Saturday, April 4, 2009

Futurism, Part 5: Technology

The problem with forecasting in where technology where go is that you just never know where the scientific breakthrough of the future will be, or how they will change the game. Marx's theory of history, it seems to me, has been completely demolished because he could not account for the effects that electricity would have upon society, the creation of computer technology. Gibson managed to include a whole lot of possible future tech in Neuromancer, and even guessed correctly that computers would get smaller, but completely missed the boat on the concept with cell phones (whose existence would create a number of plot holes in the opening sequence). And it's possible, depending on what scientific breakthroughs come, on them radically restructuring society.

What are some areas of scientific interest? Well, the three areas of actual scientific concern are biology, chemistry, and physics, three fields that overlap in various ways. These result in various technological fields, like medicine, telecommunications, information technology, agriculture, robotics (nanotechnology?), genetics, energy production.... Biology and chemistry seem to be mostly applicable to medicine, genetic and agriculture. But physics branches out into a number of fields and possibilities.

Hmm. What are some fields of interest at the moment? Well, there is much investigation into the workings of the mind. Drugs for regulating behavior. There is robotics, our increasingly refined attempts at creating self-sufficient machines. Transportation.

It seems to me, as I outlined earlier, that communication and information devices seem to be centralizing with the help of the internet. We will probably see continuedcross-over between devices until the major difference between phones, laptops and televisions are what purpose they are mainly meant for (idle observance, active continuous physical engagement, audio engagement and casual physical engagement). Probably by midcentury we will see all such devices be completely interchangable in terms of ability, in possession of massive amounts of storage space (laptops with numerous terabytes) , capable of nearly instantaneous response to all commands, and with crystal-clear image quality (streaming video on your laptop with have the detail of shrunken-down 70mm film). Oh, broadband will be free and everywhere.

So take that as a given. Now, honestly, I can't see what unexpected advancements we could come up with in this area. Perhaps new forms of interface. gloves that allow you to manipulate screens. Holographic projections, both as screens and as interfaces (fake keyboards, volume knobs. Goggles/glasses that allow you access to information akin like you are a terminator or something. Tiny earpieces. Beyond that, you are talking implants: man/machine interfaces.

Medicine. Well, you have stem cell research. Gene therapy, for genetic diseases, birth defects, reversing cellular deterioration (slowing/halting aging). Organ cloning (including skin; better for burn victims). Cures for cancer. Better, safer vaccines? Genetic treatments seems to be where it will really be at, although keeping up with viruses will probably be an endless struggle.

Robotics. Man, there could be some freaky shit done with robots. But robots have always seemed like a kind of dead end to me. I mean, either we build robots that can perform a variety of complicated tasks, basically androids, or we don't bother, and just have machines that do things. I just wonder if there is any actually need for android robots. Why have one when you can get a human to do it? What's the economic incentive?

Energy production. Seems like it's the things lying around, right now. Solor panels, wind panels, and so on. Maybe a bit of nuclear power. It's just a question of getting the engineering down so the tools are more effective. Or we actually come up with cold fusion, or some completely different source of power.

Of course there's things like man/machine interface, AI, teleportation, time travel: things that are in science, fiction, but might not actually be possible (well, a lot of those other things might not be possible either).

I suppose you could base a science fiction story set in such a projected future world around the next scientific breakthrough that comes out of nowhere. Use that Clerk Maxwell line to Queen Victoria about how someday you will be able to tax it as the epitaph.

Futurism, Part 4: Economics

Here's an idea.

Assume we have widespread, nigh-universal unionization, and companies are still run by executives. But executives still have a tendency to fuck up. So what happens if a company goes under? Or, what happens if a company violently violates the terms of it's labor contracts?

Suppose a bill is passed where in this case, the government takes control of the company, wipes out the shareholders, and takes the company into receivership. It becomes an adjunct of the government. At this point, the government gives the union the option of buying back the company at some fair price (actual price of assets, cost of wiping out shareholders, I don't know) with the offering of a loan to facilitate the transaction. If the union declines, the company simply continues on nationalized, and then the government either runs the business, breaks it up and sells parts or sells it whole as it sees fit. This creates a heavy impetus for the union to buy back the company.

