“The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ilya Prigogine was fond of saying that the future is not so much determined by what we do in the present as our image of the future determines what we do today.” So begins the latest missive of Noema Magazine.
The Near Future: The Pew Research Center’s annual Big Challenges Report top-features my musings on energy, local production/autonomy, transparency etc., along with other top seers, like the estimable Esther Dyson, Jamais Cascio, Amy Webb and Abigail deKosnick and many others.
In this report, "Experts say the 'New Normal' in 2025 will be far more tech-driven, presenting more challenges" these pundits argue that changes resulting from disruptions from the pandemic are likely to worsen economic inequality, enhance the power of big tech firms, and multiply the spread of misinformation.
Among the points I raise:
- Advances in cost-effectiveness of sustainable energy supplies will be augmented by better storage systems. This will both reduce reliance on fossil fuels and allow cities and homes to be more autonomous.
- Urban farming methods may move to industrial scale, allowing similar moves toward local autonomy (perhaps requiring a full decade or more to show significant impact). Meat use will decline for several reasons, ensuring some degree of food security, as well.
- Local, small-scale, on-demand manufacturing may start to show effects in 2025. If all of the above take hold, there will be surplus oceanic shipping capacity across the planet. Some of it may be applied to ameliorate (not solve) acute water shortages. Innovative uses of such vessels may range all the way to those depicted in my novel ‘Earth.’
- Full-scale diagnostic evaluations of diet, genes and microbiome will result in micro-biotic therapies and treatments. AI appraisals of other diagnostics will both advance detection of problems and become distributed to handheld devices cheaply available to all, even poor clinics.
- Handheld devices will start to carry detection technologies that can appraise across the spectrum, allowing NGOs and even private parties to detect and report environmental problems.
- Socially, this extension of citizen vision will go beyond the current trend of assigning accountability to police and other authorities. Despotisms will be empowered, as predicted in George Orwell's ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’ But democracies will also be empowered, as in my nonfiction book, ‘The Transparent Society.’
- I give odds that tsunamis of revelation will crack the shields protecting many elites from disclosure of past and present torts and turpitudes. The Panama Papers and Epstein cases exhibit how fear propels many elites to combine efforts at repression. But only a few more cracks may cause the dike to collapse, revealing networks of blackmail. This is only partly technologically driven and hence is not guaranteed. If it does happen, there will be dangerous spasms by all sorts of elites, desperate to either retain status or evade consequences. (I wrote that before the panic-frenzy we are seeing by Vladimire Putin, whose best option is to spill the entire KGB file of blackmail he holds over western elites.) But if the fever runs its course, the more transparent world will be cleaner and better run.
- Some of those elites have grown aware of the power of ninety years of Hollywood propaganda for individualism, criticism, diversity, suspicion of authority and appreciation of eccentricity. Counter-propaganda pushing older, more traditional approaches to authority and conformity are already emerging, and they have the advantage of resonating with ancient human fears. Much will depend upon this meme war.
Of course, much will also depend upon short-term resolution of current crises. If our systems remain undermined and sabotaged by incited civil strife and distrust of expertise, then all bets are off.
== The pertinence (again) of transparency ==
When they hear the "T-word" so many dive into fretting about the spread of ‘surveillance technologies that will empower Big Brother.’ These fears are well-grounded, but also utterly myopic. I recall what Ulysses Grant said to Union generals who were in a froth over Robert E. Lee's next moves.
Paraphrasing Grant: "Stop worrying over how despots will use light against us, and start talking about how to use light against despotism!"
First, ubiquitous cameras and facial recognition are only the beginning. Nothing will stop them and any such thought of ‘protecting’ citizens from being seen by elites (e.g. billionaires or the police) is stunningly absurd, as the cameras get smaller, better, faster, cheaper, more mobile and vastly more numerous every month. Moore’s Law to the nth degree.
Yes, despotisms will benefit from this trend. And hence, the only thing that matters is to prevent despotism altogether. And only one thing ever did that!
In contrast, a free society will be able to apply the very same burgeoning technologies toward accountability. We are seeing them applied to end centuries of abuse by ‘bad-apple’ police who are thugs, while empowering the truly professional cops to do their jobs better.
Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were saved by crude technologies of light in their days. And history shows that assertive vision by and for the citizenry is the only method that has ever increased freedom and – yes – some degree of privacy.
A new type of digital asset - known as a non-fungible token (NFT) - has exploded in popularity during the pandemic as enthusiasts and investors scramble to spend enormous sums of money on items that only exist online. “Blockchain technology allows the items to be publicly authenticated as one-of-a-kind, unlike traditional online objects which can be endlessly reproduced.”… “
In October 2020, Miami-based art collector Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile spent almost $67,000 on a 10-second video artwork that he could have watched for free online. Last week, he sold it for $6.6 million. The video by digital artist Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, was authenticated by blockchain, which serves as a digital signature to certify who owns it and that it is the original work.”
A sealed copy of Super Mario 64 sells for $1.56M in record-breaking auction. That record didn’t last long. In August 2021, a rare copy of Super Mario Bros. sells for $2 million, the most ever paid for a video game. Until the next time...
On the other hand, a once $2 million image of the world's first tweet recently resold for $245.000 That's volatility! What NFTs fundamentally prove and what we've seen with election interference, Russian oligarch yachts and the stoopid-oligarchs subsidies of Fox 'News'... that the rich simply have too much money. Period.
And when that happens, as Adam Smith himself said, the first thing destroyed is flat-fair-creative-competitive enterprise.
Addendum on Ukraine:
Real time we are awed by several things.
By the doughty endurance, courage and ingenuity of the Ukrainian people.
By yet another example of the topmost lesson from 6000 years of history, that despotism leads to psychotic leader-delusion... in this case endangering all our lives as Ras*-Putin plummets into full panic mode.
That Russians have a long way to go, before they become capable of seeing through the Strongman Hallucination, a version of which also captivates a very large minority of (confederate) Americans.
And much else. But right now this armchair-general wants to conclude with a couple of amateur military observations, in the wake of Russia's setbacks in the north and at sea: