The more things change, the more they will change

Well it’s that time of the year again – time to predict the decline of America. The two currently making the rounds are in The Atlantic and Foreign Policy. Everyone’s worrying about how China’s going to eclipse the USA soon, and the other members of BIC aren’t far behind. Of course, what should really matter is GDP per capita, where we’re realistically doing pretty darn well – though I still think these statistics are misleading (maybe a better calculation is here?). But in terms of world power, we’re unerringly headed down a much more multipolar path – especially if Europe can ever get its act together.

But as the Atlantic article points out, in a lot of ways we’re already doing pretty poorly. Take infrastructure, for instance; driving in San Diego often feels like you’re in a warzone with all the potholes, and the rest of California isn’t doing much better. Of course, part of this has to do with the time they were built. Go look at China’s shiny new highways in sixty years! But that’s also the problem – our infrastructure is old, and we’re not doing enough about it. And everything we need to do – improve education, stop discouraging immigration, improve our transit system – is being held back by conservative fears. Sometimes people have a hard time realizing they’re not as great as they think they are.

But nothing ever stays the same; everyone likes to talk about how people said the same things about Japan twenty years ago, and look how that turned out. Of course, they’re assuming that we’re not going to be the ones making the mistake this time, but on the broader point they’re right. The future is never how you predict it will be. There’s one thing that will remake the world in ways that we can’t imagine, and no one’s thinking about the consequences of it: artificial intelligence.

No, I’m not talking about the talking robot, super-intelligent type of AI. I’m talking about the kind we have now. The boring kind. The kind that can beat grandmasters at chess, clean your carpets, and find answers to your questions. How many people are really aware of how large of a paradigm shift this will be? What happens when we can automate intelligent work? Plenty of financial services are already done by computer – and can dominate slower, human-based stock investing techniques. There’s plenty of chatter about news aggregators that can read clips of information on the internet and actually write news stories – so long news journalists. People will still clearly be employed in the future, my point is that things are going to change so dramatically, how can we begin to predict what will be happening in the world in the next fifty years?

[Photo from here]

Dystopias, today

This cartoon describing the difference between Huxley’s A Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984 makes me rethink how I feel about them. It’s eerie how little of Orwell’s vision has come to pass – despite, or perhaps because of, how much it scares us and has entered into our consciousness – and how much of Huxley’s vision has. The precursor to both of these books, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We has shades of both; Orwell and Huxley took different threads and ran with them in different directions. His book is the worst prediction (a mix between 1984, A Brave New World, and THX 1138), but possibly worth rereading to mine for ideas. As we proceed into the future, maybe the question is – how much of a dystopia is A Brave New World, really?

Or have I just not read that book in a really, really long time?

Fuck it, I’m going to mars


People like to ask, “Why did you go into science?” The banal answer is always, “I wanted to know how things work” or “I want to understand the truth of nature” or some such. But that’s all a lie! Because these pictures here are really why I wanted to go into science. They were in some textbook or encyclopedia or something that I had when I was in elementary school, and I would often daydream in class about being off in space, working on the colonies.

Explosions in the Sky – Glittering Blackness [mediafire]

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