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World building 302: Psychology, beliefs, and other times

"The past is a different country; they do things differently there."

In my last essay I discussed the likely and predictable environmental and technical constraints on writing fiction set in the 21st century, specifically looking at 2032 and 2092 as yardsticks. But I said virtually nothing about probably the most important factor in defining what our world might look like in the near future — namely, how we perceive it, and how our perception of our world feeds back into the way we behave (and how this in turn determines its shape).

This is of necessity a much fuzzier and more incoherent, flexible view of the future. But let's start with the predictive element that looks most likely — that the future will be about cities full of elderly people who are afraid of the sky — and then ask what this means.

A key prerequisite for a society of old people is a demographic transition from large families with many children to small families (typically of 1-2 children, with 3 or more being outliers). This phenomenon has swept around the planet since the 1930s with increasing force, driven by several triggers: antibiotics and modern medicine mean that almost all children survive into adulthood (prior to the 20th century around 50% of children died before reaching the age of 5), the cost of raising and educating a child sky-rockets as a society industrialises and requires a more educated work force: and female education and emancipation almost inevitably leads to family planning.

Long term economic consequences of the demographic transition are still unclear, but we can be fairly sure that post-DT societies need new models for nursing the elderly (you can't simply shuffle them off to a back room and split the work load among five or six daughters). There may be cyclic deflationary pressures (as populations shrink, real estate becomes less valuable), age-induced recessions (as the ratio of workers to [mostly elderly] dependents in a society skews towards the elderly), and so on. The medical care costs of the elderly are higher, but in turn, care for the old is labour intensive (and may offer some hope for how we find jobs for the employable people who've been shoved out of work in agriculture and industry by automation). There's also some indication that the demographic transition is semi-reversible, with some countries that went into steep sub-replacement decline suddenly experiencing baby booms (notably France and the UK in the past decade).

More controversial is the interaction between future shock, the demographic transition and religious indoctrination.

One response to the rapid pace of technological and social change is what Alvin Toffler characterised in 1970 as future shock: a syndrome characterised by inability or refusal to adapt to change, rejection of new patterns of social organization, vehement adoption of superstitious, new age or fundamentalist religious beliefs, and social reaction. We can see the symptoms of future shock all around us today. Among the reactions to change are a rise in extreme fundamentalism, and also (in societies undergoing or just having undergone the demographic transition) the use of religious justifications to restrict womens' reproductive freedom. (Males with social privilege are threatened directly by female emancipation, especially in traditional societies where large family size is a status/wealth symbol. It's also a direct threat to male sexual privilege in developed nations).

Restrictions on female reproductive autonomy also serve to induce women to remain within a faith community by making it hard to leave, which in turn ensures that their children are raised within that particular memetic complex. The War On Women's Reproductive Freedom is probably best seen as an adaptive backlash against the background of rapid change, but I think it's doomed to fail in the long term because forces driving the demographic transition (notably the increasing cost of raising a child to adulthood, combined with the decreased rate of infant mortality) aren't going to go away; the ultra-religious are going to end up having to choose between smaller families or living in ever more abject poverty. (Even trying to evade the pressure by home-schooling is problematic, because it's going to be the women who deliver the schooling, which in turn means that the women are going to have to be literate ...)

Keeping on the subject of emancipation: the long-term trends are running in favour of female education and emancipation, and against discrimination on the basis of spurious assumed genetic grounds (classical 19th century European racism). I'm not proposing that bigotry in general is in decline because there are startling blind spots all over the place, and crazy-sounding shit so wild I couldn't put it in a work of fiction. (Bigotry is fractal, and today's victim is tomorrow's oppressor.) I do think that homosexuality is slowly but surely being mainstreamed in western culture, despite opposition from threatened masculinists (and conservative women who see female homosexuality as threatening to undermine their status or lifestyle choices).

Speaking of supernormal sexual stimuli, Peter Watts has speculated that just as Photoshop retouching has corrupted our idea of beauty sufficiently good VR or teledildonics may offer us sexual experiences via machine that are so much better than person-to-person real world sex that, well, nobody wants to make the nasty any more. I'm not sure it's going to go that far, any more than pervasive access to porn on the internet has debauched and depraved our entire society in the past decade or so, but some subcultures/sexualities are unlikely to be mainstreamed because they are frankly harmful to third parties. It is interesting to speculate that teledildonics or VR may not only offer a distracting supernormal sexual stimulus to us, but be tailored to channel individuals with paedophile, necrophile, or other societally unacceptable desires into a non-harmful direction. Or at least in a direction that doesn't harm human beings. (Currently child pornography is illegal because it is argued that paedophiles use it for grooming children by convincing them that it's normal. But what if the child pornography in question could give a paedophile a more fulfilling sexual experience than anything they could experience with a real child, and could not be used for grooming?)

Ahem. Getting back to the long-term consequences of the demographic transition, what is clear is that a population that is around 30-50 years past the transition has a lot more middle-aged or elderly folks than children, with various psychological effects. Past 95, very few surviving adults are physically active. Past 85, many adults are suffering from some degree of dementia (be it vascular dementia or Alzheimer's). Past 45, a low speed cognitive decline begins to set in among many people. Past about 40, we become less flexible and find it harder to adapt to new technologies and ways of thinking, or to learn. And past about 25, we acquire a sense of our own mortality (one reason why, in traditional mass conscription armies prior to the First World War, troops aged 18-24 were assigned to front line units and reserves aged 24-34 were assigned to garrison duty/reserve operations: it wasn't just their physical stamina that was in question, but their willingness to take risks).

Given the rising proportion of elderly people in our societies, I expect that over the next century a lot of medical research will focus on the cognitive defects associated with age. I expect the most debilitating ones to receive most of the research funding -- notably the dementia problem, and to a lesser extent middle-aged cognitive impairment.

Now, it's almost a cliche that the older people get, the more socially conservative/reactionary they become, relative to the baseline social beliefs of young adults. But right now it's hard to tell whether this is a consequence of slow neurodegenerative conditions or of social conditioning — by age 40-50 adults conforming to the majority definition of social success will have raised children and owned property and hopefully started a pension fund; they have a stake in society, and a lot to lose in event of adverse change. Also, with more fragile health, they are generally more risk-averse than youngsters. In the USA it's very rare to see a start-up company founded by anyone over the age of 35; family and health pressures are a huge deterrent against striking out in a new venture without employer-provided group health insurance. (In the UK, start-up founders are frequently older or middle-aged, because a socialised healthcare system removes this major barrier to entrepreneurial ventures.)

I'll note that one side-effect of mild cognitive impairment is a reduction in curiousity. Another is that the person in question tends to assimilate new information only insofar as it validates and supports their existing world-view and prejudices. Beliefs people hold by the time they reach middle age often become set in stone as they grow older. And if more people live into old age, we will see a society in which social change becomes harder to achieve. (Unless medical treatments for cognitive degeneration become available.)

We will probably see by 2032 (much less 2092) middle-aged or elderly adults who are healthier and more cognitively flexible than their counterparts in 2012. The definition of "middle age" is pushed back somewhat; the threshold for "elderly" may likewise be moved. If it turns out that much of the post-35 cognitive change is degenerative and can be treated medically then we may see much livelier middle-aged and elderly people with more flexible, changeable, tolerant attitudes (albeit still more cautious than the young because they've lived through hard times and expect them to come again). Intolerance and authoritarianism seem to be largely an emergent side-effect of abuse and deprivation — a response to existential fear. A post-demographic transition population where child-rearing efforts are focussed on a small number of children and women are educated will (I hope) result in adults who are less prone to fear and intolerance.

If we get life prolongation treatments that work — even if they only prolong our active lives towards the current limit threshold (of roughly 120 years) — then we can expect some more interesting social changes.

For one thing, the primary benefit of democracy over autocracy (that it provides a pressure valve by facilitating orderly transitions of power before any government can become unpopular enough to trigger a mass revolt) may evaporate if the working life of a political professional stretches from age 30 to 120: with the same faces repeatedly coming up from decade to decade there may be an emergent gerontocracy. Jobs with responsibility are going to be hard for youngsters to find, career progression will be slow, and the ability of the elderly to make long-term plans is going to be socially exclusionary towards the young — not a good recipe for avoiding inter-generational strife. Policing of youthful behaviour may become a major social flash-point, with ubiquitous surveillance deployed to produce a global panopticon that suppresses behaviour the elderly find alarming (such as anything remotely high spirited in a public place). The world of 2092 will not be a pleasant place for the under-45s, if this is the state of the medical art.

On the other hand, if we get a handle on the senescence process itself and can either freeze or roll back the physical ageing process and treat the cognitive debilitation of age, then things may take a different (and to our eyes more surreal) turn. Physically young and mentally agile/flexible elderly people will be hard for youngsters to compete with, but will look similar — aside from different choices of style markers. And the cult of youth in 20th/21st century western civilisation will give the elderly youth an incentive to adopt youthful fashions, or to apply the brakes to the rate of change of fashion (however, my money is on the former). It's going to be hard to tell at a glance (without resorting to reality augmentation tech) whether the apparently 22 year old hipster in the bar is a real 22-yo hipster adopting an ironic pose because they're poor and locked in a dead-end part time job for the next 20 years before there's any hope of their obvious merit being recognised, or whether they're an 82 year old whose cynicism is born of genuinely having seen it all before.

Work is going to be a headache. We're already in a situation where, in most of the developed world, the full employment rate is in the range 25%-40% — that is, the proportion of people in the population at large who are employed full-time in a job that they are not over-qualified for. (Remember: a large chunk are under or over employable age, or unemployed, or employed part-time, or in the position of a law graduate working a counter in Walmart. The full employment rate is thus a better indicator of an economy's health than the unemployment rate — because below 4% unemployment there isn't actually enough liquidity in the labour market, and in any case, you can reduce unemployment easily by mandating a lower limit on weekly working hours, thus necessitating more employees to cover a job for 168 hours per week.)

There's an ideological road-block to survival here, and it is current generation capitalism (not to mention the Calvinist work ethic and a whole bunch of quasi-religious baggage). The truth is that we can't all work, and there isn't enough work to go round. Basing our social values on our fiscal utility is both short-sighted and inhumane. It's also horrifyingly oppressive, if you are 20 years old and looking forward to a century of labour at the bottom rungs on the ladder, or poverty. We're currently getting a crash course in what Karl Marx called the crisis of capitalism — its tendency to oscillate between boom and bust. Old, cautious, frightened people don't like busts. So unless they're deprived of effective political redress via the ballot box, they're going to vote for socialisation of risk. It's going to take another generation for the memory of the down-side of the Soviet Bloc to fade, but thereafter we may well see the pendulum swing back towards state planning and provision of universal services such as healthcare, a basic income, and education. Assuming, that is, that the highly acidic melting pot of capital globalisation doesn't dissolve the states before the mass movement of manufacturing capital from the developed to the developing world slows down and equilibrates.

So:

In the short term lots more religious fundamentalism, coupled with an anti-feminist backlash (and racist "get off my lawn" ranting against foreigners taking our jobs, either by coming over here to work or by our corporations sending their factories overseas). Also, lots of Bad Crazy stuff. The USA will be particularly bad, as empires in retreat are always fecund breeding grounds for paranoia, anger, and strange religious heresies. This will die down slowly, as the fundamentalists run into the demographic transition and the wealth-or-fecundity trap, and the imbalance between the wealth of the developed world and the third world diminishes (due to a combination of capital flight on one hand and industrialization on the other).

Other factors will tend to support female emancipation and societal normalization of homosexuality. For example, in China sex-selective abortion has led to a skewed gender ratio, with 1.2 males per female in some areas. The result, however, is that young women contemplating marriage can demand that suitors provide them with wealth such as a house and a car; the social status of young women is indirectly boosted by the dearth of competition, and new families are actively seeking to have daughters. Meanwhile, the first Gay Pride event in Beijing passed peacefully last year, and it's reasonable to predict that social acceptance of homosexuality will in turn reduce the pressure on gay men to marry a beard. Extrapolate to the rest of the world: as countries develop, family sizes shrink, women acquire more education, we see a familiar pattern emerging.

Longer term, we can expect a more cautious societal background, with slower change. More dispossessed youth feeling put-upon by their long-lived elders (as is particularly notable in Greece and Italy. Politics may well slowly swing back towards a pattern of state provision of social services by mid-century; the alternative will be serious civil disorder as the surplus labour left high and dry by the receding tide of automated industrial production revolts.

Huge turd-in-the-punchbowl events that may Change Everything include: working, affordable life extension, a Singularity (i.e. the Rapture of the Nerds, as envisaged circa 1990), mind uploading or working human equivalent AI, a new religion or ideological complex with the growth dynamic of 6th/7th century Islam or 20th century Leninism, and a global epidemic of Martian Hyper-Scabies. But I'd pencil in all of the above as speculative, rather than something that can be counted on.

Any thoughts?

334 Comments

1:

"...the older people get, the more socially conservative/reactionary they become"

I'm not sure that is as true as it seems. From my own perspective it looks different. Basically, I have heard all the bullshit before and I'm a lot less inclined to give it time than someone who is young and to whom it all seems new. So maybe throw in cynicism as well. Especially when it comes to stuff like Hollywood hype ie the GREATEST movie this year! a MUST SEE! I don't queue for the latest iPhone either. Nor, I suspect, does anyone over 40.

2:

There's another long-term sociopolitical trend that continues to grow - social mobility localises social change.

People continue to be ever-more capable of living wherever they choose to live and increasingly they choose to live with like-minded people. This reduces the pressure for social change, or rather it ensures that particular social changes happen in small and specific areas. For example, think about how San Francisco or London affect gay rights in Alabama or the Orkney Islands? Being mistreated in Alabama? Do you want to stay and fight to change law and society, given that a huge proportion of the people who would be on your side have already moved to Knoxville, SF, or out of the US entirely, depending upon how much of a change they need.

The safety valves that are the permissive zones of SF or London act to slow the rate of social change outside of those zones. Equally, conservative zones exist that add to the rate of social change outside those zones. So I think that a multiplicity of societies is entirely compatible with the Twenty-First century.

3:

With respect to the cognitive defects associated with ageing, it's astonishing just how much research money is earmarked for this. I was at a research seminar last week on 'Horizon 2020'--the follow-up to FP7, the European Union funding programme. Between 2014 and 2020, €80bn is up for grabs for research in the EU, with vast tranches of this specifically targeted at senescence, dementia, cognitive decline and other afflictions associated with age.

The date I kept hearing wasn't 2032, but 2024: it seems the EU has a policy document somewhere that targets this particular year, and, having identified many of the topics Charlie discusses above, persuasively argues for money to be channelled into them. The convenor was quite unapologetic in nominating the BRIC countries as being the opposition here (up until recently, the game was always catch up with the Yanks).

For all that, this is the kind of forward thinking that makes me actually hope that the EU, despite its many, many failings, gets through its current impasse and comes good on the foresight.

4:

One author who's explored the aging population credibly is Kim Stanley Robinson; among other issues, his Blue Mars (and distant Earth) experiences a slowdown in scientific progress - Bohr's canard that new ideas do not spread by persuation, but by the old guard dying off; and this isn't happening in a world where tenured professors are at work on their 120th birthday.

Here's something KSR missed though: cosmetic rejuvenation receives three orders of magnitude more money than 'real' rejuvenation in neurology and neuromuscular physiology. And it's an easier problem.

So older people might look 30 when they're 90. Or 20, even. If they can look 17, youth subcultures will work very hard indeed to establish a distinct identity, with a language and symbology impenetrable to the over-30's; they will try far, far harder than they do today.

That's probably going to ramp up intergenerational resentments, because the best identity ritual is doing - or being - something that your elders *absolutely* refuse and reject.

I wonder what a society might look like when 'Eighteen is the new Black' and twenty-five percent of all eighteen year-olds have criminal convictions, are disbarred from higher education or non-menial employment, or are actually incarcerated. Or fifty percent... Or seventy - although at that level, some kind of tagged house-arrest and mandatory behavioural therapy might be the only workable 'solution'.

For special values of 'workable', applied to attempting to implement unworkable policies in a society that isn'working.

This does not assume a society of gerontocrats - it's about an ossifying overclass who can't adapt to change, or even recognise it, let alone try new approaches; think of a 'War on Drugs' where the media, the voters and the executive can only respond to failure by doing the things that are failing repeatedly, and *harder*.

Perhaps we're already there, or close to it, in the continuing rejection of reality by copyright dinosaurs, and their criminalisation of millions of under-30's. Think of SOPA as 'The New Normal' in the formulation of policy and legislation in the ageing polity.

5:

People continue to be ever-more capable of living wherever they choose to live and increasingly they choose to live with like-minded people.

Only locally, within their own nation.

We've seen an outrageous clamp-down on immigration rights throughout the developed world over the past 20 years. There's usually a loophole for "investors" (if you can plonk down $1M and up any country will fast-track your immigration application) but if you're an American and want to move permanently to the UK, or vice versa, it's a lot harder today than it was 20 years ago.

I'll concede your point about big cities acting as magnets for people who don't fit in the small town culture, but the big city externalities seem to attract everyone.

6:

Religious claptrap - and all religion is, at best, clap-trap is the big worryer for real progress.

Those of us who have been really educated still want to learn, and do new things, even if we take a little longer doing so. But the religious, in general want NO CHANGE AT ALL.
See also HERE talking about Hick Sanatorium for POTUS.....
Then there is ... "after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape, and grows again."
This particular form is Nazism re-born as fundamentalist islamism, whether supposedly "shia" or "sunni". WHich is, of course yet another aspect of the past's wrong answers rejecting any new future.

For real capitalism, as opposed to corporatism to survive, it must re-form itself.
There are quite a lot of "right-wing" commentators presently, who are decrying the current collapse and crisis as stridently and as trenchantly as any supposed marxist or even socialist.
Which should tell you something.

7:

Charlie, I agree with your analysis of the short-term, with a caveat: I think the issue of work is going to go critical sometime in the next 10 to 15 years. I've been expecting a crisis of employment in the developed nations for 40 years now; I"m convinced that it hasn't come because up until recently most of the corporate capitalists and globalistas have been operating under the paradigm of consumer capitalism: you need consumers to fuel the economic engine, which means you need to have jobs for a large percentage of your population. So the jobs lost to automation or more efficient business processes have been replaced, albeit with lower paying service jobs. Over time, the emphasis has shifted to crony capitalism and shock capitalism, in which the aim is usually to sell off all the assets you can get your hands on and not worry about the future. Part of the pillage has involved offshoring jobs to cut labor costs, but those jobs are not being replaced.

Even if the global economy improves over the next year or two (and even if it doesn't, but Europe and the US do), the crunch is going to come in the next few years, because businesses are less and less willing to hire more people to do the job unless they can pay them a lot less. And the successes they've had in the Current Financial Unpleasantness in squeezing "efficiency" (meaning paying less for more work) from their employees have made them greedy for more. And the bankers are not willing to pay for losses in the last meltdown, instead they want the taxpayers (that is the middle and lower classes) to pay, so we're going to get stagnant or deflating economies all over. So employment is not going to improve much anytime soon. Worse, while the official measures of unemployment may remain fixed, or even get a little better, the number of people who've been forced out of the labor market will continue to rise steadily. At some point the fan and the shit have to meet.

8:

Schengen is a big, big counter force to that tide of immigration restrictions. It is also all tied up with the european project, so very difficult to make predictions about. I mean, a novel set in 2030-40 could have it gone, have it be a stubbornly surviving renmant of a mostly forgotten project that sticks around because noone dares to mess with any of the legacy, it could be part and parcel of a continuingly ongoing union, or it could be spreading beyond the actual borders of the union as a political-economic tool used on countries not up for membership yet, on the principle that most of the extraterritorial people using it will move back home, and bring methods and values with them.

And I would find all of those senarious credible.
The last one is potentially kind of hilarious even. Travelouge ca 2047; We follow the antics of Theodora age 17 who has just been disowned by her outraged family in central africa on grounds of kissing the neigbours daughter, and clambers aboard a TGV to Paris. Which is everything media says it is, and also much, much more confusing.

9:

Singularity. It's like we as a generation of nerds have collectively done a young William Gibson, always intending to do something singular and disruptive, and now here we are getting older and the world in a bit of a mess and its our turn to step up keep things going for another generation and suddenly we need to just get our singularity out there into the world even if it's some dumb thing held together with duct tape and numpypy and image macros.

10:

No matter how healthy you are, if you don't have something real to do, whether challenging work or play, your brain shrinks. The old phrase "use it or lose it" actually does apply with the brain. Once your brain shrinks below a certain point, you develop a vast number of nasty conditions, then die.

The brain is plastic and constantly needs to learn new things, adapt to new challenges. The reason your list of decline occurs is that as people age they stop learning, stop adapting, and the brain eliminates unused capacity. That trend can be reversed by learning new things, new challenges, the brain then adds capacity.

So even if you have the technical ability to keep everybody healthy, i.e. practical longevity, they will still die after a short pointless life, simply because they have nothing to do.

- It took 90 years to go from a world population of 2 billion to 7 billion. It will only take 90 years to go from 7 billion back down to 2 billion.

We are in the middle of a population bubble, and it will crash with this Millennial Generation. There are too many people, with not enough work to go around. The Arab Spring was about food riots and the fact that there is a 50% unemployment rate among the youth.

The population crash is only going to get worse as the world becomes more middle class, more peaceful, with everyone's basic needs met. By the year 2100, the 2 billion survivors will live a fairly nice life. HA!

11:

There's one factor we haven't talked about that I think will have a major affect on the shape of society in the long term: how people get their attitudes and values. I'm not talking about how they get information, I mean the sources of their opinions about their place in society and others' places in it.

We are at an inflection point in history in terms of how people get their attitudes with the increasing speed and scope of communications. Before the 19th century most personal relationships were local, and most moral and ethical teaching came from high status members of the local community such as landowners, priests, master artisans, and merchants. By the end of the 19th century with the development of telegraphs, railroads, high-speed presses, the increase in literacy rates, and the increasing movement of populations into cities the moral center was more and more located in mass media. Local pundits took their attitudes and opinions from the editorials (and often the "news" stories) in the newspaper, or from books published by nationally-known pundits. The 20th century magnified this effect with the development of national radio and then television networks, nationally-circulated newspapers and magazines, and later national book store chains.

All the improvements in mass communications, combined with the rise of mass-marketing and the targeting of a youthful demographic cohort for consumer merchandising, resulted in a separate channel for communicating attitudes, opinions, and, most important, marketable styles and fads. As the targeted cohorts aged, the new channel split apart into multiple channels, each tracking a different cohort, keeping them separate so as to maximize the amount of merchandise that could be sold to all of them.

This same marketing effect continues today even as the means of communication moves from broadcast to network. Marketing techniques have evolved to target insular web communities and to manipulate opinion in communities not originally created by the marketeers. I expect the marketers to continue to try to create and target separate groups, whether age cohorts, political interest groups, or any other kind of common interest community.

One of the most powerful and most common techniques used in mass marketing is to create or co-opt a focus individual or group. This has resulted in the culture of celebrity we see in the US (and spreading out to the rest of the world), and the increasingly popular notion, at least among those younger than 30 or so right now, that the only real success is fame, and that the source of the fame is largely irrelevant (this is why so many people who can't sing, or are even tone-deaf audition for American Idol; they don't understand that some level of competence is required for success in any enterprise).

IMO the societies of the developed nations, and increasingly the developing nations, will see a marked increase in the dissemination of attitudes and values by celebrities. As the population ages, the older cohorts will have longer and longer to accept the celebrities who speak to them. The effect on their values will depend on how artificial those celebrities are: if they speak mostly for themselves, we can probably expect their opinions to converge on a relatively stable and conservative set of views, but if they are mouthpieces for cultural and economic power centers such as churches, corporations, and oligarchies, then things could get quite a bit more chaotic. The effects of the cult of celebrity will also be affected by how many and how varied the groups are, and whether the powers that control them are allied or hostile to each other.

12:

I generally don't like making social predictions, just because there seems to be hidden factors that aren't apparent until after the fact. One only needs to look a fiction from the 50s, 60s, and 70s that were set in the early 21st century to see that.... :)


That said, I think population growth/decline will stabilize this century at replacement level. How soon that will come, I'm not sure. We're seeing declining population growth and aging populations for a couple reasons, I think the decline will level out because we're in the middle of a shift toward older mothers. Fertility rates look lower than they really are, because women are putting off families (as well as having smaller ones).

Eventually we'll get a new equilibrium, and have a generally more stable and older population - but not a demographic crisis like some people predict.

Even without technologies to make people physically younger, we will see a move toward people working longer. Fewer physical jobs mean people don't *need* to retire young. At my workplace we have more workers over 65 than under 30 - and we offer a very generous pension and health care supplement. They just like the work, and since it is an academic library, they can still do the work.

Other trends in automation and telework will make this even more common in the future. No need for a stressful commute, or relocating for a new job.

If you're right about the max number of workers an economy can employ, then we could see backlash. Protectionism combined with free trade -- no tarrifs on goods, but restrictions on cross-border workers. Some countries may have mandatory retirement ages too, though that runs into a separate push to lower the costs of retirees. We could get a situation were people are forced to retire but retirement benefits are kept low. Not a politically tenable position.

13:

If an older population is denying its youth access to meaningful employment, in a political system that's skewed against them(no vote till 18 and being a minority) and a automated surveillance apparatus that can almost predict negative behavior by 2032 and by 2092 can almost certainly predict it and so plug down all available pressure valves.
I can imagine youth withdrawing from society either in ever more immersive games or the opposite life in communes or religious cults.
depression, self harm and suicide already problematic will become worse.
plus people who have no way to relieve pressure will resort to bullying and extreme sexual behavior.

14:

Regarding capitalism, I think that it could deal with the elderly continuing to work and being young just fine. It would result in a big shift in consumption though -- entire industries catering to the care of the elderly would go bankrupt. But more people working means more people consuming, which is good.

We will probably see a shift in the structure of the workforce during this time people whether or not old age is cured. Manufacturing is going the way of agriculture as a major sector of the workforce. Everyone will be in the "service" sector more or less.

15:

I don't think it will come to that, at least not in places with free economies.

But if it does, there are a couple political solutions -- mandatory retirement ages and/or lowering the max work week.

Given that for many countries retirees are an expense, I think we'd see a shorter work week first. Both probably have the same economic cost, but a shorter work week is less obvious.

16:

Even within nations, it's an effective process. I'm sure there'll soon be a city in Shandong that has a similar social status as Atlanta in Georgia.

More seriously, the developed world isn't as interesting as the rapidly developing world* and the biggest economic and social changes are outside the developed world. I'm hoping we'll see the growth of the BRICs, extended into the Next Eleven, and the CIVETs, and every other nation with a young population. However, we're seeing how patchy the economic growth is in the BRIC nations, with large amounts of the wealth hoovered up by elites, I think we'll also seeing much of the social change altering those elites but passes everyone else by.

This may be inherent in the process of economic take-off in the Twenty-First century. Brazil provides a good example of a nation with strong policies to push economic and social transformation down from the elites to the middle and lower classes. They may be doing much better at that push than they were, but they are still top ten in the world for income inequality.

* - As noted, Schengen allows for unlimited intra-European immigration, Yanks have always gone where the work is, Australia may bitch about immigrants but that doesn't change their large inflows, and NZ is still an open door if some other nation has paid for your education and childhood healthcare. So even in the developed world, this continues.

17:

As I always say when it comes to religious conservatism attempting to hold back the tides:

Fred Phelps' daughters wear trousers.

18:

Oh dear... I think you've missed one significant trend, which will skew a lot of your predictions. The older people are already starting to make inroads to stopping their intellect run down.

You have the retirees attending U3A, but this is just the start. You have people who are at the end of their career and then turn round and start a completely different career.

Now I ask you, what happens when you've got someone who's experienced in two major different fields? Something absolutely fascinating, I can assure you. Instead of slowing interesting developments, it will accelerate them... And once they've accepted one major change, they are more likely to accept another.

One final thought... I have a nasty suspicion that like scarlet fever, dementia as we know it today will cease to be a medical problem in the long term even without a medical cure, because of this heightened intellectual activity as we grow older.

