Future wars may be fought on supercomputers, homes may be protected by laser shields, and AIDS could have the impact of a world war by the end of the century.
These are among predictions - both dire and encouraging - made by scientists and forecasters writing for "The Futurist," the magazine of the World Future Society.Each year, the non-profit scientific and educational association publishes a compilation of some 70 forecasts of the future in such fields as world population, the environment, international business, education, health, technology and the work force.
Among the predictions for 1989 and beyond:
- By the end of the century, AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, could have the impact of a world war, with total deaths worldwide amounting to 50 million in the 1990s - more than the Black Death plague of the 14th century. Also, the incurable disease is unlikely to spread rapidly in America's heterosexual population.
- Most heart bypass operations will be eliminated by the year 2000 in favor of less intrusive procedures or clot-dissolving drugs.
- The United States will have a shortage of 1.2 million nurses by the year 2000.
- Robots will replace only a tiny fraction of the estimated 131 million people in the U.S. labor force by 1997. For every working robot, there will still be more than 400 people working.
- Computers will become an increasingly popular target for terrorists. Attacks on high-tech targets such as computer networks, telecommunications facilities or defense computers could pose a major threat to industrialized nations.
- Automobiles will be guided by remote control on "electronic highways." Traffic lights and gates tied to a central computer will control access and movement. Drivers will receive information on traffic flow and parking availability on digital display screens in each car.
- Future wars may be fought on supercomputers. A military leader may capitulate after receiving an unfavorable computer readout from his forecast staff rather than undertake a bloody battle.
- Adults may soon constitute a majority of the U.S. college student population. People over 25 accounted for 30 percent of student enrollment in 1972; half the college population will likely consist of adults by 1992.
- Many homes will be protected by relatively inexpensive laser shields and artificial-intelligence home security systems within 20 years. Surveillance by satellite and light-sensitive monitors may soon be feasible.
- More species will disappear during this century than have disappeared at any period since the age of the dinosaurs. As the extinction rate of animals increases, zoos may increasingly become "Noah's Archives" - preservers of the world's species.
- Sea levels will rise over the next century at a faster rate than ever before, due to the warming of the earth's atmosphere caused by the greenhouse effect. Permanent coastal structures such as airports with runways built on reclaimed land will face increasing threats of flooding.
The greenhouse effect may benefit agriculture, however. Wheat, rice and corn - the planet's three major foods - increase in productivity in environments enriched by carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, so do weeds.
- The global energy crisis of the 1970s may return in the 1990s as worldwide dependence on Mideast oil increases.