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World building 404: The unknown unknowns

In earlier think-pieces I discussed a very normative, predictable, conservative (in the sense of unadventurous) version of the likely shape of the next century.

Of course, it's not going to be like that.

I have, in general, very little time for Donald Rumsfeld; but he's very occasionally right about something, and in February 2002, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, he made a rather remarkable speech for a contemporary politician; one in which he attempted to distinguish between categories of uncertainty:

[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — there are things we do not know we don't know.
Contorted though his language might be, that's a pretty good guide to the future.

Here's my recipe for building a near-future world (in the context of writing an SF novel).

Start with a horizon 10 years out:

85% known knowns

10% known unknowns

5% unknown unknowns

For every additional decade, knock 7% off the "known knowns" column and add 5% to "known unknowns" and 2% to "unknown unknowns". Very approximately. Warning: warranty expires when "known knowns" drops below 67%, i.e. around 2052 if we do this exercise right now (in 2012).

The devil, of course, is in the details.

Let's take a simple example: cellphones. We know what the state of the art is right now. We also know roughly what ARM and Intel are planning for the next 2-3 years. We know that mature segments of the consumer electronics market tend to split between a major incumbent with 80%, a minor incumbent with 10-15%, and a bunch of also-rans. (This happens in other market sectors. For many years the automobile sector in the USA split roughly 80:15 between regular cars and pick-up trucks. It's now been disrupted with the arrival of SUVs, blurring the car/pick-up boundary, but we're in a time of change anyway as electronics also impact automobiles.) We can expect smartphones to therefore settle into an 80/15/5 split over the next decade, with a major incumbent (say, Android—on present form), a minor "different" incumbent (iOS—although the place I've assigned to Android may end up with Apple, and vice versa), and also-rans. Which incumbent ends up where is therefore a known unknown.

The "unknown unknown" for phones over the next decade is that a Carrington event wipes out all our high-tech infrastructure and we starve, or maybe a sudden breakthrough gives us pseudo-instantaneous quantum entanglement instead of radio, or Windows 9 Mobile takes the world by rapturous storm and the Apple Taliban ditch their iphones and switch to Windows with shrieks of glee.

(I ought to add a fourth category of unknown called the "implausible unknown" — developments not compatible with the laws of nature as currently understood, or overturning major scientific paradigms. Tachyons, alien invaders, or telepathy all fall into this basket, and if you dumpster-dive it for ideas in fiction you are, at best, writing science fantasy.)

Again, two other "unknown unknowns" bit SF authors in previous decades. Prior to 1980 the portrayal of personal computing devices in SF was noticeable by its absence. There were a couple of books and stories that had them, but by and large they were invisible. On the other hand, prior to 1990 virtually all SF set in the near to distant future presupposed that manned space travel was going to be relatively easy and commonplace: a picture that doesn't look anything like as inevitable today.

Two important aspects of the unknown/known unknowns approach are that the further into the future we peer, the more the unknown unknowns stack up; and also, as new evidence comes to light, stuff may need to be shuffled between columns.

The first point should be obvious. To anyone writing an SF novel prior to 1987, it seemed perfectly obvious that the USSR was stable in the medium to long term. Boy did we get sandbagged by that one! And now, with 20/20 hindsight, the signs are obvious that dictatorial systems in general are unstable once the dictators are not hereditary monarchs with an incentive to pass a working system on to their children and a broad base of popular support. During the 1990s and early 00s, with very little fuss outside the continent in question, South America transformed from a continent dominated by quasi-fascist dictatorships to an almost complete sweep of democracies. In 2011, the Arab world erupted in democracy demonstrations and revolutions. The short-term process of the Arab Spring is still playing out: but one long-term consequence is clear—any diplomat who bases their foreign policy assumption on the "known known" that "the Arab street doesn't care about democracy" is sticking their head in the sand.

So in consequence of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the USSR, the South American transition, and the Arab Spring, I think it's reasonable to move "democratic revolutions in dictatorships" from the unknown-unknown column (where it resided in 1984) to the known-unknown column (we know it's going to happen; the only questions are where and when).

Another principle of near-future world-building is that human civilizations are fractal. That is: all human cultures have in common the fact that they are organizations of humans. In the absence of a major change in the nature of humanity (which falls under the heading of "unknown unknowns"— we can't rule out strongly superhuman AI or intelligence augmentation, but we don't know when it's going to happen or even if it is going to happen) we have the same Lego bricks to build civilizations with, so certain design patterns keep recurring. Moreover, the bricks decay (they die of old age; and their bureaucratic institutions—an attempt to build patterns that outlive the decay of individual bricks—succumb to capture by special interests or outlive their societal context). Knowledge is lost, and in the absence of knowledge gained by personal experience, the same damn mistakes keep being repeated over a time scale approximating a human lifespan.

We live longer these days, but I would feel fairly confident, in an SF novel that posits no breakthroughs in intelligence amplification or longevity, and no huge rupture in the way we allocate resources, of predicting some sort of major economic collapse/disruption circa 2090-2110. Because those of us who lived through and understood the ongoing crisis since 2008 will be dead of old age by then, and bright young things who've never even heard of the Great Depression, much less the Long Depression of 1873-96, will assume nothing like the horror of 2007-2015 can happen to them. Recurrent depressions are a known-unknown corollary of industrial capitalism. An unknown-unknown would be a singularity event in which vastly intelligent, benevolent entities give us everything we want for the asking, or in which we live 200-600 years (so those of us who remember the last depression are in a position to prevent the next one), or someone comes up with a virus that modifies the way we think, making New Soviet Man a reality. Or something else that breaks the self-similar patterning of industrial capitalism so that the Penrose tiles human societies are built from are replaced by new patterns.

So, to summarize: we have a complex mess of human societies that are, nevertheless, full of recurring non-identical variations on a core theme, because the common object the societies are all built out of are human beings. Barring changes in the nature of human beings, we can therefore expect chunks of history to be built out of the same components. We also have a future where, the further out we probe, the more unknown unknowns we run into; but in the short term, the main factors that shape what the world looks like are familiar. We can expect the world of 2022 to look similar to the world of 2012, insofar as many of the same cars will still be on the roads, fashion continues to iterate around a bunch of attractor themes scattered over the past century, many of today's large corporations will still exist (although some will have collapsed), and so on. There will be some surprises (maybe there'll be a hotel in space, or a Chinese Moon base) but overall it will be recognizable. But by the time we push the boat out to 2032, the unknown-unknowns will be building up. Signs of climate stress and overpopulation will be more visible, we may have driverless cars, there may be major disruptive effects arising from the development of direct brain interfaces or something else that today is a research and development curiosity. And by 2052, the unknown unknowns will have driven the world to be a very different place from anything I can predict today.

428 Comments

1:

In previous posts on the subject of 'old city-folk who are afraid of the sky' you have posited that the civilisation of tomorrow will be more conservative. Also, there was talk that we have plucked all the 'low lying fruit' and that future technological breakthroughs are likely to be both less frequent and less disruptive than those of today.
At what point, if at all possible, does technological momentum fails to overcome social inertia?
We have numerous examples of this happening locally, but how likely is a global stagnation (or even regression) ?

2:

At what point, if at all possible, does technological momentum fails to overcome social inertia?

Insufficient data.

(We've never undergone a technological acceleration like the 1800-2000 period before.)

What I will note is that old folk discount the future -- they're not going to live in it -- and are more afraid of short-term threats -- they have more investments, and a diminished capability to go back to work if the stock market wipes out their pensions. So we may see more application of the precautionary principle to new developments.

3:

@1+2 (in someone pips 3rd place before this posts) there's also potential that extravagant science projects become rare things. Older, conservative politicians (and their minister of truth spin doctor) are less likely to shell out tens of billions to build an even bigger particle accelerator when they could use that money to solve short term problems and solidify the status quo. This is exacerbated by the cost of grand projects getting bigger and bigger.

4:

Another unknown-unknown. I'm not so confident about the march of history sending dictatorships to democracies. Part of the problem is that Machiavelli wrote a little book about how dictators could capture democracies, and I don't think that's going to change.

What has changed is Gene Sharp and his Albert Einstein Institution, which has been freely distributing little books like From Dictatorship to Democracy. This was the playbook in Serbia and for the Arab Spring. It's not the only book he produces, either. I haven't been in the Occupy tents, but I wouldn't be surprised if the organizers have read it too.

The fascinating thing about Gene Sharp's work is that he's teaching strategic non-violent conflict. He probably deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, but I doubt he's going to get one, because his ideas are every bit as game-changing as those of Machiavelli. That's got to scare people in power.

My black swan guess is that we're going to see both the ideas of Machiavelli and Sharp develop massively over the coming decades, as dictators and plutocrats subvert democracies and claim power, while democratic activists organize to take power back.

Think of this as the new Great Game. Instead of all sides playing by the Machiavelli playbook, we've now got two equally powerful playbooks, plus their unholy hybrids. We're starting to advance non-violence well past Gandhi, and I suspect that things will get very interesting.

5:

Is telepresence an known unknown or an unknown unknown? I've written about it, http://www.cawtech.freeserve.co.uk/gf-essay.2.html, and now wait to see if I've called the timing correctly. As the years go by, it looks like I've called it too soon, thought there is some commercial activity such as https://www.anybots.com/

On the other hand, I'm not seeing telepresence in near future, earth-bound science fiction. When it pops into prominence in the real world, will the consensus be that it was an unknown unknown?

Alternatively, when it fails to pop into prominence in the real world, it will be clear that I have missed something important. What?

6:

Poor Machiavelli, writing satire can be dangerous. I wonder if, when the day arrives and baby eating becomes fashionable we'll regard Swift as our moral guide and inspiration.

7:

3:

An unknown unknown is a black swan, and there's a whole book about how you're not going to predict them except by accident. Part of the definition is that any discussion of them includes something like "in retrospect, it was obvious that we should...." Wrong.

A couple of things I think might really matter:

1. Money. According to things like the XKCD money map, we've got enough money to buy the world several times over, and we just keep making more of the stuff and calling it wealth. Money's amazing right now, because on the one hand, it's fiat money that doesn't have an intrinsic value, and on the other, it's becoming a geologic force.

Someday, we won't be just studying biogeochemistry, we'll be studying econobiogeochemistry, because money sloshing around is driving the elemental cycles on the planet in directions and at rates they wouldn't go if money wasn't involved, and some greedy bastard wasn't trying to make a profit. Note that, if we were simply talking about feeding and caring for 10 billion people, that falls under biogeochemistry. Add in money and a capitalist, especially colonialist, system, and you get more famines and shortages.

Problem is that right now, there isn't a good decomposition cycle for money, and as with dead wood in the carboniferous, the stuff is just building up. Decomposition for money, of course, happens with things like hyperinflation, reissuing currencies, and good old massive system crashes. Unfortunately, we're getting into an era where that needs to happen (needs, in this sense, means that there is an advantage to those who can figure out how to exploit this resource and make it go away). While I'm not a Ron Paul supporter, having something other than an online account as a value store seems like a bit of a good idea.

Second issue: human population overshoot. For undergrad ecology classes, we used to have them model logistic functions, where a population grew to carrying capacity following a sigmoid curve. If you build in things like births minus deaths (effectively a delay function), the population can grow quickly, overshoot carrying capacity, then crash below carrying capacity, doing some complex oscillations. If the population overshot too far and too fast, it could crash back to extinction, rather than recovering to stability.

The real world isn't nearly as simple, because we don't have a defined carrying capacity, thanks in part to human innovation, exploitation of non-renewable energy sources, and yes, politics and money. This last issue dictates who gets resources, whether or not they exist.

The problem is that the Earth is a very complex system, and that complexity has led people to state that there is nothing resembling a carrying capacity for humans, nothing to see here, move along, etc.

Unfortunately, it does look like there is something resembling human carrying capacity. If it is based on renewable resources, we probably overshot it a while ago. Most of us reading this are dependent on fossil fuel for the nitrogen in our bodies, for example.

That suggests to me that we're looking at a population crash of monumental proportions in the 21st Century. Here we're entering into black swan territory, but it looks to me like the best case is that the demographic transition leads to a lot of childless people dying old, with national populations falling to sustainable levels thereby. Or we could enter into mega-disaster territory. As in Rwanda, those who don't have shoes may kill those who have shoes. That choice, (un)fortunately, is probably more a function of politics and monetary policy. That should be really comforting to everyone right now.

8:

For another unknown unknown, modern public key encryption has stood for around 40 years now. I don't know whether they are unbeatable or not, and I can only guess what the consequences of a break would be. The biggest technical challenge would be that successful dns poisoning attacks would work on https as well has http sites, but if that could undermine trust in ecomerce, we might have real trouble.

9:

At what point, if at all possible, does technological momentum fails to overcome social inertia?

Interesting point. Will there be a point at which human evolution has to catch up to technological advancement first, before we can move on?

Can the current human mind make enough sense of the ever intensifying bombardment of information? (even direct mind-machine interfaces would not really change this) Our cognitive capacity is the bottleneck.

And at which point does software and mathematics become too complex for any human brain to understand and maintain? I think we're near this point. We have a good grasp of the low-level systems of nature, isolated, but anything with interactions the complexity quickly becomes unmanageable.

If this is true, even without any wars or collapses, there may be a long period (>10000yr) of slow technological and scientific advancement ahead. After which there may or may not be a spurt again like the last centuries.

10:

You mention the period 2007-2015.
I would not mind betting some major unknown unknown makes an appearance by 2015. Probably social/political.

11:

Known Knowns (KK) - Demographic trends, primarily falling birth rate, for the next few generations.

Known Unknowns (KU) - The social, ethnic, religious/belief, political, financial and economic consequences of said demographic trends.

Unknown Unknowns (UU)- Demographic wild cards from effective immortality treatments to a mass die-off due to climate change or a engineered virus ("Captain Trips").

For dystopian KU, see Tom Wolfe's essay "Sorry but your soul just died".

For dystopian UU, see Bill Joy's essay "Why the future does not need us".

12:

There are some disruptive new technologies that it is fairly easy to predict will result in a paradigm shift -- but not exactly what the effect will be.

For instance, around the mid-to-late 1980's it was fairly clear that this new Internet thing that all the world was hurriedly getting themselves connected to would be really important in the future. Clearly sending e-mail would put all the telegraph operators out of business, and would probably replace paper mail.

But who managed to predict the World Wide Web before 1993? Or the precise path of the dot-Com boom and crash? Or Internet 2.0 and the enabling effects of high-speed broadband and the whole effect of the smartphone and ipad ecologies only now emerging.

Will there be any more Internet revolutions? Maybe, but I think mostly we'll be seeing refinement and evolution: the Internet 25 years ahead will be a lot more recognizable to someone magically transported forwards from today, than today's internet would be to someone from 1987.

On the other hand we had the publication of the human genome followed in quick succession by the genomes of all sorts of other creatures. Sequencing an entire genome, which was a 10 year project costing billions ten is nowadays a few month's work and costs in the region of 10s of thousands.

There are kits of genetic bits readily available for anyone to buy over the net, and genetic engineering is cheap and easy enough to be done in a garage. 'Gene hacking' as a popular hobby... I can't guess where that is going to go, but I think it is pretty clear that wherever it does go will be pretty amazing.

13:

Charles: the business of forecasting the future is a difficult beast to wrestle with at best. Witness the prognostications of former futurologist Alvin Toffler. Remember him?Toffler, a superstar forecaster, predicted we'd (well, us in the Western lands) be living in a 'leisure' society with almost everything automated. The reality couldn't be further from his enthusiastic forecast. So, it's wise in the end to be slightly conservative when trying to forecast the future. There are always unknown unknowns that creep into the picture and change things. I think the Internet and cell phones may fall into the category of known unknowns, but how we use these technologies (e.g. for mobilizing and organizing political protests to GPS tracking) could fall into the unknown unknowns department. I think humanity needs a huge unknown unknown to kick us in our evolutionay butts, because we're stuck in the mud right now.

Keep up the brilliant work. P.
PS: When will we see a piece a non-SF work perhaps dealing with your philosophical phuture musings? A+

14:

"And at which point does software and mathematics become too complex for any human brain to understand and maintain?"

2011 or so, there are already research projects that have used computers to succsfully spit out math equations (the specific one I'm thinking of is for prediciting single cell mechanics) that work for computer simulations, but stump mathematicians. A lot of these early ones will be cracked eventually, but even if you assume that all of them are human solvable, eventually we'll be spitting them out too fast for the mathematicians to keep up.

I don't think this is necessarily a problem though. As a species we've relied on a handful of geniuses to invent tools for 80,000 years or so, now our tools will do it for us, to the average person there's no difference. To the scientist that do low level work (am I describing this right? I mean things like neurology instead of things like behavioral psychology), I suspect a second education in computer science will be critical in a decade or two.

15:

One of the big known unknowns is invention machines running genetic algorithms:
http://www.genetic-programming.com/inventionmachine.html

16:

One of the big "unknown unknowns" has been the surge of women into the social sphere since the 1950s, totally unpredicted.

Other unknown unknowns could be lurking in social interactions, along the lines of Shirky's "Here Comes Everybody". What will happen when we are effectively one click away from 4 or 5 billions others? We have seen network effects in recent uprisings, but strangest things could happen once these interactions are part of social - and probably worldwide - structures.

17:

Charlie
Would a Carrington Event really fuck us that completely?
Really?
I would predict recovery within a year, probably even faster than that.
Technological Black Swans ... based on fresh science .... a resolution of the Renormalisation problem and collapse of the Standard Model would have profund effects.
Sometime, any-time between next week and 2030 at my guess.
Or, for that matter an anaysis of the Gran Sasso results, showing that FTL IS possible, even in limited circumstances.
What would really screw us would be the even partial melting of the Greenland/mainland Antarctic ice cover.
( Floating ice shelves don't count, isostasy, you know.)

heteromeles @ 4
Forget the "occupy" movement, they're clueless wankers - I have met and spoken to them.
See long-ago threads on this blog.

Wladimiir @ 9
At what point, if at all possible, does technological momentum fails to overcome social inertia?
Well it hasn't yet.
Starting with industialised weaving and the canals in the first Industrial revolution Britain, before the Napoleonic wars, through the rail-&-steam revolution, and no sign of it even slowing down at all .....
[ Example: Geordie Stephenson was working on very primitve colliery engines by 1816. In that year, Archibald Sturrock was born. He became the first Mech eng. in charge of the GNR, in 1850. He retired early, but kept in touch, finally dying in 1909 (!) In one of his visits to Doncaster woks, one of the premium apprentices (who were expected to be future leaders in the field) who came to see the "old man" was O.V.S. Bullied - whose magnificent pacific locos lasted to the end of steam traction here - and several are preserved.
The WHOLE of rail steam traction was encompassed within those two men's overlapping lifetimes. ]

dirk @ 10
Yeah
Nehemiah Scudder wins POTUS

18:

My guess is that gene hacking isn't going to be any more of a popular hobby than computer hacking is now, possibly even less.

Aside from the technical problems of building genomes in a garage, wild genetic code tends to be spaghetti code, meaning that most people's hacking attempts won't work quite as well as they might like. I suspect it will go the way of 1970s DIY computer building. Only a few people will stay with it, and they might get rich.

A bigger problem, quite honestly, is the level of cleanliness required. A dead giveaway for a dedicated gene hacker is the very clean room with the laminar flow hood, and the power investment is probably akin to that required for growing plants hydroponically indoors.

Where things might get interesting is when pharmaceutical companies start getting their hideously expensive genetic products knocked off faster than they can produce them. Right now, companies are hoping to make $Mega on crafted gene therapies. Unfortunately, when a back-alley clinic in Tijuana can copy such a treatment within a few months of its release, things will get ugly. We may see current, hyper-expensive medical development processes dry up, while shady gene therapy operations proliferate, especially around new universities in countries where the regulations on medical creation are lax.

What I'm wondering is when more people will get into eco-hacking. After all, one of the great, unsung inventions of the 20th century is the intensive organic garden. A knowledgeable and hardworking person can feed her family from such a garden over an acre or two without exhausting the soil (note: it's not *easy*, it's *possible*).

19:

I was thinking along the lines of what happened during the last great depression.

20:

What you might end up with is "Black Pharma" ie copying or creating drugs and instead of spending billions and a decade or more getting them licensed, they just go straight to the street for beta testing.

21:

There's a grow your own food movement where I live, there's a couple problems with it being incredibly exensive and/or illegal depending on how you do it (IE, its cheap to raise pigs on dumpster diving, but you can't have a pig or dumpster dive in the city, its very expensive to grow enough crops on a small scale, but legal).

22:

Speaking of eco-hacking, one Gray Swan that might bring down global civilization is the humble cookstove.

Let me explain. There's a lot of competition (and I think, even an X prize) to come up with a cheap, hyper-efficient wood-fired cookstove for people in developing countries. (Here's the X Prize link). The stoves that are coming out now (such the rocket stove) are pretty cool, and they're still getting better. The idea is to maximize efficiency and minimize indoor air pollution through good stove design.

The fun starts with biochar, which is the magic stuff behind things like the extremely fertile terra preta soils in the Amazon. Basically, biochar has a lot of surface area and a lot of cation exchange capacity. Char some plant matter, charge it with nutrients (e.g. soak it in liquid manure or compost tea), bury it, and it will hold soil fertility for a very long time. There's not a lot known about how all the different biomass sources work for biochar (as one might expect), but there's good field evidence that some types of biochar can make soil tremendously fertile.

Biochar is also a very good way to sequester carbon, and right now, this looks like a very good thing.

The problem is that our industrial society seems to think differently. As I read the trends, the plan among industrialists isn't to stop climate change, mostly because they've thrived on a couple of centuries of devastating change, and they think that change in general is a good thing. Sea-level rise may force cities away from the coasts and make billions of people migrants, but those are simply new business opportunities.

AFAIK, the industrial goal is to get as much carbon into the air as possible, while developing technology (such as biodiesel) to temporarily capture the carbon back out of the air for use as the most portable energy storage medium around. Yes, the climate will be like the Eocene, but the captains of industry will have their comfortable hill stations high in the Rockies, Alps, and Himalayas, and when have they ever cared about anyone else?

The problem is that billions of people may be depending on biochar-producing cookstoves within a decade or two. One soil scientist already warned that too much biochar returned to the soil might be a bad thing, as too little CO2 in the air could plunge our world into the next Ice Age. Personally, I'm not sure, but I'll grant it's possible. It's especially possible if industrial-scale biochar production comes on line, possibly as a way for cities to manage their waste.

In bigger terms, if we have a competition between cookstoves and biodiesel for the CO2 in the air, I think the cookstoves are going to win. That may take enough carbon out of the biosphere that biodiesel production becomes infeasible. Then again, those humble stoves might help more people survive the resulting crash.

23:

the power investment is probably akin to that required for growing plants hydroponically indoors

so drug dealers get into biohacking? what are you smoking...or what will you be smoking?

(I think we realised in one of the space threads that best-in-class illegal dope farmers have mastered surprising amounts of the hypothetical skill set of a long-term autonomous space community. And here they are, again. Hunter S. Thompson said that politics is the art of controlling your environment...)

also, it's astonishing how many people come up with enormously complex and radical explanations for why they want a gold standard currency, despite the 2 world depressions this damn fool idea has to its credit so far.

24:

Hey Alex, haven't you seen that mess with synthetic cannabinoids (aka spice) over the last few years? The drug dealers are already there.

Actually, go to fungiperfecti.com and check out their mushroom culturing equipment (since this is my day to blow links, I'm not going to try and embed that one). The fungus culturing rig is pretty similar to what you'd need for a clean-room anyway (that's speaking from experience. I've done both).

As for the gold standard, yes, I know perfectly well that it doesn't work. Actually, Keynes is one of my favorite economists, mostly because the bugger was one of the very few economists to make himself rich through day trading, unlike, say, Marx, Hayek, or a bunch of more recent Nobel laureates (whose firm went bankrupt years ago). I figure that personal enrichment is a better sign of knowing your economics than a Nobel prize is.

My problem is that I don't think our current monetary system is all that stable either. I'd say diversify. Have money in the current system, but invest in a still or a bunch of useful skills too. That way, you'll have the social currency to help you be a member of most social groups if things go south. And yes, bury a couple of ounces of gold out in the woods, too.

25:

>wild genetic code tends to be spaghetti code

Once we figure how the genotype -> phenotype thing works, can we look forward to much more elegantly coded genomes? No GOTOs, etc.? Or is it likely that wild genetic code, spaghetti or not, has been optimized by Darwinnowing?

26:

I think there is significant overlap between the known and unknown, necessity being the mother of invention and all.

We have a set of current problems we face that are known, it is the solutions that unknown. Necessity being the mother of invention and all, the next 50 years are going to be all about breaking the boundaries on solving key global problems

Similar to WWII in a way, you have a known problem (win war, make Nazi's and Japanese dead) a set of known solutions that are we are not really happy with (big war, lots of soldiers, results not guaranteed) and an unknown unknown that is developed to change the rules (Fission Bomb)

- Ecology / Global Warming: We know this is coming
- Capitalism + Democracy: Pretty obvious to most thinking individuals that this combination is not working and may not survive as the dominant system of the world for much longer
- Human population overshoot
- Energy depletion

To me the complete black swan is computers. No one really knows what the computer landscape 20 years out will look like, it's not evolving as a solution to one big problem, it's completely unpredictable


27:

In the electronics industry looking 5 years ahead is for analysts, 10 years ahead is for futurists and 20 years ahead is for science fiction writers

28:

> To me the complete black swan is computers.

I'd add to that what is sometimes inelegantly called "brain science", which is coming along nicely due to fMRI, PET and the like. Even results leading to a partial understanding of gnat-level mental functioning could make a really big difference.

29:

I'm amused by how similar this question is to the fundamental plot point that enabled the development of robots in "Rossum's Universal Robots".

30:

Did you mean to type still instead of skill? Coincidentally I just got a reply from Customs and Excise saying it is illegal to distill in the UK without a licence and they don't tend to grant them to operations under 1800 litres, although they might make an exception for proper educational stuff at a university. So a still is not very helpful in the UK, unless you are positing total social breakdown in which case half of us won't survive anyway.

31:
So, to summarize: we have a complex mess of human societies that are, nevertheless, full of recurring non-identical variations on a core theme, because the common object the societies are all built out of are human beings. Barring changes in the nature of human beings, we can therefore expect chunks of history to be built out of the same components.

Cool; I've been trying to come up with a concise statement about the fractal structure of human groups, and this does the job nicely. I think to some extent the chaotic dynamics of history, where the uncertainty of prediction increases exponentially with the distance of your time horizon, is a result of that fractal structure. Small changes occur at one level, and grow to where they can affect peer structures and structures above and below, and as they do, their effects magnify into results that can be unpredictable.

If you look at any given human society, it looks a lot like a living organism in the sense that it's made up of things analogous to systems, organs, tisuues, etc. And the systems, (economy, technology, politics, culture, physical infrastructure, information infrastructure, etc.) interact in ways reminiscent of the way, for instance, that the immune system, the endocrine system and the nervous system interact. And the resultant dynamics is chaotic and highly unpredictable.

One problem with prediction is that we tend to try to simplify things into linearity. So when the economy goes into the toilet, the assumption we tend to make, because it's true to a first approximation, is that technological R&D will be drastically decreased, or at least delayed. But some organizations recognize that they can compete better when the economy starts to pick up again if they pull back on operational expenses and put the money into R&D while others aren't. And since they're not spending most of their R&D effort in the kind of arms race that's common in boom times, they can do their research across a much broader front, and get into areas that might be major breakthroughs which might be missed in the good times.

So if you're looking for the seeds of the next 10 or 15 years in technology, don't expect the breakthroughs to wait for the economy to come out of the pit in 2015 or so. Look instead for what's being done now; the probability is that breakthroughs that are going to result in known unknowns and unknown unknowns are incubating now.

Of course some things that are predictable in a broad way are clearly going to have major unpredictable results. For instance, there's a lot of research being done into ways to store energy at greater densities for mobile applications. Every mobile phone, smart phone, and laptop manufacturer wants to extend the length of time a single charge will run their devices. At some point, if for instance the energy density goes up by an order of magnitude or more (breakthroughs in small fuel cells, or batteries based on graphene or nano-structured electrodes), new applications will become practical that weren't before because the device would have to weigh too much or not run long enough. The known unknown is when that will happen and how much improvement there will be; the unknown unknown is what those applications will be, and which of them have the potential to alter the technological and social landscapes.

I'm going to stick my neck out and predict that improvement in mobile device technology, the increasing integration of location, communication, computation, and visualization capabilities in those devices, and the increasing infiltration of social networks into our daily life is going to result in a lot of people having a circle of friends appearing to them in augmented reality, as if they were physically in the same location. Instead of (or more likely in addition to) having to type in text to send an ephemeral message to someone you're in fairly constant contact with, you'll be able to speak to them, and your smart device will be able to figure out who you want to send the message to, and make sure you get any response as if you were standing right next to your friend. I'm not going to try to figure out the 2nd or 3rd order effects of that just now; I need to mull it over some first.

32:

"Barring changes in the nature of human beings"

I could make an argument that those changes have occurred. Near perfect access and recall of the entire fact set for the civilization is one example. The things that are happening to human social groups based on technological enablement are another

33:

I just have to say it: the title of this post is one of the best puns I've seen in a while.

34:

I think the emergence of new world religions is in the cards. In my view this has made it to the known unknown category: all the existing religions seem to be helpless to respond to the world as it is, and yet that world craves an understanding of its place in the broader universe: craves theologies that make sense, or at least new philosophies of life. Hence, new religions.

35:

I would classify naive faith in the Singularity as being essentially a religious doctrine, in exactly this way.

36:

One of the ZS projects is to make that far more explicit, and greatly extend the concept.

37:

"But who managed to predict the World Wide Web before 1993?"

Murray Leinster, "A Logic Named Joe," 1946.

Arguably, E. M. Forster, "The Machine Stops," 1909.

38:

I think one of the major missing things will the huge change in US politics and culture as it gradually really dawns on all of them that they're not the greatest power in the world any more.

I'm not sure how that will play out - the European powers had empires that they gradually gave away in different ways. But America seems too insular and not to really have the overseas territories to do that. One of the Republicans (probably still in the running for the nomination) seems to think "We will bring all our overseas troops home" is a vote winner. I'm just not sure they're in that many places to constitute empire building really. Western Europe, Iraq, Afghanistan. Anywhere else? Not really "withdrawing from Empire" though.

How will the US go? Really not sure. And that's probably in the next 10 years, ±10.

39:

Dan, the fact that you can name a single story proves just how rare that prediction was. I'm in two minds whether to chalk it up to brilliant futurism or just an instance of the millionth monkey-at-a-typewriter accidentally emitting a Shakespearian sonnet.

40:

Possible alternative to new religions: new "faiths" which aren't religions. Political ideologies, artistic ideologies, psychological cults, etc.

We already have these. Marxism-Leninism, for example, is very like a religion. (At least for some people; it was for three of my grandparents.)

41:

People 'change their minds ' every day ..and then 'change ' back the following day .... baring a loose memory or two that may well be recoverable in a year or three given medical treatments that might enable you to play back your own memories and then ..well,


" Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd; "

Memory isn't quite as stable and solid as we might like to think and so ..maybe it might be possible not only to ' replay ' your own memories 'with advantages ? ' as if you were but to alter the viewpoint of experience as,say, observer from Now of Then or ' alternative angle ' or outside viewpoint or 'ImproveMem tm ' the way you wish that it should have happened in a just world....Yea! You did Beat The Bullies and Get The Girl/Boy of your choice. Would you then want to go back to the 'Real' you?

We could be in for an entire Brave Neo World of Pain when memory enhancement gets under-way and it looks as if we are beginning to produce effective ' Memenhance tm ' for exams and ' Wayitwas tm ' solutions - you only Think that it was Blood and Guts when actually it was Bunnies and Kittens - cures for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder... every soldier cured of the horrors automatically when he/she leaves service.


But in the near future..


http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_52/b4114084625148.htm


Lots of money and social Game Changes here.. it suddenly occurs to me that we might, just around the futuristic corner, actually have that long anticipated alternative to the Death Penalty.

If this could be made to work then the Arab Sprig - that is, in my humble opinion, horribly vulnerable to spring frosts - and the other Democratic counters to totalitarian Government could be themselves countered and the People really would not only Love Big Brother but remember that they had ALWAYS loved Big Brother.


And that's only one extrapolation from one strand of medical discovery.

Given that we start to mess around with our memories, beyond writing wish fulfilment autobiographies, then what are we anyway?

Beyond that, what if we can replay other peoples memories as a form of entertainment? Those frozen - "The Prospect of Immortality" - corpsicals from the 20th century could be really valuable to the Entertainment Industry of the late 21st century.

42:

Would a Carrington Event really fuck us that completely?
Really?

I work in space weather, and some predictions for what would happen in a true Carrington-level event include the destruction of something like 95% of the power grids on the planet. You'd need some thousands of transformers to rebuild the grid, and only a dozen or so are manufactured per year. While that's probably an extreme prediction, it seems that even a more moderate one would be very severe.

43:

"I think one of the major missing things will the huge change in US politics and culture as it gradually really dawns on all of them that they're not the greatest power in the world any more."

In the 1950s, British sf writers were confidently predicting futures in which England was a Great Power on Earth, and also in space. (Note: Yes, I meant "England" rather than "United Kingdom." They usually weren't politically correct enough to acknowledge the existence of unimportant parts of the British Isles.) Britain had stopped being a Great Power rather earlier.

I suspect it will take rather longer than you predict for the US to realize it's no longer The Superpower.

44:

Not to mention that "A Logic Named Joe" is a humorous story. I suspect Leinster wouldn't have used the idea in a serious story. And if he had, it might well never have gotten published.

Free story idea: Writer goes back in time to the 1950s, intending to get rich by selling accurate stories about the decades after 1970 or so. Result: rejections. Russia leaving the Soviet Union? Flavored vodkas becoming popular? Bagels reintroduced in Warsaw in the early 1990s as an exotic American food? Next time, try submitting something believable!

45:

Dan Moran pretty much had the Web, in both All the Time in the World, and in Emerald Eyes. It was much more fleshed out in The Long Run, and he invented the word "webcast."

There's a lot that still feels right in those stories.

46:

"I suspect it will take rather longer than you predict for the US to realize it's no longer The Superpower"

Traditionally it means losing a pivotal war. So far the USA has avoided that by declaring victory before running away. I imagine something like the USA losing a carrier battle group in a limited war with China over Taiwan might do the trick. Or even losing a capital ship in an Iranian conflict and not being able to invade Iran. Iraq and Afghanistan have come very close to showing everyone the limits of US power. Historically, I think the past decade will be seen as a big victory for OBL. Plus, when this current depression ends around 2015/16 it may well be that China will have surpassed the US economy on a PPP basis.

47:

I think that's actually been used as a story; at least, I seem to vaguely recall it being discussed on rec.arts.sf.written. Nicoll may have mentioned it?

48:

Those stories were written when the Internet was being put together, so I wouldn't count them.

49:

IIRC it was called "Tet Offensive", but I cannot recall the author

50:

Black Swans are not events that no one has predicted, if you read Taleb's book (and the earlier, better one , "Fooled by Randomness") that is not what he is saying at all. They are low probability events that are not planned for.

His whole point is that if you have enough low probability events with big enough repercussions that the odds are that over a long enough time horizon some of them will occur. Which is a big problem for forecasting.

The problem with Charlie's 85/10/5 world building methodology is while I am sure it is useful in writing fiction people can relate to, it's not how history actually unfolds. Neal Stephenson was actually much closer to the truth with his "System of the World" Baroque cycle.

Existing complex systems function seemingly smoothly for a period of time, however under the covers they are coming under increasing stress as they fall out of sync with reality. Eventually they enter periods of rapid and sometimes destructive change.

The change often is distributed unevenly, as the periphery of whatever is governed by the system changes first, and the core resists.

It is worth noting that the US, China, and Europe are all "cores" to some part of the current system of the world and peripheries to others (it's a very complex system) and are all likely to be heavily disrupted in various ways over the next few years.

The US will see it's global political and economic hegemony unwind. The Chinese will loose their tight totalitarian control over their society. Europe will see it's existing social, economic and political contracts implode. There will be no clear winners in my opinion, and the nation state itself may not even survive this next reboot.

51:

Actually I disagree, pivotal wars are only "pivotal" because they reflect and reinforce social and psychological changes both internal and external.

The British lost their empire for instance, not because they lost WWII (they won WWII) but because an increasingly exhausted populace didn't really want to pay the price for it anymore, coupled with the fact that do to soviet interventionism, that price was continually rising.

Empire is much much more about psychology then it is military power.

52:

Anders Sandberg did an interesting lecture on Black Swan events for the UK Transhumanist Association. Here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7nFgSgLA6Q

53:

For Britain the pivotal war was Suez.
That marks the end of empire.
Such wars do not have to be big.

54:

The British Empire ended on August 15th 1947. Suez was when the British finally internalized it was over.

55:

Ok - not posted here before. However, there's an observation I've thought of making a couple of times with respect to speculation about the near(ish) future, and I think it's relevant here. I've seen lots of speculation on changes in ICT, biotechnology, and other bits of science that are easily thought of as "technology". Lots of discussion of politics and economics too. Almost nothing though, on likely changes in the state of the social sciences over the next twenty years or so.

Consider: humanlike AI implies an understanding of the human mind sufficient to model it in detail. Before we can build an AI, we necessarily accumulate the required knowledge to make the social sciences hard sciences. This has very far reaching effects. Future great depressions would move from the known unknown category to the known known category if you can model human behavior adequately. How does the functioning of the market change if one can accurately model the responses of people to products and services - if advertising can be designed to capitalize effectively on hard wired response patterns?

It is arguable that, despite the utter failure of conventional macro-economics to provide any useful advance warning with respect to the current great recession, we are seeing some movement in this direction. In particular, the growing fusion and synergy between cognitive neuroscience and psychology, and between psychology and economics (for the latter think Daniel Kahneman, Richard Thaler et al) seems suggestive to me of genuine progress towards a true science of collective human behavior.

We're not there yet, but rapid progress is quite feasible within the next two decades or so, and would seem to have interesting implications to be teased out.

56:

I'd say it all hits the fan when software can do at least a halfway decent impression of human judgment. Self-driving cars are a start, but other things can follow- picture UPS or FedEx replaced by automated systems from pickup to delivery.

If nothing else, it really throws an interesting wrench into Marxism...what happens when there's no labor involved in an industry?

57:

"If nothing else, it really throws an interesting wrench into Marxism...what happens when there's no labor involved in an industry?"

When 0.1% owns the entire industrial and service capacity of society? Revolution.

58:

The British Empire ended a good time before Suez. Suez just rubbed in the fact that the UK had no military role east of the Med.

Interestingly, the French and British establishments drew diametrically opposite conclusions from Suez about how to deal with the new, American, hegemon. It has taken more than half a century to play out, but the French response is currently looking more successful -- especially insofar as it looks to me as if the downward trajectory of the United States is going to drag the UK along in its wake.

59:

"Beyond that, what if we can replay other peoples memories as a form of entertainment?"

A lot of bad trips, for one thing.

Aside from that: Want to know what it's really like not to be colorblind? To be in another kind of body? To be synesthetic -- or not synesthetic? To have different sexual tastes?

60:

Consider: humanlike AI implies an understanding of the human mind sufficient to model it in detail.

Correct; that's why I'm highly skeptical of it. (Dunno if you've read "Rule 34", but that novel encodes much of my current/recent thinking on the subject, under the cover of what superficially looks like a crime novel.)

Mixing cognitive neuroscience and economics does indeed have huge implications. And we're not going to escape them. The first signs of the oncoming tidal wave, for my money? Behavioural internet advertising ...

61:

If nothing else, it really throws an interesting wrench into Marxism...what happens when there's no labor involved in an industry?

That doesn't throw a wrench into Marxism, it throws a wrench into capitalism. Or rather, it brings about the terminal crisis of capitalism. Because we need to find a new way to organize society, stat, or we all starve to death (or bring out the pitch-forks and flaming torches).

62:

That kind of forgets about the rising demands in parts of said empire for democracy and independence.

63:

Yup. Still, as in distilling simple fermentation products into things that are rather more valuable and more concentrated. Moonshine, excuse me, bourbon or whiskey, has been an informal currency in the US for centuries, as noted by the fact that you can get busted by the revenuers even now if you make too much.

Good to know that it's problematic in the UK. In the US, the feds get grumpy if you make more than some small quantity per month (e.g. more than you can drink yourself).

64:

Charles - just noticed your Japan comment in the Graun. Didn't know you hung out there.

65:

Well...it takes about, say, 14 years to raise a human capable of wielding a pitchfork or torch...or rifle...effectively.
If it only takes a few days to churn out a military drone or equivalent with the software to run it...

Guess that'd be another potential situation- what happens when a country's leaders have a good enough lock on military infrastructure that revolutions become impossible? I.e, where the "legitimate" military software and logistics infrastructure is required for effective use of the military machinery, so mutiny isn't really an option?
Because a civilian opposition to a modern military just isn't going to work.

66:

We've been making new religions regularly since the 1950s. New religions include, in no particular order, all the neo-pagan religions (wicca in all its flavors, druidry in all its flavors, asatru in all its flavors, discordianism, church of all worlds, etc), scientology, Moon's Unification church, Falun Gong, Krishna Consciousness, Transcendental Meditation, etc.

There are slightly older ones (Mormonism, evangelical Christianity, Theosophy, Vodoun, Santeria, Candomble) that are still quite active, even growing.

The general point is that new religions are born all the time, particularly in times of intellectual ferment and social upheaval.

I agree that it's safe to predict that we'll see more new religions, simply because we live in a time of yes, intellectual ferment and social upheaval. The seeds of new religions are already being sown among the Occupy tents, and probably among some tortured veterans who are off in the woods talking to God right now. We'll see what pops up in the next 5-10 years.

The problem is that most religions die off. Heard of the Nestorians recently? Or the Mithraists? Or the Shakers? even the Reformed Druids of North America are pretty much gone.

It happens. Most spiritual traditions are probably limited to a few people (family traditions, as the Wiccans say). Some more get a few hundred to a few thousand (most versions of Wicca and druidry), and last a generation or two. Only a few take off as organizations that last more than a few generations. There's probably a nice function that you can plot that shows how religions survive and grow, and I'll go out on a limb and suggest that the ones that succeed are black swans, each and every one of them.

67:

repeat statement for Dan Goodman @ 40
Communism IS a religion.
The logical end-point is that of the hereditary god-kings of N. Korea ....

Losing Empires
(unholyguy @ 51)
No, we gave our empire away, because we had to.
We were broke, and exhausted.
We had spent ALL our treasure, and a lot of blood defeating the Shadow, and thought it well worth the sacrifice.
But it was in vain.
After every defeat, and a respite, the shadow takes another form and grows again.
Seen the news from N Nigeria today?

erm 53/54
We WON "Suez" - then the US told us to eff off, and not annoy the nice Arabs.
I am NOT saying, please note that we should have done what we did at Suez - that is another argument.
In fact, what we should have done was talk nicely to Colonel Nasser, but we didn't....
diito Charlie @ 58
Not the first time I've seen that conclusion.
Except, even the tories here, are beginning to wonder about the loopy-US christian Right, and are looking for escape routes!

Dan Goodman @ 59
To have different sexual tastes?
Oooh - eer missus! (or nice boy as the case may be )
Ahem
Ask someone from the Culture, perhaps?

Charlie @ 61
You have answered HALF the question.
We all know that Marxism is a completely busted flush.
It's a failed religion, even more failed than the other religions, that is.
"Capitalism" is in very bad shape at the moment, because it is well on the way to one of its' known failure modes - corporatism - which leads to fascism.
To the point where even "right" wing commentators have noticed.
Do we want to save it, do we want a new world order (yes that phrasing was deliberate) do we want "syndicalism", or co-operative-ism to replace shareholding capitalism, do we want a Monty Python moment ("And now for something completely different")
or what?

Perhaps that should be the next question in this series of articles ????

68:

Loss of “human oversight” in the global economy --
I think that there’s a widely held belief that an unstable economy can kill as many people as a thermonuclear bomb. If true, then we need to extend this analogy and apply the same care and oversight to the economy as was eventually applied to WMDs. Thermonuclear bombs (in the movies anyways) are no longer under the control of a machine/computer – because machines are unable to make moral judgements. Economies however are increasingly under the control of computers/algorithms with next to no human oversight. (The human inputting the latest trading algorithm doesn’t count as human oversight since his only objective is to squeeze more profit out of the system.)
Here are a few snips from Wiki about how widespread this is ... “high-frequency trading (HFT) has resulted in a dramatic change of the market microstructure, particularly in the way liquidity is provided. ... London Stock Exchange estimates ... for 2008 range as high as an 80% proportion in some markets.” Although algorithmic trading varies by type of market and financial instrument, it is steadily increasing across the board. For now, the only safeguard we have is that the stock markets automatically shut down to halt trading when the daily index drops a set percent. We should identify and factor in other e-trading practices that can also lead to an economic meltdown and at least consider international treaties/oversight comparable to WMDs by ‘neutral’ UN investigators. (Yeah – I know how well that works ... )

Rumsfeld – “unknown unknowns”
Can’t tell whether it was irony or deft targeting when Rumsfeld ‘quoted’ a Persian-Tajik (Iranian/Afghani) 13th century poet Ibn Yamin Faryumadi:
- One who knows and knows that he knows... His horse of wisdom will reach the skies.
- One who knows, but doesn't know that he knows... He is fast asleep, so you should wake him up!
- One who doesn't know, but knows that he doesn't know... His limping mule will eventually get him home.
- One who doesn't know and doesn't know that he doesn't know... He will be eternally lost in his hopeless oblivion!

Wladimir #9 – “Bottlenecks” -
Better filters together with increased and/or more widely distributed neural transactions might help avoid bottlenecks. If the human brain needs to be able to better process a particular type of signal/input, it can develop a specialized region – over time these can become more or less ‘fixed’ visual, olfactory, language centres, etc. This can also occur within-one’s-life time-frames, e.g., hippocampus and corpus callosum of London cab drivers. Down the road, perhaps we’ll need to sacrifice more of our olfactory, motor or some other cortex for this function.

We don’t always make decisions consciously, even when we think we do. Researchers used a brain scanner to investigate what happens in the human brain just before a decision is made. They found that it was possible to predict from brain signals which option participants would take up to seven seconds before they consciously made their decision. (Journal reference: Chun Siong Soon, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze & John-Dylan Haynes. Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience April 13th, 2008.)

Home kitchen DNA labs -
Common middle school science project conducted in home kitchen: Use a blender to mush donor cells (Plant A), place mush into a test tube, wait for mush to settle into layers, use an eye-drop to extract jelly (DNA), spin in kitchen equivalent of centrifuge, wait for jelly strands to settle into layers of different sized bits (molecules), extract layer of interest, load into air gun, shoot into a Plant B leaf/stem/seed, and wait. Not very refined in practice or predictable in results, but it works. DNA electrophoresis can also now be done at home.

Happiness matters –
The Gross National Happiness Index is a relatively new idea and not particularly popular among traditional social scientists despite accumulating evidence that social and individual factors associated with well-being are transcultural and apply on both national (country) and small population levels (workplace). At the macro and micro levels, ‘happy’ citizens/workers are more productive and can increase prosperity/profitability considerably. Unfortunately, either politicians and C-Suites can’t spare the time to read ‘research’ or they feel that this area isn’t scientifically robust (validated), therefore not real, probably like global warming. FYI, these are the 7 GNH ‘wellness’ factors. (1) Economic: consumer debt, average income to consumer price index ratio and income distribution; (2) Environmental: pollution, noise and traffic; (3) Physical: severe illnesses; (4) Mental: usage of antidepressants and rise or decline of psychotherapy patients; (5) Workplace: jobless claims, job change, etc.; (6) Social: discrimination, safety, divorce rates, domestic conflicts and family lawsuits, public lawsuits, crime rates; (7) Political: quality of local democracy, individual freedom, and foreign conflicts. I’m probably mistaken ... but these GNH factors look an awful lot like election issues to me.

The ‘rock paper scissors’ 3-power equilibrium -
In the mid-20th century we had 3 superpowers. Now, it’s not clear how many super powers there actually are, or their specific and relative strengths versus each other. Even at the national/local level, we’ve been used to having 3 different types of power to provide stability. Now, it looks as though a power shift also took place at this level and we’re no longer confident who the 3 different powers are at the local level either. Question: Are the real power holders as eager to identify themselves now as in the past, or is being able to hide one’s power/wealth the new success strategy? [ From Wiki, a brief description of Rock paper scissors: With an odd number of choices, each beats half the weapons and loses to half the weapons. No even number of weapons can be made balanced, unless some pairs of weapons result in a draw; there will always be some weapons superior. ]

69:

Didn't the Roman elites essentially have that situation already? They were 0.1% style rich, owned the slaves and the land, non rich citizens were kept under control via panem et circensis and the promise of advancement through the military, for the ambitious.


I suspect social media is going to get scary good at what the social sciences just take random stabs at, hampered by cumbersome experiments limited to undergrads. These private companies have realtime access to behaviour of millions of people at a time. I've already seen some interesting blog posts that hint at the sheer amount of statistical data they have.

70:
2011 or so, there are already research projects that have used computers to succsfully spit out math equations (the specific one I'm thinking of is for prediciting single cell mechanics) that work for computer simulations, but stump mathematicians. A lot of these early ones will be cracked eventually, but even if you assume that all of them are human solvable, eventually we'll be spitting them out too fast for the mathematicians to keep up.

Could you elaborate on this? It sounds like you're describing mathematical modeling, possibly with the aid of genetic algorithms. And that's not the same thing as being "stumped by the math". Not at all.

71:

War consists of two interrelated components; 'smashing shit' and 'political cooercion'. Generally part A is used to perform part B.

The US has been for some time and continues to be the undisputed master of smashing shit; I believe you would be hard pressed to find anything on planet that, should the US be willing to eat the political consequences, they couldn't destroy. There are few if any other countries for which that can be said.

Where they've been falling down is that they don't seem to be very good at connecting step A to step B.

For them to truly lose their place as a major player, they'd need to lose their pre-eminence in smashing things (either through an increase in others' ability to defend, or through a reduction in their own capacity) or perhaps internalise that it's part B that is the important part, and their ability to turn their military strength into a functional coercive ability reduces its utility.

72:

Will Rogers said something like "it's not the things we know, it's what we know thats not true that bites us on the butt." More or less.

73:

Greg: We all know that Marxism is a completely busted flush.

I disagree, with qualifications.

We know that Leninism is a busted flush. But Leninism didn't have a huge amount to do with Marx's original economic theory, or indeed with the political program set out in the Communist Manifesto of 1848. (Indeed, the pre-Tony Blair Labour party probably had as good a claim on Marx's original thinking as Lenin ever did.) Or the syndicalists and the co-operative movement. Marxist analysis is still alive and works quite well for a mid-19th century theory -- at least, not obviously worse than its rival, classical economics.

I will note that communism is how most families run, internally: from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs, and so on. (If any parents want to contradict me with accounts of how they charge their 3-year-olds bed, board, and personal service costs against an account to be paid in full when they mature, I'm all ears.) Where communism generally fails is with attempts to implement it above the extended-family-group or small tribe level (taking the Israeli Kibbutz system or a Monastery as exemplars from the largest end of the scale).

Attempts to implement communism on a large scale tend to founder on bottlenecks of information exchange, and also on the free rider problem. Soviet central planning also had the problem (as Francis Spufford pointed out) that the managers in charge of it were so terrorized by Stalin's machinery that they lied to the controllers systematically, as a matter of normal routine.

Anyway: back to the key question -- what do we do if there is no demand for human labour? Well, if that happens we have to choose between starving (due to not being able to sell our labour) or finding some other way to allocate resources. I'm betting on the latter. Just what that way will be, I do not know. I'm willing to guess that it won't be called "communism", at least not in the USA or the UK. The ghost of Karl Marx might, however, raise an eyebrow at it.

74:

Hmm. Computers are a known unknown - we all expect things to come from that direction, and the only surprises are the exact content of what comes out of that ongoing technological revolution in the coming decades.
Unknown unknowns:Global Warming solutions from the left field: Such as carbon sequesteration via ecosystem interventions and engineering. Biochar, ocean iron fertilization and a couple of other ideas all share the general concept of binding carbon via biological processeses. Mostly, this is going to involve increasing total planetary biomass. - the main way to make this pay is obviously to harvest the produce and sell it. So, potentially, the future could be 9-10 billion people, all subsisting on a diet heavy as all get out on fish and meat because the carbon from centuries of coal based industry has been tied up in managed oceanic foodchains, while on land extremely high productivity agriculture sees large swathes of territory converted into.. not wilderness exactly, but absurdly high-productivity biomes optimized for hunting and recreation.

Non-linear knockon effects of technological breakthroughs in one sector on other sectors. As an example: A broadspectrum cancer prevention drug, intervention or cure would almost certainly make nuclear power much less scary.

75:

I think one of the known unknowns is the degree to which realtime accurate voice recognition coupled with intelligent database searching (Watson, Siri) is going to change business.

76:

Check out Eureqa.

77:

Tree-based agriculture (technically arboriculture) is pretty standard practice in a lot of places, so you can sequester a lot of carbon in places that are directly producing human food. The only reason we don't have massive shelter belts (aka trees on farms) and hedgerows is because they're suboptimal for mechanized agriculture. Get rid of the machines, and a hedgerow earns its keep pretty quickly.

Another point is that industrial farming is really good at stripping carbon out of soils (carbon is what made prairie soils black, for example), so anything that puts carbon back is probably a good thing. So long as the carbon stays there for a while and doesn't poison what it was dumped into.

Oh, and right now, I'm reading that much of what I learned in soil science a decade ago may be wrong. For example, biochar may be less stable than bulk soil organic matter (25% lost per century). Or not. Happy fun time.

78:

We can expect the world of 2022 to look similar to the world of 2012, insofar as many of the same cars will still be on the roads...

Can I suggest another class - 'Known Knowns, but we don't like to think about it'.

We know that with the production profiles, the export declines, etc. that there won't be as many (if any) cars on the road by 2022. To avoid that future we'd need a known unknown or unknown unknown to happen, and fast. Yet, everyone seems to still take as their baseline scenario a continuation of BAU.

There are a whole series of these KKBWDLTTAIs; climate change, water limits, ecosystem dieoffs, demographic imbalances, empire collapses - and I'd suggest 101 of world building is to put them in as your baseline, before you look at putting your 80/10/5 on top.

Assuming tomorrow looks like today is only valid if your baseline prediction says that. At present our baseline prediction for 10,20,30 years hence says big change - we are just lulled in belief in stability by the unusual circumstances of the past 100 years.

79:

I think Sinularitanism is like one of the small religions Heteromeles writes about at #66. But the Singularitans have to deliver, or they won't last, or become major. It seems to me that they probably won't: strong AI doesn't seem to be arriving (I haven't read Rule 34 yet--sorry.)

80:

Any ideas on the impact of portable nuclear reactors in remote communities?
A company called Hyperion is developing them and says the first one will be ready somewhere next year.
Lots of issues here that may obstruct deployment. especially after the Fukushima disaster. non proliferation treaties, fear of weaponising the fuel and waste.
Still could be a game changer.

81:

We will have some singularity point (or perhaps even a series of singularity points) long, long before the economy will reach the point where 0.1% owns the entire industrial and service capacity of society.

It is, to begin with, completely senseless for that 0.1% to own the entire industry if it runs in the labor-less mode. You need no so much production for yourself and other people have nothing to trade in exchange for goods produced by the industry your own.

Then if those other 99,9% have not access to products of the labor-less industry they will for sure continue produce goods for themselves in old fashioned labor-full mode, so on a scale of entire economy there _will be_ labor involved in.

82:

I like these comments, though I rather think Terry Pratchett has scooped both of us in Small Gods. I was writing about the rise of a world religion: something that can topple empires. As you say, the few such things are unique: each one of them black swans. But I think some things can be known about Yeats's "rough beast:" an outline in the sand as it were; perhaps a few ghostly tracks.

First, it will accept and validate the findings of physical science.

Second, it will be feminist, or at least gender-neutral.

Third, it will include an ecological teaching.

Kraw-k-k-k

What else?

Whatever this beast is to be, it will deliver truths which almost everyone can perceive as valid. It will persuade.

At this point, we step beyond the range of normal discourse into the space of miracles: the black swans of history. Why did early Christians face the lions? How did Mohammed unify the quarrelsome tribes of the Arabian peninsula?

Kraw-k-k-k

I don't know enough history, and of all history, I never would have thought that I would now need this history.

Kraw-k-k-k

83:

"You need no so much production for yourself and other people have nothing to trade in exchange for goods produced by the industry your own."

It is quite possible to run an economy without people as consumers. The only consumers being other automated systems.

84:

Big religions can come and go in the space of less than a century. My favorite example is Cao Dai, founded in the 1920's, was a political power in Vietnam between the end of WWII and the end of the US occupation of Vietnam, and then was suppressed for 2 decades by the government. Before the end of the IndoChina wars, the Cao Dai church was proselytizing and militant, and and growing to cover most of Vietnam and parts of other Southeast Asian nations, now it's fairly static, with most of its members living in the Mekong Delta.

85:

One thing I'm interested in is modified yeasts. These little molecular factories could be tweaked to produce compounds ranging from (pessimistically) biofuels to (optimistically) any drug you can name.

There's a mid-range between DIY and large corporations, and that's the small business. What I'm envisioning is bio-hacking becoming cheap enough that (for example) pot-growers put out of business by legalization can put together a small business producing (profitable compound X) with some cheap equipment and their leftover hydroponics gear.

We could see a sort of cottage industry develop, especially if it becomes cheap enough to build your own single-celled organism. That would in turn simplify drug production. Imagine downloading the geneprint for insulin-producing algae and running off a starter culture on your printer.

86:

I get the feeling from 19th Century literature that the great danger around the corner was perceived as Anarchism - hairy bomb-throwers etc. Well as we all know the anarchists had very limited success, and the 20th century belonged to other alternative politics - communism, socialism and fascism.

Perhaps we're seeing something like that now, with "fundamentalists" as the new hairy bombers - all attention on them, while quietly people are setting up the modern equivalents to Iskra, etc.

