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The permanent revolution

(I just felt the need to lift a comment I posted on an earlier thread up here where it belongs.)

Quoth a commenter, to whom I felt the need to reply:

Things change. Technology accelerates it. The only thing up for debate is the timing.

This is a statement of ideology, not of fact.

For most of the duration of the human species, change has not been an overriding influence on our lives. In fact, it's only since roughly 1800 that you couldn't live your entire life using only knowledge and practices known to your mother and father. We are undeniably living through the era of the Great Acceleration; but it's probably[*] a sigmoid curve, and we may already be past the steepest part of it.

An interesting point is that this ideology works very well as a match for the political ideology of revolutionary republicanism which emerged in the 18th 17th century, and which pretty much everyone reading this blog[**] is in complete agreement with — the ideology that replaced the Divine Right of Kings and the Great Chain of Being as an organisational paradigm with "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" (or, in bastardized form, Freedom, Equality of Opportunity [to make money], and Patriotism).

The doctrine of continual change through technology is not value-neutral; it feeds into the continual disruption that enables the permanent revolution of the anti-monarchists to roll forward, and prevents the oligarchs who sit astride the juggernaut from becoming too comfortable. It is in principle possible to suppress change; the problem is that suppression is a sub-optimal strategy in a polycentric world with competing interests. But once the capital imbalances that are driving development in the developing world and immiseration of the proletariat in the post-democratic first world subside, stasis will become an increasingly attractive policy to the oligarchs. (When the Great Acceleration stops, my guess is that the oligarchy will ossify into a nobility, and eventually a monarchical-system-in-all-but-name, within a century at most. And there are already worrying signs that this is happening.)

Please don't deny that you are a believer in this revolutionary ideology — and it is revolutionary; so much so that Republican Democracy, Fascism, and Communism are just minor doctrinal disputes within it. It's okay to admit it here; I'm a supporter of this ideology, too. None of us are supporters of feudal monarchism; we're all the inheritors of the early Jacobins. Which makes us revolutionaries.

But it's important to understand that virtually the entire mainstream of political and social discourse today is radical and revolutionary by historical standards. (Hell, the concept of sociology itself is a construct of the revolutionary philosophers.) This is not an historically normative set of touchstone ideas to run a society on. We're swimming in the tidal wave set running by an underwater earthquake two centuries ago — and like fish that live their entire lives in water, we are unable to see our circumstances as the anomaly that they are, or to know whether it's all for the best.

And, as Oliver Cromwell put it, "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

[*] I'm discounting singularities here.

[**] Except you, Moldbug.

208 Comments

1:

I would say that there've been earlier times in which people had to adjust to using new knowledge. Example: the invention of horseback riding, and its use in warfare.

Which is an example of new uses of older technology.

2:

The reduced rate of innovation may well be a consequence of the increasing concentration of wealth and a shift away from production towards rent-seeking.

Monopolists, rent-seekers, hereditary aristocrats, hoarders and slave-holders are primarily concerned with defending their positions and the status quo; those engaged in wealth-creation by production in a competitive economy seek advantage by innovation.

There is talk of 'peak capital' among economics wonks in which the shift to rent-seeking is seen as inevitable, and largely complete. Here's a sample of it: http://t.co/n8FKDgYwUu - with the caveat that economists exist to provide ex-facto explanations of the world that praise the currently-successful class of businesses. Nevertheless, that article is tbought-provoking and it offers explanations for the retreat from innovation and increased productivity.


I cannot disagree with your point that a polycentric world *should* eliminate islands of uncompetitive aristocracy and monopolistic stagnation: but would it look that way if we were living in the middle of a very large 'island' that had, for decades, innovated so much more than all the world combined that it owned all the capital?

3:

For a long time I've had the signature quote "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist - Kenneth Boulter, Economist.". Whats amazed me is that, given the trivial observation that infinite (quantitative) growth cannot continue forever, the lack of intellectual work that has gone into alternatives.

Some on the left and ecological greens have done so, on an economic level, but not on the political and philosophical consequences.

4:

I've just posted a partial rebuttal to this in the previous thread, which I won't repeat here ...
BUT
Exception to the "rentier" model also exists historically, since I'm comparing our present position with the last time such a recolution occurred.
In the late 18th-early 18th C English aristocrats behaved in the exact opposite manner to their contnental counterparts. They rushed to get their metaphorical hands dirty, engaging in trade - usually mining & mineral-extraction, but also international commerce.

Geordie Stephenson was originally an employee of the "Grand Allies" colieries - owned & run (by agents) for seveal local "noble" families.

5:

I was thinking that actually change is fine, as long as you are the ones getting the benefits, the owning class as it were, so called because they own the shares in companies and get the benefits of the new technology.
New technology makes no difference if you are the one who owns the company which makes it. I think that modern corporate structures and their incestuous relationship makes it even easier to do so, especially when the world becomes one.

The interesting thing about the British upper class is how quickly they interbred with and worked with the innovative capitalist class. The merger between them is complete now; they send their children to the same schools and universities, allow some of the more driven and effective of the underclasses to join them, and carry on owning things.

6:

As a minor athropological quibble: In the context of human existence, the notion of the Divine Right of Kings (and parralel concepts in non-European cultures) is a relatively recent (ca 5000 years ago) innovation. Prior to the rise of agriculture and cities, there was no need or desire for centralized authority and records management, so all you got was local chiefs with power arising from skill and charisma.

However, the rise of the Enlightenment is also recent when compared against the duration of monarchies and the oligarchies that support them. It is, however, somewhat traceable to the Athenians, who were around about 2500 years ago. To my knowledge, the oldest continuously existing democracy is Iceland (930CE).

As far as I can tell, the "Great Accelleration" (to use your term) is actually pushing us back towards oligarchy and monarchy, because it takes deliberate work to prevent upward accumulation of wealth. Innovators become corporate CEOs who eventually become the new nobility (at least in the USA and possibly Europe; I'm not familiar enough with other places to make the same claims for elsewhere).

To get back to Iceland: I suspect the thing that protects Iceland's democracy is its small population. Fewer people means you know a fractionally larger percentage of your fellow citizens, and untoward accumulation of wealth gets noticed, so it's harder to use one's wealth to accrue/buy power without getting in trouble with said fellow citizens.

Tangential: Iceland's economic recovery is interesting to me, because they learned from Argentina's mistake. The took one look at what the IMF and World Bank wanted them to do, realized Argentina's economy didn't start improving till the Argentines stopped cooperating with the IMF and WB, and promptly told them to go fuck themselves. Result: fraudsters arrested, new constitution, and Iceland's economy is on the rebound. Makes me wonder why Africans keep trying to borrow money from IMF/WB, but poverty does weird things to one's decision-making and prioritizations (look at the blossoming payday loan businesses in the USA's recession for a smaller-scale example). Perhaps the African oligarchs are in on the shell game.

7:

Two comments:

1) The root cause of the slowdown probably isn't cultural. If it was, some culture somewhere would probably be getting it right.

2) The innovation was not change, but positive-sum change. For the powerful, positive-sum change may still be advantageous but zero-sum change must be resisted at all cost.

8:

It's important to note that

Things change. Technology accelerates it. The only thing up for debate is the timing."

is not contradictory with

"For most of the duration of the human species, change has not been an overriding influence on our lives. In fact, it's only since roughly 1800 that you couldn't live your entire life using only knowledge and practices known to your mother and father."

though I don't think the second statement is even true you'd probably have to go a couple centuries earlier for that.

Even today if you asked a mayfly howe fast the world is changing, it would be not fast...

The planet has never gone through such a period of rapid change since Homo Sapien got on the scene. Even before the 18th century that statement was true, just that the time frame was still, as you point out, not fast enough to impact an individual human life

It is possible that Peter Thiel and others are right, we have reached a technology or societal inflection point and are running into a brick wall.

Even that scenario is one of massive cultural change though, since how we are living now is not sustainable without constant technological advancements.

Change is inevitable under either scenario, we either go forward or fall back. Peter's view of the world is actually pretty apocalyptical.

The only future scenario that doesn't really have much possiblity is things staying the same as they are now.

9:

> "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist - Kenneth Boulter, Economist."

Or they are using a non-constant scale. Such as saying that a 60Mhz Pentium processor is worth less than a 3200 MHz Quadcore processor (or whatever is currently considered to be top of the line - I don't follow this stuff anymore), despite similar cost in terms of money, work and resources.

Typically, the difference in value between improved iterations of such things will be determined as a fractions of the cost - not as absolute values. The result is an exponential growth, even where the differences are much less striking than in processors.

If you invent a slightly better mousetrap - using the same materials, just an improved design - all the other mousetraps lose value in terms of their price. Economists know this and compensate for it, after all, the mousetraps still have the same value. The general price level drops - there is deflationary pressure.

But now the better mousetraps gradually replace the worse ones at a higher price. But they are better, thus the higher price is justified and has *no impact* on inflation.

After the invention of the better mousetrap you sell the same number of mousetraps, at the same price, using the same amount of materials and the same amount of work ... but economic growth has happened! And such growth is naturally exponential.

As new technologies are very slowly introduced in developed economies, because the legacy technologies still work well enough, there is plenty of potential for such exponential (GDP-)growth without getting the least bit closer to the boundaries of our finite world.

10:

There's also a tendency to equate change with progress. But there have been numerous examples of changing bringing regression in various areas. In the past 200 (or maybe 500-1000 depending on your definitions) change has been progress for both the species and Western culture. So our views are colored by that.

11:

"growth" is not the same as "change" Similarly "velocity" is not the same as "acceleration".

The acceleration has always been there since we banged the rocks together and got the fire

The velocity has only recently reached the "within your lifteime" threshold.

The whole thing may still crash and burn, which is acceleration and velocity and change still, just in another direction.

12:

You could certainly trace the early shocks back even further to the reformation. Most of the thinking that started off the main eruption of the revolution in the mid-17th Century is an off-shoot or evolution from radical protestantism. It flows from the realisation that if one doesn't need an intermediary or a hierarchy in spiritual life, then why do you need it in other spheres?

Thinking about it more widely, the places that are the epicentres of this sort of thinking are Britain and the Netherlands, both of which are still constitutional monarchies. While much of the early thought was in Germany, I guess it was too difficult for deeply radical ideas to survive in the midst of a series of small states where even if you could take over the reins of government the neighbours would step in to restore balance.

In both England and the Netherlands protestantism was politically expedient. Henry VIII wanted his divorce, and the Netherlands Independence faction looked radically different from the Spanish Monarchy by being protestant. Once established there the thought processes kicked off develop into the precursors of those that kicked off the revolution.

There isn't really much difference ideologically, or in method, between the C17 diggers and levellers and the C21 Occupy movement. However I doubt that my (seven year old) son would function well in 1979 when I was the same age he is now.

13:

A politically resurgent oligarchy attempting to arrest the advance of science and technology was part of the plot of David Brin's "Existence" last year.

I wouldn't rule out another radical technological advance or scientific paradigm change in the next decade or two, biotechnology and genetic manipulation certainly have a long way to go yet, politics permitting.

In any case, as a socialist, and an increasingly angry and radical one at that, I'm quite hopeful we'll have turfed out the plutocratic oligarchy before too much longer.

14:

As a scientist (physical/computational chemist) I must agree that the general development of science seems to slow down. It is mainly due to the fact that so much information about the world around us has been already established (our vision of the world is no more spotty, and even the Standard Model seems to be finished).

However, it seems that there are changes ahead related to the previously impossible calculations becoming feasible. And similarly I think that the computational progress will have some really fun consequences when e.g. the not-so-distant supercomputers will be able to model the entire U.S. stock market within the pingback time and take "optimal" buying/selling decisions.

The political environment on the world where 100% of the population will be constantly wired into the Internet will also be radically different. At the current time most people making (financial and political) decisions are of >50 age. While they are aware of the internet, they mostly do not directly rely on it in decision making — and in some 20 years they (us) will. This will happen assuming even zero or close to zero progress in technologies, which is highly improbable.

Also there are some real changes going on in Africa, and they also will be affected by technologies — at the very least, a computer in every home is a library and a learning terminal in every home.

So I really believe that the "permanent revolution" will continue for at least the next 20 years. Even without singularity and/or thermonuclear synthesis.

15:

It is an incredibly interesting but tricky subject OGH raises, as pretty much all evidence are instances of one known case, which leaves little room for generalization.

I do spot one area where we might be able to generalize from more than one example however:

One of the most astonishing conclusions from archaeological examination of the stone-age in Denmark, is that they were an incredibly lazy bunch when it came to innovation.

We have found piles of oystershells from their summercamp, and we can see that they didn't improve their tools in any significant way, for scores of generations.

The assumption is that for a hunter-gatherer society in a pretty lush biotope, life was simply good enough that nobody bothered.

After that period populations grew, and they had to resort to agriculture to feed themselves, with consequent rapid technological innovation.

The other data point is that until the black death severely decimated the population of Europe, there were a fair bit of technological progress.

After the black death, vast areas of farmland became available for any taker, and the technological innovation doesn't really kick back into gear again, until the competition for farmland becomes a reality again.

(This might actually be more than one data point, since this happens at different times in different parts of Europe.)

This crude model breaks down once patents turn innovation into a property-right of its own, so it is valid only until Benjamin Franklin makes his entre.

But if we generalize, I think it is fairly safe to say that one major driver in the current situation is the population surplus, which gives a lot of people a lot of reasons to try to climb closer to the top, by any means they can think of.

Consequently I don't think it is unreasonable to assume, if the over-population issue gets tackled in a way which leaves our technological abilities largely intact, that a smaller world population would be much less competitive, and much more likely to kick back, than invent.

And I am serverely tempted to point at the current Denmark as an emerging data-point for that prediction.

Therefore I don't buy the argument that the current technological acceleration is slowing down, but it is mainly driven in the geographies where people still can make significant gains in quality of life.

16:

That Cromwell quote is probably the greatest thing I've read in a long time. A hugely important sentiment for the world we live in. Of course I may be mistaken about that. But yeah.

17:

For a slightly different take on this argument, David Brin is worth reading if you haven't already done so. He's fond of comparing how Star Wars and Star Trek represent different views of progress and societal change and structure.

Lawrence Watt-Evans in a chapter of his non-fiction book "The Turtle Moves" points out that fantasy authors, by and large, don't believe in technological and social change at all. The ur-example is Lord of the Rings where as LWE points out Aragorn can seriously expect to make a claim to the throne of Gondor after 900 years of stasis.

This isn't true of the Discworld stories. And (flatter, flatter) The Merchant Princes series nicely overturns fantasy conventions by Miriam attempting to modernise their society instead of becoming Queen; with an acknowledgement too that changing societies is hard.

In previous blog posts OGH has written that our (Western) societies are becoming more tolerant of religious / sexual / etc diversity. If our technological and scientific change slows down, what are the chances of a reversal? (Eg Neal Stephenson's Atlanteans)

18:

While I can imagine a path to Oligarchy in the US and Europe, places like Brazil has recently moved rom Oligarchy to democracy.
Oligarchy to be stable would require some claim to legitimacy. The old monarchs claimed to be put there by God where they did not outright claim to be gods. I do not see that claim washing this time around. They could claim to be better at managing the economy but I really doubt they could make that one stick.

19:

#16: That question remains to be answered. There is no globally homogeneous tech level on Earth, but rather exceptional lumpiness. Certain societies are broadly high-tech (at a first approximation, urban East Asia, North America, Europe, enclaves elsewhere), but these societies are home to only a small and decreasing minority of the world's population. Most of the rest of the world exists at lower tech levels. There's still plenty of room for innovation.