19:

Exactly, an area I think Charlie skirted by.

If we have the young, fit and employed supported and being ruled over by the old and hidebound - you have to expect something to break eventually. Hell, it does today.

Why would the young want to live in a granny-led society where they were doing the grunt-work so the pensioners could eat up the proceeds? Even with the retirement age rising, we can see the demographic timebomb making holes in the equity market and the healthcare costs of the 'last year' killing off the rest.

A country without grannies is going to be much more vibrant, and have much more potential for the young - which a non-democratic country could engineer to attract the young cream.

For the stay at homes, you could expect at least one or two "Granny Wars" to kick off.

20:

I'm curious as to how you define a 'free economy' - by my lights there's no such thing.

21:

You've got a lot of wishful thinking there with regard to socialisation of risk/communism in our futures. "Gerontocracy" is right. You may have already noticed that your political choices have little to do with people's actual opinions. Essentially everyone in the United States favors universal healthcare, but only a very few radical politicians do; this is because the window to what is acceptable political discourse is heavily distorted by money. There's plenty of indication that this will get much much worse in the future. Imagine, instead, a total lack of intergenerational wealth transfer. Much like your poor Prince Charles, the young, middle-aged, old, and elderly will be left hoping that the ancient will finally kick the bucket and open up the good jobs and the inheritance. Yay, Dad finally died, and I'm only 99! The Koch brothers that have done so much damage to the United States are only in their 70s. Imagine if they had 40 more years of wealth accumulation and destruction to look forward to. The old people will own everything, and the young will exist only at their sufferance, and this will continue as long as the state security apparatus is sufficiently well-funded to prevent revolution (modern state security in every Western nation already makes the KGB look like a bunch of slack-jawed yokels).

You are a bit gloomy about this, but not nearly gloomy enough. We have not seen nearly the depths that a firmly capitalistic society can sink to when 90% of all value in the society (including all communications and media outlets) is owned by the 1% who are between 100 and 120 years of age.

22:

I'd like to see some comparative data on your full employment rate. Most peasant societies have an underemployment problem (that is, there is not enough work to keep everyone busy all year) and norms about what counts as full employment vary widely (see the scam that 19th century capitalists pulled, convincing workers that to work 52 x 70 hour weeks a year was natural when as far as we can tell, no society had worked that hard every week in all of human history). Then there are the original renaissance men; back when less was known about each field, there were a lot of bright people who could do a competent job in three or four professions.

I think that humans are creative at finding something to do which makes them feel useful, especially given education, mobility, and a pension. A friend of mine lives on a military pension, plays MMORPGs and LARPs, practices several crafts, and teaches martial arts. I don't think he would have a problem collecting a garinteed minimum income in a "post-wage-labour" society.

23:

A cynical application of some neat science (MS reversed by flooding system with 'young blood') may suggest one use the ageing neurodeficient rich will have for the poor - the same one Elzbet Bathory had.

Link to New Scientist on the study: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328475.400-ms-damage-washed-away-by-stream-of-young-blood.html

24:

Dirk raises an interesting point at #1 - older people are also more resistant to the siren calls of consumerism. There are a lot of different things feeding into this (the most obvious and practical consideration being that as you get older, you find you need to buy less new stuff, because the old stuff you already have is working just fine, thanks) but what it means is that as the demographic "bulge" moves up the ladder (for example, with the case of the late 1940s Baby Boomers in the WEIRD economies) there's actually less spending happening in the economy overall. So there's an economic knock-on effect of the consequences of ageing as well.

This is already starting to have some rather interesting consequences in our consumer capitalist societies, particularly in the realms of entertainment and fashion. These two areas have always tended to focus largely on the younger and more trend-driven consumers (because they're the ones who are more likely to be influenced into spending money on something "cool"), but there's starting to be a number of problems experienced by these sectors as firstly, youth unemployment and under-employment rises (it's all very well courting the youth market, but it helps the bottom line if they actually have money to spend) and secondly, as all other markets are largely ignored in favour of trying to conquer the 18 - 35 demographic. It's manifesting these days in things like older women having trouble finding a shop that can and will sell them clothing (my mother-in-law commented on this recently - most clothing in the boutiques these days is designed for 16 - 24 year old bodies). This may actually be a manifestation of the mental inflexibility that Charlie was talking about in the original post in that the designers and fashion house execs have "always done it this way" (since the 1960s at least) and they now aren't cognitively capable of adapting to suit the circumstances.

Now, there may be a possible consumer backlash, as the number of older consumers winds up outnumbering the number of younger ones (who knows, maybe one of the marketers will actually stop and do the maths, and realise that there are more old folks than young ones, and that selling things to more than just one demographic wedge will fill the coffers a bit more readily) but I suspect this is going to take more than a couple of years to filter through the layers of upper manglement (due to aforementioned cognitive conservatism - we don't know whether it would work, so we won't do it just in case it doesn't).

25:

Megpie71
I have noticed that a lot of immigrants in the San Francisco area are smaller than I am. It might be simply that small and skinny sells, not that the stores are courting youth in general.

general
We are having an ongoing collapse right now. I see no reason to believe that we are even going to have rich people next year, next month, or next week. Things like this have happened before on a smaller, national, scale. The older are going to be much less rich, which will make them even more interested in high taxes for high social insurance payouts.

26:

Four guesses:

First, by 2032, explicit racism becomes far more common (in the West) due to the fading of WWII from living memory.

Secondly, "human-equivalent" AI is not developed. Not because AI isn't important, but because the human mind is a marvel of half-assed engineering and there's little sense in replicating it. AI will continue to advance, and will continue to process data in ways far beyond human capacity, but nobody will bother building a supercomputer that watches Jersey Shore and believes in Scientology.

Three, as I (likely woefully mis-) understand it, neuron loss and connection loss are intrinsic to the way the brain learns. If this is true, cognitive function declines as an inevitable side effect of learning. To use a wildly inaccurate metaphor, the elderly are simply out of free memory, and the human brain is not equipped for reformatting. Even if it were, how do you decide which memories to keep, especially if there is little precision in the erasure process?

Fourth, advertisers get ever better in cramming people's skulls full of meaningless jingles. Couple that with #3 above, and Alzheimer's starts to appear in people as young as 15. In the aftermath of the Bud Light Verizon Nuclear Holocaust Brought to You by McDonalds, it is a serious crime to devise or perform a catchy tune.

Just a few thoughts.

27:

Perhaps the shift as marketers start to focus on the much larger elderly market is why cruise liners and SAGA holidays seem to be performing fairly well. Sufficient funds, free time, and deafness to the wailings of the high street and consumer culture combined with better physical health in old(er) age might be leading to more people buying new experiences, which would further help maintain their neuro-plasticity. Exclusively middle class though.

28:

Re: Old people in cities.
Cities grow because they're good economic engines- you get efficiencies of scale, and you don't have to worry quite so much about transport, so things cluster to cities. If you're starting a business, or growing one, or need a place to work, they're great.
After you've already managed to convert working income to retirement income- whether that's a national pension or investment income, then you don't need the city for its economic value so much any more, but because it's a good place to get services.
It's not necessarily the _best_ place to get services, though- they're still crowded, and the sheer mass of people brings problems of its own. We (at least in the US and other places where there's a decently low population density) may see a demographic transition where it's relatively young and middle-aged people in cities working away to make their nest eggs who then tend to retire to smaller, amenity-filled communities where they have easy access to the services they want (healthcare, food, personal care) but fewer burdens of dealing with the young and/or poor, and they can be surrounded by people of their own generation.

The hilarious thing in that situation is politics- you'll get repeated versions of the "How did Nixon win?- no one I know voted for him!" problem. You'll probably encounter repeated political shifts that accurately reflect the wishes of the population as a whole...but only very few of the population you interact with. Arguably this happens now- I'd imagine much more of it in the future.

As for gerontocracy...already there. The median net worth in the US for someone 25-34 is about $8,500...while for folks 65 and up it's $232,000. The 65+ people also get a guaranteed income from the government and subsidized healthcare, because they and those near that age form probably the most powerful voting bloc in the country- the AARP...one of the few who will put on commercials actively threatening any politicians who mess with the gravy train.

29:

I find it strange, at a somewhat abstract level, to think that the inability of an economy to keep adults in the labor force is a problem because of capitalist values. A "capitalist," after all, is someone who owns capital and is supported by the interest, rents, royalties, and other returns on their ownership. A century ago, it was widely believed that a respectable person should live on the returns on their capital and stay out of the work force; this shows up in writers with viewpoints as diverse as Rudyard Kipling and Bernard Shaw. And this was arguably the high point of world capitalism. The idea that there's something unworthy about making money off anything but labor—reflected, for example, in the IRS's calling the other sorts "unearned income"—would have sounded really strange to an Edwardian or Georgian. I think I might even suggest that the goal of having everyone "have a job" reflects socialist thought more than capitalist.

Why couldn't a future society have a claim to income based on ownership of its nonhuman productive resources—that is, of "capital"—as the standard way for people to support themselves? Yes, you'd need ownership to be widely dispersed. But wide dispersal of property ownership isn't that controversial a goal, at least in American politics; certainly the Republicans have not hesitated to push for as many people as possible to be homeowners. And labor could be left for people who actually have a vocation, the way people from the Regency to the Edwardian era thought it only natural that some "gentlemen" might be doctors, lawyers, clergymen, or military or naval officers.

I don't suggest that this is inevitable. But it seems like one possible direction, and one that might be worth exploring. And at least it doesn't assume that twentieth century ideas about the universality of labor will be carried forward.

30:

Capital producing value rather than all value being produced by labor? I think you've just invented Marxist flamebait.

31:

Both Nixon and Marx saw the need for a basic income. Nixon said it would be cheaper than welfare. Both said there would not be enough jobs to go around. In the States people like the FOREIGN AFFAIRS magazine saw it as necessarily for stability. There were essays calling for a shorter work week for the same pay. Any kind of work was believed to be that important. People out of work and standing around was dangerous and un American. Now we know not paying taxes is more important. That was before anybody dreamed the R/W would take power. In fact that thinking maybe why they cam to power.

32:

So in summary, we are all in for some very interesting times...

33:

We always have been- hard to think of a period of history in the last few centuries where you could be born and die with nothing really dramatic happening in those 70 years or so. Usually several dramatic things.
On the other hand, compared to someone born in 1900, we're likely to have a really, really easy time of it.

I always think the 90's really skewed perspectives in the US a lot- that was a really, really, extraordinary decade, following up on another one that really wasn't half bad. You get one or two of those a century. (The fifties might be another example). Mainly, there's some crisis of some sort going on somewhere.

34:

"Basing our social values on our fiscal utility is both short-sighted and inhumane."

Yes, but we don't know if the alternative works or not...and the answer whether it does depends on how you view likely human behavior.

If freed from the demands of working for a living, will enough people choose to engage in economically-productive activity to satisfy the needs and wants of the whole population? Some people obviously would choose to do so, some would choose not to, and some might choose not to when observing the people who didn't- grouching about free riders.
And some would if you spun it right- people who wouldn't go out mining or leatherworking will do so in online games...and pay for the privilege.

I don't think we're to the point we could pull that off yet. And now, how many of the 25-40% who are working would want to support the 60-75% who aren't? Or who wouldn't demand some advantages in power (financial, political, administrative, etc) for doing so.

So right now, do you have to crack the whip to get enough labor?

35:
as you get older, you find you need to buy less new stuff, because the old stuff you already have is working just fine, thanks

Which is exactly why the marketers invented planned obsolescence. I don't think that my cohort, the leading edge Baby Boomers have slowed their consumption particularly (I have, but then I was always out of step with my age group; I've never been a "consumer" in the marketing sense). Automobiles are still designed and marketed to be replaced every 2 or 3 years. It was the Boomers who became and called themselves "foodies", consumers not only for foodstuffs but also for food preparation equipment of all sorts. And I think you'll find a lot of people over the age of 40 in line at the Apple Store for the latest model iPhone or iPad.

Nor did my cohort invent conspicuous consumption, consumption as a signal of social status. I think you'll find that older people have their status brands just as young people do; the brands are different is all.

36:

The median net worth in the US for someone 25-34 is about $8,500...while for folks 65 and up it's $232,000.

The only problem with the net worth numbers used are that they assume that someone will buy their house at the overpriced values that the Housing Bubble artificially raised them to.

The Greatest Generation is dying leaving behind decaying property that the family can't afford to spruce up, and with no one who can afford to buy at "market price". So the properties sit there, abandoned, ultimately vandalized, stripped, finally bought in a tax auction for a thousand bucks, that is then flipped multiple times over the internet until some idiot pays $5k and is stuck with a house that is then bulldozed by the county and the new internet owner is charged $10k for the process and fined as well; if they can find the guy in Germany who bought the property sight unseen.

37:

T J @ 8
Shengen, yes...
Britain IN Shengen and OUT of the EU ???

( I should make it clear that my recent conversion to a bitter anti-EU'r is because of the antics of the commission. Unelected, interfering, corporatist and corrupt. )

allynh @ 10
So you're saying that me taking up two part-time, irregular jobs, and keeping an allotment, and reviewing pubs for London PotY (The hardship!) etc ... is likely to keep me going?
Remembering those I've seen who had no interests outside work, who were so institutionalised that they dropped dead within 5 years (or less) of retirement - I think you have a point.

38:

Exactly.

Be the eternal student, learning new things for the rest of your life, else you won't have a life. Learn another language, play a musical instrument, learn Math, etc...

Learn long, and Prosper. HA!

39:

Chances are the geezer bought his house pre-bubble (before 2000, really). So even as the current deflated prices, he's still in a position to make a chunk of change on it.
That poor young bastard who bought somewhere during the bubble on the other hand got screwed.

40:

Don't forget the physical- you're exercising your _brain_, not your mind, so don't neglect that cerebellum. All the math, language, and music isn't going to count for squat if you fall down the stairs.

41:

Bruce, that's a very important angle and I'm kicking myself for having missed it.

The demographic transition thing means a bit more leisure time for parents (ahem: not been there, but I imagine that relative to raising eight or ten children, raising two probably allows for some snatched moments of peace). It also means that older kids don't get pressed into service looking after younger kids, that they need to socialize with children outside the family, and there are fewer aunts/uncles/family elders to indoctrinate the kids with a family-traditional outlook on life.

So I suspect the children of a post-DT world will vary in outlook from their parents much more than children born into large families.

And a chunk of those views are going to be emerging not from news media or social consensus or high-status community leaders but from marketing focus groups.

42:

"The past is a foreign country...", shurely?

43:

as you get older, you find you need to buy less new stuff, because the old stuff you already have is working just fine, thanks

Which is exactly why the marketers invented planned obsolescence.

That can be fixed quite easily at a legislative/regulatory level: all you need to do is to mandate long manufacturer-backed warranties on the goods in question.

Actually, here in the EU there's a mandatory benchmark of a two year parts and labour warranty on all consumer goods (with obvious exceptions -- food, for example). There are also "fitness for purpose" regulations to ensure that an item sold is fit for the purpose for which it was offered to the public. (The UK lags somewhat in enforcing the two year warranty regs but has firm 12 month warranty support in law, and muttering the phrase "sale of goods act" at an obstreperous retailer usually works wonders.)

If the mandated warranty period was extended to 5 years of 7 years, the price of the goods would go up to cover it after a bit of grumbling by the manufacturers. There'd be no immediate competitive impact because everyone's products would cost more, although in the longer term it would work to reduce demand and give manufacturers an incentive to improve durability and build quality.

I'd be strongly in favour of such a system, on condition there was an exception available for items in fields that are improving very rapidly (who wants a mobile phone with a 7-year lock-in today, even if it's under full warranty?). But for items such as refrigerators, automobiles, and TV sets, mandatory long vendor-supported warranties would act as a slow brake on the whole built-in obsolescence concept.

44:

Be the eternal student, learning new things for the rest of your life

Yeah.

Ten years ago my hobby turned into the day job. Ahem.

So I need a new hobby.

It occurs to me that running this blog is something of a hobby (you didn't think I did it solely for the money, did you?). I also bought myself a camera for Newtonmass. I'm under no illusions about ever being a good enough photographer to earn any money from it, but -- I can make my own CAT MACROS!

45:

I don't think it is foreign. Not to those of us who lived there, or who learned about it from our parents who emigrated.

46:

Charlie @ 43
In clothing, especially female, there is the phrase "Cost per wear"
It MAY cost more, possibly a lot more as up-front price, but if it lasts 20/30/40 years, who cares?
I have a pair of shoes over 20 years old, I drive a "proper" Land-Rover our coolware is expensive, but we are probably (excepting fry-pans) never going to have to buy replacements, etc ...
The field where this does not (yet) presently apply is that of chip-containing gadgets - where the inexorable advance of Moore's Law still means that, sooner or later, you are going to have to "upgrage" - like my mobile phone some time real soon now!
Ditto @ 45
I was born in 1946
The long, bitter shadow of the fight against the shadow, taking all our treasure, and a lot of our blood, and thought well worth the sacrifice, followed by the realisation that it was not quite utterly defeated is still carried in all of the baby-boomer generation.
One reason I don't like Camoron - he has NOT learnt that lesson. (Ditto Pink Ken, who ought to know better, given his age.)

47:

Reading through this I see mention of the grand society (or just the State), individuals and some nucleus families for raising kids. This is very American modernistic way of looking at aging and the process of raising kids. In most of the world, including Eu-rope, the kinship group of the extended family, is the central unit for both raising kids and taking care of the elderly.

An inversed age pyramid will strengthen the various kinship groups. Grownups and elderly like being around kids, they crave it. With the described demographic changes there is going to be fewer kids to go around. For a child growing up there will be mommy, father, aunties, uncles, old-aunties, a full set of grandparents, great-grandparents, and of cause granny’s new boyfriend. Children will be surrounded by adults, and spend more time together with them then with piers. This will mould the mentality of our scarce resource of young minds. Will tomorrow’s kids wear Tweed jackets and discuss antiques?

I am not worried about insertion of young people into work life. I am quite sure that the extensive kinship networks surrounding the young adults will be used for finding favourable positions where they can be placed to prime them for something great.

There will probably substantial economic transfers between the generations. This of cause will ensure that the young ones will have a significant economic self-interest in maintaining a good and close relationship with elders. Perhaps we will see a move to-wards co-location cross generations. In Scandinavia I think I can observe a pattern of matri-locality, i.e. a young couple setting up a new household will generally try to do that in the vicinity of the mother of the female. So perhaps you will see household cantered around a 4-5 generation deep matri-linage supported by those spinsters and in-laws that have chosen to stay or associate them with that household/ locality.

48:

> "The past is a foreign country...",
> shurely?

TRX: "I want to go home."

Bob: "Eh? Where's that?"

TRX: "About 1965, I think."

As I'm forced to interact with a society that is increasingly more alien and irrelevant to the one I was imprinted with, I believe I can sympathize with the "Displaced Persons" left without a country after WWII.

Stranger: "Zup homie! Wuffo gatcha habbab bloogey!"

TRX: "DO... YOU... SPEAK... ENGLISH?"


The Alien Encounter moments have moved from occasional to commonplace...

49:

> although in the longer term it would
> work to reduce demand and give
> manufacturers an incentive to improve
> durability and build quality.

The standard procedure then is to shave costs and reliability down to the absolute minimum, then sell through sock-puppet front companies with diffuse ownership and no real assets. When warranty claims start becoming a hassle, just pull the plug and move to another sock puppet. Computer and electronic parts merchandising has worked that way for decades.

50:

People continue to be ever-more capable of living wherever they choose to live and increasingly they choose to live with like-minded people.

Only within the same country. Moving to another country is harder than it used to be. If you're rich, or if you are one of the handful of people with hard-to-find skills, you can do it. Ordinary folks with common-place skills? Good luck.

I'm glad I like Canada, because my second choice (Australia) would be very difficult to move to right now. Should have gone in the early 90s if I was going to…

51:

The 65+ people also get a guaranteed income from the government and subsidized healthcare, because they and those near that age form probably the most powerful voting bloc in the country- the AARP...one of the few who will put on commercials actively threatening any politicians who mess with the gravy train.

AARP has also agreed that these benefits may need to be reduced to balance the budget — as long as they are grandfathered for those already receiving them. I'm seeing the same thing with my own pension plan: I'll have to work longer, pay higher premiums, and will receive less, while those who already retired are guaranteed their pensions.

52:

To Rosie@18

Yes, *some* retirees are making use of the University of the Third Age. It might look like a lot of them are, from our particular social bubble, but the truth is less encouraging: 99 percent of elderly people weren't interested in mental effort after leaving college, they never learned a new thing in their adult lives, and they ain't starting now... And they will be mumbling vegetables by the age of 80 unless a major medical breakthrough comes along.

Which it might, or might not: think of the mentally-inactive older adult with declining mental function as, by analogy, the physically-inactive adult with obesity. There may be medical advances to *manage* specific pathologies emerging from the underlying problem - heart disease and type II diabetes (or, outside our analogy, dementia and memory loss) - but these advances won't *cure* the problem unless some amazing adjunct to Prozac makes the patient want to participate in exercise and diet.

And that super-prozac would be so profound a change as to a singularity, in and of itself: a pill that transforms human character. Let's stick to foreseeable medical advances here!

That means sticking to present medical limitations, with no foreseeable fixes. The big one is that medical progress will work for some, but not all - and I note that there are people who are obese no matter how little they eat, and some people are going to get old and go senile, whatever they do, because generalisations have exceptions - but the generalisations are generally true, and this is where we can start using trends and percentages to make predictions.

Let's look at how that actually plays out, in real life today, and project it forward.

I don't have a big sample: just the retirees association from my home town's last big paternal employer, and the coachload they send down to London for a Christmas-Shopping-and-See-a-Show trip, every December. Seems like there's a bunch of them - about a half-a-dozen - set up consultancies when they retired, or did educational & technical volunteering overseas, got involved in charitable work, civic life, and the various lay committees that supervise public bodies... You get the picture.

They're in their 80's and 90's and they look and act a hell of a lot younger than the 65-70 year-olds who just stopped, played a little golf, did a bit of gardening and gave up; and we see very little of those old, old people after 70 years of age.

The big picture is that my father is one of that half- dozen, and he is one of only ten U3A participants in a town of a quarter of a million people. Add in the fifty or so seniors still able to afford the Open University (they're visible on the web group, we've counted them) and four to five hundred retirees attending evening classes in the city (an estimate, extrapolated from the two local community colleges where we've got an agent-in-place), and that's less than 1% of the retired population enrolling in 'mental fitness' programmes every year.

Less than 1%.

They *look like more* because the same faces turn up, year after year: Photography this year, Conversational Spanish the next, Local History the next. Language enrolment is going up - someone's done the reading on which courses are the most effective at maintaining mental functioning - but this is within the same group.

More significantly, for the medium-term future, they *are* more because of survivorship bias.

I can easily see the retirees association coach trip being half-filled with active and civically-involved over-80's in a decade or two, with a half-dozen sprightly centenarians - *needing* those hearing aids and the implants - but mentally sharp as razors.

And the other half of the coach will be filled by ephemerals, taking a ten-year break from active life and shuffling into institutionalisation, medical bankruptcy, and euthanasia.

Right now, the inactive 99% keep coming 'til they're seventy; attendance declines rapidly between 70 and 75; a year or so later, the committee sends a card when we hear they're institutionalised; and, a couple of years after that, a card of condolences.

I can believe in a change in attitudes turning that 99 percent into 95; but I doubt that we'll get down to 90. Any further than that means a change in attitudes requiring a state-led pervasive propaganda campaign over decades - which isn't working anywhere near as well for exercise and diet, or condom use, as it did for smoking - or resorting to miracle prozac.

But those 95% will benefit, a little, by medical discoveries fixing one named form of dementia, and another, and another; this will push the dates out, five years at a time... For some of them, but never all of them, and that line of progress will halt when we run out of differentiable named dementias and conclude that a general degeneration is inevitable and intractable.

I'll make one firm prediction: the one, or five, or maybe ten percent will benefit disproportionately from those medical advances. Like coronary bypass surgery being more use to a physically-active heart patient, rather than an immobile and obese one with atherosclerosis.

So yes, the next fifty years will see more active and politically-engaged retirees: but the number is growing far, far more slowly than the number of inactive and dependent ones; and average life expectancy is growing very slowly, if at all.

But, slowly and steadily, the surviving *active* elderly will survive their way into a supermajority. Call it thirty years away; with double the influence they have now in twenty years' time.

All bets are off for more than fifty years into the future, as I regard fifty-to-a-hundred years as being the gerontological singularity in medicine.

Meanwhile, this:

"The Koch brothers that have done
so much damage to the United States are
only in their 70s. Imagine if they had 40
more years of wealth accumulation and
destruction to look forward to".

We've probably got another decade of them, or two; and I'm not looking forward to that at all. Lucky for us that Rupert Murdoch's malign intelligence didn't breed true; but the Kochs are an example of inherited wealth with inherited evil, and it can take generations for the genetic lottery to win or lose, producing a stupid heir to blow the money and release the cursed wealth back into the productive economy.

I guess that's the future, too: more wealth concentration happening now, and a not-quite-overlapping 1%-vs-99% concentration of intellectual resources occurring across a generational divide. If the intelligent and active over-80's start voting to cut education budgets for the young, they are *exactly* like the Kochs and the economic 1%, pursuing a destructive concentration of wealth that will eventually impoverish us all.

53:

When it comes to work, I very much agree with #29.

Underemployment is only possible when the economy is structured in such a way that most people must work to meet the needs and interests of others, as opposed to working to meet their own needs and interests. Put otherwise, given access to enough capital, people will find something productive for themselves to do – in the extreme case think of all of the privately-funded rocketry R&D under X-Prize auspices, while at the other end think of blogs and blog comments. If a swarm of robots will become able to construct anything imaginable, the economy will be find (and have no underemployment) provided everyone has their own swarm of robots.

This, really, is the crux of the matter. We live in a very, very tool-dependent society (human being+advanced tool can create a lot more value than said human being alone), but are born/enter the economy without any inherent right/claim to any tools. As a result, we need to prostrate ourselves to those who own tools to beseech them to let us use those tools (loans, venture capital, corporate employment, etc.). As tools become ever more powerful and important, the incentives to let anyone use your tools fade (consider the aforementioned swarm of robots versus a feudal lord laying claim to a forest). As a result, there is an easy way to avoid economic collapse – make sure that all young people start out with private ownership over a significant chunk of capital. Such a set up would actually be much closer to what Adam Smith had in mind when he talked of the market, and would remove any distinction (and therefore tension) between the capital- and labour- classes. Would be a lot fewer corporations around too...

54:

Time for Aubrey de Grey and SENS to start making an impact? http://sens.org/

55:

Warning: you're coming at this from an American-centric angle. This is a European blog and some of us are familiar with the way things are done in this Eu-rope you speak of.

The extended family looking after the kids thing goes out the window a generation after the demographic transition everywhere because it relies on, well, having an extended family. Which post-DT parents don't have.

What is rather American is the tendency to move vast distances. The US doesn't have the same level of language barriers as Europe (although within the EU mobility is getting somewhat better).

56:

History suggests that, over time, the wealth would tend to reconcentrate in relatively few hands, leaving the masses poor.

A common Guilded Age criticism of market capitalism was that it seems to be self-liquidating; over time the natural dynamics of capitalism tend to concentrate wealth. Beyond a certain point of wealth concentration, the rich gain enough political power to entrench themselves, and feudalism reappears.

The New Deal and the extremely high tax rates of the 1950s (north of 90% in the highest brackets) disrupted the process for about half a century in the US. In Russia, the collapse of communism led to the feudal krysha system within a few years.

57:

Hmm. There are also the potential for disruptive technological breakthroughs in what is normally reckoned the softer sciences. - Techniques for overcoming ideological resistance to reasoned argument are, for example, going to see a fair bit of effort poured into them, and successes in this field have huge potential for use and misuse.

