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Bruce Sterling's Letter from 2035 246

Bob Kopp writes: "Bruce Sterling has an interesting futurist piece in the current issue of Fortune , titled 'Hard Times: A Letter from 2035.' An excerpt: 'Helpfully, we tend to shoot all our lawyers, unless they are "intellectual-property lawyers," in which case they basically behave like Mafia dons.'"
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Bruce Sterling's Letter from 2035

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Bruce is agaist pesticides, irradiation, GMO, large scale farming, etc, and all the other technologies which increase efficiency and *REDUCE* land use. Since 1920, the US has consistently returned farmland back to forest, some 80 million acres have been reforested. Why? Because modern technology reduces food waste, from the farmland to your dinner table. Even refrigerators save forests because of the net energy saved.

    The greens want to repeal all this and go back to third-world style farming, farming as it was in the colonial days. In other words, organic farming. Organic farming, if used to feed the whole world, would require a massive expansion of farmland, which means, slashing and burning forests and wild praires to make them into organic farms. No need to wonder if this will happen, we can just look at the Third World or our own history to see organic farming in practice, and what it does to the environment.
    (Did I mention excessive tilling and topsoil loss?)

    Elimination of antibiotics and growth hormones alone mean cattle must eat more feedstock and have more acreage planted for them to graze. Meat is massively inefficient. In fact, "green technology" should be promoting a massive investment in genetically engineered meat.

    I mean, why do we grow a whole cow rather than just taking some muscle and bone cells in a culture, and growing beef like we grow skin cells for human burn victims? In fact, it would be more humane to just grow the meat directly, rather than an animal, which you must "kill" to eat it, and confine it for its whole life.

    Biotechnology represents the chance to apply Moore's law to food. Modern farms are like silicon fabs, and have led to a 300% growth in efficiency in this century.

    This efficiency gain alone, has meant that large tracts of farmland are no longer needed, and can be returned to the wild.

    While fuzzy headed cranks like Bruce "Viridian" Sterling babble on against biotech and pesticides, and promote organic and PV technology, and complain about urban sprawl, the fact of the matter is, the largest damage done to the environment has been the destruction of forests for farming. Only in this century have we reversed this trend by increasing our farming efficiency.

    Hopefully, someone will stop the insanity before organic farming causes a massive destruction of wilderness, increased starvation and topsoil loss, and returns us to the misery that was the 19th century.

    The point is even stronger when you consider Bruce's obsession with carbon. He fixates on fossil fuels, but totally ignores the contribution caused by deforestation.

    Of course, there is no point even trying to argue this. Rational debate has been replaced by scare tactics. Apparently, all man-made chemicals are evil and suspected of cancer. Radiation is evil. Anything man modified is evil (while nature is inherently benign, right?) The only permissible level of DDT or Dioxin is 0.000000 parts per quadrillion. And let's not forget plutonium, the most "poisonous" subtance in existance.

    If I had to write a scary letter from the year 2035, it would be a world where the greenpeace wackos prevailed.

  • The only time one of my Linux machines had those viral numbers appended onto the vmlinuz filename, it turned out that the machine had been infected with the RedHat virus. I, of course, got rid of it by installing the Slackware anti-virus program.

    The virus writers at Red Hat, in their infinite wisdom, create a symbolic link to their virus-infected file named plain vmlinuz. In the old days (don't know if it's still the case, hope to never have to find out again) they then hardcoded the vmlinuz file with all the number croft into lilo.conf. End result- you could recompile the kernel as much as you liked, when you typed 'lilo' to enable it, the same old crappy binary kernel that RedHat installed would be booted.

    It's the kind of sickness we have come to expect from the pimpmongers at RHAT.
  • I have to disagree with two points. First, you state:

    > among other things, the Green Revolution in
    > agriculture and the plummeting price of food
    > means that the Great Plains aren't getting
    > chewed up by clueless undereducated farmers
    > as they were in the 1930s

    Well, that's a loaded statement; I'll ignore the elitism, but the fact is, most of the farming areas of the U.S. are now being chewed up by enormous corporations who care much more about profit and yield today, than any long term land management. The possible ramifications of the lack of species diversification in food crops (if sub-type X produces more than sub-type Y, screw sub-type Y, even though it may prove to be resistant to a as yet unknown disease) could make the Great Dust Bowl look like the bald patch on your lawn. Let's not forget poorly thought out, supposed "Green" policies, like the introduction of Cane Toads into Australia.

    Second, you state:
    > People like Sterling probably didn't see any
    > point in financing Columbus' expedition, either.

    This is a fictional essay, Sterling is not saying that he doesn't believe space exploration was worthless, he just believes (backed up by most of the research I've seen) that space exploration will lack _monetary_ profit in the near future.
  • Wow, where has Bruce come out against all of these things? He certainly seemed comfortable with them in Islands In The Net, which portrayed massive bioengineered food production.

    All of your arguments are very well-taken, though, and make good sense. People who let warm fuzzies displace engineering judgement as to the best course of action are begging for unfortunate and unintended consequences.

  • Another thing. All these environmental problems and the market is flat? Please... If anything the grains markets and the softs markets (cocoa, sugar, etc) should be volitile enough to make some money. Consider this, constant to slightly depressed demand, with a varying supply worldwide. Of course environmentally based markets would vary... And if you take the Algae which put off hydrogen story from a few days back, couple it with continuing advancement in fuel-cell development and carbo loaded Sugar Cane plantations could become tomorrow's version of today's OPEC Oil producers further enhancing demand for sugar. Interesting piece overall...
  • Bruce Sterling, from "Involution Ocean" onward, has consistently shown himself to be one of the dourest writers on the planet. Personally, he may be a nice guy. I liked "The Hacker Crackdown", very very much, and "The Difference Engine" is a real classic.

    However, he seems not to be able to imagine anything like a future that works, or even works imperfectly, enmired as he is in the culture of despair that has gripped progressive intellectuals from about 1970 onward. Up till then, progressivism could point to a more-or-less standard set of benchmarks, say, X acres of swampland drained to produce X acres of land to house X new factories employing X number of people, all due to the wise central planning of a board of men working in the public interest. The hippie left, on the other hand, never could decide whether its ultimate Paradise was a city or a garden, a jungle or a void. (Not every hippie was keen on going up the country to work on Maggie's farm, or any farm, for that matter. For many, the Future was about lazily writing poetry while robots took care of the housework.) Their adoption of "the environment" as a cause (which heretofore, had been the province of dotty old ladies, deer hunters, and Barry Goldwater) meant that the situation was always lose-lose: no matter how well things were going, it would always have to be measured against an ideal state in which human beings were entirely absent. Finding out that Communism wasn't not merely sometimes, but most of the time harmful to developing (and even developed) countries, that even socialism wasn't all that it was cracked up to be, and that even current Soviet states were crumbling worsened the situation: while America, capitalism, and wearing suits and wing-tips were all still anathema, there seemed fewer and fewer alternatives. Nowadays, if you hear any progressive intellectual describe a desirable social order, it's usually with a fantasy element: a total abandonment of technology, communities of magic-using pantheists, descriptions of hypothetically "unspoiled" hunter-gatherer communities, Latino communites stripped of political unrest, machismo, or any but the most benign forms of Catholicism. Or else...nothing.

    Mr. Sterling is a firm believer in nothing. If we'd been a little more careful, his authorial voice warns, we wouldn't have this mess. What we'd have otherwise doesn't seem to interest him:having more than seven billion people in the world is awful, but he also cites the lack of children around as a tragedy. Innovation is ultimately boring, but so is its lack: his all-business, all the time society isn't any less or more uninspiring than the progressive vision of turning all human endeavor into a form of politics. As for the environmental prognostications, it's almost a truism nowadays that eco-apocalypse is just as often predicted and often averted as the other kind. We didn't see it coming? And just what have we been hearing about all these years?

    From what I've been able to figure out, Mr. Sterling was given an assignment to write about "the future of business", couldn't see one, and ended up trotting out the same old songs and dances. Sad.

  • Are you sure you don't mean "Jane, his wife" rather than "daughter Judy"?
  • No, I think they will have cooled off by then.
  • Everyday I find a new reason to get news elsewhere. Moderate it down. It is meaningless crap.
    Intelligent conversation on /. has certainly gone down the tubes.
  • Did you actually read what I wrote? Look at it. I said that it would work it he used the whole half page.
    Did you actually read what Tom Swiss wrote? To wit: "Dude, what's all this `To be or not to be' speech?"

    That's "speech", as in "a WHOLE Goddamn SPEECH", numbskull.

    Like I said, I was being a bitch.
    Who gives a fuck what you say you're being, when you actually are being something else?
    Not in the context that I was being picky, but in the context that I was not really all that serious about what I said.
    Then why the fuck whould we take your claims as to what you "are being" seriously?

    The "context" here is, in fact, neither that you are being "picky" nor that you are being more or less "serious" about what you say, but that you are being just plain WRONG.

    So do us all -- including your parents, probably -- a favour drop dead, fuckwit.

    Christian R. Conrad
    MY opinions, not my employer's - Hedengren, Finland.

  • Bruce writes like humans are running things in 2035... comedy Sterling style :)
  • Au contraire, that's exactly what the market is for. The "someone wins, someone loses" mentality about the market is common among lay folks (like myself, I Am Not An Economist), especially those of a scientific bent, as it plays to a certain hypothetical Principle of Conservation of Wealth.
    But economics simply doesn't work that way. If that were the case, then taking that concept ad absurdam, we'd all still be having to share the same meager wealth that the first few thousand proto-humans had a few million years ago, among the six billion of us.

    Markets, per se, don't create wealth. Work does. At the end of the day today, the United States is richer by the results of about 800 million hours of people's labor. Some of that labor is directly producing goods, some of it is producing abstract goods, some of it is providing services.

  • oops. forgot to close the <i> tag
    I am a moron.
  • Seems to me you do it here...
    What do you think /. is?
  • >On the other hand, if everyone adopts your scheme, the result would be the ad absurdum
    >situation where everyone wins all the time; surely the market cannot function in such a fashion.

    Au contraire, that's exactly what the market is for. The "someone wins, someone loses" mentality about the market is common among lay folks (like myself, I Am Not An Economist), especially those of a scientific bent, as it plays to a certain hypothetical Principle of Conservation of Wealth.

