16 Words and Phrases Describing Humanity’s Future

Originally published on Tech Insider |

My Favorite Buzzwords for the Future

I began to take an interest in wordplay as a teenager while learning German, a language with a small root vocabulary but endless possibilities for constructing compound nouns. The British media leads the way in under-handed commentaries on this German linguistic trait (see http://theweek.com/articles/463500/8-favorite-ridiculously-long-german-words and http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2010/06/counting_words). My own favorite German coinage is Schicksalszwanghaftigkeitsfatalismus – feel free to send me your attempted translation of that mouthful.

Here are some of the neologism buzzwords I’ve developed in recent years to help capture our complex future.


After the 9/11 terrorist attacks and US invasion of Afghanistan, “public diplomacy” took center stage as US government agencies sought to ramp up communications with foreign populations aimed at “winning hearts and minds.” New forms of diplomatic intercourse beyond inter-governmental interactions thus gained prominence in the context of major geopolitical issues. I coined “Geodiplomacy” as a way to represent this convergence or duality of geopolitics and diplomacy. I presented a brief essay on the term an OECD conference in 2002 in Paris, and published an essay on the need for America to adapt to the new context of Geodiplomacy in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs (http://paragkhanna.com/america-in-the-age-of-geodiplomacy/) in 2003. This became the foundation for the “mega-diplomacy” concept featured in How to Run the World (see below).


In the early 2000s I began writing about diasporas and coined “Bollystan” to refer to the global Indian/South Asian community. “Bolly-” of course refers to the boundary spanning appeal of Bombay’s film industry, and “-stan” is the Farsi suffix meaning “place.” Versions of the argument appeared in The Globalist (http://www.theglobalist.com/bollystan-the-global-india/), Esquire (http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a4947/indian-diaspora-1008/ (including a map:

http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a5060/bollystan-map-1008/), and as a working paper on the linkage between diasporas and diplomacy published by the UK Foreign Policy Centre (http://paragkhanna.com/bollystan-indias-diasporic-diplomacy/). I also spoke about on Big Think (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ypNaKhTU1Q), and it has been referred to by Ozy (http://www.ozy.com/c-notes/parag-khanna-the-globalization-geek/30412), Quartz (http://qz.com/181481/the-new-smithsonian-exhibit-on-indian-americans-is-great-if-only-it-were-1985/), Radar (http://radaronline.com/exclusives/2008/10/parag-khanna-is-the-most-important-person-on-the-planet-php/), and other media.

Second World

While the terms “first world” and “third world” have roots in macro-analysis of global capitalism, the “second world” emerged during the Cold War to represent socialist countries aligned with the Soviet Union. The first world thus became Western nations of the NATO alliance, while the third world meant poor, non-aligned countries. My first book, The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order (Random House, 2008) (http://paragkhanna.com/second-world-reviews/), revived the term that had disappeared from usage shortly after the Soviet collapse, renewing both its geopolitical and economic attributes. Geopolitically, I used it to refer to strategic swing states such as Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Indonesia, all of which cleverly play off the diplomatic overtures and encroachment of superpowers such as the US and China (see “multi-alignment” below). Economically, I referred to an even broader swath of countries (including the above) that feature both first (developed) and third (under-developed) world characteristics at the same time. The Second World was serialized as a cover essay of the New York Times Magazine (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/magazine/27world-t.html?_r=0) and translated into about twenty languages.


Centuries of European history, as well as the global maneuverings of World War II and the Cold War, featured rigid alignments along geopolitical or ideological lines. My research for The Second World yielded a far more prominent pattern emerging in the post-Cold War era, namely “multi-alignment.” With ideological rigidities falling away and a new multipolar order taking shape, emerging powers are acting far more promiscuously in their relations with superpowers, shrewdly attempting to maximize their benefits from each one without committing to formal alliances. “Multi-alignment” reflects a far more positional system in which every country sees itself—rather than the US or China—as the center and acts accordingly. Not only do all second world countries attempt multi-alignment, but even the dozens of “third world” countries formerly calling themselves non-aligned are evolving towards strategies of multi-alignment to uplift themselves from the conditions of poverty and neglect. After the publication of The Second World, I wrote about multi-alignment in essays for Foreign Policy (http://foreignpolicy.com/2010/11/28/hows-that-new-world-order-working-out/) and The American Interest (http://www.the-american-interest.com/2014/06/16/a-world-reimagined/).


