Thursday, January 12, 2012

State of the World: 2032

Charlie Stross is making predictions. He's considering the years 2032, and 2092.

I, like him, have a personal interest in 2032. I'll be 75 that year. If, and there are a large but finite number of ifs involved, I make it to 75, then I'm interested in what people think it will be like. But forget 2092. Unless there are some major flukes coming out of left field, I won't see that time.

Reading through his projections, I have to say they are logical, common sense linear projections of a lot of the trends we currently see. In typical Strossian fashion, well-presented, well-thought-out, concise, cogent, and reasonable. They are therefore elegantly, wonderfully wrong.

The one thing I would note is there are no disruptive events listed, no game changers, no weird shit out of left field. Because you can trend all you want and be off the mark. Because guessing the weird shit out of left field is what is really going to come close to the mark. In a minute, I'll give you my three game changers for 2032. But before I do that, I'd like to mull over statements from Bruce Sterling.

Charlie cites Sterling's and Jon Lebkowsky's comments at the Well  regarding the coming year of 2012 in his entry.

I have an ongoing amnesia with the Well. I'll stumble across it, read up a bit, nod my head, make affirmative grunting noises, and then promptly forget about the site until the next time I trip over it. I'd probably read it more often if were a member. But I'm not big on joining things, so, maybe that's why I keep forgetting about the site.

Charlie notes that Mr. Sterling is pretty damn good at prognostication. I don't where he stands batting average wise with respect to predictions, but Sterling does seem to notice the interesting future tidbits long before anyone else does. Perhaps the reason for this is Sterling seems adept at getting into other people's heads, and voicing their concerns.  Sterling makes a rather interesting prediction about the near future which is this:
"So I often tell people that the mid-century will be about "old people
in big cities who are afraid of the sky."  I think that's a pretty
useful, common-sense, plausible assessment.   You may not hear it said
much, but it's how things are  turning out.

Futurity means metropolitan people with small families in a weather
That's, um, that's pretty much my assessment as well. We'd all like to think things will work out, but the funny is reality is the shit that you least expect. So Bruce may be right and wrong here.

Speaking of getting into heads, I'd also like to draw particular attention to another portion he wrote:


It's surprising how little vitality these have nowadays.  Instead of
fanaticallly dedicating themselves to narrow, all-explanatory cults,
people just sort of eyeblink at 'em and move on to the next similiar
topic.  In a true Network Society, all fringe beliefs about the future
seem to be more or less equivalent, like Visa, American Express and
Mastercard.  "Conservatism" conserves nothing; there is no
"progression" in which to progress.

Peak Oil.  Oil probably "peaked" quite some time ago, but the "peak"
itself doesn't seem to bother markets much. The imaginary Armageddon
got old-fashioned fast. Peak Oil has peaked.

Islamic Caliphate...  With the collapse of so many Arab regimes, these
guys are in the condition of dogs that caught a taxi.  "Sharia Law" is
practically useless for any contemporary purpose, and Arabs never
agree about anything except forcing non-Arabs to believe.  

Chemtrails.  These guys are pitiable loons, but they're interesting
harbingers of a future when even scientific illiterates are deathly
afraid of the sky.  It's interesting that we have cults of people who
walk outside and read the sky like a teacup.   I've got a soft spot for
chemtrail people, they're really just sort of cool, and much more
interesting than UFO cultists, who are all basically Christians.  Jesus
is always the number one Saucer Brother in UFO contactee cults.  It's
incredible how little imagination the saucer people have.

BitCoin.  An ultimate Internet hacker fad.  You'd think they were
encrypting food and shelter, what with the awesome enthusiasm they had
for this abstract scheme.

Space Travel people.  Visible mostly by their absence nowadays.  About
the only ones left are nutcase one-percenters of a certain generation,
with money to burn on their private space yachts.  This was such a
huge narrative of the consensus future, for such a long time, that it's
really interesting to see it die in public.   There's no popular
understanding of why space cities don't work, though if you told them
they'd have to spend the rest of their lives in the fuselage of a 747
at 30,000 feet, they'd be like "Gosh that's terrible."

Transcendant spiritual drug enthusiasts.  People consume unbelievable
amounts of narcotics nowadays, but there used to be gentle, unworldly
characters who genuinely thought this practice was good for you, and
would give you marijuana and psychedelics because they were convinced
they were doing you a big, life-changing favor.   

You go into one of those medical marijuana dispensaries nowadays,
they're like huckster chiropractors, basically.  The whole
ethical-free-spirit surround of the psychedelic dreamtime is gone. 
It's like the tie-dyed guys toking up in the ashram have been replaced
by the carcasses of 12,000 slaughtered Mexicans.

Nuclear Armageddon enthusiasts.  Kind of a flicker-of-interest for
this around Iran right now.  Nothing compared to the colossal cultural
influence that this paradigm once commanded.  The WMD invasion of Iraq,
kind of the last hurrah for this, it's tragedy redone as farce.  

You show somebody a Dr Strangelove mushroom cloud these days, they're
like, "What is that, Fukushima?  I don't get it."

