IEET > Vision > Staff > Marcelo Rinesi > Futurism
The Year Doesn’t Matter Anymore
Marcelo Rinesi   Oct 25, 2010   Phase Leap  

We don’t live in scientifically or technologically advanced times. We live in a scientifically and technologically patchy world, one in which different societies, industries, individuals, and even specific roles of individuals have all adopted widely separated levels of technology.

This isn’t only true of, say, “developed” versus “developing” countries. In the United States itself coexist a late XVIII-th century governmental framework with high frequency trading markets,  significant theologically-driven voting blocks with cutting-edge genetics research, and decades-old transport infrastructure for atoms with areas of implausibly fast transport infrastructures for bits (although, as nearly everything else, this is far from being evenly distributed across the country).

As iconic contemporary writers like J. G. Ballard, William Gibson, and Warren Ellis have explicitly shown, most of the fault lines in our so-called present, and most of its creative power, lie on the interfaces between different times. This isn’t new: WWII saw the Russians defeat the Germans with tactics Napoleon would have recognized, while the Allies, by the end of the war, had created the twin promethean forces of nuclear weapons and computing, which would come to define the next of the century and beyond.

What feels different this time is the huge range of technologies and ways of life that not only coexist in time and often in space, but also actively engage each other. When the FBI has computer systems that look decades older than those of the white collar criminals they chase, advanced scanners are used to hunt for blades and crude explosives in airports, and conservative religious movements use the internet to call out against technology, the concept of anachronism seems no longer to be applicable to the present. Fashions and fads die, efficiently buried by the same novelty-driven industries that created them in the first place, but the underlying structures seem to simply deposit one over the other, Wall Street over Silicon Valley over Detroit over the Corn Belt over, somewhere deep in the American psyche if not in reality, the economy and society of the Thirteen Colonies.

Barring some abrupt stopping in the speed of technological advance, things can only get weirder as time goes on and every group applying cutting-edge technology and science keeps moving further away from each other and from the rest of us. The puzzled, unsettled background feeling of displacement that characterises the century so far is unlikely to go away, because it’s not a result of how fast the world is changing, but of how unevenly it changes.  More and more, the task of politics — understood in its most broads and perhaps most useful sense — is to figure out how to make workable this patchwork of a planet.

Marcelo Rinesi is the IEET's Chief Technology Officer, and former Assistant Director. He is also a freelance Data Intelligence Analyst.



COMMENTS

Yep. You’re right.

> “conservative religious movements use the internet to call out against technology”

Do you mean technology in general or do you mean specific technologies? Were you attempting to point out an example of hilarious hypocrisy? I wonder if it was a misguided attempt, since I can’t think of any examples of conservative religious movements who use the internet to call out against technology in general.

“significant theologically-driven voting blocks “

Do you count the ones clinging to Marx as “theologically-driven” as well, or is your bias showing?

@veronica

It’s true that calls against technology in general are less frequent than against specific technologies, and that the latter are less obviously hypocritical. But (and this is an overgeneralization) I do think that it should be uncomfortable to argue against the pragmatic application of the results of rational experimentation and hypothesis testing in a secular framework, while using tools that are only possible because of such endeavors.

@Scott Parker

I don’t consider Marx a religious writer, just a lousy economist who shouldn’t have taken Hegel so seriously. The Many-Angled Ones know that I have lots of biases, but Marx isn’t one of them…

That said, to put it midly, I don’t see anything like a significant Marxist voting block in the US.

Marcelo writes: “It’s true that calls (via the internet) against technology in general are less frequent “

Less frequent? Does it happen at all?


“I do think that it should be uncomfortable to argue against the pragmatic application of the results of rational experimentation and hypothesis testing in a secular framework, while using tools that are only possible because of such endeavors. “

I don’t think it would be uncomfortable in the least. As an unusual example, should one feel uncomfortable arguing, via a blog, against shooting heroine, since, after all, both the syringe and the keyboard are made up of plastic and metal?

 

 

This analysis seriously deflates an argument against post-scarcity. We can prophesize all we want about how auto-navigation systems will spell the end of various driving professions, but at the end of the day rickshaws powered by human feet still run rampant across India, leading to an entire subset of the population having broken bodies at age 30. Widespread technological implementation will always be fighting the twin behemoths of economic feasibility and entrenched systemic entropy. Good article.

@ veronica

http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Pope-in-Malta:-Only-God,-not-the-technology,-can-protect-us-from-evil-18172.html

That said, an sparrow does not spring make, and it’s far from a mainstream activity of any of the major religions these days, and I’d be happy to recant my statement.

As an unusual example, should one feel uncomfortable arguing, via a blog, against shooting heroine, since, after all, both the syringe and the keyboard are made up of plastic and metal?

Your counterexample has the form “using technology (internet) to argue against something that uses technology (syringes)”—- I believe that what’s going on is “using technology (internet) to argue against something that makes technology possible (secular scientific research).”

