Tuesday, March 27

some guesses

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, and Amazon.

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 mouse.

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 services.

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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