Continuing our series on the evolutions that can be expected over the coming decade, we look at new directions in particle physics, media technologies that are enabling not only greater freedom, but a new communicative paradigm which will, in part, help steer us to the great discoveries of this moment in history, and a vital new understanding of global economic patterns, which will revolutionize the way governments around the world plan for domestic spending and trade policy.
The Large Hadron Collider at CERN —Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire—, outside of Geneva near the French-Swiss border, is the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, the most complex machine ever created, and designed to smash subatomic particles together at rates of speed high enough to mimic the kind of physics that existed nanoseconds after the Big Bang, from which our universe is believed to have emerged.
The big game is the Higgs boson, a particle that is theorized to lend mass to all other particles, and which possibly exists only briefly for this purpose. The Higgs boson, also popularly known as the “God particle”, for its capacity to generate mass for other particles, has never been observed. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is believed to be powerful enough to actually generate, and record information about the behavior of, the elusive Higgs boson.
This breakthrough would confirm vital aspects of the cosmological model of supersymmetry and bring together, for the first time in the history of human science, a comprehensive model of the known universe. Another elusive gap in the standard model —which integrates Einstein’s theory of relativity with the advanced discoveries of quantum physics— that could be tested and demonstrated by the LHC, is quantum gravity.
In December, the LHC achieved a world record for high-energy particle acceleration, reaching 2.36 trillion electron volts (TeV). That threshold moves the LHC closer than any other experiment in human history to being able to reproduce and observe conditions similar to those that would have existed nano-seconds after the Big Bang, when key elements of the physical dynamics of our universe were brought into being and set in motion.
It is also believed the Higgs boson gives rise to dark matter, the theoretical substance, which contains the majority of the mass in the universe and which is clustered around galaxies. Discovering the physics of that process and possibly observing the early physics of the birth of star systems, galaxies and star-forming regions, could help to reorganize our understanding of matter, energy and the universe itself, in ways as yet unprecedented in the history of science.
Media Freedom & Decentralization
The coming decade is already poised to see major breakthroughs in low-energy, high-capacity integrated communications technologies. The complex computational technology that goes into encrypting, sending, decrypting and storing, digitized messages, including text, voice, imagery and video, is increasingly light-weight, efficient and inexpensive. Handheld phones are increasingly powerful and integrated into the world wide web. Some now use remote IP connections to provide voice services.
Social networking is the new standard for high-intensity information exchange online, with global conversations building up around issues of major controversy. The post-election demonstrations in Iran this past summer were one example, where information was shared and testimony published and proliferated around the world, despite extreme measures used to curtail open communications within the nation itself. The Copenhagen Conference on climate policy gave rise to the most extensive global policy debate ever seen, from the government level through the grassroots.
Even as economic policy and environmental science drive a more global view of human activity, the rapid expansion of dispersed information-sharing technologies and the world wide web are helping to create a climate in which a decentralized grassroots conversation emerges around any issue of major import, stripping political leaders of centralized power and requiring them to respond to more diverse views from a more informed public.
The key paradigm-shift involved in the decentralized information-freedom revolution is the decentralized aspect of it. Individuals can join a wide array of networks, for varying purposes, in order to build up and maintain significant relationships in their personal and professional lives. Deprivation of resources within borders can be alleviated through those relationships, and vital information about political leadership, public controversies or events, can be delivered from sources outside the country who also have sources within the country.
Global Consumer Protection
The financial crisis of 2008 occurred at a uniquely pivotal moment in economic history. As the failings of the “globalization” process reached critical mass —a severe widening of the gap between rich and poor, the undermining of labor rights across the world, and perilous lack of transparency and provenance for tracking money flows—, massive systemic manipulations in the financial world were revealed, as trillions of dollars in reported “wealth” evaporated almost overnight.
An integrated global fabric of economic activity and banking relations meant the freeze in lending in the US and other wealthy nations would serve as a contagion of economic stagnation in poorer nations. A global response was needed, and in April, Pres. Obama succeeded in persuading the G20 nations to agree to a global financial rescue process. The IMF would create a $500 billion fund, with $100 billion put up by the United States, over several years, to ensure malfeasance or a risky economic climate would not lead to a contagion of banking collapses around the world.
That agreement was one of the most important economic achievements of 2009, because it allowed two important things to happen: 1) there would be a means of rescuing banking systems on the verge of collapse, around the world, to prevent a deepening of the global financial crisis; and 2) nations that have never had solid records of financial transparency would be incentivized to sign up to a new regime of banking transparency and financial ethics, further shoring up the global financial system against potential abuses.
Issues related to the security of fresh water resources, the human food supply and climate stability, have led to a significant increase in overall international economic negotiation. The virtues of pragmatic shared-interest negotiations have become apparent, and economic incentivization is now part of many crisis-level negotiations. The crisis regarding Iran’s nuclear program, for instance, involves a triangular proposal that would allow Iran’s enrichment process to involve both Russia and France, providing economic benefits to all three nations, but denying Tehran the capacity to develop nuclear weapons.
Job creation is increasingly dependent on global flows of financial and natural resources. China’s enormous consumption of mineral resources has built up its economic clout, and lowered the cost of its massive nationwide industrialization and construction process, but it has also deprived other nations, as well as multinational conglomerate corporations, of the ability to do business in a dependable way trading certain mineral resources, like copper and iron ore.
China is consuming cropland in Africa, in an effort to provide for the basic sustenance of its people, and world grain reserves are being depleted in line with the depletion of fossil aquifers around the planet. These patterns of global economic impact are more than just wave trends; they are part of a new way of negotiating for the sustained prosperity of local populations. The state of California, for instance, the world’s 5th largest economy, negotiates parallel agreements, not waiting for the US to make trade deals to help shore up the California economy.
But consumer protection is the missing component that has made globalization a less flexible process, too heavily oriented toward guaranteed windfalls for big investors. The 2008 global financial crisis, rooted in financial abuses, a property-price inflation bubble and the credit markets, made clear this shortcoming of global economic policy. Transparency is one of the responses, but global consumer protection is another.
It is now likely that over the next decade, negotiations to provide for consumer protection across borders, and to ensure consumers have the ability to distinguish between businesses that negotiate fairly with workers and those that use sweatshops and abusive labor conditions to pad their profits. Improvements to global economic ethics will come from enhanced consumer protection guarantees and a more global awareness of economic activity.
These are just nine fronts on which major paradigm-shifts are either already underway or are likely to occur in the coming decade. The details of each of these nine areas of focus provide extensive room for overlap, and touch on literally thousands of other details of personal quality of life, political and economic stability and human potential.
One of the most critical, and perhaps underreported, aspects of the social networking revolution, is the technological capability of spontaneous alliances of thoughtful individuals to locate information, fashion reports and instigate a culture of vigilance, on virtually any issue, at any time.
There are major political and economic implications tied to this trend, and local and international institutions and governments of nation states, will have to think ahead about how to integrate genuine ethical protections into the fast-changing environment of global policy. New media connectivity and decentralized civic infrastructure have allowed for a kind of de-formalization of policy-shaping events and communications between local communities and world leaders.
There is a “bubbling-up” effect that takes place, where large numbers of people can quickly band together to act as conscience to the broader world and exert pressure on leaders; international development and crisis negotiations will take this into account, as part of a new‘transactional’ cosmology, in which leadership is always under scrutiny and the facts of human life do actually matter.
2nd Decade of the 21st Century: What’s in Store?
- Denuclearization, Green Tech & Cooperation
- Gender Equality, Food Security & Counter-extremism
- Particle Physics, Media Freedom & Global Economics