If the union agrees to buy it back, the corporation is reorganized as a cooperative. Instead of a board made up of chief shareholders or whatever, they are elected by the unions to termed periods (probably without term limits) . The CEO, or president, or what have you is either selected by the board as an employee or is also an elected official. This figure makes all other hiring decisions on down. Or the board does. I don't know quite how they do it up there.

Within this system, every employee down to mail clerk is assigned a certain share or number of shares of the company, which is the degree to which their position grants them ownership of the company. The employees own the company, and the are sole owners. After this point, compensation will probably differ from cooperative to cooperative, but likely each employee with be assigned a base salary adjustable in terms of the relative worth of their work (some jobs are more important than others), or seniority, or other concerns, then a "bonus," which is their share of profits, determined by the percentage their shares constitute within the company. Shares may be added with seniority or importance of position, but they are not allowed to be traded for capital. Different companies will probably come to their own decision about how much of profits will go into bonuses, or advertising or expansion, or if they will even bother with a base salary or just pay everyone from some percentage of income. Different companies and union cultures will dictate different things.

The existence of these cooperatives will lead to the encouragement for the creation of outside cooperatives, where workers or even people creating a start-up, albeit people loyal to socialist principles, will make their new ventures nascent cooperatives. Government loans in starting up new ventures will be more generous to such institutions.

Also, after the next financial crisis, or whichever one comes after Single Payer, we'll just nationalize all the major financial institutions, and run them like cooperatives, as an effective part of the national government. Thus will credit flow without need for a profit margin. It will be like the postal service.

Now, how to account for and continue innovation? One, we will boost funding for public universities, making them capable of shouldering a larger portion of the innovation pool. Systems will be set up to make sure that individuals are rewarded for their contributions to various fields, though with the government, instead of corporations, controlling the patents, it will be easier for useful drugs to inexpensively aid those in need. There will also be a large variety of grants offered to private individuals to encourage the pursuit of possibly idiosyncratic topics not directly covered by the larger university systems.

There will be a full time welfare unemployment wage, set at what is determined as subsistence level. That is, you can eat and afford somewhere to sleep on it, but not much more, so you should probably get a job if you want to live comfortably. And of course to do so would be frowned upon, though many burgeoning artists begin their careers is such a state, arting all day in hovels with the bare essential devices of their trades.

You will still have to get car insurance in order to buy a car, and you will still have to pay for it out of pocket. It's your toy.

By the way, this will all occur in the U.S., where power will, obviously, reside more and more with the Federal government, though decentralized across it's various webs of agencies. Europe will stay quite decentralized, akin to America under the Articles of Confederation. The various countries will either stay much as they are now or undergo widespread nationalization and hence rationing. Or maybe that's just in the eastern bloc. I don't really know the nature of Europe well enough to really think where they will go. A part of we suspects many of them will stay in the social democracies they have now, seeing no need to change, while ironically America will have become more socialistic, while still being more individualistic (personally I don't see these values as in conflict in any way). While Europe focuses on something like redistribution, the system America arrives at will be based on making sure individuals received just compensation for the actual value of their work. America might even have a flat tax, at least for the range of incomes possible within government or cooperative work, based on such reasoning (or it might be better to say, because the system is accurate). Collectivism vs. individual equality. Or something.

The American Cooperative Act will be passed sometime in the last quarter of the twenty-first century.

What do you mean "we," white man?

So I saw this link to a discussion of the political decline of the white male and, truth be told, I felt a little bit of a twinge of loss, then felt guilty about it. I guess no one wants to feel that they are losing something, even if it's something they don't really think they should have. Or maybe I just have issues.

Anyways, I clicked on the link, and read this. After some talk about all the people in power who are either not white or not male, it states:
Missing from their powerful ranks is the benevolent, yet stern retrosexual white guy prototype, someone at home in a country club locker room, but with enough self-confidence to get out and ask for directions in the ‘hood. He enjoys nigiri sushi, but he’s still comfortable with his own chest hair. By day, he feels his way through an Eastern bazaar like Simon LeBon, and by night he takes a nightcap with the ladies like a randy Bruce Campbell.
But I am not that guy. I have never been in a country club, nor it's locker room, nor would I have felt comfortable there. I am not some manly, upperclass badass. When people talk about white men, it seems like they are always talking about some other person, someone I don't know and don't even see. Some phantom.