A BB of experienced grognards in the 90's had a very long thread about where the next major conflicts involving the West would emerge - and many sensible predictions were made and agreed on. Most focussed on knowm knowns, and by general agreement Iraq would be for it soon. But only one poster proposed the North West Frontier Region of Afghanistan/Pakistan - and they only proposed it because they'd been on holiday there. The "experts" had many reasons why this would be unlikely, and were certain that UKUSA wouldn't be so stupid as to repeat the Soviet Union's big mistake.

I know that 20 years ago I certainly wouldn't believe someone who told me that by now Kandahar would have the busiest runway in the world.

TL;DR - If the fundamentalists are the new anarchists, who are the new communists? And where are they?

87:

"Well, if that happens we have to choose between starving (due to not being able to sell our labour) or finding some other way to allocate resources. I'm betting on the latter."

The "some way" has generally already occurred in most developed societies- it takes some effort to starve to death in an advanced country. On the other hand, the form that takes varies from country to country. Fill in your own country here, and ask what the relative wealth of the 0.1% is relative to the level of benefits offered to an unemployed citizen on the dole. Extend that level of benefits to 99.9% of the population, but keep the economy expanding through automation and voila- no one starves, but almost no one has the opportunity to accumulate wealth.

88:

A central planning have bigger problems then managers terrorized by the dictator. To do a planning you need to solve NP-complete problems and (if you want your planning to have something with people's real needs) to have access to the content of human heads.

This is why market economy always wins over central planning - it has by a factor of a thousands bigger computational resources involved in values calculation/distribution optimization (all human minds involved in market interactions compared to smaller number of partially involved minds of planning apparatus members), immediate access to mind states (the person who makes decisions is the same person whose mind contain preferences on which those decisions are made), much more feedback loops and bigger choices space. Then something not unlike optimization of products/entrepreneurships by genetic algorithms runs... and voila - after a few decades a neighbor with market economy have a wealth level from two (West/East Germany) to fifteen (South/North Korea) times bigger than one running central planning.

89:

You'd have to include the important provision- a market economy that somehow manages to avoid persistent market failure- monopoly, cartels, monopsony, etc.

90:

Centrally planned infrastructures using mature technologies makes sense eg energy generation and distribution, railways, water supply ie things that tend to natural monopolies.

91:

it's astonishing how many people come up with enormously complex and radical explanations for why they want a gold standard currency, despite the 2 world depressions this damn fool idea has to its credit so far.

The people who own the gold fared those depressions just fine. A few even managed to profit from them. If an idea dosn't make logical sense, just ask yourself, who would profit monetarily from this? Then you'll find who is promoting this idiocy.

92:

What about the fourth category of knowns? The unknown knowns.

There is so much knowledge these days that it becomes increasingly difficult to have a grasp of the things we already know and don't need to figure out. The knowledge may be confined to certain groups of people - either because it requires special fundamental knowledge to be understood (like basic arithmetics ... or quantum mechanics), or they are a blind spot of some kind. People don't talk about it, so nobody cares.

E.g. I've had numerous discussions with Germans who insist that breeder reactors are a phantasy, something that has never been done and won't work - even though the first prototype achieved a 1.01 breeding ratio about 60 years ago. (Plus on the order of a hundred fast fission reactors that were build in the meantime.)

It is also a well known fact, that you need power lines to distribute electricity. Yet, in a recent German newspaper article the most recommended comment stated that the need for power lines was a conspiracy of the nuclear industry. (So is the need to shut down wind turbines when generation exceeds demand to avoid melting power lines etc.)

Another fact is that the worlds agricultural production is limited. Using about one tenth of it to produce fuel and gas will result in shortfalls all but dwarfing the worst droughts of recent decades. Yet, nobody cares about the doubling and tripling of food prices this has caused on world markets (where the poorest countries buy a substantial part of their nutrition, richer countries avoid food markets and buy agricultural land directly) and the increasing number of malnourished people in the world.

There is nothing unknown about those facts as such, it just so happens that they are unknown and stay unconsidered to most people - including those making important decisions. (Be they governmental, corporations or NGOs, they have different blind spots but they all have them.)

The reactions to the current economic crisis is also part of this. The underlying cause of such crisis was described, coherently and with high predictive value for the current crisis by Keynes in the 1930ies. Yet, the last 4 years of Paul Krugman's column in the New York times should convince everyone that this knowledge - even the fact that this is indeed knowledge with a clear basis in the real world and not something that people made up as they went along to win elections.

Knowledge is only worth something if it is known, accepted and acted upon by the people who make decisions in need of such knowledge. Hence the need for the forth category - unknown knowns.

93:

"Because a civilian opposition to a modern military just isn't going to work."

You have to remember, though, that to get a "modern" military, you need a lot more than just a bunch of high-tech weapons. You need a professional military organization to maintain and use those weapons - and troops that are a lot more than just rifle carriers and aircraft drivers. The US has spent the last 40+ years creating a military that doesn't rely on blindly following orders. You can be punished for NOT asking questions, or for following an order that you knew would be wrong.

In one way, you're right. "A civilian opposition to a modern military just isn't going to work," because a truly modern military would usually be part of the opposition. China is starting to see some problems among their regular troops, because those troops can't be the mindless drones that Communist-style armies depended on for most of the 20th century. They're having to shuffle troops around by ethnic subgroup and regional dialect, so they can order them in for crowd control without having to worry about ending up with a pile of dead officers.

Part of the reason the US had such trouble with insurgents in Iraq? Because everyone knew it would be basically impossible to get our troops to carry out the mindless and brutal sort of orders that are considered necessary (by the other countries in the region) to put down a civilian revolution or resistance. If we couldn't get them to do that with Iraqis, you think they would do that against someone who might be their own relatives?

Look at the Arab Spring for a mirror argument: the places where there's extreme violence against civilians are the places where they have old-school Soviet-style militaries, with the more-modern parts of their system isolated from the rest, and units made up of various tribes and subgroups that they could send out against the people they've grown up hating.

The Arab Spring, by the way, is definitely turning into the Arab Winter. Hardliners and radical Islamists are grabbing power left and right - but for some reason, it's not getting as much press. Look at Egypt. There's some ugly stuff happening there right now, it's not going to be a democracy in anything but name for at least the next couple of years, and it's going to take another revolution to make _that_ happen.

94:

bruno boutot @ 16 raises an interesting point: the growth of feminist activity over the past century or so has definitely been a game-changer - as have all the various social movements which have broadened out the range of persons who are eligible to be considered "players" on the global stage.

For example, in the last five or so centuries, there's been a gradual recognition that persons who aren't born into families which own large amounts of money and/or assets (land, factories, access to resources etc) are also entitled to have their political and social say, because the labour they provide is a source of value on its own. In the last two or three centuries, there's been a recognition that skin colour isn't a valid reason to exclude people from political and social processes either. Women have started to speak up in the past century, and now there are more and more previously-marginalised groups which are standing up and saying "we want in" to the gatekeepers of the political and social discourse. Politics, economics and social theory are no longer the sole province of the rich, white, educated, heterosexual, Christian male.

Of course, one of the things which is happening as a result of all of these social changes is that we're seeing the same kinds of power structures which perpetuated the oppression of an out-group (for example, women) being perpetuated within the movements which are attempting to reverse this oppression. For example, within feminism, the majority of "wins" have been of things which are most appropriate to and for rich, white, educated, heterosexual, Christian women (the right to vote, the right to control one's own inheritance and own property independently, right to work within certain professional groupings etc). When it comes to things which would be useful for working-class women (such as wage equality, childcare provisions, recognition of work/life balance, access to employment opportunities within various occupations[1] etc) the fight is still ongoing.

As Conal points out @55, there's also a lot of work going on in the social sciences which needs to be considered. Now, the social sciences tend to be discarded by a lot of tech-heads as "not real science", but I'd argue they're where a lot of the more crucial work is happening. Like Conal, I'd point to some of the newer disciplines as the ones to watch: psychology is only just coming into its first century; cognitive neuroscience is about fifty years old, and is just starting to benefit from some of the fun toys which have been created; and the interaction between these two young disciplines (which between them are trying to unravel the "how" and the "why" of human thought) and some of the older ones (like economics, politics, history, philosophy and so on) has some very interesting implications for the greater body of social science overall.

Given the social sciences are the ones which tend to describe what we're doing either as we're doing it, or after we've done it, they're never going to be precisely "up to the minute". But if they can work in a good, reliable predictive mechanism, I think the game would change very suddenly, and very completely.


[1] I'm thinking of trades in particular here - there are very few female tradespersons, mainly because one of the key stages to obtaining trade accreditation is serving an apprenticeship, and apprenticeship numbers in general are dropping. Again, it's because the majority of gains have been for the benefit of the wealthy, educated end of the spectrum: women may have access to the professions, but we don't, by and large, have access to the trades.

96:

"You'd have to include the important provision- a market economy that somehow manages to avoid persistent market failure- monopoly, cartels, monopsony, etc."

It really doesn't take a lot to prevent those cases - and in most "market economies," government intervention is what causes or allows them in the first place.

Simple cases, like cartels (two or more firms colluding to set prices and such) are easy to beat: just make it illegal, with a certain amount of leeway. On the other hand, one of the "solutions" that central planners come up with to stop price fixing is... to set prices from a central point, so it's a bureaucrat with no direct involvement doing the price fixing.

Look at the idiocy this last week: six US Congresscritters came up with a new law that would appoint a commission to oversee the oil industry - and set "reasonable" profit margins. Anything over 105% of "reasonable" profits would be taxed at 100%. Nobody with ties to the oil industry could sit on the profit-setting panel, and there was no provision for exceptions or challenges. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Monopolies are often enforced by governments, or encouraged by them at the least. The famous AT&T breakup is one of the "poster child" cases - but they often forget to mention that AT&T's original monopoly came about mostly because the US government threw so much money at them to make a true US telephone network (after the nationalization and de-nationalization of WWI), and protected them from competition while doing so.

True monopolies are also fairly rare nowadays, to the point where government regulators had to include "local monopolies" in things they could regulate ("You only have a 25% share of the entire US toilet paper market, but 100% in one neighborhood in Cleveland? What kind of scam are you pulling?").

You also have the biggest paradox: most of the abuses by large corporations nowadays are only possible because there are so many different laws and regulations. That makes it easy (and often necessary) to do anti-competitive things while still following the letter of the law. Enforcement is becoming impossible, too - nobody can know all of the rules, by any stretch.

Fewer but tougher (and clearer) antitrust regulations would be a good thing - but good luck getting that done.

97:

I think that was Gandhi's point, or Gene Sharp's point (see #4 above). Non-violent actions can beat a modern military, because both violence and non-violence are strategies, not ends. Even the harshest dictatorship critically depends on cooperation from at least some of the people it oppresses. Remove that cooperation, and the dictatorship can't last.

Removal of cooperation can be either violent or non-violent. In many cases, non-violent opposition can be extremely effective (cf. Gandhi taking on the biggest empire in the world, and depriving it of its biggest colony).

98:

"Again, it's because the majority of gains have been for the benefit of the wealthy, educated end of the spectrum: women may have access to the professions, but we don't, by and large, have access to the trades."

That's mostly because "trades," in current terms, translates to "must be able to pick up and carry heavy things, or put X amount of force on a tool under difficult conditions."

When you're a relatively fit 80 kilo guy, lifting that 25 kilo box isn't too hard. When you're a "strong" 50 kilo woman (or a weak 60 kilo one), it's usually either not possible - or dangerous.

My business is like that. We often work with equipment that costs about as much as a small house - and we have to lift and move it by hand. We have some women in the business, true. In almost all cases, they get the light jobs, because they're dangerous when they try to do the normal stuff.

99:

Signs of climate stress and overpopulation will be more visible, we may have driverless cars, there may be major disruptive effects arising from the development of direct brain interfaces or something else that today is a research and development curiosity. And by 2052, the unknown unknowns will have driven the world to be a very different place from anything I can predict today.

If you have a car that can drive itself, you will have a singularity, because the cars will obviously be smarter than the people I have to deal with on the road today. HA!

No more CDs or DVDs, they are fading now, and will be gone in less than five years. Desk top PCs will be gone, only devices and appliances will exist. The information will not be in file form, so no more "file sharing". That means any future SF that talks of computers, files, etc... will be doing Tom Swifties looking back at a by-gone-age. I'm writing this post on probably my last iMac. When it comes time to replace it there will only be tablets of some kind, nothing that I would recognize as a computer.

Come 2015 no one will remember any of the nonsense going on today. All of the negatives are being driven by Big Money paying people per-post to go online and post garbage in blogs. In a year, the money will dry up and all of the pay-per-post trolls will be out of a job. Come 2015 look back at the blogs today and you will be surprised to see the raging lunatics roaring through the net, and you will wonder how that happened.

By 2050 the world will be a quiet place. The biggest industry will be cleaning up abandoned neighborhoods and returning them to desert or orchards, undoing the urban sprawl since WWII.

By 2100 world population will be back below 2 billion as it was 90 years ago. The world will be more or less the same temperature, no climate collapse, the forests coming back as people use their resources to plant trees rather than cut them for fuel.

The past hundred years of growth and destruction was powered by the greed is good dogma of the Scarcity mindset. The coming collapse is when the Powers-that-be become the Powers-that-were and people wake up to realize that there is Abundance not Scarcity. That crash is happening as we speak, and will be essentially done by 2013.

Welcome to the Future. HA!

100:

The story was called "Hindsight"

"The story, which takes place in Los Angeles in 1953, involves a science fiction author and a magazine editor who become suspicious of another author, Mark Gordian, who seems to be plagiarizing others work and writing eerily prescient fiction. Upon closer examination, it is revealed that Mark Gordian is actually Michelle Gordian, a time traveler from 1983 who has attempted to change her cynical future, dominated by the disappointments of Watergate and Vietnam."

The story by "Mark Gordian" was called Tet Offensive

101:

There has been a certain amount of talk here about capital putting people permanently out of work, but this is not a problem in a normal market economy with healthy demand. If some business finds a way to do something cheaper by automating, it can sell this product at a lower cost. This will probably give a temporary increase in profits until competitors emulate it. This lower cost of goods or service will be past onto the consumer, which frees up money to be spent on something else.

Now that the basics of life, food, clothing, shelter are getting to be a smaller and smaller percent of the GDP, what will people spend their money on. Something pretty pointless probably. When you consider our current economy, vast swathes of it have nothing to do with basic welfare or facilitating earning one's income. Think of the billions devoted to soccer. And we have always devoted considerable resources to pointless activities; the great mediaeval cathedrals for example--not exactly a plus for the pleasantry's physical welfare.

Most pointless activity tends to be labor intensive, and if some business finds a way to make it less so then this frees up income for the more labor intensive activities. And the workers laid off in the first paragraph, through the shuffle of the economy, get jobs.

The interesting thing about this century is going to be what new pointless activities are we going to dream up. People will spend their money on something.

The problem with our current situation is that we have a severely distorted economy in the West. Through free trade, unskilled labor, which is highly fungible, is forced to compete on a world-wild basis. This depresses the price they can demand, which funnels money to the owners of capital, and this depresses overall demand because the owners of capital are generally rich, and they save and reinvest. If they spent their money, it wouldn't be a problem, but then they wouldn't be rich any longer.

However, by the end of this century, most of the world will be middle-class wealthy, and the parts that aren't will be too dysfunctional to serve as a source of labor. (At a 3% per annum growth in the world economy, the average world income by the end of this century will be $US56,000.) So, there will be no cheap labor pools, and the world economy will look more like Britain's or the US's during the 50s and 60s. Maybe, we'll have the return of the bolshie union.

Against this is the mechanism of how capital replaces labor. What it does is replace some aspect of human ability. The question is can capital render humans completely or almost completely superfluous. This is not an easy thing as humans are social animals, and one thing human beings are really good at (generally) is being human beings. (Would you go down to a pub with a robotic barmaid, or would you prefer the real thing, even if it was at a premium.) This is the unknown unknown.

102:

"Would you go down to a pub with a robotic barmaid, or would you prefer the real thing, even if it was at a premium"

How about McDonalds?
http://www.engadget.com/2007/08/27/fully-automated-restaurant-opens-in-germany/

103:

Strength limits in women are much more of a attitute and training problem than a biology one. The 'safety' limits (I believe 50 pounds in the US) are very easily achievable by all but the smallest women. The problem women aren't expected to lift heavy things (either in life or in the gym), so they don't develop the ability.

This showed up in one of my feeds today, and illustrates the limits of female strength nicely:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9QeSbG4LX0&feature=youtu.be
(note, the title is in pounds and not kilograms)

104:

Interesting thread.

It is easy to obtain a formula that accurately predicts something. This is also not terribly useful for actually understanding it. See: "neural" networks, Support Vector Machines, Principle Components Analysis with more than two or three dimensions. Etc etc.

Eurequa appears to be a variant of the Minimum Description Length philosophy (see also Chris Wallace's concept of Minimum Message Length), essentially a formalization of Occam's razor. It's a nice idea that has been around for a while. I'd describe it as more of a stepwise improvement in the statistician's toolkit than a singularity-style breakthrough.

An unknown unknown is not going to be anything as obvious as Eurequa. It'll be some strange eruption from some obscure and decidedly unsexy branch of mathematics that nobody but a few eccentrics had previously cared about.

105:

I've read, who knows if its true, that Marx always said he was not a Marxist.
A lot of the 19th Century bombing Anarchism was funded and run by a department of the Russia secret police to keep their power and jobs. The bombs are not going off, but the FBI seems to be doing the same thing to dumb Moslems now.
I read that a gene hacked E. coli bacteria takes anything with sugar and makes a alcohol so good the it can be pored in to a motor and it will run.
What Machiavelli really did made him a good man for his time and place. I really think our American right is using Hitlers Mein Kampf

106:

I think a 'known unknown' that has never been really faced up to is extreme longevity where people remain healthy, productive and creative... Everyone seems to think that longevity implies a bunch of half dead, hide-bound geriatrics running the show. The other 'known unknown' often mentioned here is a singulatity driven by AI. Most people who believe in it think it is possible to build a computer from the ground up that can think. To me it is much more probable that it will come from a computer enhanced human or human group. We have already evolved the "intentional stance' and 'purpose' side of things which is the hard bit of AI, all we need to do now is ramp up the processing side of things. Also, uplifted animals aren't far away and they are going to create massive problems.
As for unknown unknowns, they will come from who knows where and we will have to develop institutions which maximise flexibility and variety if we are going to deal with them.


107:

"Strength limits in women are much more of a attitute and training problem than a biology one. The 'safety' limits (I believe 50 pounds in the US) are very easily achievable by all but the smallest women."

Not really, in a practical sense.

Sure, you can put a woman through extensive strength training, if you really needed her to do manual labor, and that "average" woman could then pick up that item and place it on a flat shelf at waist height... but that's not what "lifting" is in the work place. When we need someone to lift 50 pounds, we need someone to be able to lift it, hoist it to shoulder height, carry it for a moderate distance, and then hold it in position - or turn it to a different one. Or (like I had to do recently) lift up on the back half of a 300+ pound stack of projectors and hold them off the ground and still, for over a minute, while the two other guys fixed an attachment point.

You can, through extensive weight training, get a normal woman to do this. If you want to spend several months in training to do a "menial" job. A very, very small percentage of women will women want to do that.

Then, you get into the "mass management" side of things. Having the muscle to hoist something up and put it on a shelf is one thing - having the mass to force it into place while not sliding across the floor is another.

Most "trade" jobs are just like that - it's not the basic muscle power, but the combination of several different kinds of effort. Yeah, you can put a woman through the training to manage that - but nobody does. We've had a half-century (at least) for women to decide to bulk up and do the same jobs as men. Hasn't happened, has it?

The last issue is longevity. I've known a few women who were well-trained (one a champion sculler who nearly made the Olympics), and some could lift a surprising amount of weight for their size. Once. Or occasionally, through the course of a single work day.

Every single one of them got hurt (a few seriously) in the first few months of the job. Twisted knees, sprained wrists, et cetera - while doing tasks that the guys on the crew did casually.

Look at that clip - a 140 pound woman managed a 300 pound dead lift, after years of training, under very controlled conditions. In the same weight class, the equivalent record for a man is more than double that - and the current clean and jerk record is over 400 pounds. So while a super-conditioned woman can just barely lift that much off the ground, a guy would be expected to lift it over his own head...

108:

"And at which point does software and mathematics become too complex for any human brain to understand and maintain?"

"2011 or so..."

Much earlier than that I think.

I'd argue for 1976 when the four colour theorem was solved using a computer to do a repetitious check of possibilities that would take a human decades to do, and even more decades to fully check.

109:

"...Look at that clip - a 140 pound woman managed a 300 pound dead lift..."

The record for a 132lb woman is 518lbs
http://www.powerliftingwatch.com/files/PLWR-W-10-24-11.pdf

110:

Money never _had_ intrinsic value. Money is serialised fungible generalisd promises.

111:

CHarlie @ 73
Marx made some very astute observation of his then contemporary society.
He made specific predictions IF THINGS REMAINED UNCHANGED as to what would (might) happen
But things changed.
Education spread, the lumpenproletariat decreased, the middle classes increased, countries started ensuring small (but increasing) amounts of workers rights and pensions and social support.
Revolutions were going to happen in the "most developed" societies, remember?
As a "political" system Marxism is completly broken.
As a religion it is still strong amongst a deluded and amazingly naive minority, given that its predictions are as false and dangerous as all the other religions.
Please note that I also observed that "capitalism" is in crisis, and we don't want it to tip right over into corporatism-fascism.
Less likely here than in the US, since people, even tory MP's are noting the warning signs.

In aswer to your last question - the Culture?
The real trouble is that those of us who are educated will always find something to do.
What about those with erm "IQ's" below 95, say. [I use the IQ label for convenience, you understand? ]

Raven @ 82
Squawk!
And what religion, EVER has accepted the findings of physical science?
That's the whole POINT of religions, they are un-real.
Like the aforementioned communism.

phil knight @ 86
The fundies are the new communists, sorry.
Remember they have a (specific version of) an established world religion behind them.
Look at the news from Kano - not pretty.

112:

Isn't the computer system in Brunner's Shockwave rider already something like a pre-shadow of the WWW?

113:

central planning have bigger problems then managers terrorized by the dictator. To do a planning you need to solve NP-complete problems

No you don't (this canard is regularly rolled out by libertarians who've fallen for Hayek).

NP complete problems are tractable using existing algorithms as long as you recognize that you're applying a non-deterministic process and there's a possibility that you're going to end up in a locally optimum sweet spot rather than a global optimum. If you use a satnav device in your car, you're using a machine that attacks an NP complete problem: it doesn't take infinitely long to come up with a route, and while occasionally it barfs and sends you from Boston to New York via Beijing, usually it gets it right.

But, more to the point, the assumption that a central planning system has to out-perform an ideal market algorithm is itself flawed; all it has to do is match or outperform a real market. And I defy you to show me a real market that plays by the rules of classical economics -- where all the participants are perfectly rational self-interested actors with perfect information, where the market is transparent, and where nobody is trying to rig the game.

Hell, I think you could design a central planning system that out-performs real markets by simply designing it as a simulation of a market system without the inefficiencies.

114:

"A knowledgeable and hardworking person can feed her family from such a garden over an acre or two"

Not here.

In my entire sphere of friends and acquaintances, here in the UK, I can only bring to mind 2 who have "an acre or two" of land. Most if they have a garden at all can measure it in 10s of square metres.

115:

One of the things we learned in Iraq is that the enemy doesn't have to kill us, they just have to kill anybody that helps us. That's why we lost.
One of the things we would learn in a US civil war is that the enemy doesn't have to kill us, they just have to kill the factories that make the spare parts.

116:

Cirby, wrt. your comments on Iraq and the Arab Spring, I am fascinated by how you manage to read the situation exactly ass-backwards.

In Iraq, the US committed the huge sin -- Rumsfeld was personally to blame for this -- of not learning from successful past occupations (notably: Germany, 1945-49) that you need boots on the ground, and lots of them, to convince the locals they've been defeated: they tried to occupy a rather large place (geographically speaking) with about a fifth the number of troops it would normally take, isolated and with minimal translator backup, but enough automatic weapons to turn random traffic stops into blood baths if anyone got slightly twitchy. And nothing generates resistance like the perception that the occupiers, while brutal, are vulnerable due to their small numbers.

As for the Arab Spring, you seem to have this odd idea that democracy means people voting the way you would like them to vote. In Egypt, 70% of the population voted for the Muslim Brotherhood or even more extreme islamists. We might not approve -- we might actively dislike islamism (I know I do; an islamist regime is not one I would find congenial, if I were to wake up under one tomorrow morning), but they won the election fair and square.

This is to a large extent our fault, in the west (and I include the former USSR in "the west" at this point, for even though they had a radically oppositional ideology to capitalism, they were creatures of the modern secularizing industrial age), for having backed the dictators for the past sixty years. And the dictators brutally suppressed any political opposition -- research Saddam's handling of the Iraqi communists if you don't believe me. Religion was the one area they didn't dare go after, and so religion became the nucleus of resistance.

Iran is of course the poster child for this process: they got there a generation earlier, thanks to US support for the Shah (not to mention a long-festering sense of grievance over the Mossadegh coup and earlier abuse by the British, Russian, and American empires). I suspect if US politicians had been able to lay off the Iran-baiting after 2001 they'd have had a secularizing counter-revolution in 2008-9; but the more we push against them, the harder they push back.

It'll take a generation or two of democracy (and yes, there is room for democracy to coexist with islam) before the religious fervour has time to fade. Until then, either we learn to coexist with democratically elected islamic governments, or we're in for a lot of pain.

117:

"The record for a 132lb woman is 518lbs"

Yeah - women are pretty good at lifting things with their legs - not as good as the men in the same weight category, but good.

The problem is upper body strength. Yes, you can find women who have been training for years, who can lift surprising amounts of weight. The problem is finding ENOUGH women who have been doing that. Yeah, there's enough women at the far right end of the bell curve to put together a list of 100 or so, but there are _thousands_ of male gym-rats who can lift the same amounts, and without deeply intensive training. It thins out even more when you get past the majority - if you're looking for someone to lift things in the higher weight categories, there aren't more than a few women in the 100+ kilo body mass category for weightlifting.

Women can do that. The problem is - they don't, overall.

When you need a dozen people to perform some "trade" task that involved heavy lifting, they're pretty much all going to be men.

118:

Mark G @ 144 (& heteromeles)
A standard Allotment is approx 30 metres by 10
two of those is easily enough land to produce enough vegetables to keep a four-person family fed for a year.
The problem comes with grains/pulses and meat.
For which you need the half-hectare .....
I have an allotment, and we give food away!

Charlie @ 116
Agree ... but ... um ... errr
A theocratic guvmint of any sort is completely antithetical to any real democracy.
[Godwin warning]
Onece something like a religious group gets real power, unseating them is very very difficult, to say the least. Take power by democratic means and then take that away .....
England got away with it, because the CofE was itself a coalition, persbetyrian/Methodist dissenters were left alone, and even the RC were only watched carefully after 1688.
Compare with Scotland until the removal of parliament to London, where sectarianism held a very vicious sway [It declined amazingly quickly after 1707]

119:

It really doesn't take a lot to prevent those cases - and in most "market economies," government intervention is what causes or allows them in the first place.

It must be fun to live in your world, where everything works just right!

Cartels, monopolies, monopsonies -- they're all tools human beings invent to game the system.

So we invent rules to defend the system against being gamed.

And the gamers come up with new techniques.

The best so far is regulatory capture -- the tendency of regulatory authorities to be captured by the industries they nominally regulate. Because they need to recruit staff who understand the industries, and where better to find them than in the targeted industries themselves? A revolving door develops between regulators and regulated, and gradually the interests of the regulators drift until they come into alignment with the interests of the largest market incumbents: if anything, they see their job as preventing disruption by new start-ups.

You want an example? Try the pharmaceutical industry. Try getting a new antibiotic to market, under the current regulatory regime. It's not possible to make a profit by doing so. Which is partly why we're in this fix wrt. antibiotic resistance.

Or try transport. Ask yourself why the USA doesn't have much in the way of high speed rail. You might find that safety regs for transportation are handed down by an agency obsessed with freight, which in turn is a subdivision within an agency focussed on roads and airlines for passenger transport. AIUI, the US standards for safety of railway passenger carriages make it virtually impossible to buy off-the-shelf TGV or Shinkansen train sets because they expect said HSR units to run on the same track as heavy freight trains and to deal with level crossings (no grade separation). There's a vested interest in keeping high speed rail from catching on in those corridors where there are dense urban cores that could benefit from it.

120:

Common myth: Ghandi didn't kick the British Empire out of India.

He had a huge impact, true, but the real leverage was applied by one Theodore Roosevelt. Whose price for lending US support to the UK during the struggle against Hitler basically bled the empire to death: the UK came within a month of bankruptcy in 1945, had to continue wartime rationing until the early 1950s, and simply didn't have the money after the war to keep a military and political presence in India.

What Ghandi managed to do was to delegitimize the use of force by the British authorities to maintain their occupation. Violent resistance is used by the occupier to justify violent repression (as witness the Mau Mau uprising and the British response -- 1950s). But it's very hard to justify shooting or hanging non-violent protesters at home or abroad.

121:

not exactly a plus for the pleasantry's physical welfare.

