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Silicon Valley Mordor

We think of ISIS as anti-human, and we are right to. But what if the greater threat to humanity is not among the barbaric brigades of the Levant, but among the far more sophisticated barbarians at work in Silicon Valley? This discussion between economist Daniel Kahneman and historian Yuval Noah Harari is … illuminating on that question. [1]Excerpt:

KAHNEMAN: What you are doing here, in terms of prediction, is about trends. The trend is clear, what progress means is clear, but when you describe people as superfluous, you are presenting the background for a huge problem. Who decides what to do with the superfluous people. Especially, what are the social implications that you see, the technical or technological development that you foresee?

HARARI: Well, again, I am an historian, I am not a biologist, I’m not a computer scientist, I am not in a position to say whether all these ideas are realizable or not. I can just look from the view of the historian and say what it looks from there. So the social and philosophical and political implications are the things that interest me most. Basically, if any of these trends are going to actually be fulfilled, then the best I can do is quote Marx and say that everything solid melts into air.

Once you really solve a problem like direct brain-computer interface … when brains and computers can interact directly, to take just one example, that’s it, that’s the end of history, that’s the end of biology as we know it. Nobody has a clue what will happen once you solve this. If life can basically break out of the organic realm into the vastness of the inorganic realm, you cannot even begin to imagine what the consequences will be, because your imagination at present is organic. So if there is a point of Singularity, as it’s often referred to, by definition, we have no way of even starting to imagine what’s happening beyond that.

Looking before the point of Singularity, just as the trend is gathering pace, one thing we can say is there may be a repeat of what happened in the 19th century with the Industrial Revolution, of the opening of huge gaps between different classes and different countries. Generally speaking, the 20th century was a century of closing gaps, fewer gaps between classes, between genders, between ethnic groups, between countries. So maybe we are starting to see the reopening of these gaps with a vengeance, gaps that will be far greater then were between the industrialized and the non-industrialized part of the world, 150 or 200 years ago.

In the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, what humanity basically learned to produce was all kinds of stuff, like textiles and shoes and weapons and vehicles, and this was enough for the very few countries that underwent the revolution to subjugate everybody else. What we’re talking about now is like a second Industrial Revolution, but the product this time will not be textiles or machines or vehicles, or even weapons. The product this time will be humans themselves.

We’re basically learning to produce bodies and minds. Bodies and minds are going to be the two main products of the next wave of all these changes. And if there is a gap between those that know how to produce bodies and minds and those that do not, then this is far greater than anything we saw before in history.

And this time, if you’re not fast enough to become part of the revolution, then you’ll probably become extinct. Countries like China, missed the train for the Industrial Revolution, but 150 years later, they somehow have managed to catch up, largely, speaking in economic terms, thanks to the power of cheap labor. Now, those who miss the train will never get a second chance. If a country, if a people, today are left behind, they will never get a second chance, especially because cheap labor will count for nothing. Once you know how to produce bodies and brains and minds, cheap labor in Africa or South Asia or wherever, it simply counts for nothing. So in geopolitical terms, we might see a repeat of the 19th century, but in a much larger scale.

KAHNEMAN: What I find difficult to imagine is that as people are becoming unnecessary, the translation of that into sort of 20th-century terms is mass unemployment. Mass unemployment means social unrest. And it means there are things going to happen, processes going to happen in society, as a result of people becoming superfluous, and that is a gradual process, people becoming superfluous.

We may be seeing that in the growing inequality now, we may be seeing the beginning of what you’re talking about. But have you thought, in the same way as you’re thinking in interesting and novel ways about technology, have you thought about the social side?

HARARI: Yes, the social side is the more important and more difficult one. I don’t have a solution, and the biggest question maybe in economics and politics of the coming decades will be what to do with all these useless people. I don’t think we have an economic model for that.

