1 Geopolitics: 'Rivals will take greater risks against the US'
No balance of power lasts forever. Just a century ago, London was the centre of the world. Britain bestrode the world like a colossus and only those with strong nerves (or weak judgment) dared challenge the Pax Britannica.
That, of course, is all history, but the Pax Americana that has taken shape since 1989 is just as vulnerable to historical change. In the 1910s, the rising power and wealth of Germany and America splintered the Pax Britannica; in the 2010s, east Asia will do the same to the Pax Americana.
The 21st century will see technological change on an astonishing scale. It may even transform what it means to be human. But in the short term – the next 20 years – the world will still be dominated by the doings of nation-states and the central issue will be the rise of the east.
By 2030, the world will be more complicated, divided between a broad American sphere of influence in Europe, the Middle East and south Asia, and a Chinese sphere in east Asia and Africa. Even within its own sphere, the US will face new challenges from former peripheries. The large, educated populations of Poland, Turkey, Brazil and their neighbours will come into their own and Russia will continue its revival.
Nevertheless, America will probably remain the world's major power. The critics who wrote off the US during the depression of the 1930s and the stagflation of the 1970s lived to see it bounce back to defeat the Nazis in the 1940s and the Soviets in the 1980s. America's financial problems will surely deepen through the 2010s, but the 2020s could bring another Roosevelt or Reagan.
A hundred years ago, as Britain's dominance eroded, rivals, particularly Germany, were emboldened to take ever-greater risks. The same will happen as American power erodes in the 2010s-20s. In 1999, for instance, Russia would never have dared attack a neighbour such as Georgia but in 2009 it took just such a chance.
The danger of such an adventure sparking a great power war in the 2010s is probably low; in the 2020s, it will be much greater.
The most serious threats will arise in the vortex of instability that stretches from Africa to central Asia. Most of the world's poorest people live here; climate change is wreaking its worst damage here; nuclear weapons are proliferating fastest here; and even in 2030, the great powers will still seek much of their energy here.
Here, the risk of Sino-American conflict will be greatest and here the balance of power will be decided.
Ian Morris, professor of history at Stanford University and the author of Why the West Rules – For Now (Profile Books)
2 The UK economy: 'The popular revolt against bankers will become impossible to resist'
It will be a second financial crisis in the 2010s – probably sooner than later – that will prove to be the remaking of Britain. Confronted by a second trillion-pound bank bailout in less than 10 years, it will be impossible for the City and wider banking system to resist reform. The popular revolt against bankers, their current business model in which neglect of the real economy is embedded and the scale of their bonuses – all to be underwritten by bailouts from taxpayers – will become irresistible. The consequent rebalancing of the British economy, already underway, will intensify. Britain, in thrall to finance since 1945, will break free – spearheading a second Industrial Revolution.
In 2035, there is thus a good prospect that Britain will be the most populous (our birth rate will be one the highest in Europe), dynamic and richest European country, the key state in a reconfigured EU. Our leading universities will become powerhouses of innovation, world centres in exploiting the approaching avalanche of scientific and technological breakthroughs. A reformed financial system will allow British entrepreneurs to get the committed financial backing they need, becoming the capitalist leaders in Europe. And, after a century of trying, Britain will at last build itself a system for developing apprentices and technicians that is no longer the Cinderella of the education system.
It will not be plain sailing. Massive political turbulence in China and its conflict with the US will define part of the next 25 years – and there will be a period when the world trading and financial system retreats from openness.
How far beggar-my-neighbour competitive devaluations and protection will develop is hard to predict, but protectionist trends are there for all to see. Commodity prices will go much higher and there will be shortages of key minerals, energy, water and some basic foodstuffs.
The paradox is that this will be good news for Britain. It will force the state to re-engage with the economy and to build a matrix of institutions that will support innovation and investment, rather as it did between 1931 and 1950. New Labour began this process tremulously in its last year in office; the coalition government is following through. These will be lean years for the traditional Conservative right, but whether it will be a liberal One Nation Tory party, ongoing coalition governments or the Labour party that will be the political beneficiary is not yet sure.
The key point is that those 20 years in the middle of the 20th century witnessed great industrial creativity and an unsung economic renaissance until the country fell progressively under the stultifying grip of the City of London. My guess is that the same, against a similarly turbulent global background, is about to happen again. My caveat is if the City remains strong, in which case economic decline and social division will escalate.
Will Hutton, executive vice-chair of the Work Foundation and an Observer columnist
3 Global development: 'A vaccine will rid the world of Aids'
Within 25 years, the world will achieve many major successes in tackling the diseases of the poor.
Certainly, we will be polio-free and probably will have been for more than a decade. The fight to eradicate polio represents one of the greatest achievements in global health to date. It has mobilised millions of volunteers, staged mass immunisation campaigns and helped to strengthen the health systems of low-income countries. Today, we have eliminated 99% of the polio in the world and eradication is well within reach.
