Such surprises are a third reason to take the long view: it can reveal a wealth if intriguing data and ideas. Some of them may be counter-intuitive (such as the notion that by 2050 China’s economy will be growing at a decidedly ordinary rate of around 2.5% a year, or that it could be a time of extensive ecological restoration). Others may seem far-fetched (the likelihood of the discovery of alien life, say, or the rebirth of an extinct species). A few of the ideas are striking for their mind-concentrating boldness: for example, the argument that in scientific terms the future belongs to biology, not chemistry or physics; or that, when it comes to religion, the secular will eventually inherit the Earth.
So the future, as painted here, is likely to be both stimulating and provocative. And varied, too: the book brings together the views of 20 different contributors from The Economist and its extended family, on a range of topics that are grouped together in four broad areas: people and relationships; heaven and earth; economy and business; and knowledge and progress.
With such a variety of voices and themes, you would not expect to find a single view of the future. But the overall impression, unlike much future-gazing, is not doom-laden. Of course, the world faces huge challenges in the coming decades. The difficulties include how to feed over 9 billion people, how to respond to new security threats and how to contain climate change. Yet there are ways to adjust, and this book is far from being a gloomy read. Megachange is something to be embraced, not feared.
Daniel Franklin is the executive editor and business-affairs editor of The Economist, editor of The Economist's annual publication on the year ahead, The World in... .and editor of Megachange.