    But economics simply doesn't work that way. If that were the case, then taking that concept ad absurdam, we'd all still be having to share the same meager wealth that the first few thousand proto-humans had a few million years ago, among the six billion of us.

    Markets exist to generate wealth, not simply to redistribute it. It could be theoretically possible to have an everyone-wins-always market, but your point about uncertainty is valid -- there's just too much chaos there to predict with any more accuracy than, say, the weather.

  • Say that I buy an x% share of the fresh water in the area. (I want to drink, wash dishes and use the restroom after all) Then anyone who wanted to dump in the river would have to pay me for the reduction in value of my share. If they failed to do so, a class action lawsuit would get the attention of PoluterCorp's board of directors in a big #$%@ hurry.

    The problem with a private trust is in what happens to the destitute. Presumably, if you bought x% share of the fresh water for your necessities, then presumably a person who has no money for whatever reason cannot legally urinate, drink, or bathe. That would make for a rather Pythonesque scene in the unemployment office to say the least.

    What we have now is a system of public trust where government is supposed to handle problems of pollution. Unfortunatly, the current government consistantly fails to do so, and the public doesn't seem to realise that government is supposed to belong to THEM.

    The problem is not too much capitolism, or not enough. The problem is that corperations as legal entities accidentally re-create the perfect model of a sociopath. Recent psychological research has shown that if two people are paired together, one who only follows orders, and one who only gives them, each will feel that they have no responsability for the consequences of their actions. Together, they become capable of actions that would be too repugnant for either to do alone. Compare to a modern corperation where stockholders abstractly urge ever increasing profits, and executives give the orders but never actually watch them carried out. Meanwhile you have workers who carry no authority and only a small individual value to the corperatin. Each absolves him/herself of the crime.

    Stockholder: "I never said to do that! I just said make more profit.", Executives: "If I don't give the order, the stockholders would just replace me with someone who will. And I'll be sued in the bargain". Worker: "It's not my decision. Besides, if I don't, I'll get fired and they'll get someone else to do the same thing.".

  • This is one of the most ignorant criticisms that I have ever seen.

    I have no idea where you got your ideas about what economists thing, but it certainly didn't come from anything vaguely resembling the last couple of years of mainstream economics.

    Yes, we're quite aware of the existence of limits. Perhaps this is why we teach about them in class . . . However, we also teach about why Malthus was wrong.

    Ans as far as you realization that "publishing
    predictions such as this fellow just made actually produce the
    result.." . . . no kidding; we expect people to demonstrate an understanding of this to pass an introductory class in the field.

    There is no adjustment that economists need to make to figure out the difference between today and the early period of industrialization. A "new paradigm"? Give it a rest.

    On the other hand, if you think that there's a conflict between cooperation and competition, you probably have a very odd idea of what competition is.

    Go find another type of straw man to troll about.
  • Imagine a science-fiction writer in 1900 looking forward to the level of productivity and automation of 2000. What would he write? Probably nothing very different from what Sterling wrote.

    History isn't over, neither is economics. In 1900, many intellectuals forsaw a future of peace and leisure, where everyone would be rich. It didn't happen for them, and it won't happen for us. Conflict is plentiful; markets still fail; governments still fail; there's no real movement towards better medicine for most, much less all, of the people; economists are still better at telling you what went wrong than at predicting what will go wrong next; and wealth still accumulates at the top (even more than it used to).

    Recent history is full of the failed attempts of those who believed that markets would act rationally. The LTCM collapse is just the latest in a long line of failed "systems" for beating the averages. People know that won't work at the race track or the blackjack table, and Sterling should know better than to believe it's any different for markets.

    Each era's political and economic certainies are the next's discredited superstitions. Don't be so sure it's any different for capitalism various stripes and schools than it was for Marxism's. Sterling's prediction of the end of the Third World at the hands of the 'Net is as premature as the same prediction was at the end of imperialism.

    Sterling's discomfort with the commodification of everything is today's problem. I'm already burned out on the Digital Revolution - so are most people. Sterling's anti-historicism - scepticism that progress is leading somewhere - is also today's issue. It was also the issue in 1900, and 1800, and 1600, and 1000 for all I know. We struggle on, finding meaning in history only when it's over.

    The real issue is the lack of willingness to work for progress. We don't have convincing goals, or even real expectations that the world can and will improve if we work for it. That is where our malaise comes from - the belief that as much as the world sucks we can't do any better.

    I fear Sterling isn't doing much to fight that notion, and the only good excuse for it is that no one else is either.
  • Bruce Sterling is the best 'post-cyberpunk' author I've ever read, and he consistently lays out interesting scenarios for what a extremely high tech culture might be like.

    His environmental rants are not at all off base.. capitalism != environmental havoc? No more than communism, certainly (have you seen the state of play in the former Warsaw Pact countries? Bruce has..), but billions upon billions of consumers eat a lot of raw land and resources, and the extinction rate since humans became civilized has been higher than at any time since the dinosaurs died. That's a bit of environmental havoc for you, right there.

    The notion that government subsidizing is at the root of all harm from capitalism is misguided.. the market, as currently structured, is not capable of accurately accounting all the costs of consumerism. Capitalism is efficient at what it does, and it's the best thing going by all means, but it's only the best thing, not the perfect thing.

    Which is what Bruce was saying.

  • ... although only briefly.

    What do you think the remark about intellectual property lawyers acting like Mafia dons was referring to?

  • The population growth rate is slowing down, so your assumption that growth continues at its current rate is suspect. I don't think that Sterling's number is that unreasonable. If we don't find an AIDS treatment that can be massively deployed in the 3rd world soon, Sterling's number may be on the high side; AIDS is taking out a whole generation in Africa and parts of Asia.

  • >Cute, but nothing special. It reads like an off-the-cuff story he gave to Fortune either because they'd asked him for some comments on the
    >future or just because all the usual SF markets turned it down.

    IIRC, there used to be a lot more or these kind of sf-narrative-as-essay stories around twenty or twenty-five years ago. About things like how we all would be looking forward to eco-disaster by the first decade of the 21st century. Or how the US & the USSR would cripple each other with a nuclear exchange, leaving Europe & Japan to pick up the pieces -- or loot the finest minds to benefit their universities.

    A few decades later, I find myself a little older, probably more sick of hearing myself start *any* statement with ``I remember when" than any of you might be, & also notice things never got as bad as these stories predicted. The oceans did not die in one, mutant algeal bloom -- but we seem to be losing a lot of amphibian species. We haven't had to worry about nuclear war for over a decade, but you still wouldn't want to spend a night in a Russian jail -- or be an avowed Communist in most US ones.

    People who predict the future forget how slow it takes some changes to come to pass: yes, you can connect to the Internet in almost every country of the world by phone, but in most countries the biggest challenge is to find a phone that works well enough to transmit at 9600 cps. And outside of North America, you are going to pay for that connection by the minute or second.

    On the other hand, some changes happen at a pace we never foresee: about 35 years ago, I saw an exhibit at OMSI here in Portland, where a number of different people had built their own computers -- refrigerator-sized contraptions made of wood & wire with all of the computing power of a contemporary hand calculator & I wondered if I would ever be able to own one like them. My Linux box at home can crunch numbers faster than the high-end mainframes of that day.

    In short, some things have gotten a little worse -- & that sucks -- while some things have gotten a little better -- & that's cool. And many things are different than they used to be.

    My guess is that people who used to write pieces like this one realized that the future was going to be so different from their guesses that they lost interest in prognosticating. While people will continue to screw up & cause some things to get worse, they will also screw up & be unable to intentionally make other things worse. And the converse -- that is, people will strive towards improvements -- will also be true. Not so much balancing one another as keeping the current hobo's stew well stirred & free of scalding on the bottom.

  • I'm not the first one to observe that this is a SF short story disguised as a predictive editorial in a financial mag. It's a mistake to read this as an editorial disguised as fiction, though it seems to me to be presented that way.

    Those of us who read Bruce's work frequently know that he's got a bunch of futures in his head, and he's not revealing which one he's betting on. In fact, since he revealed this one, I'd be willing to wager it's not the one he's wagering on.

    I find it interesting how he's borrowed from several of his recent novels, all of which I've enjoyed immensely. From Distraction (my latest favorite) we have the technologically-inclined economic nomads ('technomads?'), i.e. Okies with Cellphones. And he alludes to the social problems that come with life extension technology, as he depicted brilliantly in Holy Fire. I'm sure there's more but I read most of his other fiction so long ago that plots and titles become blurred.

    As an engineer who studies complex systems, however, I have to willfully suspend disbelief in this premis that "you can't repeal the business cycle." My regard for this statement, simply put, is that the business cycle is an emergent process of an artificial system, so by altering the system you can indeed "repeal" any cycle you like. You just have to understand what you've created, and where you've let chaos creep in. By using that verb, Bruce skillfuly makes you infer that it's a natural law, unviolable, predestined.

    But the unrepealable business cycle is a very good premise for a work of speculative fiction, and I think he could have milked it for more than just a couple thousand words... and he may yet. O

  • I see what you men but you have to remember that a story isn't always "about" what it purports to be "about".

    Moreover, whether it's intentional or not, the future economic system described by Sterling isn't capitalism.

    Capitalism - by definition - is a system in which one needs capital in order to make serious money, and without it you can only sell your labour for much more modest returns.

    But you may have noticed that even the presently nascent "New Economy" Sterling referred to is vastly different to the old one. It empowers people with ideas and the get-up-and-go to pursue them by (i) eliminating the requirement for significant capital in many cases, particularly where in the so-called "knowledge-based" economy; and (ii) making capital much easier to obtain when it's required (venture capitalists are ten-a-penny these days).

    In the old days capitalism was a barrier to entry for most people - you needed to own a shitload of money just to get started. But nowadays any US college graduate with a bright idea and good presentation skills can have a go. All he needs is to save up about $5000 - enough to cover a deposit on a car, an apartment, a cell phone and a computer with an internet connection.

    In Sterling's vision of the future everybody is in business for themselves. Yay! He paints it as a bit dystopian, but I don't think that's because everyone's self-employed, it's because he apparently thinks the cultural and environmental atrocities committed by old-style corporate capitalists will continue even after capitalism has been replaced by a truly free market.

    Perhaps he's right about that and perhaps not, I don't know. But there are plenty of people around today who'll attest to the fact that perpetual rapid change does lead to distinctly dystopian feelings of alienation. The "Kids today! Pah! What's the world coming to!" viewpoint has been voiced since at least the ancient Greeks, but rapidly evolving technology certainly adds new fuel to the fire.

    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • I find it utterly unbelievable that anybody would moderate this troll as "insightful". Shoeboy, you missed the point completely: Sterling isn't taking a swipe at capitalism per se, he's just warning us about change and reminding us that our narrow little late-twentieth-century perspective (for that is what it still is) must bear very little resemblance to the world as it will be in 35 years time. And he's even given us a little peek at what it might be like to live in a society whose equilibrium point is continual and rapid technological change - which does clearly seem to be exactly where we are heading.

    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • Is 2000 that similar to 1960?

    I still think so.

    Microwave ovens...Cable TV...VCRS/CDs

    I *did* already concede that we have a few more gadgets now. But I don't think they have made such a huge difference to the way we live our lives or the way we think and act. We've been watching far too much TV ever since the damn thing was invented.

    the internet and computers

    The internet certainly has the potential to revolutionize society and adically alter the way we live. But for the vast majority of people this just hasn't happened yet. We're still mostly stuck in 1960.

    artificial hearts

    To the best of my knowledge we *still* don't have artificial hearts outside of the laboratory (and even within the laboratory it's not really changing anyone's life - the recipients of these implants don't last very long and they have to stay in bed hooked up). Of course ordinary transplant surgery was still in its infancy back then but even now it only affects a very small number of people.


    In 1960 there was gonorrhea, syphilis and herpes. During the late 1980's and early-to-mid 1990's there was a paranoia about AIDS that has no 1960's parallel. But it seems to have mostly gone away by now perhaps because the most sexually active generation today is young enough to have grown up taking AIDS for granted.
    [increased] gasoline prices

    This hasn't changed anybody's life. Increased earnings have offset this taxation and you don't see people giving up their cars as a result.

    The trick is --- it doesn't _feel_ that different, to anyone who lived through it. But in reality, we're a completely different society;

    I don't think there's any evidence to support that view.

    ...the world of 2040 won't feel that different from today, for those of us who live through it --- but, taken as snapshots, and then compared, they would be completely different.

    I won't argue with you there as I've no idea what 2040 will be like. The pace of change does appear to be increasing though and - apart from widespread Internet use - there are a number of potentially life-changing technologies *possibly* just over the horizon (nanotechnology, longevity treatments, true AI, mind uploading, cheap fusion energy, cheap space travel etc).

    In my opinion the only thing coming up that will make a really significant difference will be a vastly increased active lifespan. How will a society dominated by middle-aged centenarians work? I'm *dying* to find out ;o)

    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • Since he's talking about economics I'm certain he's referring to economic casualties, i.e. people who lost their shirt either through worthless investments, hyperinflation, obsolescence of certain labor skillsets, or environmental damage.

    Mind you, famine and disease are often caused by economics. So are wars. Gee, when you think about it, an awful lot of bad shit can happen. Us late-twencen Western babies sure have had it easy so far, haven't we! But this cosy world of television, leisure time and suburban homes for the masses has only been around for a very short time relatively speaking. The chances are still very strong that much of our future will look more like our past than our present. Be scared.

    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • <i>who in 1960 would not have been surprised by the world of 2000?</i>
    Bad example. IMHO the world of 2000 is not that different from the world of 1960. If people of the 1960's could suddenly be transported here I think the only thing that would surprise them is that so little has changed. A few more gadgets in people's homes, a different economic policy in Russia. That's about it.

    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • Of course, Extrans support might have worked better in 1960 than it apparently does now...:o/

    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • In the early 1900's there was the labor movement, in the 50's and 60's we had civil and social movements. In general these things lead to a better society, even if it wasn't revolutionary. The time may be coming again soon.

    It seems fairly clear to me that the next revolution is brewing already, right here, right now. The people vs. the Intellectual Property Robber Barons of the media/software industries.

    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction

  • Good gravy, the man's making sense! Is that allowed?

  • I normally like Sterling's work, but I have to say that this piece was a disappointment.

    Science fiction authors usually take something that they see in the present, extrapolate it into a potential future, and see what shakes loose. It makes for interesting reading, and it often makes the author seem pretty insightful. Not this time.

    The idea of economic collapse and everyone hustling in the future has been around since the dawn of cyberpunk, at least since Neuromancer, if not since Do Androids Dream... Sterling took a similar tack to Gibson, in his Islands in the Net (1989?) where global international corporations have replaced nations - where all you have, do and think is corporate and your employer counts for more than your ethnicity. There were hustlers and up-starts in that world too, and the economy was completely different.

    Environmental collapse was probably best described in Heavy Weather (1993?) - another great one by Sterling. Remember the flying cow in Twister? Guess where that came from!

    So how is this rant on topic? Well, the reason I didn't care much for this piece, and why I don't think it deserved a place in Fortune (or anywhere else besides B.S.'s (heh!) private site) is that it was recycled material from years ago. Now, I'm all for code reuse and non-duplication of effort, but recycled creativity is an oxymoron.

    I suspect that this was written for money, so maybe this sort of hit-and-run commentary writing is the second of Bruce's upcoming 37 companies. :) Anyone who rests on their laurels keeps them in the wrong place.

  • If I draw on my ability to bullshit - earned in English Lit many years ago....

    Sterling's quip that the market has been made deterministic by the application of enough computing power suggests that enormous computing power is available.

    This computing power can also be applied to making sure that corporations *perform* deterministically - hence the market is deterministic, and there are no misconceptions, hunches or secrets.
  • But yesterday, Blodget changed his tune, predicting that the vast majority of Internet companies will be bankrupt within five years.
    Of all Internet companies, "75 percent will disappear within five years, and 75 percent will never make money, or sell themselves," Blodget said at the Silicon Alley 2000 Internet conference.
    He declined, however, to predict which companies would survive and which would die.

    This is a real easy prediction to make. The same is true for all companies. The internet weirdness is that the companies that don't survive are still making a pretty big splash before they go.

  • So in the case of MythicalCorp, Inc., if it's possible to save a buck by spewing pollutants into your local river, it's most efficient to do so!
    Ok, I'll bite. There's another aspect to pollution that I didn't address, and that's the issue of ownership. Nobody owns the local river, so the company doesn't have to pay to pollute. That's a problem. So what's the answer? Well government ownership sure isn't the answer. Let's take a look at two issues, logging and grazing permits. Timber companies don't care about clear cutting national forests, and ranchers don't care about overgrazing them. If anyone could buy either a) the land or b) a usage permit then the Sierra club could pay money for a plot and then not let anyone graze or cut. That would be great. I'd start contributing to the Sierra club if this were the case. Small ranching operations would go broke and the price of beef would go up, but that's ok since meat isn't all that healthy. Let's pick another example, air pollution. Most air pollution is caused by automobile traffic and not by big evil companies. If you had to pay for road construction and maintenance + traffic cops through gas taxes + vehicle taxes alone, you'd have a greater cost of transportation. This would make public transit profitable (or less unprofitable at any rate) and put a damper on both air pollution and suburban sprawl. Now lets take your example of the river dumping. Say that I buy an x% share of the fresh water in the area. (I want to drink, wash dishes and use the restroom after all) Then anyone who wanted to dump in the river would have to pay me for the reduction in value of my share. If they failed to do so, a class action lawsuit would get the attention of PoluterCorp's board of directors in a big #$%@ hurry.
    See, the market can solve these problems, but only if we can put a price on the environment, and only the market can determine the price of a good.
    And don't go saying that life, or clean air or a sunset is priceless. That's a load of crap. Price is a measure of value. If something doesn't have a price, it doesn't have value.
  • If I learned anything during my time as an english major it was this:
    Don't be an english major, drop out and become a programmer.
    But I learned many things as an english major and one of them is how to read a text.

    Let's start with the section, title and subtitle:
    The Capitalist Century
    Hard Times A Letter from 2035 You had the Depression, irrational exuberance, and Okies. It's just the same in 2035, except now the Okies have cell phones.
    Wow, it sure seems like this article is about capitalism and probably about capitalism from a historical perspective. I doubt Mr. Sterling was unaware that this was part of Fortune's the capitalist century. Looks like he's probably down on capitalism too.
    Another bit.
    But given that I'm up here in 2035 enduring a major economic depression, while you're back there in 2000 spewing your pollutants, smoking cigarettes, and having unprotected sex, I hope you don't mind if I frankly get a few things off my chest.
    What we have here is a classic "cranky old guy bitching about kids today" bit that we all recognize from talking to our grandfather. The purpose of this bit elevate the speaker into a position of moral authority. The message here is that pollution, nicotine and unprotected sex are immoral. (Not foolish or self-destructive mind you, but immoral) Go ahead, show me something from the article that indicates that either Mr. Sterling intended this in an ironic tone, or that he retracted it.
    Next bit:
    In the old days, a depression like this would have provoked a lot of extremism, maybe even a revolution. Fortunately, we're no longer aware of any alternative to capitalism. In fact, we don't even use the word. Capitalism dropped permanently out of fashion a couple of decades after its old enemy communism died off. Here in 2035 it feels old-fashioned even to say that you're "in business." The market has privatized everything privatizable, so everybody and his sister is in business. Business is so taken for granted that it has become invisible--like clocks or running water or forks. You only notice it when it's not going on.
    Mr. Sterling's assertion seems to be that modern capitalism is barren and soul destroying.
    Now come on. Tell me that this article isn't anti-capitalist.
    Now he may be critiquing the worship of money and the addictive drive to accelerate money making, but the word he uses is capitalism and it's not an accident. He's too competent to use a word he doesn't mean. And he's not proffering alternatives, he's not saying step back and enjoy the finer things, he's just saying capitalism will inevitably lead to a distopian society. It's a whiny rant. (not unlike mine)
  • If human life was priceless could you sue for wrongful death?
    If human life was priceless, would be allow airlines to operate? What about cars?
    No, human life has a price and for my family and loved ones it's every bit of money, time and effort that I can give. That means something. "Priceless" means nothing.
  • It just costs way too much.

