This report is the synthesis of an 18-day crowdsourced simulation where more than 90 Wikistrat analysts from around the world collaboratively proposed Time magazine’s remaining 88 Person of the Year honorees of the 21st century. Usually a person, the honoree can also be an influential group, idea or object.
Time magazine has selected a Person (formerly a Man) of the Year since 1927, who—for better or worse—has done the most to influence the events of that year. U.S. presidents have been selected most often (21 times), along with foreign heads of state, political activists, industrial and technology titans, religious leaders, and even the astronauts. Among the groups selected have been Middle East peacemakers (1993), U.S. whistleblowers (2002), Good Samaritans (2005), “You”—the creators of web content—(2006), and the Protestor (2011). Time also selected objects twice: the Computer (1982) and the Endangered Earth (1988).
Predicting future honorees presented a variety of challenges. Most of those that Wikistrat analysts nominated for the next ten years are people who are already influential players on the world stage. For the years 2025 to 2045, many of the Wikistrat nominations reflected a deep look into the future to imagine the leaders influencing trends that are (just barely) recognizable today. After the year 2045, we reach the period where political analysis meets science fiction—where the imagination runs wild envisioning leaders of technology-driven utopian and dystopian futures.
The following sections represent synopses of some of the compelling entries developed collaboratively by Wikistrat’s community of analysts. The sections are grouped by time period: 2014 to 2024, 2025 to 2045 and 2046 to 2100. They address our analysts’ best thoughts about why the recipient deserved Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” award for that year; how the award would be received; and what the legacy of the awardee’s achievement would be.
The Past as Prologue (2014 to 2024)
Three of Wikistrat’s candidates for the period from 2014 to 2024 are familiar names already with considerable accomplishments. However, our analysts believe that each of these candidates has more to give to the world—positively and negatively—and that their effect on world politics will peak in the future.
2016 Person of the Year: John Kerry
Consider John Kerry, President Obama’s second-term pick for Secretary of State. While there was thought to awarding Kerry earlier than 2016 for his negotiations with Iran, the overwhelming sentiment was that the Iran negotiations would be a prelude to John Kerry overseeing a dramatic realignment of interests in the Middle East, culminating in a seemingly permanent resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue in June 2016.
“This realignment started with Kerry leveraging a diplomatic overture from Iran signaled by the election of Hassan Rouhani in 2013. Kerry’s peripatetic diplomacy then transformed a Middle East characterized by Shi’a-Sunni tensions and imminent conflict between Iran/Syria/Lebanon and the U.S./Israel/Saudi Arabia/GCC over Iran’s nuclear programs. But it was the signing of the Antalya Accord in June 2016 that laid the groundwork for a comprehensive limit on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, which cemented Kerry’s award nomination.
“Kerry’s achievements were well-received at the conclusion of the President Obama’s second term. His successes in the Middle East stood out as rare good news in a region defined by layers of intractable problems, the most recent of which were the disappointing “Arab Spring” revolutions that led to instability without liberalization. However, doubters from Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Sunni world, and American conservatives were skeptical that Iran would live up to the agreements brokered by Kerry.”
As it turned out, the cynics were right and Kerry’s accomplishments did not endure. Much like the aftermath of the Oslo Peace Accords, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict slipped back into a period of high tension and, later, it was found that an economically-healed Iran was enriching uranium at a secret plant, news of which set off a nuclear arms race involving Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, and Israel.
2018 Person of the Year: Vladimir Putin
Wikistrat analysts saw Vladimir Putin as a likely candidate for a second “Person of the Year” award—this time because Russia’s resurgence appeared to not simply be a flash in the pan.
“Vladimir Putin is no stranger to the world stage, but it was not until the end of his third term as Russian President in 2018 that the cumulative influence of his reign over a reviving Russia was felt. For it was in 2018 that Putin accomplished what many considered impossible: thrusting a resurgent Russia front and center into global affairs while ensuring a peaceful transition of power to a selected successor, assuring that he remained the untouchable puppet master behind the curtain. Putin’s efforts to both expand Russian influence while retaining his power turned Putin into the most influential Russian leader since Stalin, an earlier recipient of Time magazine’s award.
“Putin accumulated Russia’s (and his) power by taking advantage of an increasingly isolationist United States, a crisis-ridden European Union with no vision or energy for external affairs, and an emerging but overly cautious China. Consequently, Putin was able to position Russia at the center of almost every major geopolitical conflict. Russia’s newfound confidence was evident in preserving the Alawite government in Syria; mediating tensions between Iran and the Sunni states (and the United States); promoting the Eurasian Union, with notable success in changing the political orientation of Ukraine and Azerbaijan; and garnering economic and political benefits as China’s “stalking horse” in Central Asia and the Middle East.
