Tuesday, March 27
As an exercise in checking some intuitions, hopes, fears, etc., here are
some statements I'd like to re-evaluate 5 and 10 years from now, if I'm around
to do the evaluating.
This is just me being depressing; it's definitely not a coherent thesis
about the future. You should skip reading it. If you're looking for
depressing material about the future that might actually be worth your time, Charlie Stross has a blog. (Or if
you really, really want to feel bad, there's always Peter Watts.)
1. Cryptocurrency (at least as formulated in 2018) is a scam, a nascent
energy use disaster, and a probable driver of inequality in an already
dangerously inequitable system. Blockchain-adjacent techniques will
demonstrate various kinds of utility, but if everybody's still talking about
"crypto" in a decade this utility will probably be overshadowed by the damage
Bitcoin and all its children have wrought. I will still be irritated that
"crypto" somehow became shorthand for "cryptocurrency".
2. Early 2018 is seeing stronger and more generalized public Facebook
backlash than we've gotten before. (The flashpoint at the moment is the whole
Cambridge Analytica thing.) Here's my prediction: Facebook isn't going
anywhere, but even if it does suffer reversals, the model it represents
will only have increased its actual dominance by 2023 or 2028.
2a. The movement to rebuild a more decentralized, federated, &
protocol-driven network outside of surveillance capitalism isn't going away.
It will gain adherents and build more robust infrastructure. It will also
remain marginal, ideologically driven (as opposed to widely adopted on
practical grounds), and incapable of mounting any fundamental challenge
to a status quo dominated by megacorporations with control over most of the
devices, most of the data, and most of the intensively-surveilled public and
private sphere. Neo-Luddite tendencies will begin to more noticeably produce
isolationist communities in the
real physical world.
2b. US legislation affecting social media, networks, software, and privacy
will have further entrenched, rather than limited, the power dynamic described
in 2a. EU legislation on privacy won't prove entirely useless at
protecting users, but mostly it'll just add some bureaucratic overhead without
being drastic enough to really hamper actors at the scale of Facebook, Google,
3. Desktop computing won't be dead, but it'll be widely viewed as obsolete
and on its way out. Physical keyboards will be increasingly seen as an
affectation even for professionals. It will be getting hard to even buy a
4. Always-on cameras and microphones will be totally normalized across every
family of widely-used consumer computing device, and almost no public space in
the developed world will be free of permanent video and audio logging to cloud
5. Mass shootings will continue at more or less the same pace in the US, if
not increase substantially. Aside from relatively minor concessions like
banning bump stocks, no very effective restrictions on gun ownership will make
it into federal law. Traditional gun culture's adherence will nevertheless
have declined substantially, and an escalation in far-right racist
power-fantasy gun culture among non-rural white people who have never hunted or
gone sport shooting a day in their lives probably won't be enough to make up
for it numerically.
6. Driverless cars will be happening for real, and like Uber or Lyft,
they'll have serious practical advantages for prosperous (sub)urbanites and the
professional class. They'll also gut public transit systems, increase
congestion and passenger miles traveled, further marginalize poor people and
"gig economy" laborers, and double as data sponges for various megacorps.
Truckers will be looking real worried.
6a. There will still be no genuinely serious indications of a shift in the
United States away from car-centric development patterns and lifestyles.
7. It'll become much easier to tell that skilled tech worker leverage
against employers is going to decrease while automation ramps up and software
power further consolidates. People in the industry won't be quite as nervous
as truckers, but they'll be getting there.
7a. The window of available time for people in software to unionize with any
effective power will obviously be narrowing. People in software will not have
unionized at any scale and no credible efforts will be underway.
8. It will no longer be possible to trust any video, photo, or audio
recording without cryptographically verified signatures from a reputable party.
It'll be getting pretty easy to fake a lot of stuff in realtime.
8a. Fully machine-generated music will really start to take off.
9. In five years, weed will be well on its way to legal nationwide. In ten,
it'll pretty much be there, or at least effectively decriminalized. There'll
be some real casualties because lots of people are going to smoke a
mind-destroying volume of concentrated THC all day long every day. On balance,
it'll still probably be an improvement in public health. It will not, despite
every stoned conversation you've ever had about legalization, fix the problems
of mass incarceration.
10. No meaningful reforms of policing in America will have gained any
traction. When I go to look at this list again, I will be able to recall one
or more killings of an unarmed black civilian by law enforcement within the
previous 2-3 months.
11. Various socialisms are going to become increasingly mainstream positions
in the US. As an unfortunate corollary, the actual no-shit authoritarian left
will be a recognizable factor in political life.
12. We'll have permanently lost a few more large mammal species, but the
really telling numbers will be increasingly comprehensive evidence of massive
decline in absolute numbers of birds, insects, fish, amphibians, etc.
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