Excuse me, but: I know that was a typo, but I am so stealing "the pleasantry" as a term for the future dole-supported leisure class. (Postulating a dole large enough to live reasonably comfortably and indulge in low-cost entertainments like MMOs or kicking footballs around.)

It sounds better than Orwell's proles ...

Through free trade, unskilled labor, which is highly fungible, is forced to compete on a world-wild basis. This depresses the price they can demand, which funnels money to the owners of capital,

Well, one point in this equation is that unskilled labour is only fungible because the products of unskilled labour can be shipped around cheaply. If shipping costs go up, some of that demand for labour is going to be repatriated. Although I may be whistling past the graveyard here (see also robot windjammers that use weather satellites to avoid storms and make best use of the wind) ...

122:

Apropos asserting women can't do jobs that require heavy lifting, you might want to look into the state of the art in powered exoskeletons.

Never mind the US Army shovelling money into anything that lets infantry carry 100kg equipment packs on their backs at a run -- the Japanese are into that scene as well, as a way of supporting their elderly population while they work.

Your average Japanese farmer is around 70 years old, and not getting any younger. So they're aiming to solve the problem by putting geriatric farmers in powered exoskeletons.

Now. Why wouldn't that work for women, in those rare instances where they need maximum upper-body strength?

NB: The reason they haven't traditionally gone into trades where they need arduous training to compete should be obvious: they're at a disadvantage, and folks already in the trades are prejudiced against them. It's much easier to go into jobs where the prejudice ain't helping keep them out. It's not as if nurses ever have to lift patients who've fallen out of bed, is it?

123:

Regarding Egypt, I'm under the impression that things are going rather well actually. You can compare the FJP (235 seats) to the US Democrats and Al Nour (121) to the Republicans in terms of both religious fervour and general policy. Al Wafd (38) are something like a local version of an EU LibDem party, while the Egyptian Bloc(30) is a melting pot of actually forward-thinking politicians, the likes of which neither the US nor the EU has.

FJP will not form a coalition with Al Nour (they are violently opposed to each other), so it will likely turn into a Democrat-LibDem government, which has a narrow enough margin to need the progressives and small fringe parties for some decisions. Not the worst way this election could have turned out.

Of course, there are still transitional throes, and the military _could_ still fuck it all up with hamfistedness (seems unlikely though). And women's rights is probably going to be the one black mark that Egypt will have on its records for a while. But compared to, say Sudan or even Israel, Egypt looks good to me.

124:

Hey, I'm trying to be a dole supported lay about just now, but have too much savings. Anyway the amount given out isn't enough to live on unless you claim absolutely everything possible due to having no savings or suchlike. Nowadays not only do you have to pay for food, electricity, gas, but also telephone and internet access, without which you are cut off from a lot of things. That's another £30 a month or more. Then there's clothes and what have you. Certainly you can't afford a car or insurance for it.

125:

Revolutions were going to happen in the "most developed" societies, remember?

Greg, they did happen. Mostly in 1917-18.

Compare the UK today with the UK in 1848 and we have pretty much undergone a constitutional revolution: the House of Lords barely exists, the franchise covers all adults regardless of gender or property ownership, there's (what's left of) a social security system, and so on.

And the UK is among the least changed nations in Europe, over that time frame.

What didn't happen was global Leninist revolution. But you should bear in mind that the communists only forked from the socialists, and the socialists from the social democrats, some time after Marx's death; if you view social democracy as his ideological offspring (which it is) then his followers won.

126:

The UK has a land area of approximately 94,060 square miles; this converts to 60,200,000 acres.

The UK has a population of 62,218,000 people (as of 2010) and rising.

Note that the land area includes mountains, bogs, rivers, lakes, etc. Probably less than half of it is cultivatable.

Chances of us feeding ourselves off the land ...?

127:

I hear your argument and raise you the Republic of Ireland as a counter-example.

Run as a theocracy between the 1920s and the 1990s. Then withered and secularized bewilderingly fast.

128:

You know, mainly on the basis of a few books I've read I think you're overestimating the theocracy bit in Ireland. Maybe a cultural theocracy, but they didn't control things in the same way as more well known examples of a theocracy e.g. Iran.

129:

I still think the impact on society of 3D printers/fabricators is going to be one of those Known Unknowns that is probably going to be a major game changer.

Not least because if we cut and paste the effect the internet and digitised media in general has had on the music/movie/TV and latterly publishing industries onto consumer electronics say, where a visit to the iTunes store won't just get you the latest Coldplay/Harry Potter/Dan Brown (not that any of those are particularly desirable in this household) but also the latest MacBook Pro, all shiny and slightly warm from the fabber.

But what happens to Apple's business model (or insert name of consumer electronics business here) if the pattern data for said MacBook also becomes readily available on a bunch of bit-torrents. DRM is going to have to get really good, or someone has to find an entirely new way to monatise R&D effort into $NEWSTUFF (In exactly the same way that the music business has totally failed to do so far)

130:

Not all tradesmen are hod-carriers.

Its doesn't matter a huge amount if your plumber, electrician, machinist or welder can't carry half their body weight, as we have evolved cunning technologies to move around heavy objects. The most obvious one being carrying less or even that highly advanced technique a "two-man lift".

Any discussion of why there's not more female tradesmen that solely focusses on lifting and carrying is missing the point.

If you're looking for reasons why there's not more female tradesmen, you might be better off looking at how apprenticeships are marketed towards young people, the careers options and guidance given in schools (male: trades, female: beautician)and the sexism in parts of industry against female recruits.

131:

Maybe a cultural theocracy, but they didn't control things in the same way as more well known examples of a theocracy e.g. Iran.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you don't have a uterus, do you?

132:

Interesting thought. Most histories ignore how wartime cooperation is funded, and the costs to the two sides.

Kinda curious on one small detail: Theodore Roosevelt, or Franklin Roosevelt?

Because Theo wasn't a player in international politics in the 1940s, but Frank was...

133:

Yes to 3D printing and unknown-unknowns. (You might note I dipped a toe in that bottomless pond in "Rule 34".)

But I'm not sure the design pattern for a Macbook Air would do anyone good without the gigantic factories and fab lines to produce the bits that go into it; Core i7 processors are among today's climax technologies, like high bypass turbofan engines -- very few folks can make them and they require massive investments in exotic material processing lines as well as highly specialized skill sets.

Doubtless a magic-wand nanotech fabricator a la Eric Drexler's "Engines of Creation" could make a present-day Macbook Air in half an hour, but what would you want one for?

Actually, on second thoughts ...

Far more interesting idea for the near-present: just as Project Gutenberg seeks to publish out-of-copyright works and to preserve stuff that's rare but in copyright (albeit going out of copyright soon), maybe we need a movement to make and preserve 3D scans of the injection molded components and circuit boards of 1980s and 1990s computers? So that when the time comes in 2050 for some historian to examine the impact of the Atari ST on desktop publishing culture 70 years ago, they can print off a replica of the physical stuff, dump the logic of the Motorola 68000 and support chips into an FPGA, load the software off an orphan software archive on the internet, and play with a working replica. Much like this working miniature replica of a Cray-1 supercomputer.

134:

Duh! I always get the two names confused! (I can tell them apart on time period and policies, but ...)

135:

Yes. Turtledove wrote the story about someone from the present day going back to the 1940s and selling both then-unpublished SF and truthful stories about future events as SF ("Tet Offensive" and stories about Watergate and Three Mile Island were among those stories). Turtledove's story was called "Hindsight"

http://turtledove.wikia.com/wiki/Hindsight

136:

The trades are actually equalizing somewhat - around a fourth of the apprentices Ive run into lately are female, which is a very dramatic contrast to the older cohort. Very few of them are dainty little things, tough. Instead, there is a lot of "Immigrant from somalia, and built like heck due to hauling wood and water for the first 16 years of her life" "Blatantly butch, subtype fit" and "Stereotypical nordic valkyrie"

137:

I think you may underestimate the amount of day-to-day power the church had. It didn't need representation in government when its rule would just be obeyed.

Witness the Magdalene laundries, where any girl who "strayed" or flirted would be imprisoned without trial, working for the Church. It was without question kidnap, even if supported by the parents; if they escaped they would be brought back by the police. No questions asked of its legality at the time.

Or schools: with ~4000 schools in the country, 2-3 of them were non-denominational; they were run by the churches.

Or the influence of the clergy: they would propose or stop legislation on a word. In the 1970s-1980s the archbishop of Dublin could simply walk into the City offices, declare that the planned flats / apartments were "too small for catholic families", and that was the end of it.

Poltical campaigning and collections for political parties happened (and to an extent, still do) after mass, on church grounds, because thats where 95% of the population would be on a Sunday morning. You didn't want to do anything to annoy the Bishop or Parish Priest ...

Censorship continued until the late 1980s; we had a referendum on whether a woman could freely leave the country in case she was going for an abortion (phrased differently, but this was the effect). In the 1980s.

It changed, as Charlie pointed out, bewilderingly fast. Within 5 years, you had much of the legislation on contraception, divorce, homosexuality, censorship overthrown, and one of the leading campaigners, who would have been viewed as "loony feminist" in the 1970s, elected President in the 1980s.

138:

And I defy you to show me a real market that plays by the rules of classical economics -- where all the participants are perfectly rational self-interested actors with perfect information, where the market is transparent, and where nobody is trying to rig the game."

That raises a good point- people will always have imperfect information, will likely always be trying to rig the game, and will act in all sorts of ways- self-interested or not.
The chief downside of central planning is that it reduces the number of people you have to misinform, bribe, or otherwise suborn.
What's the economic system that manages to function best _despite_ attempts to rig it? Basically, what's the most robust that still generates good performance?

139:

Theocracy - Government by a God or priesthood. The UK with its established state religion strikes me as more of a theocracy than the RoI ever was.

140:

Does anyone expect 3D printing over the next (say) 15 years to do anything more than turn out expensive plastic widgets?

141:

Great Britain doesn't have a climate that is much worse than that of Germany and the population densities of the two countries are comparable.

Yet, until 2011, Germany was able to export more grain than it imported - despite burning the produce of some 2.5mio out of 17mio hectares without feeding it to either people or livestock. (It has been predicted that this year, this practice has finally tipped the balance towards the imports.) It is also able to supply itself with sufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables within climatic limits. (Limits that could be overcome as we see in Holland that is producing such things for export.)

So long as you don't count mangoes, pineapples, cacao or bananas as absolute essentials, the UK can easily feed itself off its own land. Modern agriculture is that good.

142:

I can't think of a good mnemonic for the two. Since Franklin is still within living memory of the oldest people in the U.S., I suppose it's easier for those in the U.S. to remember which Roosevelt is which.

(Among the US-Presidents-who-share-a-last-name set, we have two father/son pairs, two unrelated Johnsons who are separated by a century, and a pair of cousins named Roosevelt. I imagine in 50 years, someone will have to correct someone else about the difference between Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Johnson...)

I don't know if there's more to say on the end-of-Empire story you mention. The problems of paying the bills on an expensive war appear to be very much a part of it; I just hadn't heard it described as the primary cause of the end of the British Empire.

143:

Yes. I expect it to become natural to use them to effect minor repairs with replacement parts. For parts that need to be something other than plastic, people will prototype the part themselves and then send it to a specialist to have it copied exactly in the suitable material. I can already have metal parts manufactured like this by sending a 3D model as data - when I can send the exact piece I need, it will be so much easier and more reliable. The technology already exists with cheap webcams and turntables to build a 3D model from a real object, so professional companies will have this fully automated and the majority of the cost will be the labour of the guy opening your box and putting it into the machine, and posting the finished piece back to you.

Enthusiasts will generate specs that they share amongst themselves, leading to people developing and building gadgets and machines, able to build and tinker with working versions in their own homes. This will be seen as natural to children who grow up with it, who will wonder why they can't apply this principle to everything. They will then apply this principle to everything.

Companies will sell sets of specs. They will try and fail to deal with the ensuing piracy of their designs. They will end up demanding that 3D printers be made with software to ensure that they can only print licensed objects. This will fail, not least because people will be able to make their own 3D printers.

144:

"also, it's astonishing how many people come up with enormously complex and radical explanations for why they want a gold standard currency, despite the 2 world depressions this damn fool idea has to its credit so far."

Charlie covered this, with the idea that once the people who've lived through it die, the next generation(s) don't believe it anymore ('This Time It's Different').

145:

The UK isn't a theocracy; Establishmentism is the opposite of theocracy, not an example of it.

The Monarch was a secular power that took over the Church in England (and hence the priesthood ...) to keep it under his thumb. Henry VIII never claimed to be God.

(I wonder what it would have been like if it had happened in France. Would the Sun King avoid the temptation to call himself God?)

146:

What's the economic system that manages to function best _despite_ attempts to rig it? Basically, what's the most robust that still generates good performance?

Central planning!

Because that's how most large corporations are internally constituted.

Even when they have internal markets for, e.g., training budgets (where each department gets a certain amount they can choose how to spend) it's centrally controlled. And for the most part, western corporations are as top-down directed as any Stalinist workers' paradise.

(Any accusation that I might be being snarky will be coldly winked at.)

147:

"Run as a theocracy between the 1920s and the 1990s. Then withered and secularized bewilderingly fast."

Ah jeez, not this again. And I was enjoying the thread so much.

Charlie, as I think I've said here before, the power structure that emerged in Ireland in the counter-revolution of the 1920s (after the civil war in which nationalist hardliners were brutally put down by their former comrades, and revolutionary institutions like the Dail courts abolished) involved an alliance between Church and State. . . but the state was always the senior partner, and the dominant partner, in that relationship.

And this was true even in the sexual politics of independent Ireland. In 1945, the cabinet of the time gave serious thought to banning the emigration of women. They didn't do it, in the end, but the fact that they were prepared to even consider it is incredible enough. And at first sight that might seem to be in line with the Roman church's concentration on control of female sexuality. Diarmuid Ferriter, the historian who's actually looked at the documents on this one, however, makes clear (in his The Transformation of Ireland)that the major concern was the economic loss female emigration entailed.

And that was always the ultimate concern of the new political elite who came out of the 1920s - how best might they maintain their social and economic privileges (should there be a "?" mark here, by the way, punctuation experts?). Any theological aspects to their politics were fig leafs to cover the real class nature of their politics. Which is quite Marxist, really, when you think about it.

148:

I've visited Eire (albeit only since the turn of the millennium). I've grown up in the UK.

The UK has a legally constituted state religion ... which, for the most part, is ignored or ridiculed.

Eire had Catholicism written into its constitution (until the fifth amendment removed it in 1972), and the role of the Church in Irish life was vastly deeper than in the UK. I note that this was perceived as a defeat by the ultra-Catholics in the 1920s -- they wanted Catholicism to be an explicit state religion -- but it's still pretty hardcore by modern standards.)

150:

Re: Japanese exoskeleton robotics. That effort is not being put in to allow older Japanese folks to perform stoop labour in paddy fields; the functional return on investment, both in terms of energy and cost, doesn't make sense never mind the effort required to harden such a device against being immersed in water and covered in mud on a regular basis.

It's a medical support technology, meant to keep older folk upright and ambulatory in hospitals and maybe at home. One of the more common reasons old folks end up in a hospital bed or a morgue is they fall down and break something. Worst case their cats get a free meal for a couple of months before anyone notices. The demographics mean fewer people to look after old folks in the future hence the efforts being made to get around that problem using technology. See "Roujin-Z" as a working example.

As for the US supersoldier suit, again it's not really a goer. Great, the trooper can carry a 100kg backpack long as the fuel source never runs out (polonium anyone?) and the gearboxes don't jam up with desert sand or Korean mud or the lube freezes up at -40 (C or F doesn't matter). Once it breaks down the soldier is stuck far from home wearing 200kg of expensive scrap metal and they still have to lug that 100kg backpack wherever they need to go.

GE had a project back in the 70s, the Strongman which was a complete military powered-suit with Starship-Trooper style feedback system. The problem was that it would have to be attached to a hydraulic compressor the size of a small truck. They only ever got the Strongarm working, that was an arm on a frame which mimicked a control sleeve worn by a human being. It still required a serious power pack to drive it but it could lift about 300-400kg as I recall. We can do better nowadays, courtesy of a Black Swan piece of engineering most folks have never heard of, the Harmonic Drive gearbox coupled to a DC electric motor but any such device still needs lots of power to make a useful exoskeleton system and lots of stored energy for it to work for extended periods.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmonic_drive

151:

Yes. There should be a question mark.

On the note of comparing Ireland/RoI/Eire/Free State (keep 'em coming) with Islamic states, I think it's quickly apparent that the closer you look, the clearer and bigger the differences become. As has been pointed out, the Catholic Church and Irish Government entered into a political alliance, but isn't Islam both a religion and a political system -- there is no crack into which a wedge can be driven, such as happended in Ireland over the latter quarter of the 20th Century.

(Note: I'm not an Islamic scholar, so I'm willing to be shown I'm wrong about the Islamic religion/political system statement.)

152:

Regarding my previous comment: I may also be falling afoul of the old trap of considering Islam as monolithic -- I know it's not, but I am assuming that that instrusion into politics varies only by a matter of degree over the different Islamic "flavours".

153:

As I understand it, you're correct that Islam is both a political system and a religion, but there is a crack: it's a religion that doesn't have a central authority -- it's citation-based and peer-reviewed, but there's no Pope at the centre to hand down dogma (or for dissident protestant/non-conformist/orthodox Churches to seek to reform).

Note for example, within Shi'ism, the Ayatollah Khomenei's success at defining a democratic framework that could exist within his rather hardcore version of Shi'ism. (It has now decayed somewhat, because the theocracy maintains a grip on who is eligible to run for election) but Iran still has democratic structures.

If you want to see a liberalizing/secularizing Islamic democracy ...

The problem is, Islam is still reeling from the rise of the West -- 400 years ago we were barbarians on the fringe of their empires, 350 years later we were the empires and they were the dwellers among decaying ruins. It's massive future shock and they have difficulty figuring out how to live with it -- much as the present-day rise of China is freaking out the American ruling classes (when they're not outsourcing their factories there).

A common symptom of future shock is to double-down on tradition and fondle some snakes in church.

I think they'll dig their way back up to daylight eventually -- go back 600 years and compared to the west the Islamic world was progressive and liberal -- but it'll take a long time. Probably not within your lifetime or mine. But what will deliver the reforms will be a reformist movement from within the church Islamic clergy. Maybe a new heretical sect that embraces the scientific method?

154:

Major downside there- apparently the average lifespan of a major corporation's about 40-50 years. USSR managed 69, which seems to be just a bit better than par.
A corporation collapsing here or there can be dealt with...and is expected. States collapsing seem to be more problematic to deal with- Yugoslavia, Somalia, etc.

155:

Good point, I really hadn't thought about it from the perspective of future shock.

I think you also made the point in an earlier post up-thread, something about perceived oppression driving a population further into this kind of "hide in a church and fondle the snakes" type of thinking, with an unhealthy dose of violent opposition thrown in, and how it might be better if we just left them alone. I can't see the "leaving them alone" thing happening anytime soon, and without that step it will probably take even longer for the wheel to turn. (It would probably require every nation on the planet to leave them alone, and all it would take is one to start poking the hornets' nest, and everyone has to get involved again.)

156:

"But, more to the point, the assumption that a central planning system has to out-perform an ideal market algorithm is itself flawed; all it has to do is match or outperform a real market."

There was a rather good Asimov short story on this called "The Machine that Won the War"

Very very difficult problem, maybe unsolvable.

157:

So I just imagined those CofE bishops sitting in the House of Lords as of right of being CofE bishops then? ;-)

158:

One known unknown that if it becomes cheap enough will certainly bite a lot of people on the bum is human biotech. We can already sex-select human embryos, but what happens if the cost of this technology drops to a few tens of dollars?

Well, at that cost everybody who cares what sex their child is will be able to decide which sex they want. For Western societies where there isn't an overt cultural preference one way or the other, the effects should be fairly small. For societies which strongly prefer one sex over another, the effect will be devastating since we'll see a "tragedy of the commons" effect; people will opt for their own perceived benefit over societal benefit.

One of the cultural-geographic areas where a strong preference for males over females is seen is the middle east. Therefore, if cheap sex-selection biotech becomes common, the population growth rate of this region will tank over the space of a generation, and after this point the local culture will shift from what it is now, to the culture of whoever colonises the region.

This is a clear known unknown; we know it is likely to happen, just not what will happen after the demographic crash (or cultural change).

159:

"He had a huge impact, true, but the real leverage was applied by one Theodore Roosevelt"

I always think of a Teddy Bear charging up San Juan hill, helps me keep it straight (-:

Yes, the US had a role, but the UK was leaving India with or without the US, one way or the other and very soon. I'm afraid that one you cannot leave at the US doorstep.

As far as Central Planning vs Market Economics, lets just say I am skeptical and would like to see a centrally planned economy that wasn't an utter train wreck as a proof point. Market economics, for all it's problems and issues, forces a certain respect for reality.

The things that are currently happening to the EU seem like a very strong proof point against central planning, especially by disconnected bureaucrats.

160:

"Theocracy - Government by a God or priesthood. The UK with its established state religion strikes me as more of a theocracy than the RoI ever was."

I'll file that with confederate California and the non-slave state Texas.

161:

It seems that no matter what political system we as a species implement, it eventually collapses due, in large part, to Charlie's fractal analysis -- it's lowest level building blocks are always oh-so-flawed human beings. This could be considered a known-unknown: We know it's going to happen, just not when or necessarily how.

If someone came up with a perfectly scalable (to any size of population) and uncorruptible political system, that could be considered the ultimate unknown-unknown -- basically because it's pretty much impossible to imagine (and before anyone shouts "CULTURE!" I will add: without a lot of other unknown-unknowns coming into play), changes absolutely everything, and makes almost all historic precedent irrelevant.

Not too likely, though.

162:

The Culture is a dictatorship run by Gods

163:

That is a fair analysis (but mostly they are benign Gods), but usually when someone mentions "ideal society" here-abouts, someone else immediately points at the Culture and makes "squee" noises. I was just trying to preempt that one.

164:

"So I just imagined those CofE bishops sitting in the House of Lords as of right of being CofE bishops then? ;-)"

No, you imagine that they have sh*t for power.

165:

Nope. They just get ignored for practical purposes in politics.
They can block legislation, but only 2 (or 3?) times in a row before the government uses the Parliament act to overrule the Lords.

I can't think of the last time a CoE bishop was able to say this will / this won't happen to a politican, who had their order obeyed.

166:

The Culture is the machine society equivalent of a mad old lady with a house of cats.
All the other machine civilisations in the galaxy are very polite to it's face but as soon as it's back is turned they're all gossiping about the smell of human and the weird politics it keeps on shouting at people in the street.

167:

Ah yes, those evil ruling COE representatives. All 26 of them in a 788 seat upper house that has very limited rights (not just the bishops, all of the Lords) when it comes to opposing legislation passed by the commons, the democratically elected chamber. Add in the elected members (650) and that's 1.8% of political class.

That clearly makes us a theocracy.

Actually, despite being actively non-Christian, the Lords Spiritual are one group of "politicians" I do listen to, along with cross-bench lords and a few others. They often have a vested interest, yes. The Lords Spiritual seem to take one of their vested interests as the poor and needy. Since I have been both, people speaking up for them get my qualified support. They occasionally speak up for other things too, such as the special nature of Sunday (which I don't support) and the ethics of embryo research and the like. I don't always agree with their views on the latter but I do consider them to be important as a reasoned contribution to the debate.

There's no way we're a theocracy. We have people with very limited political power by benefit of being very senior clergy, true. I'm sure it's been abused and will be again. But there's no way to support the idea they rule the country - they have some influence but it's really marginal. Probably more marginal than the numbers suggest.

168:

"As far as Central Planning vs Market Economics, lets just say I am skeptical and would like to see a centrally planned economy that wasn't an utter train wreck as a proof point. Market economics, for all it's problems and issues, forces a certain respect for reality."

As has already been pointed out, look at any large corporation. Not to mention any large armed force.

But there seems to be a false dichotomy here. It doesn't have to be either centrally planned OR complete markets. You can mix the two and in fact that's what happens in pretty near every country except perhaps North Korea.

Isn't it just obvious that government does some things better than markets, and markets do some things better than governments? The trick is to find the right balance, and this is hampered by current ideologies that won't cut and try and see what works best, but continue to insist it must be all one or all the other.

Instead let's start working out what works best when done by government and what works best when done by markets. Nah, that's never gonna happen.

169:

An unknown-unknown .... anything that would make government or big business less relevant.

Seems as though most people think that government and big business breakdown can only come from some type of cataclysmic event like WW3. I disagree -- what keeps these institutions humming along is their real or perceived relevance. The same breakdown of government and big business could also occur if good things happened ...

Seems there's general agreement that sickness will likely be reduced overall, so by extension, would all of the chronic illnesses underlying old-age frailty. Effectively, the healthcare sector becomes much less relevant psychologically and especially financially since in most Western economies, the government is the single largest purchaser of health-care (for the combination of social programs, plus military and civil service employees). This means taxes would have to fall, which means smaller government, etc. Similarly, medical/life insurance, some law practices/courts, etc. would similarly scale down. The healthcare sector has already branched out into 'wellness/fitness/life enhancement' - so the financial problem is being addressed partially. However, the loss of gov't as its chief and largest single buyer (and R&D co-payer/sponsor) is still going to hurt the healthcare sector because gov't will have less to lose in prosecuting, i.e., gov't won't have to worry about big pharma retaliating by pushing through larger than budgeted price increases.

Based on the above, I think we need to consider what happens to a society when big government and big business contract.

170:

Slightly fact-free post here, but..

The Soviet economy was growing faster then the west until sometime in the mid-sixties. Many years ago I read quite a convincing article whose premise was that the planners ran out of computer power. Soviet IT was way behind western IT and their mainframes couldn't cope.

Perhaps they should have harnessed some of those chess grand masters.

171:

Large corporations are not economies or governments. Also having worked fairly high up at several fortune 500 firms, they are in fact, are utter train wrecks.

But yes, I am totally for a mix of central planning and market economics, 100% in agreement there. I think the US is overly soft on the market economics part too, we need to crack down on the corps.

172:

Wishful thinking from someone just about to launch a political party? :-)

173:

Anyone ever consider that the real reason why religions keep going/sprouting up is that they're not taxed?

174:

The UK has a land area of approximately 94,060 square miles; this converts to 60,200,000 acres.

The UK has a population of 62,218,000 people (as of 2010) and rising.

Note that the land area includes mountains, bogs, rivers, lakes, etc. Probably less than half of it is cultivatable.

Chances of us feeding ourselves off the land ...?

Depends on how it's done. The FAO does does have the figures. The current answer is it isn't possible, because it takes time to learn how to garden that well.

The contrast is that the current system of industrial agriculture:
--Doesn't stop famine, and may promote it in some areas.
--Isn't sustainable by any measure
--Still can feed the world (in terms of calories, at least).

The last point goes to the problem with capitalist agriculture. It's not just productivity, it's about politics, distribution, and local safety nets. Asking a farmer to sell his crop to the world doesn't necessarily make him safer during crop failures. In fact, the evidence from India (which had millennia of records and a history of being colonized by people who invented statistics) strongly suggests that famines increased once global marketing programs were implemented. Prior to British rule, Indian peasants had to give their crops to their landlords, but the landlords were required to support them through crop failures. That system may not have been just, but it kept people fed better.

Now, some countries in Africa are telling the IMF and World Bank to bugger off when they want to implement export-driven agriculture and sweatshops. There's a whole movement called Food Security that does just this.

In any case, things like organic agriculture and permaculture are currently the major sustainable alternatives we have. Assuming there are people in the future who want to eat, I strongly suspect they'll be the norm within 50-100 years.

175:

The United States is the one empire that still labors under the illusion that war can accomplish something positive. The European nations all surrendered their empires after suffering severely in war and losing all taste for it.

176:

The United States is the one empire where most of the population still labors under the illusion that war can accomplish something positive. The European nations all surrendered their empires after suffering severely in war and losing all taste for it.

177:

Having read the OP several times, I still see the "world of 2092" being described in primarily technological terms, rather than social. Not so dissimilar in POV from Clarke's "Profiles of the Future".

Having lived through nearly 60 years, what seems to me to be more interesting are the social changes, almost none of which could have been predicted, and seem to have come almost out of left field.

Certainly key science and technology knowledge have been drivers of change (and I still believe social change follows from them), but specific changes may be due to random events due to particular people acting at certain times and the butterfly effect turning them into huge social change drivers.

178:

I apologize for the double post. Glitch at my end.

179:

paws4thot @ 139
What planet are you on?
Just because we have an "official" church does not mean it's the ONLY one.
Even when set up, there were (hidden, unspoken) compromises about "Other" believers.
Catholics sent the man to the official church 3 times a year, whilst the wife (who didn't count in 1600) stayed at home and raised the children in romish ways. Later, there were explicit get-outs for dissenters.
The restriction WAS that office-holders under the crown had to be CofE.
But even that was gradually relaxed, as time went by and the terrorist threat from the Vatican receded.
... @ 157
Historical overshoot. Typical Brit left-over remnant.
They don't even vote en bloc, and can esily be outvoted anyway.
Strong moves in Lords' reform to have the bastards thrown out - if only to stop OTHER religions demanding an "in".