    But it doesn't - that's the schtick. Even if only one corporation (such as IBM, who definitely seem very interested in it - and who are already working at the atomic level, which essentially makes it only a simple matter of implementation (famous last words)) keeps funding nanotech research at the current pace, they are bound to eventually turn out one prototype assembler (whether by following the natural morphology of ribosomes et al, or by coming up with a wholly new design). And all it takes is one assembler (and one seed) - that one assembler can replicate forever, and before you know it - bang, the nanotech revolution has begun. That's the whole point.
  • Computers don't correctly guess the future of the market because they're perfect. They're correct because people listen to the computers and everyone's computers are very similar. If every computer on Wall Street predicts that AT&T is going to drop, what does everyone do? Sells AT&T. What happens? AT&T's stock price goes down. They touch on this in the movie Pi (where I stole the example from), and obviously the global economy is a more complicated system then that. No matter how stupid or crazy people are, if we turn all the decision making over to the computers, it all becomes predictable.

  • I am just being a bitch, but your mangled version is longer than the Shakespear that you quote. I of course realize that if you used the entire speech that you could come up with a more concise version rather easily, but like I said, I am being a bitch.

  • Did you actually read what I wrote? Look at it. I said that it would work it he used the whole half page. Like I said, I was being a bitch. Not in the context that I was being picky, but in the context that I was not really all that serious about what I said.
  • bruce didn't tell us if coke or pepsi won world war III.

  • Bruce Sterling is just projecting our fears out into the future, not statistics. Of course, he a writer: that's what they do.

    What I mean is that he projects that capitalism utterly beat communism. But if you measure government vs. private sector, you see for the past 200 years, government is taking up an ever increasing share. Right now, government is about 50% of our GNP for industrialized nations. Except for a minor blip in the 1980s, this has always been on an upward trend. By my chart, it looks like in 2035, government will account for about 75% of GNP. Doesn't sound like capitalism wins to me.

    In a similar vein, Sterling lambasts the hustle/bustle of the economy where "there's no place to be but in business". Mathematically, what he is saying he wants to share in the riches, but he resents having to work for it.

    In the same article, he lambasts a huge population and the unavoidable environmental results, yet he lambasts an economy that doesn't reward mothers, so there are fewer children.The Kama Sutra says that people are prisoners of their own fears and prejudices. The prejudices Sterling has is that there are too many people consuming resources, but not enough children.

    Anyway, I've run on too long. My statement is simply that I'm really irritated by people who can't do the math.

  • Then why do 75-80% of stock funds underperform the S&P 500? Why does dartboard stock picking work so well compared to many mutual funds?

    IMHO, the stock market is counterintuitive. Here's what I mean. If it was intuitive, professional money managers would understand it and regularly beat the S&P equation. This doesn't happen. If it was non-intuitive, then money managers would do about as well as dartboards. This doesn't happen either.

    However, the market is nonintuitive--the pros, by the act of thinking about it, do worse than randomly.

  • >Cheap water filtration is getting us to the
    >point where you have to look really hard to find
    >polluted water systems in North America and
    >Europe...and the rest of the world is catching

    HUH?!?! Come to Iowa and take a nice tasty drink of Atrazine, Roundup, hog lot run off and industrial pollutants and tell me how clean the water is. My parents had the water tested recently and it is worse than it's ever been. Full of microorganisms and leftover farm chemicals. Oh, and BTW, they've been farming most of the surrounding 203 acres organic for the last 10 years, so it's not a localized problem. The testing was done by the Iowa State Farm Extension Office and they recommended that children under 4 and older people NOT drink the water. Scary stuff.

    >the Green Revolution in agriculture and the
    >plummeting price of food means that the Great
    >Plains aren't getting chewed up by clueless
    >undereducated farmers as they were in the 1930s

    No, now we are blessed with huge corporate farms that don't care a lick about the environment. The large hog operations are ruining the state's water, soil and air. The corporate farms are using unsustainable farming practices that are rapidly depleting the last of the topsoil. Those "clueless undereducated farmers" from the 1930's (like my grandfather) CARED about the land. Sure, they made some mistakes, but they learned from those mistakes and moved to more sustainable practices because the family farm was more than their income, it was THEIR land, it was THEIR life and they expected it to be passed on, and viable for generations. Do you think the big guys see it that way? Or do they just see land to be exploited and a few more family farms to lean on and buy out when they've drained the ground they have?

    And while we are at it, let's take a look at that cheap food. Low quality, tainted with pesticides, and lower in nutrition.

    I'm all for advancing agricultural technology (as is my father, and his father, and his....), but corporate farms dumping basically untested chemicals in the environment (and my food) and pillaging the land is NOT progress!

    Think of that the next time you sit down for diner.
  • What about a business cycle? Surely you don't think that business cycles are caused by company performace -- that would be a very odd coincidence.


    "You can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding."

  • As usual Sterling has some rather interesting things to say. And as usual some people are taking this as him saying that this is what the future will be. Heinlein once said that it does not pay a prophet to be too specific. When someone does something like this it is more along the lines of "Think about these things and where they are going." This probably won't be the future any more then the 90's were any more like the old pulps but it does make you ask "What is my future (and my children's) and what do I want to do with it?"

    Check out his Viridian movement (sorry don't have a link right now; if someone could give it I would be appreciative) and see what it has to say. We do have the world in a grip that is on course to cause some rather interesting consequences. And don't forget the old saying "May you live in interesting times" was a curse.

  • All righty then. One last: what if you spill the toxic crap into the small stream that you yourself own? Are you going to sue you? How about if a whole bunch of major polluting industries get together and buy up most of the mississippi river system? (If it can be privately owned, it can & will be bought and sold)
  • A stream that doesn't leave your property? Only way I can see that is if your 'stream' is part of a river delta on your oceanfront property, in which case it still flows into the ocean, that must be owned by someone for your... scheme... to work. Ah, I see, consumner boycotts will protect us from the mega-corporations. Heh. Riiiiight... When many companies are the only source of products you want, or competing versions of the product are all produced by subsidiaries of member corporations? There's already damn few large, independant companies that are actually producing anything you or I buy. Do you actually see this as changing in the future when news of mega-mergers barely gets off the business page anymore?
  • The owner of the river? The owner of the environments? Excuse me? Can I have some of what you're on?
  • OK, what are your parents worth? Your children? The love of / Your love for your S.O.? Cherised belongings from your childhood? Freedom of speech? The ability to sit at home peacefully and not have someone bash down your door and sell you some crap? Your faith in whatever religion you subscribe to?
  • Cute. I suspect he'll be proved right on some of it. Load a shotgun with enough pellets and you're bound to hit something. But I doubt we'll see the end of laywers as a profession (even excepting IP laywers). Human nature is just that way, when something goes wrong we want the ability to blame someone, anyone, other then ourselves and the legal system with the lawyers allows that to happen.

    Global currency. Could happen, never would have guessed that the EU would agree on the Euro myself.

    Predicting the market? Sorry, too much chaos there. We still can't get the weather parterns right, in another 35 yrs we're gonna get something as chaotic as human expectations, buying patterns and new IPOs down pat? No, not buying Bruce.

    Mars structures in the desert. This one does truly intruge me. The concept is taken from his book distractions. I could see this happening. When you think of it, the desert has a lot to recommend it. Homogenious terrain, plenty of solar energy. Lacks H2O but oxygen is in plentyful supply, and H is farily easily obtainable from hydrocarbons with a bit of technological advancment. Wouldn't be the first space application to see real world use.

    I do disgree with the commercial inviability of space though. I believe that ore mining from asteriods will become commercially viable in the next 40-70 yrs. Which admitably puts us beyond 2035, but not much.

    Seti@home. Who knows? It's a lottery, only cheaper :)

    Anyways, those are my thoughts, take em or leave me, I don't have any better precognative skills then Bruce Sterling, but I figured I'd load up my shotgun too :)

    -- Minupla
  • Beware, for every prediction that underestimates the impact of some future technology, there is another that overestimates the impact of some future technology. The same people who failed to see the impact of the computer in 1950 were busy predicting that nuclear power would make energy so cheap that it would go unmetered.

    If you read a lot of that era's SF, you'll notice that nearly all of the exciting trends of the second half of the century were missed while nearly all of the new, exciting technologies the stories talked about didn't pan out. It is like Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, set around now, which has a fully functioning moon base controlled by one computer with 70k of core memory.

    If you look at the SF of the fifties (and any other descriptions of the future) you'll see that it is all about atomic power and spaceships. Barely a word about things like computers, biotechnology and the like. It is very possible that "nanotechnology" is the flying car of 2050.

  • He's talking about the whole half-page soliloqy, not the "to be or not to be, that is the question" excerpt that is always quoted.

  • In full:

    To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause: there's the respect That makes calamity of so long life; For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, The insolence of office and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death, The undiscover'd country from whose bourn No traveller returns, puzzles the will And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pith and moment With this regard their currents turn awry, And lose the name of action.--Soft you now! The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons Be all my sins remember'd.

  • Imagine a science-fiction writer in 1900 looking forward to the level of productivity and automation of 2000.

    You don't have to imagine. Just read Bellamy's Looking Backward, which was written in 1887 and describes the world of the year 2000.

    A fascinating read.

  • This follows many of the same themes as his recent novel, Distraction, though IMHO, the cause he gave for the economic collapse was pretty silly. But anyway, that book expanded on a lot of the same themes, as an examination of a "high-tech" depression. One of the interesting differences between the twentieth century's depression is that he at least implied that things like food weren't necessarily hard to get. That they were cheap enough that even the very poor had enough to eat. (And we already see that trend starting in this country). But the economic depression left people disenfranchised none-the-less.

  • Have you ever seen the Jetson's episode where Judy get so stressed out each morning doing housework (pressing in about 5 buttons)? So thus they get a maid to save her from all that aggrevating work.

    You cannot judge misery strictly on a relative scale. There will ALWAYS be people who are on top, whether that's because of their drive, their heritage, or their desire. Humans are social animals, we like to have an alpha leader to follow. Similarily, there will always be people who are poor and miserable because they're forced to press in 5 buttons in the morning to do their housework.

    There will always be `misery' because humans will always look toward leaders, there will always be jealousy at how well the affluent seem to live. [and you never about the downsides of that life.] There will always be people who don't want, don't wish, or won't strive to improve change their life. I don't see any of this changing.

    For a few anecdotes.. There are people who are genius-level and should be in a university, but live much like the absent-minded professor, collecting and playing with toys. Also, a not-insignifigant percentage of the homeless chose that lifestyle.

    For myself.. You couldn't GIVE me a a couple of million dollars right now. I would refuse. I don't want it, and I don't need it warping my life.. Am I mad, am I stupid, am I one of those 'avoidable misery' cases? No. I want to continue my life by becoming a graduate student, and then go into industry; inventing neat stuff. Too much money would warp that life and seduce me away from my dreams.

    Oh, and if anyone has a few million they want to offer; ask me in 5-10 years. :)
  • The 2038 bug is sure to pull them out of that depression!
  • Sterling writes "OK" soft-scifi cyberpunk books that require no in-depth knowledge of science of mathematics, but whenever he opens his mouth about real issues, he puts his foot in it, even as he proclaims on his fuzzy-headed Viridian site "I am a futurist!, so I know what I talking about." (Futurists have about zero credibility in predicting anything)

    Sterling's ideas about the stock market show he lacks even *basic* ECON 101 knowledge. For starters, if anyone had a super-giga computer that could predict the stock market, other super-giga computers would have to take the predictions of the every other giga-computer into account.

    Giga-computers can no more predict the combined result of all other traders using giga-computers than a computer can predict whether or not, in general, an algorithm will halt. And this ignores the other confounding issues, like human fallibility, greed, random events, and impect information.

    For an analysis of the real world, stay away from Sterling. Peter Huber has made a much better analogy of market volatility based on the laws of physics.

    Volatility and the Laws of Physics [] Quoting Huber: Financial instability isn't going to abate, it's going to get worse--for companies, industries and nations. That conclusion, I modestly submit, derives from the laws of physics. Nonetheless, the diversified investor who can stomach financial turbulence will prosper as never before.

    Fact number one: liquidity. The wired PC and the Web behind it have made it very easy and cheap to move wealth around. Interfaces between investors and global markets have been reduced to clicks on a screen. Brokerage fees have fallen 90% recently, and they're going to fall 90% more. To put it in terms of physics, the viscosity is being removed from the financial system. Yesterday's financial molasses now flows like water.

    Fact number two: momentum. More wealth is moving ever faster through the global financial pipeline. This is partly because many political and regulatory impediments have been eliminated, and partly because--recent troubles notwithstanding--there is more wealth to move.

    As viscosity falls and momentum rises, fluid flows make a transition from stable to unstable. Water in your kitchen faucet transitions from laminar to turbulent when you twist the tap all the way open. Same with all fluids that move through, over or around pipes, ducts, propellers and wings. Waves, oscillations and shocks all multiply when more mass flows faster with less friction. Honey trickles slowly and quietly; fast-flowing water and air often babble, moan, whistle and shriek. Circuit breakers and rules that limit program trading are the financial regulators' misguided attempt to put baffles and mufflers back into pipes that have lost all the old kind of friction.

    By the way, Huber makes clear arguments that destroy the naive environmentalism (ala Viridians) that most greens subscribe, of course, no green would dare read this: .htm [].

  • there will always be stupid people running them

    Incorrect, in this case. The beauty of the market system is that the control of the money tends toward those who are most capable of managing it. If you had to answer the question, "who is better at predicting the market than anyone else?", what would you answer? You'd probably end up with something like mutual fund managers, or day traders, or something like that. See, people who are bad at predicting the market bet wrong, and increase fluctuations (e.g. they buy when something is high, driving it yet higher). But these people don't make money. They soon lose the money they have, and people won't give them more. People who are good at predicting the market bet correctly, and decrease fluctuations (buy when low, make less low; sell when high, make less high).

    So, the market process will tend toward the situation where:

    Investment capital is controlled by people who are good at managing investment capital.

    This doesn't mean that people who aren't that good at managing money won't have money, only that they will leave it to the experts. And the experts know enough to higher the people who know enough to make the computers give good answers.

    Of course, I may have a slightly distorted view of things, since my dream job would be using adaptive artificial intelligence techniques like genetic algorithms to do economic modelling. Not (only) for the money, but because it's an intesting problem.

    BTW, I would guess that economic modelling is about half way between the complexity of modelling the entire solar system, and that of modelling the earths weather. The first can be done to a reasonable accuracy with hand calculation. The latter is probably on the order of 10 times more calculations & measurements to be able to extend the forecast one more day. Economic modelling could be done well enough to make a lot of money on current supercomputers, if you knew a good algorithm (which no one does yet). I mean, people can estimate, but it's a lot like giving someone a table listing the locations of all the object in the solar system, not telling them what anything was (like not even saying that the numbers represent positions), and then asking for the next set of numbers. Once you know the laws behind it, it's easy to do, even though the system is actually chaotic.

  • Did anyone thinking this article is slamming capitalism stop to think about the things that were dropped in that article prety subltly? For instance, when he says all children are taught probability theory and there are no breakout stocks and no one imagines they can beat the market, there is no greed, etc. This to me sounds like a call FOR capitalism. If a company wants to be greedy and make tons of money, they have to serve the customers above and beyond their competitors, if there is no greed, why would someone make a better computer?

    Next he mentions the globo. He says it reduced currency fluctuations and such. Have you ever considered a global currency in an eceonomic aspect? Say the economy in Uganda takes a big dive - all the currency in the entire world takes a devaluation. Disasters are distributed to the entire world. So are booms, so if a country starts doing fantabulous, the country doesn't grow at all, the value of the currency just goes up a few bits. And considering how often a huge boom comes along compared to how often disasters hit all over the globe, this is a bad situation.

    When he says that people have forgotten about alternatives to capitalism and the like, I wonder if he realizes that the world he depicts is already devoid of capitalism. I don't have any idea what it would be called, its certainly not any Marxist offshoot or anything like that, but it's missing all of the key features of capitalism. He already stated that there is no free market because everything is controlled and there can be no breakout products and no market fluctuations, greed, or competition.

    The rest of the article is basically a blowup of an old dystopian view of any given future that all the good stuff has already been invented and in the future everything will just be more of the same. All the new technology he describes is boring and pase. I find it hard to believe that this would happen this close in the future. Do you still get jazzed when you see that in a couple years your computer is going to be 10x faster than it is now? Of course! And if you hear in 2 years that your compter is going to be 20x faster in another 2 years, you're still going to get jazzed. You're not going to get bored with it.

    There is a human condition that I think is ignored or viewed as nonexistant here. That is the desire to see great works doen by other humans and perhaps even the innate desire to do great things and show them to other people. There was never a point in history when this was not alive and well. It is not simply that humans wish to improve the condition of their life, they wish to see achievements. Maybe its some evolutionary device or something, but I definitely see it.

    Is there an obscure economic model similar to the one this article says capitalism turned into?
  • "One base efficiency--really, the major efficiency stressed by pure capitalism is the maximization of pure monetary profit in the foreseeable future. So in the case of MythicalCorp, Inc., if it's possible to save a buck by spewing pollutants into your local river, it's most efficient to do so!"

    Would it still be efficient to do so if the owner of the river could sue you royally? Of course not. What about if the owner of the river specifically did not let you have access to the river in addition to suing? Wel, you'd have to do smething else. I think the owners of the environments being harmed should be responsible for protecting them, but it's al handed off the EPA. It's too big of a job for the EPA to regulate it down, but if the property owners are doing it, it might turn out better.

    And the point about it being in the corporations best interest to preserve the enviroment cannot be discounted simply because there are a few stupid corporations that don't deserve it...

  • Well, i think he might have considered the nanotech issue actually. Why wasn't it prominent and mentioned? Well, simple, it's sorta like the observation you made about the 16th century guy seeing the 20th.

    Currently, people see the rate of progress speeding up and see no sign of it stopping. If you're going on this assumption and thinking of the future, what are you going to surmise? That progress will get so fast and IMPOSSIBLE to follow that people just will not care any more, or even be able to care.

    Ahh, but he's wrong and you're right. This can never happen. Why? Because it takes longer to develop something new than it does to learn to use something new. It takes years to invent a car, minutes to learn how to drive it. Took generations to get a working computer out and a few weeks to learn (going by the original ones, now the learning curve is smaller - so is the production cycle).

    If we ever get to a point where it would be technically possible to break this barrier, it will be avoided. The scenario I'm thinking of is something like 90 companies all making radically different computers. I mean, different architectures, different user interfaces (I mean DIFFERENT in the sense that Linux, Windows, MacOS, and all those are all the same... I mean like one is traditional, based on graphical windows on a monitor, the other is based on a heat pattern on the back of your hand, THAT different). If they're all developing at the same time, increasing their development curve and producing radically different products not only from each other but from their previous products... now, this of course is never ever going to happen. Why would the companies want it to? Even if the market was split exactly evenly to each company, capitalism (and it has to be capitalism) will drive one company to reduce the learning cycle below the development cycle. To do that, they'd have to do things like backwards compatibility, etc, etc.

    So I don't worry about progress getting so fast that we sit back complacent and watch the big commercials for things without wonder. Also, Bruce kinda smashed his own dick in the door on that. Why would there be commercials if no one cared about them or even moreso, if people had the view that a breakout product was impossible?

  • Did you read the article? He specifically said that food was hard to come by unless you would eat bacteria-grown food.

    Right there he puts himself in the cross-hairs for being targetted as being overly influenced by current trends. I mean, come on, any idiot can see that genetically engineered foods is the new luddite ploy that has come across every technological innovation. If he was quick he'd notice that there will be problems, even deaths, for the luddites to grab onto, but the technology will continue to progress, become perfected, etc, and become publicly accepted with only the churches dissenting... and if you can't imagine a church being against genetically engineered food, what about the many churches against medicine, blood transfusions, etc?

  • Well, as soon as one of the countries goes into an economic nosedive and drives the currency of the entire EU into the toilet along with it, I have a feeling we'll see an end to this kind of nonsense...

    What if the dollar had shared the decline of the yen in that japanese crash recently? People would not be happy about that kind of stuff...
    Wow, a global currency might make warfare a zero-sum game with nothing to lose on either side, at least currency-wise... think bout it.
  • Just wait until one of the countries in the EU sustains a substantial hit to their economy and the currency of the other countries takes a dive, I have a feeling almost everyone will kill the idea of "large" currency like this, let alone a global one.

    There are always a substantially smaller number of well-doing countries compared to how many poorly-performing countries there are. The world is smaller to *US* (people on the net) but not to the people in third world countries whose fuckups on the road to progess (we had them too, so don't jump on me and say I'm cutting the third world short) we will be funding... and we'll be losing that. At best case the currency would get to the point where no child goes to school until theres enough money to send EVERY child to school. Heh, yeah, right. That's been tried before and it killed millions of people every single time it has been tried...

  • If that stream doesn't flow across anyone elses land, into another body of water, etc, why shuld I do anything? It is hurting me and only me.

    As for the companies banding together and buying most of the Mississippi system, if the consumers are happy with how that affects the world, let them. If they're not hurting anyone in the immediate time and neither the corporations nor the consumers (who are the only thing keeping them alive - no business in the world can survive for long with 0 customers) care what happens down the line in the future - they deserve to be screwed in 10 years when they get cancer, etc. Hey, you make bad decisions, you have bad things happen to you. It's reality.

    And contrary to popular belief, humans are animals. Everything we do it part of nature. Every bit of sludge we spill, every species that we extinct is just as natural as a lion hunting down an antelope in the serenghetti.

  • You might help to take the suggestions and present your theory better, but beyond that you're right.

    Good prediction of the market would require near-perfect emulation of the human brains of every person in the world as well as the entire physical universe.

    How else would the computational model take into account the president that kills himself, the mom who gets jilted and sels all the stock low, the solar flares that disrupt a critical transmission of stock ticker information and scramble it to read IBM down $100 and leads to an explosion in trading activity, first on IBM and next on companies that study and predict solar flares, companies that shield stock transmissions from the effects of those flares, the news organizations that got the real poop first, etc, etc, etc.

    The stock market is not some weird lottery, it is based on the performance of individual human beings. If you know what to look for inside the company, its easy to make big. If you rely on finding patterns, well, then it IS a lottery.

  • It is the fault of consumers and consumers alone if they are too wimpy to make hard choices in life to stand up for their principles. If my electric bill goes up to $800/mo I will live in the dark. I will not complain and whine and ask the government to use its guns to protect me. If I find out that the people I always buy my computer products from is a rascist company - I will not buy from them any more. Even if that means paying more, getting worse service,, etc, etc. I weigh those choices and I make them. And I live by them. I live my life.

    As for your retort about the stream that doesn't go into anyone elses property, you were the one who proposed it! I had already told you that if it affected anyone else a lawsuit would ensue. Were you simply re-asking the question? The answer is still the same. And a river delta would probably have the most powerful representative group of owners around.. people using it as a sea route, fisherman, tourism boards, hotels on the oceanfront, etc, etc. The company that polluted that would probably go out of business after they got smacked with that lawsuit.

  • Sure, but to get you started, get a dictionary or search the web for things like "real estate" and "private property". Private property is nice concept invented by capitalists to describe when you can buy something and then you control it and don't have to share it if you don't want to.

    And I'm not recommending private individual ownership of rivers, a logical owner of a river might be a county or a state, "regulated" by an elected group of representatives, keeping with the american system of government.

  • The county that the river runs through owns that section of the river. If theres a spill like you hypothesize happens, the county it starts in brings action against the offender for negligence with all of the other counties/private land owners/businesspeople (fisherman would obviously be affected) and they have a big old class action lawsuit, or they pursue it individually if they wish. If it flows into another country, that's irrelevant. We can't tell that country to eliminate their version of the EPA and go to an ownership and responsibility system. Unless it was a TREMENDOUS spill and it was very close to the border, chances are that their EPA would have to ingore the spill because paying it any attention would detract from their bigger problems. For instance, if someone pours a couple of buckets of paint or oil or something else hazardous into a small creek on my property, the EPA won't be willing to do anything about it. If the county or city owned it and I complained, they more likely would be willing to act on it. When it flows into another owners property, liability increases.

    The point here is to make polluting as unattractive as possible, remember. Right now the game is to pollute but stay small enough so the squakier wheels are getting the grease, in this system it would be more like if you pollute, you get nailed. Local places can set much stricter pollution standards if they vote to do so. But, what if a city at the mouth of, say, the delta of the Mississippi sets their pollution regs very tight while people north of them have them much more lax? Well, if you're a company planning on polluting, you're going to have to consider that down the road...

    Under this system it would also be possible to simply not allow the incoming probable polluters to even setup shop as well.
  • I hate to say it...but it is time to drag out the
    old clue bat.

    > Well, for starters, this guy is obviously
    > speaking in such vague generalities that we can
    > neither prove nor disprove his vision of the
    > future.

    Even if he said exactly that "on this date AT&T
    stock will fall to X" you still can't prove or
    disprove it until that date comes.

    You simply can not possibly "prove or disprove"
    furtue events, until that day comes. The best you
    can do is talk abou tprobability of it happening.

    > Never trust anyone who claims they can see the
    > future and have all the answers. I prefer to
    > function as intelligently as I can in the
    > present as well as the future, and I at least
    > know enough to state that I don't know it all.
    > IMHO, this guy is a fraud.

    He is a fraud? Please point me to where it is
    stated that this article is anything but fiction?

    Is douglass adams a "Fraud" because he wrote about
    the earth being destroyed by a Vogon Constructor
    fleet, who were making a hyberspace bypass?

    The article was merely a fictional acount of what
    the author sees as a possible future. The intent
    of fictional acounts of this type is NOT to
    accuratly predict the is
    (usually) to present a world which we can hold
    up and compare to our own (in this case a world
    that has been ravaged by the lack of forethought
    of our own world). The purpose is to make people
    think about the world that they live in now and
    to reflect on current day values and trends.

    I fail to see how this is fraud.
  • > By cultural cycle I refer to the lower class
    > citizens (or whatever they were referred to at
    > anypoint in time) coming out of the shadows to
    > smack around the powerful every 30 or 40 years.
    > In the early 1900's there was the labor
    > movement, in the 50's and 60's we had civil and
    > social movements. In general these things lead
    > to a better society, even if it wasn't
    > revolutionary. The time may be coming again soon

    The more I think about it...the more I am apt to
    agree with you...however its not exactly the lower
    class comming out and beating the upper class.

    These changes seem to start in the upper class.
    (not the top of the upper class...more the
    middle of the upper class). People who would be
    considered philosophers or thinkers....who
    disagree with the current system fundamentally.

    Look at the "Labor Movement". The upper class were
    abusing the lower class. People worked long hours
    for shit money. Working conditions were dangerous.
    There were little or no protections for workers.

    The labor movement, unions etc, grew out of
    socialist and communist ideas. Those ideas however
    came from men like Karl Marx.

    Who was Marx? Son of a Lawyer. Educated in law
    and philosophy. He was no low class worker. He
    was a social philosopher. It was the ideas of men
    like Marx, Engles and several others that helped
    oranize and galvanize the lower class.

    Face it, the average lower class worker does not
    want to analyse and think about larger issues
    like economics or social justice etc. Why do
    you think television is so popular? After a
    hard days work, people just want to sit down and
    turn their mind off. (I admit...after a stressfull
    day - I sometimes do the same - luckily I don't
    have too many stressful days)

    However...once enough members of the upper class
    (again not usually the top they tend
    to have too much vested in the status quo) are
    disenchanted with the way things are...then things
    start to happen.

    One of the reasons that I see republican democracy
    as so dangerous is that it attempts to short
    circuit this cycle of social progress. (yes, now
    I am digressing). It sets up a small and powerful
    elite, who are chosen by their wealth (afterall
    it takes real money to run a campaign and get
    elected to a high level of power) and ability
    to persuede people.

    The cheif effect of this is to make the people
    think they have power because they have choice.
    In truth the power is still with the main power
    groups because they are the ones that choose what
    the peoples choices are. In the end the system
    caters to the rich and powerfull, while it
    pacifies the general populace.

    All they need to do is ocasionally make an issue
    of something, then take decisive action on it. In
    essence, throw the people a bone. Make them feel

    Then again...I wouldn't doubt that marx said
    similar things about the bougeois. As much as
    I think the system is setup to short circuit
    that social cycle, I still feel that things ARE
    changing despite it.

    Then again...thats not only
    need aply some of the basic Erisian principals
    to it....remembering that anything which attempts
    to impose order, in the end results in more
    disorder. Perhaps the worst "they" can do is
    slow the cycle down like a poorly constucted dam
    and someday it will just explode with more
    force then before?

    hmmm... time will tell I supose.

    ok...I have rambled enough.
  • I find it ironic when people say shooting lawyers will help. It is the law that keeps us one step ahead of pure barbarism, and the law cannot function without its servants. Now, a case could be better made, I think, to call for more lawyers for regular folks, and less lawyers for transnational corporations. The latter are primarily engaged in the ritual practice of involuntary paper burial, anyway, to no great benefit for society.
  • And unlike the Industrial Revolution, the New Economy had an amazingly low body count.

    Wonder what he meant by that. Did he mean unemployment? Accidental deaths? Failed corporations?

  • What about a bicycle? Surely you don't think that bicycles are caused by company performace -- that would be a very odd coincidence.
  • There's a poster who's sure all that's +3 is gold
    And he's trollin the stairway to karma
    And when he gets there he knows if the posts are all flames
    With a troll he can get what he came for
    Woe oh oh oh oh oh
    And he's trollin the stairway to karma

    There's a +5 on the post but he wants to be sure
    And you know sometimes threads have two moderatorsBR> In the post by the top there's a karma whore who sings
    Sometimes all of our posts are for Linus Woe oh oh oh oh oh
    And he's trollin the stairway to karma

    There's a +2 I get when I flame with the rest
    the fear that Jon Katz may be leaving
    In these threads I have seen karma whores form a ring
    And the voices of those who stand moderated Woe oh oh oh oh oh
    And he's trollin the stairway to karma

    And it's whispered that soon, if we all call the tune
    Then the zealots will lead us to reason
    And a new day will dawn for those who stand long
    And the thread will echo with laughter And it makes me wonder If there's a minus one in your future
    Don't be alarmed now
    It's just a dump points for the moderater

    Yes there are two paths you can go by
    but in the long run
    There's still time to change the road you're on Your thread is humming and it won't go because you don't know
    The taco's calling you to join him
    Dear poster can't you hear the wind blow and did you know
    Your stairway lies on the honest thread

    And as we wind on down the thread
    Our karma taller than our souls
    There walks a poster we all know
    Who shines insight and wants to show
    How everything he posts turns to gold
    And if you listen very hard
    The post will come to you at last
    When all are whores and whores is all
    To be a flamer and a troll
    Woe oh oh oh oh oh
    And he's trollin the stairway to karma

    There's a poster who's sure all that's +3 is gold
    And he's trollin the stairway to karma
    And when he gets there he knows if the posts are all flames
    With a troll he can get what he came for
    And he's trollin the stairway to karma.

  • Its been obvious for quite some time that numerous companies that are considered to hip, new and highly valued, will certainly evaporate within five years.

    We see some of this already - Yahoo has eliminated its portal competition, EBay has pretty much sewn up auctions, and AOL rules everything in between.

    As it stands, it should be quite obvious that VA Linux will certainly be worth less than $1 billion within twelve months. If you own this stock, use your brain and cut your losses right now.

    Look at the charts for most .coms - they're already in bear territory.

  • History isn't over, neither is economics. In 1900, many intellectuals forsaw a future of peace and leisure, where everyone would be rich. It didn't happen for them, and it won't happen for us. Conflict is plentiful; markets still fail; governments still fail; there's no real movement towards better medicine for most, much less all, of the people; economists are still better at telling you what went wrong than at predicting what will go wrong next; and wealth still accumulates at the top (even more than it used to).

    This shows an extremely serious lack of historical perspective. Consider this:
    We *do* live in a "future of peace and leisure".

    At the turn of the century, the forty-hour workweek was a goal, not a norm. Virtually everyone works much less hard now than they would have had to a hundred years ago, to maintain an equivalent lifestyle. Do the majority of people work sun-up to sundown on farms or in coal mines? No... they clock their 40 sitting behind a desk or standing behind a counter (in a heated building, no less!) and go home to enjoy their leisure.
    As far as a world of peace is concerned, well, that didn't happen, although it should be noted that even a conflict of some important scope, the Persian Gulf War, involved a minute fraction of the population of the coalition nations. Compare that to the American Civil or Franco-Prussian wars, if you like.

    It's also an amazingly pervasive myth that income is "accumulated" more unfairly today than before. In the United States, at least, virtually nobody remains in the lower class their entire life. According to BLS statistics, much of the bottom 20% can be counted on to reliably migrate to the top 20% like clockwork within twenty years. (I once wrote a graduate economics paper on the subject... it's amazing to actually look at the numbers. The potential for mobility in the modern world is literally unlimited.)

    Besides, the definition of "poverty" would be unrecognizable to people of a hundred years ago. Today's poor all own automobiles? They eat meat in almost every meal? Forget universal radios... color televisions? Clean, heated, running water?
    What about access to "better medicine for all the people"? You mean practically nobody dies in childbirth anymore, no matter how poor they are? You can buy a bottle of painkillers at the store for half an hour's wage? We don't even have polio or smallpox?

    I could go on and on. The fact is, folks, the twentieth century was a smashing success for increasing the lot of the common man. It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that we don't have poor people anymore, at least by 1900 standards. Of course I'm only referring to the West, and of course there are still those who live in subhuman conditions (e.g. the homeless). But misery ain't what it used to be. And those intellectuals of 1900 weren't very far off the mark.

    --------------------------------------------- ----------------------

  • Sure, there is a bit of a cultural waveform visible in America. Loosely following along in Millman's trend we had emancipation in the 1860's. Earlier than that and I don't know my obscure history of people's rights history to say. I suppose you can go back as far as the War of Independance and call it the main event, the initial splash, the cultural upheaval big bang.

    But like its physical analog of a rock dropped in a stream, this cultural pattern unfortunately also has a trend of getting weaker with time. The cultural wave trend exists wholly within the context of the initial splash. The power of the waves must weaken otherwise every 30 or 40 years we'd have another War of Independance.

    Its running down, slowly. Even if this perceived pattern is real, it will eventually smooth out to near imperceptable levels. I feel we are almost there as we speak. What exactly did the 60 give us? Miniskirts and Happy Faces and Bob Dylan? Perhaps the best thing we gained out of the sixties is a general awareness of the abuses of power, or perhaps we knew it all along. What concrete changes were made back then? And what about now? Grassroots organizations today, although numerous and determined, accomplish small things on small scales. Why? Because as we have grown, so have the powers that be. We have more resources and yet so do they. Rest assured that any change we enact is more than negated in some other area outside our influence or off the radar. Short of another revolution, this wave pattern tha began with the American Revolution is almost imperceptable.

    Now we must also consider this: there is nowhere else to run to. Back in the heyday of English Colonialism, the early settlers found it relatively easy to populate and organize the North American continent and eventually seperate from the mother country. But the disenfranchised today have no such luxury. The global population is too great and the landmass too limited to support any major exodus. And we wont stop breeding. There exists nowhere on Earth today that can be to us what North America was to the settlers back then. So we are left with the waning cultural wave patterns, visible today in the same way that the the cosmic background radiation left over from the big bang is visible with a sensitive telescope.

    As a people, we have nowhere else to go and nothing new to see. At this point, the human race is almost like a bunch of rats in a covered box, and breeding. We feed on ourselves. All this brou ha ha about the market and a global currency is just another new rat for us to turn to for answers, but in the end its just another rat. Bruce Stering can predict what he wants about the market. I predict that if we don't find a way get off this planet, and soon, we will become rats in a box on a sinking ship.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 03, 2000 @12:10PM (#1227549)
    NEW YORK -- The Internet's biggest bull just turned into a big bear. Merrill Lynch's Henry Blodget became one of Wall Street's best-known analysts by making outlandish predictions about Internet stocks.
    For example, Blodget forecast that's stock could hit a price of $400 at a time when it was only trading for only $240 per share.

    But yesterday, Blodget changed his tune, predicting that the vast majority of Internet companies will be bankrupt within five years.

    Of all Internet companies, "75 percent will disappear within five years, and 75 percent will never make money, or sell themselves," Blodget said at the Silicon Alley 2000 Internet conference.

    He declined, however, to predict which companies would survive and which would die.

    For investors, Blodget advised a scattershot approach to investing in the Internet sector, in hopes that one or two "home runs" would provide enough gains to offset losses from the other holdings.

    But he also warned that newcomers to Internet investing may be too late, comparing the phenomenon to the Gold Rush of the 1800s.

    "Ultimately, the real latecomers find they are buying piles of dirt," he said.

    He said that since 1995, the industry has grown from one Internet company, America Online, with a total market value of $1 billion, to more than 300 companies with market capitalization of $1 trillion. But looking into the next five to 10 years, Blodget expects the flow of capital to slow.

    Those bearish comments were taken to heart by shareholders in Internet stocks, most of which moved lower yesterday.

    The Nasdaq composite index, where many Internet stocks trade, fell 29.57 to 4,754.51, its first down day this week.

    But Blodget reserved some of his speech to make bullish comments on a select handful of Internet stocks, which responded by rallying in a big way.

    Blodget said, for example, that there's good value in wireless, business-to-business and Internet infrastructure stocks such as Ariba Inc., which rocketed $19.81 to $299.69, and, which traded up $23.06 to $261.06. All stock quotes are as of the 4 p.m. close.

    As for Doubleclick, which has experienced a selloff in recent weeks on worries that it improperly gathered information about its customers, Blodget thinks it's undervalued.

    "I think the privacy concerns will pass at Doubleclick," he said.

    Doubleclick gained $2.88 to $83.44 yesterday.
  • by vlax ( 1809 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @03:07PM (#1227550)
    We have more leisure that people did in 1900. I'm not claiming nothing has changed. I am claiming that the luxury each generation imagines will follow on the heels of "the next big thing" always turns out to be a mirage.

    We have slightly more income equality than they did. At least 3/4 of the people in the bottom quitile of American income remain there for at least 20 years. No one has done longer range studies than that for lack of data. The study you are refering to discussed the bottom 20% of income tax payers, and even it seriously massaged the data to get that result. Class mobility is less than it was in 1950. It wasn't a BLS study, it was a conservative think tank - I can't remember which - that paid for it.

    Today's poor own cars, and in 1900 the poor owned hundreds of acres of farmland. They had razors and ovens, which they didn't have in 1800. They were still poor, and so are today's poor. Poverty is measured in avoidable misery, not misery against an absolute standard.

    There hasn't been any significant increase in public health in the US since 1980. There has been since 1900, but since the vaccination era, we have also failed to kill off polio (which we could have done), started to see a resurgence of TB, discovered whole new classes of bugs never known to exist and for which we have no treatment. A utopia of health is still in the future. As late as 1960, many people imagined that by 2000, we would be winning against the bugs.

    No, misery ain't what it used to be, but the optimists of 1900 were way off the mark. We still live in a world of avoidable misery. That is the failure of the technological utopianism of 1900, and it shows every sign of becoming the failure of technological utopianists today.
  • by kuro5hin ( 8501 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @01:01PM (#1227551) Homepage
    Don't worry Taco, your Perl skills will come in handy when you're begging for quarters on the corner of Main & East Street!

    He won't need to beg on the corner. He'll just make one global $quarter and use it over and over, in every store.



  • by Creed ( 8917 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @12:30PM (#1227552)
    This sounds like the result of what Chesterson talked about. A sort of cult of progress.
    I guess life sux if all you live for is the next innovation and have no internal ability to fufill the human desire of a meaningful life.<br>
  • by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @01:04PM (#1227553) Homepage
    who has to blow up one of those 'inflatable cities' - an air mattress is bad enough.

    I guess pins are illegal in there, too.

  • by Kaufmann ( 16976 ) <rnedal&olimpo,com,br> on Friday March 03, 2000 @01:29PM (#1227554) Homepage
    Other people have already commented on just about every other aspect of this story (some rather well, some not quite so), so I'll restrict myself to the technological aspect.

