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Markov Walker
Time Lord
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45 + 90 points

Museum of Artifacts From the Temporal Desert of Disinterest by Markov Walker

July 22nd, 2010 10:59 PM

INSTRUCTIONS: A newspaper from this morning is useful. A newspaper from 100 years
ago is interesting. A newspaper from ten years ago is garbage.

Your task, fearless Chrononaut, is to explore this phenomenon by curating an exhibition of material drawn from the nameless region that lies between utility and artifact. Include a detailed analysis that contextualizes each piece in relation to the other works and the culture and period in which they are embedded.

One piece of advice: be wary of nostalgia and eschew kitsch, for they will only lead you astray.

The Open Mind


The Exibit:


The Social Contract (1982)
Human Decency... What Does it Cost? (1985)

Commentary:


As a piece of Television, these two clips are remarkable. There are no graphics, and few sounds other than the two people talking. The focus was entirely on having compelling, intellegent content, and not on exciting presentation of this content. Certainly this wasn't typical for television at the time. As David Foster Wallace points out, television's purpose is to ensure it gets the widest possible audience. It appeals to our base and stupid interests because we share those, while we differ in our refined, intelligent interests. This sort of minimal production and focused, topical content only happened on public television, where the focus is not on having the widest possible audience. There is room for programming that appeals to our refined, intelligent interests. Today, even on public television, you often get pundits talking over each other, only superficially examining the issues of the day. The simple ettiquette shown in these interviews, with Richard Heffner and Franklin Thomas taking turns speaking, and the depth of their conversations is impressive.

Heffner is a professor of Communications and Public Policy at Rutgers, and Thomas is the president of the Ford Foundation. They talk about Reagan's push to cut spending on social welfare and government entitlement programs.

Thomas, a clear opponent of Reagan, is extraordinarily charitable in his reading of the motives of the Reagan administration's attempts to reform our welfare and entitlement systems. In The Social Contract, he claims that a part of our national character is the belief that the government should step in to help take care of the least fortunate in our society, and that Reagan is merely re-evaluating the extent of that effort, but not denying it. But Hefner hints that Reagan's own rhetoric denied government responsibility for supporting the poor.

In Human Decency, Thomas says that the administration's policies have been far less aggressive than his rhetoric. Reagan certainly promised to scale back the New Deal more aggressively than any other president before him, and that rhetoric has been a big part of the US political scene ever since, most recently with the Tea Party movement. But Thomas says it's mostly talk. Was his optimism warranted?

usgovspendinghi91427.pngA quick look at government spending over time (right) shows a small drop and leveling out of pension payouts, a drop in health care spending, and more or less steady welfare spending during the Reagan/Bush years. During this time we saw a steady increase in the number of senior citizens, two recessions in the early 80s, a savings and loan crisis in the late 80s, and a recession in the early 90s. This along with main_welfarebenefits91428.gifthe steady decline of AFDC recipients benefits (right) suggests that there was a genuine scaling back of government entitlement programs under Reagan/Bush leadership.

But social handouts (welfare, pension, and health care) were still a major part of government spending, and pension and welfare payouts even jumped substantially in the early 80s. Thomas seems ultimately vindicated. Cuts were real, but they did seem to amount to more of a re-evaluation of the government's level of activity, rather than a dismemberment of social spending. Recall that the Reagan/Bush administrations had a Democrat controlled House during their entire 12 years, and a Democratic Senate during much of that time. They still had to deal with a powerful opposition party, which moderates any reforms they'd tried to pass. In fact, Thomas says that the process of compromise pulls politicians towards the center. The budget data support him.

Noam Chomsky on the Contras


The Exibit:


Alternative Views #376: NOAM CHOMSKY SPEAKS OUT! (1989)

Commentary:


This video introduces Chomsky with an overview of his criticisms of US foreign policy and a summary of his book Manufacturing Consent, which argues that the media filters out uncomfortable topics to create consent. They give an overview of these filters and how they work starting at around 4:55. Two of the filters they talk about are of interest here because they seem so out of date today, they could only be the product of their time: media ownership, and fear of communism.

