Monday, April 29, 2013

Disruptive tech: Accelerating revolutions


We're entering into an age of transformative turbulence. Software and robotics automation continue to destroy middle- and working class jobs, and new technologies like 3D printing-based manufacturing loom on the horizon. This new wave of change begs the question will we succeed in creating centrist answers early on, or will extremists again have their day at the level of nations and wars as they did during the Industrial Age with communism and Nazism?

Nightmare future states are a possibility, but before looking them, there's an even more urgent factor to consider: Namely that the pace of technological development is accelerating. One revolution is upon us, and others look like they might arrive hard on its heels.

Or maybe even overlap?

The current series of novels I'm working on features a dual bio-nanotech revolution that hits even before the upheavals of the current information revolution have been fully dealt with. That raises the interesting question of could our societies handle that much chaos? In book setting human nations fail to adapt, and leave their descendants to confront the same questions out among the stars that their grandparents failed to answer on Earth.

Ideally in a world where one wave of technological change follows close after another, our societies would learn to surf--to display the adaptability and skill needed to constantly adapt and move ahead. Which is something I will be looking at in the next States and Nations 3.0 article. Of course, in such a fluid environment some polities will go down hard That holds some interesting story-telling possibilities, along with looking at the struggles of those groups that succeed in learning to ride out the blue crush.

But still there are all those potential dystopias out there, and they're also worth taking a look at.

Old Dilemmas and New Questions

During the industrial age the Nazis and Soviets had trains, factories, telephone networks, and the instruments of mechanized warfare to use in their attempts to carve new orders from an unstable world. What would similar nightmare societies look like, if they had intelligent software agents, big data, automated fabrication technologies, macro and micro robotics, and the ability to reshape humanity through gene engineering and brain augmentation?

Would future ideologues change human nature to conform with new technological and economic realities in a way that Soviet's bank-slate New Man model never could? What if the Nazis had possessed the ability to transform the rest of humanity into Aryans? Would they have done it, or was their worldview so split into us-versus-them that the only solution they could hit upon would still be a final one, though carried out with swarming, self-replicating weapons of mass destruction? Or, what if the possibility of 'purifying' and 'uplifting' the many peoples whom they hated ultimately split the Nazis and shattered their unity?

Damn, I felt a little queasy just writing 'purifying' and 'uplift' in that context. Those are some truly ugly possibilities.

At any rate, the above are all fascinating thought experiments, but I'm not interested in pursuing them. In part because communism and Nazism were the products of old social dilemmas. Also, science has pretty much trampled the notions of meaningful racial differences into the dust. Anyone with enough biology to manipulate genes also knows that 'innate' superiorities and inferorities that 19th and 20th century racial ideologies subscribed to were boneheaded fictions. Ones constructed by groups who had agendas but no knowledge of what a gene is, let alone how allels operate to produce a human being in conjunction with the environment.

Instead of looking back, in the next Dystopias article we'll be looking forward at failed technological states as well as future strains of totalitarianism that are the products of upheavals and new technologies. Ones that will also pose new questions to each society they confront.

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