human minds, will be one of the defining paradigm shifts of the 21st century. It will involve a very radical mind-shift. Large cooperative projects such as FutureICT are important stepping stones towards this goal, but now the timeframe for concerted action has become so restricted that the impetus towards global cooperation via the Web will have to be vastly accelerated.
Barriers between individuals, teams, institutions and nations will need to be eliminated. This type of survival mindset has been adopted many times before in history by humans, in the face of the threat of a nation or empire facing imminent annihilation in time of war. Traditional norms are scrapped and evolution’s survival mechanism comes into play.
We are now in the throes of a destructive force posing a much greater threat than a war- the annihilation of our entire 15,000 year civilisation; perhaps the only one in the Universe. If humans delay beyond the next decade to accept such radical action, it will likely be too late.
Overcoming the inertia and complacency built into our social framework will be difficult. Many leaders and politicians still continue to ignore the warning signals that have been apparent to many individuals for over fifty years.
But the time to act has now almost run out.
New technological developments in renewable energy and conservation remain vital, but it is the decision timeframe governing the drawing of all these strands together that is now the bottleneck. Web 4.0, the culmination of humanity’s knowledge and innovation, will need the wisdom and freedom to function largely autonomously within an ethical framework and override the many conflicts of interest that will arise.
Such a concerted strategy will change human society for ever, but at the same time set it on a path to redemption for the mindless exploitation of planet earth and our long term survival. We will have to cede part of our individuality to the global good and recognise that only through co-opting the power of the Intelligent Web, co-joined with human intelligence, will the decision-making rigor relating to global resource allocation and sustainability essential for our civilisation’s longevity be possible.
Whether our human intelligence, survival instincts and institutional framework can make it happen by 2020 is debatable.
But we owe it to future generations to at least try.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Future of Migration

The author contends that the future of Global Migration is governed by the laws of physics and that the flow of information, knowledge and education across borders will inevitably be followed by a flow of human skills on a global scale.
This scenario is based on the physics of the Least Action Principle, which postulates that any dynamical process, whether the trajectory of a ray of light or orbit of a planet, follows a path of least resistance or one which minimises the 'action' or overall energy expended.

Physicist Richard Feynman showed that quantum theory also incorporates a version of the Action Principle and underlies a vast range of processes from physics to linguistics, communication and biology. The evidence suggests a deep connection between this principle based on energy minimisation and self-organising systems including light waves, information flows and natural system topographies, such as the flow of a river.

Information is now flowing seamlessly to every corner of the planet and its populations, mediated by the Internet and Web; reaching even the poorest communities in developing countries via cheap PCs, wireless phones and an increasing variety of other mobile devices.

Half the population of the developing world in Asia and Africa now have access to the Web via inexpensive mobile phones. Individual local farmers and small businesses increasingly use them to transfer money, track commodity prices and supplier deliveries and keep in touch with relatives and their community. They are also the ideal medium for transferring knowledge as the basis of the education process.

In sync with the flow of information and knowledge there is now a global flow of educational material online including open access courseware resources. Courseware is a critical resource already offered by a number of prestigious tertiary institutions including- The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale and Harvard, in addition to free knowledge reference sites such as Wikipedia.

The trend-lines in this open learning revolution are already evident and will become pervasive in the near future. They include online 24 hour access to the Web, open content via free courseware, and real-time wireless web delivery; making it much cheaper and easier for the flow of knowledge to reach previously illiterate societies and communities, particularly as a generational shift takes place.

At the same time the human learning process is being driven by the need to adapt to a fast changing work and social environment, to provide ongoing support for society’s needs in the new cyber-age. This shift in turn is being driven by the increasing rate of knowledge generation providing new opportunities.

By 2030 the full power of the Web will be deployed towards this new paradigm. At the same time work practices will become increasingly fluid, with individuals moving freely between projects, career paths and virtual organisations on a contract or part-time basis; adding value to each enterprise and in turn continuously acquiring new skills, linked to ongoing advanced learning programs.

And so by 2040, the flow of information followed by the continuous flow of educational courseware, together with improvements in standards of living, will have largely eliminated the inequalities of skills and training that currently exist between developed and developing nations.

The Action Principle will finally allow the developing world to achieve equal status with the developed world in terms of access to knowledge, training and the realisation of human potential and facilitate the free movement of human workers and their families between workplaces globally.

Already there is a large transfer of skills between countries like India, with a vast pool of engineering and computer science graduates, and the West’s need for such skills. This may be in the form of virtual outsourcing or physical transfers of a skilled labour force on short term contracts. The same process currently operates between EU countries to fill capacity shortages on a regular and continuing basis.

