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God Willing and the Robots Don't Rise: Final Thoughts

Thus does my time as a regular presence at the mic here come to a close. It's been an amazing month, and I've learned a lot from you guys--I hope you've all gotten something out of my posts here. It was a strange cross-pollination of ideas, given that I live on a very different patch of the genre farm, but I think a fascinating one.

If you want to follow my fiction work, I have an extensive website with a lot of free material on it as well as my own blog. You can find me in print or digital form anywhere you usually go to obtain books. I'm on Twitter at @catvalente.

I'd like to leave you with my favorite comic about the future.

It seems so incredibly true to me, not least because I do knit and garden and make my own pickles. It speaks to the essential humanness and strangeness of the future, the impossibility of predicting even your own timeline. The future is code and it is robots and it is virtual environments--and it is also raising chickens and growing food and forming collective communities in real, physical space. It is creating a more interesting hybrid of wild science fiction envisionings and, well, the dream of the 1890s.

The future, God willing and the robots don't rise, is a table where we choose what we want from a vast array of dishes. Some are set high up, out of our reach unless we have the money, the right connections, the right name, the right nationality, the right gender. Some are hidden, some glisten before us with all the plenty we ever imagined. What we desire, what we reach out our hands to take and what we reject, will be different for everyone. We take weird slices of skills and cultural memes from the past and graft them onto the distributed network of our current technological lives and this thing is created, this very old, very new culture, and that will never stop happening. Some of the leftover scrap-code of the old world--and the world, she is always ending and starting again, just about every year, just about every month--are terrible and harmful, and some are good and necessary for social primate satisfaction. That's part of life in the postmodern dire-circus. You pick and choose. A little of this religion, a little of that science, a dash of machine-automation, a pinch of making it from scratch with your own hands. It must, of necessity and by nature, be a patchwork of human ambition and human failure and endless, endless iteration--and it's really hard, most of the time, to tell which is the zenith and which is the nadir.

The future is a fairy tale. The past is exposition. And I, a poor player upon the stage, exeunt left, and if I am very lucky, I will find myself pursued by a self-programming, cybersentient autobear. Who knows how to knit.

34 Comments

1:

In the future divisions will exist in the same way they do now around race, religion, nationality, gender etc. However, the new divisions will cross the old boundaries and the lines will run horizontally rather than vertically along the old lines. There will be new commonalities that supersede the old ones. We are tribal, and that is not going to change, only the tribe.

2:

Thank you for allowing us to wander along with you over the past month -- I've been challenged and delighted.

3:

The horrifying bit is probably going to involve some kind of realization about what exactly is being knitted :-)

4:

Cat,

It's been an interesting bunch of discussions we've had with you here. Thanks for enlarging the discourse and making me think about things in a somewhat broader perspective.

SF isn't very good at predicting the future, but it's got an interesting track record of creating it by inspiring its readers and fans, which is part of what Alan Kay meant when he said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it." May you continue to inspire us to do so.

5:

Quoting from "The WInter's Tale" is an intersting exuent, in itself.
Late last year I saw an amazing production at The Old VIc.
The central point, on which the whole play turns, the arrival of the messengers form Pythian Apollo was so well-done, with modern stage-"magic" holding the air-writing quill-pen of the oracle in Air above the table, whilst writing, that is set the audience rigid, was a wonder to behold.

All of this world is but a stage, indeed, and we all have our entances and exits.

6:

Thanks for keeping us stimulated and entertained in Charlie's absence, Cat. I hope you'll be back.
Cat and Girl FTW. Dorothy understands the incongruities and conflicts of cultural change.
Things change in fits and starts. I have 12 phonograph turntable cartridges on my desk and a litter of tiny screws. You still have to install these things by hand. But today if* I screw up I can type a message to Norway or Osaka and get help fast.


*when

7:

"The future, God willing and the robots don't rise, is a table where we choose what we want from a vast array of dishes."

Yes, but at least some of the dishes offered should taste good, should they not? What if they all end in "-ine"? I hope that there will be more choices at the table than the kind of choice cat took:

http://catandgirl.com/?p=3596

If you had asked me ten years ago what I thought would be the most important thing my province would contribute to the entire general culture of humanity I would have, perhaps, answered sarcastically "Le Cirque du Soleil".

I would never have thought it would instead be a graphical mutilation of the word "routine".

The thing doesn't even taste good. In fact it doesn't taste much of anything. There are no spices, nothing in it.

Anyway, I wish you a better selection (both real and metaphorical) of dishes in the future.

8:

There's a fairly serious amount of umami in poutine. Plus, anything that patently bad for you is delicious. ",)
Just how many Cat & Girl readers are there around here, anyway?!

9:

The link to "the dream of the 1890s" brings up a "Video Forbidden" message.

10:

Thanks, Cat. It's been a pleasure reading and sharing your posts. I've added _Circumnavigating Fairyland_ to my reading list, marked priority: I'll even make sure not to get it from Amazon.

11:

"the new divisions will cross the old boundaries and the lines will run horizontally rather than vertically along the old lines."

How do lines currently run vertically and how will they, in future, run horizontally? As far as I can figure by 'horizontal' you mean egalitarianism, and by 'vertical' you mean classism. But if anything online communities allow us to ignore the people who aren't like us but are our geographical neighbours (poor, 'ethnic', high-school or technical-college educated) and connect with people who are more like us but living abroad (English-speaking, university-educated and wealthy enough they can afford a computer); that online communities and connectivity are making rich, educated Westerners more removed from the experiences of the world's masses.

