Sunday, January 21, 2007

My future

I'm feeling utopian.

I know the likelihood of anyone caring to take the time to read what I write is in inverse proportion to the length of it, but I'm just going to ramble on again. Nobody's got a gun to your head, after all, dear reader. So let's pretend that the good guys win, and I get the future I'm pulling for. What will the world of 2057 look like to your average person, after the revolution?

First of all, there is a certain technological base that I think will exist in 50 years pretty much regardless of what happens otherwise, provided "what happens" doesn't include the collapse of civilization or human extinction.

For starters, pervasive internet access and ubiquitous computing will be the standard. People won't have a home computer and an iPod and a phone and a home stereo and a TV, synchronizing their files between them. No, wireless internet access will be fast and it will be everywhere. You'll store your music and movies and documents on a server or servers somewhere (maybe at home, maybe you'll have what old-timers might still quaintly call "Web space") and access them from whatever output device you've got handy. If you're sitting on the couch, you can watch Spider-Man 12 on the screen on your wall, but when you're taking the train to work, you can watch your same movie on your phone, or on a sheet of digital paper, or on the screen on the back of the seat in front of you. While you take an automated cab to the airport, you can browse your vacation photos on those same display devices, not because you synched them before you left home, but because you have access to them everywhere. Your sneakers have as much processing power as a desktop computer did at the turn of the century, and if you lose them, you can use google to find them.

Another major change will be in biotechnology. From a health standpoint, pretty much any genetic disorder caused by a single gene or interactions between a few will be long forgotten. More complicated problems, including some cancers, will still occur, but will be treatable to the extent that few people still die from them. Genetic engineering will be banal, rarely even worthy of debate and discussion except when expanded to new domains. While genetic screening and prenatal repair of genetic disorders will be standard, here won't be a flood of "superbabies," because anything that could be modified in such a baby can be done later in life reversibly and consensually through the more powerful tools at our disposal. An adult could voluntarily choose to, say, give themselves "intelligence genes" through artificial chromosomes; but for anything as complex as intelligence, there are no simple miracles with guarantees. The real heroes of the biotech future will be the modified descendants of bacteria and viruses, functioning much as the nanobots of science fiction for purposes as diverse as curing disease to cleaning industrial spills to producing plastics.

The third change will be the decentralization of production. Fabbers will be a standard household appliance. Whether the molecular nanotechnology breakthroughs suggested by some proponents occur or not, a vast variety of products will no longer be manufactured in a factory, shipped to a store, purchased and brought home. What will be purchased are raw materials and three-dimensional blujeprints; the product will be manufactured in your home fabber, or if it's too large for that appliance, perhaps at the corner fabbing shop. Think of a fabber as a 3D printer; it gets data and prints out the object. At the very least, most consumer goods other than food and extremely complex electronics will be capable of home fabbing. If the nanotech boom does hit, essentially everything will be available from your desktop.

Technology is value neutral. It is only as emancipatory as the society that wields it. The three central values of the society I want for 2057 are liberty, equality, and solidarity.

There is a government in this world of the future, but it doesn't really resemble the one we have today. Oh, it is democratic, and there are regional delegates, but beyond that it shares few features with the present system. The most dramatic change is that every citizen is a part of the government. There is no state that exists separate from the population as a whole. We are the government, because every building, neighborhood, or region (depending on population density) has an assembly that makes decisions for that building, neighborhood, or region. People are as involved or uninvolved with this assembly as they wish, but if they choose to participate, they always have a seat and a vote. Each assembly can make whatever rules it sees fit to make for its own domain, and people are free to choose which assembly they want to be a part of by simply moving there, if there's room. Those that do not choose to participate in the assembly are still obligated to abide by its decisions; if they didn't want this society, they're welcome to take their fabber and live apart from it, but they will not receive any of its benefits.

