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Truth Overtakes Fiction in Strangeness Department

Oh dear Cthulhu ...

A large chunk of the plot of my next SF novel, "Halting State", centred on a crime caper involving the robbery of a bank inside a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game.

It turns out that there's been a major bank robbery in Eve Online — only the bank itself was a Ponzi scheme.

Which just goes to show why nobody in their right mind is going to trust a bank in an MMORPG that isn't backed by a real financial institution, or at least the MMORPG company itself with a fat deposit in an account somewhere ... only to say more would be a spoiler for the novel. Which I'd set twelve years hence. Except bits of it seem to be coming true right now.

Time to refactor that plot before the science fictional elements of the novel are overrun by the onrushing juggernaut of progress.

Meanwhile, Samsung have been demoing the technology for the next generation of 4G mobile phone networks. Is 1gbps fast enough for you, sir? Yes, their 4G demo topped out at 1gbps while walking around, and delivered a respectable 100mb/sec to a terminal in a van travelling at 60 km/h. To put it in perspective, that latter figure is twice as fast as your typical new, high-speed 802.11a WiFi network — and this is a prototype.

3G phones are here today, albeit as power hungry bricks, and the cellcos are still trying to figure out how to get the customers to pay for the service. (Clue: treat it like wired broadband — all you can eat bandwidth, for a fixed infrastructure cost.) 4G is going to be vanilla by the time "Halting State" is set, and we're talking gigabit ethernet speeds over mobile phone sized cellular ranges; I'm not even going to try and guess about what the short-range UWB stuff will be up to by then.

So I just had a big reality check on that "near future SF" novel I'm writing. No, it isn't "near future SF" — it's lab prototype stage already, and if I still want it to be SF I've got to crank the weirdness up a bit higher.

54 Comments

1:

3G phones are here today, albeit as power hungry bricks, and the cellcos are still trying to figure out how to get the customers to pay for the service. (Clue: treat it like wired broadband — all you can eat bandwidth, for a fixed infrastructure cost.)

Netcom is already doing this in Norway. Unlimited usage on PC or phone over UMTS/EDGE/GPRS, for a fixed monthly sum.

2:

I believe T-Mobile in the UK are doing all-you-can-eat in the UK as an add-on to some of their tarriffs, but it's hedged around with conditions. Be that as it may, I'm thinking of trying them again.

3:

Netcom's offer seems straightforward (though their website is badly designed and broken, so getting in-depth info is impossible) - you can get it as an add-on to your phone subscription or a separate one with PC-card thingy.

Heh. I see now that there's a company who has bought up the old NMT analog mobile network and offers wireless broadband through that infrastructure.

Things are looking interesting. We're getting to where VoIP is just about viable over wireless broadband, and that should do interesting things to business models...

4:

Eve Online has a history of that sort of thing happening - in fact, it's encouraged by the game.

Last year PC Gamer had an article about a year long infiltration and assassination scheme that gutted one of the major player corporation/factions in the game:
http://james.seng.sg/archives/2005/12/12/murder_incorporated.html

The "Guiding Hand Social Club" was payed by rivals of the Ubiqua Seraph corporation to inflitrated them and assassinate their leader. The plan took over a year, and in the end they pulled it off, looted the corporate vaults of about $11,000 worth of in-game money and did about $16,000 in damages. :)

5:

One thing I'm interested to see how you address in "Halting State" is how meatspace law treats crime in online games.

Right now it doesn't do anything here in the US, since under the law virtual money in a game is no more real than monopoly money - even if you could sell it on Ebay for cash. I've heard things are a bit different in China and Korea though.

I wonder if organized crime might step in --- you pull off a big heist like that and you won't go to jail but some guys with Russian names will come and break your legs. :)

Alternatively, what happens if the legal system does try to step in. If some beats you in a duel and steals your $50 Sword of Slaying, can you take them to court over it? Can you sue them for hardship and lost earnings if they kill you and you get an experience penalty? Can you sue the game company? I can't see how MMORPGs could continue to operate like that.

6:

I think that also by that time they probably will be using small fuel cells for power for phones and laptops. Either that or power won't be a problem due to technological advances. I don't recall Lithium batteries getting much better any time soon, though there are the usual ideas using the ubiquitous carbon nanotubes for improving the electrodes.

