November 14, 2011
The Changing Significance of Geography: from Cyber Space to Outer Space, and the Spaces in Between

On Monday November 14th, the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative and the US National Intelligence Council hosted an all-day roundtable workshop entitled “The Changing Significance of Geography: from Cyber Space to Outer Space, and the Spaces in Between”.

With the objective to inform the upcoming Global Trends 2030 report, the workshop was devoted to collaboratively discussing new approaches to governance, groundbreaking technologies, and the security “maps” of the future.

Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council, and Mat Burrows, counselor at the National Intelligence Council, opened the day with initial comments on the urgent need to understand the way in which new and emerging geographies will shape the international system moving forward.

The first part of the workshop focused on the evolving role of global governance and the impact of technology on the erosion of traditional borders. Presenters and commentators focused on the global diffusion of power the world of 2030 will witness, the rising importance of regional politics and expected growth of trading networks, and the undeniable significance of transnational corporations and mega cities as an integral component of the future development of nation-states. Also, an analysis of previous technological trends, such as the spread of cell phone technology and computer software, allowed for a rich discussion on the nascent role of robots and their potential to become ubiquitous in the coming decades. The ways in which past and present technological breakthroughs are redefining global economic models, national security priorities, and global communities, underscored the significance of digital geography.

The second half of the day focused on the new maps of security and potential points of future instability looking towards 2030. In this discussion, issues such as water and food crises, implications of South-South trade for the traditional West, finite energy resources, and urbanization trends were prioritized. Workshop participants acknowledged that a lack of preparedness in adapting to new and evolving geographies will pose the most serious challenge to governments in the near future, and that strategic partnerships amongst governments, public and private sector institutions, and companies will be required to successfully navigate through these new, changing realities.