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January 23, 2013

Today on the WELL Discussion: Pandemics, War... and Hope

Jon Lebkowsky posted this:
We know what we should be doing, but we're derailed by external forces and our own internal drivers and addictions. For decades now I've heard smart people talk about compelling solutions, but there's no market for real salvation. Gravity defeats us.
And I replied:

And yet we persevere, we survive, and sometimes we even thrive.

A few years ago, for one of the Institute for the Future Ten-Year Forecast events, I presented (as a post-dinner talk) a set of three fifty-year forecasts. All were uncomfortable in their own ways -- one emphasized disruptive technologies, one bottom-up actors (both for good and not so much), one transnational large-scale action. The audience could pick any one of them as the "happy" story, any one of them as the "scary" story -- but each offered very serious challenges to the status quo.

I then said this:

There's one more scenario I want to talk about, another fifty-year scenario. It starts, of course, with a global economic downturn, one lasting much longer than anyone expects. We slowly come out of, and see an explosion of new technological development; but in concert with that, more instability. Regional conflicts and military strategies getting accustomed to new technologies lead into an almost accidental war, which escalates to the point of fighting all over the world. Chemical weapons get used. Just as the war ends, we see the rise of a global pandemic. The combination of conflict and disease leads to what some call a "lost generation," millions of people in their 20s and 30s dead.

We finally see an economic boom, though, and for parts of the world, this becomes a glorious time. It doesn't last, of course; an economic collapse even greater than the one a few decades earlier takes hold, driving hyperinflation in some countries, mass unemployment in others. Governments fall, and totalitarian regimes take over, some using ethnic cleansing as a rallying cry. This inevitably leads to another global conflict, even greater than the last, one which ends in a shocking nuclear attack.

I've just described 1895 to 1945.

This is why I am, ultimately, hopeful about our future. We have lived through terrible, almost unimaginably awful times. We have faced brutality from nature and from ourselves. And we always come back. We learn. We build. We live.

I love telling this story to a live audience, describing this scenario -- the shock of recognition is a delight to see.

January 18, 2013

Still Talking About the Future at the WELL

The conversation at the WELL on the state of the future is still going, and will continue through the 28th. Jon Lebkowsky is the host of the discussion, taking on a role similar to the one he has with Bruce Sterling's State of the World discussion: provocateur, ringleader, and catalyst. My turn on stage was Jon's suggestion, for which I am massively grateful. [Worldchanging readers will recognize Jon as one of the very first non-me/Alex writers for the site, and folks who have been online since before the web will recognize Jon from Fringeware, Mondo2000, and pre-web bOING bOING.]

Here's my most recent post to the discussion, along with Jon's prompting question:

inkwell.vue 460: Jamais Cascio - Open the Future
#30 of 31: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 17 Jan 2013 (03:07 PM)
Climate and poverty are wicked problems, it seems to me - hard if not impossible to solve. What's the best way to approach those problems, vs the ones that come in smaller, neater boxes?

inkwell.vue 460: Jamais Cascio - Open the Future
#31 of 31: Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Fri 18 Jan 2013 (11:05 AM)

What makes climate and poverty wicked problems is that they're complex -- complicated + interconnected with other systems -- *and* that they're attached at the root to fundamental political-economic power structures. That is, altering the status quo of climate & poverty will upset power balances; those with the power who stand to lose it will use every bit of that power to hang onto it.

So what do we know that can successfully attack a complex system with a great deal of defensive power?

Viruses. We have to think like a virus.

[Recognizing that viruses aren't even alive, at least according to some definitions of life, so yes, thinking isn't what they *really* do. But go with it.]

A retro-virus, to be precise. We need to figure out how to get in, adapt, and rewrite the system. A blunt attack would get shut down quickly; we have to be able to simultaneously weaken the system and redirect defensive resources in a way that makes the system think that it's still working. We need to be able to turn the system against itself.

Admittedly, holding high the banner of "we're like a virally-induced auto-immune disorder" isn't going to bring in a lot of money and recruits, but it is a good analogy for the strategy I think is likely to work best.

Think like a virus.

January 15, 2013

State of the Future 2013

One of those daysEvery year, Bruce Sterling does a masterful job of talking about the "state of the world" at The WELL. For two weeks, Chairman Bruce holds center stage, answering questions and pontificating (as only the former Pope/Emperor of the Viridian movement can). It's great fun. This year, however, the folks at The WELL asked me to do the follow-up conversation: a "state of the future" discussion.

Two weeks of fun, argumentation, and a nagging dread of not being as good as Bruce.

Come on over and play!

January 3, 2013

Ready or Not (Doomsday talk in San Francisco, June 2012)

Jamais Cascio @ "BAASICS.2:The Future" from Selene Foster on Vimeo.

This past June, I spoke at an event in San Francisco for a group called "BAASICS" (Bay Area Art & Science Interactive Collaborative Sessions). My talk -- on the end of the world, and why it matters -- was fairly brief (under 12 minutes), but reasonably fun. The HD video of the talk is now available at Vimeo, as well as embedded above.

Highlights include old favorites the Eschatological Taxonomy, Legacy Futures, and the Singularity!

And, as always, weird poses and gestures.

Likely title: "Come at me, Bro, I've got a targeted nano-plague!"

Jamais Cascio

Contact Jamais  ÃƒÂƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚¢Ã‚€Â¢  Bio

Co-Founder, WorldChanging.com

Director of Impacts Analysis, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

Fellow, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

Affiliate, Institute for the Future


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