Vaccines that prevent diseases such as measles and rotavirus, currently available in rich countries, will also become affordable and readily available in developing countries. Since it was founded 10 years ago, the Gavi Alliance, a global partnership that funds expanded immunisation in poor countries, has helped prevent more than 5 million deaths. It is easy to imagine that in 25 years this work will have been expanded to save millions more lives by making life-saving vaccines available all over the world.
I also expect to see major strides in new areas. A rapid point-of-care diagnostic test – coupled with a faster-acting treatment regimen – will so fundamentally change the way we treat tuberculosis that we can begin planning an elimination campaign.
We will eradicate malaria, I believe, to the point where there are no human cases reported globally in 2035. We will also have effective means for preventing Aids infection, including a vaccine. With the encouraging results of the RV144 Aids vaccine trial in Thailand, we now know that an Aids vaccine is possible. We must build on these and promising results on other means of preventing HIV infection to help rid the world of the threat of Aids.
Tachi Yamada, president of the global health programme at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
4 Energy: 'Returning to a world that relies on muscle power is not an option'
Providing sufficient food, water and energy to allow everyone to lead decent lives is an enormous challenge. Energy is a means, not an end, but a necessary means. With 6.7 billion people on the planet, more than 50% living in large conurbations, and these numbers expected to rise to more than 9 billion and 80% later in the century, returning to a world that relies on human and animal muscle power is not an option.
The challenge is to provide sufficient energy while reducing reliance on fossil fuels, which today supply 80% of our energy (in decreasing order of importance, the rest comes from burning biomass and waste, hydro, nuclear and, finally, other renewables, which together contribute less than 1%). Reducing use of fossil fuels is necessary both to avoid serious climate change and in anticipation of a time when scarcity makes them prohibitively expensive.
It will be extremely difficult. An International Energy Agency scenario that assumes the implementation of all agreed national policies and announced commitments to save energy and reduce the use of fossil fuels projects a 35% increase in energy consumption in the next 25 years, with fossil fuels up 24%. This is almost entirely due to consumption in developing countries where living standards are, happily, rising and the population is increasing rapidly.
This scenario, which assumes major increases in nuclear, hydro and wind power, evidently does not go far enough and will break down if, as many expect, oil production (which is assumed to increase 15%) peaks in much less than 25 years. We need to go much further in reducing demand, through better design and changes in lifestyles, increasing efficiency and improving and deploying all viable alternative energy sources. It won't be cheap. And in the post-fossil-fuel era it won't be sufficient without major contributions from solar energy (necessitating cost reductions and improved energy storage and transmission) and/or nuclear fission (meaning fast breeder and/or thorium reactors when uranium eventually becomes scarce) and/or fusion (which is enormously attractive in principle but won't become a reliable source of energy until at least the middle of the century).
Disappointingly, with the present rate of investment in developing and deploying new energy sources, the world will still be powered mainly by fossil fuels in 25 years and will not be prepared to do without them.
Chris Llewellyn Smith is a former director general of Cern and chair of Iter, the world fusion project, he works on energy issues at Oxford University
5 Advertising: 'All sorts of things will just be sold in plain packages'
If I'd been writing this five years ago, it would have been all about technology: the internet, the fragmentation of media, mobile phones, social tools allowing consumers to regain power at the expense of corporations, all that sort of stuff. And all these things are important and will change how advertising works.
But it's becoming clear that what'll really change advertising will be how we relate to it and what we're prepared to let it do. After all, when you look at advertising from the past the basic techniques haven't changed; what seems startlingly alien are the attitudes it was acceptable to portray and the products you were allowed to advertise.
In 25 years, I bet there'll be many products we'll be allowed to buy but not see advertised – the things the government will decide we shouldn't be consuming because of their impact on healthcare costs or the environment but that they can't muster the political will to ban outright. So, we'll end up with all sorts of products in plain packaging with the product name in a generic typeface – as the government is currently discussing for cigarettes.
But it won't stop there. We'll also be nudged into renegotiating the relationship between society and advertising, because over the next few years we're going to be interrupted by advertising like never before. Video screens are getting so cheap and disposable that they'll be plastered everywhere we go. And they'll have enough intelligence and connectivity that they'll see our faces, do a quick search on Facebook to find out who we are and direct a message at us based on our purchasing history.
At least, that'll be the idea. It probably won't work very well and when it does work it'll probably drive us mad. Marketing geniuses are working on this stuff right now, but not all of them recognise that being allowed to do this kind of thing depends on societal consent – push the intrusion too far and people will push back.
Society once did a deal accepting advertising because it seemed occasionally useful and interesting and because it paid for lots of journalism and entertainment. It's not necessarily going to pay for those things for much longer so we might start questioning whether we want to live in a Blade Runner world brought to us by Cillit Bang.
Russell Davies, head of planning at the advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather and a columnist for the magazines Campaign and Wired
6 Neuroscience: 'We'll be able to plug information streams directly into the cortex'
By 2030, we are likely to have developed no-frills brain-machine interfaces, allowing the paralysed to dance in their thought-controlled exoskeleton suits. I sincerely hope we will not still be interfacing with computers via keyboards, one forlorn letter at a time.
