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Cybercrime 2025 and Beyond


San Francisco was host to WorldFuture 2015 earlier this month. With around 700 attendees and professional futurists from all over the globe, it remains the world’s oldest and best known futures conference.

On Saturday, the conference’s first full day, I had the opportunity to give my session, “Cybercrime 2025 and Beyond” to a full house and it seemed very well received. I chose to take a little different tack with this talk and explored the development of cybercrime and the search for its solutions as part of the ongoing coevolution between humanity and technology. I ended with a call for building a biologically-inspired cyber-immune system that could protect not only our future digital assets, but potentially our physical infrastructure as well. While there is research being done in this area, there isn’t a focused program for bringing it to fruition. Yet.

Given the growing threat of cybercrime in recent years, it’s no surprise there were several speakers at the conference who addressed the subject. “Future Crimes” author, Marc Goodman opened the morning with an excellent talk that drew from the wide range of topics he covers in his new book. Later in the afternoon, Roey Tzezana, a nanotechnology scientist and futurist from the University of Tel Aviv spoke about his team’s cybercrime forecast model which looks at the threat profiles that are generated when different technologies are combined. Fascinating stuff.

WorldFuture 2010 Recap

has come to a close, but the ideas and inspirations it generated will carry on well into the future. Held last week in Boston, the annual futurist conference was often profound, consistently thought-provoking, and even occasionally unsettling. With nearly a hundred presentations, workshops, tours, seminars and keynote speeches, over 900 attendees from around the world had plenty to think and talk about. This year’s conference theme was “Sustainable Futures, Strategies and Technologies”, made all the more relevant given the economic and environmental challenges the world has recently had to face.

The sustainability theme ran through a broad range of fields and topics. A small sampling of these presentations included “Global Efforts to Develop Sustainable Public Health Initiatives”, “Achieving Low-Carbon Economic Growth”, and “Sustainability and Future Human Evolution.”

While sustainability was the official conference theme, accelerated growth could easily have been designated the unofficial one. Technology ethicist, Wendell Wallach addressed it in his opening speech, “Navigating the Future: Moral Machines, Techno Sapiens, and the Singularity”. Inventor and author, Ray Kurzweil revisited the concept repeatedly in his keynote presentation, “Building the Human Mind.” (Kurzweil mentioned exponential growth enough times that some attendees later joked about turning it into a drinking game.) Many of the other presenters also talked about how the nature of technological progress, especially the convergence of previously unrelated fields, is driving this acceleration. For me, it was truly exciting to be among so many people who readily accept and incorporate this important concept.

Given my own inclinations, my favorite sessions tended toward the more technical. Among these were “Technology Futures and Their Massive Potential Societal Impacts”, “Humans in 2020: The Next 10 Years of Personal Biotechnology”, “Challenges and Opportunities in Space Medicine” and “The Human-Computer Interface.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend every presentation I wanted to see. That’s the downside of a conference of this scale: there’s no way to do it all. But then on the plus side, there’s definitely something for everyone.

For me, the best thing about WorldFuture is that while the conference themes and presentations may change from year to year, there’s always a strong belief in the need to look ahead. The world faces many serious environmental, technical and social challenges in the coming decades. We’re going to need serious foresight and planning if we want to make it a positive, sustainable future that’s supportive of our citizens, our economies and our planet.

WorldFuture looks ahead

Mark Twain once wrote “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” The same might be said about the future – with one significant exception: I don’t think people are talking about it nearly enough.

“But what about the energy crisis?”, comes the imagined reply. “What about global warming? What about the water shortages that are impacting significant parts of the world? Surely that shows we’re looking ahead to the future?”

No, it doesn’t.

Each of these examples cites a present-day response to a problem that could have been anticipated and acted upon decades ago. The information was available, the technology was feasible. What was lacking was the will to look beyond present-day motivations and the very immediate future in order to alter the way our actions affect the world.

WorldFuture 2008 conference
WorldFuture 2008 conference

Of course, there are some people who do want to look ahead. In July, over 1,000 futurists from nearly forty countries attended WorldFuture 2008 in Washington, DC. During this annual five-day conference of the World Future Society, attendees took part in courses, presentations, debates and discussions addressing future economic, educational, political, social and technological trends. It was an exciting event, full of ideas, inspiration and hope.

These futurists recognize the importance of foresight and planning in a world that is changing in profound and increasingly rapid ways. They’ll be the first to tell you that the future can’t be predicted – not in specific terms anyway. But they also know there are methods and tools to point the way. Trends can be analyzed and extrapolated; scenarios can be created to anticipate best, worst and preferred possibilities; roadmaps and models can be built; systems-wide thinking can be applied. All so that we can be better prepared for the changes and challenges that lie ahead.

If there’s one thing we can learn from this, it’s that we should all be talking more about the future. Our future. Perhaps then, and only then, we can start to do something about it.

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