Truely superior teaching methods - Schools have been passed over by productivity increases to a scary degree, but if we manage to figure out how to genuinely have children and adults learn both more and faster, that could quite seriously alter the way society functions.

heck, as an example that could be played for comedy, imagine that someone produces a selfhelp book that is reliably and significantly helpful - A tome that teaches mr and miss jones techniques decended from cognitive behaviorial theraphy and other advances in logic and cognitive science in a way that lets them spot and break bad patterns, liberate themselves from falacies, quit smoking, get in shape and all those other tiny goals that so many of us fail at. There goes the the entire diet and theraphy sector down in flames.
The widespread disemination and understanding

58:

I am a European national and an Anthropologist of trade, I do think I know a thing or two about European kinship and its place of how we organise our self in the current society.

We tend to overlook the importance of kinship structures in western societies, perhaps because they do not fully fit the current thinking about traditional vs. modern. The actual amount of wealth, favours, and services rendered through these relations are substantial. I do not think that we are on a one way path, where kinship structures are weakened, favouring a state and individualism. I think for instance that the current high property prices will substantially strengthen this type of relationship.

Out of curiosity: Which of the statements I expressed earlier led you to believe that I am an American? I can guarantee I feel very European in my outlooks.

PS. I get the impression that you have noticed the unnecessary hyphens in my text. English is not my native language, and I need the added support of Word to check my spelling and grammar. After writing in Word, I then paste it into your form, this creates the hyphens. I will try to check the text better after pasting.

59:

I would slightly rephrase one of your comments, about the one about people getting more conservative as they get older. I would avoid using the word 'conservative' as it has multiple meanings which can be confused.

There is absolutely no truth to the concept that liberals grow more politically conservative as they get older. The under thirty liberal, over thirty conservative is a clever pithy saying that has no basis in reality. What is accurate is that people are less likely to shift their political views. There are some elderly Marxists around who are not going to be shifting their views anytime soon.

A new demographic trend that I don't see being commented on is the rise of specialty media outlets catering to specific ideological demographics, such as FOX News coupled with Red State and a number of other politically conservative websites.

The current fragmentation of the GOP as seen in the Republican Primaries (establishment GOP = Romney, libertarians = Paul, social conservatives = anyone but Romney or Paul) is quite possibly due to the fact that the three factions of the GOP have been growing apart and growing more extreme in their views thanks to the fact that each group can pick a media bubble that caters to their own ideology, cherry picking real data and making up the rest.

The American nation-state is one state (defined to be political unit of governing) composed of around nine different nations (used in the sense of an ethnic people), not all of which get along with each other. The Yankees and the Deep South nations have been having a struggle over how America should be run since before the Revolutionary War began, and it hasn't stopped since then.

Still, urbanization is a counter-factor as cities force one to mingle with a range of types, and the American South, not to mention the rest of the planet is urbanizing. One of the significant benchmarks of humanity was when a majority of people started living in cities rather than the countryside, and that trend is only going to continue.

60:

Charlie,

For the large to small/medium family transition: I don't think it actually buys you that much time in modern society.
The previous generation(s) simply didn't do the taxi duty that our generation does: a lot more effort is expected to be invested in children these days; in previous generations they were raised by their peers to a larger extent. I suspect more violence and a stricter regime were actually required as "negotiation" with 8-10 kids isn't realistic.

In the more extreme case of the Chinese one-child policy, for those who stick with it, the policy means a generation that has _no_ aunts or uncles (from experience: if you, in your 30s/40s want to have a night away from your baby/toddler, depositing said child with their auntie and uncle is more realistic than giving grandad a pile of nappies). This means a 1-child policy is by extension a communalization policy, breaking down family ties.

61:

One potentially angle: Will the _relative_ decline of the US translate into a transition from a "winner takes all" society to a fairer one?

When USanians were likely to be the winners, a "Winner takes all" politics was a workable strategy. Will the elites in the US try to move towards a fairer global politics rather than risk the Chinese Taking All?

62:

Such a book would be utterly ignored. In fact, it probably already exists (to a point, not all of those things are fully achievable yet) and *is* being ignored. Bullshit just sells better.

Though if everybody read it, that might fix the bullshit selling better problem.

63:

I think I mentioned before that my family did the DT thing a generation earlier than most. If my wife and I had children in, say, 2010, they would have: one aunt, two uncles, two older male cousins, and three grandparents. And none of those relatives would live within 200 miles. So yes, that's supporting evidence.

64:

This book has already been written, played for laughs: Happiness. People read this self-help book, and it works! They become healthier, wealthier, and wiser.

Unfortunately, this causes society to collapse. Worth a look, made me laugh.

65:

You raise the problem of distinguishing between a 22 year old hipster whose cynicism is merely a pose and an 82 year old whose cynicism is born of genuinely having seen it all before. Putting it like that makes history teachers cry. Isn't belief in education basically the belief that you can get genuine knowledge from books and other people's experience; the 22 year old who has just finished a 4 year MA in 20th century history may well be wiser about the ways of the world than an 82 year old who lived through it but hasn't reviewed it critically.

I would like to stake out an intermediate position. Young people don't get much value out of their book learning because of calibration issues. John Smith has read about the rise of the Nazis, but when it happens in his own country he puts on a brown shirt and joins the National Socialist party and is confident that he is not repeating a past error because he has joined a left win party and the Nazis were right wing. Something like that. I'm trying to say that reading about it in a book is different from living through it and it is hard to recognise things from their written descriptions.

In your forties or fifties, some of what you have lived through is history. You can read about it in boring old books that you can borrow from the library. There are films set in periods that you can remember. Some of those films are accurate. Some of those films are inaccurate. Some of those films are not actually about the period in which they are set; the artist had a contemporary point to make and had artist reasons to set the action in an earlier period even though it sets those who were there tutting about the anachronism of the movie.

You gradually become calibrated. When you read history or geography, your experience of reading and criticising accounts of times you have lived through and places you have lived in act as a personal rosetta stone. You can imagine what experiences lie behind the written words, words that are merely ink on paper for those who have not lived long enough to become calibrated.

My gut feeling is that the human health span is just that crucial ten or fifteen years too short. By the time you are well enough calibrated that you can really benefit from reading history, you are getting too old and tired to change the world for the better. The upside of this is that a modest improvement in health span could lead to a big increase in the cluefulness of both the politicians and the voters.

66:

Old? Only accepting new information that works to confirm their cognitive biases? Sounds like the US Republican Party and Fox News. These are geriatric dead-ends, but dangerous because of their authoritarianism and circle the wagons lock-step ideological uniformity.

What strikes me about this is that the future is already here, at least in Europe, the US, and Japan.

I suspect that one thing you are missing is what will motivate people in the future. I think many folks will be looking for meaning, especially after religious fundamentalism peaks and declines.

(1) Old (and rich) people often think about their legacies. I think we'll see ideological struggles financed by old-folks, with the young used as front-line activist. It'll give the youth something meaningful to do, when employment is harder and harder to find. Youth may mainly find employment in various nonprofit and political causes, even if this employment pays as much as volunteering.

(2) Some youth, frustrate by entrenched power of older folks may try to go for more fringe political ideologies. Imagine radical political transhumanism as youth struggle to find meaning and something to do with their time. It could freak out old folks (most of them), but also be financed by a fraction of old folks that want transhumanism (frustrated that the Singularity is still near, not here, even in 2092).

(3) I think this is where space-colonization will fit in. The meme won't go away, even though it's not currently in fashion among futurists. It'll be a very, very hard goal, perhaps never hugely feasible or economical. But it be part of an ideology that play a role in politics and help some folks have meaning in their lives.

Of course, all this speculation is just imagining pretty a future in pretty linear terms. Thinking a little non-linearly, where huge changes are possible (Singularity-ish stuff, or catastrophes) makes extrapolation much harder. After all, there are folks who seem pretty sure we should expect Giga-death events in the 21st century (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_de_Garis). Which would add a bit of survivor guilt and paranoia to the world-views of folks living in the future.

Ideological positioning will be highly sensitive to initiation causes of major catastrophes (climate change, AI, WMD-warfare) and the players who get blamed or suffered from the bad events.

So, plenty of degrees of freedom for a good sci-fi writer to play with plausible futures! Have at it Charlie!

67:

My gut feeling is that the human health span is just that crucial ten or fifteen years too short. By the time you are well enough calibrated that you can really benefit from reading history, you are getting too old and tired to change the world for the better. The upside of this is that a modest improvement in health span could lead to a big increase in the cluefulness of both the politicians and the voters.

I think that the cluefulness period is just dependent on the lifespan. In finance, it was said that it took 2 generations between crises because that was the time to forget the last crisis.

Extend the lifespan, the dynamic is still the same, the period just extends.

68:

But Charlie Stross is quite special, and not typical of the current society. I have my doubt also if you are our common future.
This article can perhaps be a good introduction:
http://www.eui.eu/Documents/DepartmentsCentres/SPS/Profiles/Kohli/FamilyStructure.pdf
There is interesting data there about proximity to closest child and frequency of con-tact between adult children and parents.
I quote from the conclusion:

• For present elderly Europeans the family has remained a strong provider of institutional and everyday integration. The historical decline of marriage has not yet reached them directly.
• The marriage bond weakens however with increasing age, and dramatically so for women.
• On the other hand, the multi-generational structure of the family remains stable. Even though co-residence of the elderly with their adult children has decreased, geographical proximity – and thus the potential for everyday support – is high. There are moreover high rates of frequent contact with each other.
• While this is true for Western Europe as a whole, there are important differences among the ‘strong family countries’ in the South and the ‘weak family countries’ in the North. The North-South gradient is especially noticeable with respect to rates of co-residence and frequency of contact among adult family generations.

69:

Will tomorrow’s kids wear Tweed jackets and discuss antiques?

Today's kids are doing that, with their own personal twist. See the rise of the Chap, Steampunk, electro-twist, cupcakes and faux nostalgia like the 'Keep calm and carry on' poster.

70:

Great stuff here!

Have comments related to social re-engineering via demographics: (1) Moving your population around, and (2) Changing the socio-economic significance of a younger demographic profile.


(1) Moving your population around ---

I would watch China for how to shift demographics to achieve a socio-economic goal.

China's underlying culture has been pretty stable despite the past 80 years and even when it lagged other societies' technologically, it consistently enjoyed comparatively long life expectancies. This long life expectancy is probably the basis of elder-reverence/ancestor worship. But I think that these attitudes - China's deep culture - may finally be changing.

Recently, in the past 10-15 years, young Chinese have been moving into the newly built mega-cities thus physically and socio-economically severing their ties with older family members, and their traditions/culture. Meanwhile due to its gender/occupation/age stratified retirement policy, individuals as young as 40 are being retired into less modern, poorer and more rural areas. Interesting recipe for social re-engineering. (For now, rural vs. urban cost of living is much lower - therefore not much of a hardship.) Give this exercise another 10-15 years though and this policy of generational segregation should finally extinguish millennia-old elder-reverence because unlike previous cultural experiments, this time they're using money, physical distance and time together to move their populations and thereby their populations' attitudes.

If you're cynical or into conspiracy theories, this is the perfect set-up scenario for really radical (terminal) population restructuring via the timely release of a bird flu, or another SARS. Hmmm - middle-aged to old geysers ... back woods .. unfortunate absence of medical infrastructure ... Oops! - virulent disease that targets middle-aged and older immune systems ... So sorry, nothing we could do.

From Wikipedia: The fatality of SARS is less than 1% for people aged 24 or younger, 6% for those 25 to 44, 15% for those 45 to 64, and more than 50% for those over 65.[5] For comparison, the fatality of influenza is usually around 0.6% (primarily among the elderly) but can rise as high as 33% in severe epidemics of new strains.

(2) Changing the socio-economic significance of a younger demographic profile --

For some reason, most people associate vast spending with age whereas it's actually more often tied to household formation, i.e., moving out of the parents' home and starting up your own household. Household formation has been increasingly and steadily postponed over the past century largely due to broader access to education, better female reproductive technology, and post-WW2 consumerism (age of plenty) inspired societal expectations.

At the beginning of the 20th century (in Western economies), the 16-19 year old cohort was the largest household start-up segment. Post WW2, this shifted slightly to 18-21 years as more countries legislated schooling to include high school completion. In the 60's-70's household formation shifted to 21-24 year olds as post-secondary education and 'The Pill' became the norm. From mid-1990s to now new household formation is led by two groups - 25+ year olds plus and, for the first time, middle-aged/baby-boomer(divorced/separated)singles.

There's agreement that anti-senescence therapies will become available/affordable soon. However, people are ignoring (or are blind to) the idea that anti-senescence can also be applied to the other end of the age-distribution scale. Assuming that extended post-secondary education will be the norm together with the popular belief that younger minds learn better -- why not postpone/prolong physiological maturation of the younger generation? This at least would provide some sort of balance between physiology and socio-economic dependence. Of course as soon as this age cohort graduates into socio-economic maturity at 45 or 50 with their requisite 3rd PhD, and their growth/sex hormones are reactivated - watch out! (Could be interesting times - over-sexed super nerds.)


Sort of related -- 'Babies'

Another interesting post-WW2 attitudinal shift was in baby/child-related attitudes: from socially acceptable renewable/cheap (unpaid), exploitable short-term labor capital (until they moved out) to precious 'life-revolves-around-baby' guilt/responsibilities and focus of emotional fulfillment and, therefore, spending. (1950's to mid-60's advertising really exploited this.)

These babies (baby-boomers) remain the most important socio-economic segment because they're the first 'entitled generation'. Even in old age, they're still outspending their parents' generation and probably their kids' generation. The key shift in their spending pattern is a shift from traditional durable goods to experiential goods/services.

Clearly attitudes toward family including one's own child are not carved in stone. Opportunity and optimism helped produce an entitled generation; bleak economic prospects (and longer dependency of one's dependents) might do more than the threat of WW3 to reduce population growth.

71:

I suspect the reason I don't feel that way is because I was never really a part of the society I grew up in, so I'm missing much of the zeitgeist that I would otherwise be nostalgic for. More precisely, the nostalgia I do have is for a revolutionary period when I and my friends and acquaintances were working to drastically change the society we were raised in. Oddly (or not) that feeling has come back to me in the last couple of decades here in the US.

For me, the future is a place with the potential to become the country I wanted to live in, and I've yet to live in a time which was worse in all respects than the one in which I grew up.

72:

TRX @ 49
You are NOT ALLOWED to do that anywhere in Europe.
Before the EU commission screwed it, one of the consumer-protection legislations that was enacted across all of us was the equivalent of the UK "Sale of Goods Act"
We will be after you, and you will pay up - or go to jail ... as (I think) Intel found out (!)
Supplier sock-puppetry is not loved here, at all.

Robert @ 51
BOLLOCKS as regards us, here, at any rate.
Our pensions are still based on Otto von Bismarck's German pension plan of the 1880's
It is NOT a gravy-train.
You in the USSA are NOT the whole planet!

SF reader @ 69
Cods
The average age of marriage in Britain in the period 1900-14 was somewhere OVER 25 for both sexes.
Your argument, therefore, fails.
They also, often, married, but did not start their own households.
Your remarks about SARS smacks of a conspiracy-theory OOPS.

73:

The average age of marriage in Britain in the period 1900-14 was somewhere OVER 25 for both sexes. - in Britain, but not elsewhere...

74:

" "The past is a different country; they do things differently there." "

Really? The Late Great SF /Fantasy Writer Bob Shaw was rather fond of taking Pop Sayings and Aphorisms ... if I have the correct term ... and then, with a blank faced calm expression, and " I am Considering This in a Serious And Scientific Manner " he would say 'That isn't Actually True ' .." Stitch in Time " ? Err, NO, as it were, and spin it in all sorts of directions.

So, in that Spirit ..." .. The past is a different country " ? ... YES and... SO is the FUTURE, and they sure as Hell used to do things differently there way back in the last century in the zany world of Science Fiction.

This is a really interesting topic thread ..if I have the term correctly .. and Psychology does tie in nicely to the High Streets thread ... what will we buy and from where - given our Future Human Psychology? That is, frankly, much like our past Hunter Gatherer Ape/DogWolfe Packs Past History, but with a spin sideways and a Side-dish of Religion. Tie that into the, ' Venus of Willendorf .. ' ..Gosh where did That Come From !! ... ? Sideways Tab to " Venus " meaning to go to exact pre-history and ' Votive offerings and Shopping at X Mass' and the search Thingy gave me ...


http://www.xenu-directory.net/mirrors/www.whyaretheydead.net/krasel/books/evans/jesus.html


Whatever next?

Aside from our UK Business Education derived and Born in The USA, and the US of A-vians predatory raptor /vulture/ Velociraptor ish,Business Capitalist ' Born Again ' qusai Religious Speaker/Politicians Devotion to Whatever is New in Faith this Year mixed with This Years Blonde Marketing, and from there we can Spring into Business and the Evangelical Speaker and so research ..casual search, and first result up is, " LLOYD ABRIA LUNA, business evangelist and motivation star in Asia, is an international motivational speaker, consultant, television host, and Internet entrepreneur. He is the author of Is There A Job Waiting For You?, The Obvious Reasons for Success, and The Internet Marketing Handbook. He is president and CEO of The LLOYDLUNA Communications, a Philippine-based business consultancy firm.

http://www.businessevangelist.com/

Bloody Hell Some Things don't change do they?

This is like a swift dip into the next Neal Stephenson novel up from the one that I'm reading at the moment!

Must have a think and come back to this topic that deserves more response than its had up till present time.

Very Subtle and Cunning ..well done Charlie.

Right then ..back to that Neal Stephenson novel and away from my break to shuffle my - ankylosing spondylitis - diseased spine about a bit in a Medically Approved manner lest I find myself fixed permanently in a perfect position to admire my own feet, which frankly aren't all that interesting.

75:

Charlie, one small quibble: it's (probably) unlikely that agriculture is going to become more industrialised.

There are already cracks appearing in that model as fuel and associated products become more expensive. What's more, the UN said (in the report they released last year about "green" agriculture) that small-scale farming is the most efficient way to produce food. Efficient food production may turn out to be more important that efficient profit generation for large corporations, in the coming century.

All of which means that we may (or really should) see labour moving back into rural areas, particularly in parts of the West were the countryside has been massively depopulated over the last 50 years.

76:

To clarify - and based on census data that I'm familiar with:

... Average age of marriage is not the same as average age of leaving home (i.e., starting a household). The definition of 'household' has and still includes renting a room at a stranger's. At its most basic, it means being self-supporting and living away from Mom&Dad. Starting a household is not synonymous with starting a family.

... Average age of marriage does closely track with economic boom&bust cycles: lower average age (boom) and higher average age (bust). Which is counter to recent average age of marriage by education/socio-economic status.

77:

You may be interested in this article on the evolution of the number of works hours per year in Britain.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/01/15/the_past_and_future_of_the_workweek.html

78:

Just so we don't get too nostalgic about the benefits of living in extended families there's this article from the Sunday New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/bargaining-for-a-childs-love.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212

Elder care is controlled by the elders saying care for me if you want to inherit. (Apparently not the english model - see Jane Austen, and the tv series Downton Abbey)
Then where inheritance is not controlled by law, there is competition for favor. My sister and I reminisced at xmas about growing up in an extended family where great grandparents lived on the bottom floor, grandparents in the middle, and us on the top of a 3 floor flat. Our grandfather's mother died and great grandfather's second wife's children got the house even though our family did the elder care. That carried into my parent's generation where our mother did the elder care but our uncle got the credit because he was a successful businessman. Good experience - I ended up with a career as a family therapist.

79:

One has to wonder just how much the state can support the retirees after the demographic transition. Will there be any fiscal way to deliver life extension or cognitive enhancing therapies? In its stead, we may see a rise in the death rate, as antibacterials lose the efficacy race and new bugs and viruses emerge. So perhaps we may not see this age pyramid.

Now one thing we haven't seen is the effect on economic growth of a sustained population decline outside of pandemics and war. If economies are population dependent, what happens if the economic trajectory is negative, not positive? How does this impact the structure of the economy, investment decisions, etc?

80:

Man, that post-40 cognitive decline does suck. In terms of social conservatism, I suspect it declines to 60+ then rises quickly with more accelerated dementia. By the time you hit 60 enough reality has happened (tragedy, suffering, stereotype breaking) that experience offsets cognitive decay.

I wouldn't worry overmuch about the gerontocracy in the near term. There's no sign at all of anything that will fix our brains over the next 20 years. I am almost 100% sure that voluntary euthenasia will become not only acceptable, but also fashionable. Canada, for example, practices a kind of benign neglect of elderly health care that by US standards is a form of slow mo euthenasia. (This is not new, it was true 30 years ago when I trained in Canada. I don't consider it bad or good, it does control costs.)

John Gordon / John Faughnan

81:

"One has to wonder just how much the state can support the retirees after the demographic transition."

Whether its is the state or private, it will still take the same slice of the economy

"Will there be any fiscal way to deliver life extension or cognitive enhancing therapies?"

How much would you pay for the biological clock to be turned back 25 years? For me, the answer is around the 100k mark. And for those who do not have it, they can take out a 25 year mortgage

82:

47, 52 are good, but I'd remind Charlie that I don't know what he means by a "full employment rate" but it sounds a lot like "there's just a recession on". we know what to do about those.

however, it looks like the baby boomers are quite happy to accept permanent bust. Boom is dangerous - it implies social mobility, new stuff. Recovery is associated with inflation and low interest rates. If you're a rentier, stagnation rocks.

83:

SF reader: children in the olden days as: "socially acceptable renewable/cheap (unpaid), exploitable short-term labor capital (until they moved out)"
- this view of parent-child relations doesn't really fit the majority of historical research into emotions and the family. People do not appear to have felt that way.

84:

Pensioned retirees rely on state funding for living and medical expenses. In the US, the vast majority of the population cannot afford either from their private pensions. Many other countries have their citizens in the same boat.

If rejuvenation therapy costs just $100K, and delivers those results, it would be HUGE. I would expect therapies that just delay mental decline to be reasonably costly, on the order of new cardiovascular drug costs. That would require state support.
But for full on rejuvenation, yes you could finance it if you could continue working to pay for it.

I'm reminded of the "Yes Prime Minister" episode when the minister of health supported cigarette smoking because this increased tax collection and the smokers died earlier, reducing state pension costs.

Somehow I just don't see this transition to an age heavy population going well without some sort of major changes in the economic structure.

85:
Now, it's almost a cliche that the older people get, the more socially conservative/reactionary they become, relative to the baseline social beliefs of young adults. But right now it's hard to tell whether this is a consequence of slow neurodegenerative conditions or of social conditioning

Well, it's reassuring to know that in either case, "we can say clearly that their mental state is not normal".

A couple other factors to consider...

86:

It was the 19th century United States, I believe, that gave us the saying "From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations." There were certainly large fortunes back then, but there was a lot of turnover in the wealthy, as indeed there still is.

Aside from that, what I was proposing was not necessarily a return to the economic institutions of the nineteenth century. I was suggesting a legal formulation for where people would get their incomes. If you want to envision a government that makes it a systematic policy to enable everyone to acquire capital in amounts sufficient to provide a comfortable standard of living, be my guest; it's surely no less plausible than government making it a policy to ensure that everyone has a job, and it may be easier to arrange if our host is right.

87:

"...I would expect therapies that just delay mental decline to be reasonably costly, "

Maybe not. There seems to be the possibility of treatments that reverse Alzheimers and maybe vaccinate against it. I don't expect it to be a major problem by 2032

88:

Coming in late, because I just was at a conference where I gave a talk about using retirees as volunteers.

Perhaps, as an environmentalist biology type, I'm in a *weird* category relative to the rest of the world, but I'm seeing something really, really interesting:

--Most of the people I work with are either older than I am, or college age. Most of the biologists my age are too busy trying to keep their jobs to volunteer much.

--Most of the older biologists I know are still active working, looking for work, *starting their own small consultancies* or, if that doesn't work, volunteering.

That's the problem with having a stake in reality, as opposed to staking your life on something like the American dream of material fulfillment. If your idea of a good job involves keeping things from going extinct, sometimes you have to make the decision that something's so important that it has to be done, whether or not you get paid for it (keeping the internet working might be the tech equivalent, if SOPA/PIPA goes through).

Perhaps environmentalists are weird, but let's make the assumption that they're normal geeks and nerds. Based on that, I'd say the following:
--They never stop being active, except due to ill health (and sometimes not even then. Listening to a field biologist brag about the size of the clot they removed from his heart, and how fast he was back at work, is interesting).
--They get laid off as they age, due to a combination of ageism and getting fed up with the rampant stupidity that environmental clients are insisting on inflicting on the world right now. Call it a constant brain drain. Perhaps other fields experience this as well?
--Those laid off tend to become independent consultants, form small companies, and similar. In other words, the idea that start-ups for the young doesn't seem to be true.
--If they can't do anything else, they volunteer in a variety of roles.

Especially since so many peoples' retirements have been strip-mined in the last decade, I think we'll see the same thing happen in many professions. We'll see a world where being a suit is for the young, and buying the freedom to do what you want (or even start a family) is becomes the goal for many professionals.

89:

I doubt there will be significant advances in age from here on out.

Here's why:

Most consumers prefer things that are a) new, b) shiny, and c) are intuitively obvious to operate.

This applies to people as well as things, and for those who are of the managerial class, most of the rest of the human species may fall into the class of things rather than people.

Why should they spend a lot of money keeping alive people who are no longer new, shiny, or easy to influence?

Unless there's something simple, obvious, and fairly easy that will significantly extend human life, I suspect that there won't be a strong societal impetus to keep people alive longer. Sure, a lot of us would like to live forever, but unless we've got thousands of people who want us to live forever too, it ain't gonna happen. Most of us don't have those constituencies, I'm afraid.

90:

2032 is just about 1 drug patent cycle away. Drugs today barely get to market within the cycle. So even if there was a promising compound today, it would barely be having much impact by 2032. More complex therapies, e.g. stem cell therapies are much farther off.

As we learn to treat other diseases better, we'll be left with the brain deterioration diseases as the significant part of the chronic disability problem, especially if it turns out Alzheimers is linked to diabetes.

91:

> are intuitively obvious to operate.

"Intuitively obvious" is quite often a yawning void blind spots on the designer side and WTF on the user side.

Add iconography that's little better than random squiggles and the bizarre insistence on coding things in "red" and "green", and I'm left trying to figure out why a picture of a menorah is flashing on the dashboard of a company van when I'm in heavy traffic at 70mph. I eventually found out that the picture of a gravy bowl "low oil pressure," which is so intuitively obvious that I've not been able to find anyone who can explain why this should be so...

92:

I'll throw out another possible regimen for living longer:

--live in a rural area (they'd probably call it the howling wilderness in the UK)
--eat lots of acorns and other wild food
--meditate quite a lot, especially in more active forms, and/or participate in an old-style religion.

This is a blend of the recent claims I've seen for longevity: taoist monks, people living in the mountains in the Mediterranean, and a picture of old Kumeyaay women from decades ago, the oldest of whom was supposedly 128. A Kumeyaay claimed that their longevity was due to eating the acorns of coast live oak, which had extra tannins. The tannins supposedly helped their hearts. I'm not so sure, but then again, I don't mind eating acorn mush. You will notice, however, that their diet is broadly similar to that of taoist hermits in the mountains, and Cretan peasants in the mountains.

Problem is, even if this regimen works for longevity:
--it's not for everybody (too few rural areas)
--it's probably not commercializable
--it's a holistic treatment, which means you can't find the active ingredient, patent it, and get people to eat lots of it, as with the silliness around resveratrol. It requires a total lifestyle commit (preferably from childhood) for efficacy.

93:

How will the demographic shift affect the various strands of conservationists and greens?

The virulently anti-tech greens - the kind Ken MacLeod refers to as slime - want to roll back technology and the industrial revolution. Will that appeal to a more conservative future population?

My superficial impression of the more regular conservationists, the people who protest against pollution, extinction of rare species, etc is that they are primarily young Westerners. Will caring for the environment spread around the world? Will an aging population still care about owls and tigers?

94:

Vaccines for Alzheimer's are already in Human clinical trials.