I suppose I have trouble working out how you can increase the weirdness. What societal difference would always on braodband capable phones make?
(happy slapping and disaster videos might still be around)
Failing that, is peak oil going to be featured?
What about biotech changes?
Cheap and easy plastic surgery?
I guess I'm having trouble working out what will be different in the next decade or so.

7:

Personally, while I'm sure the EVE Online heist was heartbreaking for those affected, I think it's brilliant - the whole point of games is to challenge you mentally without the downside that you experience in real life when someone steals your life's savings. A game in which a scam like that is possible is, in my mind, a good game.

It would be nuts to make any kind of game play into a criminal offense.

8:

Ted - the alternative to viewing it as a crime is to view the game as gambling. Which I think is why so many game companies have rules prohibiting the sale of in game items and money in the real world. They don't want to see games like Eve Online or WoW placed in the same category as blackjack and poker -- especially since online gambling is illegal in the US. Not to mention that it would mean no one under 18 could play.

The other issue is taxes. If you trade or otherwise acquire in game goods that are worth real money, it would count as a barter transaction and be taxable. The game companies would have to track every transaction, assign a value to it, and stick a big fat tax on your monthly bill.

And if none of this comes to pass then online games risk becoming part of the black economy. Give some money to a Chinese broker to convert into "gold pieces", transfer it in game to your associate, and he can convert it into USD via a broker in San Francisco. Or avoid taxes by making transactions for real world goods and services in-game, using money that the IRS considers not to be real...

9:

Here's an idea: to fight the intrusion of gambling elements into "pure" game worlds, gamers will start "Purist" political parties -- represented both in "meatspace" and in the virtual world -- with an open agenda to ban gambling.

Of course the gambling interests will fight the "Purists" by backing their own party...

10:

guthrie asks "What societal difference would always on braodband capable phones make?" One effect would be to move daytrading in stocks and commodities up at least one notch. Not at first; not till there were new brokerages which didn't take a whole five minutes to make trades. There are people who would love the idea of getting rich by being right about what the prices will be a few seconds from now.

Failing that, is peak oil going to be featured?

Predictions of coming oil shortages have been around for a while; they were around when Scandinavians were leaving their impoverished, class-ridden homelands for the US. This time I think it's likely the crunch has really come; but there's still oil not yet being exploited. It will take a while in most of the world for oil to be replaced by other things. But I wouldn't be surprised if in ten years, most Brazilian cars run on alcohol made from sugar cane.

Cheap and easy plastic surgery?

I think the real breakthrough there will be making changes in bone structure as easy as, say, operations for cleft palate are now. Currently, transgender people are likely to have the wrong skeletal structure; for example, the wrong kind of hips.

11:

Twelve years: By then, the UK might have a labour party again -- though I don't know enough to say how likely that is.

Fidel Castro won't be running Cuba. I suspect there won't be a revolution/counter-revolution; but when things settle down, the new government won't be satisfactory to foreigners who admired Castro.

The Russian Federation might have broken up by then. Karelia probably won't be back under Finnish control yet.
But I expect that fifty years from now, Karelia and Estonia will be considered parts of Scandinavia. (Just as Japan is now often included in "The West.")

12:

I can imagine accidents caused by people paying too much attention to their 4g phone instead of where they are walking.

As for peak oil, I dont think things will go off a precipice the way some do; but i can imagine Brazil ten years from now, and major unrest due to land being used to grow sugar cane for ethanol for export instead of food for Brazils large population.
Given the importance of oil for pesticides and fertilisers, not to mention climate change, it is very easy ot imagine a future in which there are no huge surpluses, and most people in the UK feel that much more insecure due to globalisation and uncertainties about food supply. Add that the the surveillance state and failed ID stuff that Charlie has mentioned already and you have a dystopia, I suppose. But hey, its not my novel...

Wrong kind of hips? How about wrong facial structure?

13:

Dan Goodman: But I expect that fifty years from now, Karelia and Estonia will be considered parts of Scandinavia. (Just as Japan is now often included in "The West.")

I'd say 20-30 years for the Baltic states - there's a lot of communication and trade going on between them and the Scandinavian countries.

I don't dare say anything about Karelia, though. I'm under the impression that the Finns aren't sure themselves whether they want it back.

14:

Just how powerful would the MMORPG police be? I've seen a WoW GM once and they were pretty scary with some of the kit and spells they carry. Deathword anyone?

The rozzers would certainly need some pretty special extras to carry out their job online, more than the admins. A criminal GM makes an interesting concept, abuse of power in a MMORPG wouldn't be that unusual, who watches the watchers after all?