That said (again) (and limiting myself to the Catholic Church, which I’m somewhat more familiar with by having been born and raised in an overwhelmingly catholic country),  the use of secular or even heretical tools to argue for the catholic faith has long been an accepted tool of Christian apologetics.

@Andrew

I disagree.

Most assumptions of technological advance seem to be based on the idea that for a “low tech” country to develop into a more “high tech” country, it must progress through similar stages to those that current high tech countries did.

This assumption grossly neglects the fact that many emerging technologies render existing infrastructure obsolete. For example, wireless technologies that work over MILES may make all existing wired and wireless infrastructure useless. That such technology could be built into nearly any sized device and function in a decentralized network could effectively render telecommunications obsolete as well. As such, a “low tech” country like India could effectively BYPASS all developmental stages and create a nationwide network without a single wire laid or even a major investment.

While this is speculative, it is not the only technological innovation that is likely to bypass all need for developmental phases in developing countries. Many others, such as 3d printers, fab labs, and even bio printers could effectively allow “low tech” countries to become “high tech” with minimal effort, investment, or infrastructure.

Yes, Marcelo is correct that we are a hodgepodge right now, but this state is due to the fact that there is a lag between tech development and tech adoption that is rapidly shrinking. I believe that over the next 20 to 30 years that lag will virtually disappear as manufacturing becomes more automated and printing becomes a dominant manufacturing method. As this is also likely to be driven by the current economic problems, it also indicates that the cost of manufacturing is going to drop enormously, making such tech far more affordable to “low tech” economies, and enabling them to basically “jumpstart” their economies towards 1st world standards.

If you understand ALL the factors at play, from from undermining post scarcity, this article merely highlights some of the “problems” that will drive us towards it.

“don’t think it would be uncomfortable in the least.”

Religionists can simply say:
“God wants nuclear power plants, but not birth control.”
They’ve got it covered everywhich way.

Originally you had written, “conservative religious movements use the internet to call out against technology”

After I challenged that, you gave a link to an asianews article, presumably to prove your point. I just wanted to tell our fellow readers who might not click on that link that the article was not a call out against technology.

Further, you write, “I believe that what’s going on is “using technology (internet) to argue against something that makes technology possible (secular scientific research).”

Again, you are neglecting to distinguish between being “against secular scientific research” and being “against certain areas of secular scientific research.”

 

@Veronica

To quote Roger Waters, “What God Wants, God Gets.” 

It’s funny how many people seem to think that an Omnipotent Deity is powerless to prevent any technological developments he doesn’t want to be developed. If he truly was Omnipotent, he’d simply change the laws of physics to make it impossible.

But… since he hasn’t, I take that as evidence he wants it done.

Which means that every one going “God wants this” or “God wants that” are pretty much putting words in “God’s” mouth.

@ valkerie

I’m familiar with the phenomenon of certain technology completely skipping over past ones, the 3rd world cellphone explosion being the paradigmatic case. Yet this only applies to a certain set of technologies. Our 18th century government is not about to be replaced, and either are many other elements of our infastructure (plumbing, roads, trains, etc.). Furthermore, even when old paradigms have become obsolete, they are brought back for their kitch-value, as the carriages and recent explosion in bike-rickshaws in new york has shown. We place a certain level of value in not having technological and aesthetic hemogeny, as the architecture of somewhere like new york exemplifies very well. Our culture likes the hodgepodge, you could even say that it is part of the post-modern aesthetic. Hipsters still listen to records and tapes, historical societies work around the clock to preserve the old, and the natural checks and balances (negative feedback loops) we have written into our cultural systems to ensure homeostasis will work directly against the new technologies of the future, ensuring that we will always be living in a hodgepodge.

@Andrew

I not denying that we will always have “old” mixed with new. Look at second life, which is, if anything, the ultimate hodgepodge.

However, there is one vital difference. Many of the new technologies being researched or which seem likely to be realized over the next 30 years are going to deal with eliminating a lot of the “necessity” that currently creates that hodgepodge. That hodgepodge is going to cease being because of there being little other choice, and become one *entirely* of choice.

Bioprinting, which is only just in it’s infancy, holds great promise for eliminating not only such problems as replacement organs being scarce, but a printer that can print a heart can print a piece of ribeye steak as well. While the technical hurdles are still enormous, bioprinters could mean the end of world hunger, allowing even poor farming nations to be more self sufficient, and eliminate the need for enormous tracts of land devoted to mere farming, as could other innovations such as Farmscrapers and some of the “microfarm” concepts being explored in Japan and other nations. Local food production could eliminate much of the need for massive transport systems. The same goes for local fabrication facilities using 3d printers.

Another development could involve transportation advances like LTA heavy lift bodies as well as airborne transport via quadcopters.