The thrust of the media ownership argument is that broadcasting ideas to the masses requires an enormous investment in capital. Mass media was dominated by TV and radio, both expensive media for reaching large audiences. The cost of broadcasting shuts those without money or credit from disseminating their ideas to the masses. Only ideas germane to those controlling the media can reach a substantial audience.

This really is a phenomena that only existed during that nameless temporal trough between utility and antique. Before radio, there was no mass media. Printed media had distribution limitations, and for much of our history illiteracy limited it's audience anyway. And nowadays the internet makes broadcasting ideas trivially cheap. A few hundred dollars for a netbook, a free wireless access point, and a free blog account are all you need to start sharing your perspective with a potentially global audience.

It's hard to imagine the fear of communism being so strong now, over 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but it was used to criticize the Left, especially those that opposed US involvement in Central America and the Near East, much the same way those who oppose the PATRIOT act or our current policy in the Near East are criticized as being soft on terrorism.

The excerpts from Chomsky's speech start at 17:10. The Congressional action on Feb. 3 he's referring to is a resolution forbidding the US government from supporting counterrevolutionary forces in Central America with federal funds. Members of the administration, especially in the DoD (nobody has proven Reagan himself knew about any of this), sold arms illegally to Iran, and then used the money to fund counterrevolutionaries in Central America. The Iran-Contra hearings resulted in 11 convictions, some of which were overturned and the rest pardoned by Bush Sr. at the end of his term.

Fear of Communism, the containment policy, the endgame of the Cold War motivated the litany of American interventions in Central America that Chomsky recites. It's impressive what America was capable of doing, openly and in secret, when united by fear of a foreign enemy. One can see parallels of this today in the War on Terror, but doesn't seem nearly so extreme perhaps because 1) the Soviet Union was a far more powerful and dangerous enemy than Islamic terrorists and 2) internet culture provides a far broader array of media voices today than mass media did in the 1980s.

Life After Television by George Gilder



The Exhibit


Revenues from telephones and televisions are currently at an all-time peak. But the industries organized around these two machines will not survive the century. p 12

Early in the next decade, the central processing units of 16 Cray YMP supercomputers, once costing collectively some $320 million, will be manufacturable for under $100 on a single microchip. Such a silicon sliver will contain approximately one billion transistors, compared to some 20 million transistors in currently leading-edge devices. Meanwhile, the four-kilohertz telephone lines to America's homes and offices will explode into some 25 thousand billions of possible hertz of fiber optics. Twenty-five thousand gigahertz is the intrinsic capacity of every fiber thread: enough communications power to hold all the phone calls in America on the peak moment of Mother's Day. p 16-17

Television and telephone systems -- optimized for a world in which spectrum or bandwidth was scarce -- are utterly unsuited for a world in which bandwidth is abundant. p 17

In all these cases, intelligence at the center made up for a lack of bandwidth and computer power on the fringes of the network. But with new bandwidth galore in fiber and air and video supercomputers on the way for under $1,000, all these structures are suddenly obsolete. p 18

The very nature of broadcasting, however, means that television cannot cater to the special interests of audiences dispersed across the country. Television is not vulgar because people are vulgar, it is vulgar because people are similar in their prurient interests and sharply differentiated in their civilized concerns. All of world industry is moving increasingly toward more segmented markets. But in a broadcast medium, such a move would be a commercial disaster. pp 48-49

Television is a tool of tyrants. Its overthrow will be a major force for freedom and individuality, culture and morality. That overthrow is at hand. p 49

From the personal computer to the fiber-optic cable, from the communications satellite to the compact disc, our generation commands the most powerful information tools in history. Yet the culture we have created with these machines is dreary at best. Why doesn't our superb information technology better inform and uplift us? p 56

This is the most important question of the age. The most dangerous threat to the U.S. economy and society is the breakdown of our cultural institutions -- in the family, religion, education, and the arts -- that preserve and transmit civilization to new generations. If this social fabric continues to fray, we will lose not only our technological prowess and economic competitiveness but also the meaning of life itself. p 56

