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Science Fiction Writers Discuss The Future 250

An Anonymous Reader writes "Locus Magazine asks prominent science fiction writers Bruce Sterling, Kim Stanley Robinson, Cory Doctorow, Pat Murphy, Norman Spinrad, and Ken Wharton to extrapolate the future from current trends in the environment, copyright, terrorism, war, world government, and the upcoming Presidential election. How do large groups make decisions on single issues? Are centralized global systems of governance the way to go? Are stateless diasporas the driving force behind the economic development of India and China? Will there always be war? The answer to these questions and more in a round-table conducted by legendary science fiction writer John Shirley."
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Science Fiction Writers Discuss The Future

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  • by conner_bw ( 120497 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:30PM (#10224351) Journal
    Does anyone know of a right wing science fiction writer? (Ron Hubbard notwithstanding)

    At first I was wondering what "Science Fiction" had to do with but after reading that article... If this is a plausible sample of the group as a whole then the world of science fiction is no doubt fiercely leaning towards the political left.

    • by Mukaikubo ( 724906 ) <[ ] ['tec' in gap]> on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:32PM (#10224361) Journal
      Most of the 'hard' SF writers like Niven lean heavily to the libertarian-flavour right, IIRC.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I think that's true. You don't find many current republican SF writers, because Bush turned the Republican party into the Party of the Fundimentalist Church. You don't see anti-stem-cell preaching in SF works.
    • by qbzzt ( 11136 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:38PM (#10224394)

      Does anyone know of a right wing science fiction writer?

      John Ringo ( David Weber ( ber)?

      Baen has a few.

      • Ironically, both of which have collaborated on more than a few books. If you want some modern space history done 'right', go and hit Weber's 'Honor' series. I'm talking the modern day rise, decay and fall of socialism framed in the future tense spanning at least, what, is it six books now? Social and political depth combined with a deep tactical warfare drama that's infinitely more readable than Tom Clancy's stuff. It's a stark contrast to half the scifi's out there featuring communism and socialism being
    • Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by zaxios ( 776027 ) <> on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:39PM (#10224397) Journal
      ...if you look at it one way, it's easy. In the simplest sense, the left is about change, the right is about preserving the status quo. Science fiction writers are preoccupied with change because they speculate about the future. Then again, I think that vastly oversimplifies the libertarian tone and anti-fascism of much science fiction. Science fiction authors tend to look into the future and expect the consolidation of powers, which scares them. Because they think more than the average person about the negative side of the current course of humankind, they are more inclined to want to change it.
      • Re:Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

        In the simplest sense, the left is about change, the right is about preserving the status quo.

        Hardly. Our political grammar has been badly harmed by Reublican pundits co-opting the word "Conservative" to mean "right-wing." It may be the only way that liberal right-wing policies of the sort Neo-Conservatives favor could be adapted as party platform, but that only exacerbates the wrong.

        There are right-wing science fiction writers. They just don't get invited to left-wing science fiction writer political
        • Yes, there are right-wing science fiction writers. The majority do seem to be liberal, however (and this is freshly reinforced after four days of Worldcon in Boston last week).
    • by Fnkmaster ( 89084 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:40PM (#10224402)
      If by right wing you mean socially conservative, then nobody really comes to mind. I would imagine it's hard to be a hardline authoritarian type and have the kind of creativity and imagination required to be a good science fiction writer (L. Ron Hubbard, who you mentioned, was an authoritarian within his insane regime, but then again, he was a pretty atrocious sci-fi author too). If anything I think most sci-fi writers run a similar spectrum to what you'd find here on Slashdot for example.

      On economic issues, sci-fi writers seem to run the gamut.

      Of course, if you want to read some nutty religious-whackjob fantasy stuff, I'm sure you can find that really popular Revelations-inspired fantasy series at Walmart or your favorite local Christian bookstore, if pseudo-religious drivel is up your alley. I guess that's close to being "right wing" sci-fi.

      As for what this is doing in, that truly beats the hell out of me.

      • This is a really good point, because quite a lot of the "right-wing" science fiction writers like Heinlein were certainly not socially conservative. Orgies/incest appeared in a lot of Heinlein's books. Someone above made the point about Niven being Libertarian, and that's certainly more consistent with the default right-wing sf writer from the ones who come to mind.
        • Actually, I have several books of Niven, and of Niven and Pournelle, and of Pournelle only, and it seems to me that Pournelle is more the right-wing type than Niven.

