Contemplate for a moment a world in which new methods of mass destruction from climatological weapons to means of mind-control emerge, in which society is cashless and checkless, relying on ever expanding credit, in which robots affect employe morale, and individual homes produce their energy with photovoltaic solar cells.
This glimpse of the future is contained in a report released yesterday by the Congressional Clearinghouse on the Future, a group of 75 House members who gather periodically to discuss long-range planning.
"The unprecedented and accelerating pace of change constitutes an awesome challenge to representative democracy," said Clearinghouse chairman Rep. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.), in releasing the 202-page document.
"There are powerful institutional incentives in the Congress to adopt a short-term horizon: the budget cycle, the end of the fiscal year, the next election. Our daily schedules are so cram-packed with meetings on one short-term problem after another, we scarcely have time to even consider the long-term future."
Noting that as far as Congress is concerned "the entire world, and outer space, too, for that matter, is broken down into the different jurisdictions of the roughly 200 House subcommittees," Gore said that the clearinghouse had asked each subcommittee to describe the issues expected to emerge during the rest of the century.
The result, entitled "Future Agenda," is an eclectic laundry list of well-known, yet-to-be resolved problems such as world hunger, refugees, acid rain and unequal pay for female workers, and some less familiar, even tantalizing and occasionally disturbing trends.
In the military arena the report predicts that a decline in the number of draft-age youths may require a return to compulsory military service. More women will move into the services and are particularly suited to the Air Force, which has fewer combat positions, the report contended.
"There is some speculation that the distant future may bring totally new weapons of broad-scale destruction," the report said. "These weapons might include climatological weapons, new electronic devices such as high-energy, directed beams and mind control mechanisms," as well as microwave weapons that employ such technologies as "force fields."
Meanwhile, the 1967 treaty prohibiting weapons of mass destruction in outer space does not control a new generation of "satellite-killers" designed to knock out military communications systems. "There may be efforts to control the development of such weapons," the report noted.
In telecommunications, Congress should assess the impact of the French government's aggressive move toward a large-scale transfer of microchip technology to developing nations, the report said.
Third World nations are competing for satellite frequencies with industrialized countries that use many of these frequencies for military telecommunications.
Raising the possiblity of a "checkless/cashless society," the report said that future consumers may be able to "draw cash on demand anywhere in the nation or forgo cash altogether as they shop from their living rooms, using new communications technologies . . . . The ability of the credit companies to affect consumer purchases could become profound . . . Electronic funds transfers . . . will continue to grow . . . . Potentials exist for invasion of personal privacy and for computer crime."
In education, the report noted pressure for a national testing program for elementary and secondary students, based upon minimum standards for all American students.
The influx of women into the work force, it said, is prompting legislative interest in alternative patterns of work, including part-time employment, flexible and compressed scheduling, work-sharing and a reduction in the work week.
The report predicted possible trade wars between nations as protectionism increases. Domestically, it said, the railroad industry could be nearly extinct by the end of the century.
Congress also is looking into ways to stimulate research and competition in the stagnant pharmaceutical industry, which produced major breakthroughs in the past in antibiotics, steriods and psychotropics.