15:

A LiveJournal post which includes stuff inspired by (and referring to) this is up at http://dsgood.livejournal.com/609745.htm

16:

Regarding future plastic surgery, one thing I think you'll see instead of facelifts and botox is a complete skin replacement and muscle rejuvination. Lab-cloned skin to replace the old wrikled skin (for the whole body if you can afford it). Stem cell grafts into existing muscle to replace the old with new and tighten up the facial muscles. Perhaps scalp regeneration too, for the balding, with localized genetic fixes to prevent your hair from falling out a second time, or going grey.

17:

The question of how real what is in gaming certainly is interesting. I am reminded of the highly reported case where a gamer died and the on-line friends were having a gaming funeral, and were pounced upon by a gang of rowdy guys. While the boys won out in the gaming battle, people were sufficiently outraged to track them down and chat with them about it. I remember being struck by one of the boys saying that he had thought that the games were a safe way to vent horrible feelings and he had been very shocked to find that his mother was ashamed of his behavior and why and he now felt that shame too and would have to live with it the rest of his life.

18:

It's hard to feel sympathetic to the funeral gamers.

Presumably, some people go online to escape things like, ya'know, bereavement! Once upon a time, polite people kept their grief to themselves and their circle, aware that other people had their own grief to bear.

Is this a trend? Local tragedy forced on the wider community? Every country walk littered with memorials to dead teenagers... society and culture castrated by knee-jerk legislation swept into place by the tears of grieving mothers armed with flimsy evidence?

If this is the future, it sucks Narcissus.

19:

Now now martin- perhaps the online game was the only place they could meet up. perhaps they werent planning on re-naming an area of the game "The joe blogs memorial park". And so on.
REmember also that calls for the banning of swords are somewhat different from leaving some flowers at the spot someone died. The first is permanent, the second is not.

20:

>leaving some flowers at the spot someone died
Poor analogy!

This is more like, if it became traditional for grieving relatives to put up temporary memorials in the local park.

This is fine when the park serves a village, with an average mortality of one per year. Disastrous when the same park serves an entire city, where dozens of people die each day.

You wouldn't be able to go for a walk without being reminded of death and mortality! Congratulations, your park is now a Garden of Memory.

Is that what we really want? A cyber and meat world where you can't move for other people's eternal flames?

The sword ban, vaguely worded porn ban etc etc are just extensions of this. "Sod evidence and rationality, my feelings override all boundaries."

21:

I was merely responding to your slightly OTT post in the first place. You do recall that we used to have graveyards? For some reason they are somewhat out of fashion. Also, not everyone would want a memorial in the park, not everyone wants one on Ben Nevis. Living in a messy human world as we do, you often find that these things happen more by accident, and in the case ofBen Nevis, it has reached the stage where some people have had enough and a garden of remembrance is being created out of the way at the bottom of the mountain, the plan being to clear the mountain of plaques etc.

22:

12 years on: 2018
Perhaps I am being very pessimistic but don't see much be happy about in the some of the trends i see developing.

Life will be a lot more volatile in general:
There will be oil and petrol but it's price will be high and very changeable. More electric vehicles under the watchfull gaze of the traffic cops (we already have effective coverage of all major roads in scotland).

Job for Life, nah. Job Uncertainty for Life, Yes.
More short term contracts, part time benefits.
Even for some of those employed by the government.

More gradual fragmentation of society due to multiple mass media channels (radio, TV and the internet). You want to see the local brisbane australia news coverage from edinburgh, easy. The readership of newspapers is on the decline, the share of viewers for the normal national tv stations (BBC, C4) is already decreasing.

In a democracy (if we actually have one), people need good consistent information to cast thier vote wisely and engage in the political debate. With too much information, people will head for any certain answers (political or religious) that seem to be reasonable rather than try to figure it out. Possible future viewpoints "slavery is mentioned in the bible so economic indenture is OK" or "the government man says that an embeded RFID chip in my hand will keep us safe so OK by me"

So let's march towards the glorious future under the guidance of our Dear Leader (whoever that may be)

23:

I forgot about ....
Dan mentioned that "no huge surpluses", there was an article in yesterday's Independant on Sunday about how the planet has gone from a food surplus of +65million tons in 1996 to a deficit of 58 millions in 2006 (Data from the US Dept of Agriculture). 55 million tons of corn was used for biodiesel. It said that corn that would feed a man for a year could be converted into a single tankful of ethanol fuel for a SUV. Main Reasons for the situation seem to be crop failures and a rising population.

