It's Crystal-Ball Time: Imaging 1995

IN 1995, O.J. Simpson will end his murder trial with a plea bargain that sentences him to prison for five to 15 years.

Congress will pass more significant legislation than at any time since 1965, resulting in fundamental changes in society. President Clinton will sign virtually all bills that reach his desk. Local phone companies will offer Internet access for about $15 a month. International use of the Internet will grow dramatically. (Zambia went on-line a few weeks ago.)

Predictions all. As the year winds down, thoughts turn to the future. Here are some others: In 1996, for the first time, the net population growth of Hispanics in the United States will surpass that of white non-Hispanics, even though Hispanics account for only 10 percent of the US population and whites are 75 percent. High Hispanic birthrates and immigration explain the trend, tracked by the Census Bureau.

Sometime in the future, we may be sitting in chairs that automatically adjust their shape and temperature to accommodate the occupant. The color and texture of walls may be changed quickly to suit our moods.

According to the Trends Research Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y., 1995 signals the beginning of the countdown to the start of the next millennium, a time of societal reevaluation, hope, and agitation - and opportunities to spend money.

``Global fascination with 2000 will give marketers an unprecedented sense of moment for cultural and commercial extravaganzas,'' the institute's Trends Journal advises, noting that at least one global festival is already in the works ``that will make Woodstock '94 look like an IBM picnic.''

The ``global age'' has already begun, says Gerard Celente, editor of the Trends Journal, and in 1995, Americans will feel it at home through international crises, such as the collapse of the Mexican peso, which could lead to dumping cheap Mexican goods in US markets and also exacerbate immigration problems. Wars in the nuclear-armed former Soviet Union could threaten global security.

On the legal front, Georgetown University law professor Paul Rothstein foresees a plea bargain in the Simpson case, because each side is trying to avoid the risk of losing. ``It could come as early as when the judge rules on admissibility of DNA evidence and spousal history,'' says Mr. Rothstein, who is teaching a basic-evidence course this spring around the Simpson trial.

If the defense loses on those issues, Simpson could come away with a 15-year sentence, Rothstein says. If the opposite happens, he could get just five years - and be out in half that time.

IN politics, Republican consultant Eddie Mahe foresees a president who could be reelected ``fairly easily'' if he goes along with the Republican Congress. Senate Republicans will moderate the House Republican agenda and make it more palatable to Mr. Clinton. Liberals will still be critical, but the general public will like the arrangement, Mr. Mahe says.

Colin Powell won't run for president, political analysts predict. Any dark horses? Probably not, but keep an eye on Wisconsin's Republican governor, Tommy Thompson. He's energetic, and word has it he's interested.

And what about those self-adjusting chairs? To make them possible, Prof. Charles Owen and a team of design students at the Illinois Institute of Technology are coming up with hypothetical uses for ``nanoplastics'' - the combination of plastic and microscopic machines, or nanotechnology - in the home.

If nothing else, check out the pictures in the latest issue of Futurist magazine. There's a ``wet island'' that will ``let dishes wash by themselves in a bath of nanoscrubbing detergent. Nanosystems will also purify and recycle the wash water, feeding it to plants elsewhere in the house.''

The World Future Society in Bethesda, Md., which publishes The Futurist, has marked the New Year with its top 10 list of thought-provoking forecasts. One of them may already be a reality for some of us: the demise of three square meals a day. Instead, according to Christopher Wolf, a food futurist in Chicago, we will eat five snacks a day. Their proposed names are ``daystart,'' ``pulsebreak,'' ``humpmunch,'' ``holdmeal,'' and ``evesnack.''

But nutritionists can take heart. Futurists often miss the mark, says Futurist editor Edward Cornish. In 1893, many of the forecasts about 1993 were way off base. Leaders of the day projected that air travel would occur mainly in balloons and airplanes would be powered by batteries. They did, however, foresee income taxes and home air conditioning.

Will we do any better today speculating about 2095? ``We'll probably do worse,'' Mr. Cornish says, ``because things are changing so quickly.''

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