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Sep 21, 2012

Techno :: Election Predictions—for 2032

When you turn to the political coverage in this month’s issue, you will notice two words conspicuously missing: Obama and Romney.

It’s not that we don’t have strong feelings about the candidates, but weighing in on the minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow process of politics is not what DISCOVER does. There is plenty of that (too much perhaps) elsewhere in the media landscape. I am much more interested in the broader perspective: not what politics will look like in two months but in two years, or twenty. On that scale, personalities become less important and the role of science and technology becomes much more clear.

The steam engine gave rise to the whistle-stop campaign tours of the early 20th century; television made the first 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate into a national event. Web-based organizing is ushering in new possibilities today. Not everyone will like the effects of technological change. In the United States, the effort by Americans Elect to create a centrist party via Facebook got zero traction in this cycle, but social technology is poised to have more influence over future elections. In the Muslim world, the open communications that helped topple dictatorships are also aiding fundamentalist forces. As always, technology is only a tool, not an ideology. We need to understand it in order to anticipate its effects and to exploit it in beneficial ways.

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