Food and clean water shortages are coming and faster than you think, as will Climate Change.

Perhaps I'm just down since i will be in my mid-fifties in 2018 and don't want to think about that :(

24:

I'd certainly wonder about the potential for abuse by game admin. One of the elements of these large games is "Emergent Sex". In pretty much any medium where people can have private conversations, somebody will be talking about sex.

If certain kinds of porn are illegal to possess in some jurisdictions, a full video logfile could be wonderful blackmail material. Just the suspicion that somebody has such stuff could wreck their lives when the Police investigate.

25:

Kite65: those are the trends of the past two decades. I'm way ahead of you (I hope).

By 2018, I expect the days of the self-driven car will be numbered. Most cars will still be driven by a human being, but we'll increasingly see automatic steering on motorways, and call-centre driving bureaus to remotely control vehicles around towns (farm out your driving to a call centre for £5 per hour and take a back seat). Coupled to ubiquitous speed/traffic law enforcement (go over 33mph in a 30mph zone, get a fine -- automatically, everywhere, with no more GATSOs to watch out for) and the "fun" element goes out of driving.

Fuel prices will peak somewhere upwards of where they are now, but not too far up; the Alberta tar sands become cost-effective to exploit at $60/barrel and profitable at $70/barrel, which is where we are today, and there's four times as much oil there as the entire Middle East ever had.

Climate change ... expect refugees and disasters and lots of funky insurance problems. Naomi Klein's forthcoming book on Disaster Capitalism looks like it's worth reading. My money is on the US economy's money-circulating engine shifting to Disaster Capitalism from the Military-Industrial Complex over that period, unless there's a huge attitude change in government -- Katrina and New Orleans as the pattern of the future.

I expect by that point, the EU, China, India, and the rest of the developed/developing world will be beginning to overtly abandon the current American model (because it doesn't work -- you can't fight a WWII-scale mechanized land war by throwing money at civilian contractors, and you can't fight global warming that way either: by 2018 it will clearly be a threat of the same scale as fighting WWII).

Income volatility/globalization .... I believe the EU has the potential to turn things around, as long as (a) it keeps expanding, and (b) it keeps emphasizing free movement of labour as well as free movement of goods, services, and capital. The current destabilization and wage deflation is caused by a race of capital to the cheapest [captive] labour in the third world; Chinese clothing manufacturers are currently being threatened by cheap Bangladeshi labour. Oddly, the EU's model of pumping development money into the poor periphery and then integrating them as their economies come up to speed, seems to work much better than the general free-for-all of the American Empire.

Dave: the key political axis of the 21st century will be social liberalism vs. control-freakery. Mediated by electronics, of course. And thank you for that idea, I think it's just made it into HALTING STATE :)

26:

I did read somewhere recently that the Alberta tar sands can't really produce much more than 4 million bpd. Which isnt enough to make up for everywhere else. Moreover, the return on energy invested is pretty poor with tar sands.
I guess I'll have to see if i can find the reference.

27:

By 2018, I expect the days of the self-driven car will be numbered.

I'm not sure what the life-cycle of cars are in Europe, but in the US it's not uncommon to see 10 or 15 year old cars on the road. More common outside the Northeast, but the majority of cars in the US will probably be models made before 2010. In 1998 I was driving a car made in 1986, for instance. Japan will probably be the first to see widespread adoption of self-driven cars.

expect by that point, the EU, China, India, and the rest of the developed/developing world will be beginning to overtly abandon the current American model (because it doesn't work -- you can't fight a WWII-scale mechanized land war by throwing money at civilian contractors, and you can't fight global warming that way either: by 2018 it will clearly be a threat of the same scale as fighting WWII).

Europe may well see it that way, but will the US or nations like China? What sort of strains will that put on international relations if Euro governments are saying it's a great national struggle like WWII, while Americans are concerned about what good deals they can get on their next SUVs and patting themselves on the back for helping the environment by getting a SUV that has a fuel efficiency of 35 MPG? :)


28:

The production in the tar sands is increasing.

The problem is that a large portion of the fuel produced is used to extract more oil. The amount of pollution affecting the local community is increasing significantly. ("terrorist" attacks by a local farmer on an oil company next door because of poisonous air.)

New methods of extraction are being developed, but they still use up a large portion of the energy found in the tar sands for production.

29:

What about population migration?