At the same time as the information/education/workflow convergence is occurring at a worldwide level, two other major drivers of global migration are accelerating - global warming and global conflict.

Planet earth is now reaching a catastrophic tipping point, where it is realised that humans have probably left their run too late to limit global temperature rise to the maximum safe 2 degrees centigrade and atmospheric carbon levels to less than 450 ppm.

The evidence is starting to become apparent from a number of sources. The melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets and mountain snows feeding the major river systems in Asia and Africa, the disintegration of the northern tundra threatening the release of vast amounts of methane, the catastrophic loss of biodiversity, disruption of most ecosystems including the coral reefs and tropical forests, ocean warming, threatening the phytoplankton base of the food chain, and increases in extreme climate related events- droughts, floods, rising ocean surges in coastal areas, tornados etc. These are already threatening to overwhelm even the wealthier nations’ capacity to rebuild damaged and obsolete infrastructure.

Rampant global warming will inevitably lead to major disruption of the world’s food and fresh water supply chains, seriously affecting at least half the world’s population. This will result in vast migration movements as the rivers and food bowls of China, India and Africa dry up and deadly tropical diseases such as the malaria and dengue fever, spread.

In turn these factors will result in increasing social chaos and conflict unless managed on a global basis.

To stabilise the situation, the 1951 UN convention on refugees will need to be strengthened and expanded to establish a world humanitarian body with the powers to override national sovereignty and mandate the number of climate and conflict refugees that each region will be required to accept, according to capacity and demand.

Migration has always been a routine way of coping with floods and droughts going back to the earliest civilisations, when there were few borders and the numbers affected were trivial in comparison with today’s 7 billion population and its vast infrastructure.

The magnitude and frequency of environmental hazards is now beginning to place enormous pressure on the capacity of many communities to survive. The recent IPCC / Stern Review of the economics of climate change estimates that climate refugees will reach 200 million by 2050.

An idea of the coming wave of human migration can be glimpsed from a sample of recent natural disaster statistics, which do not include earthquake, volcanic or tsunami events.

Mexico was a source of 1 million environmental refugees a year during the 1990s with increased hurricanes and floods also the root cause of its economic crisis.

Large-scale government enforced relocation programs in Vietnam and Mozambique moved hundreds of thousands of people to cope with worsening floods and storms in 2000.

Six million environmental refugees in China have been created by the expanding Gobi desert. Migration in China and India has also been greatly amplified by development of projects such as China’s Three Gorges, which displaced 2 million people.

The 1998 monsoon floods in Bangladesh covered two thirds of the country and left 21 million homeless.

In 2008, floods following the Burma cyclone forced hundreds of thousands to flee, with little assistance from the Burmese junta.

In 2010, record monsoon rains in Pakistan caused the Indus River to burst its banks, causing millions to relocate.

Although most of these events created internal rather than external migration, it is unlikely that this will continue to be the case, with rising temperatures forecast to force tens of millions to move from tropical to more temperate regions, due to ongoing droughts over the next twenty years.

There are also an increasing number of conflict refugees from autocratic and despotic regimes and failed states. Tribalism and fear and suspicion of the ‘other’ is still strongly embedded in the DNA of human evolution, leading to scapegoating of migrant groups in tough economic times. Examples include Muslim harassment in Christian countries, Neo-Nazism in Europe targeting African refugees and inter-religious conflict in Asia and the Middle East.

The refugee diaspora has greatly expanded in conflict zones across the globe over the past two years, driven by upheavals in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Ivory Coast, as well as persecution of ethnic minorities in China, Burma and Bhutan. Criminal violence, as now endemic in Mexico, is likely to add to this misery.

It is estimated that almost a million people are smuggled and trafficked across international borders each year, using increasingly sophisticated methods by criminal organisations linked to a range of other crimes- identity theft, corruption, money laundering, and violence ranging from debt bondage to murder- earning of the order of $10billion.

By 2030 mounting humanitarian crises are likely to make assistance to all climate and conflict refugees mandatory as it is realised that a piecemeal national approach will result in far worse disruptions to society in terms of the uncontrolled spread of violence in a very unstable time.

Any country that avoids its international obligations and attempts to free ride the system will be ostracised and severely sanctioned.

Europe already contends with a growing number of refugees from North Africa, which include economic, climate, disaster and conflict refugees, but with the upturn in Middle East violence and difficult economic times is battling xenophobia in its member states.

By 2040/50 most of the new migration infrastructure will be in place and communities will have to adjust accordingly. In an already largely globalised multicultural world where most nations have already accepted other cultures for several generations, even if begrudgingly, this will not be as revolutionary a development as many might expect.