          If you have read Pournelle's monthly columns in Byte, you can gather his right-wing stances from the comments in between too.

    • Robert Heinlein (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Robert Heinlein was definitely right-wing. Or at least he leaned that way. Look at this passage from his novel "The Puppet Masters" in which alien parasites from the moon Titan come to earth and enslave humans:

      "I wondered why the Titans had not attacked Russia first; Stalinism seemed tailor-made for them. On second thought, I wondered if they had. On third thought I wondered what difference it would make; the people behind the Curtain had had their minds enslaved and parasites riding them for three generati

      • Re:Robert Heinlein (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Fnkmaster ( 89084 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:30PM (#10224614)
        No,no,no. Heinlein lived in a different era. He was definitely anti-Communist, but he was also very anti-authoritarian as well. His books have lots of sometimes kinky sex stuff, promote racial and (sometimes) gender equality. He was, again, more-or-less libertarian and anti-authoritarian (which if you remember was embodied to many of that age by Stalinism) in many ways, though I think his economic views drifted over the course of the spectrum during his life, becoming more conservative with time.
    • Orson Scott Card comes to mind. []
      • Actually, in this essay [], OSC refers to himself as a Democrat.
        • "[Orson Scott Card] refers to himself as a Democrat."

          Yeah, and my mother refers to herself as '39'.

          Self-description is generally inaccurate. In Card's case, there is no doubt whatsoever that his opinions and writings adhere closely to what even an American would call Right Wing. That said, his stories don't leave the tenets of fascism unquestioned, and he invariably uses conscience as a leavening factor in his plots.

    • LOL Did you notice who put the roundtable together ? John Shirley. The man might as well be a communist. If you read the his song Called Youth Trilogy (the eclipse books, highly recommended by the way). He does nothing but trash what could be called mainstream american values, as he has a caricature of America destroy Europe. He Selected on the norman spinrad who felt that a working missile defense would be bad thing, Kim Stanley Robinson whose first round of books turned america into a dystopia in 3 diffe
      • When I read the first two comments for this article I decided to do a search for "hein", wouldn't you know it his name popped up quite quickly.

        Starship Troopers is one of my all time favourite books and I found the concept of a "Fair Witness" in "Stanger in a Strange Land" very interesting, even though I didn't enjoy the book all that much.

        • I remember the idea from Starship Troopers where only veterans could claim citizenship. Non-citizens were allowed to live in a country and enjoy all sorts of rights, but they were not allowed to vote. The reason was something along the lines of those willing to put their lives on the line for "the nation" were the only ones worth of having a say in its politics.

          Heinlen usually gets credit for being "Libertarian." This veteran-voting thing however is a collectivist nightmare. Let me see if I understand h

    • Does anyone know of a right wing science fiction writer? (Ron Hubbard notwithstanding)

      I've noticed that sci-fi writers cover the political spectrum from liberal to conservative/libertarian, but I would be hard-pressed to identify any as 'right wing'. The far right wing of the conservative movement seems to be dominated by a religious and moral authoritarian movement that seems very opposed to the sort of social explorations that many science fiction writers engage in. Ironic really, considering Bush has
    • by abb3w ( 696381 ) on Sunday September 12, 2004 @01:11AM (#10225208) Journal
      Does anyone know of a right wing science fiction writer?

      You might try L. E. Modesitt Jr.; he held a (very minor) post during the Reagan adminstration. Like much of the right (and like Dubya), his characters largely have no qualms about the ruthless use of military force when the solution requires it. In particular, you might consider "The Parafaith War", and moreover it's sequel "The Ethos Effect"-- which can easily be read as simultaneously as strong support for the recent invasion/demolition/whatever of Iraq, and a thorough damnation of the US administration that did it.

      On the other hand, while his characters will use force, they tend to make sure it is the absolute last resort, and will accept the consequences if the guess wrong. As an example, were Dubya a major secondary hero in a Modesitt novel, he would indeed have struck unilaterally on the suspicion of WMDs... but when the evidence turned up so thoroughly negative, would have resigned, and agreed to extradition for a trial at the Hague on charges of Conspiracy to Wage an Agressive War.