I'd like to imagine we'll have robots to do our bidding. But I predicted that 20 years ago, when I was a sanguine boy leaving Star Wars, and the smartest robot we have now is the Roomba vacuum cleaner. So I won't be surprised if I'm wrong in another 25 years. Artificial intelligence has proved itself an unexpectedly difficult problem.
Maybe we will understand what's happening when we immerse our heads into the colourful night blender of dreams. We will have cracked the secret of human memory by realising that it was never about storing things, but about the relationships between things.
Will we have reached the singularity – the point at which computers surpass human intelligence and perhaps give us our comeuppance? We'll probably be able to plug information streams directly into the cortex for those who want it badly enough to risk the surgery. There will be smart drugs to enhance learning and memory and a flourishing black market among ambitious students to obtain them.
Having lain to rest the nature-nurture dichotomy at that point, we will have a molecular understanding of the way in which cultural narratives work their way into brain tissue and of individual susceptibility to those stories.
Then there's the mystery of consciousness. Will we finally have a framework that allows us to translate the mechanical pieces and parts into private, subjective experience? As it stands now, we don't even know what such a framework could look like ("carry the two here and that equals the experience of tasting cinnamon").
That line of research will lead us to confront the question of whether we can reproduce consciousness by replicating the exact structure of the brain – say, with zeros and ones, or beer cans and tennis balls. If this theory of materialism turns out to be correct, then we will be well on our way to downloading our brains into computers, allowing us to live forever in The Matrix.
But if materialism is incorrect, that would be equally interesting: perhaps brains are more like radios that receive an as-yet-undiscovered force. The one thing we can be sure of is this: no matter how wacky the predictions we make today, they will look tame in the strange light of the future.
David Eagleman, neuroscientist and writer
7 Physics: 'Within a decade, we'll know what dark matter is'
The next 25 years will see fundamental advances in our understanding of the underlying structure of matter and of the universe. At the moment, we have successful descriptions of both, but we have open questions. For example, why do particles of matter have mass and what is the dark matter that provides most of the matter in the universe?
I am optimistic that the answer to the mass question will be found within a few years, whether or not it is the mythical Higgs boson, and believe that the answer to the dark matter question will be found within a decade.
Key roles in answering these questions will be made by experiments at Cern's Large Hadron Collider, which started operations in earnest last year and is expected to run for most of the next 20 years; others will be played by astrophysical searches for dark matter and cosmological observations such as those from the European Space Agency's Planck satellite.
Many theoretical proposals for answering these questions invoke new principles in physics, such as the existence of additional dimensions of space or a "supersymmetry" between the constituents of matter and the forces between them, and we will discover whether these ideas are useful for physics. Both these ideas play roles in string theory, the best guess we have for a complete theory of all the fundamental forces including gravity.
Will string theory be pinned down within 20 years? My crystal ball is cloudy on this point, but I am sure that we physicists will have an exciting time trying to find out.
John Ellis, theoretical physicist at Cern and King's College London
8 Food: 'Russia will become a global food superpower'
When experts talk about the coming food security crisis, the date they fixate upon is 2030. By then, our numbers will be nudging 9 billion and we will need to be producing 50% more food than we are now.
By the middle of that decade, therefore, we will either all be starving, and fighting wars over resources, or our global food supply will have changed radically. The bitter reality is that it will probably be a mixture of both.
Developed countries such as the UK are likely, for the most part, to have attempted to pull up the drawbridge, increasing national production and reducing our reliance on imports.
In response to increasing prices, some of us may well have reduced our consumption of meat, the raising of which is a notoriously inefficient use of grain. This will probably create a food underclass, surviving on a carb- and fat-heavy diet, while those with money scarf the protein.
The developing world, meanwhile, will work to bridge the food gap by embracing the promise of biotechnology which the middle classes in the developed world will have assumed that they had the luxury to reject.
In truth, any of the imported grain that we do consume will come from genetically modified crops. As climate change lays waste to the productive fields of southern Europe and north Africa, more water-efficient strains of corn, wheat and barley will be pressed into service; likewise, to the north, Russia will become a global food superpower as the same climate change opens up the once frozen and massive Siberian prairie to food production.
The consensus now is that the planet does have the wherewithal to feed that huge number of people. It's just that some people in the west may find the methods used to do so unappetising.
Jay Rayner, TV presenter and the Observer's food critic
9 Nanotechnology: 'Privacy will be a quaint obsession'
Twenty years ago, Don Eigler, a scientist working for IBM in California, wrote out the logo of his employer in letters made of individual atoms. This feat was a graphic symbol of the potential of the new field of nanotechnology, which promises to rebuild matter atom by atom, molecule by molecule, and to give us unprecedented power over the material world.
Some, like the futurist Ray Kurzweil, predict that nanotechnology will lead to a revolution, allowing us to make any kind of product for virtually nothing; to have computers so powerful that they will surpass human intelligence; and to lead to a new kind of medicine on a sub-cellular level that will allow us to abolish ageing and death.
