Exactly 10 years ago, in January 2010, I started a new blog. In my
I said I wanted to explore:
What’s the next decade going to be like in technology?
So I started to publish at upon2020.com.
But that stated reason wasn’t the entire reason. At the time, I was quite uneasy
about the state of technology. Uncomfortable where it seemed to be going. And where the
world at large was going — a world 18 years after the
end of history,
supposedly. I could imagine so much potential for good things to happen, but somehow
everybody’s motivations seemed to be focused on other objectives. Doing good for the
many didn’t seem to factor into it much, all public declarations about not being evil,
putting people back to work with a short dose of zero interest rates, connecting all
the world’s people and the like notwithstanding.
I didn’t feel I could comprehensibly articulate my unease, so I didn’t talk about that.
But setting up upon2020.com was a sign of bewilderment on my part. I was hoping that by writing
about what was happening in the decade to 2020, I could make sense of it and be less bewildered.
Now, it’s 2020, and the good news is that my bewilderment has passed. (So it is time to retire
the upon2020.com blog, and I will do that shortly.)
Unfortunately, the bewilderment from 10 years ago has given way to a clarity that
shows many things I’d rather not see. Where do I start? Let’s just pick three:
The political system is broken. In the US, in the UK, in many other places. Regardless of
where you stand politically, when did you last time feel it is getting better, fairly and
sustainably? Bipartisanship for the good of everybody will re-emerge just as soon as …?
It’s hard to even imagine. The same is happening on an international level. This means our
ability to decisively act is declining just as we have unprecedented global problems.
Not a good combination.
Technology is in a bad place. Just take the term “Silicon Valley”. It used to stand for
amazing new inventions that are good for everybody. That would change the world into something
much more awesome, one Comdex at a time. Now it means the unaccountable monopolies of a
handful of trillion-dollar-class companies that screw you and me and most other people on the
planet every day, 24 hours a day, in public and in our most private lives, by surveilling us,
doing things behind our back we don’t know and wouldn’t approve, by extracting much of the
economic surplus leaving an economic wasteland in many places, throwing terms of service
at us that are abusive, and so forth. Opinion surveys now have mainstream majorities for
opinions such as
“risks of new technology outweigh the benefits”. What happened? How do we undo that? Can we?
And the climate/environment. This past year, finally, the knowledge that the planet is in
bad shape has arrived in mainstream discussion everywhere. However, much of the discussion
so far is either in the earlier stages of grief (denial, bargaining), or fatally incompetent
in the understanding of exponential functions, a.k.a positive feedback loops. There will
be a second stage of reckoning when that becomes apparent. Just how do you eat if most
insects are gone, for example?
(Yes, there are positive trends, too. But the
suicide statistics tell us
where the balance is to be found.)
So Hello World in 2020, all my unease in 2010 did not prepare me for you.
So what now?
Personally, I believe this is an All Hands On Deck
situation. We have dug a hole, and need to stop what we’ve been doing, back up, and focus
on getting ourselves out. We have overshot,
and need to reverse back to what’s sustainable. We need to get out of our complacency, reject
what is clearly not leading us into a desirable future, and work like hell to put stuff in
place that will.
I think of it as a Reboot: just like what you do when your computer acts up and you’ve had
it because you actually need to get stuff done.
So this what I want to do with this blog: write about stuff that we need to stop doing,
and in particular, what we can do instead. Much will be from a technology point of view,
because I’m a geek after all. But almost all the problems we have are an inertwringled
mess of technological, economic, social/political, and now environmental challenges,
and cannot be addressed effectively piece-meal. First rule of engineering: understand
the whole system; you will need to eventually, anyway, otherwise you can’t get anything
to work reliably. So it won’t be just tech.
Fortunately, many answers are actually known, just very unevenly distributed. I am
hoping I can help surface them, and collaborate with many people to grow them, and
nurture them, and make them the normal, good, fair, sustainable thing that everybody
does instead. And focus on how we get ourselves reb00ted!
So Hello, World in 2020, let’s go!