95:

A new demographic trend that I don't see being commented on is the rise of specialty media outlets catering to specific ideological demographics, such as FOX News coupled with Red State and a number of other politically conservative websites.

And the equivalent sites for the folks on the left.
The trend's annoying/disturbing because, even if you were totally concerned with your own development, what do you expect to gain from listening to a bunch of people you agree with?
Disagreement and genuine debate (versus tossing up straw men to shoot down) leads to growth. Sitting around reinforcing your own beliefs with others is just a circle jerk.

96:

"one side-effect of mild cognitive impairment is a reduction in curiousity."

Please provide cite. Cite should indicate tests of level of curiuosity before and after cognitive impairment. This not the same as saying those with cognitive impairment have reduction in curiousity. Low curiousity may lead to reduction in cognitive skills. Other may enter by other routes.

97:

I think the phrase for that level of ignorance about environmentalists is something like "holy crap."

To give but one example, thousands of Chinese have been arrested protesting for clean water, air, and farmland. That's pure environmentalism, and it's worldwide. Every time someone gets killed by a rancher or oil company goon for trying to stop development, that's an environmentalist going down. It happens everywhere.

Here's the issue: the big penalty-enforcing laws in the environmental world (in the US) were created in the 1960s and 1970s, with things like the US Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and so on.

These are the *tools* of environmentalists. Not our goals, especially if we're professionals.

To use one example: A recent, badly designed, solar thermal project apparently had a ten-year supply of water on hand (from a small desert aquifer), but required 15 years to break even. The suits' response was "we have the water, shut up." The environmentalists' only recourse was to threaten to sue about endangered species and archeological remains jeopardized by the project.

Now follow this logic: the problem with the project was that it wouldn't break even financially, it would drain an aquifer from which people were drawing already, and it would not so incidentally scrape bare a really nice looking bit of desert wilderness that had previously been a ritual site and/or village for the local Indians (I don't know the details here, but there's something about "important to local creation myths" that was not be released to the public for fear of vandalizing by Christian bigots).

Unfortunately, due to successful stonewalling by Big Biz for the last 40 years, the only legal recourse the environmentalists have was through the loss of small lizards and some archeological sites.

Never mistake the tools for the beliefs.

If I had to say what most environmentalists believe, it's that we're currently in what ecologists call "overshoot" right now, which means there are too many people, too few resources, and a hard crash (possibly to human extinction if we're extraordinarily stupid about it) in the next 2-3 generations. We also believe that keeping stocks of clean water, arable land, and enough diverse organisms to keep the biosphere intact is the *only* way out of this particular mess, and that's what we're fighting for, using whatever means we can.

Tigers are nice and all, and yes, I'll fight for some pretty silly little plants. Unfortunately for humanity, the truly critical stuff are things like worms, fungi, algae, bacteria, and so on (the biota of healthy soils, forests, and oceans worldwide) and we can't convince enough people that this biological infrastructure is worth saving, especially against a culture that glamorizes zing and flash. So we campaign to save tigers and big other charismatic megafauna and megaflora, and hope it works.

Hope this helps.

98:

"Another is that the person in question tends to assimilate new information only insofar as it validates and supports their existing world-view and prejudices. "

One nit, this is true for all people everywhere, there are many studies around it. Not sure there is any relation to age.

Overall it is a mistake trying to isolate the sociological from the economic, environmental and political.

If for instance, half the population of the world dies in a massive environmental incident, that will have a little bit of effect on the psychology.

There are really only two future histories, one in which our society manages to kick the can down the road until 2092 despite ecological, economic, political disasters that threaten (call this "predictable"), and one in which we do not, and the wheels truly come off the cart (call this "likely").

There is virtually no way to predict how the wheels will come off and what the world will look like afterward, other then it will be extremely different from today. 2092 will NOT be a logical extension of 2012, anymore then 1800 was a logical extension of 1700 for the American Indian. 2092 is an Outside Context Problem.

99:

This thread reminds me a lot of The Three California's by KSR....

100:

Vaccines for Alzheimer's are already in Human clinical trials.


Like this?


Don't hold your breath.

101:

Demographic transition is not a consistent thing (as you've indicated Charlie). Both of my parents in law were working class (aspirational) Irish Catholics - yet both only children with huge extended families - many aunts, uncles, cousins living with them due to the financial pressures of the Depression (here in Melbourne, Australia anyway). Most didn't have children of their own. So you had large families, which ended, essentialy with very small families - which is the way we're currently going. There was also the dearth of eligible men - with so many having died or been injured in WW1.

Poverty - rather than wealth and demographic transition - contributed to them having a smaller number of children, and most members of their extensive family not having any children at all. They were also all able to concentrate wealth/resources that larger familes were unable to do. So my father-in-law ended up with elocution lessons, a private school and an economics degree from Melbourne Uni (the first one in his family to even finish school).

Given the expense of having children (in the absence of such things as baby bonuses, which resulted in a demographic blip here "have one for yourself, and one for the country!), could the current economic collapse lead to a further collapse in birth rates in the developed world? A lower base going into the mid-21st century would see population growth even more heavily weighted in the developing world.

Charlie - where does Africa fit within this future? The numerous failed states, combined with resource lead economic/political opportunism from China/India could mean that Africa would continue to act as a dead weight demographically/economically. Ongoing issues with most of Africa being pre-DT will initially lead to massive environmental degradation - which will lead to more opportunity for dieback and hot zone pandemic development.

102:

"25-40% who are working would want to support the 60-75%" Well that 25-40% have lost big too. I think the only people who still have the money must pay. Why, to keep the riots down. The reason they are not working is that the jobs are not there.

103:

Here in australia I've actually noticed an increase in the extended family over the last few years. When I grew up as a baby boomer, I noticed that kids left the family at about 18 years but now because of the cost of housing and tertiary education, most don't leave the family nest until their late twenties. Also because of the cost of childcare and the expectation that both parents should work, I've noticed the old extended family idea of grandparents baby-sitting has begun to creep back as a socially acceptable option. Contrary to popular opinion, I 'm predicting a return to the extended family in a big way.
Now that the old ageist ideas of compulsory retirement are fading, I also expect people to keep working while they are physically and mentally capable. I know quite a few people, including myself, who plan to keep working into their seventies and maybe beyond. This is being aided in Australia by the growth of job sharing, which enables those who desire it to work only a few days a week.

104:

Males with social privilege are threatened directly by female emancipation, especially in traditional societies where large family size is a status/wealth symbol. It's also a direct threat to male sexual privilege in developed nations).

Er—in many respects, we're seeing the exact opposite of the last sentence: female emancipation combined with birth control lowers the cost of sex and thus makes it easier to obtain. Men—especially "alpha males"—find sex easier/cheaper than ever to obtain; one sees evidence of this all over the place, from popular stuff like Slate.com's "Sex Is Cheap: Why young men have the upper hand in bed, even when they're failing in life" to academic stuff like Kathleen Bogle's book Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on College Campuses. I also wrote about these dynamics in "The Weekly Standard on the New-Old Dating Game, Hooking Up, Daughter-Guarding, and much, much more."

If male sexual privilege ever really existed in developed nations, I doubt it does any more.

105:

Re: the post-DT family: Maybe it's both - the large extended family network shrinks considerably, partly replaced by "wahlfamilien", i.e. extended familiy like connections to "best friends" and supported by social media (acting as a loose ties actualizator); on the other hand, generational relations might become even stronger (i.e. if there are only one or two kids, and the upbringing is rather equalitarian than authoritarian, the link to your parents might be something that is strongly valued for a long time - especially because there are few alternatives). How this influences informal economies etc. is open to speculation.

106:

First, by 2032, explicit racism becomes far more common (in the West) due to the fading of WWII from living memory.

This would imply that in 1948, with WWII extremely fresh in everyone's memory, Europe was a utopia of racial tolerance.

This was (LITOTES ALERT) not quite the case.

107:

I believe that a world which has VR/sensory feedback to simulate sex will have a statistically significant proportion of the population preferring it to physical contact. You get what you want, how you want it and with who you want. I can imagine people using pictures and videos from their own media to skin the avatars in the software. Everyone can have sex with everyone else at their own time and leisure. The software may even take into account behaviour patterns from the user's preferences and suggest alternatives that they were subconsciously considering but were not able to act on; Try before you buy.

If the current world is youth focused with a preference for extroversion then an elderly focused world has a more mature and balanced look to it, the focus turns to Introversion and personal reflection. Freedom to, '100 Experiences you MUST try!' gives way to Freedom from, 'Your life at your pace'.

If an elderly world does not choose to be surrounded by the sex and violence of the early 21st Century then it will feature less and less, sidelined into VR programs, the elderly will have Freedom from that exposure in contemporary culture.

LGBT communities are politically active and in an elderly world they will be an unremarkable part of mainstream around the world. In the future we may see the politicisation of asexual groups demanding freedom from sexual imagery and media stories. Don't ask, Don't tell becomes Why ask, Why care.

In a world where Sex is commoditised and the reaction about someone's sexual identity may well be 'Yawn, so what?', 'That's nice dear, another biscuit?' or 'I'll try anything and I usually do'. You may having an affair with the rest of the office but you're not going to tell them about it.

An inner world and a public outer world. They may be quite different. The flamboyance and outrageous characters of today will be less welcome in an elderly world.

108:

Well, some things to bear in mind:

1) We might quite realistically encounter upheaval in re-education and re-socialization (aka brainwashing) methods. Not necessarily something as radical as "we take Agent Bob and rewire every criminal's brain to be like Agent Bob" but generally way above the current pathetic stabs in the dark.

I will leave it to dear readers and kind hosts to speculate as to implications

2) Any automation sufficiently sophisticated to cause an unemployment boom is likely sophisticated enough to automate policing, riot control and medical nurse duties.

Which means that any amount of rioters will be likely met with robocops spewed out by full-auto factories and functioning with no need for human teleoperator intervention (you don't need human-level AI for that, "merely" AI that is a few notches smarter than ED209, and you don't need a "panopticon", merely surveillance pervasive enough to document really dangerous forms of mass unrest in time)

Also, it means that there will be very little to no need for live nurses

109:

A request for part 3 please, a 'What this all means to you and mean (intentional), investment 2032/2092'.

Being a breeder myself, 5 and counting, I'm going on the principle that .gov's will have been economically beaten down to providing only the most basic services outside of the security sphere with Mega-Corporate's providing the consumer side of medical, educational, infrastructural and social services.

So I am investing my dollars into my children.

Fritz.


110:

This may be the only viable 'defence' against an authoritarian gerontocracy. Youngsters shut out of the loop could resort to pumping out huge broods, to support them in the lifestyle in which they wish to become accustomed.

Leading reactionary leaders to the beloved sci-fi scenario of licenses for parenthood. They'll be able to use the environment as an excuse, at least.

111:

Working on various political campaigns in the US, I would have to say that it seems that the elderly do not necessarily become more conservative. The demographics of a campaign- electoral or otherwise- tends to skew heavily toward a large volunteer pool of retired people and a smaller cadre of 20ish paid staff and college volunteers.

I would suspect that the strength of ideology is largely a function of free time and resources. Those with the time and money to stay informed and be active simply double down on their existing beliefs. Those that do not have a particular political bent may find themselves warming to whichever end of the political spectrum that they're exposed to-- which in the US means that the ubiquity of conservative media tends to draw in the newly retired.

My prediction for mass youth unemployment and disenfranchisement is an increasing population of idle youth with no resources, that MAY actually be turned on to the idea of political change. This might lead to the end of "campaigns" as a kid with free time but no money isn't going to be able to afford to truck out to the sticks to knock on doors and won't have the patience to wait on an electoral cycle or legislative victory. Instead, we'll see more loosely organized movements in the vein of OWS ranging up to armed insurrection of the Arab Spring flavor.

This is in the US of course. In countries with working social safety nets this might play out completely differently.

112:

Thanks, that's useful for the environmental movement now.

What do you (or others) think will change in the 2032-2092 time frame?

113:

One has to wonder just how much the state can support the retirees after the demographic transition.

Planet Earth calling: this has already happened.

Your own country, the USA, was in Stage Four by 1997. (Population growth continues, largely boosted by immigration and by recent immigrant cultures who are still in stage three, but they typically converge on the majority culture's demographics within a generation of arrival.)

114:

Regarding family size, Sapolsky points out that hunter gatherers actually had (have) limited amounts of children thanks to prolactin induced suppression of menstruation.

My Grandmother was an only child, not thanks to birth control but rather infant mortality. She went on to have 5 children and a couple of not unwelcome miscarriages.

I suspect large families are a product of altered circumstances and not all that common in the large historical context, and the nuclear family might be more normal than we give it credit for.

115:

My superficial impression of the more regular conservationists, the people who protest against pollution, extinction of rare species, etc is that they are primarily young Westerners.

Disagree with the "young" qualifier.

There are a lot of NIMBYs in the UK who are not opposed to change per se but who get up in arms about any attempt to change things that may threaten their pet corner of the environment -- the recent fracas over HS2 is a case in point. And the old NIMBYs have a lot more clout than the young activists because they have money, experience, and they're frequently Establishment.

I suspect that as people age they become attached to their personal environment and resent attempts to change it. Whereas younger activists are attaching themselves to an attractive ideology (as used to happen with J. Random Political Creed in the past, or with religion).

116:

What the hell is Alzheimer's vaccine supposed to do anyway? Induce the immune system to destroy neurons with amyloid-β aggregations? The ones that are going to die of Alzheimer's anyway? Yeah, I'm sure THAT will help with brain deterioration... 8-)

117:

The point being that a great deal of effort is going into solving the dementia problem, with Human trials under way *now*. It seems plausible that the problem may well be solved within the next 20 years. Other diseases I expect to see become extinct are diabetes and MS.

118:

Ajay: I wouldn't say that post-WWII western Europe was a utopia of racial tolerance, but the bad example of the Nazis had had an effect. For the next generation or so children were deliberately raised to question authority, with the intent to make them resistant to future demagogues. Similarly, racism, anti-Semitism, religious bigotry, and eugenics were all deeply unfashionable in late 20th century western Europe.

119:

You've raised some very interesting points about the possibilities of virtual experiences -- my mind moves in a similar direction when I work out to my Xbox Kinect program. I find myself wondering when the video will move from the screen to more personal glasses or even to an enclosed space around me, and when I'll see 3D objects to punch and kick actually floating around me rather than on the screen floating around my avatar. But you're right, this experience isn't and will not be limited to working out, and it will be very interesting to see how this pans out.

Now excuse me while I go re-read my Philip K. Dick collection.

120:

>>>with Human trials under way *now*

That doesn't mean anything. Human trial is where most drugs fail, because non-human models just aren't good. Especially when it comes to diseases of that one thing that is supposed to make humans unique...

Also, there is a @#$%-load of cancer human trials right now, but I don't expect cancer to disappear in 20 years. Though I sure hope Alzheimer isn't as complicated as cancer. But the sad fact is, we still don't yet know for sure what causes Alzheimer's.

121:

> a new religion or ideological complex
> with the growth dynamic of 6th/7th
> century Islam or 20th century
> Leninism

It's long past the time I expected something like this to happen. The followers are out there, ready and waiting for something better to come along. Better, as in something that will give them what they want - direction, purpose, a meaning for their life, not necessarily Buddhism or a new type of Christian or Islamic fundamentalism.

The similarities between the Catholic Church, Leninism (as applied, not necessarily Ulyanov's version), and Scientology are hard to miss. Throw in some 1950s-1970s cultism, self-help, and popular psychology for seasoning.

[much text deleted after the Voices pointed out the obvious]

...uh, like the "service organization" idea I mentioned earlier. Imagine a group like, oh, the Church of the Latter-Day Saints and their interlocking support structure, except organized more like a self-help / self-confidence group, like the entry-level Scientologists. And whenever life hands you a lemon, or even a vague question, you just punch your phone and talk to the Help Desk, right now, for instant reinforcement of the group's social, moral, and ethical standards.

(yes, Charlie, the Voices did point out the Toymaker's organization, as well as Stephenson's Cosa Nostra Pizza Company)

Add a retirement plan, healthcare benefits, legal aid, and some political lobbyists, and you'd get a hell of a lot of bang for your tithe bucks. Heck, throw in cheap movie rentals and a roadside assistance plan while you're at it, or buy your services alacarte.

---

"Charlie's Lads here! How may I help you, my brother?"

"I'm tired of it all. I just want to die."

"Certainly, brother. We have a contract to assassinate a drug lord in Managua. Our experts estimate less than one percent chance of survival. Would you like to try that?"

"What? That sounds awfully dangerous."

"Very good, sir. Would you like to be murdered, or will it be suicide?"

"Murder? No, I wasn't considering that. I just want, you know..."

"Of course, my brother. Pills, strangulation, something electrical? Will you be doing this yourself or will you need assistance?"

"I thought you were supposed to try to talk me out of this."

"Your tithe only covers basic Suicide Assistance, my brother. If you want Suicide Prevention, we'll need to charge it to your PayPal account."

"It doesn't matter anyway."

"May we debit your account, brother?"

"Hell, why not. I'm not going to need it any more."

"Thank you, my brother. May I send a suicide counselor to see you?

"I don't want to talk to any suicide counselor. I just want to die."

"Our records show you have a preference for leggy blondes. She's also highly proficient at oral sex."

"What? Really? Well, no. That's kind of..."

"Our records show you've made frequent purchases at Mr. Koo's Korean deli near you. She can pick up a super-size order of dim sum and some Guinness on the way."

"Uh..."

"She'll also bring the new 'World of Warcraft: Revenge of the Thrint' access codes."

"What? That's not due out for another three months!"

"Our hackers work for you, my brother! Shall I send the counselor?"

"Uh, yeah. Revenge of the Thrint? For real? Why not?"

"Excellent, my brother! Remember, Charlie's Lads are here for you at any time!"

122:

That's not the point. The point is that there is active development of medication right now - not just theories and models, but real, testable stuff. It's not just vaccines either, but a whole range of possible interventions. The idea that none of them will pan out, even ones developed in the next 20 years, seems very unlikely.

123:

One other big game changer - effective nootropics

124:

Also: note the prohibition on capital punishment in the European Convention. I'm around 99% certain that was a reaction to the excesses of totalitarian regimes during the first two-thirds of the century.

125:

For the next generation or so children were deliberately raised to question authority, with the intent to make them resistant to future demagogues. Similarly, racism, anti-Semitism, religious bigotry, and eugenics were all deeply unfashionable in late 20th century western Europe.

Where on earth are you getting this from?

126:

... just going by what my elderly parents told me about the 'old country' which my extended family (older and younger generations, both here and abroad) confirmed.

The modern equivalent is 'following in your parent's footsteps'. Usually this is attempted/excused because of familial wealth, political or social status. It is at its most basic exerting near lifetime parental control over one's kids.

Definitions of family vary and are plastic particularly in terms of individual family members' specific roles. This in no way takes away from the significance of 'kinship/degree-of-relatedness' in resource-sharing. But it does mean that which family member or generation is allocated what/how much is subject to change.

Babyboomers are a good example: the younger generation (boomers) had a lot more economic power even as children and students than their counterparts in previous generations. This giving/sharing of financial clout with a relatively financially naive younger generation appears to have continued to GenX. Just look at consumer marketing campaigns ...

127:

Re: gerontocrats locking down the main institutions of society, the best response I can see is younger generations creating new institutions. i.e. while the gerontocrats have tenured positions at Harvard and read the New York Times, a younger generation teaches online and/or through Meetups and gets its news from webcams, blogs, and Twitter. (And then the next generation teaches in VR, or by filesharing code for knowledge implantable by neuroengineering, etc.)

You don't need a university receiving government grants to do good research in inexpensive fields. Right now, that's primarily the humanities and theoretical sciences, but costs are likely to drop, making garage university coursework and research in chemistry, EE, and biotechnology ever more feasible.

Ditto media, business, religion, political parties... governments?

Of course, the gerontocrats will use political power to try blocking the younger generation from creating alternative institutions. Bureaucratic regulation, ginned-up criminal investigations, denial of funding by banks and granting agencies, authoritative poses, co-option of the best and brightest from younger generations (e.g., look at giant law firms getting sweatshop hours out of Ivy League graduates), and media blacklisting come to mind.

128:

As a former pharmacist you should be in a good position to have an informed opinion on this: how it is likely that the actual American (and starting to spread in Europe too) trend toward mood altering drug use will influence these trends?

For example, some of the traditional attitudes of young people could start to be seen by an increasingly old population as medical disorders instead of normal behaviours, a bit like many young kids now are treated for ADHD if they're even a little lively.

129:

"gerontocrats locking down the main institutions of society"

That's the way it has been in every society, from tribal origins through the Roman Empire and onto the modern world. Perhaps somebody can point me to a modern society where the key institutions are not controlled by people over 50. So in future 70 is the new 50. Not a big change

130:

I was under the impression politicians were getting younger on average (Meaning: Reaching high office at increasingly younger ages)

Of course I may just be ignorant of history, Pitt the younger comes to mind, but surely he was an outlier?

131:

JFK - He was the youngest elected to the office, at the age of 43,[2][3] the second-youngest President (after Theodore Roosevelt).

Only in politics can a 43 year old be considered remarkably young. Median age of all US presidents is 55
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Presidents_of_the_United_States_by_age

Reagan was 69 when elected

132:
ike many young kids now are treated for ADHD if they're even a little lively.

At least they're not giving them lobotomies anymore.

133:

Average age of a British MP (following the last election) was 50. Average age of Prime Ministers upon leaving office is 61

134:

Re: "25-40% who are working would want to support the 60-75%"

Isn't this the way things used to be pre-WW2? The male head of household was the 'wage earner' while the female head of household did not earn a wage but performed unpaid work, i.e., raising the kids, tending home and a small farm/garden, and looking after one or more elderly parents.

What has changed is that the larger work force of the past 4-5 decades that has contributed into social programs (rightly) expects to be paid back. Because some countries didn't factor in increased life expectancy given improved nutrition, education, medical care, etc. when they originally set up these social programs, they're now broke or close to it. Suggests that the wrong people were in charge of the assumptions included in these financial/demographic projections.

135:

Any automation sufficiently sophisticated to cause an unemployment boom is likely sophisticated enough to automate policing, riot control and medical nurse duties.
[...]
Also, it means that there will be very little to no need for live nurses

I'm not buying it. Unlike Asimov's robots, robots will not have laws to prevent harm to humans (the military don't want that, even if they could build it in) which will result in a lot of accidental death. From what I've seen, battlefield robots are going to be a problem - they don't identify targets well and misidentify non-targets as targets. These devices would make human soldiers look like over-empathic saints in comparison.

Equating nursing with mechanical tasks is appalling.
Have you really never been in a hospital?

For a sense of a society that uses robots, I've always enjoyed the Dr. Who episode "The Robots of Death". They are ubiquitous, but there is a sense of dread that a machine might just kill you.

136:

I'm not sure how all these old people are going to survive through the heat waves, famines, social unrest, and collapsing infrastructure.

The old and sick are much much more vulnerable to any serious social or economic disruption. Money helps to a degree but when there is rioting in the street and the power is our for a week, it's less useful.

Sure the mega wealthy will survive but most of the rest of them are likely to die early rather then late.

I imagine the world of 2092 to be younger, rather then older, just through selection pressure.

137:

Ajay, perhaps its better to say that the actualisation of prejudice in overt government policy became far less common following WW2. The case can be overstated, but there certainly is one.

The first generation might have been just pretending, but some of the second internalised it: look, for example at the shift in emphasis from order to human rights in FRG police culture in the 1960s. Sure, we can overstate the impact of the Universal Declaration, but there was one.

But note that everyone's forgetting that it was not some airy-fairy liberal nonsense deriving from first principles but in fact part of an anti-fascist programme. Hence it's losing (some of) its power right now.

138:

Well, yes, that's my point.
Lobotomizing is something that does self-correct quite quickly, due its invasive nature... as behaviour-influencing measures become less and less intrusive and precise in their outcomes, their influence is more likely to spread.

139:

They'd be a game-changer - if they ever happen. Yes, we have really nifty ones in mice, but we can do pretty much *anything* with mice, it's *humans* that matter.

As matters stand in 2012, all the best nootropics were discovered *decades* ago. The -racetams date back to the '60s or so, modafinil to the '80s, theanine to the '50s, the non-modafinil stimulants like nicotine, caffeine, and amphetamines are centuries or millennia old, etc. And in general, their effects are pretty small.

(This is a general reflection of the massive failure of drug research in the '90s and '00s.)

140:

There seem to be promising ones in the labs, but the problem is that a company cannot market such a drug legally. A drug can only be licensed to "cure" a disease, or ameliorate its symptoms. Being stupid is not a recognized disease.

141:

Planet Earth calling: this has already happened.

Your own country, the USA, was in Stage Four by 1997. (Population growth continues, largely boosted by immigration and by recent immigrant cultures who are still in stage three, but they typically converge on the majority culture's demographics within a generation of arrival.)

I think you are mistaken. Europe and Japan are far ahead of the US in terms of DT. This has been one of arguments for teh relative advantage of the US. China, by contrast is going to have a very interesting demographic problem as the one child per family laws have squeezed a generation and has biased the sex ratio strongly towards males (maybe they can use that sex VR).

AFAICT, the US could maintain social security and even medical care (if the cost curve is flattened) for the next 75 years. The problems will come if there is:

1. anti-aging/death delaying therapies.
2. uneven distribution of treatments due to access/cost
3. either no change in retirement age (state liabilities raised) OR raising of the retirement age irregardless of health and occupation. (social problems).

Unlike the US, Britain has been plagued with pension costs since the 1970's. While that may have changed since the 1990's, there was always a problem of Britain's economy supporting pensioners in a decent fashion. Much of this was due to Britain's poorer economy, especially by the mid-1970's.

The US is following Britain's path, most notably as becoming a hollowed out, financial and tourism economy. This has accelerated in the last 30 years, but still lags that of Britain in this respect.

142:

This is a mixed bag, Charlie.

On one hand, there are a lot of NIMBYs who moved to some area "because it was beautiful" and they want it to "stay beautiful." "Beautiful" in this context can range anywhere from mountains peaks free from wind turbines to neighborhoods where the skin color matches their own, as does the average income. The original NIMBYs in Los Angeles were among the later.

OTOH, there are the older people who have spent a long time living in one area, and can recognize when a truly idiotic proposal comes along from a newbie or an outside developer. There are a lot of those, too.

Over the weekend, I got exposed to a lot of the later sort (and some of the former, to be fair) among the opponents of desert solar. The mind-set they are fighting is that deserts are a blank slate that no one cares about, and therefore they are a great place to build things like solar plants. They can change your mind in about ten minutes (if nothing else, by comparing some beautiful desert photos with acres of barren rooftops in the nearby city), and the reason they can do that is that they've lived in the desert for decades, they know how to find and recognize the real values in deserts, and they're confronting a frothing blend of arrogance, ignorance, and greed, funneling in on the promise of government handouts for big renewable energy projects.

No one disagrees with the idea that our energy infrastructure needs to change, and change fast. The problem, as one desert expert put it, "You'd destroy this for 20 years of solar power? Why?" This was while he showed photos of a rich landscape that had taken 6000 years or so to develop into its current form, and would take a couple of thousand years to recover after the plant was taken out, even absent climate change. It's worth listening to these people when they ask whether 20 years of solar power is worth the destruction some of the current designs would cause. There are other places, ranging from abandoned farms to urban rooftops, that are equally "barren" and have far less inherent value.

It can be hard to sort out which NIMBYs are informed and which aren't, at least without talking to them. The real problem in all cases is ignoring local knowledge, whether it's well informed or not. We're seeing that all over the globe, and it's one of the more pernicious effects of globalism.

If you're an engineer and your blood pressure is mounting at this point, consider the desert vegetation as self-reproducing nanotech solar collectors in a functioning ecosystem, and ask whether it's worth replacing an old, well-optimized system with one of our crude, temporary power plants. Yes, we need those power plants, but (IMHO) roadless desert isn't usually the best place for them.

