Posted from my Cloud account at McDonalds, Bangor. (We intercontinental bloggers spit on Blackberry)
Stopping over briefly in Hong Kong recently, it was hard to avoid the conclusion – as one looked round the Business Lounge – that techno-implants cannot be far away; that pretty soon, in fact, we will be a 50/50 electro-human cyberspecies.
In the Virgin Lounge, the amount of kit we were all carrying beggared belief. There was so much of it in tow, it hampered the staff’s attempts to serve snacks. Their offerings had to fight for every inch of table space with netbooks, laptops, Blackberries, Iphones, Ipads, chargers, access-dongles, digital cameras, and the few remaining good old-fashioned mobiles. It was 6pm local time and the middle of the night in America, but calls from both East and West of where we were never ceased: every tablet was tapped, no keyboard was left unrattled, and both ears were in use attending to different tasks.
The one thing missing from every face (apart from the wonderful staff) was a smile. There was little or no banter. The bar – at what we used to call Happy Hour – was empty. Instead, sixty-three pairs of shoulders were hunched over 179 bits of kit as foreheads furrowed, eyes narrowed and fingers fiddled. Some people looked uncannily like Stephen Hawking, contorted out of shape as they held a phone between head and neck at one lughole, while tapping keys, listening for any career-changing messages coming in via the Skype earplug clamped to the other temple – below which was a microphone clipped onto any convenient bit of apparel. Let’s face it, techno-implants would save all these people a lot of misery. ‘An implant in every brain’ has that reassuring sound of a 2015 Labour Party election promise about it.
Such future techno-hybrids wouldn’t represent a technocracy: they’d have privileges of course (just as the gladiators were given free access to whores) but in effect they would be slaves, swearing an unbreakable oath of allegiance to the shareholders. We may smile on hearing such notions, but the process is already well under way: several young people I know were informed, on entering corporate life, that switching off the company mobile was a fireable offence. Orwell’s screen in 1984 comes to mind on hearing such things.
But the thing about the future, as seen from the present, is that it never happens. Go to any commercial forecasting website, and I can guarantee there will be no link called ‘archive’. This is because most futurology consultancies are way off in most of their predictions most of the time.
There are two main reasons for this. The first is that these soi-disant analysts simply extrapolate trends forward. They write things like ‘By 2025, financial services will represent 132% of the British economy’, or ‘By 2016, Britain’s debt will be 40% of what it is today’. But the future is almost never a straight line from the past; and it is this reality that makes all those pompous carbon emissions targets (‘to halve outputs by 2065’) utterly ridiculous.
History is a series of elliptical circles, not a straight line. The 1914-18 War was followed in Germany by an unprecedented period of inflation, licentious sex and political satire. This is turn was followed by a reaction, the rather more censorious Nazis. After the Second War, this too was followed by the reaction of a model democracy in which Government debt levels were written into the Constitution. Then came the EU and the need for bailouts. Today people take for granted that the superstate trend and globalism will continue. I disagree: they suit neither humans nor the planet, and so they will wither and die – eventually.
But the second reason is the Wild Card syndrome. Technological breakthroughs and larger-than-life people suddenly become blips on the radar of existence, almost appearing to have come from nowhere. One such at the moment is Wikileaks. Eighteen months ago, the Daily Telegraph’s decision to expose Parliamentary expenses abuse was another. Last week came North Korea’s attack on the South. And so on, and so on.
In fact, however, such things are rarely random. As you read a trend, so shall you reap a profit when you sense that this trend has got out of touch with reality. Julian Assange is a direct reaction to the fear (felt by millions around the world) that surveillance of the individual and State secrecy have gone too far. The Telegraph’s scoop was made possible by the disgust of a civil servant who saw fat morons stealing the taxpayers’ money. Kim Il Sung launched missiles at South Korea because he needs military support to get his son the succession when he dies. Similarly, the UK housing market is 30% overvalued, the FTSE 40% overvalued, and gold still a good 60% undervalued: a cycle is ending, and so recognition of that by opinion leaders means things must (and will) change.
Even in science itself, one can have sheer luck in stumbling upon something, but much of the time a look at what research is being done (and why) can predict the appearance of the Wild Card. In California as I write, human embryo and advanced DNA research is on the verge of transforming medicine as we know it. The assumption of most health-sector analysts today is that the cost of medical treatment and insurance can only go up and up. My own view is that a generation from now, the need for medical intervention (outside of accidents and wars) will almost completely disappear.
For myself, yes, I’m guilty of banging on about the certainty of there being too many humans to sustain the water supply by the mid century. But a close look at how epidemiologists are currently losing the battle with virus mutation would also suggest that, sooner or later, millions of people are going to die from a pandemic. (To become really confused, match that prediction to the previous paragraph).
If the Global Warmists are right, billions are going to die. If there’s a nuclear exchange, the same truth applies. If a new gene suddenly appears to drastically reduce the birth-rate, the population will fall remarkably rapidly – the maths of this are fascinating. If somebody nails desalination on a cheap, global scale, there will be more water (although the danger from then on will be that of ocean depletion).
In short, necessity and invention change everything. Much as we all laugh about it, the Haydron Collider is going to speed up our understanding of how to manipulate the electromagnetics of Time. That will make everything and anything possible in space exploration. Sixty years from now, schoolkids may well laugh at footage of huge bits of junk stumbling from one planet to another. And they may be doing so from the fourth moon of Planet Zang.
So I don’t really think a cyber-species is on the way – at least, not to sustain the mad aims of multinational business. The life and wealth imbalance associated with this model , the delusional behaviour of bankers, and above all the zero-sum dangers of mercantile globalism, suggest to me that the seeds of its own destructive fruit will follow its apparent flowering over the last thirty years.
When this happens, you can rest assured that senior Government officials will claim that it was “totally unforeseen”, and equally eminent economists will tell us how surprising/unexpected/amazing/unpredicted the development was. This is because most people equate progress with Full Ahead Both, and anyone suggesting this might be mistaken is dubbed a reactionary.
But when elliptical retrenchment happens, we don’t go back three Venn circles to caves and treetops. We stop, think, get violent, think again, and change direction.
Personal communication around the globe will get increasingly convenient, and of course the kit will get less bitty and cumbersome. But the long-term plans of business leaders and politicians will always come to nought, because the vast majority of these people have no foresight. We are about to head towards smaller States, less trade and more protectionism, because it seems safer for the time being so to do…and in terms of government cost, infinitely more efficient. It also suits us better as a species to have pack-sizes we can relate to, and more time to savour the things we really enjoy.
In the end, there is no way 6.5 billion of us are going to become lab-rats to satisfy the obsessive greed of about 40,000 people. The major US and European collapse that is coming will ensure that is so, but it will only be the catalyst: just as Julian Assange is a catalyst. Life is for beings and procreation, not private jets. In the end, even a species as daft as ours will work that out.