      Also, his characters largely have a respect for the environment that makes a Greenpeace anti-whaling ship look like the crew of the Exxon Valdez; I suspect "Club of Rome" leanings. He also seems to have a distinct bias against religious fanatics of all sorts, exhibited in his Ghost of the Revelator and Parafaith War series, as well as his newest.

      On yet another the other hand, his characters seems to have the "most people are morons" attitude I get from the few conservatives I associate with.

      On the last limb of this octupoid, I should note that it's may be a mistake to assign the views of a character to an author. He may just be taking an interesting position, not one he agrees with.

    • R.A. Heinlein, perhaps? He was pretty active
      in Barry Goldwater's 1964 Presidential campaign.

      If that don't make you a right-winger, nothing does.


    • by doom ( 14564 )
      conner_bw wrote: Does anyone know of a right wing science fiction writer? (Ron Hubbard notwithstanding) At first I was wondering what "Science Fiction" had to do with but after reading that article... If this is a plausible sample of the group as a whole then the world of science fiction is no doubt fiercely leaning towards the political left. (a) Sure there are relatively conservative SF writers around. Gregory Benford. Jerry Pournelle. John Shirley is fairly left wing, and he s
    • Have a look here [] for the book. Yes I bought and read it, during one of those "I'm bored and stuck in an airport's mockery of a decent bookstore, they have to have SOMETHING!" moments. It wasn't horrible. Wasn't great either.
    • Well don't forget that at least half the people who consider themselves left wing in this country are still conservative. The atmosphere is so full of anti-soviet propaganda many are afraid to admit to being anything other than capitalist. This is rather a big issue. Example: Star Trek (duh), an apparent socialist paradise created with technology (we don't get to see the kinks).

      I personally put my left-wing/right-wing dividing line straight on the socialism/capitalism line. If you are capitalist, I co
    • Jerry Pournelle. You can read visit his Web site ( [] to get a better idea of his political views. There are many right-wing contributors to his site; and be warned, Pournelle has nothing good to say about the neocons.

      Let's put it this way: in the Known Universe he and Larry Niven created, the U.S. and Soviet Union (they've been writing for a while) colonize space after the invention of the Alderson Drive. The resulting empire has a monarchy and aristocracy for a government.
  • 1984 is the future (Score:3, Insightful)

    by the_unknown_soldier ( 675161 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:31PM (#10224357)
    Will there always be war?
    The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continous
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:32PM (#10224364)
    Some questions are hard to formulate - but you carry them around inside you, like Confucius overlong in the womb
  • Ok ... who developed a recent addiction to sci-fi only to discover that it is not the future and is now disapointed ....

    what is this ... the 5th one this week
  • The Past-Future (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:47PM (#10224428) Homepage
    Am I the only one who is getting bored with the future? I can only see aliens trying to kill Earth so many times. There are some interesting things here and there but so many future predictions are very similar.

    I've found myself liking what I call the "past-future" more. Things like Sky Captain or that animated feature that will come out later this year about a world powered entirely by steam. These kinds of things seem very interesting to me. If you want to make a movie or book about the question on whether or not replacing people's jobs with robots is good or bad, why set it in the distant future? The robots could be powered by nukes, sure, but you could also power them with steam! Or hampsters! Or SOMETHING other than some kind of atomic battery.

    The future has been done. It's time to lay off the true future for a while, and look at the alternate futures that won't be. Use what people thought the future would look like in the 1880s, or the 1920s, or something like that. I've seen enough "future of the 1990s/2000s". Show me something different.

    Just a thought.

    • Re:The Past-Future (Score:3, Informative)

      by zaxios ( 776027 )
      Am I the only one who is getting bored with the future? I can only see aliens trying to kill Earth so many times

      If you are referring to the fantasy side of SF, then what you say is very valid. But, at least with the SF writers here, the point of science fiction and their view of the future is to provide a commentary of society today by emphasizing certain issues. Fantasy is about escapism; this sort of SF is about current ideas and provoking thought about our present situation and is really the opposite o
      • I agree. It's also harder to get lost in something, to escape, when you've heard/seen/read things like it many times before. If things just remind you of other Sci-Fi works, it can be hard to suspend disbelief and get into it.

        And you're right. I was refering to the fantasy side. As you said, the "true future" can be very effective for social commentary and such. But for fantasy it can get boring to see the same thing over and over with only little variations.