Also:

"Consequently I don't think it is unreasonable to assume, if the over-population issue gets tackled in a way which leaves our technological abilities largely intact, that a smaller world population would be much less competitive, and much more likely to kick back, than invent."

Why? Against this are the amazing advances in global education and medicine that have created a world with billions of people, overwhelmingly likely to be literate and to live past 60. The size of the populations capable of contributing to a globalized economy has expanded hugely over the 20th century, and is likely to continue to expand into the 21st. Conceivably, even if the overall global population was declining, continued productivity could continue to grow.

20:

amiannaq @ 6: A small correction here. Poverty does NOT "[do] weird things to one's decision-making and prioritizations" - poverty-stricken persons are making exactly the same sorts of choices as people on middle incomes. What poverty does is changes the context of those decisions. A payday loan provider makes it possible, for a little while, to avoid having to choose between eating and heating the house, or eating and paying the rent. The payday loan provider, while gouging and sharking and charging a frightening level of interest, is also the only person who's making these loans. Banks aren't rushing to lend small amounts of money to poor people for a short term, or make it easier for poor people to keep bank accounts open. Payday loan providers may not be the best option for borrowing money - but at least they're an option.

In the same way, the IMF/World Bank isn't the ideal lender for a lot of low-cash-income economies in the developing world. What they are, though, is the ONLY lender who will deal with them.

Another thing about poverty (she says, hauling things back on topic again) is that it makes any change potentially dangerous. For example, around twenty years ago, when I was first looking for full-time work, I wasn't expected to have a mobile phone. These days, owning a mobile phone is practically a requirement of civilised living. Have you looked at the average "cheap" mobile phone plan? It's another example of what Terry Pratchett explained in the "Vimes' Boots Theory of Socio-Economic Unfairness" - if you can't afford the best stuff up front, you wind up paying more for the cheap stuff along the way. So any change which makes things easier at the middle income levels tends to make things harder again at the lower income levels.

When any change, any alteration to circumstances, means the difference between starvation and survival, it's not surprising people will be conservative about innovation. One of the big changes, the really big ones, which really boosted the whole pace of technological alteration, was the development of the conceptual landscape wherein widespread poverty and starvation weren't either acceptable or natural, because this change made people work to improve the situation not only of themselves, but also of their fellow human beings. Sadly, this particular concept appears to have gone out of fashion again, and the end result is we're returning to a time wherein a great majority of the population is basically unable to afford innovation, because they can't afford to disrupt the extremely delicate balance of their lives.

21:

Things change. Technology accelerates it. The only thing up for debate is the timing.

I think it depends on what you include as "things". Scientific knowledge probably won't stall out, although the big picture of physics may. But other areas will continue to grow, even if it is more details than major change.

Technology could continue to change rapidly even without new underlying science, although it may not advance in real terms.

Social and political changes are only loosely coupled to sci/tech.

We could have scientific, social and political stasis even as technology continues to expand its capabilities. For many people that might be attractive if it meant stability and a comfortable way of life.

Given that science and technology do not follow very predictable paths, it may be too soon to be predicting an overall logistic curve of slowing change in these areas, coupled with similarly ossifying social and political systems.

For science fiction, a stable system might be the death of the genre, except as escapist fantasy.

22:

After the invention of the better mousetrap you sell the same number of mousetraps, at the same price, using the same amount of materials and the same amount of work ... but economic growth has happened! And such growth is naturally exponential.

The maximum value of any mousetrapping technology is the cost associated with mice in a mousetrap-free world. If $Mice is the cost of the mouse problem sans mousetraps, then any mousetrapping technology will solve some fraction of the problem ($Mice times effectiveness) at some cost. As technology progresses, effectiveness will grow and costs will fall. Eventually an asymptote is reached; when you can solve 99.99% of the mouse problem for insignificant costs, no meaningful economic growth can be achieved via improved mousetrapping technologies, no matter how advanced they are.

23:

it's only since roughly 1800 that you couldn't live your entire life using only knowledge and practices known to your mother and father.

Yes, and that period roughly coincides with the birth of science fiction (Jules Verne etc.) But human innovation could have been accelerating long before that, only no one might have noticed, because they lived close to the way their parents did. And it was punctuated; it seems to me the ancient Egyptians, the Renaissance, the ancient Chinese underwent periods of rapid tech change.

Suppose it's human nature that technological change accelerates. An exponential curve could have been rising for a long time, without our noticing until 1800.

As for today, I see no sign we're slowing down. A quantum computer was just proposed, a million times faster than what we have today.

24:

"it seems to me the ancient Egyptians, the Renaissance, the ancient Chinese underwent periods of rapid tech change."

You're talking huge timelines here. The Renaissance is the shortest of them, but even that was about 400 years. Technological innovation? Sure. Rapid tech change? Not at all. The Chinese and Egyptians, likewise, developed tech over thousands of years.

25:
A quantum computer was just proposed, a million times faster than what we have today

For certain things. For most of the stuff we use computers for -- even for compute-intensive activities -- they're slower, and far more error-prone.

26:

The other thing up for debate is =how= to change. There are a lot of conflicting visions and plans for the future in any society, and they cannot all be fulfilled. The rhetoric of inevitable, technologically determined change is often used to hide that many people disagree with the speaker about whether a particular change is desirable, and that if asked they might suggest a different response to the same situation.

Technology, environment, and custom all influence the future. Ignoring all but one of these, or insisting that a particular result is inevitable, is good rhetoric but bad thinking.

27:

Great topic!

I'm a little twitchy about it, because it's incorporating a bunch of different types of change as if they're all the same.

They aren't. But at the same time, change is distributed unevenly around the world.

To pick some extremes, let's look at computers and American politics.

In computers, we're stuck with Moore's Law for another few decades, unless Rose's Law (Moore's Law for quantum computers) proves real, in which case we've got another scalar.

But computers change predictably, and people who work with computers tend to deduce that the world changes that way. Herein lies a major mistake.

The good contrary example is American politics. While we've had great success in electioneering using computers, FDR would laugh at our currently dysfunctional national government. Certainly, we've got more representation, but we've had effectively no innovation in problem solving in the last century. It's pathetic.

There is a fair amount of political innovation happening in the world, but it's not in Washington DC. My guess is that political innovation tends to look like catastrophic change followed by long stability. It's a rather ugly step function, not a smooth curve.

There's quite a few other changes that are only getting going. To pick a few:
--Ecology: the problem with ecology as a science is it messes up most non-ecologists' heads, to the point where it gets denied by most linear thinkers. That's fine, but the result is a smouldering revolution that's going to make things interesting. When you realize that permaculture was designed by a former field ecologist, hopefully you realize that there are the seeds of revolution in there.
--Evolution. Not the science, but evolution itself. Humans are leaving all sorts of empty niches lying around, and species that can get into those niches are evolving furiously. Right now we're calling them super-bugs and superweeds, but in the future, we'll call them normal. I don't think humans are going extinct any time soon, but we will be living in a world where more and more things are evolved to take advantage of us. Things like malaria parasites are only the beginning, really, and we're going to be seeing these changes for millennia, regardless of what happens in any other sector.

And I'll be you can make many other examples. Between the tectonic shifts of political innovation, the predictable changes of computer power, and the chaotic changes of evolution, we have a bunch of models of change out there. They're not all progressing the same way, either. Computers may have hit a sigmoid, but the slowing in scientific innovation could equally be blamed on funding cuts and increases in the numbers of scientists going after each grant.

As for a future aristocracy, we might get it, but I'm not worried about the power brokers from NYC, DC, or London. After all, in a few centuries, these cities will all be under water. As with the magnates of the Roman empire, I doubt any of their families will be in power in a century.

28:

We don't have an agreed upon metric for measuring "the amount of technology." (Is it computing power? The number of patents filed per year? Some vague quality of life measure?) Thus it's hard to even know how to begin to answer the question "is technology accelerating" in an empirical way. So I guess I would agree that this is not a statement of fact. It is a statement of perspective. Subjectively, it certainly FEELS to me like things are moving faster. But an iphone is one man's innovation and another man's stagnation. It's all in how you look at it.

29:

"it certainly FEELS to me like things are moving faster." Well it certainly feels to me so, but better?

30:

There are several technological innovations on the near time horizon which will have major impacts on the way people live and how those at the top of the pecking order can (or can't easily) control the finances of those at the bottom. I'll just mention one here: cheap, low-energy-requirement access to potable water in or very near the home in the Third World, using tech that can be manufactured domestically. Among other consequences this will free hundreds of millions of women to increase their education and take a greater part in the political and cultural aspects of their communities.

Since this and other innovations will have most of their effect in the developing world, it is entirely possible that the developed world will become the sole property of the rentiers, and we will get to watch the revolution continue elsewhere.

31:

I would like to point out one thing - we may still have one big game-changer to understand: gravity.

Think of electricity prior to 20th century - could you extrapolate before that time the invention of Internet? Of GPS, etc.? I believe not, as you didn't even have the basic context to start with. And I would argue that full understanding of electricity (actually electromagnetism) has touched every single thing we do (more or less, but still).

Although 'everybody agrees' on gravity, we're not really as far advanced here as with other fundamental forces. There is room for magic here. And then there may be completely new physics around the corner.

32:

When the Great Acceleration stops, my guess is that the oligarchy will ossify into a nobility, and eventually a monarchical-system-in-all-but-name, within a century at most.

I think this depends upon whether we get a hard or a soft landing. If we get a hard landing -- a global civilisational collapse, say, of the sort that The Club of Rome predicted in "Limits to Growth" -- then it's hard to see many present day economic or political structures surviving. The aristocratic families of the Roman empire didn't go on to become the rulers of dark age Europe.

33:

It's also worth bearing in mind the tight restrictions on the English aristocracy compared with pre-revolutionary France and continental Europe generally. Aristocratic titles were sparse.

But becoming 'of the gentry' was easy. Were your trousers wide enough? That is, did you have the cash to carry it off?

Shakespeare got his a family a coat of arms with a hefty chunk of cash (trousers wide enough and to spare) and the usual made up, undocumented story of obscure connection to ancient family. Wasn't fooling anyone, of course. His father was a glover.

34:

I would argue there's definitely evidence that we're on a slowing curve: the need to sweat assets rather than leaving space for later generations to easily benefit.

This could of course be driven by political changes mentioned above rather than by a slowing in science, but I think we're going into a long plateau (hopefully not a technological decline).

35:

amiannaq 6
Minor quibble
Iceland was taken over by (Danish?) monarchy in middle ages, the Allthing (which is where my last surname comes from) was either suppressed or rendered impotent for many a long year.

Jay @ 7
Your point on Zero Sum Change is very scary, & true – thanks for the reminder!

@ 12
AND “Germany” got completely screwed by the 30 years’ war – took another generation or two before they recovered….

_ieronim @ 14
Oh, the “Standard Model” is settled, is it?
Are you really SURE about that then?

Hugo fisher @ 17
“What are the chances of reversal?”
Depends – if the religious hierarchies (The Vatican the Taliban) get their way, very high indeed. Almost, if not all religions, whatever their social actions seem to favour reactionary, hidebound oppression and cultural, including technological dominance & stasis.

Jay @ 22
I already HAVE a solution to 99% of the mouse problem. His name is Ratatosk, the world’s cutest Birman tom-kitten. [ Also deals with jerbils, rats & squirrels – yes I know the latter is akin to cannibalism, given his name … ]!

S E F @ 25
“they're slower, and far more error-prone” for some applications, at present,
However, development occurs & refinement, doesn’t it?

Go-Captain @ 32
Agree
Also, there USED to be a requirement that English aristocracy had to have the means to “support their title” – land or income, but they had to have it …..

36:

Well, not completely true. Every age brought a revolution with it. From Neolithic to Bronze to Iron and so on. And every revolution brought with it, at least, a certain inability to use the knowledge of your forefathers. You could say that even for the Out of Africa exodus.

Yes, the trend has been towards shorter and shorter periods between changes. That didn't start with the Industrial revolution, though. You also had the medieval technological revolution. Which then influenced Rennaisance which influenced the Scientific revolution. Et cetera. And each and every time you had to learn something new because you couldn't rely on the knowledge of your parents any more.

37:

@ 12
AND “Germany” got completely screwed by the 30 years’ war – took another generation or two before they recovered….

That was sort of my point, the sort of radical thinking that drives revolutionary cultural change screws states. Either because the neighbours pile in and put things back where they ought to have been, or because the post-revolutionary states attempt to spread the revolution internationally.

Examples of this are the religious wars of the 17th century in Europe, the Napoleonic Wars a bit later and the European colonialism of the 18th & 19th centuries (the most prolific colonisers were the post-revolutionary states, which spread their doctrine globally and also forced some of the ancient regime to 'modernise').

Sure technology helps drive social change, but it isn't just innovation in things that makes change happen. More often than not it is people that change, and the tech just makes it easier. After all no-one made people buy computers, they all chose to do it because it made sense for them personally at the time. Same with any tech you care to mention.

Lastly, perhaps the pace of growth of knowledge isn't slowing, just growing in multiple dimensions, so when measured along a particular axis it looks like it is getting slower, but more knowledge is there along a broader front than for the same growth at an earlier point.

38:

@ 34, Greg. Tingey

Yes, as far as I know, the Standard Model does not contradict any experimental results which can be derived from it. And recent years has shown one more such result. Of course, SM does not cover all particle physics; but this is the reason why it is called Standard Model and not Theory Of Everything.

39:

That post-enlightenment ideas about democracy, republicanism, equality of opportunity irrespective of birthright are a very recent fad in the course of human history I accept.

But the Divine Right of Kings, a rigid class hierarchy headed by a landed aristocracy and enforced by a feudal contract of mutual protection between members of a warrior class: that too is merely a passing fashion.

The aristocracy only emerged with the development of agriculture, cities and city states in the last 5000 years or so.

Before that, for the preceding 200,000 or so years of Homo Sapiens existence, it was all tribal societies where the village headman probably didn't have absolute authority and wasn't necessarily the son of the previous headman but would definitely have had to have had the support of most of the members of the group, even if they never did anything as formal as voting in it.

I'd go so far as to say that every system of government since has been an attempt to scale that sort of social arrangement to groups much larger than the typical 50 -- 200 or so people you'ld find in a stone-age hunter-gatherer society.

40:

It isn't the specific power brokers from NY or London you should be worried about, it is the political structures they are setting up to cement their rule that you should be. Rather like Rome became and empire, and once it became an empire it was locked into cycles of good and bad misrule for centuries. If the power brokers work out a fairly stable form of rule, it won't matter who exercises it, we or our descendants will still be under the thumb.

41:

As you may all have realised by now, I used to be a farmer.

It is, in some ways, slow to change. It takes time for things to happen: a year to grow a crop, and machines which might only be used for a month.

Some of the jargon can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon times. A plough still has shares and coulters and slipes.

There have been, on British TV, been several series of programs about historical farming, in that reality-TV style of semi-acted re-creation. Victorian and Edwardian and, most recently WW2.

Some of the tools haven't changed since Victorian times. I know, because I have used 'em.

And the big change came with WW2. Supporting the horses would need maybe half the land of the farm. When you are trying to beat the U-boats, get enough food to feed the country, it works out that replacing horses with tractors pays off. More land is farmed to feed humans, saving on shipping space, and the tractors, and the fuel for them, needs less shipping space than the food being produced.

It was not the only change. Just about every movie showing the Battle of Britain gets the landscape wrong. It happened at the time of the grain harvest and in 1940 the farmers still used horse-drawn reaper/binders, leaving sheaves of corn stooked in the field to be later taken into the farmyards and stacked until a threshing machine was brought around.

The trails of straw that a combine harvester leaves are the huge giveaway. In 1940 the stooks might have gone from the fields by September 15th, but the stubble would be mostly unmarked.

