Not quite dystopia

So moving along, we shift to the bad side, and add a positive variable into our World #2 hell hole, one at a time, in turn.

World#7 All worst cases, except best case population:

This world, more than any other, bears the fingerprint of some kind of radical anti-technology, eco-primitivist style backlash. In a situation of declining energy, negative technology, climate collapse and falling population, you’ve got all the makings of a luddite green-meme jihad.

As in world 2, the steamroller of negative singularity effects unwinds itself as energy runs out, and even more so here as a scattered population provides fewer targets/hosts.

It eventually becomes a ‘race to the bottom’ of the olduvai gorge, as we sprint to become fully paleolithic humans to some extent. When terrifying technology isn’t the target, the jihad will turn on itself to root out technological sympathizers, and drag everything farther down the thermodynamic cliff, until we are at a carrying capacity of 1 billion or less, in a dark ages condition or worse.

And so it will go for a few centuries at least, until we forget what it was that actually happened, and we start to build up again from a degraded resource base.

World #8 All worst cases except best case climate:

As the above, but without the eco-primitivist undercurrents, and a more crowded, urban desperation instead.

In this world, the earth can’t be bothered to shrug us off, except by starving us of energy, and we go into a self destructive orgy fueled by the most advanced technology we can find.

In short, this world screams “resource war without end”, eventually fought by AI’s, genetic chimeras, killer nanoswarms, and targeted bioweapons.

Without global warming hysteria to dampen fossil fuel use, or any particular anti technology sentiment, and a huge throng of ‘consumers’ eager to maintain their lifestyle, this is petro-apocalypse, ne plus ultra. Right until the near-end, the relatively rich ( as in you) will be able to pretend that the rest of the world isn’t living like the future humans in ‘the terminator’, but that’s pretty much what you’re doing now, so no sweat.

If you’re lucky enough to live in one of the last secure enclaves, it’ll be virtual porn and good drugs right up until that nanoswarm turns you into biodiesel. Eventually the people left alive will be living in pre-industrial squalor, wondering what the fuck just happened.

World #9 All worst cases, except best case energy:

Similar to world 6, in that a negative technological singularity plus unlimited energy is pretty dire, but made worse in that there is great added pressure on us from our numbers and from the collapsing climate.

This world more than others, spells ‘space-travelling locust swarm’. We would eventually migrate out to find more materials to chew up, and to get away from each other. We would turn the solar system into a kill zone first, then who knows what. This also spells some pretty radical mutation, as we adapt to our new condition as ravenous interplanetary predators. We merge with the worst aspects of our technology and the ‘old moon’ psychology that rudolph steiner speaks of. In so doing we probably do a pretty good job of killing the earth, making our lifestyle change inevitable.

We don’t do it because we’re starving… we do it because faced with infinite energy, we realize that even that still won’t make us feel any more satisfied, and less empty.

World #10 all worst cases, except best case technology:

Interesting paradox. Normally, an expanding population with decreasing energy means something has to give, but with beneficial technology it doesn’t have to.

It does get very weird, though. First we’re using technology to replace food, then we’re using it to take food from others, then when resource war peters out, and we’re still growing in numbers, we have to change our fundamental nature as energy consuming beings.

The trend is for us to become smaller, slower, colder, less physically vital, at the same time as our minds can move faster than ever and project into virtual spaces.

The end result of this trend is much like world#5 but more extreme yet, as we multiply endlessly, but in the form of fully disembodied intelligences, embedded in a material  substratum that is itself mostly immobile and seemingly inert.

Not quite utopia…

Alright, so our first adjustment will be to leaven the best and worst cases, with a little more reality. So we’ll take worlds 1, and 2, and change each variable, one at a time, and see what we come up with.

Well start with world #1, our utopian transhumanist paradise, and introduce one worst case variable each time until we’ve done them all.

World #3: All best cases except worst case population.

Well, in a world where population hasn’t come under control this probably means that, in spite of free energy, and advanced genetics, supercomputing and whatnot, we still haven’t really achieved much penetration in terms of economic growth, or education. This is probably down to some kind of religious backlash against advanced technology and free information, as blue meme tribes always want to increase their numbers to overwhelm the opposition. This creates pressure for living space, and tension between regions that want to control population density to maintain their standard of living, in the face of mass immigration.