    • I agree. Neil Stephenson writes terrific science fiction about the past by restoring the historical dimension to the narrative. The characters agency affects history rather than just their individual lives. There's no need for that sort of writing to necessarily be about the future. One can distinguish science fiction from, say, fantasy writing based on the difference between history and nature. In sci-fi writing, there are possibilities for the characters to have an impact on their world. In fantasy,
    • Am I the only one who is getting bored with the future? I can only see aliens trying to kill Earth so many times. There are some interesting things here and there but so many future predictions are very similar.

      Well, these predictions should interest you then; they're not saying aliens will kill the earth, they're saying we'll probably have done it before the aliens arrive. =)

    • If you're looking for alternate history, it's not hard to find.

      Try say, S.M. Stirling's Isle in the Sea of Time triology where Nantucket gets sent to the bronze age, or some of his earlier stuff like the Drakkan series where South Africa conquers a big chunk of the world in the 20th century.

      Harry Turtledove would also be another place to look. The Worldwar series about aliens invading in 1942 has come pretty close to present day. His other alternate civil war ending series started earlier so is still a fe
    • No, it's a known fact

      "Singularity, The. The Techno-Rapture. A black hole in the Extropian worldview whose gravity is so intense that no light can be shed on what lies beyond it... There is no clear definition, but usually the Singularity is meant as a future time when societal, scientific and economic change is so fast we cannot even imagine what will happen from our present perspective, and when humanity will become posthumanity." S ingularity/

      There's no way a human can im
  • and I've never even heard of half of these "prominent science fiction writers."

    Guess I've been living under a rock!

    Meanwhile, when Vernor Vinge talks about the future, I sit up and listen. Er, read. Whatever.

    • These are pretty well-known science fiction writers, at least in the sf community. All have published novels and most have awards of one kind or another. Most of them have very strong science backgrounds. Ken Wharton is a physicist, for example, at San Jose State.

    • Bruce Sterling: author of several cyberpunk and SF novels, most notably "Islands in the Net," "The Hacker Crackdown" and "The Artificial Kid." Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the Mars Trilogy (Red, Green, Blue) as well as the more recent "Years of Salt and Rice." Cory Doctorow, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom." Never heard of Pat Murphy. Norman Spinrad wrote "Deus X" and "The Iron Dream," among other novels. Ken Wharton never heard of either.

      Finally, the king, John Shirley. The grandfather of cyb

  • Legendary? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rick Zeman ( 15628 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:53PM (#10224450)
    The legendary John Shirley? I've never heard of him, nor has my sci-fi addicted wife.
    • John Shirley []

      Can't say I've read anything written by him either, and neither have most of IBLists users, it would seem.

      Maybe he is starring in a very small legend?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:10PM (#10224541)
      Haven't heard of John Shirley? Here's what William Gibson had to say about him:

      John Shirley was cyberpunk's patient zero, first locus of the virus, certifiably virulent. A Carrier. City Come A-Walkin' is evidence of that and more. (I was somewhat chagrined, rereading it recently, to see just how much of my own early work takes off from this one novel.)

      Attention, academics: the city-avatars of City are probably the precursors both of sentient cyberspace and of the AIs in Neuromancer and, yes, it certainly looks as though Molly's surgically- implanted silver shades were sampled from City's, the temples of his growing seamlessly into skinstuff and skull. (Shirley himself soon became the proud owner of a pair of gold-framed Bausch & Lomb prescription aviators: Ur- mirrorshades.) The book's near-future, post-punk milieu seems cp to the max, neatly pre-dating Bladerunner.

      So this is, quite literally, a seminal work; most of the elements of the unborn Movement swim here in opalescent swirls of Shirley's literary spunk.

      That Oregon boy, with the silver glasses.

      * * *

      That Oregon boy remembered today with a lank forelock of dirty blond, around his neck a belt in some long- extinct mode of patent elastication, orange pigskin, fashionably rotted to reveal cruel links of rectilinear chrome spring: "Johnny Paranoid," convulsing like a galvanized frog on the plywood stage of some basement coffeehouse in Portland. Extraordinary, really. And, he said, he'd been to Clarion.

      Was I impressed? You bet!

      I met Shirley as I was starting to try to write fiction. Or rather, I had made a start, had abandoned the project of writing, and was shamed back into it by this person from Portland, point-man in a punk band, whose dayjob was writing science fiction. Finding Shirley when I did was absolutely pivotal to my career. He seemed totemic: there he was, lashing these fictions together and propping them in the Desert of the Norm, their hastily-formed but often wildly arresting limbs pointing the way to Other Places.