Then again, maybe that's not what you meant at all. I guess I'm just asking for a clarification of terms.

12:

Thanks for your essays, Cat. I've recommended a few of them around.

I've been reading Cat & Girl for a few years.

13:

Thanks for all your great posts, Cat.

That said, the past is at least half fairy tale too. If you don't believe me, try to figure out what actually happened during the Battle of Los Angeles in 1942. I'll leave you the pleasure of digging through the mutually contradictory accounts (and do check the phase of the moon after reading the official summary).

As for science fiction, set a story in the English neolithic, or in the Mississippi Valley or Mogollon Rim c. 1200 CE. That's pure science fiction, and due to be outdated by archeological progress in the next 20 years. After all, science fiction is all about the blank spaces on the map, and there are lots of those in any era.

14:

Another Thank You for your posts here.

It's always interesting to get a glimpse into the working of a writer's mind, and about their experiences in the publishing world.

15:

That's roughly what I meant. We will choose our community and it will cut across existing divides. That is not necessarily a good thing, especially when it becomes a powerful determinant in its own right (which it hasn't yet). Social networking is still several steps away from something like Freemasonry on steroids. In future we will trade with people like ourselves, support people like ourselves and employ people like ourselves.

16:

I really enjoyed your posts, thanks Cat!

17:

Another long time Cat and Girl reader - I wonder how big the cross-section of C&G+Stross fans is?

18:

"In future we will trade with people like ourselves, support people like ourselves and employ people like ourselves."

But we already do that. Sure, these relations will change over time but I don't see how or why they would become perpendicularly opposite to what they are now. I think the only divides we're meaningfully cutting across are geographical barriers, and even then this was a process that was well underway before the 1970's hit (let alone the 1990's).

As to social networking, it's more like a telephone directory than an exclusive, secretive society, and no amount of steps will make social networking more like the Freemasons, metaphorical pharmaceuticals aside, because they're structurally and fundamentally dissimilar. (Freemasons are hierarchal, secretive and closed; social networks are decentralized, highly visible and inclusive.)

19:

Just wanted to say, since this is your last essay, that you've been thoroughly enjoyable. I envy you your skills.

And, thank you, Mr. Stross, for offering Cat the soapbox.

20:

Aye, best guest appearance so far, I think.

21:

So in but a few blog posts, the "Cat Valente" file has gone from the "Who?" drawer to the "Awesome!" one. Well done! You earned yourself a new follower. Everybody needs more awesome.

22:

"...and no amount of steps will make social networking more like the Freemasons"

That's not true.
There are two obvious steps that would change the whole social networking scene, if someone dares to take them. I thought they were obvious, but apparently they aren't, so it's on the todo list for zero state.

23:

If they're obvious, why not just state them?

24:

"If they're obvious, why not just state them?"

Because they do not seem obvious enough for someone to have implemented them yet.

25:

You are obviously contradicting yourself

26:

Well then, shall I rephrase that?
"Obvious to me, but obviously not obvious to others"

27:

Thank you Cat for playing house here for a bit, you sure did more than hold the fort, and I reckon I'm not alone who's now happy to go visit your fairy lands, however remote from HSF eggheads caves they may be.

Also, mad props to Charlie for finding such great people to housesit for him.

@Dirk:
You my friend are acting petty, and I suspect not very ZS-ish on this one. :P

28:

"You my friend are acting petty, and I suspect not very ZS-ish on this one. :P"

Why - because I won't tell you what I find so obvious as a possible next step in social networking? If you were a ZS team leader you would have received a paper on it a few weeks ago. I guess you'll just have to wait until we get a limited company/corporation together as a legal entity to implement it.

29:

Thanks for sharing brain space with everyone here, Cat.

It's been ... educational!

30:

Dirk, for what it matters, I think your contribution to this thread was made in poor taste. In response to Cat's wrap-up post you made a comment which was so vague as to be meaningless, and you've made no attempt to qualify it. This wouldn't normally annoy me, except that you chose to do it in the thread where it would have been polite to say "Cheerio, Cat" or nothing at all.

But good luck with your vanity project.

31:

My first comment was directly on topic and I did clarify as to meaning. It seems I pissed off people like you and Ilya because I would not take the final step and explain in detail what might be a commercially viable idea.

"But good luck with your vanity project"

It's not my project.

32:

So long, thanks for all the tuna, and indeed for introducing me to Cat and Girl.

33:

And a repeat of a comment I made on this blog some time ago, before you did your temporary stint as host: In case you missed it, I think "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Spacetime" is one of the finest pieces of writing I have ever seen.

34:

I think you misunderstood the topic if you felt your comment was apropos, and you never explained your perpendicular distinction (if you accepted my interpretation of what you meant then you should have noticed it contradicts the substance of your post: that social networking makes us more vertical-classist and less horizontal-egalitarian, where you originally claimed the opposite).

On the matter of your Freemasonary-social networking thought, I want to make something perfectly clear: I do not give one flying fuck about its commercial application. My interest relates purely to the line of inquiry I'd established before you decided it was a bankable idea.

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This page contains a single entry by Cat Valente published on February 26, 2012 8:15 PM.

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