“Russia’s emergence under Putin was met with mixed feelings. While Western powers would have preferred a more democratic capitalist state, Russia’s reassertion of its geopolitical influence in its near abroad brought a semblance of order and peace to the Caucasus and Central Asia. Both the withdrawn United States and countries of the Europe Union were no longer willing to make the commitment to stabilize those regions. China remained indifferent to Russia’s localized rise as Russia continued to be unable to muster the resources needed to defend or develop its eastern territory.”
Putin’s legacy was also decidedly mixed. While he assured that his influence would continue to be felt for many years by handpicking his puppet successor (who dared not shine the light on the corruption that underlay Putin’s cult of power), Putin was unable to return Russia to the days of imperial greatness. Russia’s economy stagnated under an “extraction and kleptocracy” model, while China’s rise and the United States resilience turned Russia into a second tier power. Russia’s influence waned in rising Asia and only increased along its minor border states.
2021 Person of the Year: Pope Francis
Wikistrat analysts saw Pope Francis making waves throughout his tenure as Bishop of Rome. But it was his decision in 2021 to rescind the marriage ban for priests that culminated an almost decade-long reform movement that saw the Catholic Church’s tarnished reputation restored. By instituting a steady stream of reforms, Francis overcame 50 years of rightward doctrinal drift and embedded criminality to restore the Church to relevancy in the modern world. Further, his modesty and promotion of themes inherent in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount contrasted with the doctrinaire policies of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.
“Francis’ decision to permit married priests was both important and symbolic. Symbolically, it was a logical extension of Francis’ reform efforts. During his first eight years in office, Francis deftly unraveled the Vatican’s illicit financial ties with Italian organized crime and enforced a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse by clergy, leading to the removal of almost 1,000 ordained priests. However, it was Francis’ popular decision in 2021 to reverse the Church’s longstanding policy of celibacy in the priesthood that opened the doors for married priests, signaling a new, nonreversible course for the Catholic Church and the Papacy.
“While Time magazine (with its Western sensibilities) assuredly found Pope Francis’s reform agenda worth of an award, Francis’ work met several types of resistance, foremost from the most doctrinaire corners of the Catholic Church itself. Prior to Francis’ election, the Church’s hierarchy appeared content to live with a smaller, more orthodox community. The Church’s “values voters” on celibacy, abortion and contraception actively opposed Francis’ reform agenda. Protestant churches, which had been picking up steam and adherents throughout Latin America and Asia, found themselves fighting with a reinvigorated Church for the minds and souls of millions. Finally, China (with its problematic relationship with any religion asserting authority over citizens) viewed Francis’ reinvigorated Church as a threat to its government.”
Despite opposition, Francis’ Papacy was well positioned to make lasting achievements in strengthening the Catholic Church. Francis oversaw reforms that helped the Church compete more effectively with evangelical movements (that had been making strong inroads in Catholic communities), resulting in increased participation and attendance in parishes around the world. A half-century decline in Church adherents worldwide was thus reversed.
The Long Play (2025 to 2045)
Among the most interesting “Person of the Year” entries for this middle period were two that addressed long-standing issues that date back to the Second World War. Wikistrat’s analysts envisioned surprise resolutions to each conflict, one through an institution and the other through an audacious citizenry.
2025 Person of the Year: South Korea’s Armed Forces
Wikistrat analysts foresaw the demise of the North Korean dictatorship and the unification of the peninsula in 2025, not as the result of a great power settlement but an intense military engagement that ended 80 years of separation with the demise of the Hermit Kingdom. The surprise denouement to one of the world’s great standoffs and the equally surprising method of resolving the conflict earned South Korean’s Armed Forces the award from Time magazine.
“North Korea’s collapse came as no shock. Its economy existed for years on smuggling, illegal arms trade, drug peddling and counterfeiting. An increasingly fed-up China ceased providing North Korea economic life support by the year 2020. An economically crippled North Korea had little resilience to one of its periodic severe droughts, leaving it with insufficient grain to feed its army. All of these precursors split the Hermit Kingdom’s military leadership into two camps, with the smaller faction rattling a nuclear sabre to forestall imminent collapse and the other side suing for a peaceful accommodation with South Korea.