The force of microelectronics will blow apart all the monopolies, hierarchies, pyramids, and power grids of established industrial society. It will undermine all totalitarian regimes. police states cannot endure under the advance of the computer because it increases the powers of the people far faster than the powers of surveillance. p 61

Computers multiply data; in fact, one study indicated that data would double 19 times between 1990 and 2000. How will anyone be able to find the information needed in this huge haystack? The world is already choking on data. p 79

Computers will soon blow away the broadcast television industry. But computers pose no such threat to newspapers. Indeed, the computer is a perfect complement to the newspaper. It enables the existing news industry to deliver its product in real time. It hugely increases the quantity of information that can be made available, including archives, maps, charts, and other supporting material. It opens the way to upgrading the news with full-screen photographs and videos. While hugely enhancing the richness and timeliness of the news, however, it empowers readers to use the "paper" in the same way they do today -- to browse and select stories and advertisements at their own time and pace. p 139.

Since 1989, the share of U.S. computers attached to networks rose from under 10 percent to over 60 percent. Some 15 million are now attached to the network of networks -- the Internet -- up from a few score thousand in 1989. For several years, the Internet grew at a pace of 15 percent per month. p 202

Anyone with access to the information highway will be able to distribute a film at a tiny fraction of current costs. Moreover, webs of glass and light will free the producer from the burden of creating a product that can attract miscellaneous audiences to theaters. Instead producers will be able to reach equally large but more specialized audiences dispersed around the globe. Rather than making lowest-common-denominator appeals to the masses, film-makers will be able to appeal to the special interests, ambitions, and curiosities of individuals anywhere, anytime. p 204

The video business will increasingly resemble not the current film business, in which output is a hundred or so movies a year, but the book business, in which some 55,000 new hardcover titles are published annually in the U.S. alone. After all, scores of thousands of screenplays are already written every year. In the next decade, thousands of screenwriters will be able to make and distribute their own films. p 204

Hollywood, meanwhile, will move toward providing enhanced experiences through virtual reality and other expensive technologies. [i.e. ride-films such as Back to the Future: The Ride at Universal Theme Park in Orlando] pp 204-205

Commentary



First, some comments on the text above. Life After Television was originally published in 1990. Excepts above are from a 1994 revision, with page numbers left intact to give some sense of the size of the breaks between quotes.

George Gilder is a prominent conservative activist. He was a speech writer for Reagan. He wrote an influential book on supply side (or trickle-down) economics. He was a fierce critic of feminism. And he became a preacher of technological utopia. Today he's a leader in the Discovery Institute, and he tries to apply Shannon's Information Theory (without really understanding it, apparently) to prove Intelligent Design.

I've included the quotation about the fraying social fabric of the cornerstones of our culture (family, religion, education, and the arts, according to Gilder) to emphasize his conservative outlook, which doesn't come out much in this work.

Gilder makes a lot of predictions: the death of televisions and telephony, the rise of the internet and small publishing through it, the erosion of totalitarianism at the hands of the Internet, flourishing of internet news, the death of Hollywood, and our drowning in a flood of information. How well did his predictions pan out?

The telephone system of 1990 has been adapted to be the backbone of our Internet. In several ways, it no longer resembles its former self, with control delegated all over the network. More traffic runs through central nodes and across high speed lines connecting them, but traffic also can bypass these hubs. It's a very different system.

Television is still present in our lives, but its influence is fading. Good tv now comes through Netflix, not cable. Likewise, our phones are hardly recognizable as phones any more. They're merely pocket computers that happen to make it easy for you to talk to people you know through them. We even talk on them less and less, opting to text more and more.

Telephone as it was in the 90s is truly dead, and TV is dying.

Small publishing has taken off on the internet. There's now a multitude of self published authors, musicians, and film makers on the internet. High profile examples include Danger Mouse, Dylan Avery, and Nick Denton, but there are thousands of names you've never heard releasing their work to small, specialized audiences. The post TV revolution in publishing and distribution has happened.

But some of his predictions seem to miss the mark wildly. While the internet seems to erode totalitarian control somewhat in Iran and China, it's impact on both governments has not been the massive upheaval that Gilder seems to suggest.