These local assemblies cannot make all decisions, however, because there are decisions that affect more than one locality. For these decisions there are confederations of local assemblies. For ever larger groups of people, there are more confederations, until we reach the national (and potentially, in the ultimate utopia, global) level. These are roughly analogous to city, state, and national legislatures, though they would likely not correspond directly to those administrative divisions that exist today because they would be more unified in scale. The most important difference between these assemblies of elected delegates and those that exist today is that, because every citizen is a member of the assembly that elects them upward, decisions are made from the bottom up rather than the top down. All assembly delegates would be subject to recall if they made decisions the next lower assembly disagreed with. These delegates would be regular people, selected for relatively brief terms from the ranks of their neighbors, not career politicians -- a class that does not exist in this future.

Work and economics are remarkably similar to politics in 2057. There are no bad jobs that nobody wants to do for two reasons. First, automation has eliminated a large number of them. Second, and more importantly, there isn't heirarchy in the workplace. Why should a hospital have surgeons and janitors? If they had more surgeons, each could spend a certain portion of their day doing the janitorial work. In the average household, chores such as cleaning are typically divided among the people that live there. Why not, then, divide chores at the workplace among the people that work there? In other words, jobs would be much more fairly balanced than they are today, and combined with automation there are few if any jobs that nobody wants to do; or rather, the things that nobody wants to do everybody has to do, briefly.

If a job involves unskilled labor or rote, repetitive tasks, it probably doesn't exist. Pay is according to effort and sacrifice, the things people have control over, not things they don't, like intelligence or strength. Workplaces are democratic. Any administrative or "managerial" tasks are done by people elected from within that workplace to do them, subject to the same sorts of qualifications as in the political assemblies above. There are no economic or social classes in this society, including on the job.

The economy still works on supply and demand, but there are no markets. Workplaces and industries are confederated much like regions are in the political system. The economy is socialist, but it doesn't function through central planning -- in functions through decentralized planning. At periodic intervals, and with the power of ubiquitious supercomputing available for simulation and advice if needed, people estimate what they would like to buy for the next interval based on the amount of income they expect to have. At the same time, the production federation estimates what they can produce. These estimates are all combined and iterated until a best fit plan is produced. If unexpected changes occur, they can be incorporated into the plan on the fly. Supply is actually based on demand, rather than based on expected profit.

But recall that every home has a fabber, and access to larger fabbers. "Manufacturing" is an obsolete industry, so there are really only five major divisions in the production side of the economy: raw materials, food, services, information, and design. Obviously design specifications are a subset of information, but I am here distinguishing it from things like the content of books. It doesn't much matter what specific, say, chair or t-shirt someone wants to buy when they estimate their demand, all that matters is how much material it will require for their fabber and how many designs they want to buy. People are really estimating how much generic stuff they expect to produce themselves, whether the stuff is divided between thirty t-shirts or one chair.

Decisions which affect nobody but the decision maker are made exclusively by that decision maker. There are no victimless crimes in this society. People have been granted explicit rights to do with themselves as they please. People have full cognitive and morphological freedom; they can change their minds and bodies as they see fit, whether through drugs or genetic engineering or prosthetics or surgery. Along with this comes reproductive freedom for contraception and abortion. People also have romantic and sexual freedom, to have relationships of any kind with any person or people in any combination and number, provided they are all capable and have given consent.

The environment is recovering and managed. We are actively terraforming Terra to restore the things we cause the planet to lose. Animals are not used, killed, or kept as property. If anybody still cares to eat meat, it comes from a vat, though it is indistinguishable in taste and is healthier than natural meat ever was. Our energy is mostly provided by the Sun, though other renewable sources have their roles in certain places as well. Solar power may have been more expensive for a time than fossil fuels, but in a society not driven by profit, the benefits were well worth the cost. The vast majority of people live in clean, efficient cities, leaving most of the planet free for nature, even as that nature is being remedied. The cities are vibrant and green and organic, they are alive and colorful. People live there because they want to be around other people, connected and tied in and social.

So, that's my utopia.

1 comment:

  1. Your comment on the surgeons and janitors gave me a chuckle, because a submarine is a lot like that. Everyday for an hour everyone drops what they are doing and cleans up the boat, regardless of their job.

    Except of course for officers, because we are too good for that shit.