I don't think that Kurzweil's "technological singularity" – a dream of scientific transcendence that echoes older visions of religious apocalypse – will happen. Some stubborn physics stands between us and "the rapture of the nerds". But nanotechnology will lead to some genuinely transformative applications.
New ways of making solar cells very cheaply on a very large scale offer us the best hope we have for providing low-carbon energy on a big enough scale to satisfy the needs of a growing world population aspiring to the prosperity we're used to in the developed world.
We'll learn more about intervening in our biology at the sub-cellular level and this nano-medicine will give us new hope of overcoming really difficult and intractable diseases, such as Alzheimer's, that will increasingly afflict our population as it ages.
The information technology that drives your mobile phone or laptop is already operating at the nanoscale. Another 25 years of development will lead us to a new world of cheap and ubiquitous computing, in which privacy will be a quaint obsession of our grandparents.
Nanotechnology is a different type of science, respecting none of the conventional boundaries between disciplines and unashamedly focused on applications rather than fundamental understanding.
Given the huge resources being directed towards nanotechnology in China and its neighbours, this may also be the first major technology of the modern era that is predominantly developed outside the US and Europe.
Richard Jones, pro-vice-chancellor for research and innovation at the University of Sheffield
10 Gaming: 'We'll play games to solve problems'
In the last decade, in the US and Europe but particularly in south-east Asia, we have witnessed a flight into virtual worlds, with people playing games such as Second Life. But over the course of the next 25 years, that flight will be successfully reversed, not because we're going to spend less time playing games, but because games and virtual worlds are going to become more closely connected to reality.
There will be games where the action is influenced by what happens in reality; and there will be games that use sensors so that we can play them out in the real world – a game in which your avatar is your dog, which wears a game collar that measures how fast it's running and whether or not it's wagging its tail, for example, where you play with your dog to advance the narrative, as opposed to playing with a virtual character. I can imagine more physical activity games, too, and these might be used to harness energy – peripherals like a dance pad that actually captures energy from your dancing on top of it.
Then there will be problem-solving games: there are already a lot of games in which scientists try to teach gamers real science – how to build proteins to cure cancer, for example. One surprising trend in gaming is that gamers today prefer, on average, three to one to play co-operative games rather than competitive games. Now, this is really interesting; if you think about the history of games, there really weren't co-operative games until this latest generation of video games. In every game you can think of – card games, chess, sport – everybody plays to win. But now we'll see increasing collaboration, people playing games together to solve problems while they're enjoying themselves.
There are also studies on how games work on our minds and our cognitive capabilities, and a lot of science suggests you can use games to treat depression, anxiety and attention-deficit disorder. Making games that are both fun and serve a social purpose isn't easy – a lot of innovation will be required – but gaming will become increasingly integrated into society.
Jane McGonigal, director of games research & development at the Institute for the Future in California and author of Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Happy and How They Can Help Us Change the World (Penguin)
11 Web/internet: 'Quantum computing is the future'
The open web created by idealist geeks, hippies and academics, who believed in the free and generative flow of knowledge, is being overrun by a web that is safer, more controlled and commercial, created by problem-solving pragmatists.
Henry Ford worked out how to make money by making products people wanted to own and buy for themselves. Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs are working out how to make money from allowing people to share, on their terms.
Facebook and Apple are spawning cloud capitalism, in which consumers allow companies to manage information, media, ideas, money, software, tools and preferences on their behalf, holding everything in vast, floating clouds of shared data. We will be invited to trade invasions into our privacy – companies knowing ever more about our lives – for a more personalised service. We will be able to share, but on their terms.
Julian Assange and the movement that has been ignited by WikiLeaks is the most radical version of the alternative: a free, egalitarian, open and public web. The fate of this movement will be a sign of things to come. If it can command broad support, then the open web has a chance to remain a mainstream force. If, however, it becomes little more than a guerrilla campaign, then the open web could be pushed to the margins, along with national public radio.
By 2035, the web, as a single space largely made up of webpages accessed on computers, will be long gone.
As the web goes mobile, those who pay more will get faster access. We will be sharing videos, simulations, experiences and environments, on a multiplicity of devices to which we'll pay as much attention as a light switch.
Yet, many of the big changes of the next 25 years will come from unknowns working in their bedrooms and garages. And by 2035 we will be talking about the coming of quantum computing, which will take us beyond the world of binary, digital computing, on and off, black and white, 0s and 1s.
The small town of Waterloo, Ontario, which is home to the Perimeter Institute, funded by the founder of BlackBerry, currently houses the largest collection of theoretical physicists in the world.
The bedrooms of Waterloo are where the next web may well be made.
Charles Leadbeater, author and social entrepreneur
12 Fashion: 'Technology creates smarter clothes'
Fashion is such an important part of the way in which we communicate our identity to others, and for a very long time it's meant dress: the textile garments on our body. But in the coming decades, I think there'll be much more emphasis on other manifestations of fashion and different ways of communicating with each other, different ways of creating a sense of belonging and of making us feel great about ourselves.