And Hollywood is obviously not dead, nor does it seem likely to specialize in higher cost attractions anytime soon. One obvious reason is that the movies it puts out are high cost spectacles, and Gilder seems to underestimate how much people love a spectacle.

He also claims that we are suffering under some deluge of information, apparently failing to foresee the rise of Google or Learning by Reading.

E Unibus Pluram by David Foster Wallace


The Exhibit


E Unibus Pluram

Commentary



It's the early 90s and David Foster Wallace is examining television: its effect on writing and literature, its self referencing postmodern irony, the TV addicted public's disdain for their addiction. He frequently comes back to the fact that the average American watched 6 hours of TV, while still complaining about how bad TV shows were. The following quote from the article does a lot to explain this state of affairs:

Television's one goal [...] is to ensure as much watching as possible. [...] TV is not low because it is vulgar or prurient or stupid. It is often all these things, but this is a logical function of its need to please Audience. And I'm not saying that television is vulgar and dumb because the people who compose Audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be really similar in their vulgar and prurient and stupid interests and wildly different in their refined and moral and intelligent interests


Those last few lines are nearly word-for-word restatements of Gilder's criticism of television. Think about this when watching those two Open Mind clips. they certainly appeal to some of the audience's refined, intelligent interests. They are visually simple clips, focusing on polite, in-depth discussion of some of the issues of the day. This sort of show could not appear on for-profit television for exactly the reasons Wallace mentions.

The discussion of the media in the Chomsky video suggests that this phenomena is not restricted to television. He cites several examples of the news ignoring American atrocities in Central America, particularly El Salvador, and at least part of the explanation for this is that it doesn't have a wide audience. We had already heard about American wrongdoing in Central America and accepted it as a necessary evil to contain communism. Most of us didn't want to keep hearing more about it.

Wallace also brings up Gilder's Life After Television, arguing that Gilder's interactive televisual technology won't save us from the problems of our TV addiction, but will actually make things worse.
It's tough to see how Gilder's soteriological vision of having more "control" over the arrangement of high-quality fantasy-bits is going to ease either the dependency that is part of my relation to the TV or the impotent irony I must use to pretend I'm not dependent. Whether passive or active as viewer, I must still cynically pretend, because I'm still dependent [...] Make no mistake. We are dependent on image-technology; and the better the tech, the harder we're hooked.
[...]
Jacking the number of choices and options up with better tech will remedy exactly nothing, so long as no sources of insight on comparative worth, no guides to why and how to choose among experiences, fantasies, beliefs, and predilections, are permitted serious consideration in US culture. Insights and guides to human value used to be amongst literature's jobs, didn't they? But then who's going to want to take such stuff seriously in ecstatic post-TV life, with Kim Bassinger waiting to be interacted with?


In several ways Wallace seems to be right on about this. Several of the curators of this Museum are far more addicted to the Internet than we ever have been to TV, despite growing up during the period of TV addiction Wallace is writing in. We still get our six hours a day, but now it's through social networking.

But there are reasons to consider this a real improvement, a genuine step forward. We may still be slaves to our furniture, but now our furniture gives us something much more valuable. It's telling that we spend our six hours now with social networking. We're talking to each other, keeping up with real people from beyond our televisual lives. Obsessively following the news about the Iranian green movement or the BP oil geyser. Our televisual experience points less to fantasy and more to the real world.

Who wants to interact with Kim Bassinger in this post-TV life when you've got encyclopedias to read and edit, hot dates to find, and most importantly, Tasks to complete?

Two Andy Rooney Bestsellers


The Exibit:


Rooney.JPG

Excerpts from these books will be provided in the commentary.

Commentary:


Andy Rooney is at once future-minded and firmly anchored in the outlook of his own time. He often understands larger trends in terms of smaller changes. His perspective offers a rich window into what was going on during the 80s and where we thought we were heading.

We start with excepts from Pieces of my Mind, in 1984, that relate to the topics of the Open Mind, Chomsky, and Gilder exhibits.
Russian Bombs/Russian Hotels

I have no doubt that [Russian] nuclear bombs go off with a big bang and I'm also sure they've built rockets that will take their missiles to New York. What I can't believe, from what I know firsthand about the Russians, is that they have more and better nuclear weapons than we do.