      The very fact that a writer like Shirley could be published at all, however badly, was a sovereign antidote to thesinking feeling induced by skimming George Scithers' Asimov's SF at the corner drugstore. Published as a paperback original by Dell, in July 1980, City Come A-Walkin' came in well below the genre's radar. Set in a "near future" that felt oddly like the present (an effect I've been trying to master ever since), spiked with trademark Shirley obsessions (punk anti-culture, fascist vigilantes, panoptic surveillance systems, modes of ecstatic consciousness), City was less an sf novel set in a rock demimonde than a rock gesture that happened to be a paperback original.

      Shirley made the plastic-covered Sears sofa that was the main body of seventies sf recede wonderfully. Discovering his fiction was like hearing Patti Smith's Horses for the first time: the archetypal form passionately re- inhabited by a debauched yet strangely virginal practitioner, one whose very ability to do this at all was constantly thrown into question by the demands of what was in effect a shamanistic act. There is a similar ragged-ass derring- do, the sense of the artist burning to speak in tongues. They invoke their particular (and often overlapping, and indeed she was one of his) gods and plunge out of downscale teenage bedrooms, brandishing shards of imagery as peculiarly-shaped as prison shivs.

      Mr Shirley, who so carelessly shoved me toward the writing of stories, as into a frat-party swimming pool. Around him then a certain chaos, a sense of too many possibilitics -- and some of them, always, dangerous: that girlfriend, looking oddly like Tenniel's Alice, as she turned to scream the foulest undeserved abuse at the Puerto Rican stoop-drinkers, long after midnight in Alphabet City, the visitor from Vancouver frozen in utter and horrified disbelief.

      "Ignore her, man," J.S. advised the Puerto Ricans, "she's all keyed up."

      And, yes, she was. T

    • Re:Legendary? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ehvoy ( 696364 )
      John Shirley wrote City Come a' Walkin' in 1979, a book William Gibson cited as an influence for his later work Neuromancer.
    • You know, I wanted to ask the same question. A few years back, I had pretty much read out everything in SF I could get my hands on. These days, I dont have the time to do so, so I was a bit afraid to chime in with this. Kudos to you for doing so, in my opinion. And for the other posters to this, I honestly dont see William Gibson as the end all or be all of SF. Please, dont get the idea that I am knocking either of these guys. I just have a hard time buying the "legendary" part. Good? OK. Legendary
  • Great point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zaxios ( 776027 ) <> on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:58PM (#10224475) Journal
    Colonialism...the developing world has been strong-armed into affording IP protection to foreign ideas... A guy in Maastricht worked out that if every Burundi copy of Windows were legitimately purchased, the country would have to turn over 67.65 months' worth of its total GDP to Microsoft. This is the impending disaster, a new form of colonialism that makes the old forms look gentle and beneficent by comparison

    I don't know about the historic forms of colonialism appearing "gentle and beneficent", but I think this is a particularly insidious way the developed world can extort from and suppress the developing. Eventually the developed world's fundamentally impalpable IP and financial management of the rest of the world will burst. What will matter in the end is that the manufacturing capacity is in Asia, the cheap farmland and farm labour spread across the third world and the IT solutions in India. Britain lost its position as "workshop of the world" after the 1870s (already happened in the U.S.) and it took only one major war to make it lose its financial centrality (all the U.S. really has left). How long can the developed world as it currently is really hold on to its unnatural domination? Kudus to Doctorow to his very apt parallels between the old and new colonialisms.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:59PM (#10224481)
    One of the reasons why science fiction writers are able to speculate about the future is that they have a firm grounding on history and the present day. Neal Stephenson is just as home writing about the future as he is about WW2 in "Cryptonomicon" and the Enlightenment in the "Baroque Cycle." William Gibson coined the term cyberspace with "Neuromancer" but he also wrote a very perceptive book about the present day in "Pattern Recognition."

    In short, science fiction writers have a unique perspective not only on what may happen in the future but what is actually happening right now. So it is very interesting to see what they have to say about a present that is quickly becoming more and more like a science fiction scenario with AIDS, SARS, 9/11, RFID, TIA, ubiquitous computing and ecommunication, etc, etc... Our culture is obsessed with these things so why hasn't Locus done a roundtable like this until now?