Farming has changed a huge amount, and the farmers active in the 1920s and 1930s struggled to cope with the new ways. Add pesticides in the next decade. It was the green revolution.

The only reason we still have rural england is that motor cars let people commute into the towns.

How long will that last?

42:

@ 36
But your apparent argument falls down.
Why?
Which state especially embodied the real revolution in the C18th?
Britain
With a semi-constitutional monarchy & (Apart from the USA) the nearest thing to a representative guvmint that existed at the time ... and the steam revolution & industrial manufactures (Boulton/Watt were 1770-90 approx, remember)
NOT "revolutionary" France, by any manner of means, at all.

_ieronim @ 37
What about the errr ... how many orders of magnitude mis-fit between QM & General Realtivity, then, given that QM is part of the Standard Model (or vice versa)?

43:

How long will we (or you since I'm a bit more northern) have rural England surely also depends on the demand for food. Food prices have risen globally, due to demand and other reasons, and it seems unlikely that this is going to stop and reverse.

44:

@26:
The other thing up for debate is =how= to change. There are a lot of conflicting visions and plans for the future in any society, and they cannot all be fulfilled.
---
"Developing" and small countries face that all the time.

There are also some cultures who do the same thing, spread across multiple countries. The Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, etc. are quite widespread.

The post-WWII technology boom even upset generic America; Alvin Toffler's "Future Shock" was poorly written shlock, but it resonated with a whole lot of people who would have liked for the world to just slow down a bit while they caught their breath.

45:

What I think is that we're somewhat plateau'ing, progresswise.

The good news is that when this happens, at some point someone invents something completely off the map and then "progress" can start catching up.

The problem is that those in power can stave off this progress or make it focused into on area of society, atleast for a while.

Sometimes knowledge, and the associated applications thereof, is simply lost by actions or random events.

Lately, though, we've been good at preserving and spreading information.

If you look at mechanical engineering and use of steam power, there's some reason to believe that Ancient Greeks were on par with watchmakers atleast 1500 years later and on par with the state of steamengines just before James Watt had his breakthrough.
The Greeks might even have gotten some of this from other/earlier civilisations (Egypt?), but all of this was mostly lost/forgotten/stowed away/deemed heretic until the Renaissance and pre-Industrialisation.

So instead of an ever increasing curve, I propose we look at overall change as a series of "bumps" on an overall upwards moving slope.

46:

megpie71 @20: amiannaq @ 6: A small correction here. Poverty does NOT "[do] weird things to one's decision-making and prioritizations"

Well, actually it DOES. If you don't know about Kahneman and Tversky's "Prospect Theory" you should look it up. (Maybe the most accessible account is Kahneman's book "Thinking, Fast and Slow"). In short: when people are presented with only bad options they tend to be risk-seeking, i.e. given the choice, people tend to take a risk on a worse outcome rather than accept a bad outcome for sure, even if the worse outcome is much worse and the risk is very high.

The difference between poverty and "middle income" is that poverty exposes you to many more such choices between two bad outcomes.

47:

But rural england, as it exists now, is almost entirely populated by commuters. Its population depends on cheap personal transport, not on farming. There will still be farmers, living close to their work, but the numbers just aren't there to fill those picture=postcard villages. The last time any long-term planning was done, it was still assumed that houses in rural areas were viable. In the village I grew up in. before the turn of the century, the most recent "structure plan" assumed uniform population growth, with no provision to increase rural employment. The place had a school and shops and a couple of pubs, but no other local employment apart from farming. So the plan set out space for a hundred new homes, which just happened to be downhill from the local sewage works.

Even if they had been thinking ahead, and made provision for local employment on the same scale, the planners were not firing on all cylinders. Even just concentrating the development, rather than every village getting the same percentage increase would have been an improvement.

Doesn't matter now, nobody is building houses. If you're in a city there will be demand for housing, you'll be OK, but those rural-dwelling commuters are facing, over the life of their mortgage, a price crash.

48:

Last time I washed a T-shirt, I did so by hand to avoid its neck being stretched out of shape by a washing machine. As usual, I spent forever rinsing and wringing washing powder from the shirt. That's one thing that has not improved. While washing, I thought about clothes. Jeans are still made from a fabric which is as stiff and uncomfortable as ever, and which wrinkles so badly that manufacturers add fake "whisker wash" wrinkles, presumably to make the real ones less noticeable. While the most comfortable and most attractive fabric is still natural silk. So much for the three-quarters century of synthetic-fibre chemistry since nylon. And we still idolise wool.

After washing my clothes, I might heave a vacuum cleaner around the carpet. When I open the window to clear the dust, I hear hammering and drilling. Half the houses in our street are having loft conversions or mortar repointing, using materials and techniques that don't seem to have changed since late Victorian times.

My socks wear out as quickly as they did when I was a child, and so do my shoes. My windows aren't self-cleaning, and I have no fail-safe plumbing. And although the razor manufacturers are constantly bringing out new razor heads, they never shave more quickly.

Actually, the only real improvement I can think of in household technology has been the microwave oven. But why no progress elsewhere?

49:

stasis will become an increasingly attractive policy to the oligarchs

David Graeber (in Of flying cars and the declining rate of profit) has suggested that this has already happened --- that the oligarchs have supported "a form of capitalism that systematically prioritized political imperatives over economic ones". Or to put it another way, if the oligarchs were merely trying to make money, there would have been more "progress", but they have not principally been trying to do that.

Graeber suggests that if we can prise the hands of the oligarchs off the steering wheel, we might see in the future the sort of technologies we were promised in the past. Maybe. But their grip is pretty tight.

50:

"Things change. Technology accelerates it. The only thing up for debate is the timing.": I may be reading this out of context, but this looks like facts to me. Of course things change, at the very least, human population is always changing, there may be relatively stable period in history where things don't change much in one's lifetime, but that just means the change is very slow, thus the "the debate on timing". As for technology accelerates changes, I think this is always a given.

What is not a given is whether science and technology will continue to accelerate, which is more like unproven hypothesis than ideology to me, since I'm pretty sure we'll know the answer within our lifetime.

However before we even begin to discuss any "slowdowns", I think it's important to establish a metric to measure the rate of acceleration of science and technology, otherwise we're just fooling ourselves.

51:

I think there's a chance we'll see some kind of "high tech DIY" status quo emerging, with the increasing personal computing power available to the individual, stuff like 3d printing and crucially, if the things emerging from graphene research pan out (And doing things like printing your own graphene sheets out of a CD burner seems possible) we could see some novel arrangements emerge rather than the depressing "return to oligarchy" that seems to be so prevalent in this thread.

52:

"Actually, the only real improvement I can think of in household technology has been the microwave oven. But why no progress elsewhere?"

You don't spend a lot of time in front of a TV I take it? Also the Personal Computer could be called "household tech".

We also have a robot that will vacumn your house now and house don't really have phones anymore

a lot depends on perspective

53:

My point of view is that technological change per se is unimportant. It's only when it has a significant social impact that it is important. And we did get a number of them in the last century, you can cite mass production, Radio/TV, the internet, wikipedia, the mobile phone, the mobile internet for examples. I'm probably missing some of them. We have a number of potentially social-changing technologies just around the corner. The potentially is for the social changing aspect, not for their existence:
- the computerized personal secretary. That reads the web/newspapers for you, and can do any fact-based search for you on a whim. What will happen to the political process when anyone can check whether something a politician says (especially with numbers) is true at any time, and that this checking is done by something percieved as not having a political opinion?

- designed biologicals. We're not far from buidling a DNA, stuffing it in a cell and seeing how it goes. There's been one successful experiment already[1], and there's no reason to think the cost is not going to go down hard. Once researchers can try patches on a known dna to see what happens, understanding of the cellular machinery is going to make leaps. And so bacteria are just going to become programmable nanomachines. I can't even to imagine how far that's going to go, inexpensive tasty synthetic food being one of the positive possibilities.

- 3D printing. Social impact is less obvious, because all modern toys tend to imply electronics, and we're nowhere near home-printing of integrated circuits. Coupled with biologicals though, that can take off towards weird areas.

- "direct" brain interfacing. There's growing evidence that the brain can be trained to send orders to devices[2]. There's also experiments that show that the brain can learn to use new senses[3]. That brain plasticity shows that handling devices with the brain and with feedback is probably feasible, and does not require reading or injecting thoughts and feelings as was once the popular scifi idea. I'm not sure what is going to come first, exoskeletons or changing music files without moving the hands or talking, but once it works sufficiently it's going to enter our life fast.

All of these have the potential for interesting social changes. And that's without the possible long-term innovations, like neutrino-based communications, aka making always on and untappable point-to-point a reality, or gravity manipulation (if it's possible, we don't understand gravity) making the vertical axis less of an issue in transport.

So we have a number of predictable societal changes due to technical changes coming. Predictable as in "things are going to change". Change into what is more OGH's territory :-)

OG.

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20488990
[2] http://www.nei.nih.gov/news/scienceadvances/discovery/brain_devices.asp for instance
[3] http://iopscience.iop.org/1741-2552/2/4/R02

54:

@ 42, Greg. Tingey

It seems that the main disagreement between our points of view (as expressed in the comments here) is the definition of the scientific term "Standard Model". Not going into fine details, "my" definition is simply more narrow and does not require SM to include and explain the general relativity.

Returning to my initial argument, most of processes happening on Earth, both on macro and micro levels, can currently be explained within the theories available to scientific community, high-temperature superconductivity being one of the few annoying counter-examples. Yes, there is still no theory of quantum gravity — but the near-impossibility of constructing experiments for testing such theory is one of the main reasons for its absence!

55:

Telephones are a good example of the changes.

The farming was the family business, I was the third generation, and we didn't have a telephone line until after I was born. According to my father (and I am afraid i take this with a pinch of salt), my grandfather was the obstacle. Point is, in 1960 it was still possible to run the business without a telephone, but that era was dying.

And now we are in a world where businesses use a mobile phone. It's a direct contact, rather than leaving messages with the wife. You can get away without a landline for internet connection, though it is expensive. And mobile network coverage is patchy outside the towns. Is it good enough for a farming business?

I know what difference a mobile phone makes, but we were lucky to get coverage.

Anyway, that's the change in my lifetime. There's more in its effects than I have mentioned, far more. A phone number is no longer for a household, but has become a personal asset. This is as big a change, if not more, than the appearance of the Penny Black. The Victorian young lady could send and receive letters with some hope of privacy: her father was no longer certain to know what mail had been delivered. Her 21st Century equivalent has communication methods available to her that would astonish her forebears, and it's even possible to get a phone and Sim Card for pocket-money prices. Parent encourage children to carry mobile phones, in case of emergency.

Though none of this cures stupidity.

56:

A not-so-often recognized reason why the steam engine of the Greeks and the ones from the industrial revolution are different is materials technology. Making materials efficient for a given task, like channelling pressure or not breaking on high temperatures, is a science of impurities. Which means being able to start for very pure metals and introduce precise amounts of very pure other products. Not only that necessity was really recognized in antique times, but the technical capability was not there either.

So the result is that one could experiment on recipes that gave, say, very efficient blades, but if your iron suddendly came from somewhere else with different impurities your recipes suddendly stopped working and you didn't know why. See Damascus steel for a well known (if not completely understood even now) example.

Reproductibility of materials, and materials performance, is key to modern machinery. And that requires knowledge of chemistry, precise metrology, high temperatures, etc... that were not available at the time.

OG.

PS: Moderators, I have a long post stuck in the queue probably due to the links to references, if you can have a look. Thanks :-)

57:

@ 48 Jocelyn Ireson-Paine

Well, I am fairly sure that the current generation of washing powders is both much more efficient and cheaper to produce than one used 75 years ago. I also happen to use a reverse-osmosis filter and, erm, a skillet covered by layered nanostructured ceramic coating every day — both relatively modern tech, at least in the household applications. An electrical kettle with a really small and dumb microprocessor able to keep water at fixed temperature is also a relatively recent invention. And you really could have set your washing machine to the "do not tumble dry" setting and avoid most of the work you described.

And power drills? The portable ones come with lithium batteries, which became practical less than 20 year ago. The absence of change is simply an illusion. Yes, we do not have self-cleaning windows — but this tech never existed outside science fiction.

58:

"For the technologies that did emerge proved most conducive to surveillance, work discipline, and social control. Computers have opened up certain spaces of freedom, as we’re constantly reminded, but instead of leading to the workless utopia Abbie Hoffman imagined, they have been employed in such a way as to produce the opposite effect. They have enabled a financialization of capital that has driven workers desperately into debt, and, at the same time, provided the means by which employers have created “flexible” work regimes that have both destroyed traditional job security and increased working hours for almost everyone. Along with the export of factory jobs, the new work regime has routed the union movement and destroyed any possibility of effective working-class politics.

Meanwhile, despite unprecedented investment in research on medicine and life sciences, we await cures for cancer and the common cold, and the most dramatic medical breakthroughs we have seen have taken the form of drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft, or Ritalin—tailor-made to ensure that the new work demands don’t drive us completely, dysfunctionally crazy."

very true

few of the technologies introduced since 1980 have been used for the benefit of mankind, rather for the benefit of entrenched late capitalists, to extract more productivity out of the fewer people they employ.

the only people who have the time to enjoy modern life are the unemployed, who have insufficient money to do so fully, or the retired who have insufficient energy.

Think less, sleep less, work harder!

59:

You're talking huge timelines here. The Renaissance is the shortest of them, but even that was about 400 years. Technological innovation? Sure. Rapid tech change? Not at all. The Chinese and Egyptians, likewise, developed tech over thousands of years.

We need to expand our imagination over multiple dimensions of change. Change is unpredictable, yes--except the fact of change itself, one way or another. Whether 3D printers or 4G cellphone, change will occur. In education, who would have predicted ten years ago that Turnitin would make plagiarism obsolete? And (although the English profs don't see it yet) text originality itself is obsolete?

Biological growth always tries to be exponential, when it can. Since technology (however defined) is a product of the human brain, it must be growing exponentially. If the Chinese took thousands of years for change, and the Neanderthals before us took hundreds of thousands of years--fine, that still means there was an accelerating pace of change.

What I'm saying is, technology change grows out of itself, like a living organism. Every new technology produces sperm and egg of the next technologies. The human population growth may be slowing a bit, but is energy use? Our technology is still in exponential phase.

60:

I think that one of the problems with this debate is that the being in the middle of changes makes it rather hard to notice them happening, at least until you wake up one morning and wonder where the VCR went...

I'm in my mid 40s, several technologies have effectively vanished in my life already, or become seriously niche ones (not including the VCR) - CDs appeared as a major new technology just as I started entering the workforce and are effectively vanishing - certainly I'm fairly sure my teenage nieces have never bought one. I've gone from building my own DVR because I wanted one, to having one under the TV all the time that plugs into a half dozen streaming services. I was at the celebration for the 1 billionth mobile phone subscriber, which took player in about 2002 in Cannes... that number had quadrupled in the next decade.

When my father had his heart attack at 55 in 1981 there wasn't a lot that could be done for him. He was lucky, he eventually recovered. Routine cardiac stents and bypass surgery were still in the future.

Several types of cancer have been cured in just the last few years, although many remain.

To top it all, something that made me blink yesterday. A friend is buying an all electric car for his daily commute to the place where he does routine heart bypass surgery... both things were inconceivable even a couple of decades ago.

61:

I disagree entirely with your previous post, but it is unclear to me what you mean by rural england. In the light of your most recent post, it appears you consider it to be the socio-cultural arrangements that were in place over a century ago, and which have effectively been dead for decades now.

