The Hoover Institution hosted its inaugural History Lab conference from Thursday, April 20, to Saturday, April 22, featuring scholars and national security professionals who exchanged ideas and provided analyses of possible trajectories of today’s world.

Chaired by Stephen Kotkin, Kleinheinz Senior Fellow and director of the newly launched Hoover History Lab, the conference focused on how policy leaders should think about the drivers of global change over the next decade or so, including the emergence of disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and synthetic biology; the integration of enhanced technological capabilities into warfare; the dynamics shaping Western alliances and trade partnerships; efforts by three Eurasian civilizations—China, Iran, Russia—to obstruct, reshape, or possibly overthrow the American-led international order; the future of Taiwan; India’s evolving role in the world; understandings of sustainability; the future of energy; and the promise and challenges facing Africa, a continent rich not only in natural resources but also in a young population.

The conference was modeled around the forecasting enterprise exemplified by the Global Trends Report, an unclassified product of the National Intelligence Council (NIC) published every four years, which is intended to identify major factors and trends that are likely to interact and shape global developments over the next fifteen to twenty years.  Like the Global Trends Report, the conference focused on a wide range of dynamics that encompass a broad understanding of national security and geopolitics. The aim was not to make predictions but to understand the key drivers of change and how leaders could seize opportunities to shape the future.

One key takeaway for the more than thirty participants was the changing nature of power and influence.  Stanford associate professor of bioengineering Drew Endy, for example, explained that the revolution in synthetic biology applications can be implemented “anywhere, any time, by anybody,” rather than only through the monopoly of a centralized authority. The implications of the changing nature of power and influence were singled out as a centerpiece for a follow-up gathering.

The steering committee that organized the conference consisted of Amy Zegart, the Morris Arnold and Nona Jean Cox Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution; Admiral (ret.) James O. Ellis Jr., Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution; and Thomas Fingar, a Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center Fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford and a former chairman of the NIC. Maria Langan-Riekhof, head of the Strategic Futures Group at the NIC, led the delegation of experts from the government.

This conference was a collaboration of the Hoover History Lab with the Stanford Emerging Technology Review.

For more information on the Hoover History Lab, click here.

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