143:

This solar plant was the one that required water? How does this change if you replace it with one that doesn't require water? The power generation lasts up to 30 years with the first panels and the panels can be replaced as needed indefinitely.

Having said that, I agree that farms would be a better place to site solar energy. They are already flat and the land has been changed, so nothing important has been lost. Of course now you have to face institutionalized interests like farm bureaus and laws that try to maintain farming as a practice.

Is there an option whereby food farms can convert to solar farms in return for giving up their water rights?

144:

I think the drive towards increased tolerance and sensitivity has become self sustaining, at least if you look at popular culture, cartoons, comics, even violent video games increasingly place understanding and accepting the other, subverting knee jerk tribalisms and cognitive biases.

Kids watch saturday morning cartoons following the exploits of their hero Anakin Skywalker. Eventually they're going to encounter him as Darth Vader. The clone wars is on the surface a bog standard heroic war story, but is there an underlying lesson in the story of a trooper overcoming his fear to become exceptional when he's part of an army of identical clones?

In half life 1 you fight against monstruous one eyed aliens, in the second one you discover they were slaves, and they become valued allies.

The Adventure Time cartoon is full of mind bendingly unexpected moral lessons, a far cry from the 80s heavy handed "what have we learned from today's episode, kids?".

The new my little pony cartoon is... well I haven't watched it, because it scares me how people become addicted to it, but apparently it's some kind of singularity of nice.

I'm fairly optimistic about popular culture.

145:

All solar plants require water to wash down the panels, mirrors or collecting troughs otherwise efficiency and ROI is adversely impacted. That wash water evaporates and needs replacing.

http://www.solaripedia.com/images/large/363.jpg

The operators could run a pipeline in from somewhere with lots of water using energy to pump it and costing money to build and maintain it or run road tankers in occasionally which also takes energy and costs money. The cheap method is to rape the local aquifer and worry about what to replace it with twenty years from now. Since the energy produced by the solar panel units is of marginal value anyway the folks proposing to build such schemes tend to go for the last option.

146:

Comments on Stross/OP:

> A key prerequisite for a society of old people is a demographic transition from large families with many children to small families (typically of 1-2 children, with 3 or more being outliers)....There's also some indication that the demographic transition is semi-reversible, with some countries that went into steep sub-replacement decline suddenly experiencing baby booms (notably France and the UK in the past decade).

Will the demographic transition continue? It was only ever temporary, as it's not a Darwinian equilibrium, but we had hoped it would be a long temporary. And your 'some' is an understatement; from one summary of http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v460/n7256/abs/nature08230.html

"demographers have discovered that in 18 of the 24 [50] most highly developed countries—the US, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, Israel, Italy, Sweden, France, Iceland, the UK, New Zealand, Greece, and Ireland (the exceptions: Japan, Canada, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, and South Korea)—fertility has flipped. As of 2005, women in these countries were having more children than in previous years—stalling out their nation's straightforward decline in fertility (though birth rates still remain below replacement rates)."

> Past 95, very few surviving adults are physically active.

I'm not sure what you mean here; near-centenarians and centenarians tend to be active, both because being active is how they survived to that point at all and because of the phenomenon of 'compression of morbidity' (http://www.fightaging.org/archives/2011/09/a-primer-on-compression-of-morbidity.php) - when you are *that* old and you start to go downhill, you die very quickly, so you would expect only to observe those still towards the top of the hill.

> Past 45, a low speed cognitive decline begins to set in among many people.

Are you referring here to the recent Whitehall study results that got a fair bit of media play? If so, you are misinterpreting the results: the study only start measuring cognitive decline in the 40s, so they could not possible show that it begins around 45!

As it happens if you start measuring that early, the decline actually begins somewhere in the mid 20s; see the citations in http://www.gwern.net/DNB%20FAQ#aging

(This makes sense given the massive and ongoing neuron loss with increasing age.)

> In the USA it's very rare to see a start-up company founded by anyone over the age of 35; family and health pressures are a huge deterrent against striking out in a new venture without employer-provided group health insurance.

Cite please. My citation, LinkedIn, says http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/01/linkedin-takes-a-deep-data-dive-on-startup-founder-profiles/ :

> In terms of the distribution of founders’ age at their first startup, LinkedIn’s data shows that 65% of entrepreneurs are 30 and older and only 2% are serial entrepreneurs. The top regions where startup founders are based are New York, California, Utah and Colorado.

> I'll note that one side-effect of mild cognitive impairment is a reduction in curiousity.

Very true. My own opinion is that a lot of that *is* biological; one could opine that the Big Five's Openness trait declines due to societal expectations, but why would Extraversion also go down (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2562318/)? Old people are supposed to talk a lot. And it's consistent with all the other evidence about declining mental abilities and motivation.

(And this is also true of animals - getting stupider, less curious, and less friendly with age - where it's hard to imagine societal expectations have much effect!)

> The world of 2092 will not be a pleasant place for the under-45s, if this is the state of the medical art.

Quite possible. Developed already place ever more restrictions on the young. (I'm only 24 and I was a little surprised to hear a discussion of a teenager and learn that they could no longer get their driving license at the same age I did.)

> And the cult of youth in 20th/21st century western civilisation will give the elderly youth an incentive to adopt youthful fashions, or to apply the brakes to the rate of change of fashion (however, my money is on the former).

Does fashion change very fast now? My impression is that it doesn't. _The Great Stagnation_, ever longer media personality careers (Paris Hilton is *still* around!), etc. It seems like one could tell the '50s from the '60s very easily; can one tell the '90s from the '00s easily without looking for tell-tale electronics in scenes?

(See http://matt.me63.com/2011/09/16/the-pace-of-change/ http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2009/08/what-if-culture-froze.html http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/8347178.stm among others)

> The result, however, is that young women contemplating marriage can demand that suitors provide them with wealth such as a house and a car

Or, as is the case, they increasingly they buy their wives - who are just another line of products for the gung-ho economy to import & deliver at low cost. It is true that scarcity pushes up prices, but that economic truism says nothing about who reaps the profits...

("The increase in the cost of dowries is also a contributing factor leading men to buy women for wives. Human Rights in China states that it is more affordable for a man to buy a wife from a trafficker for 2,000 to 4,000 yuan than to pay a traditional dowry, which often runs upwards of 10,000 yuan. For the average urban worker, wife selling is an affordable option when in 1998 China urban workers make approximately $60 a month.[7]" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bride-buying#China already! And the imbalance still has decades to go.)

147:
Also, it means that there will be very little to no need for live nurses

IMO this is highly unlikely. The jobs that nurses do require a great deal of judgement and experience; only the most routine tasks can be automated, and many of them already have. Of course there are a lot of doctors who believe that nurses don't do anything requiring intelligence or ability, but that's because they've been taught that they are the crown of creation, and everyone else is inferior1.

Of course the number of nurses required could be reduced somewhat by giving them robotic assistance; this amounts to automating the remaining routine nursing tasks. But trying to take humans out of the loop completely is a recipe for a major public health crisis (which we're approaching here in the US as hospitals squeeze more and more work out of fewer and fewer nurses).

1. I'm not saying this is true of all doctors, only of the ones who don't appreciate what their nurses, technicians, and orderlies do for them.

148:

In the discussion of the reactions of the younger cohorts of the population (particularly in Western countries), I haven't seen any mention of the recent radicalization of young immigrants in places like France. The riots in France in 2005, and specifically in the suburbs of Paris in 2007, were caused in large part by the situation of young children of immigrants, who had largely assimilated into French culture, who were living in poor communities surrounded by affluent upper-middle class areas, and many of whom were unemployed and had no hope of employment.

This seems like the same sort of situation that young cohorts will face post demographic transition. I would expect that if they get cut out of the economic mainstream as much as seems likely, radicalization and politically-motivated violence, possibly leading to revolution, is likely.

149:

> There seem to be promising ones in the labs, but the problem is that a company cannot market such a drug legally. A drug can only be licensed to "cure" a disease, or ameliorate its symptoms. Being stupid is not a recognized disease.

This has never been a barrier for the companies, who simply say it's directed against dementia or Alzheimer's or something like that.

The problem is that the drugs can't be found and when they are found, they simply don't work as well in humans as they do mice. (Speaking of Alzheimer's, look at the first Alzheimer's vaccine: worked brilliantly in the mice, and it gave the humans meningoencephalitis. Oops.)

150:

I think our horizons are about to be drastically shortened. It's the right year for that, and this being (more or less) the 55th anniversary of the International Geophysical Year adds a bit of irony.

Oh well, maybe Nyarlathotep's girlfriend (at the time) can put in a good word for us...

151:

" I'll note that one side-effect of mild cognitive impairment is a reduction in curiousity."

Does this come from a longitudinal study ie a study of before and after. Or is it simply a correlation of lack of curiosity with cognitive impairment?
Being somewhat Aspergers, my curiosity with respect to people is about zero (hence I have never watched soaps). OTOH my curiosity for things technical has never diminished.

152:

Actually, I understand that some farmers on very good farmlands are actually switching to solar, at least partially.

The reasons they give are:
--solar provides an alternate revenue stream that's not tied to produce prices, current food fads, the weather, water politics, or food politics
--It doesn't necessarily prevent agriculture on the field. Some farmers considering experimenting with more shade tolerant crops under the panels.

We environmentalists are rolling our eyes on this one, but I can't blame the farmers on this one.

So far as solar plants go, yes, in theory they can update them when they've hit the end of their lifespans, and I'd assume that (were people sane), they'd upgrade solar plants rather than mothballing them. AFAIK, though, plants tend to get mothballed instead. The firm that was proposing the screwy design out here in the Imperial Valley had already mothballed a plant in Spain that used the same design.

The basic point is that all solar plants have a fairly short lifetime. Perhaps all power plants do, ultimately? I'm hoping that we see more solar plant designs on a cradle-to-cradle basis, rather than on a meet-the-funding-deadline basis.

One of the bits of good news I learned is that BLM requires potential solar developers to post a bond for all structures prior to installing them, so that if the developers conveniently go bankrupt before they have to clean up their plants, the bond pays for removal of all structures (in theory). They also ask any potential developers to put down $250K up front to demonstrate that they can afford to build the project in the first place. I was glad to see that they aren't quite as naive as they appeared last year.

153:

I understand that some farmers on very good farmlands are actually switching to solar, at least partially.

It is really hard to do anything in the Central Valley. Farmers want to put up a solar farm and there are certainly companies looking for eligible farmland to do this. But getting permission and a slot from PG&E is extremely hard. If restrictions were loosened, the things would be sprouting up like daisies.

Most farms, especially dairies, have unused land that could host a MW or more of solar panels without affecting the farming. Then there are farms that have very poor, alkaline soils that are only suitable for limited grazing and which could really benefit from a solar PV installation.

AIUI, it is relatively easy to feed power back to the grid as long as the installations are not too dense. Utility level electrical production is another matter requiring power infrastructure that PG&E controls and prices accordingly.

154:

So far as solar plants go, yes, in theory they can update them when they've hit the end of their lifespans, and I'd assume that (were people sane), they'd upgrade solar plants rather than mothballing them.

Which suggests that the existing utilities, PG&E, SCE may be the best actors, compared to the opportunistic players you describe. They have every incentive to maintain their plants and with declining PV panel costs, replacement could be cheaper than the new installation.

Given PG&E's track record of dealing with consumers, that hurts.

155:

Nestor @ 142
Ever come across the works of Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate?

For USSA readers, I'd start with "the Clangers"
For nostalgia, "the Saga of Noggin the Nog"
For beauty, "Bagpuss" ....

156:

But the religious, in general want NO CHANGE AT ALL.

Pretty broad statement with no basis in studies that I can remember.

From what I see this is more of a "I feel like my system works great so go away and leave me alone" vs. a particular religious issue. But many religious people would and do fit into my statement.

157:

Regarding the wealth-or-fecundity trap for social reactionaries: it may not be quite as simple as that.


A characteristic of a reactionary family group (RFG) is the ability to use manpower efficiently; little self-actualisation is permitted and members mostly perform tasks allotted by group elders. Childcare can be carried out en masse, releasing members for productive work. It can take advantage of economies of scale in purchasing, land use and division of labour. E.g. Westboro Baptist operates in a self-supporting manner by educating its young in various professional and technical disciplines; indeed one of its main sources of income is litigation.

In periods of social ferment, the size of an RFG works both for and against it. It is large enough to fight efficiently as a small unit, although set against that is that state bodies may treat it as a present threat: see Waco.

If long-distance commuting becomes rare, an RFG has a head start on its surrounding community. It can supply enterprises with docile workers and in urban areas can mix proselyting with public generosity, attracting individuals from defunct families broken by future shock. In addition, dissenters have fewer avenues of escape. In two generations, it will have outbred its neighbours and where local democratic structures exist will provide a large enough voting bloc to make its wishes felt.

Such groups may or may not be of traditional Abrahamic faiths. The one currently existing (polygamous Mormons, Haredi Jews, Wahhabis) reject their own mainstream orthodoxies as well as secular norms. Groupthink and scapegoating, whether internal or external, permit extreme behaviour towards outsiders. (Misogynist assault, armed resistance, 9/11).

The RFG of the next half-century will be comparatively wealthy, locally numerous, well armed and ruthless.

158:

"Equating nursing with mechanical tasks is appalling.
Have you really never been in a hospital?"

Hospital pharmacist here, so add salt as needed to the opinion:
The good nurses are better than machines- they have judgment and will apply it. The low quartile is probably worse- the machine will at least do basic math properly and has better communication skills.
Automation, I suspect, causes this- people get used to doing, by rote, what the computer tells them to do, but they don't take any mental steps past that. Discovering someone has done something stupid just because the computer said to is...disturbing.

159:

I read things and talk to people, but mostly I know this because I came in on the tail end of it. My teachers' generation had seen what happened to German democracy in the 1930s and what the results were, and they were determined that it should not happen in America, and they would communicate this clearly to anyone who asked. And when I started reading (late '70s), the library books I had available had been written since the 1950s (mainly), and it became clear to me that great thought had been given, on several levels of society, to making sure the young would never repeat those mistakes.

Of course, some kids became a bit more free-thinking than had been intended and became hippies, but that's another story.

160:

"We also believe that keeping stocks of clean water, arable land, and enough diverse organisms to keep the biosphere intact is the *only* way out of this particular mess, and that's what we're fighting for, using whatever means we can."

"We," as in "the very small subset of the Green political spectrum that heteromeles happens to agree with."

It's funny how often I see "the Green movement is not at all like you suggest, because I believe differently - ignore the many people you've met who disagree."

On the other hand, the majority of dedicated "Geenies" are, quite frankly, just looking for a new religion, and Gaia happens to be it. Science? Pfah!

"and a hard crash (possibly to human extinction if we're extraordinarily stupid about it) in the next 2-3 generations."

Yeah, it's time for the next set of Greens to come up with the newest iteration of Malthus... sooner or later, it'll come true.

161:

Hospital pharmacist here, so add salt as needed to the opinion:
The good nurses are better than machines- they have judgment and will apply it. The low quartile is probably worse- the machine will at least do basic math properly and has better communication skills.
Automation, I suspect, causes this- people get used to doing, by rote, what the computer tells them to do, but they don't take any mental steps past that. Discovering someone has done something stupid just because the computer said to is...disturbing.

I work in Health IT and would like to quote for emphasis what C just said. And I also add in all my training "You drive the electronic health record - it does not drive you, nor does it replace human decision making or judgement."

162:

I'm sure your familiar with Mark Twain's comment that "Whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting over?" From 19th Century California? It certainly hasn't changed. There's not much water that's not already spoken for, and if there's one thing deserts are known for, it's not having much water.

That's actually one very good reason to put solar in cities and ag lands. That's where essentially all the water ends up in California.

Something else that's fun about solar in California:
--rooftop solar costs $7/watt (December quote). Government discounts bring this down to about $5/watt.
--big desert solar allegedly costs ~$3.50/watt, not counting the $2.9 billion cost of newly built transmission lines like the Sunrise powerlink. This is the newspaper price quote, so this might be off by a factor of two or more once it's built.
--Germany is subsidizing rooftop solar at ~$3.50/watt (please check me on this).
--There are rumors of $1/watt solar panels in the near future. There are also complaints that urban solar installers are charging high, because they're counting on government subsidies. I was also told that I could probably get a solar array installed at $4/watt if I shopped around.

Note that, comparing $7/watt panels to $0.06kw/hour charges for line electricity, it takes approximately 20-25 years to pay off the standard rooftop array. Getting the panel cost down to $1/watt takes this down to something like 4 years to ROI, and I'll bet that the Chinese get there first.

I'm beginning to wonder what a power grid will look like with distributed solar and distributed storage (storage batteries tucked in basements, attics, and unused electric vehicles). Things may change very suddenly if solar gets down to $1/watt or cheaper, and I'll bet that the grid engineers are going to be very, very unhappy about such a situation. Especially after a storm that takes down a bunch of power lines.

163:

The problem with solar panel pricing is that it's reaching the point where the panels aren't the primary price driver - it's transmission, storage, and other support costs that put a lower limit on price.

Covering the roof of a house with modern solar cells is nearing the lower end of practical price drops - it's installing the system and running/storing the power that are driving prices now. Even with battery price drops, you're still going to have to deal with paying someone to climb up there and put the system together.

Don't forget support costs, too - you have to keep them moderately dirt-free, which either means a cleaning system - or climbing up there to clean them yourself every few days.

Solar panels at $1/watt are a great idea - but when it costs $2/watt or more to install those panels, you have a lower end to the price.

164:

"Note that, comparing $7/watt panels to $0.06kw/hour charges for line electricity, it takes approximately 20-25 years to pay off the standard rooftop array. Getting the panel cost down to $1/watt takes this down to something like 4 years to ROI"

Not really. It might take it down to about 10-12 years ROI, not including maintenance costs. Once again, that whole "solar panel costs aren't total system costs" thing pops up again. $7/watt to $1/watt drops the total system cost by about half. Maybe.

Storage (until we get better battery tech), cleaning (they have to be cleaned off regularly, and yes, that cost is part of ROI), and other things, like "will the system actually last 25 years, on average, with newly-invented solar cells?"

Yeah, I know, some solar electric systems last for a long time - but a lot of them don't, or at reduced efficiency (the exterior transparent coating gets scratched, hail damage, et cetera).

165:

This is reminiscent of Tom Paine's scheme in "Agrarian Justice", in which the generational imbalance in assigning irrevocable property-in-land were balanced by funding for young people (he said 'men') attaining their majority, to be financed by taxes on that unnatural property-in-land.

Intellectual 'property' is even mor unnatural a type of property....

166:

You _do_ realise that Our Host has in of of his series a significant character who is a certificated 'combat epistomologist'....

167:

To clarify, I was pricing the total installation in both the home and plant cases, not the cost per panel. Dollars per watt is what flows out of the system, not a component cost.

Given how much home installation costs reportedly vary, I suspect that labor is actually one of the major variables currently. Given how remote some of the desert projects are, one flash flood or wind storm could easily double construction or maintenance costs.

168:

you have to keep them moderately dirt-free, which either means a cleaning system - or climbing up there to clean them yourself every few days.

In CA, even in the dusty Central Valley, solar panels do not need to be cleaned more than every 6 months or so. Dirt on the panels has relatively little impact on their efficiency.

It seems unlikely that the ancillary costs of solar - inverters, rack mounts and even permitting will remain high as the panel prices decline. Volume, new techniques and real competition will drive down costs.

What is going to be interesting is the local storage solution. If lower cost electrical/chemical storage is possible, we can break from the "grid as storage battery" model that limits penetration and go for high energy share.

As I've said before, the CA utilities are facing a troubled long term future. [I expect shenanigans to try to maintain the status quo, even as a delaying tactic].


169:
climbing up there to clean them yourself every few days

You are pretty badly misinformed about residential solar panels.

I've had mine for 9 months, and have not had to do that. I have been advised that I probably won't need to do that more than once a year, and probably less. And when I do, all I am to do is to spray them clean. (In the morning, before dawn, of course.)

170:

Mind you, we could easily get a ten+ year jump in average life expectancy simply as a by-blow of the abolition of privacy. If we had data mining software moving back and forth across a correlated set of everybody's medical records, pharmacy prescriptions, tax records, and supermarket purchases we'd throw up a reasonable guide to life extension.

171:

"There are rumors of $1/watt solar panels in the near future."

Wholesale prices are already below $1/W
Retail you can buy one off at around $1.15/W if you shop around
http://solarbuzz.com/facts-and-figures/retail-price-environment/module-prices

172:

"...you're still going to have to deal with paying someone to climb up there and put the system together."

Which is why, well before 2032, all new houses will be built with PV panels and solar water heaters in place. Apart from that, the prices charged for installing solar anything are utter ripoffs. Take solar water heaters. The retail cost, if bought direct from China, is around £500. Quotes for similar complete installed systems are around £2000. That's about £1500 for half a day's work.

173:

Back in the 60's or 70's it was know that solar cells were a chicken or egg kind of thing. A factory mass producing solar cells would lower the price enough that they would come into common use. But you had to have the use and demand to fund the factories. Many place use fuel oil that must be flown in to make power. Mass produced solar cells would be cheaper. Reading between the lines, I think President Carter was working to make a demand from the military so solar cells would be mass produced. Ronnie won with a lot of help from big oil, and ordered the use of oil and gas only. Even to power coolers keeping medicines safe in the out back if US money was involved. A lot of medicines is still defective from loss of cooling. And we still don't have cheap solar cells

174:

You _do_ realise that Our Host has in of of his series a significant character who is a certificated 'combat epistomologist'....

He also has a tabletop roleplaying adaptation. Trying to write playable rules for combat epistomology is the sort of job that makes you wonder where your life went wrong.

175:

Hmmm... the talk on cars and other white goods needing to wear out seems a tad strange to me. I don't know about any of you, but I bought my first new car at 40, I was shocked to find it didn't need a decent service before 35,000 miles and the dealership expected it to go screaming past 100,000 and probably 200,000 without a hitch. It's 3 now, hasn't a spot of rust, never broken down etc...

I contrast that to cars from the 1970s, which came off the production line with rust and you needed a toolkit and a Haye's manual to keep on the road.

Likewise, most large household goods last about 10 years, maybe more. Appliances less so, but they're usually cheap.

We're in a weird place with TVs at the moment where a technology that would normally last without a hitch for 10 years, is going through a huge amount of change. Having just got back from CES - I can comfortably say that I'll probably upgrade in 3 or 4 years time to an OLED based 8K ultra TV... they were shockingly good. But I don't need to upgrade from my 1080p LCD until then.

I'm early 40s, running a tech startup and generally finding life fascinating.

And yes, I was in line for the new iPhone - except there wasn't one :)

176:

My company produces a media centre and speakers costing around £20k for the full set. I could probably own them, except that there's nothing I particularly want to hear that badly, super-excellent though they are. Even more so for a TV

177:

the use of religious justifications to restrict womens' reproductive freedom.

I thought this was an interesting comment, because it shows something that I run into a lot in my fellow Pro-Choice Lefties (which, I just want to state up front, I emphatically am; this isn't an attempt to argue against reproductive freedom).

However, since I'm also from the fundamentalist redneck Jesusland portion of America - in my own experience, anywhere more than an hour from a major city - I have to say that there tends to be a huge, gaping misunderstanding of the motivations of the Pro-Lifers. People talk about how it's really about locking women down socio-economically, or about the wider social results of reproductive freedom. You use the phrase "religious justifications."

Maybe, somewhere in the Pro-Life movement, that is indeed the case. But the actual people who make up that voting bloc in their millions? Nah. It's not that complicated. They really, honestly believe a fetus is a baby, and that killing them is murder. Honest. That's what it's about. They're just following on with the logical implications of that foundational premise - People are murdering babies! We have to stop it! The tricky bit is, these are not religious justifications for some real, ulterior motive. The religion really is the motivation.

I'm not mentioning this to start a debate about abortion - and in fact if one starts, please do delete this post - but because I think if you really want to consider the impact of millions of religious fundamentalists on society, you need to approach their viewpoint the way they actually experience it. Not agree with it, or even think it's anything less than destructive lunacy (which it is). But I have lots of conversations with urban, educated liberal types who apply all these complex motivations to the religious crazy demographic, when in my own experience, it honestly is a lot simpler than that.

The key to understanding them is that for the most part, they really believe that shit. Want to know why they're doing what they're doing? It really is that crazy nonsense on the sign.

178:

I wonder which way that information was flowing, from or to Carter. The late 70s was when the First Earth Battalion stuff (among other crazy ideas) were going on, and the Club of Rome report was new. Learning to fight The Big One against the Soviets in a world without oil might have seemed fairly rational back then.

Nowadays, the military is pushing to go green, because guerrilla attacks on supply chains caused quite a few deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the brass realized that trimming the supply chain down was a sane thing to do. More power to them, I say. Too bad they couldn't have done it back when more WWI soldiers were around to give them some ideas about what used to work.

179:

I'd suggest that a home designed to use solar panels on the roof is going to look different. The roof ridge will not be symmetrically placed. Provision will be made for easy access for cleaning. The alignment of the building will be affected by the sun track, and when power generation is most needed.

It's even possible that a equator-facing wall will be better, in winter, than any roof. But that needs a low building density to avoid shadowing.

180:

Sam @ 175
I hate to say it, but you've got a nomenclature error in your post.
You should have said (and you'd have to keep a copy for cut-&-paste): So called "pro-Life" who are, in fact bigoted uneducated Roman Catholics and evengelicals, determined to keep women in a subservient position
Or something similar, and preferably snappier.
They should not be allowed to get away with calling themselves "pro-Life" - we're all in favour of that.

And WHY do they believe a foetus is a viable baby (even when it is less than 1000 cells?)
Because the religious liars and bigots have conditioned them that way, that's why.
Education failure, apparently(?)

Then you've got the other religious fuckwits.
I mean there's "your" lot, swallowing the Bronze-Age goatherders' myths, and the others, spouting Dark-Age camelherders' myths.
Uggggggg .....

181:

>Whether its is the state or private, it will still take the same slice of the economy

True IF you add the proviso 'to provide the same level of support'. But the key issue here is that the amount of support provided by the private sector has built in limits (you buy the support with either capital or the return on capital, but inflation and market value of assets adjusts to even out the imbalance. I'm not saying this is a good thing, just the way it is). State support is split up according to political power. The more retired people we have the more likely we are to have good state pensions but the less we can 'afford' it. ('afford' because i don't like that description, need a better one).

So private sector provision should naturally reduce the level of support, to the detriment of the retiree, wheras state should naturally increase, to the detriment of everyone else.

Both systems need a fix of some sort. We already have the concept of index linked pensions to depoliticise somewhat the level of payment, why not have 'proportion of gdp used to support the retired' linked retirement age.

Someone will probably say gdp is a poor measure of output, but i'm wondering if it's flaws apply in this case.

I'm pushing 40, i work in an industry where final salary pensions are a long forgotten dream and i have minimal expectations of retiring before 70, more likely 75.

182:

Rather than solar panels etc you'd be better off building the houses so that they are highly insulated and/ or suitable for hot areas. That way your energy demands drop right down.

183:

>But for items such as refrigerators, automobiles, and
> TV sets, mandatory long vendor-supported warranties
>would act as a slow brake on the whole built-in
>obsolescence concept.

Today we just can't design silicon to last that long without massively increasing area and power. (Electromigration, Hot carrier, Negative bias temperature instability, etc)

There goes Moore's law (the twice the stuff in the same area every two years subset of it) for any silicon in those devices if you're not very careful. You've excluded devices where we use Moore's law to improve our performance, but that still leaves a whole host of things where we use it to provide the same functionality more efficiently.

Legislation would have interesting second order effect that needed controlling. Would we want to have 20 year life at the cost of double power consumption for any 'control/information processing' in our stuff?

Legsislating modularity and spare part provision should nicely complement your mandatory warranty (any subsystem part greater than $£XXX in cost must be split into replaceable subsystems. The total cost of all replacement subsytems including labour must be

184:

#129 - About 1 minute in Wikipedia will confirm that you must be 35 years old to be eligable for nomination for election as President of those there United States.