It is therefore likely that the paradigm of controlled but flexible migration worldwide will cease to be controversial, endorsed and managed under the auspices of the UN, as a globalised One Planet philosophy gains traction.

It will be the only solution capable of managing cross border refugee flows in a time of looming climate disruption, but also the most economic means of allocating valuable human resources in a globalised educated world to areas of greatest need, as humans fight to save their planet.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Future Civilisation 3.0

David Hunter Tow, Director of the Future Planet Research Centre argues that the combination of the recent triple major disaster in Japan, the GFC and looming world recession, together with the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movement, have provided the final triggers for the rapid evolution of Civilization 3.0 in the fight for human survival.

These world-shaking events send a timely message to the rest of the world, that the form of civilisation and the social norms we have become accustomed to and lived by over the last few centuries, is over.

Civilisation 1.0 began over 15,000 years ago with the founding of the earliest settlements and villages around the world, as hunter gatherers settled down to take advantage of the rich sources of edible grasses and natural foods growing mainly around the fertile delta areas of the great rivers and coastal areas of the world. These early habitats evolved into the first towns, cities and eventually nation states. At the same time, the first writing and number systems evolved to keep track of the products and services that developed and were traded by modern humans. Also with the growth of towns and trade across the world and the use of wood for building and smelting, the clearing of the forests across Europe began.

Civilisation 2.0 then emerged, with more sophisticated means of production using wind and water; rapidly accelerating following the industrial revolution in the 18th century with the harnessing of steam and later electricity and combustion engine power. These innovations were dependent on the burning of fossil fuels- coal and oil on a massive scale, allowing the West to steal a march on the rest of the world; colonising its populations and exploiting its wealth.
The manufacture of goods and services then increased on a massive scale; everything from food, textiles, furniture, automobiles, skyscrapers, guns and railway tracks- anything requiring the use of steel, cement or timber for its production.

The major cities expanded on the same original settlement sites as Civilization 1.0 - coastal ports, river delta fertile flood plains, regardless of the risk from subsidence and earthquakes.
The energy revolution was rapidly followed by the communications and information revolution- grid power, telephone, wireless, radio, television and eventually computers. Later, nuclear power was added to the mix.

Then in the second half of the 20th century the realization finally dawned that the planet’s resources really were finite, following the many dire predictions for decades previously.
Now at the current rate of consumption by a global population of 7 billion, projected to grow to 9 billion by mid-century, combined with the Armageddon of global warming, the planet is rapidly running out of fresh water, food, and oil. At the same time the grim effects of the escalating levels of carbon in the oceans and atmosphere has triggered more frequent and severe weather events- major droughts, floods and storms, adding to the impact of earthquakes in highly populated urban areas.

These problems are now bigger than any one nation can handle and can only be effectively addressed on a global basis. This will inevitably need to be coupled to a higher level of social awareness and democratic governance, in which everyone, not just politicians, are involved in the key decision processes affecting the planet.

Welcome to Civilisation 3.0.

Civilization 3.0 is just beginning, but is already being tested. From now through the rest of this century comes the hard part. Tinkering around the edges won’t do it for the planet and its life- including humans, any longer.
The planet’s climate is already in the throes of runaway warming, regardless of what forces caused it, because of the built-in feedback processes from the melting of the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, to the release of huge methane reserves in the northern tundra and ocean floor.

But this is just the start of our problems.
Some areas may get a short term reprieve with local cooling, but overall the heating process appears to be unstoppable. The Faustian bargain that humans struck to establish Civilisation 1.0 and 2.0, when the planet was teeming with natural resources, is about to be redeemed. Humans are being called to account.

By 2020 the cost of solar, wind and biofuels is likely to be at a baseline level comparable to that of fossils fuels, due to major technological advances currently underway, such as artificial photosynthesis. But because of the flawed democratic process, major businesses and corrupt governments can still undermine the critical mindset needed for radical change, with calls for short term profits drowning out the desperate call by future generations for long term survival. It is therefore highly likely that we will still be emitting copious amount of carbon by 2020 and starting to exceed the safe limits of temperature rise.
In addition, supplies of fresh food and water, particularly in developing countries are already dwindling, with the potential to create further malnutrition and conflict.

So Civilisation 3.0 has to get serious.

One of the major recent initiatives at the heart of the fight-back revolution is the concept of a smarter planet. The Japanese experience has now reinforced that concept. Every built object and operational process will eventually need to be embedded with sensors and its performance and integrity continuously monitored and assessed in relation to natural disasters and sustainability.

