Forecasting the future: The U.S. and China

A glimpse of the future from inside a place relatively unknown, until now. 

9NEWS at 9 p.m. 11/4/16.

KUSA - At the Denver Language School, a second language is second nature for a classroom of fifth graders -- and that language is Mandarin Chinese.

From Kindergarten through 8th grade, students there are fully immersed in either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese. Every single subject, save for English class, is taught in that second language.

RELATED: Denver school immerses students in Mandarin Chinese

"What we do is we teach all the same, common core curriculum as any other school in Colorado, but we do all of our content in another language," said Denver Language School Principal Kathy Benzel.

Sidnee Beaufort enrolled in the school at an early age and is now in 8th grade. She can speak Mandarin and read a novel in it, too.

"It really definitely helps when you start at a younger age because from then on you kind of just catch on with everything," she said.

Sidnee said she understands it's a valuable language skill to have.

"It can do a lot for my future," she said.

It’s a future where China becomes even more powerful than it is now. That’s where the Pardee Center for International Futures comes in.

"We would describe what we do as forecasting," said Jonathan Moyer, director of the Pardee Center, which is at the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. "We tend to work with governments and big international organizations. We do a lot of work with the U.S. government, across different sectors of the U.S. government. So, it's a lot of clients with different interests."

One thing they're all interested in, though, is the future.

"We can know things about the future," Moyer said.

The center's origins date back to 1980, with the development of something called the IF Model. IF stands for “International Futures.” It is a unique tool, which relies on computers and uses hundreds of millions of available data points to create a forecast of a possible future.

"A model is a representation of reality. A model is saying that the world seems to look like this and let's put numbers to represent how the world seems to look and let's explore that as it unfolds across time," Moyer said.

About 80 researchers and graduate students work at the Pardee Center. With laptops at the ready, they calculate and analyze information, which helps forecast global trends in things like the economy, education, malnutrition and even potential places of conflict.

One model developed there took a look at the U.S. and China and their share of power in the world.

"There's policy interest in understanding when China may have more material and institutional capabilities than the United States, for example – which some people talk about as being more powerful than the United States," Moyer said.

What the model projects is that China will become just as powerful as the U.S. by the year 2030 -- just 14 years from now. It also shows what might happen beyond that year, potentially surpassing the U.S. as the world superpower.

"Our model would suggest there's a very high probability that China will have more institutional and material capabilities than the United States over the next 20 years," Moyer said.

More institutional and material capabilities include things like economic output, military strength and technological development.

"So, that has significant implications for how the world works," Moyer said. "It's a different world. The U.S. has a different ability to affect systems and change."

The question is: what does all the mean for future generations of Americans?

"We've created a number of alternative scenarios that explores uncertainties in things that could impact the rise of China. So, whether the United States can simply spend more on its economy or simply spend more on its military or spend more on research and development of technology – or whether the United States can simply outgrow the rise of China,” Moyer said. "I think the most likely scenario is that China rises and the U.S. and China have a competitive relationship moving forward and increasingly parse out these separate spheres of influence."

They are spheres of influence, which the students at the Denver Language School might encounter on their own paths forward -- and perhaps, along the nation's path, too.

"One idea I've always had was to be a translator of some sort," Sidnee said.

The Pardee Center was founded on the idea of transparency. All of their information is open-sourced and you can see their models for yourself.

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