What I think of as rural england is a place that grows food and entertains people who go for walks and other countryside pursuits.
Your comment about a rural housing price crash doesn't sound likely; not only is England densely populated, but the possibilities for remote working are still being explored, so it is already possible to live in the countryside and not have to drive 30 miles to work. Not to mention retirees and others. The only thing likely to cause much of a house price crash in the next 50 years in the UK would be a major pandemic killing 20% of the population.

Other than that, I do recall reading that over the last decade there are increasing numbers of unoccupied houses in urban areas around Newcastle, simply because of lack of work as everything drains towards London. Which of course will also affect the countryside, but really things are not going to be as apocalyptic as you think they will be.

62:

The point people forget and we are seeing on this thread, is that there's 2 sorts of progress.
There's the step change, e.g. the telephone, the car, etc, which is radically different to previous ones, and then there's the incremental improvements, such as better TV's or smaller computers.
Although you could argue that smaller computers leads to a big step change at the level of the society due to interconnectedness, but by that point I tend to get mixed up, so carry on if you like but I'll step off the vehicle.

63:

I have less of a problem with "technological progress happens" stated as a natural law as I do with it offered to justify the claim that X will happen. It seems a lot of the time conversations go like this:

Person 1: In the future this field will be different because of automation/computers/biotech/[insert fringe technology here]

Person 2: I don't think so because of X, Y and Z. What do you say to that?

Person 1 (condescendingly): Ah but you are forgetting that technology progresses!

64:

Regarding the return of aristocracy, Britain seems particularly well prepared. I was fact-checking my earlier post GoCaptain @ 33 when I found myself at the College of Arms website. Now good news, there appear to be three jobs going:

Rouge Croix Pursuivant

Rouge Dragon Pursuivant

and

Bluemantle Pursuivant

Salary isn't great at 13 pounds 95 pee per annum but you might get promotion. Not to the head position, Earl Marshall, because that's hereditary. Only the Duke of Norfolk need apply. OTOH:

William Oldys (1696-1761), Norroy King of Arms, was a noted antiquary and bibliographer but wholly ignorant of heraldry and known for being 'rarely sober in the afternoon, never after supper', and 'much addicted to low company.'

I'm guessing not too much stress in the workplace.

By the by, if you go to website check out The Arms, Crest, Supporters and Badge of Sir Michael Perry (published March 2013). The arms particularly: 'Per pale Sable and Gules a Canton Ermine over all three Pears palewise in bend Or'.

Anyway, sorry to be a bit off-topic. We were talking about radical change?

65:

You don't spend a lot of time in front of a TV I take it? Also the Personal Computer could be called "household tech". We also have a robot that will vacumn your house now and house don't really have phones anymore

In the page that Charlie linked to by the phrase "we may already be past the steepest part of it" near the start of this entry, there's this quote from Philip Longman writing in U.S. News & World Report:


There is a distinction to be made between inventions that are merely sophisticated–such as, say, personal digital assistants–and those that fundamentally alter the human condition. The invention of the light bulb created more useful hours in each day for virtually every human being. The electric motor directly raised the productivity in every sphere of life, from speeding up assembly lines to creating so many labor-saving devices in the home that millions of housewives were able to join the paid work force.

My examples were implicitly about raising productivity in housework. The TV and PC haven't done that. Neither have the Roomba and other robot vacuum cleaners, though perhaps they will eventually. At least, no-one I know has found it worth buying one.

_ieronim replied to me in comment 57, saying amongst other things: Yes, we do not have self-cleaning windows — but this tech never existed outside science fiction. But once, computers didn't exist outside science fiction, so I don't think that should be a criticism. I am asking where the technology is that will create as many labour-saving devices in the home as the electric motor did. Do we have too many bright people happily building apps in the virtual world, and too few fighting the very difficult problems of interacting with the real worlds of physics and chemistry?

66:

Well, I am fairly sure that the current generation of washing powders is both much more efficient and cheaper to produce than one used 75 years ago. I also happen to use a reverse-osmosis filter and, erm, a skillet covered by layered nanostructured ceramic coating every day — both relatively modern tech, at least in the household applications. An electrical kettle with a really small and dumb microprocessor able to keep water at fixed temperature is also a relatively recent invention. And you really could have set your washing machine to the "do not tumble dry" setting and avoid most of the work you described.

And power drills? The portable ones come with lithium batteries, which became practical less than 20 year ago.

I replied on this topic to fatal.error in comment 65. The filter, skillet, kettle, and drill are useful, but if thrown back 30 years or whatever to a house without them, would it take you significantly longer to do your cooking and DIY?

By the way, I don't mind hand-washing: it provides mild exercise and gives my mind time off to think up ideas for cartoons. Also, I suspect it's less damaging than even a wash cycle without tumble dry, abrading less fabric from the clothes.

67:

@ 65 & 66, Jocelyn Ireson-Paine

The filter, skillet, kettle, and drill are useful, but if thrown back 30 years or whatever to a house without them, would it take you significantly longer to do your cooking and DIY?

Since I personally incorporated all these small things in my housework, I can give a definite answer: yes, it would take about two times longer. Also I would need to use oils for frying, and to clean the layers of limescale off the insides of the kettle while trying to persuade myself that the water is still not too hard to drink.

As I have read in Objects of Desire by Adrian Forty, the progress generally did little to lower the time required for housework — mainly due to the constantly increasing standards of cleanness, food quality etc. Also "spare time" never was considered a good thing for a good housewife... After reading this, I specifically focused on reducing time required for household activities using modern tech.

As for self-clearing windows, computers and science fiction — I may be mistaken, but as far as I know computers, as well as many other things which just cannot be predicted if you are not on the bleeding edge of science, existed outside of science fiction long before finding a way into the literature. The fact that all initial computer research was classified also did not help their publicity. Robots are another matter — but a "robot" as a concept has literature origin and never has had anything to do with actual machines called "robots" today.

68:

The Icelandic democracy was not continuous (and not really democratic as we understand it) as Iceland was a part of the kingdom of Denmark for several hundreds of years.

69:

Exactly right, Charlie. Thank you for articulating my thoughts so well.

The "doctrine of continual change through technology" has been a major bulwark of capitalism, and it is exactly right to say that Fascism, Communism and Republican Democracy are merely sects of the capitalist ideology.

I'd only add that like most doctrinaires, believers in progress through continual technological change both make grossly exaggerated claims for its effects and fail to understand either the doctrine or the ideology that it supports.

The radical egalitarianism of capitalism is the main driving force behind the improvement in people's lives over the last few centuries. Population growth has been a major enabler. (As Adam Smith pointed out, "the division of labour is limited by the extent of the market". It is specialisation that has given us most of the technological change that we have seen.)

This is an underappreciated point, I think. Technological change that materially benefits households will be adopted. Inventions that do not benefit households will remain laboratory curiosities. We in the West are undeniably past the point of inflection in the curve of growth of the flow of material benefits to households. Because, if Maslow was even half right with his hierarchy of needs, there's not much more that can make us better off.

We can go in several directions from here, but for everyone outside the Superclass, most of them lead downhill.

70:

Even without revolutionary changes, domestic appliances have got a lot cheaper over the last few decades. They have also got more energy efficient in doing like-for-like things, even if these gains have been more than wiped out in other places.

71:

Actually, LotR is not just unrealistic with regards to modern politics, it's so with regards to Medieval times, too, with the actual case of steward and king that comes to mind, e.g. Merovingians and Carolingians, ending exactly the opposite to LotR:

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

Of course, this ousting happened with the support of the pope, but 250 years later, it was the emperor nominating the pope:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_selection_before_1059#Holy_Roman_Empire_.281048.E2.80.931059.29

And the only pope that really went in for papal supremacy was not that lucky:

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

As for the Discworld, we are given amptle reference that if the Rightful Heir[tm] wanted to return to the job, he could do so quite easily. It's just that till now, Carrot just didn't want to.

72:

Sorry for the somewhat disjoint posting, originally, it was part of a longer post I'm preparing on divine right of kings, somewhat Medieval lack of, with regards to the relations of church and state. One might say the disestablishment of the Merovingians showed the Pope was real top, but the later history, e.g. the nomination by emperor or the fate of Pope Boniface VIII., showed that was not generally the case. Generally, the Medieval Holy Order of Things had both King and Pope at top, with both going at each other from time to time.

IMHO, "divine right of kings" and absolute monarchism were reactions to this, inter alias. More on this later.

Sorry, I'm on one of my ADHD blues...

73:

I think that the majority of innovation and technological adds to domestic living have not been primarily around increasing the efficiency but rather introducing entirely new capabilities, especially with regards to household entertainment and communicstiont. these areas are on an entirely different level as opposed to where they were even ten years ago.

Market forces pushed housework down to a point that is so low that increasing its efficiency any further have hit a point of diminishing returns. They then switched investment to more high return areas.

I do agree though that there has been a plateau over the lat twenty years around technology that directly manipulates physical reality. I think it is dangerous to draw too much from that though, technological advance in any particular field is rarely smooth, ebbing and flowing and reaching tipping points. There is plenty of reason to believe we are hitting another uptick in manufacturing and robotics for instance.

The real 800lb gorilla to me is energy production. If we move beyond fossil fule.s it's pretty much impossible to believe we are going to stop advancing, if we peak on energy production then it's a different story.

74:

The real 800lb gorilla to me is energy production. If we move beyond fossil fule.s it's pretty much impossible to believe we are going to stop advancing, if we peak on energy production then it's a different story.

Agreed. This concept is developed further by White's Law.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White%27s_law

75:

There are a couple of dumb-assed comments to that that maybe aren't so dumb.

One is that if democracy is better, then perhaps innovating on mechanisms to bring democracy about are a good thing?

Another comment is the old Chinese (?) saying that wealth lasts three generations: one to earn it, one to keep it, and one to spend it.

Even the "Chinese Empire" had a lot of smoke and mirrors when it came to succession between dynasties. I'm not at all clear on how many institutions lasted through each revolution, and how much of that was usurpers claiming legitimacy by covering themselves with the appearance of historical precedent.

The bigger point is that there's a concept in ecology called parasite load, which is the number of parasites an animal is carrying. It's mostly not a good thing. Rentiers tend to fall into this category. So do most aristocracies.

While parasite load is good in the one sense that most biodiversity in the world is parasite species (seriously), in most respects it's bad, because parasites take from the host without giving back.

This is the fundamental problem with aristocracies as you note isn't that they can't be set up, it's that they're inefficient and stupid compared with other systems.

Democracy seems to be able to go around that in many ways, so if you don't want to live on the host end of a parasitocracy, I strongly suggest innovating in ways to, ahem, de-worm society through direct democratic action.

76:

OK, here is the original article I planned for; while I agree there is a quite strong connection between technological progress and the modern structures of power, I think the relation between societal and technological change is somewhat more complicated, let alone their relation to "progress" in both areas, or the relation of all this to "reactionary" politics like "divine right of king". And all of this is somewhat subjective, as we see when we try to measure technological change.

On a much more fundamental front, it even starts with agreeing on a definition of "progress" in societal matters, where early Medieval law was quite often something of a right-wing libertarian wankfest

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

and the curtailing of the right of the nobles by the king in these matters was quite progressive, for "I guess you agree not being massacred by the enemies of your boss is progressive, right". During the 17th century, it was breaking some of those royal prerogatives that was progressive, for "I guess everybody should be allowed to make soap, don't you think". Now I don't think legalizing blood feuds is progressive, but I guess we can agree that it's a complicated metric for some areas.

As for how this complicated meme called "progress" entered our culture, one could talk about enlightenment itself, though introducing a concept and basically running on it seems difficult, and I guess it's somewhat older; maybe part of it is thanks to Zoroastrian eschatology and its influence on Judaism and Christianity

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Zoroastrian_eschatology

but then, ideas of societal change are also to be found in Hellenism and Hinduism, though they are somewhat cyclical in both. And in both, they are usually degenerational, it's the past that is perfect, e.g. the Golden Age

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

or the Satya Yuga, and even if the world is going to become perfect again, it's only after we go through the Kali Yuga.

Where we might quite easily explain where this comes from, besides the usual parallels to us growing old[1], this bias might be explainable by it being actually true for the Greeks, see Late Bronze Age collapse.

For the Hindus it's somewhat more complicated, with debatable cultural continuity between the Bronze Age Indus Valley culture

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

and early Rigvedic culture that very eventually gave rise to Hinduism

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

but quite a lot of the Yuga stuff seems to be in astro(nom|log)ical treatises that mention Hellenistic astro(nom|log)y, so we could explain this one with borrowing from Greeks and the priests and nobles complaining that better trade led to the lower caste Vaishya getting more assertative.

So ideas about long term societal change are quite common, but most of these think it's all going downhill, even if it might go up again in the very long term. For perfecting the world without going through the Kali Yuga or Iron Age or Fimbulwinter or whatever, it might be interesting to see where that one comes from; Christian writers like Augustine, or the Renaissance, but we find the idea of the reestablished Golden Age already in some Roman poets from the time of Augustus, e.g. Vergil.

Which evokes the idea of:

a) problems lead to some form of societal collaps
b) people lamenting the loss of the Golden Age, and besides that, in the long run building up a new civilization without realizing it.
c) people realizing they have build up a civilization that is close to or even better than the Golden Age mentioned above, leading to the idea of progress
d) peope growing somewhat smug with the idea in time
e) people being so smug about their civilization being the greatest and like that they don't see the need for change as new problems arise
e) problems lead to some form of societal collaps

In this case, let's agree of a metric for "progress" that includes "somewhat equal rights and oppurtunities for all". With this, for obvious reasons, the "divine right of kings", or DROK, is a serious abomination. But if you read the wiki article on DROK, it mentions that for Medieval times, in most of Europe the DROK was not really the case, with Thomas Aquinas, him of the unhealthy sperm obsession coming up with RCC and homosexuality, defending the right for regicide in extreme circumstances.

Usually, he reserved the right to oust a troublesome monarch to the pope though; now you could argue about the "divine right of the pope", but the record for state vs. church in Medieval times is somewhat mixed[2], as already mentioned:

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

In general, I'd say both centralized nation-states France and England were somewhat of outliers in Medieval Europe, with the rest more like Germany (military strength of some vassals more than the emperor) or Poland (VERY strong noble prerogatives). So, well, not necessarily modern democracy, but no absolute monarchy either[3]. BTW, if we talk about Athenian democracy as a counter-example, please note even this Classical example excluded women, slaves and people of non-Athenian descent,

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

so the numbers for politically active population in some aristocracies like the Polish szlachta (around 10%, with 16% as top) might have been not that much worse of compared to 20% free men in Athen according to some estimations; and when we speak about Ancient vs. Medieval times, let's not forget the differences between slaves and serfs with usually purported better status of the latter. And that quite a few serfs were free peasants before.

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

In fact, I guess the DROK and its development to absolute monarchy are somewhat of a reaction to the limited status of kings in Medieval Europe, where this development happened later and in the case of the absolute monarchs only after quite a lot of the 17th century thinkers mentioned. In fact, I guess these 17th century thinkers included one Thomas Hobbes, whose "Leviathan" is quite important for the theory of the "social contract", but also as a justification of absolutism. Now quite a lot of this happened after

a) ousting the influence of the Pope in the uneasy relations of church vs. state vs. rest of the population of Medieval times, AKA reformation

b) various conflicts and rebellions; some of those were about central power (War of Roses, anyone?), some of those were against central power (e.g. Albigensians or Hussites)

where the conflicts mentioned under b) were partially in relation to a strengthening of the central power or subjugation of semi-independent territories under said central power.