#149 - It doesn't take Aspergers to not watch soaps; just a dislike of lazily written drama where "conflict" is generated from people who live with each other actually disliking each other.

#173 - Well, my car is now 9 years old, I've owned it for 5.75 of those, and in my ownership it's needed 1 non-consumable and non-service part.

#177 - I see your point, but for optimal exploitation of solar power a roof in the Northern hemisphere probably wants to be pitched at about (Latitude - 0.5* Orbital_inclination) degrees. For those of us in Scotland, this means a pitch of typically 45 degrees. At this point, particularly with your asymmetric truss idea, we start arriving at a very different idea of how to lay out interior space.

185:

Add to that the implication of my #182 Para , that you'll increase the height of a North wall for a property in Scotland by about the N-S dimension of the property ground plate by designing for the "solar cell roof", effectively increasing the wall area of the property by about 50% (for an originally 2 story building; it's more like 100% extra for a single story building), and the extra generating capacity of a solar cell building starts to run in expensive in extra heating requirements.

186:

Charlie - are you implicitly accepting in your OP that the lump of labour fallacy is not a fallacy?

187:

There's a very simple solution for highly-energy-efficient housing -- Soviet-style apartment blocks. They provide minimal exterior wall area and roof area per person accomodated by the building so they can be made very energy efficient.

Sadly nobody wants to live in such housing. They all want a detached house in its own grounds with its obvious energy inefficiences even with the best insulation technologies and heating/cooling systems available.

188:

@Greg:

Why do they believe a foetus is a viable baby?

I'd like to discuss this with a properly knowledgeable theologian, but I suspect the reason is the need to draw a firm line at which the bunch of cells becomes human (and hence has a soul).

There is a deep need to have a strong dividing line between "this thing is human and precious" , "that thing is a bunch of cells" that is not, to my mind, supported by the science.

The more you look at the formation of twins (bunch of cells split after fertilisation) and chimeras (two zygotes, or bunches of cells merge to form a single individual) the more you see that this line is hazy. Similarly with the end of life, where "death" gets defined by the skill in medical intervention more than physical processes (eg. when does the soul leave the body? when the heart stops working? the patient stops breathing?) The religious need for there to be a "soul" means declaring firm start and end points to life that I do not think exist.

189:

"Privacy" arguments are somewhat specious too; IIRC OGH has as much noise insulation as could be reasonably desired, courtesy of floors, walls and ceilings about a foot thick!

190:

The flat I'm in has 18-inch thick walls since it's at the bottom of a five-storey stack of stone-built flats and it is supporting the other four storeys. That doesn't help block the noise at three in the morning when the Young Ones above us decide to have a Fight Club party complete with blood trails down the stairs afterwards.

I fully appreciate the attraction of a detached property in its own grounds -- I have my eye on a little place just along the street from me that's on the market right now, current asking price UKP 25 million -- but I am under no illusions that there is some kind of miracle insulating tech out there that means its heating costs in terms of energy and money would be less than astronomical.

191:

" For those of us in Scotland, this means a pitch of typically 45 degrees."

You mean houses like these?
http://mylittlenorway.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/house5.jpg

192:

Lots of people live in appartment blocks. Mine is not at all Soviet style. It was built in the 1870’s, has lovely cornicing, wooden floors and other period features and is still working well today. There are about 50 appartments in the buildings built around our common drying green. I think each houses on average 3 people. So about 150 people in a small block of tenaments. One of several hundred such blocks in my neighbourhood.

I’m currently wondering if collectively the owners of the appartments in the block can be persuaded to retro-fit some low carbon energy sources or energy efficiency measures.

Lots of housing in Scotland is flats or terraces and I think one of the reasons for this is that they are more efficient to keep warm than detached houses.

Modern building technology can deliver living spaces that require very little energy (or other resources) to run and IIRC building codes in the UK are moving to the point where housing and then commercial property will have to be carbon neutral and therefore pretty energy efficient for new builds. Which is good news in my view but given that my house is some 140 years old and still in good nick I fear that slowly replacing our housing stock won’t significantly affect our energy demand quickly enough.

193:

Another very energy efficient way of living, as yet untried - the arcology:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arcology

194:

If arcologies are untried then how do we know they are a very energy efficient way of living?

On the other hand we do know the Soviet apartment blocks built in Siberia et al. were energy efficient, conserving heat very well for the number of people they sheltered. Shame that not everyone wanted to live in them.

195:

"If arcologies are untried then how do we know they are a very energy efficient way of living?"

Mathematical modelling

196:

I'm perfectly ready to believe in anti-racism as a reaction to WW2, but not that it is weakening because the WW2 generation is dying off...

197:

There's a very simple solution for highly-energy-efficient housing -- Soviet-style apartment blocks. They provide minimal exterior wall area and roof area per person accomodated by the building so they can be made very energy efficient.

Sadly nobody wants to live in such housing.

You aren't really saying "nobody wants to live in an apartment block", are you? If you are, you should take a wander down Park Avenue NY.

198:

He's saying that nobody wants to live in apartment blocks with stinking urine soaked lifts which are broken down most of the time, and whose stairwells are home to drug dealers and teenage chavs partying all night.

199:

Hospital pharmacist here, so add salt as needed to the opinion: The good nurses are better than machines- they have judgment and will apply it. The low quartile is probably worse- the machine will at least do basic math properly and has better communication skills.

Been there, did that, for a couple of years: this goes across the board for medical professionals.

To this day I have vivid memories of a house officer who, 25 years ago, was assigned to a paediatrics ward during her training rota. What made her especially memorable is that she was evidently unfamiliar with the idea that drugs have with an effective dose per kilogram of body mass of the recipient, and that a "normal" prescribed dosage is at best an approximation suited to an average adult without hepatic impairment, etc. She treated pharmaceutics as some kind of magic invocation, and kept prescribing standard adult doses of antibiotics and NSAIDs and so on straight out of the BNF in her pocket ... on a paediatric ward. I had to double-check everything she did, just in case she was trying to give a 15Kg toddler a dose appropriate for an 85Kg adult.

"I have a little book, and it says I should prescribe drug X for condition Y, and here's the ritual incantation correct way to write the prescription." Cthulhu help us if she ever ended up treating people with liver disease or kidney failure.

200:

2 questions:-
1) Did you miss the mention of OGH's ceiling being a foot thick?
2) Do you get much street noise penetration?

201:

Sort of, but instead of having that ridgebeam and reverse pitch roof at the back, you'd need to keep the roof sloping in the same direction, so the back of that house would be about twice the height it actually is.

202:

Paws, I know Mr Sneddon IRL. In fact, he was sitting in the sofa right behind the office chair I'm typing in right now less than a week ago.

203:

Wrt. life extension and a possible gerontocracy; how would the ever decreasing percentage of the eldest as a proportion of the population affect things? How will a society look with multiple generations co-existing at the same time?

At the moment we only really have somewhere between three and five generations at once, each markedly different to the next because of the state of the world they have grown up in (a 20 year old now has a far different experience/perception of the world than a 40 year old has of the last 20 years). How will a gerontocracy via life extension be affected by a situation where more than five generations, each culturally distinct in some way, exist together?

Also it gets quite interesting to imagine if alongside absolute life extension (i.e. increasing of life expectancy) medicine provides an extension of healthy life, e.g. 40 year olds can not only expect to live 80 more years they can expect to spend most of them in a physically and mentally fit state.

204:

A foot thickness of bare stone is not a particularly good insulator, either of noise or heat, compared to modern building materials. The stone construction buildings Charlie and I both live in don't have cavity walls as they lack the strength needed to support the sandstone blocks our respective dwellings are made from. That solid construction transmits sound surprisingly well and only its total thickness keeps heat loss down to a manageable level.

Yes, we do get a lot of street noise here in our flat. Our first floor front windows look out onto an four-lane A road (ObUS: state highway) which is a commuter route to the city centre with lots of buses and other traffic at all hours of the day and night. The sidewalk between our front door and the roadway is about three metres wide. The endless construction of the tram system across the way and the occasional train passing through the nearby railway station add to the noise level. Luckily my bedroom is at the back of the flat and is much quieter so I can get some sleep (absent the drunken idiots upstairs when they decide loud music is just the ticket after they come back home at three in the morning from nightclubbing).

Charlie's situation is somewhat different but he pays for low noise levels with much larger heating bills for assorted reasons.

205:

Insulation has its limits, though. With current technology, we can make a wall (with corresponding windows) that will cut standard heating/cooling costs by a huge factor - 90% or more.

The problem is that people have to live inside the resulting houses - and you have to have a minimal amount of circulation between inside and outside air to reduce CO2 buildup (and other gases, like CO and methane). With even a minimal amount of air exchange (most environmental health rules say 15 cubic feet per minute of exchange with outside air), you lose a lot of insulating efficiency.

206:

and the increasingly popular notion, at least among those younger than 30 or so right now, that the only real success is fame

Speaking from the US. My daughter spend her 12 grade of school in Germany. And she was befuddled by how many of her classmates goal was to become famous. But stranger still was their perception that the first step was to move to the US because it was so much easier to become famous here than in the EU. They seemed to feel that in the US it was more of a career choice similar to decided to study engineering.

207:

#202 - I did not know that; I'm not sure how it affects my point that 12" inch thick floors are always good noise insulators (IME anyway) either.

#204 Para 1 - Where do I claim that sandstone is a match for high expansion polyurethane foam as a heat insulator? My Mum lives in a sandstone semi villa, so I know it isn't!

Para 2 - Not dissimilar to my Mum's place, beyond not having a railway line being build down the road outside. Except that her neighbours have had parties, and we've been unable to hear them.

208:

R S @ 204
So, you live on Princes Street?
Which IS the city-centre - or was until recently .....

209:

Charlie's situation is somewhat different but he pays for low noise levels with much larger heating bills for assorted reasons.

A top floor flat has the advantage of having nobody above. It also has the disadvantage of having nothing above.

I would hypothesize that on average the worst place to live, from a noise point of view, may be the top-but-one flat. If you're going to get noise, it's usually from your ceiling being used as a diaphragm by the people moving around on its top surface. Anyone who has neighbours above will appreciate this and will (one hopes) keep the noise down a bit. But the ones at the very top won't experience this and will be a bit noisier, making their downstairs neighbours suffer most.

210:

Nope, I live in Haymarket about a mile to the west of the city centre proper. I can pick up a WiFi signal from the trains in Haymarket station which will give you an idea how close I am to that particular source of noise pollution.

211:

And WHY do they believe a foetus is a viable baby (even when it is less than 1000 cells?)
Because the religious liars and bigots have conditioned them that way, that's why.
Education failure, apparently(?)

I'm treading on very dangerous ground here, but I will tiptoe in.

In the US the "pro-choice" ideal is to allow abortion (however distasteful) right up until birth. So while the religious believe that life starts at conception, the other extreme view is that even a full term fetus has no protection. Biologically this also makes no sense. The difference between legal abortion and infanticide is drawn legally.

Each one of your comments could equally apply to this group.

Now let's consider what might happen by 2092. If the population adopted a reasonable middle ground, that abortion could only be done until the fetus was viable (i.e. in an incubator), we may well find that technology for artificial wombs might be advanced enough to allow implantation of an embryo at a very early stage, which would push back the time for legal abortion. At the same time, science might have a much better grasp of what a developing brain can perceive, allowing such abortion decisions o be made on that basis.

212:

One big psychological change between oldies (now-ish) and in 2032. Quite often I have noticed that older people, when they get a computer to "do stuff" have a "serious" attitude. They get something like Word, and want to use it immediately. They then find that, even if they do exercises from a book on Word, real life use can be a bit tricky. They get massively frustrated, because dammit they got that computer to do important stuff *now*.
When I tell them that the best way to learn is to play with the machine with no aim but to see what the icons do and to spend a few hours (or days) messing around with it aimlessly they have difficulty comprehending the necessity to act like children

In future, older people will play more because that's how they will have been brought up to understand the world and control it.

213:

Regarding energy efficiency of buildings. Tall buildings will lose heat more rapidly due to higher wind speeds.

An arcology would be a good way to go. If we could build it, a Buckminster style dome over a city/town would also work, although air exchange would have to work well to get rid of noxious gases.

The alternative is to build underground (or aboveground with earth berms). The architect Malcolm Wells was a huge proponent of this in the 1970's as an energy efficient and ecologically friendly solution, but subsequent history has shown that this is not a popular approach, even though there are some beautiful examples.

The new LEED standards indicate that new homes and buildings can be made to be extraordinarily efficient. If the 2% replacement rate stays in place, we could have most of the US housing stock to high energy efficiency standards by 2092.

214:

Speaking of energy, if the world turns out to be relatively energy poor by 2092, will attitudes to energy wastage change, much like water in California today?

215:

Is this why I hate Office 2010? It pretends to have a new paradigm for the controls, but actually only moves them about so that you have to relearn where everything is hidden if you know 2003 or 2007.

216:

Robert Sneddon - just being a nosy bugger and all that, but you don't happen to hail from Bo'ness do you? I know a Sneddon or Snedden or two and they all came from there within the last generation or two, and all too many never escape at all.

Regarding living in a well insulated house, the problem Cirby mentions of ventilation is well known about and fairly easily dealt with, needing just a heat exchanger to warm the incoming air with warm outgoing air. This has all been worked out years and years ago. Of course in the UK we can't get much of the old housing stock to that standard because of their design and materials, but personally I want to see it being compulsory in new houses from, say 2015 onwards. It's a bit like removing lead from petrol, it causes a few problems but if you set a date and stick to it everyone can convert.

217:

Now let's consider what might happen by 2092. If the population adopted a reasonable middle ground, that abortion could only be done until the fetus was viable (i.e. in an incubator)

That's roughly the legal position in the UK; after abortion was legalized in circumstances where the mother's life wasn't directly in danger, the goal post was set at viability, which in those days meant 28 weeks. It was shifted back to 24 weeks IIRC in the 1990s, once that was a survivable age -- but as a quid pro quo for replacing the previous fig-leaf ("the mother's mental or physical health must be at risk", as certified by two doctors) with availability on request (and no need for the pretence).

However, there's a radically different political climate in the UK, with around 80% supporting the status quo (abortion on demand up to 24 weeks, only available in event of medical emergency thereafter) and only 14-16% opposed to it.

(Personally, I think if we're looking for the point at which the soul enters the body as the point of viability, we ought to permit abortion up to 3-5 years after birth. After all, that's when the hippocampus makes the necessary connections to start retaining memories in the long term ...)

218:

Not only that: the iterations of MS Office with that ghastly "ribbon" are sold for machines which are typically laptops with a 16:9 wide aspect ratio screen. If you're reading/editing columnar text, the amount of vertical space is critically important: any screen furniture that occupies the horizontal top or bottom of your screen chews lines of text out of your main working window. So of course the honking great fat ribbon sits above (or below) your window, typically eating a quarter to half (if you're on a netbook) of your text real estate!

(Apple's Pages 09 -- I hope they issue an update soon -- takes a different approach, with a floating tabbed palette (the Inspector) full of tools, so you can shove it off to one side. Which makes it vastly more fit for the purpose of word processing than recent versions of Microsoft Word, in my opinion: ironically, it rather resembles MS Word 5.1 for MacOS circa 1988, the acme of elegant and coherent WYSIWYG word processing at that time. And which came on three floppy disks ...)

219:

"Is this why I hate Office 2010"

No idea. I stopped using MS years ago.
I use LibreOffice now (its free)

220:

This is totally off-topic, but I was in a Barnes and Noble here in the US yesterday, and I noticed that Charlie's "A Colder War" had been republished in a volume titled The New Cthulhu. So if anyone wants a print version of one of the best Lovecraftian stories ever...

221:

Automobiles are still designed and marketed to be replaced every 2 or 3 years.

Ah, well, NO.

222:

There are a large number of good housing designs out there. For example, the energy efficient, water efficient, water-cleaning earthship design can be built at the same per square foot cost as an ordinary house, and the design (with modifications) works from subtropics to desert to way far north. Unfortunately, I can't my partner interested in living in one (something about, "that'll be your hobby house once you've won the lottery"). sometimes, having a too-conventional partner can be a burden.

Good house design means that you have to build to fit the environment. Instead, builders have mostly gone for building the same designs of houses throughout the US, ignoring things like compass directions (e.g. put the picture window on the sun-facing wall in a desert), cramming as many houses as they can fit on the development, building minimally to code (some US building codes are not fire safe), building cathedral ceilings in cold climates, and so on. Typically, they depend on the HVAC system to make it all work, and that makes the homeowner dependent on a lot of cheap energy.

This isn't news. Heck, back in the days before air-conditioning, they had to build better houses, just to deal. I'm not going to say an old pioneer soddy was more comfortable than a suburban tract home, but I've been in enough alternative buildings that I have few qualms about living in one.

I'll stop the rant here, but there are (theoretically) enormous gains that could be made to get homes to be more efficient. Problem is, homes are too expensive, and if you're going to spend the rest of your life paying for an inefficient piece of crap, you don't have the money left to make your dwelling into an efficient living machine. It really will take major wars or a series of natural disasters to force people into saner living arrangements, at least in my part of the country. Sigh.

223:

"...building cathedral ceilings in cold climates..."

Which reminds me.
One bit of tech I have *never* seen on sale is a thermal destratifier. Basically, a tube with a small fan that pumps warm air from the ceiling to the floor.

224:

Charlie,

Sorry for being OT, but you mentioned a while back that you will be in New York City sometime late January or
early February. Any news on that ?
Thanks

225:

A lot of posters are re-inventing the wheel. Books on low energy homes with the data were common in the 70's. The data is still true. The English book THE AUTONOUS HOUSE will answer many questions. No its not the best but, it's about England and covers the basics. I would be surprised if it was still in print, but the info is out there. There is heating power any time there are shadows, but insulation is almost always better cost wise. Even as far South as I am. Back then the engineering school group I was working with found that a good hyper-insulated home could be heated with a toaster. Making it use sunlight from the winter sun helps.
If you don't live in your own home there was a neat trick. A German firm made a wall paper that was shiny and reflected heat. It was coated with dyes that were transparent to heat and added a lot of insulation value. Bet its gone. For what it's worth I covered the bottom of the ceiling panels in my bedroom with aluminum foil and it made the room feel warmer.

226:

I've seen them here in the US. They're common in deep suburban and exurban areas where rich people build large houses with common rooms that are two or three stories high (or beam & post houses that are basically one large room). Ceiling fans are intended to do the same job, but in very large rooms a single ceiling fan doesn't cut it.

227:

Yes: expect an announcement around the end of this week/early next week.

228:

I use libreoffice too. But the spreadsheet is very inferior to MS Excel. Formatting compatibility between formats is also problematic.

229:

Re noise and heat insulation:

Bulk materials make lousy sound insulators. The best design for a sound and/or vibration insulator is alternating layers of a high-rigidity, high-sonic-speed material and a high-elasticiy, low-sonic-speed material. I've seen really high quality sound and vibration isolators for sensitive scientific equipment made out of alternating sheets of rubber and steel plates. Engineered materials made of alternating layers of rigid high-density urethane foam and air might work.

As for heat loss in air transfer, one solution is to make a house airtight to an order of magnitude less than the required minimum exchange rate, and then proved one or more air outlets with heat pumps on them to make up the difference in air flow while reducing heat loss.

230:

which in the US means that the ubiquity of conservative media

You must have an interesting scale you're using to measure such things.

231:

paws4thot
Office 2010 does WHAT?
"Moves the controls around" really?
What complete fuckwit thought of that?
& Charlie @ 218
So we're stuck with this, if/wnen XP dies? If we wnat to go on using MS?
Unless we follow Dirk @219, I suppose.

Charlie @ 217
However, the UK anti-abortion crowd, whom I estimate to be even an smaller percentage, are extremely vociferous.
Led, claiming "rsepect for life", by (of course) that vile, murdering collection of liars, the RC church and its followers.
U. K. le Guin stufffed that particular phrase, as far back as 1967/71 ...
LURVE your snarky suggestion at the end - now THAT is what I call trolling.

232:

Math – The Next Frontier

In the 20th century, we've amassed more data than ever before via direct observation, experimentation and data bases. The next step is to organize and make sense of this data, and attempt to formulate underlying ‘laws’. To me, this means using/improving mathematical skills, and not just machine computational power. (I don't know what types or levels of math can be done on computer beyond stats/SPSS.)

To the posters here -- Is math education keeping up with the types of math knowledge/application we need, or is it still mostly focused on counting/arithmetic. If so - why? Is there something in the human neurological/ intellectual development that says this is the only/best way to teach maths? Long ago as a student, it always seemed as though each branch of math was taught historically - ploddingly reiterating each development of each assumption, axiom, corollary, etc. as they first emerged. I’m not sure that this is the best organizational principle if analyzed from the POV of what is currently known and/or best conceptual-fit perspective. Or is this an example of 'magic' (dogmatic non-thinking) that the medical/healthcare pros above mentioned re: drug dosages non-thinking behaviour.

If ‘math’ is a language, then we need to teach math at the youngest age possible because as per neuro research and popular opinion, in general, the ability to learn languages starts to decline at a very young age. And to not just shove another problem down the next generation’s throats – how about improving adults’ attitudes toward math. Improved math ability or, at a minimum, less math phobia perhaps via 'apps' – games or tools .

There was a recent news piece about Google giving up search. I hope that this is so that they can begin work on the next evolutionary step in online data manipulation -- ‘make sense of’ .


Re-thinking Building Materials:

Various foams such as styrofoam and polyurethane have been around for a while and provide relatively good thermal and acoustic insulation. A few years ago I saw a custom home design TV show where hollow frames (made from treated thin board slices) were assembled, injected with foam to which metal bars (rebar) was then added to physically connect the frames as well as to stabilize the entire structure. This construction provided concrete-equivalent strength (the house had very large triple pane glass windows), durability (climate had sun mixed with heavy rains) and was termite-proof. Of course, this was a TV show -- so no idea whether this house is still standing. In the meanwhile, just about all new housing where I live still uses traditional brick & mortar, or brick and aluminum siding.

Shifts in public attitudes toward construction are feasible, just consider glass: initially fragile and decorative, now no one thinks to question its usage in massive, weight-bearing edifices. Glass has also successfully transitioned from being considered energy-wasteful to energy-conserving now that windows are constructed of multiple layers, with insulating gases in between.


Impermanent ‘Permanent Dwelling’:

I mentioned home-in-a-box in the previous topic thread but is it really necessary to build homes to last forever, especially if they're situated in places that regularly experience hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, etc.?

Japan is the only land-rooted (vs. nomadic) culture that I can think of whose dwellings were historically deliberately built to be impermanent. A building-for-local-conditions philosophy probably cost them much less in materials/labor, emotional misery and GDP impact than last year's earthquake/tsunami/nuclear plant disaster because in earlier times they were less invested in their house and contents. Considering on-going worker/job mobility, potentially worsening and more extreme weather conditions, increasing housing and insurance costs, increased interest in re-decorating/renovating, I think the market conditions are ready for 'impermanent housing'. The marketing strategy would need to be tweaked per region but I think this has some potential in physically undeveloped and relatively low-population density regions of North/South America, Australia, and Africa.


Rethinking/Re-defining Infrastructure – What is it, Who owns it?

If energy, water supply (including waste water purification/recycling) and construction (materials and methods) can be made affordable as quickly and to the same extent as computation, then the need for large infrastructure investment by government and large utilities will go down because each household will provide its own infrastructure. The infrastructure production industry – the companies that actually manufacture the physical wires, dams, etc. - would have to shift their marketing/distribution from the current B2B/industrial to a consumer model. (If this industry follows computing the way I think it might, then the existing big names in infrastructure materials supply probably won’t be the market share leaders for the same reason that IBM never made it in consumer PCs: too big and important to be bothered by lowly plebes, I mean, by community/vocational college trained (vs. university graduated) ITs, and – yuck! -- consumers.


233:

It seems plausible that the problem may well be solved within the next 20 years. Other diseases I expect to see become extinct are diabetes and MS.

Sounds like a lot of wishful thinking. Jerry has been raising money for what 50 years and while we now know a lot about MD, we still don't know much about how to stop it.

Ditto most other non "bad bug" medical issues. I think our success in fighting disease causing bugs over the last 50 years or so has made many people think fighting the breakdown and pre-wired into the system issues just the next step. I'm not nearly as confident.

And our success in many bug fights over the last 50 years may be somewhat temporary.

234:

I built a small PV array as an emergency power backup/hobby project this summer. I was able to Ebay panels for $2.30/watt US. If your $4/watt figure includes all the wiring/invertors and professional installation, that is probably a realistically achievable number.

235:

I've not found my panels need cleaned, other than by rain. I live in the Midwestern US, so we get a lot of rain/snow naturally. I'm sure in an arid desert environment settling sudt is a much larger problem.

236:

"Even without technologies to make people physically younger, we will see a move toward people working longer. Fewer physical jobs mean people don't *need* to retire young. At my workplace we have more workers over 65 than under 30 - and we offer a very generous pension and health care supplement. They just like the work, and since it is an academic library, they can still do the work. "

I don't mean to be harsh, but your environment is probably in the top 1% of actual work environments for the developed world.

237:

"For what it's worth I covered the bottom of the ceiling panels in my bedroom with aluminum foil and it made the room feel warmer."

Yes, that's the #1 reason that comes to mind for mirroring a ceiling ... improved insulation.

238:

@232, no Math is not a language, not even a little bitty bit.

No we don't do a good job teaching Math, for a variety of hard to fix reasons, the most important of which is the fact that people who have skill in math can generally find something more lucrative or fun to do with their career.

However it is also not something a large percentage of humans are smart enough to really be good at. It's hard. Most people don't like things that are hard, at least not with their brains.

Most of the people that have an inclination for Math end up in Technology in some way shape or form anyway, computer programming ability and math ability are very co occurent, we should really focus on Math for Technologists in early education.

239:

No we don't do a good job teaching Math

Do you have any good/novel insights on this? I am just about to start teaching "remedial" - i.e. high school math to freshers at the University of California.

The course looks very conventional. Perhaps it needs to be redesigned in some way?

240:

Speaking of MS this lady claims she reversed hers using a specially designed diet. It's a TED talk

241:

William H. Stoddard :

"It was the 19th century United States, I believe, that gave us the saying "From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations." There were certainly large fortunes back then, but there was a lot of turnover in the wealthy, as indeed there still is."

Yes, but just because there's a saying, doesn't mean that it's true. For example, the USA places very low among OECD countries on inter-generational mobility, but that's not necessarily what Americans *believe*.

242:

"(I don't know what types or levels of math can be done on computer beyond stats/SPSS.)"

Computers running genetic algorithms have discovered Newtons Laws. Also created a hypothesis, tested it in an automated lab and made an original discovery.

I suspect the future of theoretical science lies in interpreting the discoveries of machines, not creating the insights themselves.

243:

Hi Alex,

One of my big issues with math is that people aren't really trained in the vocabulary. For example, if someone doesn't know what "denominator" means, any discussion of fractions will instantly become useless to them. Obviously, if you can't talk about something, you probably can't do it.

I'd try having the students make flash cards out of even the most basic mathematical vocabulary words, including axioms and "rules of thumb," and give them quizzes on the those words for points. If you've got more than one class, you can even make a research project out of this idea. I'm guessing that students who are carefully trained in the vocabulary will score significantly higher than those who are not.

BTW, if you're at UCR, I'm nearby.

244:

"Is this why I hate Office 2010? It pretends to have a new paradigm for the controls, but actually only moves them about so that you have to relearn where everything is hidden if you know 2003 or 2007."

The reason is that they decided that where two clicks were previously sufficient to do most tasks, they now wanted three or four. In addition, they reorganized things, which is a dick move when probably 90% of people using the new version were using the old version.

245:

"(I don't know what types or levels of math can be done on computer beyond stats/SPSS.)"

Start with: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematica

246:

From the link you posted -- "The lowest retail price for a multicrystalline silicon solar module is $1.14 per watt (€0.88 per watt) from a US retailer."

This is much, much lower than the $30K+ I was quoted last year even factoring in the additional installation labor cost (approx. 2.5 times the cost of materials).