The refugee movement in some parts of the world almost seems like the ones of the early christian era. These were not always violent but they saw the migration of large numbers escaping attacks from other peoples and/or seeking prosperity in more developed areas.

30:

Europe may well see it that way, but will the US or nations like China?

They'll adapt or die. What I'm saying is, the existing system of globalized capitalism that treats the environment as an externality -- the American model of international development, that's been what we've been running on since about 1945 -- is simply non-viable. We're going to have to replace it.

If we don't replace it, there isn't going to be a near-future to write SF about.

31:

Been looking for harder data. Cannot find much, but its useful to note that firstly production is under or just over 1 million bpd, and is increasing slowly, and the time scale for greatly increased production is on the order of ten years.
Furthermore, at the moment they are using Canadian gas reserves to refine the tars. These are probably peaking right now, and in ten years time wont be so much use on the tar sands, meaning that the tar sands themselves will have to provide the energy to refine them. Which will reduce the energy return for energy invested.

32:

They'll adapt or die. What I'm saying is, the existing system of globalized capitalism that treats the environment as an externality -- the American model of international development, that's been what we've been running on since about 1945 -- is simply non-viable. We're going to have to replace it.

Leaving aside any technical details about climate change and what's need to fight it, what if the US government and majority of its people simly deny that it's a problem? It's a global problem by definition, so Europe and other nations that support Europe would have to take up the slack dropped by the US.

It's not like climate change will only hit the US if the US does nothing about it. You could very well have a situation where the US is only mildly effective, while Europe has major problems despite all the effor they put into fighting climate change.

The EU and US are roughly equally sized economies, but if the EU puts a significant amount of resources into fighting climate change, while the US continues to put them into growth...

33:

The US federal government can ignore global climate change if it likes, as long as the state or local governments pay attention. This already seems to be happening, with some states and cities actually implementing the Kyoto targets without reference to Washington DC.

So even if the official position (e.g. the Bush administration's) is "we're going to ignore it and hope it goes away", it does not follow that the USA as a whole is going to do nothing.

And ultimately the federal government will have to admit there's a problem. Because, you know, losing one city might be an accident, but the second or third time it happens questions are going to be asked. And given the magnitude of the problem, it will happen again.

34:

The US federal government can ignore global climate change if it likes, as long as the state or local governments pay attention. This already seems to be happening, with some states and cities actually implementing the Kyoto targets without reference to Washington DC.

True, though any legislation the Feds pass would trump state legislation. And companies might be able to make a case that states were interfereing in commerce in some cases. New growth might just occur in non-Kyoto states. Put your factory or powerplant right across state lines where you don't have to follow the environmental rules.

New England has made a push in that direction, but it's easy for them -- they've got a mostly stagnant population and a declining industrial sector. Replace a few aging power plants and they've met their goals since much of their income comes from services to companies who do all their manufacturing outside of the region.

California is probably the one state that could most influence things. They're big enough that companies will want to make them happy for their sake alone -- an economy bigger than Italy's, I think.

I think the US is likely to keep going with an uncoordinated carrot and stick approach. A mixture of regulations, tax incentives, and subsidies at all levels. For instance, California might pass an emmissions regulation, while the Feds give subsidies to Ethanol producers, and other states give tax rebates to people who buy hybrids. That's the US approach rather than a massive government effort like you seem to be predicting for the EU.

35:

I'm eagerly anticipating "Halting State." My stepson seems to be living inside an MMORPG, and I can't figure out how to visit.

36:

Charlie wrote "Those were the trends of the last 20 years"
I never was any good at prediction, no use at the lottery either (when I do remember to buy a ticket).

Naomi Klein's Disaster Capitalism:
Looks interesting, Did anybody else ever read "Market Forces" by Morgan. Near Future with corporates earning profit by engineering "regime change" to force new commerical contracts on the new government (bit like Iraq and Halliburton really, so perhaps it's passe already)

I get little sense that the US will finally realise that it's structured to fight a big war with someone and there's no-one else there. There will be lots of little wars, where you will have to spend men and machines in nasty little conflicts and police actions to keep imposing your vision. Russia is now ruled by some hard business men who are buying up all the energy supplies to central europe to make a killing over the 30 years as the north sea oil and gas ebbs out. Who needs to invade when you can exert power from the board room?