If we add to this that one of the reasons for the seperation of Western and Eastern Roman Empire and the demise of the former was that it had grown too big for effective administration, we could try for a different narrative. There, in established historical materialist practice,

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

technological progress drives societal change, but it can go both ways, with technological change weakening central control at the end of the Western Roman Empire; the Germanic populations are subject to a mixed tradition with some elements of "democracy" like the "thing"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thing_(assembly)

the usual aristocratic snobs and a sometimes strong, sometimes weak king

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

To administer bigger territories, we get the feudal system:

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

This is also the time we get the strong Western Roman Catholic Church, since quite often, when secular administration faded, the church nonetheless stayed. Which later on led to the church vs. state issues of Europe.

In the early Medieval period, economical change leads to diminished number of free men, were growing number of those become serfs; technological changes leads to better administrative control, which helps the aristocracy in their territories, or the king. The aristocrats can try to oust the king, or the king can try to use the same changes to his advantage, especially if he has a large power base, preferentially with some allodial titles:

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

Similar centralization happens in the church with e.g. the pope, where the pope is sometimes on the side of the king, sometimes against him. This might have become important in the later reformation, where the Protestant Reformation in Germany was actually quite often just an "up yours" of the nobles to the king. In England, it was somewhat more complicated, I think.

And what we call "absolute monarchy" is just the end point of that, partly thanks to the technological drive to centralization coming to an end, partly people growing tired of the fun that was living though yet another civil war between warring nobles.

Hey, it's only a narrative, I guess reality is much more complicated. And as already hinted at, in different areas it was somewhat different, to come back to Poland, while in most of Europe the kings became stronger, in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, it was the other way around.

Also note the general problems with seeing patterns in history, AKA historicism:

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

Back to our tongue in cheek historicism, if we go with this summary, the specific of the modern times is not so much that societal is driven by technological change, but that till now it has somewhat egalized society and at least not stratified it to the same extent like e.g. in the early Medieval period, when free men became serfs. One could argue about if that's so special after all, e.g. the early postal servies like the Taxis system were nice for central administration by the Emperor, but they even helped non-nobility and made some of those richer and more powerful than the old nobility.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thurn-und-Taxis-Post

Or the monopolies of Apple, Microsoft etc. led to a revolution in information technologies leading to a somewhat more egalitarian access to informations (don't get me wrong, the internet is still rife with unjust privilege, but I invite you to guess how many assistants you needed thirty years ago for what a "free" search engine does today).

And that even today, some developments lead exactly the other way to more power in the hand of fewer people, e.g with things like natural resources, or agricultural businesses.

So when technological change becomes slower and we enter an age of stasis, it might depend on which technological change becomes slower first; things like better communication, computation or makerbots for everyone might be one extreme, industries prone to monopolization another.

Also note that the timing might not be random, since technological change somewhat depends on investments, and might thus be subject to marginal utility

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

So if pro-equality technological progress slackens up before pro-inequality one, that'd be different to the other way round, of course.

Complicating that, what effects one technology has is difficûlt to say in the long run, CCTVs might mean better surveillance the populace by the government, but in the long run maybe also more control of the government by the populace:

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

And in the really long run, even if we enter real stasis, there are those who argue that political change would still continue:

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

Trying to summarize this whole mess, I don't see that strong connection of technological and societal "progress" for values of progress appreciated by us, and if we end with a set of technologies that makes power centralization difficult, the end of progress as we know it might not mean the establishment of a new aristocracy. That might not be that positive, if everybody can build a nuclear warhead in his basement, but well, there are other ways of societal control.

But as mentioned before, beware of historicism.

[1] Though then, there are the parallels between growing up and progress. Hm, is there a relation between life expectancy and societal outlook in different cultures?

[2] Note that the strong church of the Medieval might have been instrumental in preventing total supremacy of the king. And the strong king was instrumental in preventing total supremacy of the church, err.

[3] But then, I found the differentiation between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes always a sign of a demented mind at best and a rhetorical lie at worst.

77:

The difference in heating and cooling tech compared to when it was done by having ice hauled in to cool your food (something still within living memory) qualifies as a pretty radical change in household tech. There are a lot of innovations even in how those things work since they were introduced as well. The defrost system in your refrigerator saves you a major amount of work, though that's from perhaps the 60s or late 50s. More recently things such as the adoption of small scroll compressors coupled with variable speed motors (something that wouldn't have been practical 20 years ago) in the name of energy efficiency, not to mention the radically improved insulation.

As for jeans: You are witnessing the bizzare results of fashion trends adopting a garment designs for primarily for function, not comfort or appearance.

78:

It's not about what happened before, but where we are going.

Anthropologists/archaeologists have long documneted that the "Neolithic Revolution" shift to subsitence agriculture actually leads to a DECLINE in the average standard of living; The population gets smaller, begins to suffer the diseases of crowding, and deprivation, and there is the odd crop failure to survive.

There are just so many of them, they crowd out the hunter/gatherers.

Dystopian (Hunger Games?) future anyone?

Just in the last thirty years the "Standard of Living"
of the American Working class has visibly eroded, and is one reason the USA is sliding down the league tables. Our top 40% are doing OK by developed world standards, but the bottom two fifths have failed to gain any ground, and probably lost ground. No one really wants to study this or discuss it, because of the peculiar politics of the USA; Any comments about the Industial Proletariat in the UK? (Or former East Germany).

We already have a real estate apocolapse here in NW Arkansas, it is being artificially suppresed. There is some large (1000's) but unknown number of housing units being held off the market by the banks, because no one has a job good enough to buy them. The favored rentiers are getting direct offers of all the potetial rent houses in the potential walking towns, while the exurban ones just sit there. There is a similar oversupply of commercial property.

Our real estate/development model in the USA is based on building more/newer houses in ever more exurban settings. The banks have driven the small builder out in facor of the large project, and a very attractive (at least potentially walk/bike friendly) was recently turned down because the neighbors want people on one acre lots like theirs... Might hurt their property values you know.

79:

Yet this ideology that things are always changing seems pretty old, not at all just a modern idea. E.g. Heraclitus famously observed that "The only constant is change" about 2.5 millennia ago.

80:

"The difference in heating and cooling tech compared to when it was done by having ice hauled in to cool your food (something still within living memory) qualifies as a pretty radical change in household tech. "

Not only household tech. The development of permanent, longtime, reliable refrigeration changed how cities look by killing off city farming (no more need for in-city production perishable goods like milk and eggs). It allowed the rise of big abattoir centres (Chicago) and centralization of the whole agriculture sector. Long-distance transportation of food and perishables - things before produced 1-3 days travel (per train or ship usually) could now be produced thousands of miles away. Longer transportation was possible with ice too, but the price and the work involved with the bad reliability made it something not used in the same scale.
It was one of the more significant developments of the 20th century (well invented in the 19th, but commercially viable in the 20th).

81:

Hetromeles @ 75
So, are you suggesting that the concept of noblesse oblige which, oddly enough seems to have been strongest in Britain is a deliberate attempt to have non-parasitic “nobility” (along with the deliberate restriction of numbers in that nobility here) ??

Trottelreiner @ 76
So, you are hinting strongly that “Divine RIght” was originally a means of controlling over-mighty subjects & nobles, who were apt to devastate areas for their private fun, like over-mighty drug/criminal gang bosses in cities today?
Just that it got out of hand later, when the king started willy-waving on his own account?
Today, of course the bureaucracy is the over-mighty power, hence the anti-establishment parties appearing all over Europe – they want LESS government, not necessarily a “right-wing” government.
Of course such movements can themselves be captured & used for nasty ends – see the Tea Party for an example.

Wars of Roses was also about reform – the “Lancastrians” tended to be papist absolutists, whereas the “Yorkists” were proto-protestant – they protected & publicly listened to Lollards, for instance. The original Sir J Falstof was burnt at the stake for heresy, & Henry VII(Tydder) relied strongly on church support.
Your note[2] reminds me of Dante’s criticisms of the medieval papacy, including, of course Boniface VIII.

Sasquatch @ 78
There is a strong suspicion that the big industrial corporates here (UK) are in favour of continued (since 1948) immigration, because it keeps labour costs down, & indirectly can be used to set “working-class” groups against each other, thus perpetuating their divide et imperia comfort in charge.
That one might, finally be running out of steam, because, let’s face it there are too many people irrespective of “race” or religion in Britain.
There’s too many people on the Planet, but that’s another story.

82:

"... because, let’s face it there are too many people irrespective of “race” or religion in Britain."

The place didn't seem overcrowded when I last visited, but if you lack elbow room, then come settle in my ample-size country. Come join the Brit expats thriving in Southern British Columbia! Lots of room, and weather much like that of England. In fact it gets better the further you move inland, towards the East. And then you also have a great pressure relief valve a few miles South.

The only trouble is that you'll have to get used to driving on the other side of the road.

83:

Significant chunks of the UK are over-crowded. It's not feasible to build on the crinkle-cut parts such as the Scottish Highlands or the Lake District, so the population is confined to around 50% of the land mass. And the UK is tiny -- about 30% larger than Los Angeles county, believe it or not. If the continental USA was populated to the same density as the UK it could hold the entire planetary population of somewhere north of 7 billion people.

84:

For the king controlling the nobles, well, at least some absolutist thinkers put it that way afterwards; that quite a few of those revolts devastating the countryside were only because of the king was growing more powerful, thus there was opposition to him or different nobles were fighting for the job (being in the opposition sucks in absolutism) is another matter.

In general, it helps not to grow too fond of the objects of your history lessons, else realizing quite a few peasant revolts had an element of antisemitism or antijudaism makes for nasty surprises.

For Dante's critique on the papacy, well, Dante and I have a diverse moral metric there, I think the struggle between church and state etc. was what kept Europe from going the way of Imperial China. Or Czarist Russia, for that matter.

85:

"And the UK is tiny -- about 30% larger than Los Angeles county, believe it or no"

I think you're off by an order of magnitude - just by checking the wikipedia fact boxes the UK is 243,610 km2 and LA County is 12,308 km2

86:

>>>Last time I washed a T-shirt, I did so by hand to avoid its neck being stretched out of shape by a washing machine.

That's weird. Either your t-shirts are more delicate then mine, or your washing machine is more aggressive.

>>>Jeans are still made from a fabric which is as stiff and uncomfortable as ever, and which wrinkles so badly that manufacturers add fake "whisker wash" wrinkles, presumably to make the real ones less noticeable.

Contrary to the popular opinion it is, in fact, legal not to wear Jeans. :-)

>>>While the most comfortable and most attractive fabric is still natural silk. So much for the three-quarters century of synthetic-fibre chemistry since nylon. And we still idolise wool.

To fabricate better than natural fibers you need serious biotechnology (or nano). We are still in the beginning of that revolution.

>>>After washing my clothes, I might heave a vacuum cleaner around the carpet.

Or you might turn on your Roomba.

>>>When I open the window to clear the dust, I hear hammering and drilling. Half the houses in our street are having loft conversions or mortar repointing, using materials and techniques that don't seem to have changed since late Victorian times.

Meanwhile, skyscrapers keep on getting taller, thanks to progress in building technologies.

>>>My socks wear out as quickly as they did when I was a child, and so do my shoes.

But are they as expensive as when you were a child?

87:

Greg. Tingey, I'd say that the Divine Right of Kings kinda got out of hand in England and France. Compare the the development of the Holy Roman Empire, Poland and even Hungary & Croatia. For all that the Pope confirmed/crowned the Holy Roman Emperor, he was first elected by the Electors. Polish sejm chose the king for a while. Nobles over here in Hungary/Croatia offered the crown to whom they wanted.

88:

@57:
And power drills?
---
I don't *want* a power drill. Generally, I want holes. I'll take a bag of assorted sizes, please...

89:

Self-cleaning windows are coming along pretty nicely, thank you. I think they're still mostly used in commercial buildings, but you can certainly buy them if you want them.

I'll own up to the occasional pessimistic thought about the rate of technological progress, but actually glass seems to be a pretty good example where things are ticking along steadily and companies don't seem to averse to long-term R&D projects. See also the fairly exotic glasses that are used for phone/tablet screens.

90:

I have met one or two aristocrats, sometimes in the oddest places. Like at the parts store of one of the local agricultural machinery dealers, waiting in the queue.

There are a lot of differences--several thousand acres of difference--but I feel I have more in common with that particular aristocrat than with any MP I have encountered.

There's been a lot of changes since the Downton Abbey days. Indoor plumbing has made a huge difference to the management of the remaining country houses, while replacing coal fires makes a big difference to keeping any room clean. Think about the logistics of emptying chamber pots, getting warm water to washstands, getting the coal in and the ash out.

(If you look at the internal layout of country houses, you can see the appearance of a secondary servants exit that doesn't go through the kitchen and scullery, after the 1854 Cholera outbreak, and John Snow's famous demonstration of the link with sewage-contaminated water.)

We've had huge changes to domestic technology, and there is still room for detail improvements. But what dramatic change will there be? Maybe new architectural styles that let us better take advantage of solar power: we have hardly any south-facing roof area here. There's certainly a lot that can be done in terms of detail design, other than the obvious more insulation.

There's a bit of political fuss over a new subsidy for house-buying in the UK, a government guarantee scheme for low-deposit mortgages. Back to sub-prime lending? Maybe a grant for solar-panel-friendly houses would be a better way of spending the money? Not the solar panels, but a better roof design.

91:

Not all of us. I'm a Burkean paleoconservative by inclination - and, yes, that is wild-eyed radicalism, when contrasted with most previous political systems (the Roman and Venetian Republics are at least partial exceptions).

But while my emotions cleave to the ordered liberty of republicanism as expressed by the original authors of the US Constitution (not in its present, perverted form), my intellect tells me that monarchy is in fact the natural form of government for human beings, and that Moldbug is probably correct.

92:

I don't think anyone has really discussed how we encounter perspective changes as individuals over time, normally driven by changes in circumstance. The arrival of children should change your view of the world; as do several other "life changes".

IMHO it's best captured as the frequent quote "if you're not a socialist by the time you're twenty, you've no heart - if you're still a socialist by the time you're thirty, you've no brain"

It's partly a function of empathy - those lacking it will shout the loudest about "equality" when poorer, and about "rightful property" when richer... (see: Arthur Scargill and his central London flat).

93:

Variations on the Divine Right of Kings show up everywhere from Pharonic Egypt to contemporary Japan. Using political and religious authority to reinforce each other is a no-brainer.

94:

There are several technological innovations on the near time horizon which will have major impacts on the way people live and how those at the top of the pecking order can (or can't easily) control the finances of those at the bottom. I'll just mention one here: cheap, low-energy-requirement access to potable water in or very near the home in the Third World, using tech that can be manufactured domestically.

Do you have any references to such technology? I agree that such an invention would be really good, but I don't see it on the horizon.

95:

Nobles over here in Hungary/Croatia offered the crown to whom they wanted

yes, they did here in the UK too

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_of_Rights_1689

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Act_of_Settlement_1701

though it was more a case of choosing who we didn't want [Catholics] and specifically who we did

there are quite a few European and UK nobilty with better dynastic claims to the throne of England, if not Scotland.

a more recent example

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

Queen Victoria, for one, lived in fear of being replaced as monarch by the British aristocracy, and had made plans for such an eventuality, Balmoral being one of them...

96:

@89:

Self-cleaning windows are coming along pretty nicely, thank you. I think they're still mostly used in commercial buildings, but you can certainly buy them if you want them.

Yes, I've got some in my house. I've got a glass dormer two stories up, and would have to scaffold the house every time the window cleaner came round if the glass wasn't self cleaning.

They take a while to work, and need both sunshine and rain, so would be useless in a desert, but in the UK they work well.

97:
Significant chunks of the UK are over-crowded. It's not feasible to build on the crinkle-cut parts such as the Scottish Highlands or the Lake District, so the population is confined to around 50% of the land mass

Although that doesn't mean the the UK is at capacity. Large chunks of the South West aren't anywhere near as populated as the South East and other parts of the UK.