I can't help myself from thinking that the President is just trying to scare us into approving a huge defense budget.


Like Chomsky (but without the litany of detailed facts and confrontational rhetoric), Rooney calls Reagan out on working to keep Americans "loyal cowards".
A Microchip on my Shoulder

Recently I was talked into buying a magic new machine called a Teleram Portabubble word processor. It's basically an electronic typewriter that doesn't produce anything on paper. It's all on a little screen in front of you.
[...]
The Teleram is unique in that it stores what you've written on a memory that doesn't involve any disk or moving parts. It's portable, too, weighing only eighteen pounds, and can be plugged in anywhere.
[...]
I paid $5640 for my word processor.


Below are two early Teleram word processors. Neither are the Portabubble.
3100main5.gifp1800main1.gif

Teleram had several pioneering portable computers. They marked a change for journalists, since they could be brought to the field and documents could be transmitted by telephone. At 18 pounds it's barely portable, especially by today's standards, and with a price tag of $5640, it was never going to get much beyond a niche market.

Thirty years later, this whole proof is composed on machines one third the weight, one tenth of the price, and millions of times more powerful and flexible. This is Gilder's post-TV utopia.

Shoes
The single biggest step women have taken toward equality with men, since they acquired the right to vote in 1920, is in the shoes they're wearing. Fewer women are tottering around on high, spindly heels and there is no doubt that the change in footwear is going to help them stay even or get ahead of men.


It's about 20 years after The Feminine Mystique hit shelves. By 1984 feminism had won some hard fought battles, lost others, and had gotten much of its agenda enacted in mainstream politics.

This is one of those small changes Rooney uses as a lens for examining larger shifts. Feminism made it acceptable for women to wear comfortable footwear. Ironically, today feminists often embrace high heels, both as a personal fashion choice and as a way to project greater authority by appearing taller.

Is Politics Child's Play?
The funny thing that happened in recent elections in both England and the United States is that a lot of blue-collar working people teamed up with a lot of white-collar business people and elected Republicans. [...] These two groups at opposite ends of the social and economic scale [...] agreed on politics.
[...]
Why would the bricklayer and the owner of the construction company agree on such issues as abortion, prayer in schools, busing and the ERA?


This is the real change Reagan brought was his forging of the conservative coalition between social and economic conservatives. Business leaders had long been a mainstay of the Republican party, but religious leaders were largely affiliated with both parties. Roe v Wade, the Equal Rights Amendment, and Affirmative Action had all been championed by those on the Left, and many in the Democratic base saw these as going too far. Many of those "Reagan Democrats" have since been the swing votes that have kept Republicans in some form of power for most of the time since Reagan's election.
Revolutions
1---The Reagan Administration's dismantling of the system of government Roosevelt started. The bureaucracy grew for almost fifty years before Reagan started taking it apart. For better or for worse, it was a turning point in history.

2---The tendency of bright young men and women to marry later, if at all, and to have fewer children, if any, is the most important hidden revolution of our time. It could have a profound effect on the makeup of the human race.
[...]
5---Money seems to be disappearing [...] The computer will take the place of our pocketbooks ... If someone wants to steal from us, he won't hit us over the head, he'll simply hit a few keys on the computer.

Revolution number 1 and number 5 fit two of the biggest themes of this Museum. Reagan is seen (somewhat wrongly, as pointed out by Thomas on The Open Mind) as beginning to dismantle the new deal, and computers had only barely begun to really change our day-to-day lives.

Revoution 2 is more interesting, because it's a change whose effects we haven't yet really felt. It continues still, and we don't know how that story will end.

Moving on to excerpts from Not That You Asked... written in 1989. This set is a bit more forward looking, focused on the future, science, and technology, starting with a favorite topic among these exhibits, the foreign enemies the US government uses to keep it's people scared.
The Country We Love to Hate
If Gorbachev opens the Soviet society, lets us in and Russians out, as it appears he is doing, and then tears down the Berlin Wall, what in the world are we going to do for an enemy?