Basically, given current technology, and current technological research, I can quite easily see how we can create a post scarcity society while STILL having the same hodgepodge. Both technologically and politically I see trends that will lead towards a post scarcity society and a much stabler world, though they are likely to follow a rather tumultuous period of dramatic change.

Thank you Marcelo. Excellent essay.
How do we use the understanding of the hodgepodge to create multiple economic systems? How can we leverage the hodgepodge as an advantage?
To date, I think we tend to be in denial of the hodgepodge and the result can look like systemic [insert “ism” of your choice—racism, sexism, classism, ageism, etc.].  Can the recognition of the differences lead us to develop multiple, parellel solutions?
Part of the futility of trying to have a “war on poverty” is an inability to address the multiple, interconnecting complexities. Will owning the hodgepodge allow us to take a different approach to housing, education, infrastructure than a one-size-fits all approach (without repeating the mistakes of separate but equal)?

We’re stuck with religious interference in technologies for a long time. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, women can’t even drive cars without special permission—at least that was the last report;
I heard a woman can be drowned or stoned for driving without permission.
So the old & new are mixed together far more than even you guys think.

ValkyrieIce, your comment at 9:43 seems pretty reasonable, but I can’t figure out why you addressed it to me. Your point doesn’t seem to have anything to do with what I wrote.

Technology always wins. If you choose to/can not make it part of your your life, too bad. So what? I don’t get the point of this essay. And besides the year matters; every year more things become possible.

If you choose to/can not make it part of your your life, too bad. So what?

Ah, but a technologically heterogeneous world is a fundamentally different beast than a technologically homogeneous one. Denmark moves to wind power, but China burns coal: the Northern Sea keeps rising anyway. A guy in a favela has problematic access to basic health and police services, but excellent cellphone coverage: how does this change society? You write a kickass cryptographically secure distributed data sharing system, and then a Congress composed of members who couldn’t tell their public key from their IP address vote it illegal because they were promised money to run TV ads they need to convince people that if they vote for them they’ll keep Mexicans from moving North to pick their apples. And so on and so forth - the *edge* of technology is fascinating (heck, it’s what I’m focused on most of the time), but by definition most of the area is behind it, so you can’t successfully think about the world just looking at the edge.

@Veronica

no particular reason, just an offhand observation sparked by your conversation with post futurist. It’s what comes to mind every time I hear anyone talk about “What God Wants,” which is the basic cause of all religious opposition to any technology.

@ Marcelo

You make very valid points about TODAY, but I think like Andrew you’re not seeing how all those various factors play against one another.

For example, re: Corruption in government and cellphones. What do they have to do with each other at all?

Far more than most people realize. Why? Because government corruption depends on being hidden. It depends on people not knowing what’s going on. But Cellphones, particularly cameraphones, are making it harder for things to stay hidden.

Take the recent Rand Paul Incident. There have been allegations before about violence at various political rallies, but this time WE HAVE IT ON VIDEO. No matter how it’s spun, it’s STILL A BIG GUY STEPPING ON A WOMANS HEAD.

Without that Video, it would have never even made the news, much less have become a nationwide story. No matter how things play out, it has had an effect on the elections.

Then let’s look at Iran, which is a much less technologically advanced nation, but which also has a large cellphone network. Recently that network caused major trouble for the regime, by creating record of the violence the regime was attempting to carry out against dissenters. It more or less cause that suppression attempt to be reigned in, because it couldn’t be carried out in secrecy.

These effects are small, but they illustrate how a seemingly unrelated technology can influence social factors that seem entrenched and unchangeable. Yes, Social systems lag behind the “bleeding edge” and ideological systems are inherently resistant to change, but they are as subject to radical alteration by emerging technology as anything else.

The chief thing to look at is not how widely distributed goods and products are, but how widely KNOWLEDGE is spread. Knowledge is the catalyst, not infrastructure. And knowledge spreading technology is exactly what has been spreading faster and faster, and causing the most disruption. Knowledge access is the core component of advance and innovation, and the most damaging weapon that can be used against all forms of tyranny and secrecy.

You are quite right that you can’t successfully think about the world by only looking at the edge, you have to look at everything, and you have to understand human nature especially, to understand how technological change is actually occurring. It’s easy to throw up your hands and despair that human stupidity, greed, and corruption will insure that nothing ever changes, but it’s those very qualities that in fact guarantee that many of the desired changes transhumanists hope for will eventually be attained.

@Valkyrie Ice

I’m not saying that knowledge-driven progress is impossible (or even unlikely). What I do think is that, more and more, the technological gap between coexisting technologies will grow larger (which I don’t think it’s much of a proposition, really 😊 ). Today it’s cellphones next to wood cooking, tomorrow it will be over the counter retrovirals next to cellphones..

Actually, you’re not even coming close.

Today it’s cellphones next to wood cooking stoves.

tomorrow… It’s going to be VR contact lenses… and swords and sorcery, knights in armor walking down the street with Klingons, X-wings in the sky next to flying unicorns…

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