What to do with all these useless people? Harari says bread and circuses are probably the answer:

The problem is more boredom, and what to do with people, and how will they find some sense of meaning in life when they are basically meaningless, worthless. My best guess, which is just a guess, is that food will not be a problem. With that kind of technology, you will be able to produce food to feed everybody. My best guess at present is a combination of drugs and computer games as a solution for most … it’s already happening. Under different titles, different headings, you see more and more people spending more and more time, or solving their inner problems with drugs and computer games, both legal drugs and illegal drugs. But this is just a wild guess.

What I can say is that maybe we are again in analogous position to the world in 1800. When the Industrial Revolution begins, you see the emergence of new classes of people. You see the emergence of a new class of the urban proletariat, which is a new social and political phenomenon. Nobody knows what to do with it. There are immense problems. And it took a century and more of revolutions and wars for people to even start coming up with ideas what to do with the new classes of people.

What is certain is that the old answers were irrelevant.

Harari says that we are returning to a social and political structure that is the norm for human history: the powerless masses dominated by all-powerful elites. It’s already happening now, and it will only grow. We are losing, and may have lost, the ideal of the common good that teaches us that economic progress should be shared.

Harari points out that the pace of technological change is so fast now that nobody can say for sure what is going to happen to the family, and to our ideas of community. The Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution smashed the traditional family, replacing many of its functions with the state and the market. Harari:

And you can say that maybe life today is in some ways worse than in 1700, because we have lost much of the connection to the community around us … it’s a big argument … but it happened. People today actually manage to live, many people, as isolated, alienated individuals. In the most advanced societies, people live as alienated individuals, with no community to speak about, with a very small family. It’s no longer the big extended family. It’s now a very small family, maybe just a spouse, maybe one or two children, and even they, they might live in a different city, in a different country, and you see them maybe once in every few months, and that’s it. And the amazing thing is that people live with that. And that’s just 200 years.

What might happen in the next hundred years on that level of daily life, of intimate relationships? Anything is possible. You look at Japan today, and Japan is maybe 20 years ahead of the world in everything. And you see these new social phenomena of people having relationships with virtual spouses. And you have people who never leave the house and just live through computers. And I don’t know, maybe it’s the future, maybe it isn’t, but for me, the amazing thing is that you’d have thought, given the biological background of humankind, that this is impossible, yet we see that it is possible. Apparently, Homo Sapiens is even more malleable than we tend to think.

A side note: I was recently having a conversation with a teacher friend, and we were talking about how no education policy makers are talking about the role intact, functioning families play in the education process. I told my friend that listening to my late sister’s stories about her classroom experiences, as well as those of other teacher friends, had led me to conclude that kids with intact families are in a far better position to succeed academically than kids who are not — and that this gap cannot be bridged by technical solutions. Education is an organic process, not a mechanical one. So many of these kids who, through no fault of their own, live with single moms, and/or in family situations where they don’t get the care, attention, and culture of educational mission that many (most?) kids from intact families do, are going to fall further and further behind. Put in a way that Harari might make sense of, the lack of a family structure produces 21st-century serfs. Far from liberating people by trashing tradition, academics and activists who seek to normalize all kinds of families as equally legitimate are in fact making it more likely that children acculturated by irregular families will lack the knowledge and the skills enabling them to resist the economic and political forces that seek to control them.

Harari, once more:

In terms of history, the events in Middle East, of ISIS and all of that, is just a speed bump on history’s highway. The Middle East is not very important. Silicon Valley is much more important. It’s the world of the 21st century … I’m not speaking only about technology.

In terms of ideas, in terms of religions, the most interesting place today in the world is Silicon Valley, not the Middle East. This is where people like Ray Kurzweil, are creating new religions. These are the religions that will take over the world, not the ones coming out of Syria and Iraq and Nigeria.

Really and truly, read the whole thing. [1] It’s important. Cosimanian Orthodoxy really is the religion of the future. Note well that Harari is not saying he wants these things to happen (though he might). He is saying that current trends are leading in this direction.

Will you people who sneer at the Benedict Option and think that it’s only about trying to get away from the queers finally understand that this stuff Harari is talking about is the kind of thing I say we must prepare to resist? As I wrote here [2], same-sex marriage is not the heart of the challenge to Christianity, but rather an especially potent manifestation of the essential challenge, which is metaphysical — and which Harari has deftly explained in this interview (though he never once mentions gay marriage).

