(2011-08-17) Stross Usenix Future

Charlie Stross gave a keynote at USENIX with predictions for the 2061 future (assuming no Collapse, Singularity, or other Black Swan-s). Lots of opportunities for Huge Invention in there.

My crystal ball is currently predicting that base load electricity will come from a mix of advanced nuclear fission reactor designs and predictable renewables such as tidal and hydroelectric power. Meanwhile, intermittent renewables such as solar and wind power will be hooked to batteries for load smoothing, used to power up off-grid locations such as much of the (current) developing world, and possibly used on a large scale to produce storable fuels – hydrocarbons via Fischer Tropsch synthesis, or hydrogen gas vial electrolysis. (Energy)

We are, I think, going to have molecular Nano-Tech-nology and atomic scale integrated circuitry. This doesn’t mean magic nanite pixie-dust a la Star Trek; it means, at a minimum, what today we’d consider to be exotic structural materials. It also means engineered solutions that work a bit like biological systems, but much more efficiently and controllably, and under a much wider range of temperatures and pressures.

Where I’m going to stick my neck out, is that I predict great things for medicine and biology over the next century. (Life Extension)

Something outwardly resembling Democracy everywhere... Ultimately, a lot of the decision-making power of government in the 21st century is pushed down a level, to civil service committees and special interest groups: and so we have democratic forms of government, without the transparency and accountability. At least, until we invent something better – which I expect will become an urgent priority before the end of the century.

Barring unexpected setbacks such as an even larger war than the Congo conflict, Africa will follow China and India up the development curve before 2040... By 2061 we or our children are going to be living on an Urban Middle Class planet, with a globalized economic and financial infrastructure recognizably descended from today’s system, and governments that at least try to pay lip service to democratic norms. (I'm going to call this the Fractally Open Society.)

The pervasive spread of networking technologies (UbiComp) that we’ve witnessed over the past half century is only the beginning. And while the outer forms of that comfortable, middle-class urban developed-world planetary experience might look familiar to us, the internal architecture will be unbelievably different.

The whole question of whether a mature technosphere needs three or four billion full-time employees is an open one, as is the question of what we’re all going to do if it turns out that the future can’t deliver jobs (UnEmployment). So I’m going to tip-toe away from that ticking bomb.

To some extent, the shape of the future depends on whether whoever provides the basic service of communication – be it fibre in the ground or wireless or optical frequencies over the air – funds their service by charging for bandwidth or charging for a fixed infrastructure cost. The latter is vastly preferable. (OpenNet) This leaves aside a third model, that of peer to peer (P2P) Mesh Network-s with no actual CellCo-s as such – just lots of folks with cheap routers. I’m going to provisionally assume that this one is hopelessly utopian.

In the long term we will have more storage capacity than we necessarily know what to do with.

Let’s approximate the upper limit on Band-Width to 2 tb/sec/person, by postulating a mixture of novel compression algorithms and really tiny cells.

One thing you can do trivially with that kind of capacity is full Life Logging (Life Streaming) for everyone.

I suspect that before long we’re going to see cops required to run lifelogging apps constantly when on duty, with the output locked down as evidence. And it’ll eventually become mandatory for other people who work in professions where they are exposed to any risk that might result in a significant insurance claim – surgeons, for example, or truck drivers – not by force of law but as a condition of Insurance cover. (Panopticon)

Lifelogging raises huge privacy concerns, of course. Under what circumstances can your lifelog legally be accessed by third parties? And how do Privacy laws apply?... When it’s your memory or your ability to do paid employment, Security gets to be something close to food and water and shelter: you can’t live without it.

Is losing your genomic privacy an excessive price to pay for surviving Cancer and evading plagues (Pandemic)?

Eavesdropping on our metagenomic environment and our sensory environment impinges directly on the very core of our identities (Identity).

Which leads me to conclude that it’s nearly impossible to underestimate the political significance of information Security on the internet of the future.


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