    • Locus is primarily read by those in the science fiction community. Their main articles tend to be one-on-one interviews. Who knows? If there is a lot of interest in this article, maybe they will do more in the future. That's my prediction.

      Science Fiction Age used to do this sort of roundtable discussion with sf writers, but they've been dead several years now.
  • by zogger ( 617870 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:59PM (#10224484) Homepage Journal
    and it didn't come directly from any of the sci fi futurists, one of them just mentioned it as his best quote:

    "Then I heard Lenny Bruce say: 'If you want to imagine a world government, think of the whole world run by the phone company and nowhere else to go.' "

  • by crmartin ( 98227 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:05PM (#10224516)
    NOrman Spinrad has been predicting the end of civilization as we know it, and/or the collapse of the US into fascism, for thirty years that I remember.

    Bruce Sterling has been pushing the end of US innovation and the collapse of the economy for most of that time.

    I know most of those people, more or less, and while I love much of their fiction, I can't think of any one of them that I would consider other than a negative predictor.

    If they are all that worried, we must be in pretty good shape.
    • My favorite, but dark, Sterling story related to this. The summer of 2001, he was ranting to people about how ridiculous a waste of time all the airport screenings were.
    • I can't think of any one of them that I would consider other than a negative predictor.

      Think about it, though. Nobody really cares for a story that is all "happy ending". Happy stories only get a blip on the news. It's the tragedies and horror stories that get all the coverage. For whatever reason, it's what people like.

      So, an SF writer that writes about utopian worlds that have no problems or strife is not likely to be very popular because the story will probably be very boring.

      You can even look at
    • "NOrman Spinrad has been predicting the end of civilization as we know it, and/or the collapse of the US into fascism, for thirty years that I remember."

      [Emphasis mine.]

      Okay, so what you're saying is that this guy really hit the nail on the head, right? And saw it coming from a long way off, too.

      Thanks for the heads-up. I'm off to the store to buy me some Spinrad books.

    • crmartin wrote:

      Norman Spinrad has been predicting the end of civilization as we know it, and/or the collapse of the US into fascism, for thirty years that I remember.

      Bruce Sterling has been pushing the end of US innovation and the collapse of the economy for most of that time.

      I know most of those people, more or less, and while I love much of their fiction, I can't think of any one of them that I would consider other than a negative predictor.

      Oh... so you mean the United States isn't rapidly slid

      • More customers for the "psychologcal help" section.
      • No, it isn't. Sorry to pop your bubble. First, get you definitions straight so you know what the heck you're talking about. Fascism is an economic system whereby the state nationalizes all industry. Your wishes vis a vis Microsoft notwithstanding we are nowhere near this and are not heading in this direction. We're heading more in a socialist direction.

        Technological decline: Show me where technology is getting harder and harder to obtain. That's technological decline. North Korea is in technological declin
        • I really hope you can appreciate the irony of your statement about electricity and North Korea when very recently the US proved it has some (recently discovered to be chronic and endemic) problems with /it's/ electric system too. And remember, it wasn't just New York, but the South had rolling problems too.
  • How to end war? With more people understanding how to factor code, the time is not far in the future when someone will have sufficient authority and understanding to declare minimal global governance to be about precisely one issue:


    Think of it like an inheritance hierarchy of governance where the Object class, the class from which all other Objects inherit their properties, is imbued with precisely those attributes and methods necessary to guarantee that when someone wishes to pursue

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Cory Doctorow "A guy in Maastricht worked out that if every Burundi copy of Windows were legitimately purchased, the country would have to turn over 67.65 months' worth of its total GDP to Microsoft. This is the impending disaster, a new form of colonialism that makes the old forms look gentle and beneficent by comparison."
  • On psychohistory (Score:5, Interesting)

    by code_rage ( 130128 ) on Sunday September 12, 2004 @12:55AM (#10225071)
    "Those with money and power are approaching Hari Seldonesque abilities, gradually steering public opinion using knowledge of how groups think" -- Ken Wharton

    At the risk of jumping on him for what might be a comment that has been taken out of context:

    That's an interesting way to envision how the unpredictable actions of huge collectives could be predicted: just assume that they will be manipulated by demagogues, and that the demagogues' aims will be obvious from their (necessarily public) rhetoric.

    Still, I don't buy it, except over such short timespans that no particular skill is required to make predictions. For example, "bin Ladin Determined to Strike within the United States." What was their first clue? His declaration of war on the US in 1998?