At issue is what it means to be authentically human. Is our humanity something we discover, or is it something we manufacture? If it’s the latter, and if human nature is malleable, as Harari and many others believe it is, then the future belongs to those elites who, in Harari’s chilling phrase, have learned “to produce bodies and minds.”

These are the new Dark Ages, and their darkness consists in large part of the belief that they are, in fact, an age of enlightenment, of progress.

The mainstream Left and the mainstream Right are collaborating to bring this new world into being. They both see progress in what technology can do to liberate the individual will from any obligations beyond those he chooses. On the Left, it generally has to do with social norms and beliefs; on the Right, it has to do with market forces. The symbol of this alliance is David Koch [3], the billionaire industrialist, who is signing a SCOTUS friend of the court brief in favor of same-sex marriage. What Koch stands for is the future of mainstream liberalism and conservatism both.

I hope Christians will read the Kahneman-Harari interview closely. This is the future. If you are not part of a church community that is consciously resisting this vision, then your children, or at best your children’s children, will be lost to the faith. There is no thought more corrupting to the human soul than the Serpent’s promise in Eden: “Ye shall be as gods.”  [4]

This is the religion of the future. Slavery will come to us disguised as the light of liberty and progress. These are the barbarians coming to rule us — and the masses will welcome them. This is why we must have the Benedict Option, for those with eyes to see.

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124 Comments To "Silicon Valley Mordor"

#1 Comment By C. R. Wiley On March 7, 2015 @ 7:38 am

I’m not sure how to get this across to the person in the pew, or –if we are up to the challenge, preoccupied as we are with either catering to the “felt needs” of people in open market of religion or with the 16th, 17th, and 18th century debates concerning the ordo salutis (which fuel techno gnosticism in surprising ways). Are we up for a whole new set of spiritual practices–for example gardening? I doubt it. In our attempt to accommodate the industrial revolution we psychologized the family–denuding it of political and economic significance and now we are defenseless against sexual perversion. I see the same thing with the sacraments–since we’ve drained them of their normative role in the life of the church we’re now defenseless against the new gnosticism.

#2 Comment By JonF On March 7, 2015 @ 9:09 am

Rod,

I don’t usually use the term “Dark Ages”, but if used it should be limited to the period between the death of Justinian (the real end of Roman power in the West, and the era of demographic collapse) and the rise of Charlemagne. Plenty of bad things happened in later centuries (Black Death, anyone?) but good grief, our modern world, even within living memory has not been free of horrors and calamities either.

#3 Comment By Escher On March 7, 2015 @ 9:35 am

This Singularity and mass idleness is predicated on a reliable supply of cheap energy, which is not quite guaranteed to continue, no matter the recent fracking boom and happy talk about so-called renewable energies.

#4 Comment By TBOU On March 7, 2015 @ 10:14 am

Part of what they are saying about useless people we are already seeing. US unemployment (counting those who gave up looking) is very high, but our economy is going on. Many of these people will never be able to work again, or work in their field, because their skills are stale. However, computers and robotics have enabled us to do without them.

I think we are seeing some ‘bread and circuses’ since around 2010 there was talk about why are we not seeing more crime with unemployment rising.

#5 Comment By Kevin O’Keeffe On March 7, 2015 @ 10:57 am

I’m reminded of the “Butlerian Jihad,” from Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series. These transhumanists & extropians want to turn our world into some sort of dystopian sci-fi novel. “Silicon Valley” may one day have to be dealt with in a manner similar to what was previously done to such places as Hiroshima and Dresden. Obviously, I pray it doesn’t come to that, but we need to realistic about the cosmic significance of this impending conflict.

#6 Comment By Anne On March 7, 2015 @ 11:33 am

Eamus Catuli said it all. Those of us capable of thought in the late 60s have been there, heard most of this, and lived to see how wrong most predictions of the future, especially of this caliber, turn out.

I’m still waiting for the three-day work week and the boredom of limitless leisure to appear. Oh, to have to rise to those challenges.

