Just after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, my colleagues and I sat down and considered their likely impacts, in the short and long terms.

The short-term list was based mostly on observation: what was happening around us.  The long-term list was provoked by people’s assertions that everything would be changed for a very long time, even “forever.”  For instance, irony itself was said to be dead.

We knew that many things would change, some for a very long time, but, as futurists, we knew also how resistant to change people are, as individuals and as a society. So we set out to make some forecasts of what would be affected, and for how long.

Our Forecasts from 2001

Sphere Effects as of 2001 Forecast for 5-10 Years
Architecture
  • Concern about building security
  • Questions about future of tall buildings
  • Unease among landmark building tenants
  • Attention to escape methods from tall buildings
  • Attention to building security
  • Attention to safety in and escape from tall buildings
  • Fire-resistant structures
Business practices
  • Economic downturn
  • Heightened attention to security of personnel and facilities
  • Disruptions to logistics and shipping
  • More attention to vulnerability of international operations
  • Restrictions on flying
  • Suspicion of mail and packages
  • More interest in telecommuting
  • Heightened attention to security of personnel and facilities
  • More attention to vulnerability of international operations
  • Logistics and transport changes.
Cities
  • Concern about being in target cities
  • Questions about future of tall buildings
  • Attention to infrastructure protection
  • Concern about impact of insurance costs
  • Attention to infrastructure protection
Economy
  • Downturn
  • Airlines and tourism hard-hit
Environment
  • Other issues get priority, and activism is muted
Foreign policy
  • Focus on terrorism
  • Shifting of alliances and priorities
  • New sense of utility of allies
  • Strengthened ties to rest of the West
  • Heightened American nationalism
  • Heightened awareness of cost of Palestinian impasse
  • More sympathy for US in many places
  • More tension with Islamic world
  • More discussion of root causes of terrorism
  • Concern about lack of awareness of rest of world and lack of reporting
  • Focus on terrorism
  • Sense of utility of allies
  • Likely discontinuity in Mideast
  • Possible discontinuity with Pakistan
  • Possible discontinuity in Southeast Asia
Futurism
  • Heightened attention to the future, “what comes next”
  • “That will never happen” events dismissed less readily
Government
  • Police powers are being expanded
  • Higher public approval of and trust in government
  • Closer partnerships between intelligence and law enforcement
  • Heightened costs and disrupted operations for Postal Service
Medicine and health
  • Attention to health system as bio attack early warning
  • Do-it-yourself biochemical defense
  • More interest in rapid detection and diagnosis
  • Increased use of anti-anxiety drugs
  • Attention to health system as bio attack early warning
  • More interest in rapid detection and diagnosis
Military
  • Increased attention to homeland defense
  • Increased attention to asymmetrical threats
  • Increased attention to weapons of mass destruction
  • Increased popular support for ballistic missile defense
  • Increased attention to homeland defense
  • Efforts at mobility and deployability
  • Increased attention to asymmetrical threats
  • Efforts to counter WMD
Politics
  • National security has highest priority
  • Less tolerance of dissent
  • Tensions within Republican party
  • Heightened sense of the relevance of politics
  • Sept. 11th being used to promote other issues
Risk and safety
  • Heightened sense of risk
  • More people preparing for disaster
  • Attention to wills and life insurance
  • Acquisition of cell phones for safety
  • Attention to how technologies can be misused
  • More attention to infrastructure security
  • Concern about safety of food supply
  • Attention to how technologies and systems can be misused
  • More attention to infrastructure security
Security
  • Heightened sense of vulnerability
  • National security has greater weight judged against other matters
  • Concern about porous borders
  • More security for facilities and transportation
  • More monitoring and surveillance
  • Heightened sense of vulnerability
  • National security has greater weight judged against other matters
  • Tightened border controls
  • More security for facilities and transportation
  • More monitoring and surveillance
Society
  • Heightened sense of national unity and patriotism
  • Higher approval of government and its effectiveness
  • Shift in weight of freedom vs. security issues
  • More positive sense about direction of country
  • Less tolerance of dissent
  • Decreased support for immigration
  • More desire for information
  • Concern about flimsy immigration regime
  • Fewer foreigners coming to US
  • Heightened awareness of Islam in US
  • Shift away from certain content in media
  • Heightened interpersonal trust
  • Shift in weight of freedom vs. security issues
  • Tighter immigration regime
  • Heightened awareness of Islam in US
Technology
  • Attention to how technologies can be misused
  • Concern about infrastructure vulnerability
  • More monitoring and surveillance
  • Shift in privacy vs. law enforcement debate
  • Heightened concern about Internet security
  • New attention to security technologies
  • Heightened attention to videoconferencing
  • Interest in security-related database management
  • Attention to how technologies can be misused
  • Attention to infrastructure vulnerability
  • More monitoring, sensing, and surveillance
  • Shift in privacy vs. security debate
  • Attention to security technologies
Travel
  • Decreased air travel convenience and usage
  • Increase in train use and driving

 

Most of the effects we thought would diminish did in fact do so, so we can count many accurate forecasts.

There were also misses in our ten-year forecast:

  • Foreign policy — We missed how the unilateral inclinations of the Bush administration would result in alienating allies, not valuing them, despite our noting heightened American nationalism. We also missed increased tensions with the Islamic world, though that was heavily driven by the invasion of Iraq.
  • Government — We did not forecast that expanded police powers would persist, though we did foresee a long-term shift in the privacy vs. security debate. We also didn’t state that  improvements in intelligence-law enforcement would be ongoing, and that has happened, at least in part.
  • Society — We did not state that hostility to Islam in the US would spread, and be openly embraced by some politicians.

Some of these misses are due to the fact that we ended up in a scenario that was intermediate between a one-off attack and an ongoing crisis. We also wrote this in 2001:

“If conflict becomes prolonged and marked by recurring events:

  • All the changed drivers are strengthened, and more of them push things past tipping points.
  • The possibility of discontinuity-level attack rises.
  • Higher probability of tension with and discontinuities in Muslim world.
  • National security trumps other matters in attention and budget.
  • Tourism and airline industries suffer badly.
  • People subjected to long-term heightened stress.
  • Lower confidence in affected systems, possibly including food, air, water.
  • Heightened suspicion of Arab and Muslim Americans.
  • More personal attention to security and survivalist-style autonomy”

On the whole, I would count this a solid forecast.

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