    The lessons of the post-Cold-War period are that history is driven as much by chaotic regions like Afghanistan as by tightly controlled ones like North Korea. By definition, events in chaotic regions cannot be predicted.

    Another source of chaos is diseases like SARS and AIDS. Just as Chernobyl hastened the end of the USSR, poor government responses to such diseases could result in the collapse (or reform) of those governments. We could quibble about whether a disaster like Chernobyl was or was not predictable in the decaying USSR. We can also debate about whether it's all that important in the grand march of history -- maybe it sped up the collapseof the USSR but not by much. OK, but (for those who credit Reagan for ending the Cold War by playing chicken with the USSR) consider how different history might be, had John Hinckley's aim been a little different.

    Control, and predictability, are illusions. At least, to the degree proposed in Foundation. I seem to recall however that Foundation acknowledged the difficulties posed by unruly leaders coming from out of nowhere.
    • Control, and predictability, are illusions. At least, to the degree proposed in Foundation. I seem to recall however that Foundation acknowledged the difficulties posed by unruly leaders coming from out of nowhere.

      Yeah, that was the one fatal flaw in The whole Foundation series: the assertion that there could be such a thing as predictable as "psycho-history". The premise that, once you get up to a large enough scale, small errors "cancel out" has been pretty much shown to be exactly not how complex itera

      • No, the premise of the Foundation books was that with a large enough sampling of humans and an understanding of human psychology, you could make predictions of human behavior similar to the predictions you can make on the behavior of a gas.

        Chaos theory does not apply to all statistical systems.

        And there is precedent for something like psychohistory. Insurance companies, today, can predict exactly how many people will die in automobile accidents this year. They can't tell you WHO will die, but they can tel
        • "Chaos theory does not apply to all statistical systems"

          Whilst this is true, you would actually be glad that the system you're studying is found to be chaotic; that means you have more tools to study, describe and extrapolate the system than if it where purely random.
  • by Jerry Talton ( 220872 ) on Sunday September 12, 2004 @01:06AM (#10225165) Homepage
    ...and based on that, I'm completely disinclined to listen to anything else he has to say. They marketed the talk around the idea that it would be based on his vision of what the world will be like when manufacturing processes catch up with simulation technology, but it was really just one big self-indulgent orgy of buzzwords and vapid counterculture. I'm a pretty intelligent guy, I love science fiction, and I'm perfectly willing to listen to smart people propound off-the-wall viewpoints, but I also have a pretty good bullshit detector, and Bruce literally didn't say anything the entire evening. I don't know how he got away with it: I guess you make up enough weird terms like "spime wrangling" and people just assume you must be cool.

    The highlight of his address was when he claimed that Steve Jobs has cancer because the air isn't clean enough. After that, I basically stopped listening.
  • John Titor (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gentlewhisper ( 759800 ) on Sunday September 12, 2004 @02:13AM (#10225657)
    Talk about the history sure brings John Titor to mind.. []

    Apparently he is a time traveller from 30 years in the future who got lost in our time and foretold that in this year, there will be a civil war starting in the states, which would escalate to WW3 until 2011

    Well, I don't know what to make of it, but look at today's headlines, so korea set of a nuke. I can see that there are many in the US who are sick of GWB, but without any doubt, through weird 'election policies' and 'political contributions' who can you see as president of the US of A?

    John Kerry? Come on, don't kid yourself. We all know the outcome now, what with E-voting and such.

    This year is gonna be a fun year if that guy is for real :/
  • by Per Abrahamsen ( 1397 ) on Sunday September 12, 2004 @06:48AM (#10226727) Homepage
    Here are my answers:

    1. I have learned a lot more different viewpoints, and I have learned to appreciate the insight they give.

    2. My heart say no to stronger government, but my brain say that it does help against terrorism. Countries with a strong government are much better at preventing terrorism than weak governments. Even though US and EU are they main enemies as defined by the islamic world revolution, after 9/11 most "successful" terrorist actions are done in third world countries.

    However, the strength of the government is more closely linked to how free of corruption it is, than to how many secret agents it has. This is why Russian government is weak. Thus, cultivating a free press (to combat corruption) is more important than giving more powers to the secret police. Giving up to much liberty will lead to a weaker government.

