Monday, November 4, 2019

...or you might just get it

I woke up this morning thinking about the class of technical problems where for years you hope for some kind of solution to emerge, and then when it finally does, the solution entails such an egregious technical and political context that you wonder if you ever should have wished for it in the first place.

FOR EXAMPLE, I wanted straightforward, usable transcription of speech. Well, it’s 2019 and it’s there if you want it, more or less. All it took was massive data hoarding, warehouse-scale computing, and universal networked surveillance under the control of a handful of megacorporations. A little piece of the Panopticon in every pocket. What I probably thought it would require was something on the order of better software and more computing power. What it took in practice was nothing short of a revolution in human affairs.

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like these problems are everywhere. Oh, you wanted to travel to that far off place where your family lives in a day or so? Wait ‘til you get a load of the environmental, cultural, and political footprint of automotive transit. You’re gonna love it.

The crucial difference is that things like cars and the modern road network were in place by the time I was born. Now I’m getting old enough to have watched expectations I had for the future unfold in realtime. And they’ve come not just with unintended consequences, but as consequences of entire undesired systems.

There’s some kind of lesson here. Probably.