Who do we have who could play the Ayatollah Khomeini [...] and would he be a proper opponent for Sylvester Stallone? Most of us wouldn't recognize an Iranian if we saw one.
[...]
Every American who has gone there has had the same emotion when he or she gets out. You have this great feeling of relief and joy at being in the free world again. It doesn't matter whether the first landing in the free world is Finland, France, London or New York---you feel like kissing the ground. If Gorbachev makes Americans feel at home in Moscow, what fun will it be to go there?

As satisfactory as the Russians have been as enemies, we have to hope that time is over. It would be nice to stop assuming we are about to fight a nuclear war with them. It would be nice to stop thinking of Russia as our enemy. I never met a Russian as mean and macho as Rambo.


Rooney's humor seems prophetic in this except. We got a decade without the Russians before Islamic radicals took their role in keeping Americans afraid. Meanwhile, the Russians are looking for a relations reset with the US, and seem to get friendlier by the moment.

Handpicked Genes
The National Research Council is spending $200 million a year on a fifteen-year effort to find out all about the genes that make people the way they are. In fifteen years, spending at that rate would cost us $3 billion. It sounds like a better place to put our money than on the moon.
[...]
What's the Supreme Court going to rule when a hospital starts advertising that, for $1,500, it can get you the baby you want, boy or girl. If we end up with twice as many boys as girls, would the government pass a law forcing people to have girl babies until the numbers were equal?

What will the whole human race look like in a thousand years if everyone's father and mother can choose how their child will look and act?
[...]
The danger, of course, is that we'd all end up too much alike. It is the stray, freak, longshot gene or combination of genes that produces the unpredicted genius and makes the human race so interesting.


The Human Genome project was in fact an enormous step forward. Today an entire human genome can be sequenced for $10,000, and that price will continue to fall fast. Rooney's thoughts are typical of those non-religious people who consider genetic engineering, then and now. It will homogenize the gene pool.

Already the widespread practice of sex selective abortion is causing serious problems in China and India as large populations of young men are finding themselves shut out of marriage.

But those like Rooney who think that widespread genetic engineering will homogenize the gene pool often don't appreciate how unpredictable its actual effects will be. Different people are likely to select different traits for their children, and engineering might even increase the frequency freak, longshot gene combinations.

The more interesting question is this: will depressive, bipolar, and autistic parents choose not to pass on these traits to their children? Many people with these traits are extremely creative, talented, ambitious, and accomplished, and genetic risk factors for these traits might also be linked to that ambition and creativity. Surely people can be talented and ambitious without being bipolar or autistic, but lowering the rates of these traits might have unforeseen drawbacks for future society as well as advantages.

Preface
It's hard for me to believe that, in the next 150 years, we'll have as many important inventions and discoveries as we did in the last 150. What is there left comparable in importance to the electric light, the telephone, the gas engine, radio, flight, television, nuclear energy, space exploration, computers and Coca-Cola?

(If anyone were to read that paragraph 150 years from now, I'm sure they'd laugh at my ignorance.)


What has been invented and discovered in just the 20 years since he wrote this comparable to the things he's listed? We've discovered countless genes and some of their effects on phenotypes. The internet is comparable to television and radio in the change it's wrought. Smart phones are just an extension of computing technology, but they've caused great social change and will continue to do so as they get more advanced and incorporate more features. Microfluidic devices are already revolutionizing medical research and will continue to do so.

If you've never heard of microfluidics, think of of a small (for a chemistry lab), programmable chip capable of carrying out thousands of chemical experiments concurrently. This technology will accelerate the discovery of new therapeutic drugs by increasing our ability to test thousands of chemicals for reactive properties engineers are looking for. Already it's reducing the number of tests physicians need to rely on outside labs to perform. It allows physicians to have a lab in their doctor's office. Once it gets to the size that can be embedded in your cell phone and other household appliances, it will radically reduce your trips to the doctor's office.

Imagine your toilet testing you for diabetes, cancer, a battery of STIs, and several other things you'd like to know about every time you pee. Imagine that data relayed to an automated expert system (which can already generate more accurate diagnoses than physicians), which then forwards its analysis to your physician when it catches something important. Your physician can then send you a prescription over the internet, and the only time you'll have to leave your home is to get it filled out.