#7 Comment By ratnerstar On March 7, 2015 @ 11:46 am

This Singularity and mass idleness is predicated on a reliable supply of cheap energy, which is not quite guaranteed to continue, no matter the recent fracking boom and happy talk about so-called renewable energies.

If only we could convert high dudgeon into electricity; that would allow us to power the singularity just from Rod’s comments section.

#8 Comment By Anne On March 7, 2015 @ 12:06 pm

Note: For those who equate current unemployment figures (currently falling) to these predictions of useless workers, etc., think again. Unemployment has hit even higher numbers in the past, long before whatever automated wonders we blame today came on the scene. So far at least, when large numbers of workers lose their jobs, human greed, not technology, almost always turns out to be the culprit. Outsourcing, to name today’s major culprit, doesn’t require fewer workers, just workers willing to toil for less pay. Those out of work should blame actual human beings who chose to sacrifice them to their own interests, not some abstract trend only futurists understand.

#9 Comment By Joan On March 7, 2015 @ 12:34 pm

The problem is more boredom, and what to do with people, and how will they find some sense of meaning in life when they are basically meaningless, worthless. My best guess, which is just a guess, is that food will not be a problem. With that kind of technology, you will be able to produce food to feed everybody. My best guess at present is a combination of drugs and computer games as a solution for most … it’s already happening. Under different titles, different headings, you see more and more people spending more and more time, or solving their inner problems with drugs and computer games, both legal drugs and illegal drugs. But this is just a wild guess.

This boy is supposed to be a historian, but he doesn’t seem to have heard that this has all come around before. In the Sixties, there were scholars saying things like “The biggest problem people will have is what to do with all their leisure time.” This idea was among the major inspirations for the hippie movement, which included the usual party animal component, but also the return of mysticism. Because the Church of England had pretty much driven mysticism out of English-speaking Christianity*, the mysticism that people turned to was Asian, Native American and Wiccan. (The reconstructionist movement in Neopaganism came later.) If survival isn’t an issue anymore, some people will party all the time, some will play games all the time, and some will find these things unsatisfying and turn to the sacred. Surveys of communes founded in the Sixties, ten and twenty years on, found that the anarchic, secular ones usually broke up after a few years, but the ones with a strong religious or philosophical basis were far more likely to last. Some are still around, and if you go to the Fellowship for Intentional Communities website, the biggest single category is Christian.

*The trouble with an established Church that is literally a branch of government is that it is easily bent to the secular purposes of the political leadership. In the case of the colonization of North America, one of those purposes was to make lots of babies and fill up the continent before the French or the Spanish or one of England’s other rivals did. No time for full-time holiness.

#10 Comment By antimule On March 7, 2015 @ 1:09 pm

First of all, I think you are giving silicon valley guys too much credit. They have no more idea where they are going than anyone else. Just look at the long list of technologies that have failed. So I don’t think that they want to become the “new gods” or that they could even if they wanted to.

Second, you don’t need human level intelligence to eliminate most jobs. Dog-level robots would be sufficient to eliminate almost all menial and many intellectual jobs. Just look at self-driving cars as the most obvious example. So it doesn’t really matter if robot creators see themselves as “humans should be like Gods” satanists or as God-fearing Christians. Even if they don’t want to surpass humans, they will end up kicking most humans out of the job market anyway.

I don’t much like “bread and circuses” future either, but prohibiting human-level intelligence robots won’t avert it, unless you also prohibit dog-robots and mouse-robots.

We don’t even really need direct brain-machine interface. We already have interface, it is called keyboard (and more recently, vocal commands) and it is often quite sufficient for communicating our intent to computers.

And frankly, is prohibiting technology really an answer? Being fired because robot can do my job is dehumanizing. But it is almost as dehumanizing to know that the only reason why I have the job is because
there is a law saying that they can’t hire a more efficient robot. It turns any job into a hamster wheel- just run in circles here so we can pretend that you are useful for something. That is not the way to go either.