DJPO'K @ 147
Even in 1966, I was asked if I had any contraceptives on me, when alighting at Amiens Street station from Belfast!
And this is NOT a theocracy?
The whole of bloody Ireland was two violently competeing theocracies, that was the trouble, and what blew my mind when I went there ......

Charlie @ 153
Well the christian churches gave up on running everything (mostly) because the "enlightenment" and the scientific progress made, kept kicking church arse.
The same will have to happen to islam, in much shorter order, so it's going to be a very rough ride.
I mean, some of them are still denying cause-&-effect ... "all happens by the will of allah" - really!

jim smith @ 169
The CCCP was growing faster, because it was coming from furhter back, and had ground to make up!
Once it got close, the economy got too big for effective central planning ,and ......

180:

I think the answer to was (is?) Ireland a theocracy depends on what you mean by "theocracy".

Was Ireland (North and South) ruled directly by the church (which is what I suspect most people would call a theocracy)? No.

Were (and are) there laws in Ireland enacted specifically to enforce church doctrine? Yes.

In reality though, it's just a matter of splitting hairs when you have to live with the consequences. I would still say that comparing Ireland as a functioning theocracy with Islamic states is still not a terribly usful comparison, except in the very broadest possible sense.

(On a side note: There are still a few laws in effect in Northern Ireland that don't apply in the rest of the UK, and are explicitly there to pander to Presbyterian -- the largest block of Protestants in the North -- doctrine and belief.)

181:

You need to read "Red Plenty" by Francis Spufford. Faction (i.e. fictional depiction of factual events) with footnotes on the failure of the central planning program. You know the old nostrum, Garbage In, Garbage Out? Gosplan could be its poster-child ...

182:

> The best so far is regulatory capture -- the tendency of regulatory authorities to be captured by the industries they nominally regulate. Because they need to recruit staff who understand the industries, and where better to find them than in the targeted industries themselves?

I note in passing that this also happens in the US to Congressional staff, particularly in committees that deal with esoteric and/or secret matters. You'd be surprised, or maybe not, to learn how many once and future members of the military and intelligence organs are on Hill staff in the concerned committees.

183:

Its on my Amazon wish list (my to-be-read pile). Alphabetically right above Rule 34.

What a dilemma!

184:


> Does anyone expect 3D printing over the next (say) 15 years to do anything more than turn out expensive plastic widgets?

I do, particularly if 3D printing is married to automated machining. If the question had been 5 years, I'd have said no, not quite that soon.

185:

Jim,

"The Marxian concept of capital and the Soviet experience : essay in the critique of political economy / Paresh Chattopadhyay. 1994. "

That book argues that basically what the Soviet economy was good at was the extensive exploitation of resources -- it threw land and labour into production to produce massive growth; but it lacked the mechanisms for improving intensive exploitation of resources. The decline set in from the mid sixties onwards, basically, once the basic industrialisation was done.

This model appears to have held for a lot of developing economies: hence a lot of the Asian tiger crisis was about running up against the limits of Total Factor Productivity.

186:

Capturing and quickly propagating and aggregating accurate, detailed information to the decision makers of a planned economy is THE primary roadblock to getting it to work. I don't believe for a second that it was compute power, unless you use compute power as a surrogate for the above.

Solve that, and Central planning might be do-able. The other side of it is to get the decision makers to make rational decisions even when they have the correct information...

187:

Actually, we have been close enough to that to have major impacts since the 60s.
They are only masked because we have crippled knowledge production enough to make it seem like we are still in the old economy. That and a lot of financial games.
By the way, Marx actually discussed this in the Grundrisse.

188:

>>"Hell, I think you could design a central planning system that out-performs real markets by simply designing it as a simulation of a market system without the inefficiencies."

This smacks of the sort of techno-hubris that you have, rightly, ridiculed among those who, for instance, blithely assume that building a closed system ecology can't be all that hard. You are proposing to simulate an ungodly complex system which you (necessarily) do not fully understand the workings of. On top of which you propose to depart from a straight simulation in order to remove some of the "inefficiencies". Beyond all of this, the massive data collection, fan-in, fan -out difficulties inherent in such a system are not even mentioned. In a previous gig, the firm I was working for collected and analyzed the purchase behavior of panels of consumers that were a few tens of thousands in size. This generated enormous quantities of data for us to move around and sift through. Simulating the workings of an economy in anything like the fine grain that you would need to do central planning is a task that makes climate simulation seem trivial by comparison. And I have yet to even mention that all of this will be interacting with millions of intelligent actors with built-in incentive to game the system.

My guess is that such a system, if tried, would have a mean time between instability events of weeks or months, rather than decades that our current quasi- market economy has and a severity of Great Leap Forward http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Leap_Forward level or worse for the instabilities you get from such a system.

>>"What's the economic system that manages to function best _despite_ attempts to rig it? Basically, what's the most robust that still generates good performance?
Central planning!
Because that's how most large corporations are internally constituted."

Which is why so many large corporations so regularly FAIL in ways that, for instance, Dilbert has been satirizing for the last couple of decades or so. Centrally planned, command and control hierarchies are prevalent in such institutions not because they work so well, but because the folks that run such companies are more comfortable operating in that mode. Note also that central planning does not scale very well, which is why the largest corporations are often the most bureaucratic, inflexible, and incapable of adapting to changing reality (much less anticipating it). Good luck trying to scale this approach to an economy that is close to a couple of orders of magnitude larger than even the largest corporations.

Perhaps the post-Singularity AIs that you depict operating Economics 2.0 in Accelerando could make this workable. I am dubious about the prospect of trying to make this operable with only a human-level substrate available.

189:

You could just pay everyone the same and solve many of the inequality problems. Sure, manufacturers of expensive automobiles would have to get used to selling to syndicates, not individuals, but I'm sure they would adapt.

190:

"If any parents want to contradict me with accounts of how they charge their 3-year-olds bed, board, and personal service costs against an account to be paid in full when they mature, I'm all ears"

David Graeber in his "Debt: The First 5,000 Years" tells a funny story (historically true) about a father in America in the past who handed his son an itemized bill for his entire upbringing. The son paid him and never spoke to him again the rest of his life. The father was apparently quite a piece of work.
Graeber used the story as the exception that proves the rule to make the same point that you are making.

He also talks about three principles of organization: communism, hierarchy, and exchange. All three are present to different degrees in all societies.

191:

"And now, with 20/20 hindsight, the signs are obvious that dictatorial systems in general are unstable once the dictators are not hereditary monarchs with an incentive to pass a working system on to their children and a broad base of popular support."

I'm not sure that's true at all -- it seems an overanalysis. Monarchical systems are stable to a large extent because the principle of legitimacy excludes an overthrow of the system: a coup d'etat by anyone but a close relative makes it highly likely that the plotters will quickly become victims.

The problem of the systems that have been upset isn't that they were dictatorial -- it's they're all based on revolutionary principles, which legitimizes revolutions against themselves.

It's a problem that the "democracies" themselves have faced... See the history of France, for example. The only exception I can see is the US, for idiosyncratic reasons of US history where conservatism managed to embalm the revolution in a very unique way; on the other hand, the contradiction of revolutionary conservatism lies at the heart of American experience.

One reason that much of Western Europe has been stable for half a century is that their forms of government didn't arise from a revolution --- but by a foreign invader instituting them without a revolutionary basis.

That's one reason why foresight is bad -- hindsight is often bad as well. There's things we want to believe, and we, ourselves, are unable to recognize that.

192:

You might be interested to know it's been solved before.

193:

Plato beat Banks to the concept by a couple millennia or so. Apparently you just have to raise your rulers from childhood with a very finicky set of childrearing parameters and keep the population brainwashed to not want a say in power.

Now, how you _actually_ get a set of rulers with no interests apart from governing and a population with no interest _in_ governing...

194:

Free Market Economics in today's American newspaper. Nature gas production cut back because of low prices.
Back when Japan and America were working on computers that would think like a human. Russian experts filled the American schools were the work was being done. After making sure he could not be heard, one of them said a that a true Central Planned Economy could not work without next generation computers. About the after work on them stopped the Soviet Union stopped trying.

195:

Plato beat Banks to the concept by a couple millennia or so. Apparently you just have to raise your rulers from childhood with a very finicky set of childrearing parameters and keep the population brainwashed to not want a say in power.

Yeah, just like Kaiser Wilhelm II. Or Tsar Nicholas II, modulo the brainwashing being an abject FAIL.

The 19th century post-1948 monarchical system in Europe just about matches those criteria. For proof of its success, see 1914.

196:

Ah. My lamentable ignorance of the classics shows me up yet again!

197:

"You might be interested to know it's been solved before."

If you believe Chile ran their entire economy on 500 Telex machines in 1973, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

198:

The story of the itemized child-rearing bill jogged my memory about the experience of a friend of mine.

As a young teenager they were involved in a serious car accident (van-versus-my friend-as-a-pedestrian), and wound up very seriously injured and hospitalised for a number of months, lots of physio, learning to walk again, and complications that plague them to this day. My friend was awarded compensation for the injuries, as you might expect. My friend's father declared that he was due half the compensation because of the trouble that he was put to because of the accident and his child's injuries. Needless to say, they are no longer close.

199:

I would bet heavily that any such science-accepting Islamic offshoot would derive from the Sufis - who it's notable are suffering from both Shia and Sunni aggression all over.

200:

15 years? Probably yes.

Plus of course, expensive plastic widgets seem to have a fair degree of value in today's world. That might not change.

201:

It's not always about you, Greg.

A few years after you tangled with the law, feminist protestors travelled to Belfast, purchased several gross of contraceptive devices, and returned to Dublin - challenging the customs men to arrest as they alighted at Connolly station.

As Mary Kenny records it, nobody was arrrested:

http://www.independent.ie/unsorted/features/the-day-we-drove-the-condom-train-straight-through-de-valeras-ireland-508291.html

202:
Its doesn't matter a huge amount if your plumber, electrician, machinist or welder can't carry half their body weight, as we have evolved cunning technologies to move around heavy objects. The most obvious one being carrying less or even that highly advanced technique a "two-man lift".

Any discussion of why there's not more female tradesmen that solely focusses on lifting and carrying is missing the point.

Heh. More to the point, even the manly types don't particularly care to exert themselves in ways that could be deleterious to their long term health. Or more succinctly, I likes me my nail gun. As a younger man of no particular skills some thirty years back I swung an old-fashioned hammer for hours on end. Tough on the wrists. These days? My nail gun does the same job better, quicker, and more consistently than I ever did. And women don't seem to be at a particular disadvantage when hammering nails anymore. Same thing with carrying heavy loads. Back in the day I used to have to lug 80 lb bundles of roofing shingles up fifteen to thirty feet on a ladder. After a couple of hours of that, young man or no, I would get to feeling pretty whipped. You could have knocked me over with a feather a few years back when I saw the young men doing the job I used to do . . . by moving all of ten feet to place those stacks of shingles on a portable conveyer belt.

203:

on a portable conveyer belt

Like French removal men. They don't carry boxes of books up flights of 19th century stairs if they can get a clear sight from the street to a window for the travelling hoist.

two-man lift

You can build quite impressive structures with bits that you can lift. The Bailey bridge was engineered so that the biggest module fit in the back of the smallest motor vehicle the Royal Engineers used in terms of dimensions, and in weight within the ability of six average soldiers to tote.

204:

some passing comments on first third of thread:

• generally on the original post and unknown unknowns: some old sci-fi seems to have its feet firmly planted in the narrative arc of flight, then flight into space ... if humanity could go from the Wright Bros to Sopwith Camels then to Spitfires, jet fighters, rockets and manned spaceflight in around 60 years (and the Moon in under 70 years) then you get an extrapolation that reaches the stars within the short to medium term ... arguably, computers and telecoms have made more of an impact but in the 1960s when spaceflight was the coolest thing ever, computers (klunky number crunchers) were things that life insurance companies installed in their offices by knocking down walls and hiring a crane, while a phone was just some rotary dial thing plugged into the wall, used only for special occasions ... or in summary, some of the unknown unknowns in the future may come from a direction that looks impeccably dull to us at the moment

• replaying people's dreams as entertainment @41 ... doesn't this make all sorts of assumptions about the nature of memory? my wild guess was that even if it was possible, you would get a Twin Peaks style dream blancmange rather than a mental analogue of voyeuristic access to their email account and browser history

• @31 as for the fractal nature of human groups, no disrespect to our host but didn't Heraclitus nail this one around 2500 years ago? (you can never step in the same river twice) ... to be fair, Heraclitus didn't know about Penrose Tiles though

205:

In any case, things like organic agriculture and permaculture are currently the major sustainable alternatives we have. Assuming there are people in the future who want to eat, I strongly suspect they'll be the norm within 50-100 years.

Industrial agriculture in its present form will not be widespread in a century, simply because it's unsustainable. Mostly because of soil erosion/destruction and decreased water availability rather than a fossil fuel crunch -- non-fossil energy can certainly fix enough nitrogen and provide enough motive power to keep corn growing and tractor wheels turning.

The big disadvantage to organic production is the labor premium: IIRC, it takes something like 80% more labor-hours per kilogram of product for fresh produce like tomatoes and lettuces. In countries with relatively expensive labor and well developed supply chains, this more than outweighs the expense of chemicals used in the industrial system. Only the price premium of organic produce makes it profitable to use organic farming practices in high-wage countries. It's not clear that this price premium would be maintained if organic agriculture became dominant. In low-wage countries with lightly capitalized farming operations and less developed supply chains for agrochemicals, organic farming is relatively more attractive even without anticipating a price premium for organic products.

I would bet on future organic farming in high-wage nations incorporating more technical complexity to replace human labor while maintaining organic certification. For example, mechanical weed control by semi-autonomous machines and borrowing of "precision agriculture" techniques (like detailed geospatial monitoring of soil moisture and corresponding control of irrigation). There's a certain folksy, good-old-days marketing image of organic agriculture but the actual certification standards prevalent in (e.g.) the European Union don't mandate older traditions or set limits on machine complexity; they only prohibit genetically modified organisms and some chemical inputs. It's possible to operate a farm that looks more Star Trek than Little House on the Prairie and still sell certified organic output.

206:

Maybe, but something big is going to have to give and we want to be there when the shit hits the fan. This is the most fluid point in the last 60 years from a political and social POV. The Big Lie of our era is that ordinary people cannot make a difference when the opposite is the case. We are living in a mathematically chaotic historical period.

207:

One possibility at least in India is that the new communists will be communists. Maoist Naxalites to be precise. Already there are fairly large (but poor and economically not central) areas that the government of India does not control.
Another candidate would be a kind of Islam-communist hybrid, using Islam to achieve cultural unity and an us-versus them unity but aiming more at modernization (forced march style) than at turning back the clock.

208:

"Yeah, just like Kaiser Wilhelm II. Or Tsar Nicholas II, modulo the brainwashing being an abject FAIL."

Clearly the wrong upbringing in both cases. On the other hand, the Greeks did seem to assume that war with your neighbors was going to be a frequent thing.

The population "brainwashing" might have a little significance for the stability of the state, though. Case in point- if you ponder all the population of Scotland, do you think of them as "my countrymen" and feel a certain kinship and commonality, or "my competitors" and feel an urge to defend yourself from them at worst, or outdo them economically at best?
A country filled with people thinking the latter (US, say) will simply behave differently than one whose people think the former (Sweden, etc).

The phrase "false consciousness" gives it a bit of a stigma, but if one person argues "We're all in this together" and another argues "Yeah, but my set of "we" is smaller than your set of "we""...the second guy might be right, even within a single country.

209:

"my countrymen or my competitors?"

You act like people cannot believe both of those simultaneously with a myriad of variations

210:

Did the US have trouble in Iraq because it own troops were unwilling to be brutal enough or because the global political cost of that brutality would have been too high?
The US military now is more distinct from the rest of society than it was in the days of the draft. Given the right framing (labeling those to be shot as terrorists), I think the military could be convinced to fire on civilians in large numbers. It is the lowest ranks of the police who might be more likely to refuse to fire.
I hope I am wrong.

211:

What makes you say the US had military trouble in Iraq? All things considered it was one of the easiest occupations I can remember, though a bit long. The body count on the US side was very low, 4k dead, 30k wounded.

Most of the trouble was political trouble because a lot of the people in the US never thought we should have gone there in the first place...

212:

I believe that's part of the premise of Ken MacLeod's new novel ...

(I couldn't read the MS: too damn' depressing.)

213:

$3 trillion to hold down a population of 20m for 8 years.
A bargain. Nice to see all the problems sorted out in Iraq.

214:
(I couldn't read the MS: too damn' depressing.)

... Wow.

215:

oh Iraq is a messy, expensive, stupid quagmire for sure, but not the kind of thing that could be improved by military brutality. Even if brutality would have been possible, it would have just made everything worse

216:

First off - computers effectively only speed up what teams of humans would do, effectively nothing more (as inaccurate sums by humans will always be corrected later by other humans).

Second off - the really big unknown unknown is if the AI fast track forward to come up with a thought or "logic" system that gives us significant different insights into what we are doing and how it will predict the future. I think this is going come sooner than a lot of people think, and it'll come in a form that nobody can predict.

217:

@ 198
Sufis?
Yes. I know one - he's a neighbour
DJPoK @ 200
I was using that as an example - I didn't even know about that rubbish at the time, as I was just going to Inchicore - um-

Brutality
NOT possible in the days of the net & the mobile phone - as even the Syrian junta is finding out.
( Or not nearly as long-term continually possible, at least)

Oh, back to the start.
Never mind a Carrington event, what about, say the Yellowstone Caldera going off ??

218:


> The US military now is more distinct from the rest of society than it was in the days of the draft.

That is indeed a worry. For several reasons, I don't think that instituting a random draft would be a bad idea if the US is going to maintain the size military establishment it now has.

219:

People might be interested in checking out this page where our public savants hold forth on what they believe are the truly significant, deep, or elegant organizing principles.

Notice any recurring themes besides the usual rah-rah, wooh-woo and stale sensawonder left-overs served up by the the physics types? I'll give you a hint: the big ideas seem to be waiting for some amazing new head-banging math before they make their move. The old hard math, calculus and it's variations? It was big back in the day, back when he-man engineering types were smoking the air blue in their Martian quonset huts while furiously figuring on their slide rules. But it's glory days are past.

220:

You mean killing tens of thousands of civilians, failing to actually police the contry properly through ignorance and a desire to do it all cheaply, not to mention the documented and suspected but not clearly documented abuse of prisoners, night time raids and so on and on aren't actually due to the occupiers brutality but are because of their love of life and flowers?

Seriously it seems that the level required for anything to be called Brutality these days is so high that we might as well give up and go home.

221:

Ok "more" brutality would have only made things worse.

There is this myth among Americans that the only reason occupied countries are hard to police is that we are civilized about it, that if we ever gave in to our true Jack Bauer monster and just threw down, lined some people up against the wall, that places like Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq would be magically quieted.

In reality, up and until the point of genocide (at which point things do get easier for awhile merely from a lack of actual people to cause trouble), additional violence on the part of the occupier makes the country more difficult to control, rather then less difficult.

222:

The Russians killed more than a million people in Afghanistan - and still lost.

223:

exactly

224:

The numbers have gone up and down over the last 15 years, but the Active Duty figure has varied around 1.4 million for all that time. At the end of the Cold War it was around 2 million

What makes the current situation difficult is the decade of the War Against Terror, with its sustained combat operations. It doesn't have the casualty rates of WW1/WW2, but it has been going on for far longer.

When you figure in the ratio of training to combat operations, conscripts don't look so good, unless you're in a war situation that justifies "for the duration" service.

225:

Charlie, you probably mean Franklin Delano Roosevelt (presidency 1933-1945, d. 1945), not Theodore Roosevelt (presidency 1901-1909, d. 1919). Alternately, you may mean Harry Truman (presidency 1945-1953).

Fun fact: Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. (Teddy's grandson) was behind the 1953 coup in Iran that overthrew the elected Majlis (sp?) to install the Shah.

226:

Some of the Cold War planning for Nuclear War did try to cover the post-war recovery. Could Britain feed itself, that sort of thing.

The grim assumption was that the nuclear attack would have to kill about half the population.

227:

When the printing press was invented, the Catholic Church thought it was a nifty way to print Latin bibles for their priests. They didn't expect Martin Luther and his merry men to start printing up scurrilous pamphlets with it.

But the Reformation didn't happen immediately -- it had to wait until the lower cost of printed material greatly inflated the size of the literate population. It was a slow burn, but once society adapted to the new technology, many new things became possible, including the modern nation-state.

So, now we have networked computers. Cyberpunk and its descendants have come up with all sorts of fun ideas about what we could do with it -- but mostly from a known-unknown point of view. But I think the ultimate consequences are a black swan thing, contingent not on the development of the technology, but on our society's much slower adaptation to it.

Moore's law may or may not be coming to an end Real Soon Now, but I don't think it matters at this point.

228:

Also As We May Think by Vannevar Bush, 1945

229:


I think we're in a talking-past-each-other situation here. I don't contest that having an all-volunteer/ recruited army leads to a better army for doing things that an army is supposed to do. I worry about putting the instruments of state violence into the hands of a somewhat self-selected cohort that represents only a small part of the general population. Injecting the general population back into the army, much though the injectees might hate it(*), would, I think, not be a bad thing.

(*) Which is a fair part of the point.

230:

"Well, one point in this equation is that unskilled labour is only fungible because the products of unskilled labour can be shipped around cheaply. If shipping costs go up, some of that demand for labour is going to be repatriated."

I don't think this will have much of an effect. Most people vastly underestimate the efficiency of both rail and bulk sea freight. Remember both have such low costs per ton-mile that they can profitable transport ore, which is basically rock with a bit of what you want in it.

[For an insightful, intelligent discussion on matters of transportation and energy consumption, I would recommend The Oil Drum
http://theoildrum.com/
This is a site which discusses a variety of problems in this area such as Peak Oil, but it is by people associated with the field who generally know what they are talking about.]

Getting back to labor demand in developed countries, I can see two things that would affect it. The first is that more and more skilled, knowledge based jobs will be out-sourced to third world countries. The main impediment to this will be credentialing (The way the professional classes limit market competition). This, combined with the automation of more and aspects of skilled occupations, will have the effect of spreading wage stagnation and unemployment across the skill spectrum. However, after the immediate disruptive effects, this may be a good thing as a country will have a more balanced supply of labor, and low interest rates leading to higher growth may reduce unemployment across the board.

This positive outcome may be completely cancelled out by the arrival of telebotics. Much effort has been put into producing robots that emulate humans. The stumbling block has been emulating the perceptive and behavioral sophistication of humans. Why bother? There are lots of cheap, desperate human minds on this planet. It's just a matter of linking them up with a robotic body.

We already have a few high end uses of telerobotics, like telerobotic surgery, but as the cost curve comes down, telerobots will be used for more and more mundane jobs. The basic mechanical parts of a robotic body can be made fairly cheaply, once they are mass produced--and of course for a given job you may not need a full body. (Probably, the first field in which this transfer to the third world happens will be video surveillance, where only a pair of eyeballs are needed.) The other thing that is needed is enormous cheap and reliable band width to third world countries. Once this happens, this will have the effect of making the 3rd world's labor force available for work in first world countries.

You're welcome to the pleasantry.
Dave.

231:

"Moore's law may or may not be coming to an end Real Soon Now, but I don't think it matters at this point."

First off, I think Moore's law has at least another 30 years to run. By then I expect square metres of graphene sheet computer to be available (for example).
Also, a couple of years ago I threw out a copy of the Proceedings of the IEEE 1981. In it was an article exploring the limits of semiconductor technology. It showed that for fundamental theoretical reasons gate sizes could not shrink below 100nm. We are now at around 22 and pushing for 12nm.

Moore's Law still matters because if it holds then in 30 years computers will be about a million times as powerful as they are now. That kind of quantitative increase leads to qualitative differences.

232:

"Moore's law may or may not be coming to an end Real Soon Now, but I don't think it matters at this point."

First off, I think Moore's law has at least another 30 years to run. By then I expect square metres of graphene sheet computer to be available (for example).
Also, a couple of years ago I threw out a copy of the Proceedings of the IEEE 1981. In it was an article exploring the limits of semiconductor technology. It showed that for fundamental theoretical reasons gate sizes could not shrink below 100nm. We are now at around 22 and pushing for 12nm.

Moore's Law still matters because if it holds then in 30 years computers will be about a million times as powerful as they are now. That kind of quantitative increase leads to qualitative differences.

233:

"I worry about putting the instruments of state violence into the hands of a somewhat self-selected cohort that represents only a small part of the general population."

This is one of the reasons why we have a National Guard, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State" and all

234:

If shipping costs go up, some of that demand for labour is going to be repatriated."

Problem is, it's not just moving the labor- you'd also have to shuffle the entire set of global supply chains...and do it well enough to beat the existing model. A quick look suggests that you can haul a 40-foot cargo container from Shenzen to Long Beach, California for about two grand. If that's full of iphones (or other consumer electronics), the cost to ship is negligible compared to the cargo value even if the cost were increased tenfold.

235:

I didn't actually mean that it doesn't matter what the mature limits of Moore's Law actually are; I agree that the order of magnitude things stop at (or pause at) probably does make a difference.

What I meant was, even if Moore's law had stopped dead 10 years ago for some reason, it would still be too late to stop the slow burn.

The predictable bit is those incumbent interests the net is visibly undermining. I imagine that Europe must have felt comparable stresses as literacy broke out all over, so you got things like the Index and the third Inquisition.

The unknown-unknown bit is: what new dominant strategies will our collective adaptation make possible? Which of our institutions that currently seem unassailable will unexpectedly collapse as a consequence, and how much damage will it do?

236:

"However, after the immediate disruptive effects, this may be a good thing as a country will have a more balanced supply of labor, and low interest rates leading to higher growth may reduce unemployment across the board."

I'm not sure what you're getting at here.

237:

"Its doesn't matter a huge amount if your plumber, electrician, machinist or welder can't carry half their body weight, " Righhht. In the States the boss says if it was easy girls would be doing it. "Put your back in it." If you don't, your fired, if you complain your black balled. And the inspector will tell who bitched. Almost every body I knew over 50 had a bad back and later had to stop working. Like I did. They could not get enough work to make a living.
I think it was MIT that came up with a new hull that will speed up ships and cut cost a lot. It uses less fuel to.

238:

"This is one of the reasons why we have a National Guard, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State" and all"

Abu Ghraib.

239:

Abu Ghraib was army reserve, not guard

Still, it's a valid point, calling up the guard for something like Iraq was pretty unprecedented and using it like regular army will short circuit a lot of the checks and balances it is meant to embody

240:

Your idea of cyclic change as projection brings to mind
Buckminster Fuller's thoughts of different gestation periods for various entities, from idea to fruition. For example, people: 9months, electronics: 2 years, houses: 50-75 years. (duckduckgoing yeilded: http://vielmetti.typepad.com/vacuum/2005/10/buckminster_ful.html)

However I think, excluding the biological periods, these periods are subject to non-linear change, mostly reducing them. These rates of change in the various gestational periods would escalate the unknown unknowns in some areas, but make others areas fairly predicable.

241:

>But who managed to predict the World Wide Web before 1993?

Frederik Pohl came pretty close in his Heechee books.

242:

There's an old US trade union song, The Ludlow Massacre, about how a miners' strike was put down by the state. . . including the national guard. . . land of the free?

243:
"I worry about putting the instruments of state violence into the hands of a somewhat self-selected cohort that represents only a small part of the general population."

This is one of the reasons why we have a National Guard, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State" and all

Sorry, how are the national guard anything except another self-selected cohort representing a small part of the general population and equipped with the instruments of state violence?

And despite the quote, there's a fair number of free states around the world that don't have a militia at all..

244:

Given the The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 Pub.L. 109-364, I'd say that the US NG are now effectively a self-selected standing reserve equipped as per your last.

245:

Regarding women building stuff: the first all-female construction project in the US Navy Seabees' history. That'll be "building stuff in Afghanistan, while people shoot at you".

246:

"What makes you say the US had military trouble in Iraq? All things considered it was one of the easiest occupations I can remember..."

I'm pretty sure this implies "I can't remember any other occupations at all".

Compare the occupation of Iraq with the occupation of, say, Japan. Or Germany. Even the West Bank.

247:

$3 trillion to hold down a population of 20m for 8 years.

That's $150,000 per person (including the children).

It'd probably have been cheaper to have paid them, individually, to STFU. Might have led to inflation, but would have given Iraqis the per-capita GDP of Hungary in the mean time.

248:

(a) Brutality was not only possible but happened, both in prisons and in the shape of atrocities committed against civilians by the US military (and then whitewashed/let off with a slap on the wrist), and (b) it did indeed make everything worse (brutality/oppression is a major trigger for violent resistance to occupation; this is well-known, especially since the German occupation of Belgium in 1914).

249:

You'd think more countries would consider that as a warfare methodology- "1 Trillion Dollar prize to a government of X country that meets the following criteria..."
Said criteria to include shooting the current rulers of country X, presumably. Cheap loans on weaponry to all applicants...

250:

That's $150,000 per person (including the children). It'd probably have been cheaper to have paid them, individually, to STFU.

Good point! A lump sum would have been highly inflationary...but a stable income of $18,750 per year per person is a modest yet reasonable living. At that point any given Iraqi could give up the whole insurgency plan, fuck off to Miami (or Paris, or Edinburgh), and kick back at the local pub.