Although most of the resource-based reasons for war are going away, ideological conflict and terrorist excursions are still prevalent. This is a variation on the mark pesce ‘terror and transhumanism’ scenario, where we have so much power it’s ridiculous, but still can’t quite get along. Any one misanthrope or psychopath can make a big noise in a crowded world.

As this continues, the drive to colonize the oceans, virtual reality, and/or space have a large impetus to ramp up, as opposed to other situations where we have the technology and resources but no particular urgency. The diaspora of a retribalising world to the four corners of reality begins as each faction adopts just enough technology to liberate themselves and declare difference but shuns the rest, or it’s full implications. Think the space station full of Rastafarians in ‘neuromancer’. Another example would be primitivists, some of whom will use genetics to turn themselves into apes, or dolphins, but not explore the full ramifications of pervasive biotech.

There may end up being a global cyborg hive mind, and the ability to do that exists, but this situation mitigates against it.

World#4 All best cases except worst case climate:

A future where we have climate catastrophe, falling population, and advanced technology is probably one where you’ve had some kind of primitivist or malthusian programme take effect. When you look at how katrina was used to ramrod global warming hysteria into the public discourse, and multiply that by a thousand, you have that here.

Population ‘control’ here is exactly that, as our ‘best case’ is really a combination of austerity and genocide, as vicious constraints apply to anything that might smack of straining our carrying capacity or ecological footprint.

As a result technology stays in the hands of the elite, and is subject to the approval of an increasing politicised and ideological scientistic priesthood. There’s lots that we could do, but like now, a lot that we don’t.

You’ll probably see a reign of terror- style purge of ‘climate criminals’ of various stripes, as green lefties celebrate their long awaited vengeance.

The destruction of energy infrastructure by climate disasters and backlash against fossil fuels mitigate against anything like a globalised world, so we have another kind of retribalisation, in a more literal sense, as everyone re-localizes into some kind of bucolic peasant existence, which is shot through with advanced technology. Whole earth cataloge-hippie world, basically, for those who get with the programme. Those on the wrong side of the jihad, or who want to go big and weird with the new tech, are in for a tough time. You probably have an international malthusian bureaucracy, which legislates the development of poorer countries ruthlessly.

World#5 All best cases except worst case energy:

It turns out nature played a joke on us, and petroleum was as good as it gets for surplus energy.

As we cascade down the olduvai cliff, we have the means to adapt though, as our technology evolves to become not only more powerful, but more energy efficient. Everything gets smaller, cooler, and harder to see. Hard mineral-based stuff is set to one side in favor self assembling large scale biotech, which feeds off the sun. Buildings that grow like plants, photosynthetic skin grafts for humans, computers the size of grains of dust.

We internalize most of our technology, and rebuild our ecosystem. We’ve gotten our psychological and educational issues under control, and the earth is cooperating with our efforts to live smaller and quieter. Our big dreams go into the virtual world, and to outside observers we eventually look like completely primitive people living in a highly organic world. But behind our eyes, all bets are off.

World#6 All best cases except worst case technology:

A negative singularity in a world without energy constraints is really, really bad. There will always be harmful uses of advanced technology, but a worst case is something really off -the- hook.

Most of the reasons for war don’t exist, so WW3 fought by AI’s is not likely. A small dispersed population wouldn’t suffer greatly from an engineered plague. Grey goo could always happen, but it’s pretty likely it could be contained in a stable world with a working infrastructure.

One possibility is that some psychopath makes it through the door into a post human super being condition, and goes on a tear. One is probably not enough to constitute a worst case, though, depends on how smart he/she is though.

If however, you had a cheap enhancement technology that produced violent or aggressive behavior in whoever installed it, and the uses of it went massively viral over the world, via the wireless computer network, you’d be in for a bad time, especially if they started working together.

Suppose you could install a combination nanotech/genetics package that made you super-humanly smart, with diamond hard bones, carbon nontube flesh, redundant organs, and factories in your skin that made infectious copies of the same package… and the whole thing also turned you into a hardwired psychopath with out of control aggressive instincts…

Once it was out there, you’d eventually have too many to control, especially if they started working together, and with new variations all the time.
Silence of the Lambs meets 28 days later. Eventually there would be no normal humans left, as they would have to be enhanced themselves, just to survive.