And finally, the reason why many sneer at religious right is because you guys have allied yourself with job-and-community-destroying forces to fight against abortions and homosexuality and ended up failing even at that. You made a deal with the devil and got nothing out of the bargain. And even now you still think that the libertarians will somehow save you.

#11 Comment By Chris 1 On March 7, 2015 @ 1:35 pm

JonF:

It’s interesting that if you look up “Dark Ages” pretty much anywhere you get dates that are roughly 500 – 1,500…what used to be called the “Age of Faith,” and the point of the term is that Faith leads to ignorance and superstition, because there’s none of that left in the world today. 😉

#12 Comment By David J. White On March 7, 2015 @ 1:42 pm

[NFR: Wait, what? The “Dark Ages” are a Western European phenomenon, and in my understanding, they typically date from the fall of the Western Empire in the fifth century until the rise of Charlemagne in the late eighth century, which began the birth of a post-Roman Christian society in the West. I’ve googled a bit, and see that the term is more commonly used to describe the entirety of the Middle Ages. Heaven forfend! I think the medieval times were an age of extraordinary light, even amid great darkness. So I’ll stop using the term, because it does not mean in the common understanding what I thought it meant. — RD]

I remember when I was in college I was chatting with a co-worker at the job where I worked part time. He was a few years younger than I. He was talking about what he was studying in school, and he said, “Right now we’re learning about the Renaissance in ancient times.” As I recall, I replied something to the effect, “Hmm, I don’t recall any Renaissance in ancient times. There was *the* Renaissance in the 14-15th centuries, and the Carolingian Renaissance in the 8th century, but I don’t remember any period in ancient times called a Renaissance.” I stopped talking when the look on his face told me that he wasn’t sure what I was talking about, and I realized that, as far as he was concerned, the 15th century constituted “ancient times,” whereas I was accustomed to using “ancient” to describe only things earlier than about the 5th century, which is the custom among Classicists. I have since come to realize that there are an awful lot of people for whom “The Past” is just an amorphous, equidistant period of Things That Happened Long Ago, and that “ancient” is often used colloquially to describe “anything that happened before I can remember.”

“If I were a Robot, Yubba dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum ..”

#13 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 7, 2015 @ 1:42 pm

Viking, so glad we are find common ground here. I agree that one of the great pitfalls of socialist construction is that you find yourselves subject to many of the same pitfalls, and temptations, as any other manager, or capitalist. I would also agree that some form of distributism probably offers the most feasible way forward from the world as it is now. After all, we don’t have the example of what might have happened if Eugene Debs had won the 2012 election before us as historical fact.

But bread and circuses was all distribution with no shared responsibility — much as both left and right have critiqued the welfare state. There is something to be said for the WORKERS of the world taking command of the means of production… which is not the same as a closed, narrow, party taking command in the name of the workers.

#14 Comment By JonF On March 7, 2015 @ 2:22 pm

TBOU,

Crime rates did not rise in the Great Depression either– despite the paucity of relief programs. While there’s obviously a correlation between crime and poverty, it’s just not the case that bad economies lead to a rise in crime. (At a guess, being raised in poverty can make a criminal out of a child, but falling into poverty will not make one out of an adult who isn’t one already).

#15 Comment By David J. White On March 7, 2015 @ 3:59 pm

Eamus Catuli said it all. Those of us capable of thought in the late 60s have been there, heard most of this, and lived to see how wrong most predictions of the future, especially of this caliber, turn out.

I’m still waiting for the three-day work week and the boredom of limitless leisure to appear. Oh, to have to rise to those challenges.

Remember when people confidently predicted that computers would give us “the paperless office”? That one alway makes me smile.

#16 Comment By Michael MacLeod On March 8, 2015 @ 11:26 pm

The future battle will be between the 4th density frame draggers and the cybernetic supermen.

#17 Comment By Viking On March 9, 2015 @ 4:17 am

Did TAC have some sort of freeze in the comments sections? I ask because I wasn’t able to access any such opinions until now, and now that I have, I notice that no one has commented here since the wee hours of Saturday morning. One of my own contributions was deleted, which I’ll now give in an altered form.

