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global_futures 04/99

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06.04.1999 · Research Group on the Global Future

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Research Group on the Global Future
Center for Applied Policy Research (CAP)
Munich, Germany

Melissa free, we guarantee.

(1) CAP Workshop: Outlining the Future
(2) Lack of Clarity Hindering Internet in EU
(3) How many online?
(4) A Brave Old World?
(5) Privacy Debate Expands
(6) Noted in Passing (Webmaster in New York)



What are the most important questions for thinking systematically about the future? What are the consequences of increasing networking and biotechnologization? What are the values of today that go furthest to shaping the world of tomorrow? What roles should state and society play in the twenty-first century?

These questions and more drove a day of intense discussion and deliberation among thirty of Germany's leading future researchers at the CAP's workshop, Outlining the Future. Participants included Uwe Jean Heuser and Gero von Randow of Die ZEIT, Prof. Dr. Frederic Vester of Munich's Study Group on Biology and the Environment, and Prof. Dr. Peter Hennicke of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy.

From the executive summary: Networking and digitalization are working fundamental, lasting changes on modern economies and altering the underlying assumptions of both society and politics. Unfortunately, political actors and institutions are among the last to recognize these changes. Established structures in industrial and post-industrial societies are dissolving, but politics "is acting as if all of these structures were still completely stable," as Werner Weidenfeld observed in reaction to a presentation by Uwe Jean Heuser. Many signs point to a real loss of political institutions' ability to steer change in a networked world.

Complete details in both English and German are available on the home page of the Research Group on the Global Future.




The current regulation of Internet commerce in the European Union (EU) is an unclear mix of overlapping, contradictory, and ill-suited laws that stall e-commerce initiatives. During the next 10 years, new regulations will create a legal framework for the Internet economy. A new Report from Forrester Research, Inc., examines the patchwork regulatory environment for electronic commerce in the EU and concludes that co-regulation -- a formal process of collaboration between government and businesses -- offers the most favorable means of shaping the Net's new business rules. Such an approach fits well with the established political culture in western Europe, but it is often an agonizingly slow process.




Despite increasing internationalization of the internet, Canada and the United States continue to dominate the online world. According to Nua, an Irish internet consulting firm, there are still more people online in Canada and the US as in the rest of the world combined. (There are methodological difficulties with any estimate of internet populations, but the general thrust is clear.) Electronic commerce in North America outweighs the rest of the world by an even wider margin. Unless and until these facts change, the internet will have a strongly American character.

How many online?

Total: 158.5 million
Africa: 1.14 million
Asia/Pacific: 26.97 million
Europe: 36.55 million
Middle East: .88 million
Canada & USA: 88.33 million
South America: 4.63 million




Will our children live to be 100? As genetic research digs deeply into the details of longevity, speculation on elongated life spans has increasingly become en vogue. Just a couple of months ago, Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Biotech Century, said that with all the research being done there was no reason in the next 20 years why we could not have a life span of 100 or a little more. Daniel Kevles, visiting professor of bioethics at Princeton University, reflected in a comment to the New York Times of March 18, on a life span which might more than double, extending up to perhaps 200 years.

In fact, the question of "How long?" is less interesting than the societal implications that already loom. In his article, Kevles manages to observe some of the future impacts with a sharply ironic eye. If technology adds several more years to life expectancies, it will considerably contribute to the ageing of our societies, thus putting further pressure on health care systems, pension funds or the labour market. Looking way into the 21st century, Kevles imagines two major frictions. First, stretching the life span might well create a generation gap of titanic proportions. Second, societies might be two-tiered in the sense of "haves" and "have-nots". Those who can pay for the technology will get it. And those who can't - much of the population - will not.

For further information on ageing & medical technology & policy responses: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has a report called Maintaining Prosperity in Ageing Society that can be viewed at




As the American debate on privacy moves into the main stream of political discourse, more nuanced and varied positions are also gaining public attention. Last year, for instance, David Brin's book, The Transparency Society, turned several truisms of privacy on their heads while making a case for reciprocal transparency - if you're monitoring me, I can monitor you - as a useful practical approach to privacy. Amitai Etzioni's new book argues the social utility of some specific limits to privacy.

Amitai Etzioni: The Limits of Privacy (Basic Books, 1999)

From Amazon.com's book description:

Internationally renowned communitarian leader Amitai Etzioni presents a controversial challenge to the fundamental American belief in personal privacy at all costs Almost every week headlines warn us that our cell phones are being monitored, our e-mails read, and our medical records traded on the open market. Public opinion polls show that Americans are dismayed about incursions against personal privacy. Congress and state legislatures are considering laws designed to address their concerns.

Focusing on five flashpoint issues - Megan's Law, mandatory HIV testing of infants, encryption of electronic documents, national identification cards and biometric identifiers, and medical records - The Limits of Privacy argues counterintuitively that sometimes major public health and safety concerns should outweigh the individual's right to privacy. Presenting four concise criteria to determine when the right to privacy should be preserved and when it should be overridden in the interests of the wider community, Etzioni argues that, in some cases, we would do well to sacrifice the privacy of the individual in the name of the common good.



The Digital Divide - Small towns that lack high-speed Internet access find it harder to attract new jobs - Time Magazine MARCH 22, 1999 VOL. 153 NO. 11

Questions of universal access, subsidies, wireless technologies, and telecom competition.


Our webmaster has been in New York lately, and recommends the following stories from recent issues of the Times.

The Perpetual-Motion Economy: The Stronger It Gets, the Sweatier The Palms, March 21, 1999

"The rising stock market generates the household wealth that encourages the borrowing that pays for the spending that creates the jobs and the higher wages that generate the confidence that encourages the people to invest in stocks and make the market rise some more…" The Times takes a look on the discussion if the American economy can continue to prosper in an unstable international environment.

Riding the Wild, Perilous Water of Amazon.com
March 14, 1999

"Why does Amazon do so well in the Internet marketplace? Can they meet the high expectations? In a long feature the New York Times Magazine takes a close look on the fascinating history of this state-of-the-art company..."

Pushing the Limits of Human Life Span
March 9, 1999

"After designing long-lived worms and flies, experts turn to people. They were a small group of eminent academic scientists who had their reputations to think of. They were repelled by what they saw as the hucksterism and charlatanism that had given attempts to delay human aging a bad name.

And yet, at a recent meeting here, most agreed that science might be on the brink of being able to stretch the human life span, perhaps significantly.

Scientists have had astonishing success in recent years in increasing the life spans of laboratory species like worms and fruit flies. The time was ripe to review these discoveries and discuss what might lie ahead, said Dr. Gregory Stock, the conference organizer, who is director of the program on medicine, technology and science at the University of California School of Medicine at Los Angeles. "Given adequate funding, given lucky breaks, how far could we go?" Stock asked..."

Dr. Stock will speak at an invitation-only event of the Research Group on the Global Future in May.

Read all three articles at: http://search.nytimes.com/search/daily/
(Click on 'search all articles' - only available for 30 days following publication)



global_futures also offers an interactive forum. Recommendations, letters, and tips are welcomed by the editors, particularly on the topics of the digital future, biotechnology, sustainability and the new economy. Send all feedback to fgz@lrz.uni-muenchen.de.



Douglas Merrill, Patrick Meyer, Juergen Turek, Markus Vorbeck

Research Group on the Global Future
Center for Applied Policy Research
Geschwister Scholl Institute
Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich