Thought for the day: Privilege

A few days ago, someone on a web forum–I forget which one–said we should feel really privileged to be able to live through the collapse of a major civilization, because so few people ever will. I guess that’s something to consider as we watch the West fall apart around us.

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Creating eggs from blood cells

Some years ago, researchers showed that they could take mouse cells, turn them into eggs, then create baby mice from those eggs.

Now they’ve finally produced human eggs from human blood cells.

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/nemewx/scientists-just-made-human-egg-cells-from-human-blood-for-the-first-time

Thought for the day: Geolocation and Targeted Advertising

When I was in Italy some years ago, everything Google was showing up in Dutch. Not that it really mattered as I couldn’t read either language, but I doubt many of the Italians could read Dutch either.

Frankly, the only ‘targeted advertising’ site that’s ever shown me an ad I was interested in is Facebook. And, even then, I went and bought it from a friend instead of the poeple who were advertising, so the advertiser paid to send business to someone else.

So their targeting is garbage, but it’s less garbage than the competition. And cost the advertiser money for no benefit.

Everyone else sends me ads for things I already own (‘you made a post saying you bought a car. Therefore we’re going to send you car ads, because obviously you want to buy another one!’). And even Facebook keep sending me ads for their VR headsets when they know for sure that I already own two.

No-one knows who has this data and what they’re doing with it. Even something as simple as knowing what you set your ‘smart’ thermostat to could tell crooks you’re away on vacation and it’s a good time to burgle your house.

And there’s a staggering amount that can be done with location data alone. Happen to be close to where a crime was committed? Don’t be surprised if the cops turn up on your doorstep, even though you weren’t involved.

I suspect we’ve just about reached peak ‘Cloud’ and are going to start heading back towards more secure localized systems.

Thought for the day: WGTOW

There’s a kerfuffle now and again about MGTOW: Men Going Their Own Way. That an increasing number of men have decided that marriage is too expensive, the risk of divorce far too high, and have given up to live their own way on their own instead.

But I think that’s just a subset of a wider movement: Westerners Going Their Own Way. Be they male, female, single, married, young or old.

I’ve seen a lot of discussion in the last few years about Americans quitting their city life, taking their money and moving somewhere remote and rural where they can live cheaply. And it seems to be spreading.

Which makes sense. Why work to pay taxes to fund a government that hates you? Why not pull out and watch it go bust?

Particularly as cities continue to decay and impose higher and higher taxes and crazier and crazier rules on those who live there. Someone has to pay for all those public-sector pension promises, and the people paying for those pensions can’t be allowed to live the way they want to live without constant nannying by those whose pensions they’re paying for.

This trend is only going to accelerate over the next couple of decades as cities become less and less important, and we can make more and more things at home.

Forecasting the future #2: Government

SF is full of stories of global, or interplanetary, or even interstellar governments. Government just like today, except vastly larger.

But it’s not going to happen in real life.

Government follows production. When production is centralized, as it was in the industrial era, government can collect much of that centralized wealth in taxes, and use it to expand into a big, centralized government. And it can justify those acts by claiming that big, centralized production needs a big, centralized government to make it efficient.

And the politicians have a point. If you want your country to be wealthy in a world of big, centralized production, you don’t want to be constantly dealing with localized regulations that get in the way.

So you’re about as likely to see a small, libertarian government in an industrial society as you are an ice cube in volcanic lava. All the incentives are pushing against that, and it would take a herculean opposition to prevent it.

At which point, your neighbours with their big-government, big-business economy would probably invade and take you over.

But that’s rapidly coming to an end. 3D printing, cheap CNC and similar technologies mean more and more of the things we use are going to be made locally, many of them at home. The kinds of technologies we have to develop to survive in space are going to make small communities self-sufficient on Earth, too.

And then, why would they want to be told what to do by governments hundreds or thousands of miles away? What would they gain from a big government when pretty much everything they encounter is made or grown within a few miles of where they live?

So the natural incentives in the future are for small, localized government, or no government at all. A single family building a home from an asteroid aren’t going to want anyone telling them what to do, and a small tribe doing the same aren’t going to want anyone outside the tribe telling them what to do.

Now, one obvious counterargument is that those who have access to the most resources are going to use them to build giant robot armies to enslave the rest. But that’s not going to work well in space, where the distances will make any kind of warfare rather difficult. On Earth, perhaps, but if you have a giant robot army, you don’t need to enslave anyone. You wouldn’t be invading their territory to govern them, you’d be invading it to kill them and steal their resources.

And, of course, those who have power will fight this trend tooth-and-nail. We’re already seeing this with the ever-increasing calls to censor the Internet, and the open censorship of their users by many of the big Internet businesses who only exist in their current form because of a cosy co-dependency with those in power.

Some government will ban all innovation and go full North Korea on their citizens, even as North Korea is going the other way. If a government can force people to live in an industrial society even while their neighbours are decentralizing through localized manufacturing, it could continue to exist for some time. But, as soon as that country becomes a problem, their more advanced neighbours will come in and free it from its backward government.

So, my forecast would be:

  1. Big government will become less and less useful and more and more an impediment to technological innovation. Instead of helping the country become wealthy, as it did in the distant past, it will help the country become poor.
  2. Many governments will try to ban new manufacturing technologies that lead to the decentralization of production. But they’ll eventually fail, because nations which do that will become technological backwaters.
  3. Even as we see a resurgence of nationalism around the world, it’s unlikely that it will become the norm before tribalism takes over. If there’s a planetary government on Mars, it will only last until the second colony is built.
  4. Earth will be a death-trap, as those who want its resources for the automated production of weapons will just take them, and not care whose they were before. The kind of person who would care won’t be building a giant robot army to steal your stuff.
  5. As we spread out across the galaxy, centralized government will become even less viable as the distances involved will make such control impossible. Maybe a government on Earth could control Alpha Centauri with an eight-year communication round-trip. But a star fifty light years away? A hundred? A thousand? How can you control a colony when communication of orders from the central government takes longer than the entire lifespan of the Roman Empire?

Of course, yes, I still do have big governments in some of my stories. Just because something seems inevitable in the real world doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for a sci-fi story. But those stories also generally include faster-than-light travel and other technologies that I don’t really believe in either.

Forecasting the future #1: Universal Basic Income

As an SF writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about the future and how it may work. And, I have to admit, the more I think about it, the harder it is to see what’s coming.

But, lately, the left have come up with a wonderful new idea: Universal Basic Income.

Aka ‘free money for doing nothing’. So not really that new or that wonderful.

The theory goes like this. AI and automation are about to make most jobs obsolete, which means that most people won’t have an income, which means they won’t be able to buy anything, which means that business owners won’t be able to make any money, which means we must tax the businesses to give money to the unemployed so they can buy stuff from those businesses and keep them in business.

It doesn’t take very long to see why this is nonsense. Sure, many big business owners are all in favour of UBI. But that’s because they see it as a free money handout, and don’t expect to be the ones paying for it.

Let’s look at what happens when they do have to pay for it:

I have $1,000 as a business owner. I give it to the government in tax. They take their cut and hand $900 on to the unemployed. I sell them $900 of products, and make $450 of profit.

So, I had $1,000. Thanks to the wonders of UBI, I now have $450.

So why wouldn’t I have just closed down the business instead, and kept the $1,000 I had?

Economically, it makes no sense. So the left have to resort to their usual standby: violence. Pay them money, they say, or they’ll riot and murder the rich.

Of course, that doesn’t work either, because the rich will be living in their bunkers in New Zealand, and will be unaffected by the violence. The rioters will burn down their cities and then… well, die, presumably.

A hundred years ago, that prospect would have terrified the rich, because they needed those people to work in their factories to produce products to sell. But if all the factories are automated, the rich have no reason to care. In fact, they’d probably prefer to see the now economically worthless poor kill each other, so there’ll be more resources available to the rich.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Automation may progress slower than expected, and the welfare state may become UBI at some point. Or the rich may decide it’s better to keep the masses occupied with bread and circuses until they’re ready to release a killer virus or robot army to wipe them out.

But I can’t see any way it’s going to be more than a short-term situation. In a world where the rich can have robots and automated factories to dig up resources and turn them into useful stuff, they’re not likely to want to waste those resources on people who give them nothing in return.

And, if it does happen, it will rapidly become a means of social control. Complain about the government? No UBI for you.

I have incorporated it to a limited extent in the new rewrite of Rebellion, but that’s precisely what it is: a way to control the chavs of England, so long as they still exist.