    3. I hope we in the future will have better models for describing social changes, and that we in the future rather than blaming the past for making mistakes, understand why these mistakes were made.

    4. We, in the rich part of the world, are in no serious environmental danger. The climatic changes will not be more catastrophic than we can deal with them. At the local level, the environment has become steadily more healthy in the "rich west" for decades. In the "booming east" the same will start happing soon, as material wealth will lead to a larger concern for the environment. Africa is screwed, environmentally, as in any other way.

    5. The current trend is a strong religious and national backslash to the globalisation project, which threatens modernism (civil liberties, democracy, secularity...) as well. Of course, the tide will turn again. Look at Iran for an example, where the teocracy is increasingly out of touch with the young population.

    6. I believe stronger international organisations and global wealth will eventually make war an exception. Look at Europe, a continent which has been at war with itself for all of written history. Today, war between the EU members seem impossible, and EU is expanding in a way that is pacifying rather than aggrevating its neighbours. The EU rules for joining requires appicants to settle border conflicts, and to treat minorities within the borders respectfully.

    7. In a sense, we already have a world government. It is called WTO. I do not believe we will have a world government in the sense of the national governments, there are too much cultural difference for that. But I can see a pressure for WTO to become more transparent, more democratic, and to take on non-economic considerations affecting trade, such as global enironment. This could lead to a convergence with other transnational organizations, such as UN and the international court.

    8. I'm not sure the gap between rich an poor is widening, on a global scale. The biggest economic growth are in China and India, with more than a third of the world population, and both comparable poor countries. I see this trend continuing, and eventually even reach AFrica, which is currently left behind. On a local geographical scala and scort time scale, I see a widening in the rich countries, as the middle and lower classes are pressured by the developing countries, and a scrinking in the developing countries, as the new jobs create a new middle class, which need to be serviced thus improving conditions for the lower class. As long as we manage to handle the population growth (and it can be done), I see the living condition growing for most people, which is more important than the size of the gap.

    9. You should have asked about the population growth, how to handle it, and what changes it will cause.

    I have no idea who will win the US election. In a sense, it is a small version of the battle mentioned in point 5. Kerry representing modernism, and Bush the religious and natinalist backslash.
    • Just a couple of retorst:

      "The climatic changes will not be more catastrophic than we can deal with them"

      This is mopst likely not true; ask any climatologist...and by that I mean people who have finished their studies, not someone who buggered off after the first year; climate change is here, it's happenening and it is going to catastrophic. That is the general scientific consensus; the only debate is on the /exact/ effects.

      "Today, war between the EU members seem impossible"

      I think maybe you missed the f
  • Analysis (Score:3, Interesting)

    by danila ( 69889 ) on Sunday September 12, 2004 @12:04PM (#10227944) Homepage
    It was very intersting reading this round table article trying to understand each participant. Here are some conclusions about each author (based on their remarks, books not taken into account):

    Ken Wharton - interesting and intelligent ideas. He is optimisting about our ability to handle the climate change (though he [stupidly] thinks we should have stabilised the population long ago). He seems to understand future technology the most.
    Kim Stanley - pretty confused guy
    Norman Spinrad - left-winger, hates Bush and the American hegemony, hates Christian fundies
    Pat Murphy - panic-monger, less government is good
    Cory Doctorow - anti-copyright guy, against more government too, doesn't like high American debt
    Bruce Sterling - fascinated by other countries and cultures (as always)

    So if you want good SF, I suggest you check out Divine Intervention by Ken Wharton (haven't read it, but it must be good), if you want to have an anti-RIAA circle-jerk*, invite Cory. If you want to whine about Bush*, do it with Norman Spinrad. And if you want to watch some anime or eat sushi, call Bruce. :) Avoid Pat Murphy and Kim Stanley - they are just some two boring guys.

    Some things that the authors agree on:
    - More government is probably bad
    - too bad we wrecked the environment
    - we'll have to deal with the global warming
    - war will change shape in the future
    - and they don't know who will win the elections.

    * - not that I am pro-Bush, pro-copyright or anything, but I don't need a science fiction author for that. :)

    P.S. I just hated the "The world seems dangerously chaotic" comment in the beginning. Yeah, as if it never was. Heck, Toffler wrote about it 25 years ago - everyone in the 21st century will be affected by a desease called "Future shock". Too bad, noone (besides him) realises that it is a desease and that it's irrational and harmful to think this way.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.