That seems to be largely due to lack of infrastructure / roads / etc. rather than the kind of geography.

98:

You should differentiate somewhat with the content of your god-given rights...

According to the US Declaration of Independence,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Now if I commit a murder, depending on the USian state I'm in, I'd loose my liberty or even my life. Even if it is my god-given right.

In a similar vein, even contemporary constitutional monarchies quite often have a "by the grace of God" in their titles, e.g. one

Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith

Where you might ask one Edward VIII how far this grace of god went.

As for the Japanese monarch, for most of his history he was little more than a figurehead, with the real power for the shogun:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shogun

In a first approximation, "divine right" is a rhetorical figure that can mean quite different things, in the case of kings from special honor with little real power to full autocracy.

I guess when OGH mentioned the "divine right of kings", he was thinking about the idea that the king was subject to no one but god. Which, BTW, can also be applied to an elected king, one could argue that the Pope is such a case. Which, BTW, would be somewhat ironic, since the RCC was one of the enemies of an unchecked "divine right of kings":

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oath_of_Allegiance_of_James_I_of_England

And as for the king being subject to no one but god, well, for most of European history, this was not the case or at least somewhat complicated; on the one hand the power of European monarchs and nobles was reinforced by the Catholic church, but if you wanted to use this power of the Catholic Church, you had to pay at least lip-service to the idea that the pope could dispose of you.
Now one could talk about the "divine right of the pope", though stubborn popes often had a short and unpleasant life.

In practice, we see the idea of the "divine right of kings" with the English and French monarchs of the 16th to 18th century, where it is tied in with the idea of Absolute Monarchy:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_monarchy

So like the burning of the witches and other niceties, it seems like the "divine right of kings" is not Medieval, but Early Modern. Gosh.

BTW, even if the French Monarchy is the arch-example of the Absolute Monarchy, there was still an element of parliament present:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estates_General_(France)

99:

Err, Edmund Burke is English Parliament after 1765. Very the other side from the English "divine right of kings", where I'd put a stop at Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Personally speaking, I see the difference between Conservatism and Revolutionaries more in the means, e.g. organic evolution and trying to keep to precedents, not so much in content.

Which as a Conservative Evolutionist lets me headdesk quite often when seeing our "Conservatives", but well, so what...

100:

Very the other side from the English "divine right of kings", where I'd put a stop at Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Earlier than that - the "divine right" for English Kings was stopped with Magna Carta in 1215, surely? ...this was, of course, a Good Thing :)

(Meanwhile, see "Declaration of Arbroath 1320" for Scotland; particularly the paragraphs around "his right of succession according to or laws and customs which we shall maintain to the death, and the due consent and assent of us all have made our Prince and King")

101:

As already mentioned (shit, I need to write shorter, more concise texts) I'm not that sure if you can speak of the DROK in most of the Medieval Period, since AFAIK the more or less official scholastic party line by Thomas Aquinas, him of the unhealthy sperm obsession, was that monarchs could be disestablished by the Pope, and that in extreme circumstances, they could be disposed off by anyone through tyrannicide.

So actually, quite a lot of the talk about the DROK is only after the reformation, in the context of England, the term is related to the term of Jacob I.

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

who coined the term in a book he wrote in 1598

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

For the relation of the DROK and reformation, the other example of absolute monarchism that comes to mind, France, was arch-catholic, though with some benefits:

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

As you might note, quite a few of the funny things about the RCC in general and the Pope in particular are rooted in the church's stance against the DROK, which is why I'm somewhat inclined to cut them some slack from time to time, two tyrants going at each other are better than only one tyrant going at me.

Not too much, though, you see, sometimes I'm quite traditional, and for me, this traditions mean going against the Jihadis

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

but also with the Muslims against the Crusaders

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

102:

My socks wear out as quickly as they did when I was a child, and so do my shoes. My windows aren't self-cleaning, and I have no fail-safe plumbing. And although the razor manufacturers are constantly bringing out new razor heads, they never shave more quickly. Actually, the only real improvement I can think of in household technology has been the microwave oven. But why no progress elsewhere?

Hmmm. Born in 1954.

My socks last much longer. At least from the point of holes vs. the elastic wearing out. But they do last longer.

My shoes last very much longer.

Windows may not be self cleaning but they are incredibly easier to clean. Tilt in or bring them into the house if desired, dividers inside of the dual panes if you want that look. Throw a baseball at them and it usually bounces off. And heating/cooling doesn't rush through them as if with a fan.

PVC/ABS/PEX plumbing is miles ahead of copper which is miles ahead of steel/iron supply and cast iron waste. I'm looking at $2K give or take to replace my cast iron stack due to rust in it catching things and creating havoc every 9 months or so. And putting a pressure regulator on my water supply removed almost all of my supply leak problems. My house of 50 years old. (And yes I know PVC may be a bad long term thing and am taking that into consideration.)

Razors, electric not so much. Unless you compare todays' models with those of 50 years ago. As to blades, which I use, there's no comparison. Todays are much better than 10 years ago, and those much better than 10 years earlier, and so on...

As to the kitchen. Flat surface electric stoves? Electromagnetic induced heating elements? How about timers and sensors that keep you from turning many meals into charcoal.

And those nice automatic vacuums that deal with houses that aren't laid out too oddly. (Mine would require 3 of them so not for now.)

Sorry but I see a lot of improvements where you see none.

103:

I replied on this topic to fatal.error in comment 65. The filter, skillet, kettle, and drill are useful, but if thrown back 30 years or whatever to a house without them, would it take you significantly longer to do your cooking and DIY?

Yes on the cooking.

Incredibly so on the DIY. You have to dig deep to find corded power tools in regular use for construction and DIY these day. Batteries make things so much easier and productive on all but the most demanding power tools. If you showed up with a corded drill at a site you'd likely get told to go home. Dragging around an extension cord as you move about just doesn't work compared to using the batteries. And a lot of what used to be done with nails driven by a hammer is now doe via a nail gun or screws and a battery drill. Not only are people more productive the results are better.

104:

Well, that's weird. I followed up the last two links in your post about the Siege of Vienna and the Battle of Grunwald and had a sudden urge to download the West-östlicher Diwan. Which I did, from Project Gutenberg. Weird.

105:

>White's Law
Or its afaik unnamed sibling that is about the link between economic growth and energy production. (Paper linked in the post)
https://culturingscience.wordpress.com/2009/11/30/is-it-possible-for-us-to-reduce-our-carbon-emissions/

106:

Well, the Polish Nobility had a debatable concept for bridging East to West, it was called Sarmatism:

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

Guess next time I'm drinking a cay I'll ask some Turks if they know any reenactors who are not into the Grey Wolves to get some costumes.

Incidentally, the "divine right of kings" never took of in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, since it would have collided with the "divine rights of the szlachta". Who opposed a constitution curtailing these rights:

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

Actually, there is a genre of alternate history that is known as polewank. To spare you going through countless porn sites on google, see:

http://wiki.alternatehistory.com/doku.php/offtopic/poland

107:

Eternal (or, infinite) growth has always seemed to me to be inherently destructive, if not contradictory. If I'm correct, the only two things in nature which grow "infinitely" are cancer and funghi. Oh, I guess one would have to add the universe, except heat death is pretty certain.

I think Nature may be sending us a message there.

108:

Perhaps this is a phase of transition, which will end in a new stable state.

Provided we survive, anyway.

109:

The day we're able to model a stock market completely is the day the world turns very weird: markets are NP-complete, and it appears to be possible to encode any other NP-complete problem in a manner solvable by the market, so if we can simulate the New York stock exchange we should be able to solve some very interesting problems. (Don't tell me Tesco couldn't save themselves billions with optimal solutions to the travelling salesman and knapsack problems, to start with.)

110:

I think it's misleading to think of Neanderthals as taking hundreds of thousands of years to change. They developed flint tools in short periods of time, and then largely remained at that tech level until their disappearance. It's nonsensical to derive a rate of change from that information, and apply it to an exponential curve.

(I think it's similarly a non sequitor to state that technology must grow exponentially simply because it's a product of the human brain. I fail to see why that must be the case.)

111:

Joan wrote: "As for today, I see no sign we're slowing down. A quantum computer was just proposed, a million times faster than what we have today."

Just because we can run an algorithm faster doesn't necessarily mean we're improving the algorithm. I think that in many areas we've reached the top of the sigmoid curve. For example, I've worked as a network engineer for the last 23 years. During the early nineties there was a vast "Cambrian Explosion" of networking technologies. After which there was vast die-off and consolidation around several basic technologies. At the Data Link Layer (L2), Ethernet was the big winner(FDDI, Token Ring, and half-a dozen other technologies all went extinct). At the Network Layer (L3), the Internet Protocol was the winner. So much so, that we're having trouble moving from IPv4 to a much superior IPv6. During the double-oughts, there were a proliferation of Layer 7 technologies, as better ways of delivering content over the web were devised. But there are only so many basic application types -- and they all involve the moving of voice, video, or data -- so we've reached a plateau where we either can't create any new technologies, or we don't want to create any new technologies (because the ones we're using are good enough).

So even though quantum computing can run our algorithms faster, can we move the data between quantum computers any faster? The leading edge of optical networks can support 100Gigabit Ethernet. Due to the laws of physics, I'm not sure we can go much higher than that. So communication rates may end up being the limiting factor in the future of computing.

And apropos nothing, has anyone noticed that our artistic culture has stagnated? As an example, all the styles of music we listen to now were products of the 20th Century. Rap/Hip-Hop, the last genre to crystalize on the matrix of contemporary culture, is getting rather long in the tooth now. There haven't been any new genres of music to come along in almost 40 years now. So I guess, what I'm trying to say is that what does it matter that we can deliver content to everyone's iPhone quicker if our creative culture is ossifying? Will the people of The Singularity still be listening to classic rock?

112:

counterpoints

1: wireless network? kinda new thing? I have faster speed on my phone then i did in my house five years ago

2: look at download/upload speed to homes. does not look very static to me

3: as far as quantum computing goes, you are assuming the programs they use will need lots of data. many types of scientific computing don't

4: artistic culture I don't think the kids are listening to classic rock anymore. What we are seeing is a long tail of entertainment where there used to be heavy centralization

113:

Creative culture is ossifying? That's a heavy statement. There's hardly a dearth of content for our iPhones, and I'm bemused at why you would call the death of culture just because we don't currently have an emerging musical genre.

Hip hop, for example, was dependent on an affordable second-hand market for samplers. Technological watershed moments like that don't come along that often. But just because that moment is thirty years in the past it hardly means hip hop is clapped out as a genre.

114:

wireless network? kinda new thing? I have faster speed on my phone then i did in my house five years ago

Ah, no, it doesn't work that way. Or to elaborate, there are scaling problems. We can get technical, but the useful point is that there's only so much RF spectrum. Humans are learning to use it more efficiently, but there's only so much and there will be no more. On the other hand, you can string another cable. You can have as many parallel cables as your budget allows.

Note also that fixed locations should be served be cables where practical. Mobile computing is only going to be putting more data through the radio spectrum; fixed locations and big pipes are where physical connections shine.

look at download/upload speed to homes. does not look very static to me

What the end consumer gets varies by a lot of things, and the net download speed is never faster than the slowest link anywhere between the source and the destination. We've conquered a lot of last mile problems, some of them long enough back that the solution is now out of date - and 'showing its age' is lower on the priority queue than 'piece of crap' and 'totally broken.' Home users will be playing catch-up for decades.

as far as quantum computing goes, you are assuming the programs they use will need lots of data. many types of scientific computing don't

I'm not sure yet what the home user would use a quantum computer for. There's probably some obscure graphics gimmick that could be improved by that, so it might arrive first on high-end video card for gamers. Better support for Second Third Life? Applications aren't obvious.

115:

I'm not so sure how big a difference it would make to Tesco. The obvious use is their home delivery service, with its combination of routing and vehicle loading. But the choices are constrained by when the customer is willing to accept delivery. The optimum timing for delivery (n), early or late in the run, may be one where the customer is unable to accept delivery, not just unwilling. Multiple delivery vehicles have an effect. It's still an NP-complete problem. But it is possible that the constraints reduce the range of possible answers, and the optimum isn't hugely better than the good-enough answers produced by simple rules.

There are delivery providers who don't have the same time constraints, and I would expect them to get more benefit. Oddly, some current systems seem to handle early arrival badly. I had one that arrived at 7:50 for an 8am to 5pm service slot. And had to wait ten minutes. First delivery, a bit of luck with traffic, and because of some restriction in the computerised record keeping, that advantage was lost. And maybe the next delivery couldn't have taken advantage of an early arrival. But I could, and it felt faintly silly.

116:
As for today, I see no sign we're slowing down. A quantum computer was just proposed, a million times faster than what we have today.

I'm going to niggle on this point - coz this particular way that QC gets presented is a pet hate of mine ;-)

QCs are not, in general, "faster" than non-Q computers.

What QCs allow is for us to run particular classes of algorithm that rely on quantum effects. These algorithms mean that we can solve a certain subset of hard problems that are amenable to these algorithms much more quickly.

So "A quantum computer was just proposed, a million times faster than what we have today" should be read as "A quantum computer was just proposed that can solve the subset of problems amenable to quantum algorithms on a qbit size of N, a million times faster than we can today".

Now - when N gets sufficiently large there are some really interesting problems that fit into that space. Simulation of protean folding for example. But:

1) We're quite a way technically from getting N that large and;

2) QCs are not going to make computing in general faster.

It's just that there's a class of SF fiction that seem to use QCs as magic fairy dust that makes computers really-really-fast... and it pulls me out of the story every darn time ;-)

117:

It's just that there's a class of SF fiction that seem to use QCs as magic fairy dust that makes computers really-really-fast... and it pulls me out of the story every darn time ;-)

I'll just say, me too. Your QC is vastly better at solving Quantum Algorithms, but your QA is a very specialised hammer indeed.

118:

I was thinking more of deliveries from suppliers rather than to customers, but I freely admit to grabbing the first halfway plausible application of an NP-complete solver and throwing it in as illustration, rather than making a thoroughly considered point (I'd just finished a 12 hour workday; I'm surprised all the words are in the comment, never mind correctly spelled).

119:

I don't follow popular music trends much but aren't dubstep and K-pop more recent than hip-hop/rap? And I'm sure there are lots of other genres I haven't even heard of. And what's wrong with classic rock? Check out Nik West's cover of Back in Black - she wasn't even born when that first came out.

120:

Hip hop, for example, was dependent on an affordable second-hand market for samplers. Technological watershed moments like that don't come along that often.

Good point - the piano, amplification, the electric guitar/bass, the synthesiser, the sampler, sequencing, auto tune - it's surprising how much of the music follows from the technology.

It seems like the word processor should have had more impact than it has on writing. Or some of these organiser/outliner programs. Position the mouse over a character's name and a pop-up reminds you of height, eye-colour and such for continuity.

121:

The leading edge of optical networks can support 100Gigabit Ethernet. Due to the laws of physics, I'm not sure we can go much higher than that.

Nope. Try googling "OTN 400G", you'll see various news articles about demonstration systems for 400GB/s line cards.

122:

That's very impressive, but also mostly useless. Having dialup internet vs. no internet at all is a big difference. Having broadband internet vs. dialup is a moderate difference. Having 400 GB/s vs 100 GB/s is, for almost any non-spammer, no meaningful difference at all.

123:

Having 400 GB/s vs 100 GB/s is, for almost any non-spammer, no meaningful difference at all.

Try telling that to the telecomms suppliers who are making and selling all of the kit to do it. No, you don't need a 400G line card in your house. But as a backbone between cities or server farms, certainly.