“At this point, assured that the United States would not take advantage of the chaos to position troops on the Chinese-Korean border, China brokered a deal with South Korea to enable the South’s occupation of a collapsing North. But then, in a move no one not privy to these sensitive talks saw coming, South Korea’s Armed Forces seized the opportunity by force (heavy armaments) and stealth (electronic warfare), defusing North Korea’s nuclear threat, establishing order and providing humanitarian assistance. In just under two weeks of intense military activity, South Korea’s Armed Forces amazed the world by settling one of the world’s most contentious disputes since 1945.
“The world reacted with relief to the demise of the Hermit Kingdom and was grateful that the conflict resulted in little damage outside the borders of the Korean Peninsula. Perhaps only Pakistan and Iran felt the loss of an ally that could provide illicit arms and drugs. But even China was relieved that North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling no longer impeded its more expansionist foreign policy within Asia; it was doubly relieved that South Korea assumed responsibility for the fate of deprived North Koreans, sealing the borders and preventing a refugee crisis from spreading to China.”
The quick and unexpected denouement through military force left an interesting legacy: that the surgical use of a lightening fast, coordinated military invasion could be both effective and a long-term force for good. The earlier United States invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq belied this conclusion. Most considered the Korean engagement as sui generis, a one-off event that succeeded because the “victim” was a loathsome, isolated and crippled regime and because all of the major stakeholders (China, the United States and South Korea) were able to reach a broad understanding before operations commenced. Several years later, when faced with its own perceived rebellion in Taiwan, China concluded that it could not accomplish in Taiwan what the South Korean Armed Forces did in North Korea.
2031 People of the Year: Citizens of Taiwan
Wikistrat analysts also foresee the resolution of Asia’s other flashpoint, Taiwan, six years after the reunification of Korea. But instead of coming at the hands of a lightening quick invasion, Taiwan’s legal status was resolved by the persistence and audacity of its native citizens who, in the year 2031, pulled off what was deemed nearly impossible: legal and internationally recognized independence from China (without firing a shot).
“The people of Taiwan have sought to control the destiny of their country since the conclusion of World War II brought the end to Japanese occupation. However, the Kuomintang’s control of Taiwan postponed the island’s political status for nearly a century and therefore, the world was surprised when the Democratic Progressive Party–led government of Taiwan called a national referendum and the people of Taiwan voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new constitution establishing the first Taiwanese Republic. Even more surprising was China’s failure to forcefully intervene. Perhaps this represented a newfound confidence that China could deal with neighbors diplomatically from strength rather than belligerently from weakness.
“The courage of Taiwan’s native population to stand up to the People’s Republic of China (and its own Kuomintang residents) was noted by other Asian nations in dispute with China—a long list including Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Burma. From Deng Xiaoping to modern times, the rise of China had been viewed as inexorable. While consolidating power in Tibet and Xinjiang, exercising suzerainty in Laos and Cambodia, and locking up disputed offshore resources in the South China Sea, China’s rise was slow but barely contained by the ASEAN nations backed by the U.S. Navy. However, as a rising power on the world stage with far-flung interests, China actions ended up being increasingly constrained by worldwide public opinion. If Taiwan could reach independence nonviolently, then other countries may be able to withstand China’s attempts at suzerainty as well.”
Envisioning the Future (2046 to 2100)
Wikistrat analysts generated a number of interesting “Person of the Year” scenarios for the future. Major touchstones were the exploration of space and the impact of technology. In some cases the future was bright; in others, the future resembled the film Blade Runner. Two of the most interesting scenarios dealt (in diametrically opposed ways) with the advance of technology on the future, offering a dystopian and qualified utopian peak into the end of the 21st century.
2099 Person of the Year: Laktor, Brotherhood of the Dispossessed
Laktor, the charismatic leader of the Brotherhood of the Dispossessed, characterized a dystopian scenario posited by Wikistrat analysts. Laktor came to prominence in a world whose leaders failed to address the excesses of globalization. Dwindling resources, an aggravated environment, automation-induced employment, and a progressive movement that failed to address historic levels in income disparity characterized the economy of the second-to-last year of the 21st century.
“Amidst the hopelessness, despair and pervasive gloom of the year 2099, doomsday cult leaders took center stage, none more charismatically than Laktor, whose cult was devoted to violent resistance and passive-aggressive ritual suicide for the most fanatic of its branches. Doomsday cults moved from fringe to legitimate social action after the ‘No Future Immolation’ of July 2098 left 1,245 despondent seniors dead from suicide on the front steps of the omnipotent Kerk Corporation in New York City. This is when Laktor leveraged this somber environment to build a cult of personality. In just a few months of clever activism, he reached a high level of popularity by preaching to the masses via encrypted messages. Laktor came to world attention after his successful hack of ‘Great N’ (the network of networks) enabled him to spread his populist appeal to billions. His power peaked on July first of that year when the kidnapping, confession and execution of the CEO of Kerk Corp. kept the world glued to media for a week.