Thanks!

247:

One of the big errors I see people make (IMHO, of course), is the idea of a gerontocracy. I think that we see it this way because we're in the 40 years past the 'Great Keynesian Boom' after WWII. Our parents'/granparents' generation in which things like pensions and benefits were commonplace. This, along with a rapidly expanding population pushing up real estate prices, led to a situation where people frequently worked their way up the socioeconomic ladder, and could retire in comfort.

This, in the USA (and in the UK, I believe) has ended. For the past forty years, the percentage of jobs with pensions and benefits has gone down, and existing benefits are as likely to be cut as not.

What we've been headed for is a society in which *some* older adults are well-off, but only a minority. The real determinant is class, and the class in which one is born is difficult to change.

248:

Re: Math. "Or is this an example of 'magic' (dogmatic non-thinking) that the medical/healthcare pros above mentioned re: drug dosages non-thinking behaviour."

Math beyond basic arithmetic is, in my cynical moments, like shooting for the moon. I'll settle for a broad ability to do basic word problems.

Case in point- I have had this question exchange by nurses three times in my career-
"How fast can I infuse albumin?"
"Oh, it's printed on the label- one milliliter per minute."
"How many is that per hour?"

I suspect we'll get around to changing the labels eventually. It's a safety thing, and even if it means surrendering to the stupid one more time, it's better to do that than have someone muck it up. But all the same, what the hell?

249:

Ah- forgot to add the "Why" there- the IV pumps require a rate to be entered in ml/hr.

250:

Nurses do BS degrees now, at least in the US. Is the UK still using "nursing schools"?

IIRC, a recent study showed that the majority of preventable mortality in hospitals was due to incorrect drugs and dosing. (don't have the cite on this, but it may have been a Kaiser study).

Personal experience tells me that some nurses, hopefully an extremely tiny minority, cannot do basic arithmetic, e.g. converting numbers to percentages, even with a calculator.

Less we be too smug, the Mars Climate Orbiter was lost because of incorrect maths (different units) done by presumably very competent engineers.

251:

@239 I don't know what programs are currently popular it has been at least 15 years since I taught a math class. Getting the spacial parts of the brain engaged is always important though, making things tactile helps.

The word "math" is kind of a travesty anyway, as arithmetic not only has nothing in common with real analysis or group theory say, but even the parts of the brain that are used are not the same.

If I were to do my own curriculum I would probably follow basic arithmetic and geometry with logic, it's the most useful of the mathematical disciplines, essential for programming and feeds into the high studies nicely.

252:

Or Maths even :)

253:

I'm with the crowd that thinks that statistics is as useful (if not more useful) than things like calculus, at least for Jane Average. Reason is, nobody tries to BS you with calculus, but BS statistics seem to show up every few new cycles.

And that's not even including "statistically significant" science (which isn't--but that's a very separate argument).

So far as math education goes, it's the problem with many disciplines: Use It or Lose It. If you don't see something after the class is over, you aren't going to remember it. The same goes for everything from foreign languages to fish identification to physics.

People remember basic math because they use it day to day, and algebra is fundamental to the logistics of life (how much do I get if...?). Things like logs and exponents aren't used much unless you're calculating interest rates, graphing is rarely used outside the sciences, and geometry, calculus, and trig rarely get used outside the physical sciences.

So I don't particularly blame the educators. Rather, I blame society for making it easy to walk through life with our brains turned off.

254:

Alex wrote:

Less we be too smug, the Mars Climate Orbiter was lost because of incorrect maths (different units) done by presumably very competent engineers.

More specifically, the failure was initiated by the flight software calculating in Newtons, and the ground crew in Lb-thrust.

The failure was observed in plenty of time to correct it... After the TCM-4 course corrections, at least a week to do something about it, even 1 m/s of something a day ahead of time would have made it survivable, and there was enough spare delta-V to avoid the disaster even an hour ahead of closest approach....

The ultimate failure was a failure by the navigation team to actually believe the data which showed it grossly off course (100 km or so). No spacecraft had ever been so badly off course before, and it was felt that the readings showing the wrong trajectory were erroneous. This was not resolved until the post-flight accident investigation report...

255:

Thank you for this. I think I understand now a point of view that I couldn't relate to before.
Not saying I agree but I respect.

256:

Nursing has been a graduate entry profession in the UK for at least 15 years. It was going that way 25-30 years ago.

257:

Try the Khan Academy and see how that works for you.

http://www.khanacademy.org/

A number of schools are using his videos, then having the teachers answer any questions.

258:

Not my area so I've probably got some details wrong -

In the 1990's the UK began training nurses under a new system, Project 2000, where students spent half their time at college, and the other half on clinical placement/training. I think the goal was to produce more "academic" nurses, and perhaps to raise the status of nurses. The system has been criticised both for producing nurses "too good" to do menial tasks, and for producing nurses with half the clinical experience compared to the previous method.

However I believe the system probably works okay - certainly some Project 2000 nurses are excellent. The system also enabled me to meet a bunch of wonderful student nurses at college who wouldn't otherwise have been there. (Including one who qualified as a nurse, but went into acting instead, and now - you guessed it - plays a nurse on the TV show Casualty).

There are also "nurse practitioners" - who have a post-grad qualification.

259:

Actually, the newest post by our esteemed host gave me an entirely new world building point to ponder.
What if IP dies, entirely, as a legal paradigm? It is currently being abused very badly by entire industries - the way patents are being vielded by major tech companies has at this point made it questionable if the patent regime overall promotes innovation at all. So, given another couple of decades and contious escalation of abuses, IP might very well end up roughly as popular with the general public as.. oh, the salt tax, and angry voters do not always do things by halves. So, what if 2040 comes around, and the very concept of IP has been tossed on the scrapheap of history?

Academia: Big win for the general public. Because to be honest, having the academic journals behind paywalls is really fracking annoying. And bad for the quality of public discourse. The academic press ends up being funded by directly either by the government or by universities. Which is who pays the piper presently, anyway.

Music is perfectly fine - the bulk of average musician income is currently from live preformance anyway, and the festival circut isnt going to be affected by that at all. Lot more cover songs, and riffs on other peoples music, I suppose, but originality is not going to keel over dead, either.

Theather: "Wait, there was a change in the law?"

TV: Eh, well, product placement still works, the BBC will presumably still fund another season of doctor who, and more popular shows will still be able to attract advertiser revenue for first broadcast. The international market becomes kind of a free-for-all tough.

Film: Kind of in trouble. Or at least, the huge-budget blockbuster is.

Books: Okay, this is one sector that gets hit hard. - It is possible for an author to earn income musician style with live preformance - lectures, readings. But.. Authors are not musicians or actors. You become a musician because you want to get up in front of a crowd and shine, so if that is what you must do to get paid, it is no hardship. For someone who finds sitting largely alone for months writing fulfilling, the same requirement is not typically going to come naturally, so I think this largely relegates creative writing to "hobby". Which doesnt stop literature, mind. Its going to be a hobby with a lot of practitioners.

Tech: To be honest, I think this probably accelerates development. A lot.

Medicine:.. The pharmas drop dead. This might not be such a bad thing for medical research, assuming some sensible public programme can be instituted, as their research priorities have been seriously fucked up lately.

260:

You don't gain much from listening to people that you agree with; on the other hand, you need the kind of patience and tolerance not always common even among saints to gain very much from listening to people that you disagree with whose reactions in the comments treat you as by-definition scum.

So you need all sorts of unfashionable things like balance and respect for varied opinions, enforced by a firm editorial hand.

261:

About academic publishing...

In the fiction publishing business, the academic model is known as "vanity publishing." It works like this:
--The researcher pays to publish (typically using grant money from someone else. If no grant money is available, you pay out of pocket, as I have).
--The publisher recruits volunteer reviewers to vet it.
--In a small journal, the content editor is a volunteer
--In small journals, researchers are asked to do their own figure and type-setting
--The researcher pays to buy the journal in which the article appears. Or the researcher's institution pays.

Oddly enough, many researchers whine piteously about how this system is failing, without realizing that they could run their journals through Lulu (if they wanted a paper version available). Or they could just send pdfs to a mailing list.

Most of the very large amount of money flowing into the academic publishing industry are largely paying to increase scientists' reputations.

There's no reason to do things this way, other than habit and engrained culture. Any number of online institutions have demonstrated that it's entirely possible to establish a reputation without asking participants to pay much if anything.

I suspect that, over the next 3-5 years, scientific journals will go through the same crisis that other publishers are going through right now. I don't feel very sorry for them, because I think they've been taking way too much grant money for far too long.

262:

could be a bit earlier then 304 years if rumors about Apple's next big announcement prove true

http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/12/01/17/apples_upcoming_textbook_event_to_focus_on_ebook_distribution_not_tools.html

263:

> Maybe it's both - the large extended family network shrinks considerably, partly replaced by wahlfamilien", i.e. extended familiy like connections to "best friends"

An interesting idea: "families of choice", which is how I'd translate Wahlfamilien. Probably they'd work at least as well as traditional ones. If you're a despised offspring of Mom's brother, you aren't in it. If you're a really close and good $FRIEND, you are. Legal aspects, obligations and so on are left as an exercise for the reader.

264:

What if no IP law... Theather: "Wait, there was a change in the law?"

Actually, theatre and live music would be dramatically affected. The cost of performance rights is a significant thing for most performers. Or their host, for pub musicians.

To give you a rough idea, 20 years ago "Cats" cost a minimum of $250,000 for a single performance. If you have more than a few people in the audience, or they're paying to see the show, or you want to perform more than onces, you will pay more. I suspect that show is cheaper now, but popular recent shows are more expensive. This is why you don't see small shops doing popular shows.

The re-copyrighting of classical music is a hugh cost to orchestras everywhere. In theory they perform mostly music that is out of copyright, but in practice every possible source of the sheet music is copyrighted and must be paid for. By the performance. It means that in many cases modern music is cheaper - the fad for "orchestral rearrangements of pop music" was partly driven by realising that even paying the old gods of rock their royalty rates was cheaper that paying for Beethoven. If you could get away with some local artist instead of Mick Jagger or Pink Floyd the composer cut became essentially irrelevant.

IIRC the local opera company budgets more than $500,000 a year for music for their 6-8 productions. That's one popular classic and the rest much lesser-known ones.

265:
In theory they perform mostly music that is out of copyright, but in practice every possible source of the sheet music is copyrighted and must be paid for. By the performance.

How does that work? I understand re-copyrighting a new performance, but how can the music sheets be copyright? Surely that's the work of the original composer and well into public domain.

266:

I think the simple answer is that we get Chinese style intellectual property rights, where copying is seen as a compliment, and intellectual property is protected fiercely. A classic example is where martial artists teach everyone "outside the family" useless techniques.

This already happens in the fashion industry, because you can't copyright or patent a dress. I think there would be a lot of churn, but not necessarily much progress, because innovation would be mere change for change's sake (to get a momentary, apparent edge on competitors) rather than change for improvement's sake.

My personal feeling is that IP is broken, but getting rid of it is worse. The problem here is binary thinking (either have it or don't) rather than trying to find some useful solution (or as HL Mencken put it, "For every complex problem, there's an answer that's simple, obvious, and wrong."). Personally, I don't mind being part of a community that helps guard the things I value (such as my writing). What I do mind are people attempting to game that system so that it doesn't actually protect the things I value.

267:

but in practice every possible source of the sheet music is copyrighted and must be paid for.

I don't understand. Are you saying that the classics, e.g. Beethoven, are somehow copyrighted? How is that done?

268:

Oh, there certainly are better possible reforms than flat out "get rid of it". However, given the way IP is actually getting used, the resistance to such reforms would be quite fierce. So I suspect that a "Reform by scorced earth" is quite likely to be what eventually happens as opposition to the existing system gets increasingly radicalized by the lack of any success from more modest reform efforts, and continuing abuse. Basically, by the time the "Something must change" crowd gets sufficient clout that something actually changes, it is not going to be in any mood for compromise.

269:

As noted above, we can do a scorched-earth IP approach by simply adopting what China does now. I'm not sure this is a good idea...

270:

A challenge to content producers out there reading (and you know who you are):

On an earlier thread on this site I posed the idea that authors generate the vast bulk of the economic benefits from their works within a short period - probably 3-5 years from first publication. That's based on some very ancedodal evidence but seems to be holding up so far (though Charlie is arguing his backlist is perhaps one of the exceptions by now).

From a "compensate the writer / author / musician / etc" standpoint then, any copyright term past 5ish years seems to be a moot point (again, exact length subject to further statistical evidence etc etc).

I proposed shortening copyright to something like those 4-5 years.

So the challenge to content producers making money off this stuff - spreadsheet it, if you can, on what your returns were over what time period, and give us some more data.

Bonus points if you know how to do a time-value-of-money calculation and can present both raw dollar/pound/franc/yen/renminbi numbers and a present-value calculation back to the publication date.

I bet - can't prove yet, but bet - that if this actually gets calculated, you'll agree, and then you all will get behind the soon to be written up counter-copyright-infinity rollback act: "LIPS Act" - Limit Intellectual Property Span, aka 5 and out.

Come on, it's only... Well, it could be all day digging up the numbers, so I don't want to shortchange anyone's level of effort. But it's everyone's future at stake. So participation encouraged.

271:

#218, 219, 231 and 244:-

Firstly, I'd agree that the only actual "use" of a 16x9 VDU is watching widescreen video! Personally, not liking to sit with my nose against the screen to watch video, I tend to use a Tv set rather than a computer for this anyway.

Secondly, I'd also agree that the paradigm in Office 2010 is even more broken than I'd said. You've mostly identified reasons why this is so.

Thirdly, I meant that a lot of the controls have been moved from one menu/toolbar (sorry, a 'ribbon' is a strip of fabric) to another, not that the controls are placed in a different random order each time you run the program.

Finally, at least for now, some of us aren't allowed to use freeware at work! :-(

272:

There is IMSLP (http://imslpforums.org/) which has an enormous library of PDFs of scans of known-to-be-out-of-copyright editions of works by long-dead composers.

New editions of the works (fixing mistakes, transcribing into a different music-representation system, fixing the complaint that the second bassoon part has an impossible page-turn in the middle of the allegro and that the trombones are cued for an important entry by an inaudible twiddle in a sequence of similarly-inaudible twiddles in the first flute part) essentially get a new copyright from the date of publication.

But converting PDFs to something musicians can play from is not completely trivial: A3 printing and stapling, you really need a properly-bound score for the conductor since he turns pages quickly enough to tear them out of spiral binding, and you waste a lot of time at rehearsals discovering that rehearsal mark H is in a different place on the french horn and the viola parts.

Also, quite often conductors will insist that what they want to play is Vaughan Williams or Sibelius, who are in copyright, and so often orchestras will end up renting sets of parts. And for the amateur orchestra I'm in, that's a comparable cost to hiring the venue for the performance!

273:

You can't copyright the instruction set "instrument 1 plays these notes in this order, instument 2 remains silent for that time, then goes 'crash'..." directly, but you can copyright the individual details of the design of the sheets of paper that the instruction set are recorded on.

You're not paying for the right to use the instructions, but for the media on which the instructions are written.

274:

>> In the USA it's very rare to see a start-up company founded by anyone over the age of 35; family and health pressures are a huge deterrent against striking out in a new venture without employer-provided group health insurance. (In the UK, start-up founders are frequently older or middle-aged, because a socialised healthcare system removes this major barrier to entrepreneurial ventures.)

I recently read something quite different about the U.S. - do you have any official statistics on people starting their own business?

275:

Your supposition may be true for some authors, but I would expect it to be for those authors who are already very well known, and whose new books are then bought by the entire existing fan base.

Compare with, oh, George RR Martin. A Game of Thrones - the first episode of A Story of Ice and Fire - was published in 1996. It was moderately successful, but he wasn't a Pratchett. But he's grown his fan base over the years, and when his latest book came out, the previous ones - all the way back to Game of Thrones - were on sale in the bookshops. And people were buying them.

Part of that is due to the influence of the TV series based on that first novel, which came out in the last few months.

Under a 5 year term, he would not have got a penny for that series. He'd have got royalties for the latest novel, but not for all the new sales of any of the previous volumes. And any concept of film rights would go out of the window. Given how long it takes to get anything actually filmed and released, few studios would bother paying for rights when said rights would be worthless to them.

So, any author who relies on 'back catalogue' for an appreciable proportion of their income (and that's pretty well every author I know who is trying to make a living from the profession) is going to lose a chunk of their income. For some, it will drop them below the poverty line. Others would have to give up entirely.

276:

From a "compensate the writer / author / musician / etc" standpoint then, any copyright term past 5ish years seems to be a moot point (again, exact length subject to further statistical evidence etc etc).

I proposed shortening copyright to something like those 4-5 years.

Actually ...

My back-list contains work published up to 9 years ago ("Singularity Sky" came out in 2003). All of my novels are still in print and paying significant royalties, having earned out their advances (except for those published in 2010-11). "Singularity Sky" still pays me a noticeable chunk of money -- in excess of $1000 per year.

So 4-5 years is way too short for a front-list author. Going by discussions with midlist authors held elsewhere, when they get their publishers to revert the rights to books that came out anything from 4-5 years ago to 20 years ago and which are stagnating, they can generate significant revenue (up to $2000/book in the first year) simply be releasing them as ebooks for $2.99 (which seems to be becoming the price point for that kind of re-issue). These residuals therefore amount to a good chunk of pension income for folks hitting their sixties.

If we shorten copyright on books to, say, 5 years then we run into lots of fun whackiness. For example, when Disney tried to produce a film based on Terry Pratchett's "Mort" -- work on the script didn't even start until five years after publication. In our universe, Terry spiked the film because Disney were basically going to gut Diskworld. In 5-year-copyright world, Disney said FU, gutted Diskworld, and made the film without paying Terry a bent cent. If you look at book to film conversions, it usually takes a minimum of 2-3 years for the conversion to happen, even if the book is a major international bestseller on first publication. As it is, the recent film of Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" wouldn't have owed his estate any royalties whatsoever under a 5-year regime (first publication was 2005; first English publication 2008: delay film until 2013 = PROFIT).

TL;DR: Residuals are worth not-insignificant amounts of money, and shortening copyright terms too far plays into the hands of large corporations rather than creators or the public interest.

277:

All the propaganda flying around today is making me cranky so I'd just like to make a simple point.

YOU CAN GIVE YOUR OWN WORK AWAY. THIS DOES NOT GIVE YOU MORAL AUTHORITY TO DEMAND OTHERS DO THE SAME.

Randall Munroe has his anti sopa page stating that "if people hadn't been able to share his comics" he wouldn't be where he is. Well Randall, who would've stopped them except you?

If someone feels a 5 year copyright limit is right and proper, then nothing is stopping him from declaring his or her works public domain after 5 years. By all means, start a club!

As for sheet music, someone needs to introduce the music community to open source and CC publishing, surely if people can write open operating systems a large community can produce free versions of classical music sheets.

278:

Going by discussions on YCombinator. This may be specific to the tech sector -- I can certainly see older start-up founders in areas that change more slowly, or moving from their previous employment into a consultancy role. But in general the health insurance point stands.

279:

Amazing stuff - thanks!

280:

Disagree --- Agatha Christie's family is probably still raking in vast sums of royalties, Isaac Asimov's Estate too probably.

281:

There are also different 'arrangements'. Arrangements vary considerably and some pieces are probably more closely associated with a particular arrangement - mostly because of which types of instruments usually play these pieces (horns/marching band vs. orchestral vs. soloist) -- than with the original composer's sheet music.

282:

Pre Peter Jackson, JRRT's Gt Grandchildren were getting about £20_000 each IIRC.

283:

I can't comment about artists I work with (NDA) but there are many musicians who made hardly any money when their work came out in the 60's and early 70's, but after decades of barely getting by finally had a decent living in the last few years - the most obvious cases are the folk revival. Vashti Bunyan(*) and the late Davy Graham, who both had a very tough time, were in their sixties before they finally got a steady income. Davy sadly passed away just as the money started coming in. If you can't afford to heat your (rented) house, it's little consolation to be regarded as one of the world's greatest musicians.

(*)I'm not too keen on the Sqeaky Voiced One, but she's a nice person who got a bum deal.

284:

Attitudes towards emotions, definitions of 'self' - a few ideas ...

Scenario 1: At present the only drugs (that I'm aware of) used for crowd control are physically noxious (pepper spray and tear gas).

Scenario 2: There's a drug available for PTSD that dampens the memories and associated negative emotions connected to the PTSD inducing event. 'Rationally', you'd think that PTSD sufferers would jump at this: they're not because despite the misery of PTSD, some are more afraid of losing who they are/have become.

Scenario 3:
A lot of sci-fi/entertainment scenarios use situations intended to evoke emotional as well as intellectual responses from readers. I suggest that this scenario may become part of the future sci-fi publishing (or movie-viewing):

Instructions to reader/viewer:
For optimal enjoyment of this work, the author recommends that adults take pill 'A' (horror/belief) while children 12 and under, take pill 'B' (wonder/disbelief).


Questions:

Are we afraid that 'who we are' is actually 'what we emotionally respond to' and not 'what we think'. (Is this widely held yet unvoiced belief what's preventing the weaponization of biochemical emotion-control? Is it more ethical to kill a human being outright than to alter his/her emotional state?)

If you could get the same type of reliable, scientific profile of your emotional health status as for your 'medical' - would you? Why/why not?

Is media censorship more concerned with controlling content that is known to elicit specific emotional responses, than a suppression of intellectual (emotionally-neutral) content?

The internet esp. social networks such as Facebook are changing our willingness to be openly emotionally even though we still don't really understand what emotions are. Long-terms, is this healthy for a society?

285:

Charlie, in the US, many entrepreneurial types have health insurance through their spouse. It's actually a pretty common pattern whenever one spouse does something risky career wise.

286:

There have been quite a few studies showing this recently that the average age of an entrepreneur is lower in the US than the rest of the world.

Speaking from anecdotal experience, I wouldn't be doing my startup if my wife didn't have decent medical insurance.

287:

Thus reinforcing marriage - it seems to me, albeit with my privileged position in the UK, that in the USA marriage is important simply because it improves the survival chances of the individual, and thus it becomes a desperate attempt at survival by the people involved rather than a relationship freely entered into by both parties.
Fortunatley we aren't that regressive in the UK, yet, although I'm sure the condems will find a way to turn the clock back somehow.

288:

Alex Tolley said: "In the US the "pro-choice" ideal is to allow abortion (however distasteful) right up until birth."

I think your first step into the dangerous ground was right into a pit.

US states which have allowed abortion have historically restricted it to medically necessary purposes in the last three months of pregnancy. The "pro-choice" ideal does not go right up until birth. Individuals who think abortions should be legal are also quite likely to support policies to reduce their number.

By contrast "pro-life" individuals seem very likely to oppose policies that are known to or seem very likely to reduce the abortion rate like contraception, sex education, medical support for expectant mothers, economic support for poor children, paid parental leave, etc. Basically the whole right wing anti-family anti-child package which they vote in very strong support for.

Helps to explain why the bible-belt is also the gonorrhea belt and the teen-pregnancy belt.

289:

A couple of things off the topic of the last posts...

1.) In a future gerontocracy, the young will have one (big? or small?) advantage over the old -- the willingness to take risks. Courage. Would this lead to the young getting involved in dangerous sports, or lead to outer space to be a safety valve for risk taking young, or to armed revolts against the old (here and there...) Hard to say.

2.) Another trend -- googlization, or cloudization -- personal knowledge being less important, since knowldege will be accessible from the cloud. Maybe the same with personal memories -- lifeboxes, etc. Could this lead to a confusion of personal identity in the long run, leading to a weakening of the concept of the individual?

3.) How about a new, "post-modern" attitide to knowledge, with modern science being mostly replaced by data mining algorithms that give models that work, and leading to inventions that work...but nobody knows how. The whole "big data" thing.

Sort of an end to human understanding, with "knowledge" unconsciously inhering in the whole system, or the cloud. This is kind of an big extension of how technical knowledge is today...broken up into the heads of thousands of specialists in different fields that only comprehend a little bit of the picture...the structure of modern technical knowledge inheres in our culture, not in any one person's head! This will take the process further, so there is no conscious understanding by anyone, but plenty of advanced technology and "science."

4.) A second religiousness -- with no need for real understanding to run the most sophisticated parts of the world, people will pick and choose their beliefs based on religious tradition, or maybe what feels good or is personally or spiritually satisfying. And the believers will out breed the non-believers...

5.) For geopolitical reasons (see Stratfor and his ilk), the US remaining as the top world power.

290:

Here's a story I used to tell, to explain what the problem was with conservation on an island. The island is currently the home of 3000-5000 people, most of whom live in one town, all of whom are dependent on biweekly food imports from the mainland. Previously, the native population of 3000-5000 (now all extinct) depended entirely on the island's limited resources to make a living. They did so for about 8000 years.

I have a PhD, and a few years ago, I was responsible for a big chunk of conservation activities on the island.

My own assessment was that my level of relevant ecological knowledge was comparable to that of a 12 year-old girl under the native regime. There were perhaps 5-10 people with my level of knowledge on the island, compared with 1000-2000 people with that level of knowledge for the preceding 8000 years.

Is there any question why the island was experiencing extinctions and ecological problems that it hadn't before? Going from a regime where everyone's an expert to one where everyone's clueless has profound consequences.

The point here is not that the natives were geniuses, it's about how people learn. If I screwed up, I lost my job. If they screwed up, they went hungry. Hunger is a better teacher than job satisfaction, any time, anywhere. The islanders learned because expertise mattered in a very real way to them every single day.

Because of my experience on the island, I fear an era where knowledge is in a cloud, rather than in peoples' heads. If it's unimportant for people to actually know anything to make a living, people are likely to a) be incredibly ignorant in real world terms, and b) think they're really smart. That's a bad combination in any number of ways. When the lights go out and their screens go dark, what will they do? It's far better to have knowledge in people's heads, rather than somewhere else.

291:

Scenario 2: There's a drug available for PTSD that dampens the memories and associated negative emotions connected to the PTSD inducing event.

Hm, instead of a drug, how about a hat? In a world where Necomimi brainwave controlled robot cat ears are on the market already, it doesn't seem unreasonable that soon a similar headband can watch for the brainwave patterns of a PTSD episode. At that point a trivial response can be triggered, such as a voice in the wearer's ear saying things like, "Dude, relax, [you're home from Afghanistan|your father's dead|you got the divorce]; it's okay now."

This appears possible, not terribly tricky, and while not a magic cure would help stop the feedback cycle of stress. Anything that distracts the brain at that point would work; automating the process lets that happen ubiquitously and quickly.

292:

One note on startups in the US: you see them rise after the age of 65, and the acquistion of socialized medicine and government support. Most infamous example: Col. Harlan Sanders. Closest to home: my paternal grandmother, who made and sold X-rated potholders to finance her trip to the Phillipines to see a faith healer. (you can't make this stuff up, our whole family reads like a William Gibson novel.)

293:

If it's unimportant for people to actually know anything to make a living, people are likely to a) be incredibly ignorant in real world terms, and b) think they're really smart. That's a bad combination in any number of ways.

I'm echoing that because it's a particularly good point that I didn't want lost to the teal deer. People are too often poor judges of their competence, particularly when they're bad at something.

Somehow I don't think this is something that we can invent a gadget to fix, either.

When the lights go out and their screens go dark, what will they do?

In my experience, at first nothing much, then they blame somebody nearby who isn't them. (Note for dealing with tech support: surprisingly many problems can be fixed by simple actions such as rebooting. Yelling at tech support is not a substitute for rebooting.) When the magic internet box won't internet, this may mean you the user need to take some corrective action.

294:

@287, bit far fetched honestly. Most people get married because they fall in love, and then they get married. That seems to hold true in the US and in the UK and in the western world in general.

Actually for men at least, there are a lot of studies that show that in the US you are financially better off staying single, health benefits not withstanding

295:

So, if 5 years isn't right, are 8, or 12?