I basically agree with those several who have noted that, without a new source of energy, or increased reserves of old ones, these predictions are likely to go awry because of decreasing supplies of fuel. We often forget that our modern world is quite dependent on relatively cheep energy, and its absence would mean a far lower standard of living for all. So, should we root for a wonderful new energy source that could end up enabling the dystopia that Harari predicts? Or rather for various Peaks (of oil, coal, natural gas) that will save us from that fate, but at the expense of a life materially much poorer than our present one? That’s a Catch-22 if I’ve ever heard one!

Assuming the former occurs, and so such a nasty technocratic future is possible, what shall we do to prevent it? Siarlys offers one solution, socialism. Others offer transfer payments, basically the welfare state solution. (Considering that Saudi Arabia gives its subjects a considerable amount of its petro revenue, this latter can hardly be considered even mildly leftist, much less radical. And please remember the antiquity and source for the concept of using “bread and circuses” to keep the plebians quiet.) I would suggest a third possibility: distributism.

Distributism seems to me to have the great advantage of being suitable for decentralization. And, IMO, only a system which can put up effective resistance to a unitary state, whether of private capitalists or of bureaucrats jealous of their turf, can expect to defeat such a threat as Harari delineates. Socialism, with its call for worldwide labor solidarity, would simply substitute one elite for another. It’s doubtful to me that one is that much more satisfactory than the other. To take Siarlys’s WOTW analogy in a direction he presumably didn’t intend: a socialist future would likely be one in which a small elite would convince the great Morlock majority that the tiny, vanishing, and powerless Eloi population was the real cause of all their problems. (Sorry I don’t have a good name for the elite; Wells didn’t supply one that fits. Would it be less than cricket to suggest that HG’s own socialism might have had something to do with this oversight?)

Now, I’ll have to admit that a welfare state can be local. We have, after all, the history of many urban machines to back up this claim, plus rural equivalents. There are two reasons to doubt that they could continue in this vein if re-established, however. The first is that they seem inherently corrupt. This is probably the result of all elections having to go the machine’s way for it to distribute its largesse. The second is a question: who will stand up for local control if the unitary state makes its offer? Likely only the members of the various machines will particularly care from where the common folks get their checks. And that just isn’t enough to effectively fight against the central state. In contrast, distributism can get all propertyholders involved, which should be the great majority of the populace, if not, ideally, all of it.

Btw, Siarlys, I must say that I greatly admire your desire to secure the rights of all against various threats. I just happen to think you’re backing the wrong horse to get there.

#18 Comment By stef On March 9, 2015 @ 5:51 pm

@Lemur866: Nice theory, except for one thing. That “free middle-class lifestyle” isn’t free. Sooner or later, when we genuinely move into a post-labor society, there won’t be a “middle-class lifestyle” and there won’t be any transfer payments to simulate one.

Clothes and electronics aren’t going to help people who can’t afford rent, and who will be arrested if they’re homeless.

Also, what you’re forgetting about hunter-gatherers is that there were very, very few of them. Even so, they eventually got so good at exterminating mega-fauna that they were forced, ultimately, to resort to agriculture. After agriculture, a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is impossible to maintain. Agriculturalists have land ownership, fences, standing armies. The latter are used to exterminate hunter-gatherers.

* * * *

@Eamus Catuli: Also, the Benedict Option is no answer to a future in which a large part of humankind is enslaved, especially if that happens through some sort of whiz-bang technology. Any group with the power to enslave you, and prepared to do it, is not going to hold off because you explain that you’re following the Benedict Option.

Exactly. Sad but true. Many Americans don’t realize that slavery is *legal* in the United States if you are convicted of a crime. American prison slavery is a possible interim solution to the labor glut. Most Americans are fine with it. There’s no moral objection, as you mention, because Americans have the idea that if they’re convicts, they deserve it.

@Michael Sheridan: “NICE” is definitely a better analogy than Mordor. Also note that prisoners were used as experimental subjects at NICE.

@Lord Karth: It will be a choice between the Borg, the Matrix or total destruction of technological culture through warfare.