We're already designing our identities online – manipulating imagery to tell a story about ourselves. Instead of meeting in the street or in a bar and having a conversation and looking at what each other is wearing, we're communicating in some depth through these new channels. With clothing, I think it's possible that we'll see a polarisation between items that are very practical and those that are very much about display – and maybe these are not things that you own but that you borrow or share.
Technology is already being used to create clothing that fits better and is smarter; it is able to transmit a degree of information back to you. This is partly driven by customer demand and the desire to know where clothing comes from – so we'll see tags on garments that tell you where every part of it was made, and some of this, I suspect, will be legislation-driven, too, for similar reasons, particularly as resources become scarcer and it becomes increasingly important to recognise water and carbon footprints.
However, it's not simply an issue of functionality. Fashion's gone through a big cycle in the last 25 years – from being something that was treasured and cherished to being something that felt disposable, because of a drop in prices. In fact, we've completely changed our relationship towards clothes and there's a real feeling among designers who I work with that they're trying to work back into their designs an element of emotional content.
I think there's definitely a place for technology in creating a dialogue with you through your clothes.
Dilys Williams, designer and the director for sustainable fashion at the London College of Fashion
13 Nature: 'We'll redefine the wild'
We all want to live in a world where species such as tigers, the great whales, orchids and coral reefs can persist and thrive and I am sure that the commitment that people have to maintaining the spectacle and diversity of life will continue. Over the past 50 years or so, there has been growing support for nature conservation. When we understand the causes of species losses, good conservation actions can and do reverse the trends.
But it is going to become much harder. The human population has roughly doubled since the 1960s and will increase by another third by 2030. Demands for food, water and energy will increase, inevitably in competition with other species. People already use up to 40% of the world's primary production (energy) and this must increase, with important consequences for nature.
In the UK, some familiar species will become scarcer as our rare habitats (mires, bogs and moorlands) are lost. We will be seeing the effects from gradual warming that will allow more continental species to live here, and in our towns and cities we'll probably have more species that have become adapted to living alongside people.
We can conserve species when we really try, so I'm confident that the charismatic mega fauna and flora will mostly still persist in 2035, but they will be increasingly restricted to highly managed and protected areas. The survivors will be those that cope well with people and those we care about enough to save. Increasingly, we won't be living as a part of nature but alongside it, and we'll have redefined what we mean by the wild and wilderness.
Crucially, we are still rapidly losing overall biodiversity, including soil micro-organisms, plankton in the oceans, pollinators and the remaining tropical and temperate forests. These underpin productive soils, clean water, climate regulation and disease-resistance. We take these vital services from biodiversity and ecosystems for granted, treat them recklessly and don't include them in any kind of national accounting.
Georgina Mace, professor of conservation science and director of the Natural Environment Research Council's Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College London
14 Architecture: What constitutes a 'city' will change
In 2035, most of humanity will live in favelas. This will not be entirely wonderful, as many people will live in very poor housing, but it will have its good side. It will mean that cities will consist of series of small units organised, at best, by the people who know what is best for themselves and, at worst, by local crime bosses.
Cities will be too big and complex for any single power to understand and manage them. They already are, in fact. The word "city" will lose some of its meaning: it will make less and less sense to describe agglomerations of tens of millions of people as if they were one place, with one identity. If current dreams of urban agriculture come true, the distinction between town and country will blur. Attempts at control won't be abandoned, however, meaning that strange bubbles of luxury will appear, like shopping malls and office parks. To be optimistic, the human genius for inventing social structures will mean that new forms of settlement we can't quite imagine will begin to emerge.
All this assumes that environmental catastrophe doesn't drive us into caves. Nor does it describe what will happen in Britain, with a roughly stable population and a planning policy dedicated to preserving the status quo as much as possible. Britain in 25 years' time may look much as it does now, which is not hugely different from 25 years ago. Rowan Moore, Observer architecture correspondent
15 Sport: 'Broadcasts will use holograms'
Globalisation in sport will continue: it's a trend we've seen by the choice of Rio for the 2016 Olympics and Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. This will mean changes to traditional sporting calendars in recognition of the demands of climate and time zones across the planet.
Sport will have to respond to new technologies, the speed at which we process information and apparent reductions in attention span. Shorter formats, such as Twenty20 cricket and rugby sevens, could aid the development of traditional sports in new territories.
The demands of TV will grow, as will technology's role in umpiring and consuming sport. Electronics companies are already planning broadcasts using live holograms. I don't think we'll see an acceptance of performance-enhancing drugs: the trend has been towards zero tolerance and long may it remain so.
Mike Lee, chairman of Vero Communications and ex-director of communications for London's 2012 Olympic bid
16 Transport: 'There will be more automated cars'
It's not difficult to predict how our transport infrastructure will look in 25 years' time – it can take decades to construct a high-speed rail line or a motorway, so we know now what's in store. But there will be radical changes in how we think about transport. The technology of information and communication networks is changing rapidly and internet and mobile developments are helping make our journeys more seamless. Queues at St Pancras station or Heathrow airport when the infrastructure can't cope for whatever reason should become a thing of the past, but these challenges, while they might appear trivial, are significant because it's not easy to organise large-scale information systems.