Alternately, would something like 25 years of "commercial competitive protection" - prohibiting someone else from republishing for money or making a film, but not (after 5, or 8, or 12 years) from posting the text of the book online for free? A lead-in to public domain preserving some ability for authors to benefit?

Also - even if copyright runs out in 5 (or 8 or 12) years, that doesn't mean "your publisher" can get away with doing something underhanded with it. One can always write a publication contract which has the publisher on the hook for royalties after copyright protection ends, in exchange for initial rights to publish during the copyright period.

I'm not asserting I have the formula down exactly - but there's something fundamental wrong here, things have gone entirely the wrong direction, and throwing a wrench in and backing way up is a good place to start thinking about real solutions. Be creative. We're all collectively good at that.

296:

To go back to Sam's comment, I come from a middle of the US Catholic background, and the people I know really are sincere.  If you believe in souls (that's a different discussion), it's difficult to figure out where "ensoulment" happens.  At conception is the safest choice. 

It is quite possible to draw different conclusions.  I have a vague feeling that before people were clearer on reproductive biology, the catholic church may not have been so strong on abortion. A different point is if a fetus looks like a baby, it is one. As Charlie notes, viability may be another.  I think I remember that before the issue became so polarized, US surveys found most Americans were in rough agreement with the British: early abortion is probably ok, late, not so ok unless the mother is at risk. I once worked for a children's rights group that did a study on "Maternal Mortality in Africa." We discovered that in Africa because of the VERY high rate of infant mortality, many groups did not name their children (ie consider them persons) until about age 3, I think, because it was just too taxing to grieve for all the dead children.  

Greg @180 It just doesn't work to call those you disagree with "fuckwits." I've spent a long time working as a therapist and organizational/systems consultant - you can't help people who are "stuck" unless you really understand where they are coming from, especially if they think YOU really one who is stuck..

I think Charlie's work is interesting because it depicts good-guy people like Miriam who are convinced they have answers and it blows up in their face, the much more ambiguous "therapists" in Glasshouse, and the psychopath in Rule 34. Is he saveable in a sequel? Sometimes it's really hard to tell the good and bad guys apart.

297:

Because of my experience on the island, I fear an era where knowledge is in a cloud, rather than in peoples' heads. If it's unimportant for people to actually know anything to make a living, people are likely to a) be incredibly ignorant in real world terms, and b) think they're really smart. That's a bad combination in any number of ways. When the lights go out and their screens go dark, what will they do? It's far better to have knowledge in people's heads, rather than somewhere else.

Socrates was way ahead of you:

"But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories for this is the cure of forgetfulness and of folly. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, he who has the gift of invention is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance a paternal love of your own child has led you to say what is not the fact; for this invention of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. You have found a specific, not for memory but for reminiscence, and you give your disciples only the pretence of wisdom; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome, having the reputation of knowledge without the reality."

Every world that people actually live or lived in is or was a real world. Unless you live on an island 500 years ago, having the skills of a person living on an island 500 years ago doesn't make you especially better prepared for the real world today. Having only those traditional islander skills would put you at severe disadvantage relative to your modern peers. Someone with a skill that is valuable in parts of the real world of today, like a locomotive engineer or electrician, would likewise be ill suited for life on an island 500 years ago.

People naturally memorize what they do repeatedly and frequently, no special prodding needed. Who refers to a map every time they go from home to the grocery store? People don't remember what their ancestors knew not because books devalued the knowledge, but because its perceived importance dropped as the patterns of life changed. I'm sure this is old hat for you, but market economies have spread almost everywhere, displacing older systems, and a market economy does not provide incentives to do everything that people need done (like keeping an island providing ecosystem services to its inhabitants).

298:

scott-sanford's response at 293 is more than adequate here.

The specific point is that having a few experts around can be a massively inadequate solution. Right now, if our phone numbers, email addresses, and recipes are all online, then there's little use for us now, is there?

This isn't about keeping traditional skills, it's where you want to park knowledge. I'm a bigger fan of keeping knowledge close to where it's used, which means teaching and training people to the extent of their skills and interests, and turning them loose on to take care of their bits of the world.

The alternative is to try to claim ownership of all knowledge, lock it up in whatever way will generate a gain, and spread it through subordinate networks. This tends to lead to ignorant people dealing with the real world, and a few wealthy people holding onto key bits of the knowledge infrastructure.

We're seeing this problem with SOPA now, but it's equally prevalent in industrial agriculture, much of science, much bureaucracy (which after all consists of making rule-based systems for subordinates to follow) and so on.

Realize that I'm not anti-capitalist or anti-IP. What I see is a system that's dangerously inefficient and fragile to small shocks. An earthquake that would have been a fireside story to those primitive Indians causes billions in lost productivity, even deaths now. Putting everything on the cloud and trying to get knowledge out of people's heads only adds to this problem, without any visible gain for most people.

299:

I'm not sure that I understand you. Who has such a narrow role in society that they can be replaced by copies of their phone numbers, email addresses, and recipes, stored in the cloud or elsewhere?

I see complexity and interdependencies as regrettable but acceptable consequences of the drive to productive efficiency. No doubt there are counter-examples, but in the main we produce commodities much more efficiently than our ancestors did. To the extent that they overtaxed the Earth's resources less than we do, it was not due to superior efficiency or knowledge but due to their fewer numbers and their doing without. Steel, glass, paper, soap, bricks, cement -- all these things were produced centuries ago, with considerably less complexity, but also with much more consumption of human labor and natural resources per kilogram of product.

300:

I actually re-bought singularity sky as an e-book not too long ago, it and Iron Sunrise were a pretty good "post-singularity" premise - one which I thought you might complete in a trilogy. Have you outgrown that milieu?

In relation to SOPA (your other thread) would an end to modern ideas of copyright and IP contribute to a slow-down in technological growth? Is the "capitalist" model the only one for driving scientific/technological innovation? Of course the one party states/dictatorships (USSR/China) did/do have their own technological advancements - but it could be argued, that many of these were stolen from the west. Would there be an innovation imperative in a world where you couldn't own the idea or invest in an idea?

As other posters have said, China and India will probably be the countries that break the impasse on IP. I understand, for example that Microsoft have almost given up trying to sell real copies of Windows in China. "China sold more than 40 million PCs in 2009 and is on track to become the largest PC market, yet it accounts for less than one percent of Microsoft's revenue. (Asia, excluding Japan is only 3 percent.)" http://www.informationweek.com/news/software/operating_systems/225400063.

What impact would this have on your world building?

301:

There is a drug that blocks memory of events. The US Army uses it a lot to block stressful events. They must be taken soon after the event before it works its way into long term memory. And my VA hospital has so much PTSD it must not work that well as its used.
In most countries history is used to make most people what the leaders what them to be. That's true in America but not only America. Why do you think so many first year history students freak out so at history 101. What got them the grades to get into collage they find is wrong, and everybody above them knew it.

302:

Okay, fixed terms have the key problem of determining when the term starts. Take for example "The Atrocity Archives". It was originally serialised in Spectrum SF in 2002 and not published in book form until 2004. But the book version includes extra material. When does fixed-term copyright date from? Suppose we have a ten year term ... and in 2002 I go back and edit it up into a "Director's Cut" version with some extra material. Does the clock start ticking again?

The old US system relied on the author or publisher registering their copyright with an agency, and remembering to register an optional extension. The trouble with registries is that I might remember to file in the UK and USA, but what about the Malaysian registry? Or the Indian one? Or Burundi, which doesn't have a working registry due to lack of government money but has plenty of e-book vendors (possibly because of the lack of a registry, which you're still required to notify in order to be covered by copyright)?

Pinning copyright duration to the owner's date of death at least has the advantage of a universal and simple rule for establishing whether an item is covered or not. Unfortunately it doesn't stop particularly popular works being re-copyrighted under odd circumstances -- 1984 is a particular case in point. (Out of copyright in some places, in until 2020 in others, in until 2049 in the USA thanks to a movie studio getting involved. The Orwell Estate is presumably not unhappy about the latter situation ...)

Fixed copyright terms have two problems, once you get past the registry problem. One is that we have no idea, setting out, what the useful commercial life of a property is going to be. The second problem is that it encourages predatory behaviour by commercial entities (who can scoop up, re-set and re-copyright works that are just out of copyright, and make money off them). The latter wasn't a big problem in the past, but I can guarantee it will be a huge headache if we were to somehow switch to fixed terms in future, thanks to the internet and automated content scrapers. (If you go on Amazon, you'll find tons of happy fun books selling for $50-500 that are basically robot-compiled collections of Wikipedia entries and web content on the subject of a given keyword.)

My preferred solution -- putting a wrapper around "copyright" by way of a compulsory license on bandwidth and a non-profit disbursement mechanism to creators based on PLR, so that anyone consuming media via a channel that had paid the fixed license fee would be immunized against copyright lawsuits -- was the big problem that it effectively gives legislators the right to cap remuneration for creators. (How bad that can be is going to feature in my next blog entry, on PLR in the UK.) I gather it was seriously proposed in the UK and shot down in 2004, and is unlikely to be revived.

Failing which, I'll settle for an international, online copyright registry with fixed terms of 20 years from registration plus an optional 20 year renewal, as long as the quid pro quo for the creators is the abolition of the right of non-human entities to hold copyright in anything. In other words, copyright is solely an attribute of human creators and cannot be asserted by a corporation or any kind of non-human entity. Work-for-hire would be abolished, large enterprises such as software or movies or TV series would have to have a share mechanism for assigning copyright among the staff employed to create them, and Disney would have the corporate equivalent of a stroke.

(And note that I'm going for 20+20 rather than the old 14+14. We live longer these days.)

303:

If you believe in souls (that's a different discussion), it's difficult to figure out where "ensoulment" happens. At conception is the safest choice.

Ahem.

If you go back to the bible it's very specific on the subject. As any Orthodox Rabbi will tell you: the soul enters the child with its first breath. It's there in black and white in Genesis 2:7.

Obviously this meant at birth in ancient times. The ability to incubate premature neonates today changes things somewhat, but as the foetus hasn't developed functioning lungs before 23-24 weeks, that suggests that a pre-23 week foetus can't have a soul.

The Pope who issued the revisionist fatwah claiming that the soul entered at conception was basically committing heresy.

304:

What is this thing called...kiss?

I can haz Luv or cheezburgur...hmmm...hmmmm

Is many cheezburgur? Three timez a day freshhh from the seaaah?

305:

"...the soul enters the child with its first breath. It's there in black and white in Genesis 2:7."

Sheesh. Right. That's what I was trying to remember when I said I didn't think the Catholic Church always chose conception as the ensoulment point.

306:

It's not like the various churches don't have form at cherry-picking from their "holy scriptures". I'm impressed at the double-think certain denominations have to undergo to reconcile Mary's alleged perpetual virginity with the clear and multiple mentions in various New testament books, including two of the gospels, of Christ's siblings.

307:

"The Pope who issued the revisionist fatwah claiming that the soul entered at conception was basically committing heresy."

By definition, a Pope is the only member of the Roman Catholic Church who cannot commit heresy. Also, Catholic doctrine is constantly being revised/rewritten. The last major revision followed Vatican II - see url and excerpt below.


http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html


III. The Reform of the Sacred Liturgy

21. In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it.

In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community.

Wherefore the sacred Council establishes the following general norms:


===

Not sure whether it's still true but 'good Catholics' don't own/read Bibles but instead are directed to rely upon their Church (parish priest and catechism books) for official interpretations of the Bible. 'Good Catholics' own prayer missals instead.

308:

Whoa, that ban on corporate entities holding copyright would create insane complications for my employer, the Open University. Course material is multi-media and multi-edited as well as multi-authored: from the course I'm designing right now, I can think off-hand of 20 people who would need shares before I even start to think about the audio-visual content. One of them is already dead.

Bandwidth licensing does allow the state to cap creators' earnings . . . but that can be managed through an arms' length trust. We used to have rent tribunals and wages councils in various industries (the farm one survived well into the 1980s, IIRC). We have Offwat, Offcom and Offgen . . . OK, bad examples. Well, we have the BBC Trust and the Licence Fee.

309:

Oops - someone just told me that the Mass was changed again on Nov. 27 2011. Not sure where the Vatican posts its positions on non-liturgical topics.

310:

The answer is: a lot of people can be replaced by machines. A lot of people have been replaced by machines.

While this is good for society as a whole, it's not necessarily good for people. If a machine has more knowledge than you do, then you're not useful in a knowledge-based economy now, are you?

The Costa Concordia cruise ship crash is a small example of this type of problem. When the ship crashed, they hadn't held a disaster drill yet, so passengers didn't know where to go or what to do. The disaster prep information was all with the crew and the captain. The captain went AWOL, thus delaying the hierarchical process of getting people off the boat (meaning the captain gives the orders, the crew follows them, and it all breaks down if no one knows what they're supposed to be doing). If they'd been more than a boat-length offshore, the death toll would have been enormous.

I saw something similar recently during a power outage. I'd prepared, and I even had an extra bag of candles. That was good, because some of our neighbors didn't even have candles or a flashlight, let alone food outside their refrigerators. If it had been a serious emergency, those comfortable people would have become disaster victims, simply through their own lack of preparedness and absolute dependence on outside supply-lines for every essential.

We do the same thing with our agriculture, where the knowledge is locked away in companies like Monsanto, and industrial farmers buy single-use crops, single-use pesticides, and operating instructions. There's even been a movement to get anyone smart out of agriculture and into Monsanto. The result? Industrial agriculture as we see it, which has huge volume but is unsustainable, not terribly nutritious, and pays all but the biggest farmers

Organic agriculture and small-scale farming really work when the farmer is the smartest one in the loop. These farmers get their profits by really knowing their fields, buying the supplies they need, and carefully managing their land and crops, based on local, intimate knowledge that's in their heads, their computers, and their bookshelves. Unfortunately, subsidies and government regulations favor big-scale industrial agriculture.

Anything that takes knowledge away from where it's needed and ties it up elsewhere causes these types of problems. Things like cloud computing, screwed-up IP, and so on exacerbate the divide. If they're doing it for someone else's profit, that's even worse.

Does this make sense yet?

311:
While this is good for society as a whole, it's not necessarily good for people.

I'm not sure it's good for society either. As machines get more intelligent, and more of the processes of our infrastructure are automated, we're reaching a point where most people who manage the processes or set policy for them rely on the machines for their judgement. This works well as long as the machines are right in their decisions, or at least not far wrong. But when judgements are made based on faulty algorithms or lack of consideration of basic facts that weren't known or considered important by the programmers, then society can find itself out on the sharp end of a long branch of a fault tree with no good alternatives.

312:

I mostly agree with the thrust of what you're saying. Knowledge does good when it's internalized and acted on. That's as true now as it was 200 years ago.

It seems to me that certain kinds of simplicity are actually enabled by complexity: as a prominent non-technological example, people know how to make seeds sprout without advanced education or even literacy. This is because the cellular machinery is highly complex and does most of the work. I could imagine a pseudo-agricultural interaction between future machines and people: no one expert fully understands how a Lanthanide Cyber-Cactus works, but people can place them in promising locations, tend to their environs, and collect the rare earth magnets when they reach maturity.

313:

When my therapist was still alive he talked about a small sample sized survey he did where he asked about 30 or so WW2 generation men about their cultural values and found that there were instances of self identified heterosexual men who had experimented on each other sexually to figure out how the hell to do it before they married a woman and had pretty satisfactory heterosexual lives after matrimony- he started this research after one of his clients remarked "what is with you younger folk, hating gay people? We never had a problem with it. Hell, we tried it ourselves." It was a small sample size remember but it pretty much indicates that at the very least there are anomalies in the statement about age and conservatism.
Well that's why you said "generally" anyway so I guess what I said now is redundant. Whatever, more info for people to mull over and add to their worldview I guess.

314:

People are the society. If its not good for them what is it good for. The king? Goons with power?

315:

This is just too ironic. They're already experimenting with cactus to sort of do this.

Except that, being USDA, they think it's perfectly reasonable to grab genotypes of a weedy prickly pear (yes, it's cultivated too) from all over the western hemisphere and grow them experimentally in an area where they're a bit of a pest, rather than checking the nearby native prickly pears that are growing on many of California's noted diversity of weird soils.

Oh yes, and I found out recently that Los Angeles County has no plan in place to dispose of plants used in phytoremediation. They do, however, want to vastly increase the amount of greenwaste they take in for compost, to spread throughout the county.

Otherwise, Matt, I think we agree more than not. The (expletive deleted) "experts" keep messing things up, is all.

316:

Sparked off by Charlie's generation ship posts (and my own research into the history of controlled institutions), I've been thinking about the ways that we interact with each other, with technology, and with ecologies. I wonder if we're going to see a lot more interaction with technology along the lines of the way that we (used to?) interact with ecologies? In other words, we're not going to need to know how to conceptualise or design it, just how to operate it. Most of the time.

317:

That's already true of most of us. Even in technical jobs like real-time software engineering and design you'll often get away without needing to know how to calculate an execution speed for an action.

318:

Chris, you might be interested in reading a bit on permaculture, although the best book is a bit expensive. Note that while this is definitely a countercultural movement, the founder (Bill Mollison) is a trained ecologist, and a lot of very smart farmers are involved. Done right, permaculture is an excellent example of being clever with limited resources and making the plants and animals do most of the work.

For "pre-agricultural" practices, Kat Anderson's Tending the Wild is a useful reference. It shows how complex land management can be and still not be "agriculture" per se, and it also shows how pre-Contact California could support so many people without being a farming center.

For an honest comparison of different modern agricultural systems (from industrial to gathering), Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma is a good (and fun) place to start.

319:

> 1.) In a future gerontocracy, the
> young will have one (big? or small?)
> advantage over the old -- the
> willingness to take risks. Courage.

Perhaps. But you'll also have a bunch of people willing to trade a few more months of not-so-great existence for the opportunity to do something useful.

You're going to have millions of people with nothing left to lose, and not all of them will be senile, poor, or complacent. The pool of individuals is more than large enough to throw out multiple individuals ready, willing, and able to do... anything at all, basically.

320:

> Now, it's almost a cliche that the older people get, the more socially conservative/reactionary they become, relative to the baseline social beliefs of young adults. But right now it's hard to tell whether this is a consequence of slow neurodegenerative conditions or of social conditioning

Some research hot off the press: "Can an old dog learn (and want to experience) new tricks? Cognitive training increases openness to experience in older adults" http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/a0025918 Abstract:

> The present study investigated whether an intervention aimed to increase cognitive ability in older adults also changes the personality trait of openness to experience. Older adults completed a 16-week program in inductive reasoning training supplemented by weekly crossword and Sudoku puzzles. Changes in openness to experience were modeled across four assessments over 30 weeks using latent growth curve models. Results indicate that participants in the intervention condition increased in the trait of openness compared with a waitlist control group. The study is one of the first to demonstrate that personality traits can change through nonpsychopharmocological interventions.

From http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120118101528.htm

> Personality psychologists describe openness as one of five major personality traits. Studies suggest that the other four traits (agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and extraversion) operate independently of a person's cognitive abilities. But openness -- being flexible and creative, embracing new ideas and taking on challenging intellectual or cultural pursuits -- does appear to be correlated with cognitive abilities.
>
> The new study, published in the journal Psychology and Aging, gave older adults a series of pattern-recognition and problem-solving tasks and puzzles that they could perform at home. Participants ranged in age from 60 to 94 years and worked at their own pace, getting more challenging tasks each week when they came to the lab to return materials.
>
> "We wanted participants to feel challenged but not overwhelmed," said University of Illinois educational psychology and Beckman Institute professor Elizabeth Stine-Morrow, who led the research. "While we didn't explicitly test this, we suspect that the training program -- adapted in difficulty in sync with skill development -- was important in leading to increased openness. Growing confidence in their reasoning abilities possibly enabled greater enjoyment of intellectually challenging and creative endeavors."

Researchers tested the cognitive abilities and personality traits of 183 older adults, randomly assigned to either an experimental group who participated in a cognitive intervention or a control group who did not. They were tested a few weeks before the intervention and afterwards.
>
> At the end of the program, those who had engaged in the training and practice sessions saw improvement in their pattern-recognition and problem-solving skills, while those in the control group did not. And those who improved in these inductive reasoning skills also demonstrated a moderate but significant increase in openness.

It certainly sounds more socially acceptable than the *other* known mechanism for increasing Openness, psilocybin...

321:

In the original senses of conservative (conserving) and reactionary (reacting) this kind of makes sense.

If you're older, you've got more to lose, you've seen more stupidly lost, so you have a greater understanding and desire to conserve things.

Similarly, you may tend to wait and react, rather than act, in part because you may be a bit slower, and in part because you're probably a lot wiser. Your years of being the risk-taking human minesweeper are long over.

Problem is, the political labels don't really fit these perceptions. Environmentalists can be extraordinarily conservationist conservative. Many of them used to be republicans in the US until the Neo-Cons took over. Now they're independent or democrat. As an activist, I tend to "react" simply because my job is to try and reinject sense into badly conceived project. That makes me...politically liberal? Yeah.

The advantage of the young is that they haven't seen the horrors life can pitch at them. The advantage of the old is that they have.

322:

The ship on which I embarked yesterday evening did not sail until after we'd had safety briefing sessions in three different languages*. Including how to don the thermal suits - we shall be sailing in areas where expected survival times in the water are measured in minutes. I'm pleasantly surprised by this, seeing as the CC briefings were due to be later the evening that it actually crashed, but I can see this becoming the rule.

*English, German and Norwegian. This is the Norwegian Coastal Express, connecting the coastal communities, and we're stopping several times a day to pick up and drop off passengers. I'm not sure how all the short distance travellers are briefed.

323:

Becoming the rule? Most of the ferries I've ridden on have the safety briefing before they leave the harbor, just as planes do the safety briefing before the plane leaves the ground. Is that just the US? I was shocked by the Costa Concordia thinking it was okay to wait 24 hours.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy your cruise. I'll admit I don't get sailing the fjords in January, but then again, I prefer warmer climes. Looking for narwhals?

324:

This national deficit is new and man made. History shows cutting back has never ever worked. But it only hurts the non rich. The Keynesian Economy worked right up to the time when OLPEC jumped up oil prices. The R/W Hoover Ecomy has never worked. The Keynesian Economy would work better than what we are doing . Never mind what what the R/W wants to do next.
There is no way cutting the budget can pay for tax cuts forever. Simple math will show the deficit can not be fixed that way. Neo-con Republicans have never been able to use simple math. If they could we would not be in this tar pit. Now we have seen that. Unless they love the deficit, the one that keeps the government to poor to make the rich play by the rules.

325:

Umm, most deficits are manmade, are they not?

Seriously, though, the bigger issue is that politicians of all stripes tend to use ink much as an octopus does: for camouflage while they get away with (or from) something.

In this case, I'd suggest looking at the social structure that would result if your right wing economic policies were truly put in place. Let's see, a few wealthy landowners, a bunch of poorly educated whitefolk living on the margins, feuding with the equals, polite to their superiors, and bigoted to everyone else, with minorities very definitely "knowing" that their place is to be the inferior servants of their "betters"...

Actually, I'm probably projecting a bit too much, but when southern politicians like Paul, Gingrich, and Perry start spouting something that sounds positively Antebellum, while Romney and Cain seem to go for the Robber Baron shtick, what can I say?

Actually what I can say is that most of my friends are recent immigrants and people of a kaleidoscope of ethnic origins. I've gotten past getting angry and disgusted with their rhetoric, and now I'm more interested in helping them have long, miserable, and ineffectual lives, preferably in some system that knows them as a number rather than a name.

326:

Thanks for the heads-up heteromeles. I already subscribe to the UK magazine, _Permaculture_, and find its mixture of hard-headed eco-agriculture, lifestyle nonsense, and sheer offpissing woo, um, interesting. I will stick those books on THe List.

327:

The last commercial ferry I sailed on had no safety briefings at all, in any languages. The crew might be forgiven for this since the distance travelled was less than 200 metres (Onomichi in Japan, crossing from the Honshu mainland to the island of Mukaishima just across the strait).

328:

Yeah, permaculture enthusiasts can certainly be annoying. It's yet another example of a set of pretty good ideas smothered by a lot of woo (good word, that). So far as I've seen, my local "permaculturists" are mostly interested in mapping where people's fruit trees overhang the sidewalk, so they can pick free fruit legally. Not quite what I'm interested in, which is clued-in long term land management.

I think the issue of woo-suckers is a common problem with anything that sounds cool and actually takes learning and a lot of experience to make work properly. Democracy might fall into this category, actually.

329:

"most deficits are man made," But this is for a purpose. Starving that big governmental so it can't rule the rich. Or tax them.

330:

Yup it just changed. More or less back to the way it was before Vatican II, except the language isn't latin.

Charlie @303 "Ahem":
Now that I really look at Genesis 2.7, I can see how before anyone knew about the "facts" of reproduction, ensoulment at birth makes sense. Maybe now for a Biblical literalist.

But they don't think this at all. I'll have to send a link to one of my evangelical, "every word is true" friends to get his take on this. And now that wikipedia is back up, I find that the Catholic church has debated this for a long time, long before science established all the details http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_and_abortion
As Alistair @188 points out, this stuff is not very clear. Twins?

To go back to my original point, there are billions of "fuckwits" who want clear guidelines, no matter if the message comes from texts, from interpretation of them by the Pope, (or whoever) or from god inspiring directly.

If you're going to try to predict the future, these people must be taken into account whether you agree with them or not. I just reread Snow Crash. Makes for interesting plots as well.

331:

My superficial impression of the more regular conservationists, the people who protest against pollution, extinction of rare species, etc is that they are primarily young Westerners. Will caring for the environment spread around the world? Will an aging population still care about owls and tigers?

But the overwhelming majority of the membership of the traditional conservationists - the members of things like the RSPB - are middle-aged and up.

Looking at wildlife (bird-watching is the well-known traditional version, but photo-safaris come from the same place) is very much a pastime of the middle-aged and elderly, not of the (especially urban) young.

And the organisations that they pay money to are broader environmentalists because they need to be (if you want to have migratory birds in your reserve for people to pay to look at, then you need to make sure that the other end of their migration path is still an environment they can live in).

332:

I don't know what programs are currently popular it has been at least 15 years since I taught a math class. Getting the spacial parts of the brain engaged is always important though, making things tactile helps... If I were to do my own curriculum I would probably follow basic arithmetic and geometry with logic, it's the most useful of the mathematical disciplines, essential for programming and feeds into the high studies nicely.

YMMV. I have a BS in math -- specialized in algebra and group theory, unfortunately forgot almost all of it :) -- but I have terrible spacial imagination, and always hated geometry. In fact, when I found out that geometry can be done algebraically was one of the happiest days in my schooling.

333:

What if IP dies, entirely, as a legal paradigm?... Books: Okay, this is one sector that gets hit hard. - It is possible for an author to earn income musician style with live preformance - lectures, readings. But.. Authors are not musicians or actors. You become a musician because you want to get up in front of a crowd and shine, so if that is what you must do to get paid, it is no hardship. For someone who finds sitting largely alone for months writing fulfilling, the same requirement is not typically going to come naturally, so I think this largely relegates creative writing to "hobby". Which doesnt stop literature, mind. Its going to be a hobby with a lot of practitioners.

There is a known although rarely-used way for a fiction author to get paid even without IP: Pay before you read. Post on the web first chapter of your book and a button for PayPal donations. Post second chapter after you collected $10,000. Third chapter -- same thing. Adjust the price up and down if needed -- which is likely to reflect how much readers like you.

334:

There's a reason why this mechanism is so rare: it's because it's so bad, for both writer and reader.

The only case I know where there's anything similar to this as a common product is the part work, where a serial issue slowly builds to a complete work. However, whereas lots of people may buy the (discounted) first issue of "Expert Knitting with Yak Wool", very few stick the course. The reader, as often as not, does not get a complete work; the writer, as often as not, doesn't get paid enough for it to be economic to finish it.

On the whole, I prefer, and I think others do too, the Kickstarter approach, where people pay up front, but for the whole opus in question, and it gets written if (and only if) enough come in on it.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on January 14, 2012 4:46 PM.

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