My doctoral thesis at the LSE was an anatomy of the emerging multi-stakeholder diplomatic system in which non-state groups increasingly serve as anchors of global governance processes. My second book How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance (http://paragkhanna.com/how-to-run-the-world/) (Random House, 2011) was based on this research and could very well have been titled “Mega-Diplomacy.” The book and the term suggest that the traditional inter-state diplomatic paradigm is evolving into a mega-diplomacy that involves collaboration among governments, cities, companies, NGOs and other actors. I argued that there are three rules of successful mega-diplomacy: Inclusiveness (representation of this diverse set of actors), mutual accountability (among the participants), and subsidiarity (directing resources to those closest to the problem). I applied this logic to global challenges ranging from terrorism to poverty to climate change. Adapted essays from the book were published in The Wall Street Journal (http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/01/24/davos-congress-of-the-new-middle-ages/) and TIME (http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2043401,00.html).

Diplomatic-Industrial Complex

In How to Run the World I also sought to apply mega-diplomacy to improving the conduct of American foreign policy. In a play on President Eisenhower’s famous admonition about the rise of a “military-industrial complex,” I coined “diplomatic-industrial complex” to refer to the need for the government to leverage a wide range of national resources such as companies and civil society to make foreign policy more effective. No country has a deeper bench of international actors like universities, diasporas, sports teams, city-level trade offices and more. Many in Washington continue to advocate for a “whole of government” approach—meaning more inter-agency coordination. This is indeed essential but still falls well short of what should be a “whole of society” foreign policy. (Brief article on the subject from The Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/parag-khanna/america-needs-a-diplomati_b_803646.html.)


In the e-book Hybrid Reality (http://paragkhanna.com/hybrid-reality-project/) (TED Books, 2012) co-authored with my wife Ayesha, we proposed that “Geotechnology” take its place in the lexicon alongside the centuries-old field of geopolitics and the post-cold war term “geo-economics.” Indeed, geotechnology can be seen as prior to geopolitics in that, as we argued, it is “the balance of innovation that shapes the balance of power.” China’s 12th 5-Year Plan embodies a strategic approach to geotechnology by allocating resources to specific advanced industrial sectors from alternative energy to robotics. Marc Goodman and I applied geotechnology to inter-state competition in an essay for The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org/article/the-power-moores-law-world-geotechnology-7888?page=show). Subsequently, I guest edited a special issue of the academic journal Global Policy (http://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/journal-issue/vol-5-issue-1-february-2014) devoted to examining geotechnology from the perspectives of trade, energy, life sciences and other perspectives.


If geotechnology represents the competitive “balance of innovation” across countries, then “Technik” refers to the technological standards within them. Technik is a German word that denotes not only technologies themselves but also the skills and processes surrounding them. Philosopher Martin Heidegger’s 1954 essay Die Frage nach der Technik continues to be widely read attempt to contextualize man’s relationship with technology. Audi’s motto continues to be “Vorsprung durch Technik.” In Hybrid Reality, we reconstruct Technik as something of an index of national technological preparedness, with some surprising results. A brief essay in Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2012/06/which-nation-has-the-best-tech) discusses some of the key contributors to improving Technik.

Technology Quotient (TQ)

Moving on from the inter-state level of geotechnology and the national level of Technik, in Hybrid Reality we also introduced the neologism Technology Quotient (TQ) to emphasize the importance of an individual’s functional aptitude with new technologies alongside the traditional measurement of IQ (intelligence quotient) and the more recent term EQ (emotional quotient). We urge everyday citizens and educational institutions to promote TQ as much as the others. To get people thinking about whether they have sufficient TQ, we developed a little quiz for Pando Daily (https://pando.com/2012/06/13/a-quiz-from-the-future-are-you-prepared-for-the-hybrid-age/).