Being a bit pessimistic, If America fails economically (cost of Iraq alone is beyond 300 Billion and rising) or goes into recession, then who can China (and others) sell thier goods and services to. The economic earthquakes could be vast. Domestically in the UK, we have a overheated housing market. If interest rates go up, people feel poorer and slow spending which affects the general confidence and the housing goes down.

I suppose the problem with predicting anything on a large scale is that it's all interlinked to a massive scale. But at least, I know I'm just guessing unlike governments and economists who think they can predict with accuracy over 5 to 10 years....

37:

"Market Forces" is the one Morgan book I couldn't read. My best friend and I both tried and barely got three chapters into it before putting it down and shaking our heads. His other books are much better.

As for Naomi Klein, I think she's highly overrated -- a one trick pony on the wrong side of history.

38:

Stross: "I believe the EU has the potential to turn things around, as long as (a) it keeps expanding, and (b) it keeps emphasizing free movement of labour as well as free movement of goods, services, and capital."

I predict that, by 2018, the EU will have fewer members than it does now, and that free movement of labor within the EU will be a distant memory.

Charles, you've been complaining often and at length about the host of petty regulations enacted by Blair's government. Well, that is the EU's character -- the Labour Party is only following a trail blazoned by the bureaucrats in Brussels. And just as the UK is heading for a political crisis, so is the EU. Nobody with any sense is going to take as a model a political system that consistently harasses the law-abiding and gives license to the criminals. It doesn't matter how much expertise the bureaus claim in managing the market, or health care, or the environment, if they can't or won't do basic policing properly.

Kite: "I get little sense that the US will finally realise that it's structured to fight a big war with someone and there's no-one else there."

You know, that's exactly what Donald Rumsfeld has been telling the Pentagon all these years.

39:

Ahhh, the EU- for years I have thought that us normal people are being crushed between 2 powers in the EU- the bureacrats and the corporations. So far there is no sign of anything changing.
However Braziers claim about policing is way over the top.
Kite 65- you do know that many of the international agreements that even developed countries have been trying to sign up to effectively limit what gvts of the countries can do. So if they decide its in their best interest to do X, they can get sued.

40:

Michael, blaming the EU for all the woes of the UK is an old story in the more reactionary sections of the British press -- but it's bollocks. The EU employs fewer bureaucrats than the Scottish office circa 1995, when Scotland was effectively being ruled by fiat from abroad; but it's a convenient whipping-boy for politicians who want to play nationalist notes while pointing the blame for their own legislative excesses at someone else.

41:

I sort of have a distant view of the EU being in the US, but I think it's a good step. Over here it's often comapred to the US uniting independent colonies into a single nation, but I think if that's the case it's more like the US under the Articles of Confederation than the current US.

The EU needs to decide if it wants to continue as a loose confederation or if it wants to centralize even more. Personnally I think it would benefit from weakening the national governments more, they often seem like redundant bureaucracies at odds with each other.

42:

The funny thing is, the national gvts have, as far as I am aware, more of a say about what goes on in the EU than the parliamentarians. The council of ministers etc can decide a whole bundle of legislation, which is effectively handed to the parliament to rubber stamp.
We need to decide more whether the EU is going to be run by national gvts by proxy, or actually have its own democratic set up.

43:

Andrew G: yes, articles of confederation is exactly right.

Now, for my agenda, I'd like to see the EU get started on the road to integrating Russia and the former SSRs ... that'd be a generational project and a tough problem to chew on, but I think dragging the former Russian empire fully into the developed world is vitally important in the long run.

(Then we can start negotiations with Japan, before getting down to the serious job of building a world government that doesn't act like a repressive dictatorship or an empire.)

44:

Now, for my agenda, I'd like to see the EU get started on the road to integrating Russia and the former SSRs ... that'd be a generational project and a tough problem to chew on, but I think dragging the former Russian empire fully into the developed world is vitally important in the long run.

I agree, bringing Russia into the EU would be an important step. The question is, when will it be possible. As long as the Russians (or their leaders) are still nationalistic and holding onto memories of the Soviet Union, I don't think it's possible. They see themselves as the equal of the entire EU, not as a potential member-state.

If it takes too long China might make a bid for hegemony in the Far East, and could acquire land from Russia. The entire Russian Far East only has about 6.5 million people living in it...

There's also the question of what to do with Russia's dependent republics within the Federation. Should each of them be granted membership in the EU as well, or would they be excluded from the EU? There might be some precident for that sort of thing -- Greenland is part of Denmark but has home rule and left the EU. Another example is the British crown dependencies of Mann and the Channel islands, which are not part of the EU, though their citizens who are British citizens are also European citizens.