The instinct to travel is innate within us, but we will have to do it in a more carbon-efficient way. It's hard to be precise, but I think we'll be cycling and walking more; in crowded urban areas we may see travelators – which we see in airports already – and more scooters. There will be more automated cars, like the ones Google has recently been testing. These driverless cars will be safer, but when accidents do happen, they may be on the scale of airline disasters. Personal jetpacks will, I think, remain a niche choice.
Frank Kelly, professor of the mathematics of systems at Cambridge University, and former chief scientific adviser to the DfT
17 Health: 'We'll feel less healthy'
The list of individuals who have sold out New York City’s Madison Square Garden is for the most part a collection of familiar names. Elton John. Billy Joel. Jay Z. And, of course, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
That’s right. Once barred from the U.S., a triumphant Modi worked the capacity crowd of mostly Indian Americans in the Manhattan arena last September with visions of a stronger India, its place restored in the top tier of world powers after years of economic disappointment. Months on from winning the biggest majority in three decades in national elections last May, he projected optimism and hope in an hour-long speech that was regularly interrupted by chants of “Modi! Modi! Modi!” giving his star turn on the New York stage the feel of a frenetic campaign rally.
But at the end of a rare two-hour interview with TIME at his residence in New Delhi in which he calls the U.S. and India “natural allies,” defends the pace of his reform drive and rebuffs criticism of his government’s attitude toward India’s religious minorities, the public man gets surprisingly personal. Asked who it was who influenced him most on his long journey to power, he pauses, and the seconds tick by. “I was born in a very poor family,” he says. “I used to sell tea in a railway coach as a child. My mother used to wash utensils and do lowly household work in the houses of others to earn a livelihood.” Modi’s eyes fill as he recalls his childhood in a small town in the western Indian state of Gujarat, as far away as possible from Madison Square Garden. “My entire childhood was steeped in poverty,” he says, wiping his eyes. “For me, poverty, in a way, was the first inspiration of my life, a commitment to do something for the poor.”
(Read TIME’s exclusive interview with Narendra Modi)
It’s a commitment, Modi says, that drives him now, as he pursues an agenda that he sums up with one of his campaign slogans: “Sabka saath, sabka vikas,” or “Together with all, progress for all.” That message, along with other hopeful slogans promising the return of the “good days” for India, catapulted Modi from the chief minister’s chair in Gujarat to the Indian Prime Minister’s office last May, giving him power over the lives of some 1.25 billion people—more than a sixth of the world’s population. No other democratic leader has a wider sway.
As he nears his one-year anniversary in office on May 26, 2015, Modi has established himself as nothing less than a global political star. He reputedly sleeps just three hours a night, begins his days with yoga and has used his office to promote the Indian discipline, even naming a minister of yoga. On Twitter, the 64-year-old is the second most followed political leader, after President Barack Obama, and likes to tweet directly at other world leaders—when he’s not cheering India’s cricket team on the social-media service. Modi has visited 16 countries in 11 months—a figure that, with an upcoming trip to China, South Korea and Mongolia, will rise to 19 by his first anniversary. On the global stage, “he’s shown himself to be very sure-footed, very energetic,” says Nicholas Burns, a former U.S. Under Secretary of State now based at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
Yet it’s what he promised to do at home that helped bring him to office last year. Roughly half of Indians are under 25 years old, young people who through their teens were sold visions of an India shining, a long-sleeping economic giant that was finally stirring awake just as they were coming of age. Economic reforms in the early 1990s set the country on a path of strong growth, which averaged about 7.5% from 2001 to the end of that decade.
But by the run-up to last year’s election, the Indian giant was stumbling again. Growth had fallen, before recent revisions to data, to about 5%—a dream figure for a developed country but still far too low to generate enough jobs for the over 10 million Indians entering the workforce every year. After a decade in office, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was viewed as little more than a puppet, beholden to the ruling Congress Party’s president, Sonia Gandhi, and biding time until Gandhi’s son Rahul was ready to take the reins. The dynastic Congress Party seemed spent. “At the time of the election last year, there was a sense that the outgoing government had run out of energy, run out of imagination and was just going through the motions,” says Robert Hathaway, a fellow and former director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center in Washington.
And then came Modi, a controversial provincial leader from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). A vigorous campaigner, he crisscrossed the country touting his economic record in Gujarat, which had grown faster than most other Indian states, developing a reputation as a business-friendly haven in a stultifying swamp of bureaucracy. Modi and his supporters held up what became known as the “Gujarat model” as a template to restart the Indian economic engine. “Although you’ve had chief ministers become Prime Ministers, it’s never been quite this way before where they’ve said, Here is a template, and I want to scale this up,” says Milan Vaishnav, an associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Gujarat is also the setting of the most controversial episode in Modi’s past. In 2002, after the killing of 59 Hindu pilgrims on a train, the state erupted in bloody sectarian rioting that led to the deaths of at least 1,000 people, most of them from the minority Muslim community. (Though the nation has a Hindu majority, more than 138 million Muslims live in India.) While his critics question whether he did enough to stop the violence, Modi has always denied any wrongdoing, and he has never been charged with a crime. Nonetheless, three years after the riots, he was blocked from visiting the U.S.