I could go on about other people's futurisms.  Doing Italy and Serbia
is tempting. But despite the variegated change-drivers that these
interest-groups imagine, I remain pretty sure that all these groups are
heading for a future world where they're elderly, urbanized and afraid
of the sky.   

Even if you believe in reptiloids, you're gonna be a
reptiloid-believing guy in a pretty big town with a lot of your
neighbors pushing walkers in a heat wave."
 Hilarious, and also spot-on in almost every category, says I.

So, my predictions for 2032, using the same categories Charlie does:

Climate: Global warming denialism will have gone the way of all delusions, joining the Flat Earthers, Young Earth Creationists, Mormons, Scientologists, Objectivists, etc (see above). Mainly not because things got hot - though they will - but because things got so hot and so extreme and so weird so damned fast. Many now wish they had coined the term "global weirding" instead of "global warming". Doesn't matter. My game changer is the climate trends accelerate, and what world conditions were predicted for around 2100 will have gone through a transition by perhaps as early as 2014, and no later than 2022. That means an ice free Arctic Ocean, super hurricanes, unprecedented tornado events like Mississippi and Alabama last year. I actually don't think the tropical climes heat up all that much. That's concentrated at the higher latitudes. Torrential rains (dozens of inches in a day), decade long droughts, and sea level rise of, oh what the hell, 15 meters over the next decade. Bye bye Florida and most cities.

Energy: Same as before. Fossil fuels are out there, they will be used, and they will be extracted. Oh, sure, the current downward trend in solar PV will accelerate, lots of people will switch over. My bet is that natural gas will be the way to go, only because we can get the oil companies to cooperate on that front (meaning they got the tech, infrastructure and assured continued obscene profits). Peak oil did peak already, but all that does is make the difficult extractive processes affordable. Which means your best bet is to leave that oil in the ground until cheaper and more efficient methods of extraction come online. In other words, its rather stupid to use proven reserves. The alternative? My game changer: room temperature superconductors are developed. That means a revolution in power transmission, and a revolution in energy storage, and all electric vehicles with incredibly dangerous batteries in them. Solar farms will spout up all over the place, and extreme weather will mean there will be a big, big maintenance budget for them. Wind power, hydro, nukes, yeah, yeah they'll be there. Fusion, as usual, will be thirty years in the future.

Transport: Fossil fuel vehicles will still be around, certainly in the developing world, and for hobbyists, forever. Oh sure, lots of cute little electric cars, and trucks, and trains. Jets? Ships? Hmmm. Old skool fuel, and maybe carbon neutral synthetic fossil fuels, with hydrogen made via sunshine, and CO2 extracted from the atmosphere.

Population: Peak at nine billion, then a crash. Not necessarily where or when you think. China, Japan, Russia, Europe get old and shrink. India, Africa, South America, vibrantly young and growing. The US, surprisingly, through immigration and good old-fashioned humping, maintains a relatively young population. I predict no game changers. Any game changer translates as a massive die-off. If such happens, then been there done that. Boring. Moving on.

Politics: Oh, that's all too depressing. Next category.

Space: Not much. Lots of robot probes. China goes to the Moon and never goes back. Maybe some commercial launches, but, as usual, without some reason to go out there, nobody goes out there. I do predict eventual nuclear rockets, but not for a long, long time.

Food: Soylent Green. Now with more people!

Electronics: Maybe graphene. Maybe spintronics. Maybe optical computers. But I agree with Charlie, there's not much play left in Moore's Law. Doesn't mean we won't have even cooler gadgets, but we hit a wall at something, but something that would still make your average plugged-in geek of today shit their pants.

The internet: Aside from a few late-adopting hermits like me, absolutely everyone knows absolutely everything about absolutely everything and everyone on the planet, and we still don't know how to behave.

Medicine: In the US, healthcare will be out of reach for the average citizen. I think most everything will be curable, but unaffordable. You will start to see average life expectancy decline - unless you are rich.  You will see diseases return that have not been prevalent since the early part of 20th century. This isn't a glum dystopian vision, this is an extrapolation of current trends in healthcare. What's to be done in the US? Hm. Socialized medicine, maybe? The current system is destined to fail. Worldwide? Oh, bad. But better than the US - even in Africa.

That's about it. Were I betting man, I would say every single prediction is wrong. Except the room temperature superconducting materials. And if that happens, well literally, all bets are off.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, a very quick prediction on 2012. Ron Paul will not run as a third party candidate. Reason: his son, the little prince, now realizing under the "mentorship" of Mitch Mcconnell (anyone else notice how Rand Paul looks like a fucking ventriloquist's dummy? Creepy) that life in Washington is chicken salad compared to the chicken shit in Bowling Green, KY, wants to run for Prez in 2016. Daddy Paul realizes if he screws the pooch for sonny boy the little woodenhead stands no chance of getting the Nod (by effing over the Rs in 2012 and handing the election to Obama), so he won't. But maybe he'll get a "libertarian" plank cobbled in at the convention. Ah-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!!