Everything from roads, transport, bridges, railways, buildings, dams, power plants, grids and information systems, as well as human knowledge and skill capacities, will need to be urgently upgraded. Even towns and cities will have to be redesigned to avoid future worst case natural and manmade disasters and provide a more sustainable living space for future generations.
In addition, the loss of critical ecosystems and species will compound the infrastructure problems of the planet, requiring re-prioritization of the value of the natural environment and fair re-allocation of its resources on a global scale.

The current level of risk and waste in the built environment is now seen as both unacceptable and avoidable. By applying new technologies already available such as smarter materials, safer engineering methods, improved communications and sophisticated computer modeling, risk can be dramatically reduced.

The new sustainability standards will need to be set much higher; at a much smarter level than previously accepted, in order to reduce carbon emissions, optimize performance and enable more responsive adaptation within a fast deteriorating physical and social environment. This will be mandatory as the escalating scale of the risk becomes apparent.

At the heart of this revolution will be the powerful mathematical algorithms and intelligence capable of making optimum decisions at a far greater speed and with less human intervention. In turn this will require instant access to the Intelligent Web’s global resources of specialized knowledge, artificial intelligence and massive grid computing power.

By 2030 however, panic will be building across the globe. The safe levels of temperature rise of 2%, expected to hold until the end of the century, will likely be breached and physical and social problems will escalate.

Any realistic solution for human survival will require living and working together cooperatively and peacefully as one species on one planet, finally eliminating the enormous destruction and loss of life that wars and conflict inevitably bring.
Although cooperation on a global scale will be vital, individual nations will be tempted to free ride, as populations react with violence and anarchy to shortages of basic necessities through rising prices and inadequate infrastructure, particularly in hard-hit developing economies.

A massive mind shift will be required across the planet to achieve this level of cooperation; a more collaborative and creative process will need to evolve and quickly, harnessing all human knowledge and technological resources. To achieve this level of cooperation non-democratic states will need to democratize or be excluded from the resulting benefits and the old forms of democracy will have to be upgraded to a more inclusive and participatory level if human civilization is to avoid slow annihilation.
The stress of the human fight for survival will also present myriad ripple-on challenges relating to maintaining a cohesive social fabric. Democracy and justice are basic options, but also providing adequate levels of health, work and education will get a lot harder. This will require adaptation on a vast scale.

By 2040 the trendlines will be set and through the social media, the risks will need to be openly and clearly relayed to all populations. This will be similar to the collective discipline and mindset required many times in the past by nations threatened by the fear of war and decimation.
It will now need to be replicated on a global scale

Beyond increasing renewable energy and reducing waste, the fight for survival will require the implementation of other more radical innovations, including the eventual geo-engineering of the weather and climate. The science and technology needed to achieve such a complex outcome is unlikely to be achievable before 2050 and in the meantime our civilization may be in free fall. However it will probably be the only solution capable of reversing rather than just slowing the headlong rush to chaos.

Other radical solutions will involve the need to accelerate our level of knowledge generation. This is already taking place through advanced methods of automatic pattern analysis and algorithm discovery, applying artificial intelligence methods and the immense computational intelligence of the Web.

It will be a bootstrapping process. The faster the increase in knowledge acquisition, the more powerful the potential intelligence of the Web will become, which will then further accelerate the increase in life-saving expertise. This exponential process may be further accelerated by promoting higher levels of networked ‘swarm’ behaviour, combining human intelligence on a grand scale across the planet. The benefits of collective intelligence acting like an advanced insect hive are already being realized, with research teams combining in larger and larger groups to solve more and more difficult problems. It has been demonstrated that an increase in synergy resulting from collective intelligence in complex self-organising systems allows ‘smarter’ problem solving as well as greater decision agility.
For example 50 European Universities have recently combined in the FuturICT project; an EU billion dollar flagship project to model, predict and solve future planetary and social problems. And this is only one collective project out of thousands, with increasing collaboration between US, European and Asian science and technology groups.

With all these initiatives, will Civilization 3.0 survive ?

It will likely be a very close call, dependent largely on whether our increase in beneficial knowledge can outstrip the planet’s rapid descent into environmental and social oblivion- a potential runaway pre-Venusian scenario with no end in sight.

It is similar to the Red Queen scenario in Lewis Carroll’s- Alice through the Looking Glass, in which the red chess queen has to run faster and faster just to maintain her position. Humans will also have to become smarter and smarter just to stay ahead of the approaching Armageddon.