And there's your pleasantry...

251:

No, the $1Tn includes a goodly chunk for the current rulers. The catch is: it will be paid over a 20-30 year period in monthly instalments, in person, in one of a number of comfortable retirement destinations to which they are expected to move (as a condition for claiming their personal $100M kick-back). If they leave the retirement city, other than to go live in a different designated retirement city (where a discreet watch can be kept on them) they forfeit the future payments. If they return home, it's Killer Drone Time. But as long as they retire from politics and go into exile, they'll live a comfortable life and get to die in their own bed, surrounded by their family. Unlike Saddam Hussein and Muammar Ghadaffi.

252:

Re Britain feeding itself: Simon Fairlie, who is on the optimistic side of sensible, recently produced a book in which he claimed it was possible, just, to do this sustainably. We'd need to shift towards a vegetarian diet, but definitely not go all the way there, because there are roles that pigs, cows and sheep can play in the system which cannot be easily substituted.

253:

My cynicism makes me wonder how many dictators would take that offer, and how many would prefer to remain at the top of their local hierarchy, no matter the risks or brevity of the rule. Reign in hell or serve in heaven, that sort of thing.

Generally, though, it might make for a decent foreign policy- concentrate on your country's local economic development, and then periodically offer "prizes" when there's some foreign goal you want done. A bit like mercenary work, but without necessarily involving military mercenaries.

"Finish eradicating guinea worm- 20 million."
"Cause free elections in Burma- 500 million."
"End censorship of local internet in wherever- sliding scale based on number of internet users in country."

254:

I think it's a fair question to wonder how many would take it. At the same time, I wonder how many it would take to be worthwhile.

If only 1 takes it and we avoid all the ancillary loss of life?

Plus, if you get a relatively small number that take it and go and the promise of living to a ripe old age is born out I wonder how many more it will inspire to go. There was a comment that the greatest triumph of democracy is not the (alleged) representation of the people, it is that we routinely, reliably hand over power quickly, smoothly and without bloodshed. Extending that to other places might be worth it.

Of course it might *also* be the case that it inspires new "get really rich" schemes. I will set myself up as a dictator, have all of that fun (and some headaches) and be just bad enough to get an offer to retire and live in comfort and safety for the rest of my life...

255:

I'm not an expert on the subject but regarding occupied Germany... large populations of the military were kept in concentration camps, the country had fought almost to the last in a total war scenario and was totally exhausted, I've heard tell of villages being shelled for a whole night by the Americans if they failed to cooperate and, even if that were not true, there was always the alternative occupation of the Russians to keep things in perspective.

"Just how many German POWs died in Allied camps? For over forty years we have been told that many hundreds of thousands of German soldiers had died in Soviet prison camps while at the same time keeping quiet about the number of prisoners who had died in American, French and British camps. In 1997, around 1.1 million German soldiers were still officially listed as missing. According to the recently opened Soviet archives, which have been proved to be extremely precise and detailed, the Red Army captured 2,389,560 German soldiers. Of these, 423,168 died in captivity. In October, 1951, the West German government stated in the United Nations that 1.1 million soldiers had not returned home. In other words, we were led to believe they had died in Soviet camps. If we subtract the proven number of deaths in Soviet camps from the missing in Germany we arrive at the figure of around 677,000. Where are these men?. They must have been interned by the western Allies, the greatest majority being held in American and French camps where they died in their thousands through deliberate starvation, disease and hard work."

(Taken from this site, do not know reliability, but I've heard similar claims before)


Which leads me to believe that yes, Iraq was comparatively restful in comparison.

"Comparatively" doesn't mean I don't agree that placing heavily armed military in daily contact with subjugated civilians will inevitably lead to atrocities, which is why I support Iran's push to have the bomb to avoid this fate.

256:

I will set myself up as a dictator, have all of that fun (and some headaches) and be just bad enough to get an offer to retire and live in comfort and safety for the rest of my life...

I'm going to guess that the amount of effort and risk required to retire in comfort and safety for the rest of your life is less than the amount required to first become dictator with the goal of having a safe and comfortable retirement.

I suspect the driving goal of the dictator is to dictate- to be at the top of the hierarchy, no matter what the hierarchy is.
There's some neurochemistry behind it- having others visibly defer to you gives you a little boost of serotonin...being the pack alpha feels really good in ways that just being one well-off person among others can't quite do.

257:

Nestor -

I think some of the confusion about death rates of German POWs (at least the ones in the hands of the western Allies) derived from the fact that a lot of them were old men and boys called up in the last days of the war, who were identified as no threat and then released on their own recognisance. Hence a sudden decline in the numbers recorded as being held in POW camps.

(I'm pretty sure I read this in the Times Literary Supplement back in the 1990s).

258:

Rummy's quote comes from a book "Intellectual Capital" by Thomas A Stewart. It's not his own.

259:

This site is bad for my bank balance! I have just bought the Omnibus off Dan Moran's website FSand . . .

260:

I suspect you're right under the current system.

Under a system where it's known you can be bribed out - I'd be surprised not to see someone gaming, or trying to game, the system.

And I do fairly seriously wonder about how the need to dictate changes over time. I'm not disagreeing that most dictators have some very strong urge to rule but we tend to talk about them as unchangingly motivated. I suspect as time goes by other things matter too... and maybe dying with dignity becomes one of them.

261:

First: I am deeply suspicious of a site that argues that German PWs were more likely to be worked to death by the western Allies in France than they were to be worked to death in Soviet forced labour camps in Siberia. (Or, less contentiously, to die in captivity.)

Second, the logic is very faulty. 1.1 million German soldiers still missing; of those, 400,000-odd died in Soviet captivity; even granted those figures, "died in Western captivity" is not the only option for the other 600,000-odd. Much more likely is "died in combat". They are still turning up human remains in the forests around Berlin every year - that's where your "missing in action" troops went.

Which leads me to believe that yes, Iraq was comparatively restful in comparison.

No, that's a non sequitur. Those deaths, however many they were, happened in PW camps - and camps outside the occupied area, for that matter. Comparing that to the tens of thousands of combat deaths in Iraq is misleading.

placing heavily armed military in daily contact with subjugated civilians will inevitably lead to atrocities

No it won't. Daily atrocities upon the civilian population were not a feature of the American occupation of Japan, for example.

262:

The major difference between the defeat of Germany and the defeat of Iraq was that the German military wasn't so outclassed, the forces involved were far more numerous, and that "doing invasion on the cheap" was discounted after the Dolchstosslegende.

Reading some of the post-war memoires, you find that the Allies turned up able to provide an alternative Government (down to local level) including a legal system; the book "With the Jocks" by Peter White is a fascinating description of the fall of Germany from the view of an Scottish infantry platoon commander, but also mentions (in passing) his time as the Mayor of a small town in Germany.

The Allies restarted the local economy; look at Ivan Hirst, considered to be among the "founders" of Volkswagen - they gave the plant a contract to build staff cars for the British occupation forces, in an attempt to create jobs for the locals. My old battalion's diary recorded that the sniper platoon spent the (harsh) winter of 1945/46 stalking deer in order to feed the locals (who had understandably been disarmed).

The Werewolves (a Nazi resistance movement) never really took off, and weren't that well organised. Certainly nothing like the UK-equivalent Auxiliary Force.

By contrast, the Coalition forces arriving in Iraq were being told on the one hand to "stop the looting" and on the other to "maintain legitimacy", while at the same time being massively undermanned and underprepared for the task at hand. How, exactly, do you deal with a bunch of thieving/vandalising young men in the absence of any judicial system, or local law enforcement, especially when they are destroying key infrastructure for personal gain? Catch and release? Detention without trial?

The British had some real problems initially in Basra, AIUI - their response was to "beast" said criminals (work them physically up to exhaustion, but not to the point of harm, and then to release them). It all went horribly wrong... Note that this is in no way an attempt to excuse the murder of Baha Mousa by the QLR, or the shameful behaviour of the British troops involved in his detention.

It didn't help that pre-invasion attempts by the British Forces to involve UK Department for International Development, were allegedly blocked by its Minister's specific refusal to allow any preparation for anything other than civilian refugees during fighting, and certainly not for any post-invasion occupation (Clare Short). Meanwhile, DfID wasn't manned over the weekend, and communications with UK Government were allegedly being run over personal email accounts - Private Eye has mentioned that just maybe, there were enough copies kept so that Ministers wouldn't be too forgetful or dishonest at any Inquiry...

263:

Gene Sharp is the Western version of martyrdom operations. I find his thinking and the organized teaching of it to be absolutely chilling.

264:

"Some of the Cold War planning for Nuclear War did try to cover the post-war recovery. Could Britain feed itself, that sort of thing.

The grim assumption was that the nuclear attack would have to kill about half the population."

Which still wouldn't have done it, because of extreme fallout levels, and massive destruction of anything remotely useable (no salvaging gear from the cities, ports probably struck by underwater detonations, etc.).

265:

See the Mexican SF movie "Sleep Dealer."
Two-bit sociology: a country which provides/transits so much migrant labour while observing the recipient country's attempts to block said labour's entry may have some insight into the likely evolution of teleworking. ",)

266:

"There's an old US trade union song, The Ludlow Massacre, about how a miners' strike was put down by the state. . . including the national guard. . . land of the free?"

I've been told that killing strikers was the raison d'etre of the National Guard; that it was formed after the more casual militas refused to fire on their neighbors far too often.

267:

I wouldn't be at all surprised. Look at the West Virginia Mine Wars - the story reads like something out of a Harry Turtledove uchronia, but it happened in our timeline:

http://www.wvculture.org/HISTORY/minewars.html

268:

I can't remember now where I read it, and I've seen it in several places now, but here is what i can recall-
The Bush gang were culpable for basically cutting the state department or suchlike completely out of the loop regarding after war planning. They thought they could parachute in 'free' market worshippers who could realign the government on the hop whilst the locals would just sit back and take it. Whereas the state dept had actual people who studied this sort of thing for a living and with experience of developing countries and disaster recovery etc. BUt they were ignored.

Is it possible to prosecute people for being so incompetent that their actions and inactions lead to the deaths of thousands?

269:


"My cynicism makes me wonder how many dictators would take that offer, and how many would prefer to remain at the top of their local hierarchy, no matter the risks or brevity of the rule. Reign in hell or serve in heaven, that sort of thing."

Good point, which is why the prize would have a 'death bump'. If A dies, then the second(s) in command split the bonus.

270:

Nestor: "placing heavily armed military in daily contact with subjugated civilians will inevitably lead to atrocities"

ajay: "No it won't. Daily atrocities upon the civilian population were not a feature of the American occupation of Japan, for example. "

Or in Germany. BTW, IIRC one of the features of the US occupation was that they moved the combat troops into garrison as soon as possible, and used 'virgin' troops for the occupation. Also, the US and UK governments were rigorously preparing for the occupation for at least two years prior (as opposed to Rumsfeld, who never prepared rigorously in his life).

271:

Well http://www.wvculture.org/HISTORY/journal_wvh/wvh50-1.html appears to point to the cited wars mostly occurring in 1920-21, but http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Guard_of_the_United_States indicates that the USNG was formed in 1903. I don't think we can argue for that degree of prescience!

272:

Moral - if you want an occupation to work, put Lord Longford in charge of it, not Paul Bremer.

273:

My father was "drafted" into the Civil Service in early 1941 (just after the London Blitz had finshed ...)
Because he was too vluable to be shot at - he could go and MAKE bombs instead! (M.Sc. Chemistry)
In January/February 1944 (yes, 5-6 months BEFORE "Overlord", and 16 months before the EUropean war ended ...)
Volunteers were asked for, for the upcoming CivMilGov of Germany. As a chemist, and therefore HAVING to know some German, he volunteered.
Very interesting.
Espcially the "British Naval Intelligence" breifing books (4 sizeable volumes) said volunteers were issued with.
Compare & contrast with the Shrub & his crooked & incompetent cronies shambles in Iraq.

274:

The problem of what do do with dictators is described in Erna Paris's book The Sun Climbs Slow, about the development of the International Criminal Court.

Paraphrasing one of the arguments against offering a safe haven for deposed dictators: "If someone kills another person, they go to jail. If someone kills twenty other people, they go to a psychiatric hospital. If someone kills hundreds of thousands of people, they go into comfortable exile."

As for GWB and co in Iraq, another good book to try is The Prosecution of George W Bush for Murder, by Vincent Bugliosi. Bugliosi's argument is that if someone dies during the course of an illegal act, the person who does the killing is a murderer (in addition to whatever other crimes they might be committing), but the person who orders the illegal act is also a murderer.

Bugliosi's isn't just a crank-- he is a prosecutor with a long career behind him. Too bad that GWB and co are unlikely to be brought to justice for their actions.

275:

They didn't need to be prescient, paws old man. They just had to be aware of the US working class' long (though now forgotten) tradition of militancy. So militant were they in the ninteenth century, in fact that our other Uncle Charlie (Herr Marx)and his mate Fred Engels seriously considered moving their operation to New York.

276:

The national guard system is certainly not perfect, but it was still a fairly genius way of counterbalancing the power of a federal army. Citizens with day jobs are far less scary in general, also just the fact that there are two organizations that must be subverted makes subversion harder.

As far as the difficulty of Iraq goes I, along with most Americans I imagine, was comparing it to Vietnam. Especially the low body count among the occupiers really stands out.

277:

Para 4- Under that argument, and allowing for the British Government principle of "joint and several responsibility" for Cabinet decisions, this could get fun! :-D

278:

It was reported at the time that Colin Powell's State Department spent double-digit millions designing a comprehensive occupation and administration plan ... then handed it to Donald Rumsfeld, who deep-sixed it, because he knew the allies would be welcomed with flowers by Iraqis eager for democracy.

It is to weep.

279:

Political dictators are probably cut from the same cloth as corporate dictators differing only in terms of immediate circumstances/opportunities. Buying them off is purely short-term until they can find a similar gig.

Such individuals don't generally respond to normal threats/punishments anyway, so a threat of ending their comfy retirement - even if it meant their immediate family would also suffer - would not be sufficient. (Didn't Saddam kill his son or brother?)

An exiled/retired dictator, much like a mob don, could probably still rule from a prison.

Then there's the host community that suddenly finds out there's a dictator living next door. NIMBY would their tamest reaction. Worse, and more likely, such a 'dictator relocation program' would incite vigilantism, community polarization, be a magnet for sympathizers (metastasizing that particular political cancer to previously healthy communities), etc. *

No, this idea has too many potential downsides; it's more humane all-around just to try/hang the b*st*rd.

* Nazi SS relocation to South America (Argentina). Saw this in the movies but have no idea whether/how it worked out. Then again, the deportees weren't dictators, just like-minded and equally culpable generals/senior executives.


280:

Greg, the spec for the policing of the occupation of Germany was written (ISTR) in late 1942, and the manuals for the process were written in 1943 by the staff of Eisenhower's organisation, SHAPE.

281:

The US military learned many lessons from Vietnam, but one of the most important is that the American public doesn't care about the dollar cost of a war, they care about American lives lost.

The whole strategy is to spend huge amounts of money to limit American casualties. The strategy wa pretty successful, both in spending huge amounts of money and in preventing American causalities.

It's a brave new world, no doubt

282:

Are you sure? USA army today is made of volunteers. No one is drafted against his will, so it seems unreasonable, to me at least, that people will care as much about casualties as during Vietnam war.

283:

*cough* Kent State *cough* *cough*

284:

German POW deaths in the West.
The arguments based on a book, discussed here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Other_Losses

285:

"No one is drafted against his will2

Depends what you think of economic conscription, I suppose.

286:

Para 1 - I'll agree with you regarding a ~1900 standing army; I'm less convinced about a ~2000 US ANG making a counterweight for same era USAF operating mostly the same types. Moreso given that the President does (from 2007) have powers to call up the USNG for federal service.

Para 2- AIUI the whole doctrine of US tactics in Vietnam was based on high body counts (sources vary, but include veterans' memoirs).

287:

"...no salvaging gear from the cities... "

It actually takes a massive amount of blast and heat to destroy machinery beyond any usefulness. If you are talking about no cars surviving a nuked city, that may be true. But I bet just about every screw driver would make it. That's one of the reasons allied carpet bombing of German industry was not too effective. Bombs can easily destroy buildings, but destroying an old fashioned lathe is much more difficult.

288:

"The whole strategy is to spend huge amounts of money to limit American casualties. The strategy wa pretty successful, both in spending huge amounts of money and in preventing American causalities."

The relatively low number of US *deaths* in Iraq had more to do with medical technology than anything else. One estimate I have seen suggests that had the medical tech not moved on from the Vietnam era, the death rate would have been at least 4x higher. One of the reasons for a $3 trillion price tag on the war is the cost of lifelong care for the seriously wounded

289:

It is a complicated business, and the plans did seem to assume a city-smashing strategy on the part of the Soviets rather than one aimed at war-fighting capacity.

What I remember is that fall-out levels dropped pretty quickly, and plans included producers of canned food keeping so much production in the warehouse, rather than modern JIT production/delivery.

A lot depended on the timing. If the crops were sown, they would pick up radiation from the fall-out, but there would be time for much of it to decay away before the harvest. A nuclear war in August would be bad.

Plans that would only work out if half the population were dead are hardly optimistic.

290:

I think CE Petit said it best: the point of giving a dictator a comfortable retirement is twofold:

The most important reason, by far, is that it gives him a reason to surrender. If you tell someone that you're going to kill them and their families, and destroy everything they've worked for, you can bet that they're going to fight to the end. Tell them that they lose their country and most of their wealth, but there's a quiet little villa out there for them, then eventually that will look like the best option. You can save a lot of lives that way.

Then, once they're in the little villa, you can chip away at them, find where they hid the loot and where their associates are (by wire tapping them), etc. Or, if it's cheaper, you can give them a servant and leave them there to die in narrowly circumscribed comfort. This doesn't satisfy society's thirst for vengeance, but it may be cheaper than throwing them in prison.

291:

There is also something in English law called 'Joint Enterprise' which says exactly that. The Met are using it against gangs (If one of your mates stabs someone and you were there, you will get charged too) as a form of deterrent.

It would be interesting if the tables were turned and the hold of the Tactical Support Group were prosecuted for the Tomlinson murder for example.

292:

That Wikipedia page gets one critical detail badly wrong, but I don't if the flaw is in the book or in Wikipedia.

It's talking about events in the winter of 1945/46 and makes repeated mentions of actions been against the Geneva Conventions.

The Geneva Conventions were signed in 1949.

I don't know where the mistake was made, but I don't have confidence in the claims made.

293:

Jim, we now finally have 'corporate manslaughter' on the books - I suspect that one of the reasons it took so long to turn up was foot-dragging by state agencies. As it happens, I don't think that either 'corporate manslaughter', or the older 'common purpose' or 'joint enterprise' doctrines were appropriate for the Tomlinson case. De Menezes, though, that was a classic distributed cock-up.

294:

As far as the difficulty of Iraq goes I, along with most Americans I imagine, was comparing it to Vietnam. Especially the low body count among the occupiers really stands out.

It probably doesn't stand out as much as you might think. There were up to 500,000 US troops in Vietnam; only 130,000 in Iraq. Improvements in trauma medicine and personal protective equipment have been amazing since 1973 - I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that, had the US troops in Iraq had only Vietnam-era equipment and support, the number of dead could have doubled. (The number of wounded per fatality is double what it was in Vietnam, and they are on average much more seriously wounded - because people are surviving more serious wounds.)

So in Vietnam you were losing 100 men a week; that's arguably equivalent to, say, losing 12 men a week in Iraq. Which isn't far off what was happening at some points.

295:

It's called the "Future of Iraq Project." I've read it. In general, it's a list of problems to be solved, rather than a set of strategies for solving them. You can find the documents here.

It also has some batshit crazy stuff about privatizing the Iraqi oil industry. How crazy? So crazy that Dick Cheney's man in Iraq, a former oil executive, deliberately took no action to carry them out until the Veep himself could deep-six them.

But I don't want to denigrate them too much. They worried a lot about ex-soldiers, albeit in the context of organized crime, not an organized insurgency. In a serious world, where the U.S. had a serious goal (be it an evil one or magnaminous) the State documents would have served as the beginning of a planning process.

We did not live in that world.

296:

Yup trauma care, plus body armor pretty much explain it, along with some bomb disposal drones and better armor on some of the vehicles.

However it's a mistake to say "because it was a bigger army in Vietnam".

One of the main reasons the casualty rate was low is because the army was small true, however the army could be small because of advances in technology and tactics.

The take away for the American public is you can have a war and not very many Americans will actually die. That worries me quite a bit.

297:

If the dictators are not completely insane it might work; however, sane dictators are probably the minority.

Ferdinand Marcos and Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier are the sanest of the bunch that I can recall - and bribery/exile did seem to work. For the rest, no diplomatic bribery would ever work simply because they were just too insane. Short list of loony 20th century dictators:

Idi Amin
Hitler
Stalin
Enver Pasha
Saddam Hussain
Enver Hoxha
Kim Jong-il
Moammar Gaddafi

298:

I don't think Joint Enterprise is particularly appropriate in the cases where it is being used either, but it is being used, and ought to be used even-handedly.

299:

De Menezes was a shocking cockup, but from reading the detailed inquiry notes it appears to come down to two main flaws:

- the surveillance team leader wasn't up to the job. He didn't pass on the ops room that his own team weren't confident of the identity of the man being followed. He had twenty minutes to do so.

- the operations room was a complete and utter shambles. Ops staff describe having to shout to make themselves heard? Incompetence, pure and simple; you'd think that they'd never done a real-time operation before - their Chief of Staff should have gripped that room hard.

Corporate manslaughter IMHO would need to show that the Met offered no/inadequate preparation (facilities, staff training, etc) for command and control over real-time operations. It could be that this was just the Third XI on duty, and that hundreds of ops rooms before and since have run flawlessly - in which case I'd disappointed if the key players didn't see their careers come to a sudden halt.

I appreciate that such operations are high-stress and tricky; but I've been involved in Ops Room testing and evaluation (on the receiving end; think of it as a test harness for a grey-box test of a two-level command structure) and the "Command and Staff Trainer" crew would crucify any exercising unit who ran an HQ that shoddily.

300:

That site is, well, "bullshit" would be too kind.

Anyway, here's a comment that I suspect is going to drop into the ether, but I hope does not: the misleading example in the heads of most military commanders at the start of Gulf War 2 --- and I say this from having talked to them --- was not Germany or Japan in 1945.

It was Panama. In 1989.

Basically, the implicit assumption is that the postwar would be like Panama. There was a round of looting, quickly stopped. An elected government took over, the bureaucrats stayed at their desks, the Defense Forces were renamed the Public Forces, and life went on under a new democratic administration.

Obviously, Iraq turned out to be nothing like Panama. Panama had democracy, Panama had a middle class, and compared to Iraq, Panama had a society that was fundamentally identical to the United States. Hell, every platoon had multiple Spanish speakers and the officer corps was (and is) full of them. Assuming that Iraq would be as easy was crazy.

Even crazier was making fuckups we'd avoided in Panama: allowing the looting (which was pretty bad in '89) to go on completely unchecked, disbanding the Army, having no local government head ready to step in. But the problem was that there were no lessons learned from Operations Nimrod Dancer and Promote Liberty. Rather the U.S. took away a false institutional memory that the invasion itself ("Just Cause") was all that the Army needed to worry about; the rest would just work out on its own.

The other institutional memory comes from the Indian Wars, which still loom large. And was equally unhelpful. Useful ones (the Philippines, WW2), nothin'.

The big lesson is that to understand the mistakes an organization might make, its history needs to be studied. What were the formative experiences? Which ones are mentioned in briefing and discussions?

301:

Martin, I agree entirely with your assessment. The situation wasn't helped by the fact that although they'd arrived at 'shoot-to-kill' protocols, they decided to implement the operation using a combination of _two different protocols_. My own entry point to this view comes from working on a history of police ops rooms.

302:

I think my latest reply got et by the spam filter. I put a bunch of links at the end, that would do it

303:

"The Geneva Conventions comprise four treaties, and three additional protocols, that establish the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of the victims of war. The singular term Geneva Convention denotes the agreements of 1949, negotiated in the aftermath of the Second World War (1939–45), which updated the terms of the first three treaties (1864, 1906, 1929), and added a fourth treaty."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geneva_Conventions

304:

Roosevelt aide-memoir - f(R)anklin is (R)ecent, Theodore came before.

305:

Yeah, I goofed on that.

There's been some reports on archaeology being down at Treblinka, taking away the need to dig holes (which is tricky in that context in the light of Jewish religious practices). They can confirm a lot of details.

The numbers are high enough that a similar geophysics survey ought to pick up something, if there was anything.

306:

Errrmmm, Cressida Dick was in charge of the De Menezes operation. She was subsequently promoted and recieved a Queen's police medal in 2009.
So obviously she was running a tight ship that day.

307:

Promotion for screwing up.
That's a "fuck you" statement from the Establishment

308:

The book "Other Losses" has been completely debunked. The vast majority of German POW's were volksturm militia, who the Allies released without filling in lots of paperwork.

If there had been a mass murder of German soldiers by Allied forces after WWII, it would have been noticed-- by allied service personnel, not all of whom would keep things quiet. Also, if there was mass murder, where are the mass graves?

309:

Idi Amin
Hitler
Stalin
Enver Pasha
Saddam Hussain
Enver Hoxha
Kim Jong-il
Moammar Gaddafi

And on that list, only Hitler, Hussein, and Gaddafi were brought down by military action.

Here's a comparable list (source, Sharp's From Dictatorship to Democracy):"Since 1980 dictatorships have collapsed before the predominantly nonviolent defiance of people in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Slovenia, Madagascar, Mali, Bolivia, and the Philippines. Nonviolent resistance has furthered the movement toward democratization in Nepal, Zambia, South Korea, Chile, Argentina, Haiti, Brazil, Uruguay, Malawi, Thailand, Bulgaria, Hungary, Nigeria, and various parts of the former Soviet Union (playing a significant role in the defeat of the August 1991 attempted hard-line coup d’état)."

I don't have a list for how many dictators were killed during that time, unfortunately, so it's not a fair comparison. Feel free to post one so that we can have a balanced discussion.

The basic point is that there are ways to unseat dictators that don't involve trillion dollar occupations or violent revolutions. They don't always work (witness Syria and Yemen), and they don't always produce a clean path to democracy (witness Egypt or Russia).

As a side note, the 1776 Revolutionary War first produced a government(the Congress of the Confederation, 1781-1789) that didn't work very well, and the US Constitution government didn't take over until 1789, 13 years after the Revolution started and seven years after the Treaty of Paris ended the war. Calling a move to democracy a failure if it doesn't end with a working democracy in six months is asking quite a lot.

310:

The death rates of German POWs was mostly because of the fact there was no food or shelter. There was not enough shipping on top of the water to carry enough food from America. There were starving children and others all over that first winter. The food went first to the lands the Germans had been taking the food from, then to German civilians. Then to POWs. What would you do different?
Oh, Idi Amin spent the rest of his life making propaganda saying Aids was made to kill blacks. In a home of the Saudi Arabian royal family.

311:

I think Sun Szu said something along those lines in his "Art of War", although, IIRC, it was about the general soldiery, not bust their leader.

312:


> because of extreme fallout levels

Which reminds me of https://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/napb-90/index.html , which I slightly immodestly point out. Note the bit about

"Low Fallout Risk Counties were defined as those which have the potential to receive a one-week unprotected radiation dose of less than 3,000 roentgens. The counties which were defined at this risk level have resident populations totaling 120.8 millions (50 percent of the U.S.) and cover approximately 1,886,339 square miles."

Just some shovels and everybody should be fine.

Reaching for relevance to the topic, I suppose the probability of Global Thermonuclear War(tm) sometime in the next half century might be counted as a known unknown.

313:

"The food went first to the lands the Germans had been taking the food from, then to German civilians. Then to POWs. What would you do different? "

Britain did do different.
POWs did not die from malnutrition in British run camps

314:

One day I'll get round to converting the figures from "Fields, Factories and Workshops" (I think) into Modern and multiplying up.

He quotes yields for market gardeners outside Paris, starting from Parisian night soil and working on concrete hardstanding rather than fields which are phenomenal - whether modern Dutch market gardening is getting close to this is a good question...

315:

One US producer of tomatoes get around 250 tonnes per hectare per year

316:

Although it might be controversial I have more hope for Egypt as a democracy* than Russia for quite a while.

Why? Because although they've looked at models around them, they've basically picked a system for themselves and although it's not entirely ground up, the remnants of the old power structures are more or less supporting the new without clearly trying to run or subvert it.

Russia more or less had a new system exported to them and stuck on the old power structures. They took one look and said "Ah, this is how we game this system." Whether or not you like Putin, it's pretty clear the (US inspired) only 2 consecutive terms in office was meant to lead to something like Clinton and Bush stepping aside and new blood coming in. Stepping across to be PM with a puppet President and (almost certainly) back asap wasn't really envisaged but is a pretty obvious tool if you're of the mind-set of "president until death" as the old Politburo seemed to prefer, and the monarchy before them.

* I'm unconvinced that representative democracy is the best way to govern mind you, but it is better overall than many or all of the alternatives that we've seen within living memory.

