Friday, January 6, 2012

Predictions for 2012

Due to a dearth of predictions for 2012 (since my blog only began in 2010), I have decided to do what I did last year and make a list of predictions that I think we'll be reading about in the news for the coming year.

The Arab Spring sputters out. With the exceptions of Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco, almost no Arab states are poised to make a real transition to democracy. Many of them are too poor to make a democratic transition likely, and several of them are cursed by their own oil wealth, which encourages corruption and enables autocrats to buy off opposition. There may be a few other Arab dictators that fall this year, but in the end they will most likely be replaced by other dictators and/or chaos. Some Arab states may successfully hold democratic elections, but find their newfound democracy short-lived and ultimately revert to authoritarianism.

Medical data processing costs continue to fall, as the work is increasingly offshored and automated. As computing power grows, it becomes easier and cheaper to process medical data from nearly anywhere in the world. The cost of sequencing a human genome continues to fall faster than Moore's Law, and currently stands at roughly $4,000. Computers can now identify breast cancer more accurately than human doctors can. IBM's Watson is currently being repurposed into a medical diagnosis tool, which will have access to more information than a human doctor could hope to acquire: the latest medical literature, clinical trials, patient histories, and (soon) the patient's genome.

Smartphone apps that monitor the user's health proliferate and become very popular. This has already begun to happen to some extent, but in 2012 health apps will proliferate as they become better and less invasive. The less the user needs to interact with the app, the more likely it is that the app will be used effectively. Look for more gadgets like Nike+, which combine the functionality of a smartphone app with a device that is worn near the body to measure some aspect of health.

The discovery of the Higgs Boson is confirmed. In December 2011, scientists at CERN confirmed with a high level of probability that they had discovered a new particle at the energy level believed to be associated with the elusive Higgs Boson, the last undiscovered piece of the Standard Model of particle physics which is believed to carry mass to all other particles. However, the level of probability was not high enough to be labeled a new discovery with any certainty. Since two independent teams found an anomaly at roughly the same energy level, it is highly unlikely to be a mistake. It will probably be confirmed by the end of 2012, thus completing the 40-year-old Standard Model.

The air starts to leak from the higher education bubble. Speaking as one of the suckers who just completed his education at the peak of the higher education bubble, I think that we've just about seen the highwater mark for tuition charges. Over the last decade, tuition for higher education increased at nearly twice the overall inflation rate. This cannot go on forever. The economics of university tuition will be difficult to sustain, because several factors are working together: The poor economy makes expensive university tuition look like a worse deal than before for those looking to maximize their payout. Government budget cuts will mean that the states are less generous about financial aid to students, and universities will need to adjust their charges accordingly. Finally, higher education itself is on the verge of a major overhaul, as presaged by MIT's announcement that they would start offering accreditation for a small fee for their free online courses. Tuition charges may continue to increase for another year or two...but I think they will increase by a smaller amount than they have in the past decade. And it's only a matter of time before they come crashing down.


As of 2012 – No Arab state has held free and fair elections resulting in a representative government as a result of the Arab Spring, with the possible exceptions of Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco.

By 2012 – Medical data processing costs continue to fall, as the work is increasingly offshored and automated.

By 2012 – Smartphone apps that monitor the user's health proliferate and become very popular.

By 2012 – The discovery of the Higgs Boson is confirmed.

By 2012 – Tuition at US four-year universities increases at a slower rate for the 2012-13 school year, than it has in the past decade.