The odds in fact will be very similar to the climate bottleneck that almost eliminated our early Homo sapien ancestors 20,000 years ago as they struggled to survive the last ice age. Only a small band of perhaps several hundred survived thousands of years of frozen hardship, finally regrouping and reaping the rewards that evolved following the great melt.

Modern humans can also can reap a future cornucopia if they have the courage and skill to survive the looming crisis in our evolution.

Many other civilisations across our universe may well have faced a similar bottleneck. Those that survived will have gone on to reap the untold riches of Civilisation 4.0 with its mastery over the physical laws governing our world and galaxy. Along the way Civilisation 5.0 will emerge, possessing not only the immense scientific capability needed to solve any physical problem, but enough wisdom to avoid future social catastrophes.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. The Japanese catastrophe and many others, including the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004 leaving 300,000 dead, should have given us all a clarion call.
This is not a bad dream, from which we’ll all awake tomorrow with business as usual. The future of Civilisation 3.0 and our unique intelligent life-form really is in the balance. Let us hope ours will be one of the few or perhaps the only advanced civilisation to have survived such a test, so that our children and our children’s children can live to experience the untold wonders of our planet and universe.

But the Red Queen will have to run very fast indeed.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Future of Cities

By 2020 over half the population of the planet will be living in high density cities, with dozens of mega-cities having populations greater than 10 million. On current estimates of access to basic services this level of population density will make them unsustainable in terms of acceptable quality of life standards.
Major cities today are already facing escalating problems of survival including transportation gridlock, critical lack of low cost public housing, massive pollution, high crime rates and ongoing disruption caused by natural disasters.

Urban planners are beginning to have some success in solving these problems. For example standards for both public and private architecture are going through a major transformation aimed at energy conservation and sustainability. At the city planning level, China is building its first ecocity- Dongtan, on an island near Shanghai in the Yangste Delta. It offers a model for sustainable cities of the future, designed to be completely self sufficient, generating its own power, zero carbon emissions and the capacity to feed its inhabitants. Similarly in Abu Dhabi, work has begun on the first zero-carbon, zero-waste city in the region at Masdar.

Building and planning codes will also seek to minimise natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, arctic storms and sea inundation, for city dwellers. Such catastrophes are now occurring more frequently and at greater intensity across the planet due to climate change, causing serious loss of life and billions of dollars of damage and disruption each year.

By 2025 the impact of global warming will dominate city planning, with water and waste recycling mandatory for all households and businesses. Buildings will be designed to conserve energy, with surfaces utilising flexible organic solar panels. In addition, high growth public gardens, green belts and mini-parks will generate cooling air-flows and most surfaces will be utilised to collect runoff water to support sustainable horticulture.
Garbage will be totally recycled, including paper, plastics, metals, chemicals and electronics, with organic waste generating significant levels of methane energy for local heating and power grid usage.

At the same time, in all major cities, planning and architecture will shift towards the design of small self-sufficient interconnected neighbourhoods, within walking or cycling distance of essential service centres. These will provide the full range of communication, education, work, health, leisure and social resources.

In addition, locally available high bandwidth web infrastructure will provide community and home-based alternatives to today's physical shopping malls and office blocks. Those facilities already built will be largely recycled over time to create community low cost living, work and leisure facilities.

Most conventional vehicle-based transport infrastructure will be replaced in favour of flexible urban public transport including rapid bus transit and automatic monorail pods operating on demand for personal use. Very high speed trains travelling up to 500kph will also replace a large percentage of cross-country aircraft travel, as is already occurring in China.

By 2035 cities will be operating primarily as complex service and knowledge hubs fostering high levels of innovation. Fully automated supply, manufacturing and distribution centres will function with near-zero carbon emissions on the outskirts of cities connected by underground automatic rail links to ports and storage centres, eliminating the bulk of truck transport congestion, damage to roads and risk of accidents.

Planning and control centres will be distributed within city neighbourhoods, with sections of the urban environment built underground to conserve energy, avoid extreme weather events and also free up more land for local sustainable city horticulture.

By 2050, cities will have evolved to become fully integrated service, supply and knowledge ecosystems, largely supported by the intelligent Web 4.0( Ref Future Web). Ongoing higher education and trade-related skills for populations will be mandatory and constantly updated to meet evolving societal requirements. Earlier problems such as traffic congestion, capacity bottlenecks and pollution within cities will have been largely eliminated. Physical and petty crime will also have been significantly reduced by automatic implementation of ubiquitous security monitoring and prevention.

In the future, the current and growing complexities and population densities of cities will be recognised as lifestyle assets to be exploited and leveraged by their populations rather than liabilities to be avoided.Future Cities