Ah the freshness of a new year

Seriously. 2008. How the hell did this happen? It’s not supposed to be 2008 yet? Where are the flying cars? Where’s the moon base? And where is my household robot?

When I was a kid I used to hang out at the local library. Don’t do it kids, books are worse than drugs. Well, ok probably not but they’re pretty bad. You get a lot of really weird ideas from books anyway. (Especially if they happen to be written by Carlos Castaneda but that’s a completely different story altogether) Since I was one of those kids that wasn’t content with the “See Spot run” storylines of the young adult section – I mean seriously, what was the deal with Enid Blyton and food – I soon learned how to avoid the ever watchful eye of Sauron, I mean the librarian, and sneak into the adult section. No, it wasn’t that kind of adult, just because it’s Sweden doesn’t mean we have porn in the libraries, not even in the seventies. In any case I found a goldmine. And I spent a lot of time reading all sorts of stuff.

A lot of what I read was science fiction, there was Asimov and Bradbury, Heinlein, Simak and many others and to me those fantastic potential futures really made an impression. What if? they asked and so did I. Most of these books were written in the fifties and early sixties and it shows, they were all focused primarily on man’s conquest of space and the effects on humanity as a whole. Most of it was in hindsight pretty bad but some of it was just mindblowing, especially to a warped and fragile little mind as mine. Where am I going with this? Well, I was sitting in the living room just after Christmas, just thinking about this and that, and it struck me that something really strange happened in the seventies. Mankind has been very focused on conquest. Higher. Faster. Colonize. But suddenly it seemed, at pretty much the same time as we finally reached beyond our own fragile little biosphere into the great and unfriendly space beyond, we stopped. Humanity turned inward, towards itself. No longer necessarily focused on conquest (if we ignore the usual realpolitikal squabbles over scarce finite resources) but on consumption and communication. Now, we have always been a communicating species. I usually say that if you introduce a new technology within minutes you will see people using it to try to find someone to fuck, steal from or sell porn to. These days we can probably add gank to that but you get the point anyway.

This seems to me to be an inevitable trend. Space is unfriendly. Very very unfriendly. It’s not a solution, at least for carbon-based lifeforms with a very narrow niche in which we can survive comfortably. And perhaps this newfound interest in ecology and the environment will actually ensure that the planet isn’t a complete dump within the next 100 years. But what fascinates me the most is that this inward turn has made us conquer a new and still emerging landscape, one which is far more complex then most people realize. We are only 10 or so Moore’s law generations from having CPUs that have the processing power equivalent of a human brain. We are starting to see services becoming augmentions, by which I mean that we use Google and other services to quickly find, assess and comment information. Strip away IT from a company, almost any company, and see what happens? The productivity gains have been enormous but what we haven’t realized is that we are dependent on these tools and services in a way that surpasses any previous generation. A typist was certainly dependent on the typewriter but not anywhere near to the same extent. Tools could be rebuilt. My grandfather who was a fairly good carpenter could probably have put together a pretty reasonable toolset if someone happened to steal all of his existing tools. But we can’t do that. Our tools are so complex that we need to realize that this generation may be the first semi-augmented one. Will children born in 2008 fork personality constructs that do farm work for them in whatever MMO they are playing around 2025? Probably not. But I am quite certain that their way of interaction with each other and with whatever terminals they use would seem almost magical, in much the same way that someone who had never even heard of the internet in 1990 would find today’s reality more than a little confusing. “What do you mean google it? And what’s a facebook? And who is that yahoo?” We won’t go into space, at least not the one out there. There might be a mission to Mars. It might even happen in my lifetime. There might be commercial space travel that take morons on a short flight outside of the Earth’s atmosphere (a fool and his money is easily parted). But there won’t be any large scale space colonization. Other things might happen. Stranger things than I think that most of us can even imagine today. And if the creation of large scale online communities with today’s technology is anything to go by then I would be very surprised if we don’t start seeing fully virtual work places in the next ten years or so. Those who have played a lot of MMOs wouldn’t have much of an issue dealing with their office interactions over a voice link and through a virtualized terminal where you switch between some social area and your workplace. Pair programming would be an excellent example of something that could be easily achieved and which would work extremely well in a situation like that. And when that happens – who cares about time zones? Who cares about physical location? From a Friedman perspective, one could argue that this is already happening of course. But I don’t think it is. Not yet. Some of the infrastructure is there. The mindset is spreading. But most of the people in workplaces today are still brought up with the notion of an office, a physical space where you go which has some inherent value in being Elsewhere. Who will create the services? It’s not a question of whether the future will be distributed, it’s just a question of how distributed it will be.


About this entry