Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Thursday opened a three-day summit of renown politicians, scientists and visionaries who have been asked to interpret global trends and predict how they will affect the world and Kazakhstan's place in it.

"The world is changing at an incredible speed, once again it stands at the fork. Where it turns depends on what humanity expects: an era of prosperity or a period of stagnation," Nazarbayev said in a welcoming speech at the start of the XI Astana Economic Forum (AEF) Global Challenges Summit.

Some 450 politicians, scientists, economists, journalists and other professionals from 24 nations are slated to speak at nearly 100 panel sessions and roundtables on Thursday and Friday and then huddle for closed-door talks on Saturday.

Speakers include Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Former French President Francois Hollande,former Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon, Physicist and Futurist Michio Kaku and the former Chief Economist Goldman Sachs and creator of the BRICS acronym, Jim O'Neil.

Nearly 5,000 delegates from 80 countries have signed up to hear scores of the world's top thinkers and professional elite debate global economic tendencies in the hope of coming up with a roadmap to sustainable development.

Eleven global themes are up for discussion at the forum: Unified Economy, Global Strategy, Urbanization, Sustainability, Clean Energy, Singularity, Digital World, Future of Money, Global Security, A New Mankind and Longevity.

AEF organizers said the Global Challenges Summit is to become a key element of the Central Asian nation's strategic decision-making process for the years to come.

Gatherings like the AEF are part of Nazarbayev's elaborate 2050 strategy, which is a blueprint to place the country among the world's top 30 economies by the middle of the century.

Kazakh authorities say that the country would have to maintain a steady GDP growth rate of around 5.0 percent to reach that goal.

Realizing that the country cannot rely solely on the sale of its massive oil, gas and mineral reserves to get there, a new course of action was set.

That includes, among other measures, a more diversified economy, privatization, democratic reforms, a downstream energy sector, enhanced crop management, and the recent creation of the Astana International Financial Center with special legal and regulatory framework based on English common law.

Kazakhstan also adheres to a multi-vector diplomacy policy, which has allowed it to cultivate good relations with countries and blocs in the East, West, North and South.

And the former Soviet republic has done so while insisting that it remain a sovereign entity, as it has shown by its voting record on the UN Security Council.

But the world's 9th largest country of just barely 18 million people will need all the pieces of the puzzle to fall in place to make the 2050 Strategy a success.

And so events like the AEF Global Challenges Summit allows Kazakhstan to cull from the world's success stories and visionaries the knowledge and experience it needs to make sure none of those pieces get lost along the way.

By James Russo.