45:

Any comment on Near Future plausibility of David Brin's "Earth" -- which looked 50 years into future from publication date and made what Brin lectures on as at least 15 correct predictions including the drowning of New Orleans -- or Vernor Vinge's "Rainbow's End" as examples of truth creeping up on fiction? Or Vinge's "True Names?" Not that prediction is the primary purpose of Science Fiction.

It has been suggested that Siberia be put up for auction, with the US and China likely to be major bidders. Bucky Fuller wanted to integrate the Siberian electrical grid to that of Alaska.

46:

"Blaming the EU for all the woes of the UK is an old story in the more reactionary sections of the British press"

True, but that's not what I said. I said the EU's method of government is, essentially, the same as the Labour Party's method -- which you have found intolerable. Why would you expect a model that doesn't work within a single nation to work any better across a continent?

"before getting down to the serious job of building a world government that doesn't act like a repressive dictatorship or an empire"

Given the ... expansive way you like to use the word "empire", the only world government I can concieve of that would fit that description is one with no power to enforce its laws, and no influence over those who do have power. In which case, the job's been done twice over: the League of Nations, and the United Nations. Can we please lay the ghost of Woodrow Wilson to rest?

47:

Michael wrote You know, that's exactly what Donald Rumsfeld has been telling the Pentagon all these years.
That's hideous thought, me saying the same thing as Rumsfeld.

But if America is the world's policeman. Then they need build the range of tools for the job. Policemen don't tend to carpet bomb your house for having a loud party.

I'd go for integrating Russia into the EU. Long job.
I think China might end turning democratic.
There is a growing number (millions) of chinese, now starting to take holidays abroad (mostly korea but other places too). The returning people and the internet (even censored) will slowly change viewpoints and atitudes. It's easy to be content when you haven't seen any alternatives.

48:

Charlie, well, I think the answer at that is to work round the Russian border. And that...looks like it'll happen. Even Kazakastan recently started the first steps of closer association with the EU...

Of course, I also have no long term optimism for Humanity. That'd also be my martyr tendencies acting up again, but...

49:

Bell's First Law: " In pretty much any medium where people can have private conversations, somebody will be talking about sex."

Quirke's Corollary: "In any medium where people can have anonymous communications, somebody will be trying to make money by selling sex."

50:

Meh. I'm not impressed by 802.16e, and I've never been. You want 802.20 for real broadband mobility. The latency on 802.16e is not so good either, and there are some other technical problems with 802.16e that have to do with rollout.

Of course, 802.20 has been languishing in an IEEE oubliette for so long I had to look it up on Wikipedia to know when the PAR was passed. There's a reason for that, and it isn't pretty. You could have had your fat wireless mobile broadband yesterday instead of five years from now if it hadn't been for [redacted] political bullshit.

51:

One important point about the way EU law works: they "direct" the national governments to make the laws.

What's too often happened is that the UK government has "gold-plated" the directive. We also have some complications from the "rebate" that Maggie Thatcher negotiated. It might have made sense at the time, but part of the deal with that the UK government often has to match the EU funding before any grant is paid.

A few years ago, when I was still farming, there were some grasnts for investing in the food industry, not actual farming but things like food processing and packing. Putting potatoes in those expensive little ready-to-microwave trays, for instance.

This area was one which qualified, under the EU rules. The UK governmwent added some restrictions of their own, which meant they didn't agree to pay their share, and the EU money didn't come here.

There was a big potato packer who closed down a couple of years later, because they couldn't afford to meet new UK regulations, and had missed the chance of these grants to replace old plant.

Now, it's easy for each side to blame the other, but I can see an independent Scotland cheerfully giving up the rebate in return for not having to match-fund, and going for every EU Grant they can get.

It's worth remembering that the CAP is already administered at sub-national level in the UK, with distinct administration in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. The English system, under the control of DEFRA, is the one that ballsed-up the administration over the last year, while Margaret Beckett was in charge. There was some of the some difference in competence during the Foot and Mouth epidemic.

(Just in case anyone doesn't know, I used to be a farmer. I've seen this up-close and personal, so I'm biased. I just wish I'd gotten out of the business sooner.)

52:

There are people who would love the idea of getting rich by being right about what the prices will be a few seconds from now.

Now there's an interesting thought: at such a rate of change, you might need - or just want - to program a superset of macros (a metamacro, perhaps) that react to changes in the market as *you* would - if you were fast enough.