“The global reaction to Laktor recalled the mixed reaction to Buddhist self-immolations common during the Vietnam War and Tibetan resistance to Chinese occupation. While his means were considered excessive, he garnered sympathy for a cause that lacked sufficient support for decades. However, Laktor’s call for despair (rather than action) resulted in just and only that—public witness to the destruction of a socially just society, but no political movement to correct society’s ills.”
Laktor’s action presaged a multitude of apocalyptic collective suicides as a witness to despair, actions which continued for years, often in Laktor’s name. No one knows where (or even if) Laktor lived or whether he was real, imagined or a conjured corporate brand. Either as a hero or villain, no individual symbolized the Armageddon-like despair of the present day and coming century more than Laktor.
2100 Person of the Year: Robo-Bob (The First Humanoid Robot President)
Wikistrat analysts also described a rosier future by envisioning the coming of Robo-Bob, the incarnation of an overarching intelligence network connecting every U.S. citizen. Robo-Bob represents the achievement of trends we can see today—robotics, artificial intelligence, big data, and networks—culminating in a solution for a problem wrestled with by America’s Founding Fathers and Classical Greeks: how to enact a democracy that more accurately reflects the will of its citizens.
“Three hundred and eleven years after the American Constitution was ratified, representative democracy made way for direct democracy in the form of Robo-Bob, a machine that reflects the collective will of the American public—and the culmination of a decade-long research project to more accurately determine the will of the American people. Under the Robo-Bob system, citizens provide data about their political preferences through various networks and devices. In turn, big data centers optimize the resulting political decisions for the greater good through validated economic and value algorithms. Rather than relying on polls and advisors, the President of the United States now relies on nearly perfect information provided by Robo-Bob to execute the administrative and political functions enumerated under the Constitution.
“Robo-Bob and the collective intelligence this technology represented was a revolution in governance as important as any in history. Societal norms changed as individuality became a weakness and collective action a strength. Although treated in the United States as proprietary, similar technology was soon being tested for establishing international rules, regulations, and laws. There is little doubt that the advanced world democracies would transition to similar systems as soon as possible.
“A long time in the making, Robo-Bob engendered remarkably little controversy when it became the primary advisory tool to the President in January 2100. Representative democracy, along with its rent-seeking practitioners, had long fallen out of favor and elements of direct democracy had been experimented with for decades. Furthermore, society had changed. The rugged individualism that was characteristic of American society (for real or in legend) had long since given way to networks and collective intelligence. Those die were cast in the infancy of the internet age.”
In this simulation, it was interesting to find that the most optimistic period, as predicted by Wikistrat analysts, occurs from 2025 to 2045. That is the timeframe when longstanding conflicts between North and South Korea and China and Taiwan are resolved to most everyone’s satisfaction. Great powers manage to sidestep their own long-standing conflicts. No great power wars are predicted and no great calamities await earth.
In contrast, the coming 20 years from 2014 to 2024 appear to be more troublesome. The U.S. Secretary of State retires after a peripatetic term of office results in a reordered Middle East, only to see his interlocutors renege on treaties and order return to chaos. As American power wanes, a clever Vladimir Putin maneuvers Russia back into the center of realpolitik. Russia may not have much to offer but Putin cynically manages to collect his “ten percent” on every transaction. About the only good news comes from the Holy See, where Pope Francis’ reform agenda takes hold among the clergy and flock, realigning the Church with Jesus and against the embezzlers and pedophiles that polluted the brand.
And what of the world we leave to our grandchildren? For one, we struggle to live with machine intelligence. We not only merge with intelligent machines but we grant rights to them—or at least determine what set of rights to offer them. We also put great faith in technology to make better decisions for us, going so far as to network our collective wisdom into a mechanical advisor that optimizes our governance. Is direct democracy advanced democracy? Or are humans merely finally realizing the limits of free will and the logic of collective action? Are we humans, androids, or merely bees exhibiting superior intelligence through networked colonization? It is too soon to tell.
And what of the future? Will the inequities of globalization proceed apace to the point, as posited in 2099, of an apocalyptic world where there is no loyalty or voice, only exit? The future painted by this exercise may not be one worth waiting for, but if the preceding years go as well as envisioned, perhaps we can alter the fate of our grandchildren’s world.
Compiled by Jeffrey Itell, Senior Wikistrat Analyst. Edited by Steve Keller.