It seems like it is always the case that when people start talking about white men, they immediately think of someone completely different. I am getting tired of being lumped in with people I have nothing in common with.

But then, maybe I shouldn't take it too hard. Maybe, next time someone talks about the downfall of the white male, I should just think, "Good. Fuck that asshole."

Futurism, Part 3

Where was I? So, I was rambling on and on about societal changes, and which way I thought they would go, specifically, the question of whether what seem from the modern perspective to be categorical cases of wrongdoing could be, through future changes in societal assumptions, be considered acceptable, or part of a new civil rights struggle. I kind of want to sidestep that question at the moment and focus on some other issues. I think that any possibility of such changes would have to be predicated on long-term societal shifts. there would probably be, in the near future, some kind of Golden Age, or calm period, where the basic reforms in civil rights and sexual equality are codified before any such issues become the topic of actual societal interest (as opposed to sources of prurient sensationalism).

God, I feel like I am disappearing up my own asshole. It this really the way I talk?

...Anyways, I think I lot of other events unrelated fields will happen before society might reach the point of legalizing pedophilia, so it's probably best to figure out what else might be going on in the meantime. That might determine whether or not we actually get at a point where such things are considered. (Although perhaps it should be assumed that during this cooling-off period there are clandestine pedophile and polygamous subcultures growing up in secret? Maybe that's your point of contention in a story set in the "good" future: that there is no final frontier. Also, I forgot about nudists.) I think we can pin about 2050 to the beginning of such a period, probably at the latest, and such a period will last at least until around 2100, and probably beyond that.

So, let's turn back to economics. I see two planes to this issue; there's national economics and there's global economics. On the global front, I think you are going to see a gradual rise in the standard of living as the local cultures adopt technological and organizational concepts first developed by the West. This will go on onto these countries reach some type of internal equilibrium and are able to start feeding back into the system (contributing scientists, art, academic institutions, technological breakthrough, etc.).

On the local front, like I said earlier, I think that there will come increased unionization, which will lead to higher wages, and in turn a higher level of civic engagement. Health Care will become socialized. These things seem certain, on some level, to me.

But the question is, what comes next?

More Futurism

So one thing i have been thinking about is how no science fiction stories imagine a pleasant future. Well, I have really been giving that much thought, since the reason for that is obvious—pleasant futures don't really lend themselves well to conflict—as to what such a pleasant future might entail. What would be a conceivable future world that we could look forward to living in? That wouldn't just be a sci-fi setting, but that could be an accurate projection of the future, to some degree? Assuming the world will actually get better, which I kind of do, and that there is an actual direction to history, what kind of future society are we looking at? What would be a conceivable endpoint, or at least goal, in terms of a future society.

I don't mean far future either. One of my feelings is that any possible future that could be arrived at, that is, any society, would have encoded in it mechanism to ensure scientific and artistic advancement. We will not get an End of History scenario, where we settle down to one, stable, form of society, and then we never budge from that, ever again. (It's funny, how when you think about it, how conservative Marx's vision really is.) However, it seems to me that there is a certain trajectory in terms of terms of economic and societal reforms, that something like the the "Liberal Agenda" will come about in the end, it's just that the Liberal Agenda keeps mutating, so it's hard to keep track of what it actually might be. Of course, any possible future, in order to be realistic along these lines, would need to be believably based upon a foreseeable trajectory from the present (otherwise you are dealing in Fantasy).

I mean, let's start out with some simple things shall we? I assume that eventually we are just going to have to have some kind single payer healthcare. Medical cost will just be so expensive, that some attempt will be made to eliminate the cost, and cutting out the profit margin seems a good way to do that. And of course, there will be increased, nearly universal unionization, leading to higher wages for all (at least in America). This, in turn, will cut into the profit margin. (God, I wish I knew more about economics.) Kind of hard to figure out what the step it after that.