317:

okay, found the piece in Kropotkin:

"Let us take, for instance, the orchard--the marais--of M. Ponce, the author of a well-known work on the culture maraîchere. His orchard covered only two and seven-tenths acres" -> 1.1 hectares.

"Eight persons, M. Ponce included, cultivated the orchard and carried the vegetables to the market, for which purpose one horse was kept; when returning from Paris they brought in manure"

On yield: "One must read them in M. Ponce's work, but here are the chief items: More than 20,000 lb. of carrots; more than 20,000 lb. of onions, radishes and other vegetables sold by weight; 6,000 heads of cabbage; 3,000 of cauliflower; 5,000 baskets of tomatoes; 5,000 dozen of choice fruit; and 154,000 heads of salad; in short, a total of 250,000 lb. of vegetables" -> 113 tonnes.

"The soil was made to such an amount out of forcing beds that every year 250 cubic yards of loam had to be sold."

So at least 100 tonnes per hectare, of a mixed yield, plus high-grade soil for other uses.

Wonder how the inputs compare for the US grower...

318:

Most of today's agriculture is still in the Bronze Age.
The future must be hydroponics and aeroponics with a largely robotic workforce

319:

I must admit, my first field robot project will have to be called either Jethro or Tull.

Unibots is doing some interesting work in this area, and I note that in Horizon 2020, a lot of the formerly Agriculture research budget has moved over into ICT - still as agriculture...

This leads in the direction of a plan.

320:

Whatever happened to the bug zapper project for keeping flying insects away using a laser?

321:

still waiting for the 1.4kW laser. The european project I get it from for free is running slow.

In the mean time, there's a bunch of fly-eating robot projects around...

322:

Dirk, You've got to get a bit more sophisticated. Farming technology is a separate cultural axis from metallurgy. It's entirely possible to have highly sophisticated metal weapons and crappy agriculture, and you can have highly sophisticated agriculture with stone tools. The two don't correlate.

For example, the Bronze Age can refer to anything from Russian steppe nomads (who did with no agriculture) to Inkan terraced agriculture, which supported more people in the high Andes than are living there now. Similarly, "Neolithic" highland horticulture in Papua New Guinea gets better long-term productivity in that particular area than does industrial agriculture. This contrasts with, say, the pioneers in 19th Century America, who did very crude temporary agriculture and carried guns (one early 20th century hillbilly was proud that he'd worn out three farms by the time he was 40, and no extension agent was going to tell him about fertilizers).

In the 20th Century, we've had a bunch of disruptive innovations in agriculture, ranging from industrial nitrogen fixation (a case where military and farming tech do merge), to industrial agriculture, intensive organic farming (a blend of practices from many cultures), permaculture, and hydroponics. In biotech, our invention level hasn't matched the invention of maize by some neolithic women in central Mexico, but it's always possible they'll produce something useful in those labs. It's early days yet.

323:

No. IIRC it used a BluRay laser

325:

Do you need that much power to kill bugs? A typical mosquito masses ~ 2.5 milligrams. Heating one to 60 degrees C over ambient should kill and take roughly 0.6 joules*. A near IR laser diode supplying 3 watts can be had for under $100, and would require ~ 200 ms of dwell time to deliver 0.6 J. You can simplify the bug tracking and targeting if you kill with a short pulse, but I expect the costs of high speed sensors and laser direction to come down faster and further than those of kilowatt-class lasers.

Returning to a theme I wrote on earlier, diode lasers seem promising as a low-energy, non-contact, zero-contamination way to destroy unwanted insects, weeds, and possibly even surface molds in automated organic agriculture. Who could possibly have the patience to inspect every leaf and stem on a plant, and individually zap each aphid found? Machines could.

*Target estimated as a 2.5 mg droplet of light-absorbing water. In practice, parts of the mosquito will probably be lethally incinerated before the whole insect is uniformly heated to protein-coagulating temperatures.

326:

i'll have a 1.4kW laser with very fast scanning and time-of-flight.

The only challenge is going to be disabling the safeties :-)

327:

Sorry, I missed out the little bits indicating sarcasm. ACPO rank are effectively wangling themselves into the establishment, witness their involvement with Murdoch et al, and their lack of care about policing at the front line as long as the politicians are kept happy. You can see this with the Winsor report, which basically promises to destroy police morale, pay and conditions and expertise, but nobody is putting up a decent fight against it, certainly not ACPO rank. The last attempt at corporatising the police force was Sheehy in the early 90's, but after some fighting most of its reccomendations were binned. No such luck these days, you'd almost think new labour had made sure the police were made over in their own image.

328:

"The basic point is that there are ways to unseat dictators that don't involve trillion dollar occupations or violent revolutions. They don't always work (witness Syria and Yemen), and they don't always produce a clean path to democracy (witness Egypt or Russia)." - Agree

As to the list you posted - I'll have to read up on this because frankly, it's not top-of-mind for me.

My point is that of the dictators that I could recall the majority were raving lunatics who could/would not be bought. Therefore offering them a sum of money to get/stay lost would be useless.
(BTW - I believe that on my list, of those not outright shot, some died rather conveniently of other causes.) Further, all on that list were responsible for mass murder/genocide, therefore if brought before The Hague would have been found guilty and executed - lawfully/'peacefully'. 'Peaceful' transition is always preferred - sometimes it happens with a bullet. I don't know what criteria are used to label a regime unlawful by the UN/World Court nor the remedies/escalation sequence permitted. However, I do think that a howling mad head-of-state should be considered a signal that something's not quite right.

This may be veering slightly off-topic, but is the West conducting any propaganda wars these days? I recall - again mostly from movies - propaganda wars with leaflets being dropped on villagers, etc. Given the low price of smartphones, it seems a natural that smartphones might show up along the North Korean shoreline. (Or in other parts of the world where the UN/US are engaged.) All you'd need is for a few US Navy ships nearby that have specially built directional wifi signal towers. Might be useful in helping North Koreans find out what's going on in the rest of the world. As the Arab Spring showed, smartphones are a potent new weapon in regime-changes. The threat now is that dictatorial regimes will probably start investing in technology to block such communications signals/access. (Put that on your stocks-to-watch list.)

The smartphone drop approach would cost less than the $3 trillion. To persuade the madmen and their generals, a show of force would probably still be required.

Re: Eloise #316 -

Agree. Good governments need to grow organically so that they fit their constituencies 'naturally'. This requires time and patience especially on the part of outsiders. Just like a person, a nation state needs to go through each of the developmental stages at its own pace in order to become a thriving, healthy and unique entity. Just like good parents, well-wishing, more mature nations should be very careful when, why and how they directly interfere. I believe that this is in fact how the West/UN is now defining its role in foreign regime changes. I guess the EU is also using the same approach, and when honestly applied, it works quite well as seen for Turkey. (Although Turkey at this point probably would do well to wait and see some more before it joins the EU.)

329:

Actually I have played around with kW continuous CO2 lasers. At one point I had the beam going over the test bench in front of me before hitting the beam dump (a fire brick). It glowed to bright that I had to work while wearing sunglasses. If the brick had fallen off the bench the beam would have continued through the stock room and then started drilling a hole in the outer wall.

330:

re: Propaganda

Since the US Army activated the 8th Military Information Support Group On August 11th, 2011, and the Air Force has Commando Solo (among other assets), so presumably the answer is yes.

As for dictators being stark raving nut-jobs, I differentiate between psychopathy and other issues, such as megalomania and paranoia. There's also the small issue of being charismatic enough to persuade people to give you power.

331:

I can (vaguely) see "A Logic Named Joe" as describing the Web, but it was really more a description of the Internet.

I can't see "The Machine Stops" as being a description of the Web. It was much more like a Giga-Mainframe crossed with virtual reality.

People don't seem to be able to think about what a computer would be like until they've used them for awhile. And they don't understand them until they've programmed them in *both* assembler and high level languages. Even as late as the early 1960's you get the most peculiar projections of what a computer is or could be. And I suspect the same is true of an advanced AI. My guess is that it won't think *at all* like humans do. Even at a fairly gross level. This doesn't mean I think it will be less (or more) accurate...though I do expect there will be versions in each category, as accuracy will require more resources, so for some applications it won't be worthwhile.

332:

The biggest misconception in pre-70s SF, as well as by people in general, was that computers were about doing mathematics. Specifically, arithmetic.

334:

Have you noticed the increasing automation of the military?

There's a very good chance that a revolution against the 0.1%, by the time it happens, won't have a chance of succeeding. For that matter, revolutions don't usually succeed unless they have strong financial backers. The US revolting against Britain depended a lot on French support, e.g.

It's much more likely that some countries will have a more just distribution of wealth, and because of that be able to increase their technological capabilities faster. (Downtrodden masses don't make very good researchers.) But if you were to ask me "Which countries?" I couldn't make a reasoned guess. If I had to pick a "top 3" I'd pick Canada, China, and Japan. No particular reason, and certainly no reason for that order. But I wouldn't pick the US as it seems headed towards a totalitarian state with a ruling oligarchy and a figurehead dictator that's frequently replaced. I really have no reason for not picking New Zealand or Australia, except that they are English speaking countries, and the last two dominant powers have been English speaking countries. That may also be why I didn't pick India. (As you can see, the rationale is pretty weak.)

335:

Dang. Comment 301 passed us by without anyone observing that the discussion had moved (off topic, to the past), probably permanently.

336:

> If nothing else, it really throws an
> interesting wrench into Marxism...
> what happens when there's no labor
> involved in an industry?

Simple enough... you make everyone a "manager."

Back when Marx wrote his Manifesto, "labor" was pretty much interchangeable. Hang about the gate, get your chit, work until the whistle blew, trade your chit for cash on the way out. That only lasted until the requirements for specialized labor ramped up. Employers didn't want stoop labor, they wanted pipefitters, welders, network analysts, PHP programmers... in the odd way that things happen, the shoe is on the other foot, and the only generic, interchangeable work is now "management", where it's an article of faith that any manager can manage anything.

337:

I don't know the current status, but the Reformed Druids of North America basically changed their name (had a schism, sort of) about 25 years ago, maybe a bit longer. Are you sure that all of the sects have died out? The ADF (can't remember how to spell the full name) was still going fairly strong when last I checked. (Granted, the founder has since died, so...)

As far as I know the Reformed Druids were never as serious a religion as, say, NROOGD (and I've probably spelled THAT wrong, but I don't remember what it stands for). This was something that the ADF was trying to change. (But they may have set their bar too high. IIRC they required, among other things, that one learn Gaelic to be a part of the clergy.) Still, they were certainly in existence a year or two ago.


338:

No, I'm not fully certain of my facts about RDNA, and looking further, it appears that the mother grove of the Reformed Druids of North America is still active at Carleton College, to the extent of having a web page. (The group was founded as a protest against a rule at Carleton College that all students had to go to church. So they made their own church). The Carleton mother grove is primarily responsible for maintaining an archive of the group's past activities.

I'd note that the other big group of Druids (OBOD) almost went out of existence when its previous leader died in the 1970s. In England and the US, druid groups reportedly go back over 400 years. Some of the older ones are still around, either as fraternal organizations or (in one case) as a mutual aid insurance group. OBOD even claims to go back 400 years, although not under that name.

The basic point I made above is solid: religions come and go all the time. It's easy to predict that new religions will show up in the future, because it's something that normally happens. Whether any of these religions will matter in the long run? That's the hard question.

339:

> The US military now is more distinct
> from the rest of society than it was
> in the days of the draft.

Back in the day many of us wondered about how random the draft actually was, but I'm sure you are correct.

According to an issue of "Air Force Times" I flipped through last year, 45% of the US military is from the former Confederate states. Another 45% was from "flyoverland", ie the Midwest and various rural areas. Just under 10% were from urban areas.

Considering political orientation in the USA corresponds strongly to population density, I can see where the urban hive-dwellers would feel a bit intimidated.

340:

Charlie writes:

But I'm not sure the design pattern for a Macbook Air would do anyone good without the gigantic factories and fab lines to produce the bits that go into it; Core i7 processors are among today's climax technologies, like high bypass turbofan engines -- very few folks can make them and they require massive investments in exotic material processing lines as well as highly specialized skill sets.

High Bypass Turbofans are likely to suffer a capital shrinkage as new fab technology comes online. Direct Metal Laser Sintering, E-Beam powder sintering, and some of the other new ones are able to fab near-final-product rocket motors and jet engine first stage turbine blades now. The sizes are currently too small for "production" jetliner engines, but that's entirely a factor of machine design and production volumes, not physics or engineering standing in the way. Once the DMLS method's been sufficiently well tested out to pass FAA / JAA certification (who are conservative) then I expect to see turbines coming off the line made rather rapidly out of powders...

DMLS is turning out to produce *better* than bulk cast / forged / machined parts in many cases, in terms of mechanical properties, and the potential for that is opening up slowly. We're also seeing some processing techniques come out that more than double the strength of pedestrian steels (4130 steel alloy with > 250,000 psi / 1900 MPa tensile strength...) while leaving them sufficiently mechanically ductile for tube bending operations and the like.

Small sized 3, 4, and 5-D CNC machine tools / mills are coming down in price significantly as well. And things like friction-stir welding, etc.

It's an exciting time to be a machine designer...

341:

Or, if it's cheaper, you can give them a servant and leave them there to die in narrowly circumscribed comfort.

That worked with Napoleon the second time. Depending on whether you think he died of natural causes or not. Or, arguably, whether you think he had help escaping Elba.

342:

> The biggest misconception in pre-70s
> SF, as well as by people in general,
> was that computers were about doing
> mathematics.

Until you had some minimum critical mass of computing power, that was true.

My desktop PC functions as a typewriter, filing cabinet, music player, movie player, photo viewer, CB radio, telephone, teletype, and filing cabinet, all in one box. But I probably have more processing power and storage than existed in all the world circa 1970, not to mention the vast software infrastructure that makes it more than a glorified adding machine.

Of course, the Rube Goldberg insanity of wastage it takes to, say, view a video from YouTube fair boggles even my imagination when I stop to think of it. I watched Tom Lehrer performing "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" the other day. It was filmed before I was born, sliced into frames strung together on plastic film, with the audio converted into a squiggly track along the side. Then it was scanned and converted frame by frame into some digital format, which was then compressed. It wound up on YouTube, stored in patterns of magnetic stripes on rotating platters. It was read from there, packetized for Ethernet and TCP/IP, and then went Baud alone knows where along the Net, coming in through the cable modem, converted back from IP packets to buffered data, then decompressed via complex algorithms and sent to the video subsystem, which finally resulted in lighting up individual pixels on my monitor and diddling the voice coils on the speakers. [and I've probably left out a bunch of steps in the whole mad process...]

Now, being able to recall a film and play it on a remote device goes back a long way, and there was talk about implementing something like it for at least two of the "digital community" proposals of the 1960s. But they were talking about a mainframe in the town center and terminals in every home, with everything designed Apple-style as a single proprietary system, clean, efficient, and standardized. The bizarre structure of interlocking protocols and not-quite-standards we have now is due to incredibly cheap consumer-market computing power; cheap enough to squander and misuse it with barely a thought for efficiency, as long as the end product runs fast enough.

343:

The military is always going to be a bit philosophically distinct from the general population- the ardent pacifists aren't going to join it, and if forced in aren't going to stay longer than the minimum requirement and probably aren't going to work as hard at it. You'd have to not only draft randomly, but kick people back out again randomly to get a similar set of opinions to the general population.

344:

I don't know if OGH is already A not WOL, but doesn't the idea of smartphones shoring up on some totalitarian regime's plane..., err, shoreline remind us of something?

345:

Rcovering from the effects of a nerdgasm, I think I have the perfect name for your bug-incinerating death rays:

NMD. Nerd Mosquito Defense.

346:

You mention the "understanding" of computers as depending on having programmed the things in both assembler and high level languages.

I've done both, not with any facility, and I can see what you're getting at, but I'm not sure that such an understanding is anything useful.

It's a bit too much akin to the Open Source myth, expressed as "all you have to do is compile it yourself."

I've had that last rather too often recently. There is some software I use which suffers from a stupid low-contrast color scheme. It used, in v1, to have some color scheme options. v2 abandoned them, a couple of years ago.

I wonder if the programmers have human eyes.

The last excuse I heard was that the outsourced code had too many bits of hard-coded color scheme specification scattered through it. But since it was open-sourced, all i had to do was modify the code and compile it myself.

Is this an unknown known? That is, most of us know we're not programmers, and the people who don't know that we're not are setting the agenda.

347:

SF reader @ 328
The perfect solution to N Korea was outlined by John Brunner, many years agao: "Who steals my Purse"
Could be done too, provided you got the PRC airforce to fly fighter-cover for the goodies-drops .....

Charles H @ 334
Yes, though that should read the "US depending entirely on French support", ahem.
Also see the Glorious Revolution, here, where WilliamIII had serious financial backing fom inside Britain.

348:

I don't see that sintered turbine blades will dramatically reduce the cost of complete jet engines if they reduce the price at all. It's a bit like saying an expensive new casting process that has to be paid for will reduce the cost of Faberge eggs being manufactured by the old amortised casting process.

Sintered metal construction has been a gleam in the eye of manufacturing engineers for decades and it keeps on being a gleam because existing metal-forming techniques do a good enough job without the major capital investments needed for technologies like sintering. There are niches for such processes but they are small and quite specialised.

I agree with you about the 6-axis and 9-axis milling machines but there is still the problem of accuracy. Doubling the finishing accuracy of a 9-axis mill puts a zero at the end of the pricetag, typically -- see the Toshiba mills which can finish a submarine propellor blade just a little bit better than their cheaper competitors while reducing the acoustic signature of said prop by a significant amount. The lower-end 6/9-axis mills hitting the markets are not precision devices, not the way their predecessors were when the base cost of the device and its target market meant that they had to be precise enough to do all the jobs thrown at them and the cost of that accuracy did not materially affect the pricetag.

349:

Re; Cressida Dick - it all depends on whether she had responsibility for the manning and training of the Ops Room, or whether she was just the "next name on the list" when it came to finding a Designated Senior Officer. Given that she wasn't Gold Commander, it was the Special Branch ops room, and she hadn't worked in it before, I suspect the latter.

Reading the detailed report, she was warned off at 0130 to be ready for a 7am start by the Gold Commander (who was on duty through the night), arrived early at 5am to prepare in her office, but missed the first 25 minutes of the main briefing that had been started at 0650 on a different floor from the ops room...

...the question is what happened to the career of Commander McDowall (the Gold Commander at the time)? Or "James" (the surveillance team lead)? Or the Special Branch officer responsible for Room 1600 (their ops room)?

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/08_11_07_stockwell1.pdf

350:

I'd suggest that what we need is not a list of "how many dictators were assassinated or otherwise removed by force", but of "how many...force without someone proclaming 'The President For Life is dead: Long live the PFL' ".

351:

And how many displaced civilians were resident in GB at the time? According to their history, the Channel Islanders were within days of running out of food a times across that Winter.

352:

From Bill Gunston's "The Design of Jet Engines", core blades in modern aero engine designs survive temperatures above the melting point of the metal they're made from'. This is done by creating capilliary passages inside the blades, and flowing ambiant air through them from the turbine shaft interior to cool the blades. Does anyone still think that techniques other than lost wax casting and machining are viable for turbine blades?'

353:

Creating metal structures with complex internal voids sounds pretty much exactly what sintering is for, actually.

354:

Me, concerning a post-nuclear war UK: "...no salvaging gear from the cities... "

Dirk: "It actually takes a massive amount of blast and heat to destroy machinery beyond any usefulness. If you are talking about no cars surviving a nuked city, that may be true. But I bet just about every screw driver would make it. That's one of the reasons allied carpet bombing of German industry was not too effective. Bombs can easily destroy buildings, but destroying an old fashioned lathe is much more difficult."

(note - if the lathe is useable, but the machinist is dead, then the lathe is unusable).

WWII bombing also used what - less than 1 megaton? It was also strikingly deficient in fallout.

355:

"A lot depended on the timing. If the crops were sown, they would pick up radiation from the fall-out, but there would be time for much of it to decay away before the harvest. A nuclear war in August would be bad."

IIRC, the most recent models for a summer major nuclear war gave a peak temperature drop (mid-North Ameria/Eurasia) as 30 degrees C, about 60 days after the war. No crops would be harvested in the Northern Hemisphere that year.

356:

"Sinter (tr) - to form large particles, masses or lumps from (metal) powders by heating or pressure or both."

I don't see how this implies or requires an ability to form internal passages?

357:

The size of the voids depend on how granular the sintering powder is; the larger the grains the less precise the positioning will be as they are fused hence a restriction on how small a void such as a coolant passageway can be. If the grains are made smaller then it takes more time and energy to fuse those grains and care has to be taken to make sure the previous layer has fused properly before the next layer is applied.

Sintered metal manufacturing does have its uses but there are few if any killer apps for this process. Its primary benefit is in small-quantity runs like titanium structures for fighter aircraft, made in quantity dozens at most with possible changes during the years-long production runs as the design evolves. Aircraft turbine blades are, in contrast, made identically in quantity ten thousand depending on their position in a given engine design. A long-lived engine design might require the making of hundreds of thousands of such identical blades over its lifespan as they are refurbished and rebuilt. The design flexibility of sintering is not an aid to manufacturing in such circumstances.

This kind of over-the-top limited-run engineering has been done before -- Concorde's passenger doors were manufactured using an 1960s punched-tape nine-axis mill cutting away 90%+ of a blank of aluminium alloy measuring two metres by one metre by half a metre to leave the main door structure and outer skin as a single piece of metal, stronger and more resistant to the thermal stresses of supersonic flight than a conventional sheet-alloy and riveted frame door would be without a major weight penalty.

358:

Wikipedia says that "Fat Man", which IIRC was the higher yield of the 2 devices, was rated at 21kT.

359:

There was a link on here to a British electron-beam sintering company a while back. Rapid-prototyping turbine components for R-R was their biggest line of business. If you can, it's better to sinter one big metallic crystal than forge something and then machine out really complex shapes inside it...uses less stuff, and less stuff is good. Also, you don't stress the component drilling holes in it.

360:

Were you a regional scientific adviser by any chance?

361:

"Back when Marx wrote his Manifesto, "labor" was pretty much interchangeable. "

No - read Adam Smith on nailmakers for how and why. Marx did.

362:

Compare Fat Man to the Sakharov devices - the Tsar Bomba with yields of 50Mt (as built) to 100Mt (original spec). Some attack plans considered using a "Tsar Torpedo" on coastal sites. There was some discussion about whether it was more humane to burn or to drown a city.

I don't have "Defended To Death" or the "Nuclear Casebook" handy so I can't estimate the total Mtonnage expected on the UK, but I recall it was a few orders of magnitude worse than a Fat Man per city.

As for food, there's a telling quote from a civil defence exercise codename Vireg - “food was almost impossible to obtain especially after the New Forest ponies had been consumed”.

MAFF didn't just rely on commercial food stockpiles but had their own stores - about 750,000 tons in the mid 50's, dwindling to about 200,000 tons in the early 90's when the stores were sold off.

According to MAFF, “the stockpile along with commercial wholesale and retail stocks was intended to provide a reserve to feed up to 40 million survivors sufficient to cover a 60 day recovery period following a nuclear attack”.

There were plans to increase these stores in the build-up phase of an exchange.

That's just the food problem for the first couple of months. As far as ultimate recovery goes, Air Vice Marshall Sir Leslie Mavor told delegates on civil defence courses “...if there is one thing that is as near as dammit certain it is that after a nuclear war we will never pass this way again…”

If enough transport elements remained, I suspect the best long-term option for the UK would be to relocate survivors to a country that hadn't been attacked, within that two month period.

363:

Instead compares Tsar Bomba's test date of Oct 1961 with a timeframe of "WW2". Point taken?

364:

As per my original post on the subject, the issue is heat rather than mechanical stressing of the blade. Single crystal componentry AIUI is all about minimising crystaline weakness rather than about increasing the environmental melting temperature of the part.

Also, as per #357, you can be dealing with making several orders of magnitude more turbine blades than sintered components.

365:

"If you can, it's better to sinter one big metallic crystal than forge something and then machine out really complex shapes inside it...uses less stuff, and less stuff is good. Also, you don't stress the component drilling holes in it."

This is more or less what I'm getting at. It's not the flexibility but the ability to make complicated structures with lots of voids inside.

And the point that you make turbine blades by the tens of thousands, therefore they aren't suitable for sintering, is a bit circular. If you did make them by sintering, you could custom-make them rather than having to make tens of thousands of identical ones. The design could be continually updated; so a 2012 Trent 800 blade could be a bit different from a 2013 one. And if you need another blade for your 2012 Trent in 2032, you just print another one.

366:

That's beside the point.
The British sector of Germany had plenty of POWs

367:

Woo hoo, my MSc in metallic and ceramic materials comes in useful here-
The usual starting materials for sintering are sphereical, or as near as possible. Or else random broken shapes like sand on a beach.

When you heat the porous mass of them up, the points of contact between the particles melt together, even when the rest of the particles are not actually molten. In many cases it is almost impossible to actually melt the material, but you can soften it with heat and at that point it becomes energetically favourable for the particles to begin melting into one another (because decreasing surface area lowers free energy so is more stable, that is if I am remembering it correctly). But this only happens at the point of contact, so there are still gaps between the particles. The more sintering you do the smaller the gaps get but it is very hard if not nearly impossible to close them completely.

368:

Writing as a man who, when sitting in line with the engines, sometimes muses about how much of the engine casing, fuselage and me a broken turbine blade could penetrate, I'm _really_ in favour of the CAA having to certify a reltively limited variety of blades. IOW, the regulatory burden on the Trent 2013 Row 22 design is likely to cost more than it saves in fuel.

369:

Look on the bright side.
After a global nuclear war there would be plenty of deep frozen cooked meat just laying around for the survivors.

370:

You really don't want to update the design of a turbine blade. Really. If there's good reason to change the shape and characteristics of a blade set then the knock-on effects of the gas flow through the rest of the engine mean a new engine design is necessary at which point you need another production line of low-cost turbine blades, and sintering isn't a low-cost process for something that is manufactured in quantity ten thousand or more.

There are other problems -- sintering uses metal powders whereas casting uses bulk liquid metal. It is possible to control the alloying of the cast metal quite tightly, even in near-realtime just before the pour itself. Sintered metal powders oxidise rapidly compared to bulk metal given their massive surface area per kilogramme. The options are to use a low-oxidising iron alloy as the base to make the powder (itself an expensive and non-trivial process) while sacrificing fine-grain control of the alloy's constituents or to accept the oxide coating as part of the sintering process and hoping that it doesn't adversely affect the strength, heat resistance, thermal expansion characteristic, crack propagation rate, fatigue resistance etc. of the finished blade.

Prototyping blades for new engine designs is a reasonable use of sintering but I can't see it being used for production of 10,000 hour blades in flight engines, not without a major revolution in manufacturing costs and technology which doesn't exist yet.

371:

Can you certify a sintered metal component to be gas-tight? Can you determine how hot it can get before it starts to soften, and maybe bend, inside a tube of very hot (2_000C or more) high-speed gases?

By the looks of things Robert and I, who know about mass-producing jet engines, aren't convinced that sintering blades in the numbers required can be done.

I'll concede you have more knowledge of sintering; I'm just not convinced that you know about conditions in a modern jet core.

372:

All this speculation about Building a Better World with advanced materials/construction techniques/etc. is soooo twentieth cen. Look, you may get those types of industrial tech, you might not. But even if we do get them - barring your unknown unknowns - the one thing they aren't likely to be is cheap. At least not in the short run, not until after a long, long uphill slog of incremental developments.

The fact is, up until, oh, say, 1960 or thereabouts (and probably much earlier), it was scientifically defensible to speculate about wild new breakthroughs. Now? Not so much. Practically speaking, we've already got a Theory of Everything. Yeah, sure, loop quantum gravity or something more abstruse could come along and really explain how all four forces tie together, reconcile QM and relativity, and perform various other miracles. But the odds of such a theory having something new to say on the gross atomic level? Not very good. Very not very good.

So what you're left with is the Standard Model and quantum electrodynamics, which already completely explain the behaviour of atoms and electrons. All the rest is just a matter of applying them brute force style and painstakingly working out the implications and emergent properties one trillion trillion calculations at a time.

Shorter analysis: all the low hanging fruit with regards to materials and construction techniques was picked a long time ago. That's not to say there aren't plenty of apples left on the tree. But they're a lot higher than most people would guess at the first cut.

373:

"But the odds of such a theory having something new to say on the gross atomic level? "

Actually, very good IMHO, esp with respect to the measurement problem in QM

374:

I'm probably going to regret this but . . . er, how do you figure? That is, what currently unexplained phenomena on our scale range - from planetary sizes and masses down to electrons orbiting a core with some charge differentiation - could such a theory explain?

Just so we understand where each other is coming from - I teach and have taught this stuff at the college level, with heavy emphasis on the math side. Which would be every thing from linear algebra to probability and measure theory to partial differential equations. Iow, please don't point me to links which would only be enlightening to an undergrad with hardly any math background. You may safely assume I already know it.

375:

In which case you know that the measurement problem remains unresolved. Penrose suggests a gravitational potential difference causes the collapse of the state vector to a single state. The MWI being the exact opposite. Which (if either) is right?

Then there's a lot of vague stuff that still seemingly remains unresolved about anomalous frame dragging by rotating superconductors.