Any strange and dangerous self replicating creation would have similar effect. This scenario presupposes that it outruns our attempts to control it, which implies that it either catches us totally off guard, or that it’s smarter than we are.

In a world called extremity

Now, when we’re exploring these possible futures, we will be proceeding dialectically. Going from one end of the spectrum to the other, and attempting to sift the truth from each shift.

So, for starters lets examine the two polar opposites of possibility: all bad, and all good.

And so…

World 1: All best cases. This is essentially the vision of the future put forth by transhumanists and extropians like ray kurzweil, hans moravec, etc. Not because they actively concern themselves with population, climate, and energy, but rather that their vision of technological determinism assumes that all these things go well, without really speaking of it, or they inflate the power of technology to the point where it trumps everything else, which, historically has tended to be true, so it’s a fair assumption to at least argue from.

Technology makes unlimited energy possible, and the associated economic progress causes population growth to subside. If carbon dioxide or methane are an issue, genetically engineered biorgs, or nano-factured carbon sinks offset the problem. Everything eventually becomes so efficient and powerful, we need not burn fossil fuels or toxify the environment any further. The only limitation left for us is our own psychology.

Cue the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey…

World 2: All worst case. This is the brainchild of the most wildly paranoid primitivists and even they don’t really take it seriously.

The world sails off a thermodynamic cliff, but technology manufactures just enough low grade foodstuff to keep an ever increasing population alive at an extremely meager subsistence level, and little else besides. Some sort of cheap engineered seed of an extremely resilient type, or a nanotech device for creating lots of nitrogen phosphate makes this possible. Either that or soylent green.
Quality and expectancy of life plummet. These pressures are compounded by climate collapse, as a diaspora onto the open oceans or inland begins, and hurricanes wreck what’s left of the energy infrastructure.  The rolling blackouts apply pretty much everywhere except the pockets of technology that are developing targeted bioweapons, swarming killer drones, and tactical AI’s to fight resource wars.

Eventually the earth turns into an apocalyptic wargame for posthuman intelligences who devastate the earth in attempts to eliminate each other. This lasts until energy constraints bring the thing to a standstill, and the biosphere devolves into a hellworld of killer transgenic monstrosities, wretched starving people and permanent darkness in a frothing ecological super-storm. There’s no way for anyone to get to safety because with the vast throng of people and shrinking landmass, there’s no where left to go. Eventually the cascading combination ( an engineered pandemic amongst a tightly packed global population of 12 billion or so, and no particular medical infrastructure or pharmaceutical industry left, is  a likely candidate) wipes us out below replacement level and we go extinct. The AI’s eventually break down and undergo their own entropic collapse, and fail to outlive us by long. Some exceptionally virulent engineered killer takes our place at the top of the food chain, and begins their slow trek towards intelligent folly. The End.

The Four Obstructions

(the title is an obscure reference to the lars van trier film, which I liked, but you may ignore otherwise…)

okay, so moving along with our fractal future meanderings:

Since we haven’t really altered our four first premises, we’ll proceed with them. Once again, in each instance, we will briefly articulate a clear best case/worst case, so as to combine them iteratively farther along. The hows and whys change from scenario to scenario, so we won’t go into that too much here.

First variable: Population

Best case- the slow increase of education and economic opportunities for the poor, along with rising living standards and medicine, continue to contribute to an overall negative trend in birthrate. Population tops out around 10 billion in the middle of the century and starts to decline gradually as we reel in our reproductive habits. By 2100 we’re back down to 8 billion and on our way to 6 or lower in the next century.

Worst case- global anxiety and uncertainty continues to undermine living standards to the point where people do not reign in reproduction, and in fact speed it up. Population continues to grow exponentially, until we hit 12 billion by mid century, putting outrageous pressure on our resource base. By 2100 the global standard of living per person is somewhere around that of a present day Chinese peasant farmer, and there aint much room left.

Second variable: Climate

Best case- things stay pretty stable overall. We in fact are overdue for a cooling period and our current hot spell is a blip. Global warming hysteria is replaced by global cooling hysteria ( as it was in the 70’s ), and we start expelling co2 flagrantly all over again, in hopes of stopping us all from freezing to death, supposedly.