Even if we have a total war, we won’t destroy technological culture. There’s so much junk lying around, courtesy of 150 years of industry, that we won’t ever get rid of it.

#19 Comment By JonF On March 10, 2015 @ 6:21 am

Re: they eventually got so good at exterminating mega-fauna that they were forced, ultimately, to resort to agriculture.

Hunter-gatherers may have destroyed some (not all) mega-fauna, although the climate change attendant on the end of the Ice Age certainly helped, but that’s not why people took up farming. After all, large areas of North and South America and the whole of Australia were still populated by hunter-gatherers when Columbus arrived– and later.

Re: American prison slavery is a possible interim solution to the labor glut.

Why would we need prison slavery if there’s a labor GLUT? The conundrum here is that we are not going to need human labor as we did in the past.

Re: Even if we have a total war, we won’t destroy technological culture.

More importantly the knowledge will not disappear. Those genies, malign or benign, will not go back into their bottles.

#20 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 10, 2015 @ 11:32 am

Distributism has a lot to offer, although the recent failure of one of the Mondragon enterprises, beyond the capacity of its comradely associated enterprises to refloat it, gives one pause. And some horrible blunders have been committed in attempts at socialist construction, largely due to an abundance of hubris by the practitioners. Can we mostly agree that capitalism is leading is down the road to perdition?

Viking is correct about the role of energy. I have some hopes that our present technological capacity will lead to development of decentralized and renewable energy sources, which will not really become dominant so long as we haven’t reached peak oil and gas. As I had to pay my own heating bill this winter, I admit I am in the short term happy that the price of natural gas is at present relatively low.

Hopefully we will come to rely on a variety of sources, not all perfect reliable at all times, mostly localized. That would still allow for some dystopian technologies, but perhaps no so overwhelmingly dominant ones. Anything from suitcase-sized nuclear power generators (some are already in use in remote Alaskan villages) to solar, small vertical windmills in dense urban areas, modest mini-generators in small rural creeks, and many other possibilities, will all keep us chugging along, but not with overwhelming confidence, nor dependence on some power source half way across the continent.

#21 Comment By JonF On March 10, 2015 @ 2:31 pm

Re: Dog-level robots would be sufficient to eliminate almost all menial and many intellectual jobs.

Then why didn’t we outsource the jobs to dogs a long time ago?

Re: Just look at self-driving cars as the most obvious example.

True self-driving cars are no where on the horizon. What is coming down the pike are cars with auto-drive, similar to the auto-pilot function on airplanes. But just as airplanes still need pilot, so too auto-drive cars will require a human to be a in charge of them.

#22 Comment By JonF On March 10, 2015 @ 2:32 pm

Re: It’s interesting that if you look up “Dark Ages” pretty much anywhere you get dates that are roughly 500 – 1,500

I’ve always thought “Dark Age” to refer to a paucity of historical material from the early medieval period. Writing wasn’t lost entirely as it was in the early Greek Dark Age (c 1100BC-800BC), but source documents dwindle to a small trickle, we have trouble separating fact from legend (did King Arthur really exist?), and archaeology shows us a world that was almost post-holocaustal with the ruins of great cities lying mostly empty while a few thousand survivors tear up the roads and try to farm.
That is certainly not the picture one gets looking at, say, the 1200s, or even the disaster-fraught 1300s. And we may never know what became of the Princes in the Tower, but it’s not for lack of their contemporaries leaving us their own puzzlement and outrage over it.

#23 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 11, 2015 @ 7:21 am

Technology and mass surveillance combined with the perceived necessity to control disaffected “useless” populations will lead to actual monitoring of human thoughts, at the least.

#24 Comment By Nathan On March 11, 2015 @ 8:36 am

Rod,

Appreciated this article very much. I did a follow up on my own blog, where I discuss what I think might be some undetected birth pangs of this Brave New World (stuff many conservatives would rather ignore).

Have you read the books “The Second Machine Age” or Lanier’s “Who Owns the Future”? Both are very thought-provoking. I sum up some of their key points and arguments in my post. Check it out, if you can make the time: [5]

+Nathan