    Basically, I think Bruce is being naive. He's seriously and dangerously underestimating the impact that dirt-cheap molecular nanotechnology may have in the future society. Quite honestly, I just don't understand why - I mean, I understand the skepticism (it's very fashionable nowadays), but this is the kind of thing that just changes everything - everything - and it is coming, hopefully within 20 years. Just as people from the 16th century would be overwhelmed at the rate at which things happen in the 20th century, the nanotech revolution is likely to knock at the 20th century man's door before he even knew what happened. And then Bruce will kick himself for having been pessimistic about technology (which is definitely a rookie mistake, as Mr Clarke will tell you). And then I'll have my revenge. MUAHAHAHAHA!!!!

    Well, that's all the ranting I have for now :)
  • by aphrael ( 20058 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @01:00PM (#1227555) Homepage
    In the afterword to Earth, David Brin talks at length about how difficult it is to predict the medium-term future --- it has to be both plausible and surprising (who in 1960 would not have been surprised by the world of 2000?). This is a hard thing to do; the two requirements almost contradict one another. That said, Sterling's piece isn't a bad job of it. No, of course the world won't be exactly as he describes it --- but there are elements of it which could happen, more easily than we think. The bit about fatigue, in particular, is believable; just as increased knowledge about all of the truly horrible things that happen in the world led us, as a culture, to be tired of trying to fix them (there's a large set of literature on what social scientists describe as "compassion fatigue"), constantly chasing after the cool, new technology will lead us to "technology fatigue": the excitement will dwindle. More importantly, he's asking a very relevant question: in a world where the value of everything is defined by marketing, and everyone knows it, how is it possible for anything to have value or be intrinsically important at all? If everything is marketing, what matters? Unlike Sterling, I think that society as a whole will react by retreating into religion. But there will be some sectors that don't --- and while Sterling essentially points to despair as the solution that will emerge, it might be interesting to speculate about what, eventually, would replace such despair.
  • Pretty language, but what is he saying that he couldn't say in two sentences?
    I'll bet you're a lot of fun when people read Hamlet []: "Dude, what's all this `To be or not to be' speech? What can't he just say, `Maybe I'll kill myself, but maybe not, 'cause I'm kinda scared of dying.'"

    Yes, brevity and consise expression have their place. But so to detail, metaphor, and simile.

  • by ucblockhead ( 63650 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @12:25PM (#1227557) Homepage Journal
    Not many data entry personel get their hands accidently ripped off by their machines.

    That was pretty damn common around, say, 1830 or so. Early industrial revolution factories were very dangerous places.

    You can certainly point to sweatshop like conditions in some areas of high tech, but none of them have the some lethality. I suspect that's what he meant.
  • I think we can more or less take it as a given that whatever the world is like in 2035, it won't be much like this story, for the same reason the 1990s weren't like any of the old SF stories that tried to imagine them.

    I suspect Sterling knows this. There are certainly reams of "predictions" in SF that are laughable now. But as you say, it is a mistake to assume that true prediction is the point of SF. Really, there are three sorts of SF "predictions".

    • Descriptions of things that the author thinks will happen.
    • Descriptions of things that the author worries might happen if things don't change, or change in a bad way.
    • Descriptions of ideas that the author thinks are interesting, but not necessarily at all likely.
    And of course most stories are mostly a melding of the three. It might be interesting the speculate on which this essay is.

    I suspect that it isn't meant to describe "what will happen" so much as it is meant simply to say "what goes up must come down" in regards to the economy.

  • by MillMan ( 85400 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @12:48PM (#1227559)
    OK, it's damn hard to predict the future. In fact, its pretty much impossible, anyone who predicts anything correctly has a lot of luck on their side.

    So Bruce seems to be extrapolating our current cultural makeup: a cynical and increasingly hopeless and pessemistic society. And as such, while the world sucks and is boring, as he puts in a more elegant fashion, there isn't anything we can do about it.

    I like his comments on the business cycle, but he seems to beleive that there isn't a "cultural cycle" as well. I haven't read any of his books (I will soon though, everyone bugs me about reading his books), but my limited studies of history have shown me that there is a cultural cycle as well.

    By cultural cycle I refer to the lower class citizens (or whatever they were referred to at any point in time) coming out of the shadows to smack around the powerful every 30 or 40 years. In the early 1900's there was the labor movement, in the 50's and 60's we had civil and social movements. In general these things lead to a better society, even if it wasn't revolutionary. The time may be coming again soon.

    Everytime the powerful try to roll back people's rights, things reach a breaking point where these movements seem to happen. People never lose all hope as Bruce seems to suggest. You can't have something without it's opposite being present as well. It's cyclical just like anything else.

    That being said I'd have to label Bruce's article as "trendy" more than "insighful". Still, it was a good read.
  • by Esperandi ( 87863 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @04:37PM (#1227560)
    I think he's harking back to the cultural malaise and its effect on the economy in a way. For instance, everyone is taught that there is no breakout stock, there are no great companies, there are no achievements. if this was not just something you read or were told but actually believed and everyone followed this as well, how would the economy get picked up once it fell exactly?

    Well, it wouldn't. He's ignoring something that people absolutely love to ignore by doing this. it's not the megacorps that break the market and do fantabulous things (altho if IBm releases half the stuff they've been claiming to be doing, they'll be really close, but even then it's not the company doing it), its individuals. If everyone in the world believes there are no breakout products except for one guy and that guy's even moderately sharp, he's going to turn the world on its head.

    There will always be geniuses, and they will always be the ones moving the world.

    (please do not rebut with things like "But everyone is special, nobody is any better than anyone else")
  • by Mendax Veritas ( 100454 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @12:31PM (#1227561) Homepage
    Cute, but nothing special. It reads like an off-the-cuff story he gave to Fortune either because they'd asked him for some comments on the future or just because all the usual SF markets turned it down.

    I think we can more or less take it as a given that whatever the world is like in 2035, it won't be much like this story, for the same reason the 1990s weren't like any of the old SF stories that tried to imagine them. I re-read some old Larry Niven stories recently; he speculated (probably not too seriously) that the '90s would have manned visits to Pluto and cheap commercial teleportation, but computers don't figure much more into his 1960s vision of the '90s than they did in the real life of the '60s. (Which is precisely the point, I guess; writers tend to imagine the future as being sort of like today except for one or two specific, isolated changes, which isn't how the real world works.)

    In a way, what a lot of SF is really about isn't the future, but more how these isolated changes that writers imagine might affect us if we had them today. This story, though, is more like a satire on the present (the joke about companies lasting only 18 months reminded me of Netscape, which lasted somewhat longer than that but was so clearly doomed from the beginning that I never saw the point of its existence other than as a typical Jim Clark get-richer-quick stock scam). As such it's mildly amusing, but it doesn't really say anything new.

  • by argoff ( 142580 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @02:31PM (#1227562)
    I'm supprised he didn't mention the copyright wars, perhaps it's because he's in denial considering that he just wrote a copyrighted work. Mp3, DVD are only going to escalate. They've spent over a trillion dollars betting that copyrights are a basic right, and noone's going to take it lying down when it turns out that they're not. Of course no one thought they would be willing to suffer and make so much violence over slavery as a false property right a century or so before that. Poor souls, I guess they didn't realise that people were willing to be violent in the name of protecting copyrights.
  • by d_pirolo ( 150996 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @12:30PM (#1227563)
    Mr. Sterling seems to misunderstand why fluctuations in the market exist. His analysis seems to imply that flucuations are present only because we don't understand the market. This is not true. While it is the case that buying behavior in the market is controlled to a certain extent by people's perception of the economy, that perception is rooted fundamentally in performance of corporations. If companies are doing well, making good decisions, and producing efficiently, the economy is strong. On the other hand, if companies make bad decisions and subpar products, the economy does poorly. We can analyze the market all we want, but just because we might understand how it works does not mean that all companies will perform equally well all the time. Some companies perform well, some poorly, and the sum total of performance is the single biggest control on market behavior.
  • by Shoeboy ( 16224 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @12:47PM (#1227564) Homepage
    I can whine in general unspecific terms about capitalism too. If I go several pages will "Fortune" publish me? I can whine about people smoking and drinking and having unprotected sex too. Like Mr. Sterling I'm not having enough sex (unprotected or otherwise) and I resent those who appear to be enjoying life more than I am.
    The environmental rants were nice too. Think about this: environmentalism is all about eliminating waste, buisness profitability is also about eliminating waste. Capitalism does not == environmental havoc. The problem is that companies and individuals are shielded from having to bear the cost of their inneficiency thanks to the government subsidizing polluting activities.
    Enough of this, I'm off to eliminate some waste. (unlike Mr. Sterling I do this in the restroom instead of a magazine article)
  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @12:45PM (#1227565)
    > Sure, we can pile super-giga computers on the market, analyzing it over and over again, but the main fluctuations will always be there, because of one fact: no matter how powerful the computers, there will always be stupid people running them

    A second fact -- or so I suppose it to be -- is that some kind of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle must surely apply. If you find a scheme that predicts the market perfectly, you start winning consistently. But if you win consistently, someone else has to lose consistently. Ergo, you have changed the market. The other players will either change their strategy or else quit playing. On the other hand, if everyone adopts your scheme, the result would be the ad absurdum situation where everyone wins all the time; surely the market cannot function in such a fashion.

    I suppose one possible result is the highly predictible and well behaved market he describes, but I rather suspect that the actual result would be a market that always slipped from under your thumb just as you thought you had it pinned down, leaving the appearance of being even more erratic than before.

  • by blackwizard ( 62282 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @02:49PM (#1227566)
    If I remember correctly from my class on the Environment and the Human Impact, we are adding 1 billion more people to the planet roughly every 12 years at the current rate.

    That means by 2035, if growth continues at its current rate, there will be about 8.92 billion people on Earth.

    Wow. All I can say is "good luck" to humanity.
  • by aarestad ( 154626 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @12:11PM (#1227567) Homepage
    Interesting, but my reaction to the author's description of the market in the future seems suspect. Sure, we can pile super-giga computers on the market, analyzing it over and over again, but the main fluctuations will always be there, because of one fact: no matter how powerful the computers, there will always be stupid people running them. GIGO. You can't compensate for human stupidity in any system. There will always be that the market will behave in unpredictable ways - completely chaotically.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.