Worst case- ‘the day after tomorrow’ scenario. Turns out it’s not co2 that’s the problem, it’s methane, which is a lot harder to track and control than co2, and has a much greater impact on global warming. The temperature shift tips the balance of fresh water in the oceans, and causes a global catastrophe as the atlantic conveyor stops bringing warm air to northern europe, plunging it into an ice age. Super-storms proliferate wildly, and the gulf of mexico turns into a permanent hurricane disaster area, fit only for refugees and madmen. All coastal areas go swimming.

Third variable: Energy

Best case- Whether by zero-point, nuclear fusion, steorn perpetual motion machines, or nano engineered solar, energy becomes so cheap that charging for it makes no sense. Everyone has all the electricity they need, and most other resource related problems fall into line behind this. Standards of living rise astronomically, and the world buys a coke.

Worst case- the olduvai cliff. through a combination of peak oil and gas, diminishing returns on technology and thermodynamic constraints, per-capita energy use continues to decline, until rolling blackouts become the norm, leading to permanent blackouts by the late 21st century. Some pockets of energy use remain, but they too are subject to the same diminishing returns on a fractal scale. Shit happens, grow some soybeans.

Fourth variable: Technology

Best case- A positive singularity. Explosive growth in computing power, biotech and nanotech render us superintelligent, telepathic and functionally immortal. We restore the earth to an edenic state, (because we can) and spend our time either exploring virtual words, or venturing into the universe at large.

Worst case- A negative singularity. Same as above, just minus any compassion, love, or human values. A planet full of godlike immortal psychopaths, and genocidal AI’s who want to turn baseline humans into fertiliser. Alternately, a bioengineered global pandemic kills everyone, or the grey goo scenario converts the earth into food for rogue nanomachines. A scenario where technology simply sputters out falls under the olduvai cliff, above.

…so in our next installment, we start to spin these together and see what comes out.

the octagonal dipyramid at the end of history…

Well, seeing as how I’m on another futurism kick lately, I thought we’d play a little game, suggested by the laboritarian.

It’s rather simple: we pick a few of the most important variables that effect the future. Let’s say four, for the sake of brevity. I’m prepared to entertain others, but for our purposes I’d say the big four for this century are energy, technology, population and climate. You may come up with a different or more nuanced list, but I’m willing to say that those others are mostly, and will mostly, be determined by the first four. I’d say politics and economics are more a function of energy and technolgy than determinants in and of themselves, for instance.

In each case we come up with a best case and worst case scenario. Lets say for energy, the best case scenario is limitless free energy from some magnetic Steorn widget or some-such, or simply another middle east found under the hills of Wichita, or something. The worst case is the peak oil and gas hypothesis, specifically the olduvai gorge thesis, which more or less states that the lifespan of industrialised civilisation is 100 years. After which we cascade down a thermodynamic cliff into the stone age. We repeat this best case/ worst case for all the chosen variables.

Now if we do this just once it’s kind of digital, and one dimensional. If we apply two variables simultaneously we end up with a grid of four possible futures. And if we include four variables, which I think are the minimum to even begin to apprehend the scope of complexity available to us, we have 2x2x2x2= 16 possible futures.

So before we start, I’m prepared to hear out some thoughts on what other, more pressing variables might be, and if they’re radically different than these, some thoughts on what a best/worst case might consist of…

Otherwise, let the fractal chaos commence!

The Mosaic Effect 30: Exploding in all Directions

And we’re back again, broadcasting from the seagull laden inner harbor.

This time around we delve back into some futurism, or perhaps meta-futurism, as we discuss my own predictive methods, and how it contrasts those of others. And ultimately, how most of them share the same underlying simple math.

In some ways you could think of this as an appendix to my by-now-infamous future predictions series, which you will find, along with some related items, here.
Apologies if I’m more dazed and meandering than usual. Trying to get back in the swing of things.

podcast page here

Direct download: ME30-exploding_in_all_directions.mp3

Time to shoot the curve all over again…

Knees Folded Backwards


Well, things are dragging a little bit more than I would like, but so be it.

I’ve recorded another podcast though, I just need a day or two to edit and upload it on Alaina’s computer.

In the meanwhile, you’ll find this helpful to set the stage for what I’m talking about, and it’s worthwhile to digest on it’s own.