53:

Not so much "halting States, as the opposite - "Accelerando - perhaps people will answer my questions in this one - warning a bit long.
See below
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Having just read �Accelerando� twice through, and also (some time since) �Singularity Sky� and �Iron Horizon� �.
How close are we, really to a/the singularity?

For machine AI to work, processing speed is not the requirement, it is parallelism, and sensory interfaces to the world(s).
I don�t doubt that it will come, and is possible, if only because I have just seen religious pontificators simultaneously warning of its� dangers, and proclaiming it impossible.
But what you need will be something like a large (cubic) array of fairly simple processors, not necessarily running very fast by present standards, but each connected to its 14 nearest-neighbours, with about 1000 processors per total cube-side. This, given sufficient sensory input, would probably wake up, all of its� own accord. (??)
Problems: size, and disposal of excess heat.

How close are we to the situation in the first section of �Accelerando� where Manfred is running on external, but very sophisticated interfaces?
And, is the economic scenario posited there realistic? I note that the various attempts to stop music becoming cheaper and more available via the net seem all to be progressively failing, for instance � I noted that on Radio 3 this week, some performers are putting their work out directly to the net, for very small sums (Pile it high and sell it cheap ) � and cutting out the middleman simultaneously.
How close are we to 3-d fabbers? I first saw the idea (old New Scientist article) about 18 months back.
How close are we to sensory and biological upgrades, leading to temporary life-extension � which will then enable a larger number of people (in the first world, at least) to survive to and beyond the singularity (as I�m 60 I have a direct personal interest � I really want to see what happens next) ??

I thought I was fairly well-up on the terminology, and I read Scientific American, and occasional �New Scientist�s� as well as quite a bit of SF, but I�m afraid you lost me 3 times in �Accelerando� so here goes:
1. What is �slashdotting�? Obviously a form of electronic attack/overload, but specifics, please?
2. A �Basilisk attack�? The mythical basilisk killed with its� stare � so, err, erm �..
3. Very simple, I don�t normally bother with the codes, but some people obviously do � a 419?
4. What�s a Langford Fractal, apart from something, I presume to do with Dave L. ??

Also, referring to the paperback edition of �Accelerando� � on p.171 there is a reference to a Turing Oracle � unfortunately, I was under the impression (article in a recent issue SciAm) that this wasn�t on, since it involved �omega� [ See �..erm - I've lost the refernce right now - ask me later... ]
P. 205 (pbk) � the moment of maximum change � which I would put at ~ 2055 present dating, or possibly as early as 2035?

All of this assumes, of course, that the muslim loonies don�t start World War II (part 2) by nuking Israel between 2012 and 2017 �..

Almost finally, a very interesting recent development, as the cover article of last weeks� New Scientist, also referred to in JBIS � a real, relativistic e/m thruster.
[ References��New Scientist, 9 September issue, Space Chronicle edition of JBIS, vol 58, p.26 and �.
All of these next should have http://www. � underlined and in blue of course - in front of them � I�ve removed them, so that they don�t look like URL�s, and you can receive the message � your SPAM-filter nuked my first try!
newscientist.com/channel/fundamentals/mg19125681.400-relativity-drive-the-end-of-wings-and-wheels.html
e4engineering.com/Articles/295931/Microwave%20engine%20gets%20a%20boost.htm
shelleys.demon.co.uk/fdec02em.htm
tmcnet.com/usubmit/2006/09/08/1874074.htm
]
IF Shawyer can boost the Q from 50, 000 by 4 orders of magnitude, by using liquid-Nitrogen superconductors for cooling, and without the assembly shattering, he will be getting kilograms of lift ��..

Lastly, predictions can be good or bad � for entirely separate reasons, I have just re-read R. A. Heinlein�s �The Door into Summer� � originally published in 1956. Even there, some of the technology has not yet caught up with his predictions, though as usual at the time, neither the electronics nor the genetics runaway expansion had been seen. The cats are still in charge, though!

In the absence of Fisherrow Brewery, I suppose the next time I�m in Dun Edin. I�ll just have to resort to Bow Bar/Leslies� Bar/ Bennet�s Bar (both of them).

Yours sincerely,

G. N. G. Tingey.

54:

yes make it weirder. there are endless amounts of upsidedown crucified elephant skin regalia to choose from in this world. go nuts.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on September 3, 2006 5:17 PM.

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