21st Century

Charlie Stross has a go at predicting the future in his 21st Century FAQ:

Q: Space colonization?

A: Forget it.

Assuming we avoid a systemic collapse, there’ll probably be a moon base, by and by. Whether it’s American, Chinese, Indian, or Indonesian is anybody’s guess, and probably doesn’t matter as far as the 99.999% of the human species who will never get off the planet are concerned. There’ll probably be a Mars expedition too. But barring fundamental biomedical breakthroughs, or physics/engineering breakthroughs that play hell with the laws of physics as currently understood, canned monkeys aren’t going to Jupiter any time soon, never mind colonizing the universe. (See also Saturn’s Children for a somewhat snarky look at this.)

Q: The Singularity?
A: Forget it.

The rapture of the nerds, like space colonization, is likely to be a non-participatory event for 99.999% of humanity – unless we’re very unlucky. If it happens and it’s interested in us, all our plans go out the window. If it doesn’t happen, sitting around waiting for the AIs to save us from the rising sea level/oil shortage/intelligent bioengineered termites looks like being a Real Bad Idea. The best approach to the singularity is to apply Pascal’s Wager – in reverse – and plan on the assumption that it ain’t going to happen, much less save us from ourselves.

Q: Politics? Which of (Socialism | Capitalism | Libertarianism | Fascism | Democracy) is going to save us?
A: Probably none of the above.

These are all political ideologies that emerged out of the Westphalian settlement and the subsequent European Enlightenment. This settlement was typified by the ascendancy of the nation state as an atomic administrative entity with relatively non-porous boundaries and legal and trade systems. We seem (at present) to be moving towards a much more globalized, diffused model of sovereignty and legal systems. Currently 70% of primary legislation in the UK originates in the EU (via the European Parliament, European Commission, or Council of Ministers); even in the USA, a country noteworthy for its sense of exclusive legislative independence, a surprisingly high proportion of US federal law originates as a result of WTO treaty processes. Autarky is already difficult to achieve and maintain without extreme privation, as witness the state of North Korea (deliberately isolationist and self-sufficient) or Zimbabwe (wilting under international trade sanctions.

We’re still waiting for the definitive ideological polarity of the internet era to emerge, although Bruce Schneier has opined that the key political hot potato of the 21st century will be the question, "how do we maintain the concept of privacy in an age of ubiquitous communications and surveillance", and some believe that privacy is already dead. Given the way Moore’s Law is taking us towards an essentially unlimited ability to record everything, I’m not able to argue with the inevitability of surveillance: what I’d dispute is the morality of it.)

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