Modi’s election last May led the U.S. to quietly drop the visa ban. But at home in India, there was fear about the future for minorities in Modi’s India and the rise of right-wing Hindu groups linked to the BJP. In December, for example, Niranjan Jyoti, a junior government minister, provoked controversy when she asked voters at a local election campaign rally in the capital to decide whether they wanted a government “of those born of [the Hindu god] Ram or those born illegitimately.” She apologized soon after making the statement, and Modi publicly disapproved of the remarks. But Jyoti remains in government.
(PHOTOS: Behind TIME’s Cover With Narendra Modi)
On a generally positive visit to India in January, President Obama provided a nudge on the issue when, in his final public appearance in New Delhi, he said, “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith—so long as it’s not splintered along any lines—and is unified as one nation.”
Speaking to TIME, Modi insists his government is committed to preserving the rights of his nation’s religious minorities. “Wherever an individual view might have been expressed with regard to a particular minority religion, we have immediately negated that,” he says. “So far as the government is concerned, there is only one holy book, which is the constitution of India. My government will not tolerate or accept any discrimination based on caste, creed and religion.”
Asked what he made of the President’s remarks in January, Modi says, “The diversity of India, of our civilization, is actually a thing of beauty, which is something we are extremely proud of.” It’s here that he returns to his campaign slogan and to the theme of economic development that helped him win election. “My philosophy, the philosophy of my party and the philosophy of my government is what I call ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikas’ … So, the underlying philosophy and the impulse of that particular motto is to take everybody together and move toward inclusive growth.”
Taking the Stage
Narendra Damodardas Modi was born on Sept. 17, 1950, in the small north Gujarat town of Vadnagar, making him the first Prime Minister born after India’s British colonial masters left in 1947.
For most of its history since then, India has been governed at the national level by the leaders of the Congress Party, the inheritors of India’s independence movement. Modi is different, an outsider with humble roots far removed from New Delhi’s political elite, whose father ran a tea stall to support his family.
At 17, Modi left his family for two years to travel across India. On his return, he went to the main Gujarati city of Ahmedabad, where he joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Hindu nationalist group linked to the BJP. The switch to formal party politics came in the late 1980s, when he moved to the BJP, later working for some years at the party’s headquarters in the capital. In late 2001 the party sent him to Gujarat to take over as chief minister. He remained there until he made the leap to New Delhi. During last year’s election, Modi’s modest background and vigor on the stump drew a sharp contrast with his chief opponent, the Congress Party heir Rahul Gandhi, who was the son, grandson and great-grandson of former Congress Prime Ministers. Set against Modi, the younger Gandhi looked unprepared and entitled. “Nothing seemed to be happening in government,” Modi says now. “There seemed to be complete policy paralysis.”
Modi’s campaign focused on what he had achieved in Gujarat and promised more of the same for India—better infrastructure and less red tape holding back industry. He had a decent record to run on—on Modi’s watch, Gujarat’s economy grew by an average of 10% from 2006 to 2011, though his critics note that Gujarat’s traders have always benefited from its coastal location and other trading states also performed strongly. Like a U.S. governor using success at the state level to make a run for the White House, Modi convinced Indian voters that he could do in New Delhi what he had already done in Gujarat.
But when he won last year’s election, no one knew how Modi would act on the world stage. The answer came the moment he became Prime Minister. For his swearing-in ceremony, Modi invited leaders from around South Asia—including from Pakistan, the country’s longtime foe, showing welcome initiative. (Relations between the two have since turned cold again.) Over the past year, he’s also sought to raise India’s profile in its backyard, embarking on a tour of the small island states that sit to its south, including nearby Sri Lanka. In recent years the island country had cultivated closer connections to China, which offered billions of dollars in loans and last year twice docked a military submarine there, irking India. But in March, Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Sri Lanka in nearly three decades. “He’s a great and good leader,” says new Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, who has improved ties with India.
For the U.S., which had been forging closer ties with India following the reforms of the 1990s, a key question was, Would Modi bear a grudge for the visa ban? “There was an expectation that Modi might well reflect a nationalistic, even chauvinistic approach, that might further complicate U.S.-India relations,” says Hathaway. But once in office, Modi showed pragmatism. “He could well have engaged in grudge bearing, but in fact he has simply made a decision to not simply let bygones be bygones but give a priority to building a stronger relationship with the U.S.”
During his trip to the U.S. in September, Modi called in at the White House at the President’s invitation, and in January, Obama was in New Delhi, surveying Indian military hardware at the country’s annual Republic Day parade, a first for an American President. Writing about Modi for TIME’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world, Obama celebrated “Narendra’s” rise from his humble origins, saying he’s “determined to help more Indians follow in his path.”