When "a certain social media company" and "a certain video hosting site" manage to take up nearly a quarter of world's internet bandwidth, I'd suggest that pictures and video make a rather significant difference. Add to that the explosion in smartphone popularity, and the resulting demand for mobile bandwidth...


124:

I don't know anything much about the backbone between cities and server farms, except that it seems to work. It doesn't matter to me whether they use fewer fast lines or more slow lines. I do know that 100 GB/s for video is an embarrassing amount of overkill.

As for why telecoms companies are selling shiny new stuff with higher specs and higher prices, that's obvious. They have to sell new stuff to stay in business. It's the same reason Microsoft keeps delivering a new, even more bloated version of Windows every few years, even though the major problem with Windows is that it's too bloated and slow. They don't really care whether or not anyone needs it; what's important to them is that they need to sell it.

125:

It seems like the word processor should have had more impact than it has on writing.

It did. Just not the way you wanted it to. Lots more words on paper produced these days. Ditto bits on storage. But not much more that matters being said.

126:

Well, even 100GbE is at its core 10GbE bundled together. It depends on either 10 lanes of glass fiber (in both directions) to carry the signal -- or four lanes of 25gig using Wave Division Multiplexing. So that's why it seems to me that we're reaching the physical limits of what can be carried on glass fiber. We can either create thicker bundles of fiber or we can push the densities of the WDM. The former is just adding more lanes to the highway, the latter is just jamming the traffic in more effectively (and there are limits the number of wavelengths the fiber can handle without signal dispersion creeping in -- to use the highway analogy would be the cars riding up on each others bumpers ;-).

Good points from Justin Boden about technology enabling new trends in music. And to William T Goodall's post, I guess it's newer than Hip-Hop, but K-Pop has been around for a while. I remember listening to it Hong Kong in the mid 90s. It only recently broke through to the West. I always thought Dubstep was recycled Reggae rhythms on electronic steroids -- but I'm going to have to do some more personal musical research.

As to what's wrong with classic rock, nothing is wrong with it, per se. But if we're on the subject of permanent revolution, well, rock was the revolutionary music that got co-opted by music industry. Rock was the soundtrack to 60s protests, but then it got repackaged as formulaic pap by the labels in the 70s -- as chaser for cocaine and ludes. New Wave and then Grunge tried to break out of that formulaic mind-set, but only briefly. Rock is dead. Long live Classic Rock.

127:

Dear Mr. Stross,

It appears you have been reading Horgans "The End of Science", and while I don't buy off entirely on
the his argument, it does make intuitive sense. If the growth of anything (either bacteria in a petri dish or human knowledge) follows an S-curve, the rapid growth in human knowledge we have seen from say Gallileo to Hawkins can be considered the vertical portion of the s-curve. Prior to Gallileo, human knowledge increased only incrementally with a few dark ages thrown in (the first flat portion of the s-curve). After our current age of rapid knowledge growth, another era of incremental knowledge growth (the second flat portion of the s-curve) will occur.

The author's thesis is that we are either running out of things to discover or have reached the point of impracticality when it comes to further investigation. For example, to provide the energies needed to show physical evidence of string theory in a bubble chamber we'll need an atom smasher roughly the size of the solar system.


128:

It does seem like progress is slowing down. There was an interesting article in US News years ago about the PBS/BBC program "The 1900 House". It compared the labor saving and entertainment gadgets in the 1900 house with those found in an "Ozzie and Harriet" house in 1950, and with the modern post-2000 house. Interestingly, while the 1950 house would come as a major surprise to the Victorians of 50 years earlier, there is very little aside from a PC that Ozzie and Harriet wouldn't recognize in a 2000 house.

The conclusion, all the really big innovations in consumer goods, entertainment and productivity occurred in the first half of the 20th century. The second half saw little more than incremental improvements - e.g. compare the *invention* of the TV with the *improvements* of color TV or Cable. The Victorians would not know what a TV is, but Ozzie and Harriet would recognize even a modern TV as a better version of their own TV. Morale of the story, true innovations - new things - may be running out of steam, leaving us with only improvements of existing devices.

129:

Concerning oligarchs and the slowing down of progress, there may be some confusion between cause and effect - at least according to Toynbee.

Our society seems to be following the steps in the historical cycle defined by Toynbee in his "Study of History" concerning the stages of birth, growth, decline and death of civiizations. IIRC these are:

A. Birth brought about by a stimulus provoking a response, forcing a pre-civilization society to adapt or die (changes in climate, external attacks by neighbors, etc.) or emerging from a previous civilization by means of a Universal Church acting as a chrysalis for the hatching of the next civilization.

In our case this would be the Catholic Church surviving the fall of the Roman Empire (the Universal State of Hellenic civilization)and giving birth to our current Western Civilization.

B. Cultural growth providing improved social mechanisms for organizing society, promoting knowledge and the arts. The Creative minority of the population devotes its energes to further creation.

Our Creative minority was active from the Dark Ages (which weren't dark at all) through the Renaissance, the Enlightenemtn, Age of Exploration,the Industrial Age, the Information Age, etc. Beginning with monks who fashioned mechanical devices to tell time and proto-industrialists who used the water wheel for hundreds of new uses after the Black Death caused a labor shortage throughout Europe - and up to the invention of the computer, splitting the atom, decoding the human genome and discoveries concerning the very nature of space time - Western civilization has been blessed with an exeptionally long run of discovery from its Creative minority.

C. But all good things must come to an end. This creative period is ended by a Time of Troubles, mostly caused by wars, such as the wars of the late Hellenistic age where the succesors to Alexander fought it out with Rome. During these wars, the Creative minority is replaced by an Oppressive minority more interested in achieving and holding power than cultural and scientific advancement.

Our Time of Troubles obviously being the two World Wars and the Cold War (really just one long conflict with intervening truces).

D. The establishment of a universal state, like the Roman Empire, as the last nation standing after the time of troubles creates a dominion over the rest of the civilization.

In our case, America is the new Rome. We are probably at the same stage as the early Principate, with the Empire being consolidated and previous republican freedoms and democratic voting becoming empty shams.

E. Alienation of the common people (Internal Proletariate) from their oppressive ruling class. The proles lose faith in civic organizations, turn inward and create a universal religion (Christianity for Hellenistic civlization) and switch their allegience away from the civil authorities.

The alienation of our Internal Proletariate has certainly begun. What is not clear is what faith will serve as the new Universal religion (Mormonism? Evangelicalism? Islam?). Perhaps a newer syncretic religion, which is what Roman Christianity essentially was, adopting many pagan trappings to clothe its theological message.

F. Eventual barbarian pressures against the empire's borders as the will and means to defend the empire dwindle. When the imperial defenses crack, barbarian migration sweeps though the remnants of the empire.

As for our potential barbarians, see "The Core and the Gap" by Barnett (http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/FI25Aa01.html)

"The Core consists of the world's richest and most developed countries and regions - the United States and Canada, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Australia - plus newly emerging economies such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Russia, China and India. Together, they comprise roughly 4 billion of the world's 6 billion population. The Gap consists of the rest of the world - namely Central America and the Caribbean, Andean Latin America, virtually all of Africa except South Africa, the entire Middle East plus Turkey and the Balkans, Central Asia, and much of Southeast Asia. In essence, the Gap is made up of those parts of the world that are failing to benefit from globalization; it is, in Barnett's words, globalization's "ozone hole".

G. The universal church, combining the allegience of the people's religion with the organizational structure of the old empire (the Roman Catholic Church) provides a nursery for the birth of the next civilization (Western).

So what should we call the civilization that follows the collapse of the American Universal State?

130:

wulf88 writes:
So that's why it seems to me that we're reaching the physical limits of what can be carried on glass fiber.

Just today, a new hollow fiber with very thin walls was announced that raises the speed in the fiber from the 0.33 C in glass to 0.997 C.

More tricks...

131:

Jay wrote:
I don't know anything much about the backbone between cities and server farms, except that it seems to work. It doesn't matter to me whether they use fewer fast lines or more slow lines.

This is why people like me design backbone networks and server farms...

132:

They're more recent but they're not new genres in the same sense that hip hop was. "Rapping to the beat" was such a radical change to how music could be recorded, that even though it was derivative of R&B (as was rock) there's so much you can do with the approach that it thoroughly became its own genre. K-pop, by contrast, is just the output of a sophisticated but relatively derivative SK pop industry.

Not that you need technological milestones to have innovation, it's just that when a new tech is out there's a lot of low-lying fruit to be seized. The real work, I think, is in the subsequent refinement and experimentation. "212" (Azelia Banks) is not a song that could have existed in 1988, for instance, or even 1998.

133:

It's true there is only so much wireless spectrum but we are nowhere near using all or even most of it for data.

I am currently typing this message from a bus on an iPad mini that gets 12 Mbs download speed. The average household internt speed in the US in 2008 was 5 Mbs.

The awesome trend right now is not wired networking but wireless which will lead to augmented reality which is going to change the world yet again.

Science is not slowing down, it just moves more unevenily in spurts then people realize.

If we have run not a wall it is around the physical manipulation of reality. This requires energy and energy production is having a hard time jumping out of the oil age. This has more to do with the fact that we are manipulating types of energy which jave really gt us scared, so we are bej f cery conservative.

The rest of it is just uneven. Computers popped in the last few years. Robotics for instance is taking a big jump forward even as we speak. Hard to judge which will be the next big jump

134:

This is why people like me design backbone networks and server farms...

Since the subject's been raised, is there anything cool coming up in the backbone & server fields? I admit not being remotely current on the subject.

Like most infrastructure, it's all but invisible to most people even as it serves them. I'm not sure what novel innovations might replace what we've got now, or if the current model looks like it will stick around for the foreseeable future.

135:

"The Victorians would not know what a TV is, but Ozzie and Harriet would recognize even a modern TV as a better version of their own TV."

Ozzie and Harriet would not think of my TV as a TV. My TV has access to the internt. I can buy things through my TV. I have a million shows on my TV. I have the entire sum of all human knowledge on my TV. I can talk to anyone in the world on my TV, i can do video calls on my TV. My TV would be a thing of wonder to them that even the scifi writers of the 1950s never imagined. If I gave Ozzie and Harriet my TV they would not leave their house for a year. And then they would probably take over the world with my TV

It's very easy when you are living in the middle of something to lose perceptive on how amazing it is.

The world has completly utterly entirely changed in the last 20 years.

136:

Quantum engagement and instant communication across distance , faster then the speed of light? Not exactly practical at the moment....

137:

Rock was the soundtrack to white people protests, sure. I don't think Martin Luther King was marching to the Kinks, though. Regardless, there's never going to be a moment where people go, "You know what? I don't want to start my own band, our source my music from new emerging talent, I just want to listen to albums from 100+ years ago".

138:

scott-sanford writes:
Since the subject's been raised, is there anything cool coming up in the backbone & server fields? I admit not being remotely current on the subject.

Like most infrastructure, it's all but invisible to most people even as it serves them. I'm not sure what novel innovations might replace what we've got now, or if the current model looks like it will stick around for the foreseeable future.

A bunch of trends, it's not clear what all will happen with them.

Except IPv6, as we're about out of IPv4. But that's a convincing-people-to-adopt problem not a tech problem. The routers, switches, and servers have supported it for a decade now.

In terms of backbones, other than IPv6, network technology is evolving slowly. Bandwidth is marching forwards rapidly. Software defined networking is taking of for local networks, but its market penetration is small so far.

In terms of server hardware, 10 Gig networking is taking off (but not yet dominating), we're seeing CPU capability on a per-core basis definitely flat (not exactly flat, but the last 3 years versus the 3 before that and especially the 3 before that...), though number of cores per CPU is still climbing. Solid state memory is taking off a bit prematurely, the flash technology wears out too fast, but phase-change and other long life options are becoming commercialized products to replace it.

In terms of operations, two trends rise up to me.

For one, "the cloud" is really taking off. Renting virtual fractional server time rather than buying and managing servers has become big business. Despite that, private datacenters with owned hardware are still growing strongly, but the Cloud is now a completely competent contender in the design space. Anyone doing anything needs to consider it.

Second, "DevOps", which uses systems management software, version control / release management, and a continuous management / test / release process, is taking off as a new systems management paradigm. Building systems configurations you can scale from 1 to 10,000 plus servers has become practical and expected. As someone who built and managed a bunch of multi-thousand server environments the old way, this is a big deal. Cost of ownership / management, quality of reliable service etc, are all trending far better.

139:

The problem with worrying about the collapse of the American state is that now every dimwit has nuclear weapons.

In 378AD if empire fell, cities would burn and the population would shrink, worldwide trade would collapse and there would be a breakdown in 'traditional' law and order, the building up of local kinship networks, an increase in banditry and attempts by the central government to stagger back until ultimately falling.

In 2013 if the government of the United States looked like it was going down, the Pentagon would nuke the holy bejesus out of everybody who might even LOOK at the North American continent funny.

And they would nuke back, and the resulting war will create a negative singularity (aka extinction).

I...don't see many elites in western nations being willing to give up power without a fight, and unlike the roman empire, if they fight, they can burn the WHOLE WORLD.

140:

If the US gov't went down, it would more or less have to be due to internal factors. The Canadians are too few and too polite, and all the ambitious Mexicans are already here. Anybody else has to get a significant number of troops (ideally at least 1 per 50 Americans, or ~6 million) across an ocean and make a contested landing, either of which would be an amazing military feat by itself.

It's certainly possible that the feds would use nukes in a civil war, but they might not. Even by US military standards, that's a bit severe.

141:

That's cool to hear about the hollow fiber, George, but that .33 C number you have seems too low for any fiber I've dealt with. The velocity of propagation in multimode step index fiber would be C divided by 1.538 (which is the refractive index of the core) -- and which is approximately 65 percent of C in a vacuum (which means a given bit of data can travel a meter of short-range fiber in slightly under 5 nanoseconds). I need to know that calculate the latency of switches.

The refractive index of long range fibers is slightly higher (I think) so the speed of light in something like Corning LEAF (a commonly used long-haul cable) is probably closer to 68 percent C.

So anyway, hollow core fiber could boost our data rates by another 50 percent or so -- which is nothing to sneeze at -- but again, we're running up against the laws of nature. Also, a question to ask is what's the dispersion numbers of this new hollow core fiber? It's all very well and good that it can move a pulse of light faster, but if the dispersion numbers suck, then it won't be suitable for WDM (which would limit the data rates we could pump across it). Oh well...

142:

Fatal Error wrote: "The awesome trend right now is not wired networking but wireless which will lead to augmented reality which is going to change the world yet again."

While it's true that wireless spectrum isn't well utilized, currently the best data rates we can get with 802.11ac -- using an AP with 4 antennas, and a client with 2 antennas(no PC, tablet, or handset has more than 2 antennas right now for power consumption and space reasons) -- anyway the maximum rate we can expect under optimal conditions is 1.73 Gbps. And by optimal conditions I mean in an RF chamber with no RF interference and no signal attenuation due to distance. In your average coffee house, you're not going to see anywhere near those data rates.

Blue Ray requires about 40 Mbps(using MPEG2 compression). Certainly 802.11ac could handle that (as long as you don't turn on your microwave oven while you're watching the Hobbit). You *might* be able to get an augmented reality running over wireless, but it's likely going to be very jerky with lots of pixel dropout when you most need them for that action adventure sequence you're participating in. ;-) Sorry, I think you'll always be tied to a fiber if you really want augmented reality...