Then there is social issues. The problem I have is that I feel like you can always fail to take something into account. Part of me thinks that We have almost reached the endpoint in terms of civil rights causes. Just where is there to go from here? But I bet the Romans thought the same thing, right. But if there is still some social just causes unturned, which ones? Who is there really left out there being oppressed? What additional dimensions of human experience have not been noticed? There's race, gender, religion, and sexual proclivities, right? Race, or nationalism, will probably be a continuing source of discord until everyone is brown, but I think in many countries it will soon fade to non-importance in day to day interaction. The President of the United States is a black guy. Talking about post-racialism is bullshit, but that doesn't mean our conception of our relationship with the concept of race isn't going to go under an overhaul over the next 4-8 years. Religion, who fucking cares. sexual proclivities? I just doubt that furies are going to be the next GLBT. Fetishes in general be become kind of humdrum and not important. Lot of taboos and peoples' interest in caring about or stigmatizing certain taboos will just go away. Once gay relationships are normalized, that shit will open like floodgates, and no one will care about fetishes, whether we're talking Furries or S&M. It will be like caring about a person's favorite ice cream flavor (mine is vanilla, natch). By 2050, no one gives a fuck what you do in bed. Probably the only sexual habits I see keeping a stigmatization are things like pedophilia, bestiality, and polygamy. Basically anything that could be read as an imposition onasnother conciousness that is unable to give valid consent. Though I wonder how long such things could hold on, especially if concepts such as gender start to fall apart and sex comes to be less loaded with meaning or value. Bestiality will always be a somewhat nasty violation of animals, but polgamy? Just a way to ratify polyamorous relationships, the way we are now ratifying same-sex ones. Pedophilia is a bit more fucked up, but, the ancient Greeks did it, right? Could we concievably return to a state so sexually lax that it became acceptable. Is NAMBLA the next gay rights movement? Allen Ginsburg seemed to think so. On the other hand, that might actually be a moral aberration that has actually been corrected for by Western Individual Liberty, not something harmless that has been supressed by intolerant mores. Still, if Socrates fucked Plato... (did he? could people confirm that, or am I just imagining that shit from stuff I read and heard? Man the Greeks sure were odd.)

More later.


Yeah, well work took a lot out of me this week. Everyday I got home and didn't feel like thinking or creating or anything. I just sat around and zoned out, drank a whiskey or a beer, or both, or several of both. Wednesday night I had a borderline psychotic episode after being in a freezer for over half an hour. I still wasn't really over the bad vibes from that for the rest of the next day, and then I sleep schedule got extra special messed up. Which, in general, I sleep schedule has been of late. maybe I need to get on a schedule. A set time to go to bed and wake up might be me some good.

Today I tuned my drums for the first time in ages. I even put the heads back on the bottom of the toms. They sound much better now. The resonances are in tune with one another, each tom tightened 360 degrees past finger tight. I left the back off the bass drum, since I keep having to take pieces off the back to use on the front back the front tighteners get jammed. I wonder why that keeps happening. Perhaps I have to loosen the drumheads peicemeal, instead of completel detuning one before the next? Actually, all my top drum heads are getting hard to turn. I wonder if I can order some more down at the local music shop. Maybe tomorrow I will go down to the music shop, then go sit in the library and read books. It is unfortunate that there are no big comfy chairs at the library.

I also need to buy garbage bag tags.

Another thing I did today. I cooked fish. I got out the broiler, which I have never used before, and mixed lemon salt in olive oil and slathered in on the fish, then cooked it at 315 for about 14 minutes. I also made about a pound of mash potatoes, which I will be eating all week. I put so much butter and pepper into those bad boys that you don't even need gravy or bean juice with them, they are so delicious on their own.

I have been making a lot of sandwiches lately. They are surprisingly easy to make, tasty, and filling. Now I know why mom was always pushing them. I get Pepperidge Farm whole grain bread, which is just the most flavorful stuff you could imagine, just incredibly hearty. You feel like are are really eating a loave. I use organic lettuce. I need to start buying freshly sliced meat, though. The recent On-Sale packaged stuff I bought is terrible.

...There is now gay marriage in the state I live in. That is just so fucking weird to me.