May 23rd, 2008

Chairman Bruce's four possible worlds

In a talk here at FiRe, Bruce Sterling put on a futurist hat and drew out four plausible tomorrows, what he described as "Four possible worlds over the next ten years".

The outlook isn't good - at best we get a crisis, at worst, well, it's calamity.

The first world, a low technology crisis, Bruce described as closest to our world today, calling it a "petrocracy" It's a world where Katrina-scale disasters are regular, and fear causes a retreat into extreme conservatism. It's a world of despair, but it's also a very plausible slightly exaggerated version of the world we're living in.

The second was the most optimistic, a high technology crisis. Calling it the "dot green boom", Bruce outlined a world where a change of priorities builds a the basis of a green gold rush. Driven by cultural changes, its a world where terms like "green glamour" and "eco-sexy" fill the fashion pages.

Neither are particularly bad, and the world muddles through. Calamity changes everything - and it's the most likely basis of the future.

A low technology calamity is a failed globe, where financial collapse lets in two or three of the four horseman of the apocalypse. This is a step back to a dark age where billions die in pogroms, the poor killing the poor.

Bruce's new book takes place in the fourth world, a high technology calamity. It's a world where technologies like ubiquitous computing have been used to keep the wolf from the door. It may be hell out there, but you've got an iron man power suit. The world is grim, and everyone is just hanging on, living with the memories of the dead in a disaster thriller.

I'd like to read the book, but I don't want to live there...