The Future Will Be Unpredictable
If you want to stay on safe ground, you can always predict that the future will be unpredictable.
Admittedly, in a purely theoretical sense, the future is not unpredictable: the number of possible permutations is vast, but not infinite. So if you had, hypothetically, a powerful enough computer, and could load it up with data about absolutely everything that is happening or has ever happened, you might conceivably get that hypothetical computer to generate some solid predictions, with numerical probabilities attached.
This, however, is not a feasible proposition. Literature buffs may recall Jorge Luis Borges's short story, "On Exactitude in Science," about a map built on a one-to-one scale: "[T]he Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it... [But].... The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless."
For us humans -- with our cognitive biases, limited information, and limited processing power -- it will always be impossible to reliably predict the longer-term future, and all the more so as the complexity of our global ecosystem grows. All we can predict with confidence is that the future will -- probably -- be full of surprises.
Get Over It
But as I said, so what? Contrary to popular belief, predicting unpredictability has real value. The NIC's Global Trends Report is still valuable, because it reminds us of two important things: first, that there's a tremendous amount we don't know about what's going to happen in the future, and second, that the unknowable future will nevertheless be shaped by the choices we make in the present.
This isn't chopped liver. On the contrary: this information has logical and distinct implications for us as we make choices in the present.
Contrast the implications of concrete future predictions with the implications of predicting numerous possible alternative futures. If we have a concrete future prediction -- say, for instance, "a resurgent Russia will pose the greatest long-term threat to the United States" -- we will naturally focus our energies on preventing and preparing for possible conflict with the Russians. Like all choices, this will have opportunity costs: if we calibrate our investments and actions based on our knowledge of Russian capabilities, we won't be able to prepare fully for various other potential threats.
If our predictions about Russia are correct, this doesn't matter. But what if our predictions about Russia are wrong, as future predictions tend to be, more often than not? What if, say, China turns out to be the real threat, or a Latin American dictator acquires and threatens to use nuclear weapons, or, for that matter, the earth is invaded by space aliens? Well...we'll be in trouble. We'll have spent decades preparing for one thing, and it will be hard to pivot to face another. Path-dependency is a natural human tendency, and it's magnified by bureaucracy.
But let's say we accept the deeper message of the NIC's latest Global Trends Report, which I take to be this: there are many plausible alternative futures, and right now we can't really say which is most likely. We can't say which is most likely, in part, because all sorts of things are unknowable or beyond our control, and in part because life is like one of those "choose your own adventure" books -- our decisions will contribute to shaping the future. This has concrete implications for what we should do now.