I thought of one more quibble - the era that George thinks we are returning to, smaller groups centered around a central instructor, didn't work all that well the first time, as I remember things...
What I see is the return to that type of structure but with the difference that these organizations or associations will interact more, encourage more cross training, and I hope, being smaller, will encourage a higher quality standard than large organizations have been able to do.
The main reason I see this as the future is that the very people who will likely be heading up these groups are already starting to do what I am talking about. You see more and more events in which very senior teachers from different existing organizations are teaching together and in the process sharing what they have been doing. Increasingly, you see major teachers at the 6th and 7th Dan levels completely re-tooling their own training. While I think that most existing organizations are not fertile ground for radically altering how Aikido training is conceived, those senior individuals who are currently doing so will almost certainly decide to go their own way at some point in the future, if for no there reason than to be able to pass on their new knowledge to their students which will require re-doing the "requirements" used for periodic testing.
While I am sympathetic to Chris's desire to rid ourselves of a ranking system that doesn't really mean much, I do not see large scale abandonment of tests and ranking. In general most people want to feel as if they are progressing towards something. Arts such as the various Koryu or Systema which do not have ranks but simply have certain levels of instructor certification are generally very small communities with nothing like the total numbers doing Aikido. I think any dojo deciding going that direction will necessarily be small. Nothing wrong with that but many dojos simply will not choose that option. Personally, I doubt that I could keep my doors open with the number of students that I've have if we went that direction. Various experiments with pass fail or no grades at all back in the 60's and 70's found the same thing... people wanted a measuring stick.
I also think that grades offer at least one measuring stick that potential new students look for, whether or not they mean what they are purported to mean. Hence the focus on bogus grades and titles on the part of less scrupulous folks running schools. They do it because it does draw students who, at that point in their training, don't know any better.
And frankly, I find that testing for ranks is a strong motivating factor for people who train on a regular basis to kick their training up a notch or two periodically. We have a tradition of fairly strong tests at my dojo and no one wants to be the one who goes out in front of Sensei and the other guests at a seminar not looking like their test was up to that standard. It isn't about passing the test or the rank per se, it's meeting a "perceived standard" that is somewhat unique to our dojo.
So, I can't see ranking going away and I am not sure I'd want it to. By the time folks have been around for a number of years, they have enough experience to know that rank alone doesn't mean much. Once again, it comes down to rank from whom? If yo know the teacher, you have a decent idea what that rank means. If you aren't familiar with the teacher in question, you really don't know what the rank means.