376:

I was merely addressing your apparent lack of knowledge of what sintering is. Googling does indicate that the technique is sometimes used for some engine parts, but I'm making no particular claims about it being the best thing ever!!!!!! Especially since bringing my turbine blade manufacturing knowledge up to date via wikipedia does indicate that it isn't used. For instance holes on the leading edge for film cooling, you can't control exactly where the holes are in sintering, or maybe you could but it would increase manufacturing complexity so why bother.

377:

Iow, there isn't any phenomena that are known to be inexplicable with the standard theory already in place for that range of sizes and masses.

Btw, that stuff about rotating superconductors? That's widely regarded as crank science. Certainly I don't believe in it. If you want me to go with this as your big unexplained hole in the standard theory, you're going to have to work really hard to get me to believe it.

To get the context here, remember that at the turn of the century there actually was a well-known and baffling observation that seemed to indicate the need for a radical new theory. That, of course, was the perihelion precession of Mercury's orbit by some huge amount, something like 40 arcseconds a century. And most everyone agreed on this; iow, it wasn't considered some fringe notion that only cranks were pointing to as a breakdown in the standard theories of the day.

378:

The way I was taught it in a History of Physics class was that 1900 arrived with everything solved in terms of a a billiard-ball Newtonian world except for four problems which were, IIRC, the double-slit experiment, the Michaelson-Morley experiment, the photoelectric effect and I think the fourth problem was the precession of Mercury. The first problem gave us wave-particle duality, the second killed the idea of an aether through which electromagnetic waves propagated, the third told us the universe was quantum not linear and the fourth was only solved by relativity.

379:

Actually, I was pointing to the measurement problem and the fact that current theories do not explain it. Or rather, there are conflicting theories which "explain" it. That's rather a big hole I would have thought since it forms the basis of all experimental science.

380:

The trouble is that they're not good theories. They're ideas.

Good theories by their very nature give you predictions and are testable. If you can't do that, even if you're "right" (whatever that means in science) it's not actually all that useful.

The exception to that would be if someone smart develops a new construction that shows that they're not competing theories, they're different ways of describing the same thing. Proving Fermat's Last Theorem was more or less proven that way. (OK, that's an oversimplification, but close enough.) How long until we have our next cluster of Einstein, Dirac et al?

381:

In that case things are even worse.
There is a process happening that has no explanation and no tests can be performed because the existing theory makes no predictions.

382:

"How long until we have our next cluster of Einstein, Dirac et al?"

We already have them - loads of them.
However, the problems are now much harder

383:

"There isn't any phenomena that are known to be inexplicable with the standard theory already in place for that range of sizes and masses."

I'm curious as to why that means that new theories could not lead to new behaviors in that range of size and masses?

Fusion as an example? Not something that happens outside of the sun. There are plenty of solar to galactic level phenomenon we don't have good explanations for.

384:

An unknown unknown: is there anything to "low energy nuclear reactions" (the new Cold Fusion) other than experimental error, self deception, and/or deliberate fraud? I see obvious snake oil peddlers in this area, but the discovery of radioactivity also attracted commercial hucksters with wild claims, so I'm loathe to judge based on the company it attracts. I've seen degreed physicists opine either way, and I don't have nearly the background to guess. If there were something to it, it might be less useful to the future of energy than a commercial follow-on to ITER but it would surely point to interesting physics.

A known unknown: who's going to provide a good model/explanation of high temperature superconductivity? Optimizing HTS design still seems to be very Edisonian, despite 25 years of intense research. And will the model be something compact and elegant, or a complex computer program that gives correct predictions but doesn't provide that "ah-ha" feeling of understanding?

Dark matter and dark energy also seem like pretty big unknowns, but I'm skeptical of technological applications even if they're well-explained in the future. Not every scientific discovery (white dwarfs, black holes, continental drift, pions...) easily leads to applied technologies.

385:
Actually, I was pointing to the measurement problem and the fact that current theories do not explain it. Or rather, there are conflicting theories which "explain" it. That's rather a big hole I would have thought since it forms the basis of all experimental science.

Maybe. Maybe not. But in any event - and as I've tried to explain two or three times now - completely beside the point.[1]

Again: There might well be some exotic new theory that really gets it all together. That makes what we have now so much phlogiston. But even if that's the case, over the range of observations we've already made, the new theory has to reproduce results of the old theory as a limiting case. I would have thought you would have known this; it's none other than the Correspondence principle formulated by Neils Bohr.

So for your new theory to produce new results that are relevant on our scale, it has to be essentially identical to what we already know. It can only differ where there is some observation at variance with what the old QM and relativity theories predict.

I ask again: Do you have any examples of weird observational anomalies which people generally agree can't be accounted for by the standard toolkit? Because if there aren't, I repeat: what we know about QM (and relativity) sets some pretty fundamental limits on materials technology. We can prove it. Iow, everything up to the end of the 20 century gave us the set building blocks we're allowed to work with, the atoms and electrons and photons. We've got those down cold. The next big thing, and much harder than figuring out those building blocks and how they behave, is how to make stuff out of them.


[1] You mentioned something about 'quantum gravitational collapse' last time. Most people don't believe it because if this is true then QM becomes a nonlinear theory. This is very bad because a) on theoretical grounds, the linearity of QM is what makes it work so well in describing our world b) it's well known that if QM were nonlinear then not only would stuff like ftl and time travel become possible, you'd also be able to (far far worse) solve NP-complete problems in only polynomial time!, and finally c)there's been a lot of work done over the years to empirically identify any nonlinearities in QM, say in the behaviour of slow heavy neutrons in a gravitational field. So far everyone's come up with bupkas. Yeah, sure, it might be there, just beyond the ability of our current instrumentation to detect. But that's a whole lot weaker than a claim that we need to find an alternative version of QM because we've already got an observed nonlinear behaviour in a QM system that needs to be accounted for.

Remember - theory is nice. But empirical observations are better. That needs to be said in a punchier way and then put on a t-shirt for any wannabe science types to wear.

386:

Oh I really disagree with the first part of that.

I'm not trying to say we don't have a lot of talented scientists out there. I'm not convinced that the problems are actually harder. I think they, in a way that Leibniz and Newton some time earlier.

They looked at existing problems in different ways and got a great deal of insight from that. I'm guessing, until we get someone who comes in with a different insight we'll refinement, tweaks, changes and the like, but not radical, paradigm shifting changes. They're rare - possibly not not truly special so much as lucky - but they'll be remembered forever.

387:

Yes SoV, but it is possible to bootstrap into "non earthly" conditions by using earthly ones. The set of observed conditions is only a subset of the possible conditions on our particular ball of mud

Again consider Fusion bombs. Nothing like that was ever observed on earth. We have never even seen a fission explosion. No one had an idea anything like that was possible until the theory predicted it. We've also created anit-matter in the lab, again, never observed anywhere near us.

388:

The point of powder metallurgy is that it allows you to make things with compositions which cannot be made in bulk via the liquid route. At sufficiently high temperature (and possibly pressure) you can make the liquid with that composition, of course, but if you cool that down slowly then crystals of a different composition form, and to cool it down quickly enough to keep those crystals from forming it needs to be small enough in at least one direction to get a large enough temperature gradient to get the heat out fast enough.
Selective Laser Sintering only melts a tiny volume of the powder at a time, thereby bypassing this problem while simultaneously allowing an additive manufacturing process.
This almost certainly creates a fine-grained microstructure, not the single crystal structure preferred for low creep deformation at high temperature, but what qualifies as high temperature is relative to the melting point of the alloy and this does allow you to make things with a higher melting point to begin with, so powder metallurgy might have potential for turbine blades after all. If it needs to be airtight, you can always apply a coating. The state of the art turbine blades rely on thermal barrier coatings (in addition to the aforementioned cooling channels) anyway, to achieve operation at gas temperatures above the melting point.
On the other hand, especially at high temperatures, an approach that works with thermodynamics rather than against it (to the extent that relying on kinetics to delay the inevitable approach to thermodynamic equilibrium counts as working against thermodynamics) is always more elegant and more robust, so I'm very much in favor of the produced-by-the-thousand single-crystal super-alloy turbine blades. I think they represent a more elegant engineering achievement than the fanciest computer chip ever could be.

389:

The problem is that to get to the cutting edge of any science now you have to spend a vast amount of time learning the tools. That was far less the case a century ago.

390:

The problem when it comes to linearity is this.
A TOE, like you say, has to come up with the current equations in some kind of "classical limit".
However, those limits are QM and GTR.
One is linear, and the other is not.

391:

Id love to put this to proper Statics Maven.

For these; 85% known knowns, 10% known unknowns, 5% unknown unknowns.

1. What are the total mass direct effects on a Culture?

2 How does one measure an event and/or technology's effect on a Culture. Is it GPD, Media turn-over, amount of users/adherents? Something ever subtler?

3. What events/technologies in the past fall within these three catagories? What patterns can we find in a Culture's "digesting" of these bizzare new "foods"?

4. Can we put it up in a Google friendly manner for the world to see?

5. Of the three catagories which are the Heavies?

392:

Yeah, that's pretty much the standard presentation I got too when it came to doing "first quantization" QM. The problem for us moderns is that too often we get presented with those bare facts, but not much of a sense of what the researchers of the day made of those observations. I've found that this is something most people have to learn on their own time.

393:

There seems to be some confusion over fabbing with DMLS.

It's not actually a sintering process, really. It's called that by accident.

Call it an in-situ powder micro-casting process.

You lay down a thin layer of metal powder. You melt small (10s of microns) spots of it with a laser. Melt a whole 2-D slice of whatever you're making, by moving the laser across the surface and melting all the spots which will be solid.

Apply a new thin layer of metal powder on top, usually by lowering the table a bit and running a flat level arm across pushing some bulk powder.

Repeat with laser.

It takes a couple of seconds per layer-ish, maybe a bit more.

It can fab hollow shapes, arbitrary 3-D patterns, etc. The micromelting produces superior mechanical performance - 10% or better strength and equivalent ductility for many or most alloys, etc. Works with inconel, at least many stainless steels, alloy steels, aluminum alloys, ...

Because they're full melt of the spots, and you melt one spot to its neighbor with the next pixel over, there's no gaps / hollowness. It's really not a sintered end part when finished, it's really full melt, just in such small pixels that it doesn't need a mold or any support other than the bulk powder around the part.

Can be done with E-beams and bigger spots. e-beams can have smaller spots per se - but penetrate much deeper, so you end up with long, thin column "pixels" rather than the more or less spherical spots you get with the lasers.

394:
"There isn't any phenomena that are known to be inexplicable with the standard theory already in place for that range of sizes and masses."

I'm curious as to why that means that new theories could not lead to new behaviors in that range of size and masses?

We can't a priori discount the possibility, of course. But the fact of the matter is, there's not much in range from atomic-sized to roughly Earth-sized that doesn't already have a perfectly good explanation in terms of our current theories. But that's being too polite: the fact is, there's nothing that can't already be accounted for by the standard theory at the scales I'm talking about. I keep asking this question and keep getting rudely ignored but - do you actually have any examples you can site of apparently inexplicable phenomena with no known basis in current theory? Observations that are as uncontroversial as the MM experiments or the photoelectric effect or the precession of Mercury's orbit were in their day as opposed to fringe stuff like rotating superconductors?

395:

I'm probably not qualified but I will take a stab

Dark Matter? Do we have a good theory these days on how gravity propagates at all and how exactly space gets deformed?

396:
Again consider Fusion bombs. Nothing like that was ever observed on earth. We have never even seen a fission explosion. No one had an idea anything like that was possible until the theory predicted it. We've also created anit-matter in the lab, again, never observed anywhere near us.

Uh, do you actually know any of the history of this stuff? Because what you're saying turns out . . . not to be the case. For example, didn't Otto Hahn win the Noble Prize for discovering nuclear fission (and Meitner et al, who were gypped for the usual reasons)?

Was it a mistake? No, said Lise Meitner; Hahn was too good a chemist for that. But how could barium be formed from uranium? No larger fragments than protons or helium nuclei (alpha particles) had ever been chipped away from nuclei, and to chip off a large number not nearly enough energy was available. Nor was it possible that the uranium nucleus could have been cleaved right across. A nucleus was not like a brittle solid that can be cleaved or broken; George Gamow had suggested early on, and Bohr had given good arguments that a nucleus was much more like a liquid drop.

Now, I'm not saying that a new theory can't make new predictions, quite the contrary, I hope! I'm just saying that in one particular size regime the possibility for making new discoveries seems pretty played out. That wasn't true fifty and a hundred years ago. And here's another historical example: from the mid-nineteenth century on up to 1900 it was possible to discover new elements in the periodic table without too much trouble, elements like argon or fluorine or germanium. From 1900 on up to about 1950, things got a lot tougher, and you get stuff like francium or hafnium or astatine. And since the 1950's, there hasn't been a new element discovered that occurs naturally in nature. Finally, theory seems to place some rather strict upper bounds on the z-numbers of nucleii; we might be able to manufacture a few more extremely high weight elements. But we won't be finding any elements whose atomic number is more than 150.

Since this is an extremely noncontroversial and absolutely bog standard and boring scientific consensus which you apparently have absolutely zero problems with, why would you object on mere principle when I say the same thing about a well-understood class of phenomena?

Iow, if you've really got something that can't be conventionally explained, let's see it. I'm certainly willing to listen and be persuaded. But if all you've got is "you can't prove that such a theory doesn't exist", well, that's pretty weak tea. And nothing that I want to waste any time on debating with people who declare otherwise, in fact any more than I would with someone who goes on about how do I know that there's not an base of aliens observing us from the far side of the moon.

397:
Dark matter and dark energy also seem like pretty big unknowns, but I'm skeptical of technological applications even if they're well-explained in the future. Not every scientific discovery (white dwarfs, black holes, continental drift, pions...) easily leads to applied technologies.

You know, I don't see why people like Dirk consistently refuse to get this point. A new theory that has QM and relativity as the classical limit? A theory that explains everything from before the big bang to after the end of eternity, to length scales of 10^-1,000 meters to 10^10^10^10 meters? Sure, I can believe that.

And where it will differ from QM and relativity will be in it's ability to answer questions about things like what happens when two black holes massing 10^9 kg and 10^-15 m apart are put into a superposition of states.

But about stuff like hybridization of orbitals or peptide bonds or protein folding? Well, I don't think this big new theory is going to help out all that much.

Since I can't seem to get this notion across, I'm not going to bother discussing this any further. My point is that expecting any unknown unkowns to emerge from the old twentieth-cen standbys like industrial engineering or materials science is pinning your hopes on a very slim reed.

But that's not to say that there aren't areas where you might expect those unknown unknowns to lurk. Quite the contrary.

398:

...I'm skeptical of technological applications even if they're well-explained in the future. Not every scientific discovery (white dwarfs, black holes, continental drift, pions...) easily leads to applied technologies.

Hmmm. I think some geologists are laughing right now. Continental drift made their lives quite a lot easier, by giving them a road map to look for useful mineral and oil deposits. But what do I know?

399:

SoV @ various
And everyone else on this subject, incidentally:

Erm ..."The renormalisation problem"
QM & GR don't fit, at all (10^26, 10^32 factor out? - not "small" anyway)
This is a really imprtant problem.
Ditto the apparent underlying "order" in slow/individual photon-release through a double slit, indicating there is something we really don't know or understand in there.

Dark Matter is almost certainly "real" in that its' effects and (possibly) the thing itself have been clearly observed. Lots of difficult-to-see mass, well-distributed through galaxies.
Dark Energy is another matter altogether, and (like strings - don't go there) subject to really large quantities of handwavium.
Does the Higgs Boson exist? Will S. Hawking win his bet? Watch this space.
Also under that heading the so-called Gran Sasso anomalous ftl results are possibly a sign that something is worng with our models.
Plenty to do

400:

At what point, if at all possible, does technological momentum fails to overcome social inertia?

I know this will be off-topic, but can't help it :) In much much longer-term future -- can technological progress stop because everything is known?

Unless you seriously believe laws of physics are infinte, a time should come -- maybe in 10,000 years, maybe in a million, -- when all laws that govern natural world are known and understood. And some finite amount of time after that, all possible ways to USE these laws of nature will be exhausted. Past that technological progress will not necessarily stop, but will consist of just rearranging known pieces. Which itself can probably go on until heat death of the universe -- just all possible chess games would take a considerable chunk of that, -- but ultimately would not bring anything truly new.

Surprisingly few SF works deal with that.

401:

Unless, of course, we learn to manipulate the laws of nature and create new ones. It's what the multiverse is for!

402:

Took a while, ...

I looked at CIA World Factbook data for the first half of the country list you provided (Bolivia, Czech Rep, E Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Madagascar, Mali, Philippines, Poland, Slovenia - plus the U.S.A. as a control) to see whether I could see a pattern for why these countries were able to change governments without much bloodshed.

Found that the U.S.A., Slovenia (10-day war) and Bolivia did engage in war to win their freedom. In fact, Bolivia has had 200 coups and countercoups – guess the CIA gave up counting exactly how many.

It was “freedom by memo” for all of the other countries. That is, they were all colonies, protectorates or satellite states where the-then ruling party said: You don’t have any resources we want, you cost too much for us to maintain you indefinitely, so we decided to free you. Good luck! P.S.: For old times’ sake, we’d like to know that we can count on your hospitality if the world situation gets chancy again and we need someplace to park our military. (Short term only, no need to prepare anything special. ‘Bye for now.)

I looked at:
Religiosity (type and incidence of any religious affiliation) – 28% (majority have no religion) to 100% (everyone has a religious affiliation)
Population - Estonia 1.2 M to 101 M Philippines (2011 est.)
Health - 4% Philippines to 9% Slovenia (U.S.A. 16% of GDP)
Education - 3% Madagascar to 6% Bolivia (U.S.A, 5% of GDP)
Military – 1% to 2% (vs. U.S.A. 4% of GDP)
Literacy – 46% Mali, 69% Madagascar, 87% Bolivia to 99%-110%.
Youth unemployment (15-24 yrs) – 2% Madagascar, 9% Bolivia; 11%-18% for U.S.A., Czech, Germany, Philippines, and Slovenia; and 27%-34% for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.*

No clear pattern, but some of the info suggested that the country’s pre-occupation/pre-revolution infrastructure and economic status were probably more important than the fact of gaining their independence in determining how bloody the cost of independence would be. The military composition (cross-section of entire population vs. recruited from select families/political allegiances/tribes/ethnic subgroups) may be a factor but not apparent from this data. FYI - Dictatorships/PFL did appear in Madagascar, Mali and the Philippines between originally-gained and most-recently-gained ‘freedom’.

The other countries you listed may show a different profile – perhaps someone else would like to look into those.

* Given these 3 countries’ small populations of 1.2M to 3.5M, this is not a massive number of unemployed teens/young adults skulking in the streets, malls or cafés. It does suggest a possibility of increasing net emigration or a new golden age of purple prose/new age folk songs on youtube.

403:

Education and literacy rate?

404:

Wait, was the 1.4Kw laser for killing mosquitoes or dictators?

405:

"Education and literacy rate?"

Average number of years of education and literacy. Both are considered important to at least attaining socio-economic health, independence.

406:

Brucecohenpdx writes:

Wait, was the 1.4Kw laser for killing mosquitoes or dictators?

1.4 Kw will take a long time to kill a dictator...

1.4 Mw, now...

407:

Nah; If the Iranians or Chinese sunk a US Ship, or in any way inflict significant casualties on us, we would (Probably at a MINIMUM) take down THEIR power grid. And no need to rebuild.... Hopefully we have learned that lesson.

They want to live in the 19th Century, we can work something out.

Same for the Chinese. I have enough T-Shirts and underwear for the rest of my LIFE.

The Known Unknown is Chinese Stability.

Oh yeah, read Mandlebaums "Case for Goliath" (And America's Inadvertent Empire by Odom & ???).

What happens when/If the US stops providing the rest of the world with "Free" sort of World Governmental services? Do you really trust the Chinese to run a stable world economic regime?

408:

Fish? What Fish.

One of the KK events is the colapse of Global Fish Stocks. Other than "aquaculture" (Which for the desirable species in the West, are dependent on wild feedstock...)). Or are we going to grow our own in our rice paddies?

409:

SoV's point is that we're not going to be building extremely strong structures or supersonic turbine blades out of dark matter. QED gives us some ultimate material properties to shoot for based on the strengths of chemical bonds; we know how strong those bonds can be, and that's as far as we can get; quantum gravity isn't going to change that.

Now it's true there are some hypothetical materials that would be much stronger than what we've got. If we could stabilize metallic hydrogen at STP we'd have a material stronger than a perfect carbon nanotube. But there's no theory that allows us to do that, and again, quantum gravity or String Theory are in the wrong size scales to change that. And if we could stabilize degenerate or nuclear matter we'd have materials that would allow us to play with strong gravitational fields, materials which would allow us to build ringworlds. But again, it's not at all likely we'll find a new theory that applies at the necessary scale.

410:

"What happens when/If the US stops providing the rest of the world with "Free" sort of World Governmental services?"

Are you American?
Because the rest of the world does not view the USA as some disinterested party acting out of moral necessity which tries to spread democracy and freedom around the world. The USA is viewed as a cynical predatory Capitalist empire which works on behalf of its corporations using whatever rhetorical tools do the propaganda job. The USA is less hated for its habit of invading people than for its hypocrisy.

411:

Regardless of how hypocritical the US is, it's still a vaid question. Even a crocked cop is still different from no cop. Even the Pax Romana brought a fair amount of real "Pax"

As far as the physics argument, I understand the argument i just disagree with it. We still do not understand how matter or energy know they exist, how space gets deformed or gravity propagates. There is a chance that there is an metadata/accounting layer underneath the world of matter and energy, and that hacking that accounting layer could do...anything.

412:

"Regardless of how hypocritical the US is, it's still a vaid question. "

What? The question of how the world will survive if the USA no longer roams the world kicking people's arses? Somehow, I expect we will muddle through. In fact, I might predict that almost nothing will change, except the UK will fight fewer pointless wars.

413:
SoV's point is that we're not going to be building extremely strong structures or supersonic turbine blades out of dark matter. QED gives us some ultimate material properties to shoot for based on the strengths of chemical bonds; we know how strong those bonds can be, and that's as far as we can get; quantum gravity isn't going to change that.

Exactly right. So much so that I'd hesitate to even call it "my" point - surely this has been well known by practically everyone for, well, decades. Right? Particularly since the topic isn't "unknown unknowns", but "unknown unknowns" for the next century. Remember the wonder materials from the Arcot, Wade and Morey stories? Lux and Relux?

"Sure," said Fuller. "One was transparent and the other was a perfect reflector. You said they were made of light—photons so greatly condensed that they were held together by their gravitational fields."

Sure, I'll concede the possibility that some new improved Theory of Everything might grant us the theoretical ability to synthesize materials made out of something other than the usual elements found in the periodic table and with tensile strengths greater than 10^15 MPa, or materials that remain solid and superconductive even at temperatures above 10^9 C while immersed 10^12 tesla magnetic fields. Iow, sure, I still grant the possibility of an old super science trope and sf fans can still have their General Products spacecraft hulls and whatnot.

But sometime in the next 88 years? C'mon. Even these guys have got to know that's really pushing the bounds of the remotely plausible.

The same thing holds for advanced manufacturing techniques (which is what prompted my initial posting). Sure, it's possible that some sort of sintering technique will one day make home fabber technology ubiquitous. But while you don't have to come up with an entire new theory of how things work to pull this one off, this sort of development isn't typically susceptible to just one or two science-fictional breathrough ideas. They're almost always the result of a long, hard, incremental slog. The guys going on here about home fabbing (or "shrimp and algae" for that matter) are the sort who would have looked at Newcomen's original atmospheric engine and then gone on about using steam-powered engines in industry, or for transportation infrastructure, or even for use in the home as a labor-saving device. In no more than twenty years - fifty at the outside - an certainly within their own lifetimes ;-)

So, yeah, I'll also concede that some day practical precision home fabbing of any given item from an online catalogue of templates could be the everyday reality. Just not sometime in the next 88 years :-)

And in any event, not something that really rises to the level of civilization-altering the way that I take it to be discussed here.

414:
As far as the physics argument, I understand the argument i just disagree with it. We still do not understand how matter or energy know they exist, how space gets deformed or gravity propagates. There is a chance that there is an metadata/accounting layer underneath the world of matter and energy, and that hacking that accounting layer could do...anything.

You've got it wrong, pal.

You're the one who wants not just a new theory that ties it all together, but also that the new theory make things like antigravity, ftl, yadda yadda possible. Worse: you demand that these capabilities be implementable on what is basically a 21st-century platform.

So you can "disagree" all you want - but since you're the one who brought it up (the generic "you"), it's up to you to convince everyone else that this is possible, not the other way around.[1]

Yes - this sort of switcheroo is extremely dishonest, this demand of yours that the skeptics prove that you're wrong (and doubtless you're also going to demand that you get to decide when you've been proven wrong). Maybe you weren't aware of this and I'll cut you some slack on the grounds of general ignorance. But dishonest it is, and now that you know, I suggest that produce some sort of reason why you think what you want actually has some basis in reality.

Sure, it'd be nice if what you want were true. I'd like very much for it to be so, some new tweak to existing theory that makes something like Blish's spindizzies possible. Something that could be made out of Earthly elements in a late-industrial machine shop iow, instead of, say, a sun-sized artifact requiring 10^40 kg of negative energy.


[1]This style of arguing is straight out of the dishonest debate tactics for libertarians playbook. I won't insult you by accusations that you're in that disreputable tribe, but be warned that a lot of people have a visceral and very negative reaction to this sort of gambit.

415:

@414 "You're the one who wants not just a new theory that ties it all together, but also that the new theory make things like antigravity, ftl, yadda yadda possible."

I don't think there is any reason why anyone should believe that there is any basis in reality for any of that far out stuff, it probably isn't true, almost certainly isn't true. "Reason to believe it is true" is not the same thing as "possible" especially not when writing science fiction. This is an "unknown unknowns" thread remember, the "likely outcomes" thread was a couple threads back.

@412 the most likely outcome after the US gets tired or become unable of being world police is a set of regional powers policing their own spheres of influence with probably some areas of the globe completely un-policed. Hello regional wars almost certainly, given all this will be happening alongside resource and energy depletion.

416:

"Hello regional wars almost certainly..."

And those don't happen now? In fact, if the US had not bombed the Serbs the EU might very well have been forced to do something similar. One effect of US military power has been to infantilize Europe, which is probably not an unwanted side effect from the POV of the USA. And while the US might complain about other nations not pulling their weight in UN "peacekeeping" operations I severely doubt that they would welcome half a million Chinese troops lending them a hand. [BTW, China does have blue helmeted troops in the Middle East]. As for where most of the bloodshed and wars occur, Africa, not even the USA gives a fuck about them.

417:

Regional wars do happen now, but are at an historic low. You have less nation-on-nation conflict then in virtually any time in recent history.

418:

True, but I doubt that has much to do with the USA

419:

The relative peace has a lot to do with a unipolar geopolitical environment. As soon as we go multipolar again, the wars will flare up

420:

Regional wars?
Watch Nigeria ....

421:

The UN has a distinct aversion to employing US troops in peacekeeping roles, in part because they won't obey orders from the UN commanders on the ground. The Somalia "Blackhawk Down" debacle was, I think, the last straw, where blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers had to rescue the US forces who were on a mission to kill a local warlord on orders from the Oval Office.

As of December 2011 the US has thirteen soldiers working as United Nations peacekeepers, about half in Haiti and most of the others in Liberia. In comparison Pakistan has over eight thousand soldiers wearing blue helmets. Even Ethiopia has six thousand troops under UN command.

422:

Y'all might wanna read "Winning the War on War," by Joshua Goldstein.

Also consider the remarkable faith that other democracies have in America's not-malevolent intentions. Yes, I'm quite serious.

423:

Umm, the EU *did* bomb the Serbs. Famously the Luftwaffe got to drop bombs on Belgrade again after a fifty-year interval.

424:

Only after the US got in first.
The last thing the US wanted was an EU with its own military outside of NATO being "proactive".

425:

Just read the post and whole thread in one go. Wow!

I want to comment on question about fabbing and what it can possibly do in, say, 15 years.

I think it's basically a very good activity for kids (think Lego toys, only much better customized), both boys and girls.

And for older, technically inclined people as well.

It would be a lot of fun. And quite possible that fabbing and sharing "phisybles"
http://www.pcworld.com/article/248682/pirate_bay_launches_3dprinted_physibles_downloads.html

over Internet might become major activity for many, many people.

Possibly hundreds of millions of people in the near future might spend as much time on fabbing as they do on Facebook now.

Given that, question of whether fabbing is cost-effective or competitive with conventional manufacturing simply becomes irrelevant.

People would be spending money to do fabbing (and bragging to others about it!) even if it's easier and cheaper just to order it on Amazon.

426:

They nearly had me, until they started talking about fabbing food!

427:

Fabbing food is possible, using the same kind of fabber that's being used to fab organic tissues, and maybe someday organs. But it sure won't be very practical or less than horrendously expensive for a long time to come.

428:

One more known unknown - DC transcranial stimulation.
Seems to act as a brain boost.
Since its as simple as two electrodes and a 9V battery at its crudest, its use might be widespread. How useful it is, and possible long term side effects, are unknown.

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