Pax Technologica

Since neither Pax Romana, Pax Brittannica nor Pax Americana were particularly peaceful periods, Hybrid Reality argues that a Pax Technologica would be a more desirable successor era of world history. After all, technologies are bringing us the solutions to energy security, fresh water, improved food supplies and nutrition, and many other global challenges. Enough investment in such technologies could itself bring about the end of competition over them, as we argued in The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/06/how-technology-promotes-world-peace/258400/). Stanford historian Ian Morris concludes his book War! What is it good for? (http://www.amazon.com/War-What-Good-For-Civilization/dp/0374286000) with a meditation that includes Pax Technologica.


The first diplomatic records etched into stone tablets more than five thousand years ago recorded the commercial interactions between city-states of ancient Mesopotamia. The return to prominence of diplomacy among cities—what I call “diplomacity”—is thus fully consistent with history, while the past two centuries of inter-state dominance of diplomatic practice is rather the exception to the rule. Some of the many layers of diplomacity are sketched out in an interactive infographic essay/interview prepared for Urban Hub (http://www.urban-hub.com/people/diplomacity-and-the-role-of-cities-in-a-globalized-world-2/). Oxford’s Michele Acuto and I discuss the growing prominent of mayors in the conduct of diplomacity—and in taking on higher office with growing frequency—in this essay for The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/04/around-the-world-mayors-take-charge/275335/).


Each era features a leading archetype of governance to suit the prevailing conditions and demands of the times. In 1941, American political scientist Harold Laswell emphasized the rise of politico-military elites (such as in imperial Japan) that shaped the ideology of “garrison states”. In 1996, Richard Rosecrance forecasted a transition towards “virtual states” that downsized geography and outsourced production while investing more in human and portfolio capital than territory. Building on this emphasis on the economic over the political, Philip Bobbit’s Shield of Achilles (2003) traced the advent of the “market state” era in which the maximization of individual commercial opportunity defines power and success. I argue that the ideal-type regime for the Information Age should logically be called the “Info-State,” a mix of democracy and technocracy centered on the city-level of governance and striving to offer the balance between security and connectedness 21st century citizens seek. A 2013 column in Global Brief fleshed out major aspects of the info-state with case studies and examples (http://globalbrief.ca/blog/2013/03/05/rise-of-the-info-states/).


I wanted to coin this term, but it had already been claimed by an international real estate price calculator catering to the thousands of expatriates who join the global migratory horde each year. Today more than 300 million people live outside their country of origin, a larger absolute number and percentage of the world population than ever in history. A record 9 million Americans also now live outside the United States. Many of these migrants are not just two-way expats but “perma-pats” who may never return “home” but continue to move from place to place over the course of their careers. In the spirit of “Bollystan,” Expatistan is not a physical place but also an emergent state of mind that many expats share as they come to relate more to each other despite nationality than to the fellow citizens. A growing literature caters to expats such as the Wall Street Journal expat blog (http://blogs.wsj.com/expat/).

Global strategic thought

Grand strategy is a distinguished intellectual and academic tradition rooted in national military and diplomatic doctrines, while global governance is a newer field largely devoted to international institutions. In between lies the need to reconcile divergent grand strategies into a holistic vision that creates the context for stable global governance to emerge. Global strategic thought is this essential new approach. Inspired by academic initiatives such as Columbia University’s Committee on Global Thought, I seek to build a Network on Global Strategy Thought (NGST) to promote this sustainable geopolitical equilibrium. (www.globalstrategicthought.net)


Connectivity + Geography = Connectography. A neologism is born—and explained in the third volume of my trilogy on world order, Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization (http://www.connectography.net/) (published by Penguin Random House in April 2016). One of the oldest adages students learn is “Geography is destiny.” Yet the massive deployment of global transportation, energy and communications infrastructure linking the world’s cities into a global urban network civilization necessitates a revision of the antiquated assumptions that man is a prisoner to geographic constraints. Instead, I believe the future has a new maxim: “Connectivity is destiny.”

Pax Urbanica

As cities become ever more the central nodes of authority in the global political and economic system, they change the behavior of states in more peaceful directions. As I argue in Connectography, 21st century world dominated by coastal mega-cities may be more interested in trade and market access than territorial conquest. Even among rival states, war becomes more like tug-of-war over supply chain control rather than traditional geopolitical interests. If leading cities on all continents maintained commercially focused (even if highly competitive) relations, their diplomatic leadership could sustain an era of global peace among cities: Pax Urbanica.

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