“If I have to describe the India-U.S. relationship in a single word, I will say we are natural allies,” Modi tells TIME. He adds, “What should the India-U.S. relationship be, what India can do for the U.S., what the U.S. can do for India, I think that is a rather limited point of view to take. I think the way we should look at it is what India and the U.S. can together do for the world.”
And what can they do together? India has never been a major trading partner for the U.S.—it represents less than 2% of total foreign trade. But an economically strong India, one finally pulling its weight internationally, could prove a lucrative market for American companies—and provide a boost for a global economy that desperately needs a new engine. For India, the U.S. could be an important source of new investment, and Modi’s relationship with Obama helps raise the country’s profile abroad.
An active India can also be a useful U.S. partner in the region—especially in Afghanistan, a country with which India has old ties. Modi notes that India has offered more than $2 billion to Afghanistan for reconstruction and development as the U.S. pulls out and that India will “do whatever is required to be done for Afghanistan’s development.” Most important, India holds the promise of being a democratic counterweight to a looming China. “We cooperate with China at the international stage, but we compete with China when it comes to commerce and trade,” says Modi. A successful India would be a potent reminder that democracy can still be a pathway to prosperity.
The outlook for the Indian economy has improved over the past year, though that’s not entirely due to Modi’s efforts. In March, Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, called the country a “bright spot” on an otherwise “cloudy global horizon.” Inflation has eased, and the dramatic fall in global oil prices has been a major boost for a country that imports around 80% of the crude it needs. India also looks good in comparison with other onetime economic hopes—like Russia, a crude exporter that has been hit by the oil-price drop and international sanctions, and Brazil, where growth is slowing and the headlines are dominated by a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal at state-run oil giant Petrobras.
Modi’s government has also taken steps to further liberalize India’s economy by, for example, opening up the country’s insurance sector by pushing through a long-standing proposal to allow greater foreign investment. The Prime Minister has tried to make the country’s notoriously sluggish bureaucracy more efficient, implementing an online system to track when bureaucrats actually arrive at work. The government has also worked to move ahead with a national goods-and-services tax to replace a patchwork of state and local levies that have hindered commerce. “It is hard for me to raise objections to much of anything they’ve done thus far,” says Vaishnav from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, terming the government “pro-business in orientation”—unlike its predecessor.
But at the same time, questions are growing about whether the scope of Modi’s reforms matches his rhetoric. Ruchir Sharma, the head of emerging markets at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, points, for example, to India’s public-sector banks, which he says are sitting on masses of bad debts. Sharma had hoped that Modi’s government, with its mandate to tackle the economy, might take on the problem by outright privatizing some of the banks or at least cutting down the government’s stake in these enterprises. But, he says, “nothing really has been done about that.”
Modi prefers to focus on what he calls “cooperative competitive federalism,” encouraging growth through competition between the states. Although Modi was elected with an overwhelming majority in the lower house of India’s Parliament, his party and its allies lack the strength in the indirectly elected upper house to pass legislation without the support of opposition parties. The government says part of its plan to put the economy on a stronger footing is to devolve more power to the states to enact reforms that can boost growth, instead of directing such measures from the center. The state of Rajasthan near Delhi is often cited as an example, after it proposed reforms last year, including relaxing labor laws to make itself more appealing to business. Modi’s government, which needed to approve the state changes, should get credit for allowing Rajasthan to press on with such reforms, says Vaishnav. But it’s one thing, he adds, to say we’ll let the states make these changes and another to say that “the Prime Minister is going to use his bully pulpit to actually advocate for these types of changes across states, and particularly in the BJP states.”
Opposition is also growing against a key Modi government reform to simplify India’s highly restrictive land-acquisition laws by, for example, doing away with the need to get the consent of as many as 80% of landowners for certain development projects—a move that’s been portrayed by Modi’s critics as being against the interests of the rural masses. Unlike in China, where the government shows little regard for the impact of development on ordinary citizens, in India investors often complain about the legal obstacles that keep them from getting the land they need. Opposition parties are fighting back by painting Modi as pro–Big Business and anti-poor—labels that, if they stick, could damage the BJP in critical state-level elections later this year. The attacks come as Modi’s seemingly invincible political aura has already begun to dim—an upstart anticorruption party swept state-level polls in Delhi in February despite Modi’s being the face of the BJP campaign.
Questioned about the pace of his reform drive, Modi points to the change in the economic mood from the glum months leading up to last year’s election. “You will actually see that internationally the world is, once again, excited and enthusiastic about India and the opportunities that India represents,” he says. He was elected to a five-year term, he says, and he has a plan for the whole period, not just the first year. “What we have done in the last one year is precisely as per that plan,” he says. “And in the next four years, we have step-by-step measures that would unfold as we go along.”
The world has been excited about India and its perennially untapped potential in the past, before turning away in disappointment when the performance falls short of the hype. As Modi enters his second year in office, hundreds of millions of his fellow Indians are hoping that doesn’t happen again.