Imagine public testing booths to screen the poor and homeless for common infections and ailments, with cheap treatments available through charity or relatively inexpensive government run programs. Universal health care through technological innovation, rather than fiat.

Conclusion: Looking towards the future



We've seen a great deal of discussion on what media, technology, and politics were like in the 80s and early 90s. We've seen some people's predictions about how these would change between then and now, and discussed how things have actually turned out. Now it's time for us to predict what will happen between now and whenever our present artifacts will lie in that nameless valley between utility and artifact.

We start with technology, because that's what we understand best. I've already said quite a bit on microfluidics, and how it will change society. Fewer trips to the doctors. Faster, cheaper drug discovery. Automated diagnosis. Rapid warning of possible health problems. For those inclined to change their behavior when the warning signs arise, this will lead longer, healthier lives, far fewer doctor's visits, and far cheaper overall health care costs.

The next big technological breakthrough will be massive genetic sequencing. Millions of genomes will be fully sequenced in the next ten years and correlated with physical, behavioral, and cognitive traits. That link already has a great list of what will come out of this data:
  • Scientific discovery. The discovery drives the usefulness of sequencing for other purposes.

  • Future disease prediction coupled with efforts to avoid your genetic fate.

  • Genetic compatibility of drug choices. Some genetic variants make certain drugs harmful. e.g. a genetic variant that causes an antibiotic to cause liver toxicity.

  • Mating choices. Choose mates or IVF embryos based on genetic tests.

  • Career choices. Find out if you have the genes needed to excel in a sport or in an intellectual career or even other career choices.

  • Self understanding. Find out why you are what you are and how much of who you are is due to your genes.

  • Cancer treatments. Aim therapies at the mutations which a cancer has.


Some of these will take off faster than others. Sequencing cancer genomes and the genomes of healthy cells in the same individual will happen fastest, along with attempts to predict and treat future diseases and avoid harmful drug interactions. It will take a little longer to correlate genetic information with ideal diets (a bullet point that should have been on the list above) because fewer people will be working on that project and it will require collecting more data, but that will be something we'll soon be doing as well.

People will move much more slowly towards using genetic information to choose their mates, to help them make career decisions, or for self understanding, partly because such uses is already taboo, even if it's done with consent on all sides, and that taboo is likely to get stronger before it gets weaker.

Computers will keep getting smaller, faster, and cheaper of course, which will be key to understanding all those genomes we'll be sequencing and processing all the chemistry experiments our microfluidic devices will be performing. But it will also fundamentally change the way we interact with our cars.

We already have autonomous lane departure warnings, and the control over our vehicles that we give to our cars will grow until it is near total. Just state your destination, perhaps with route preferences, and your car takes you there.

As for media, I don't have much to say. The internet will continue to get better, faster, and more interactive. Expect newspapers, television, and radio to continue to decline, with smart tv, radio, and print moving online. Tablet PCs and ebooks will render print copies unnecessary, even undesirable, since they can't be easily searched to find whatever you're really interested in.

More importantly, we'll see an increase in the influence of amateurs and armchair pundits. Lower costs of filmmaking and internet publishing allow anyone to put out an independent film. Anyone with an opinion and the wits and charisma to get people to pay attention to it will have an audience. Our media filters will be self imposed, not imposed from above by politicians or media moguls.

Politically, I see America and Europe's role in world politics diminishing and China and India's role rising. China and India have the world's fastest growing economies, while we're facing a future of recession after recession until we replace oil as a fundamental input to our economy and begin to adopt a lending policy based on more sober credit assessments. As long as we maintain the world's most powerful military several times over, we are likely to continue to use it arrogantly, contrary to our interest.

I still see America as top dog, economically and militarily, well into the 30s, but we will decline on both fronts and China and India will rise. It won't be until we can no longer deny our debt crisis like Greece that we'll actually begin making reasonable military and economic policy. This is likely baseless speculation, but I expect this sort of crisis to happen in the 20s at the latest.

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