143:

Strangely enough, though I'm a network engineer today, I did my undergrad work in Archaeology. And the Big Question was "why do civilizations collapse?" Everyone had their pet theories, none of which could be conclusively proven. Among the theories were ones based on external factors like climate change (certainly Rome went into decline as temperatures dropped at the end of the Roman Warming Period). Then there were theories based on internal factors like economic stratification and the uneven distribution of resources (the Marxists loved those theories). But nowadays I think it was probably just due to stupid leaders making very bad decisions (The Dunning-Kruger effect as applied to civilizations). "Kah-Hotep says he's over-budget, and he won't spend anymore silver for the peasants to dredge the canals. His trickle-down canal advisers tell him that the next rains will wash the silt away." Looking at the current batch of Very Serious People who seem to running the EU (and the US) into the ground, I find myself believing this more and more...

144:

#140 Para1 - Or through Alaska and Canada, which isn't a whole lot easier, particularly since the first half of WW2 North African Campaign is basically people chasing each other up and down the coast through Libya and Tunisia depending on supply lines. Similar issues are clearly going to "get" anyone who can't make a fast enough drive town that route to capture "Seacouver" more or less intact.

As for an oceanic invasion fleet, can you say "strategic nuclear missiles"?

145:

If the US gov't went down, it would more or less have to be due to internal factors. ... It's certainly possible that the feds would use nukes in a civil war, but they might not. Even by US military standards, that's a bit severe.

Nuclear weapons systems are complex and require lots of painstaking maintenance -- if you stop servicing the weapons they stop working surprisingly fast (double-digit months of neglect is all it takes to turn a suspended-core tritium boosted warhead into an unreliable fizzle-prone mess). By the time the USA declines internally far enough for civil war to be a likely issue, it's equally likely that the supply chain required to keep the nuclear arsenal in working order will have decayed. (Look at the current Russian nuclear inventory, as compared to that of the USSR in 1987, if you want to see how far and how fast stuff can fall apart; yes, Russia's still in the nuclear weapons club, but they're having to replace most everything with new-build kit, and most of the 1980s arsenal fell apart during the bad years of the 1990s.)

Besides, it can be argued that nuclear weapons are the answer to a 1940s problem -- how to take out enemy strategic targets, such as ball bearing factories or hydropower plants. The A-bomb replaced the thousand bomber raid. But then, it turns out we don't use A-bombs in warfare these days; individual JDAMs can take out the factory [or Chinese embassy] without the expense and diplomatic repercussions of a nuke. And we're heading towards autonomous drone weapons of such precision that targeting individuals or specific machine tools in a factory is the way forward.

So my guess is, nuclear weapons will remain a potent diplomatic symbol (of "don't mess with us") but become increasingly irrelevant to war-fighting for the next few decades; and if/when the current order collapses, demand for nukes (as a diplomatic token) will decline.

The interesting question is, will a post-imperial-overstretch USA cling to its nuclear virility symbol (ICBMs and aircraft carriers), or to the actual working tools of force projection (in-flight refueling tankers, drones, satcom and GPS equipment) when the money runs out?

146:

NB: I have been scarce around these parts for 48 hours because I am now in sunny Perth, Western Australia, where wallabies are cheaper and more ubiquitous than bandwidth.

147:

If the growth of anything (either bacteria in a petri dish or human knowledge) follows an S-curve, the rapid growth in human knowledge we have seen from say Gallileo to Hawkins can be considered the vertical portion of the s-curve.

The "if"-part does not apply. What is true is that the growth of anything that's limited (eg. anything limited to our solar system) cannot follow an exponential curve forever. Only simple and direct limits cause the typical S-curve (eg. bacteria exhausting the space in a petri dish). Even a two-factor limit like in predator-prey systems produces different curves (in this case sinusoidal ones). More complex systems (eg. stocks at a stock exchange) follow chaotic curves.

I think currently the limiting factors for growth of knowledge are mainly
- intellectual capacity of human brains
- costs of communicating, accessing and preserving knowledge
- lifespan and available time of humans
It's definitely not lack of new things to learn.

148:

Have you tried carrier wallabies with USB sticks in their pouches?

149:

Sadly, while the bandwidth is great, the latency is abysmal. Too many hops.

150:

Well, Toynbee, or, for the German-speaking, one Oswald Spengler, are exactly the kind of Historicism I cautioned about.

Maybe you should read up on the critiques on the wiki pages.

Personally, what I take away from my stints into human history is that it's somewhat like natural history, aka evolution; it's easy to look for some kind of progress and graduations like the great chain of being OGH alluded to, or general trends like a bigger brain or the rise and fall of civilizations, but when you look closer, it's much more complicated.

Case in point, my rantings about the DRoK are part of a somewhat broader kind of revisionism concerning the Medieval, which were originally just a concept of Dark Ages between the Romans and the Renaissance.

Where we're seeing just how the Medieval was a time of progress, and how some of the bad things we associate with it are more characteristic of the Late Medieval or Early Modern.
And how it was not a monotone descent or ascend, but quite dynamic, after the truly dismal 14th century, things became better for the general populace because there weren't that much people left to boss around.

As for the future, I guess we'll see new applications for our knowledge for quite some time, though they will be subject to diminuishing returns. But even then, if we don't break some threshold in our, err, sociological knowledge, there might still be a cycle of power aggradization, popular "uprisings", quasi-dictatorships etc.

One interesting point might be that IMHO the tact rate of this is something like a generation, e.g. people learn from history, but the next generation forgets it (remember one Aldous Huxley and his quip the 20th century was about Europe unlearning the lessons of the 30 year war?). In this vein, maybe the long political stability we see is somewhat related to longevity.
It might be interesting to see what happens when anti-senescence takes off, you might talk about young hormones and such, but IMHO unlearning what you saw is somewhat harder.

OTOH, quite a few of the idiots who welcomed WWII were the ones who had grown addicted to the monoamine-releasing effects of WWI[1]. It might be less harmful to put these guys on Methamphetamine, I guess.

[1] There is limited info on the genetics of sociopathy, but from the MAO data it seems like they quite often have a abused childhood, AND a lowered response to the negative effects of chronic stress, with no data on the arousing effects of stress I'm aware of.

151:

Nuclear weapons systems are complex and require lots of painstaking maintenance

That's certainly true for fusion bombs, because of the short half-life of tritium and its effectiveness as a neutron capturer, but I think pure fission weapons are more durable.

152:

Quite a few of those "fisssion bombs" are actually boosted design that rely on tritium fusion as a neutron source:

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

Halflife of tritium is about 12 years.

You could also use lithium deuteride like in fusion bombs, which gives tritium when bombarded with neutrons, though I'm not sure how common that is.

153:

Someone from the 1950s might recognise a modern television, but would be forgiven for thinking it contained the following parts


Bead condenser (model #: AB-619)
Cathermin tube with inindium complex of +4
Intensifier disk

154:

Imperial overstretch needs to be on a massive scale before empires reach breaking strain. For us it took two world wars and a crippling depression thrown in. Otherwise our airships might still have cruised serenely in the skies above a subject India (a la Warlord of the Air) well into the later 20th century.
I don't see where the breaking strain on an Imperial USA is coming from.

155:

Augmented reality does not have to be bandwidth intensive, since you are mostly marking up and overlaying the things you are already seeing rather then creating an entirely new virtual reality experience .

There are already augmented reality apps running on things like google glass and iPhones that work pretty wel

Also compression codecs are trade offs between bandwidth and CPU and can often be moreover significantly for specials cases

Finally no reason why you can't use multiple frequencies simultaneously there are already wireless routers that do that.

156:

Time to rewrite that pigeon protocol for wallabies: IPoWH (Wallaby Hop)

157:

In many ways though it seems that the recent changes we've seen make it rather difficult for powers to become to entrenched, at least in the suppress/oppress vein. I'm thinking of the Arab Spring events here. I'm not saying that a defacto nobility isn't possible, or that that it would be benevolent, only that it may not be that stable, and will be less so the further it rides down the road of opression.

158:

Can carrier wallabies handle CATOBAR or will they have to depend on STOVL?

(One might speculate that the UK is already being driven into the dirt, in military terms, by a failed procurement system which has missed the harsh reality that the most expensive weapons systems are the ones which we cannot afford to use.)

159:

I think Andreas meant "courier wallabies"? In any event, wallabies already do VTO, and there's a resident population on one of the islands in Loch Lomond, about 50 miles from where Charlie lives. (Yes really; planted there by an exentric and titled millionairess).

160:

The discussion of the 1900/1950/200 houses popped an idea back into my head from a while ago: Would someone who has a little knowledge of the technology behind $gadget be more amazed than someone that knows absolutely nothing about it?

This occurred to me after watching my kids playing with a tablet. They have almost no concept of how the device works, and are therefore free to take it complete for granted; but I am very aware of the infrastructure, technologies, inventions, and work that is required to play that 30 second YouTube clip anywhere in the house at anytime -- so consequently, every so often, I find myself a bit stunned by the very fact it exists.

Would the same be true in a "1900/1950/2000 house" kind of comparison? Would someone from 1900 be able to just accept technology that exists in 2000 with less explanation than might be required by someone from 1950? Certainly I would guess that Mr & Mrs 1900 would probably be no more amazed by the gadgets in 2000 than what was available in 1950.

161:

Ah, no, 'carriers'. See RFC 1149 for the protocol which he wishes to adapt.

162:

Daniel,
I'm afraid your analogy falls apart between D. and F. If the United States ever held the equivalent position of Rome, it was at the very end of WWII, ending with the Soviet fission test in 1949. US power in the Cold War period and beyond has relied on the participation of allies and international organizations. While the United States could and can apply force at any given point on the Earth at any given time, the cost for doing so is very high (Iraq) and the US ability to do so is declining. However, this is not a unipolar world. The EU and NATO (obviously not the same thing) have roughly equivalent global economic and regional military power, and Russia, China and India are or have the potential to be regional or even global competitors.

Major political/economic change and instability seems most likely to come from North-South issues and the continuing exploitation of natural resources in the South (to include the Middle East) by the North to support their privileged standard of living. Poor governance, particularly in Africa, exacerbates this problem as nations in the South are less cohesive and efficient.

Many of the political issues we face now were suppressed during the Cold War as the world was choosing sides between the US and USSR. Absent this driving force, old resentments and new have become more evident; i.e. the aftermath of the carving up of Africa by the colonial powers; the gerrymandering of the former Soviet Union by Stalin; the division of the Middle East and the artificial states created by Britain and France post-WWI. Some have been exacerbated by technological progress (transfer of political power to OPEC because of reliance on oil). These changes make the unipolar model of Rome vs. barbarians inapplicable to our current situation.

Short of economic or technical collapse (think peak oil, the horizon of which is being extended by innovations in oil shale, etc. and use of renewable energy), the collapse of the mixed capitalist/socialist somewhat republican form of civilization seems remote.

Dave Peck

163:

I'm afraid your comment shows little understanding of how nuclear weapons are controlled in the US and the general threat to the world of nuclear weapons. "The military" does not decide when or how to use nukes; the National Command Authority (NCA-POTUS and his successors) does. The process is shot through with double-checks and failsafes up and down the line. Any fiction you've read about a rogue general using a nuke is just that - fiction.

I'm not going to go into detail on this, or the state of the US nuclear arsenal. Look at reporting since the start of 2013 in the press on the need to modernize and sustain that arsenal. What is NOT at question is the ability of the NCA to control that arsenal.

That cannot be said of the states most recently obtaining or pursuing nuclear weapons. Five states as signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty were declared nuclear weapon states: The US, USSR, UK, France, and PRC. Other states have demonstrated a nuclear weapon capability outside the NPT - North Korea, Pakistan and India. Israel is widely believed to have nukes, but has never made a public declaration. NATO can call on US and UK (but not French) nukes under treaty. The number of nuclear states shrank when Belarus, Ukraine and Kazahkstan turned their Soviet weapons back to Russia for dismantlement. South Africa declared and dismantled a nuclear program. Iraq's program was destroyed when the Israelis struck the Osirak reactor. Qadaffi reported, then foreswore nuclear weapons research in Libya.

On the negative side, of course, is the suspected Iranian program. The big concern today is the recent states, especially Iran, North Korea and Pakistan, their motivation for and likelihood of using nukes, and their ability to positively control those weapons. While these are serious and significant problems, they're a world away from your fantasy of "the Pentagon would nuke the holy bejesus out of everybody who might even LOOK at the North American continent funny."

164:

Would someone who has a little knowledge of the technology behind $gadget be more amazed than someone that knows absolutely nothing about it?

Absolutely. Look at the TV example. Someone from the 50s who knew how they worked would be puzzled by the rectangular display and incredible lack of depth of the box. The switch from CRT tubes to LCDs was a huge jump.

Ditto phones or other mobile electronics. If you're from 1950 you've got to be amazed at how small we must be making the vacuum tubes.

Cars that don't need tuneups.

Take a phone systems engineer from the 40s and 50s and they would wonder just how many cables had to be laid to carry all the circuits. Packet switching was an unknown or very much fringe concept at the time. (I have a 16.6' path across my back yard that AT&T owns an easement for from 1930 which will likely never be used, if it ever was. I just can't see them needing a new cable path anymore.)

165:

I...don't see many elites in western nations being willing to give up power without a fight

Elites of the Soviet Union did, and they had nuclear weapons.

Note that with few exceptions (the very ones who tried to hold back the tide), all Soviet elites as individuals came out of the collapse very well. Why nuke the world if you can negotiate a comfortable retirement?

166:

'Soviet elite as individuals came out of the collapse very well.'

Why wouldn't they? They had elite skills, they were competent, not buffoons. They simply couldn't make a command economy work. Doesn't mean they still don't despise both capitalism and democracy.

167:

And your point is...?

I was providing a counterexample to Richyrland's "leader do not give up without all-out fight" claim. Your post supports my point -- I think.

168:

'And your point is...?'

That it's interesting how elites respond to displacement or attempted displacement. Not necessarily by all out violence. So not in disagreement with your post. But that response even if non-violent may have a long term significance. Not all flowers and street parties.

169:

apart from the female rapper saying the the c-word repeatedly, there's not much that sonically interesting about that backing - you could hear something similar in any techno DJs set c.1996.

Rap/Hip-hop has been a musically uninteresting genre since the collage element - as found on the second Beastie Boys LP, or the second and third Public Enemy albums since Gilbert O' Sullivan killed Hip-hop

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Upright_Music,_Ltd._v._Warner_Bros._Records,_Inc.

Hip-hop was probably the last insurrectionary style of music, it now consists of someone telling you how wonderful they are, over the elements of the one track they can afford to sample...

170:

You know, there are those of us who think that when a civilization reaches the point where, thanks to insane power concentration/lack of educated populace/deficient knowledge about causes and effects/lack of alternatives/sensory distraction/neurocognitive decline thanks to lead in the water supply/$whatever, idiot commands go unchallenged, one incompetent leader is the least of the problems of said civilization...

171:

> "The military" does not decide when or how to use nukes; the National Command Authority (NCA-POTUS and his successors) does. The process is shot through with double-checks and failsafes up and down the line. Any fiction you've read about a rogue general using a nuke is just that - fiction.

Might want to look up "Pre-delegation" and just who those successors are. I don't lose much sleep over General Ripper sending the order to execute Wing Attack Plan R, but the ability to use nukes at discretion goes down somewhat lower than the Prez and SecDef.

See http://www.thelivingmoon.com/45jack_files/04images/Looking_Glass/ec-135-looking-glass.jpg and note the red box toward the center of the picture.

172:

Political waves of oligarchy tend to dry up over time, and be replaced by progressive democrats. They seem to happen roughly every fifty yearsish, I feel. IMHO, the tide has turned in the US, though there's too MUCH to undo.

So, this wave probably have centuries left of on-off progress, dropping off as individual constitutions expire. Your democratic clock started earlier, so your "constitution"'s end will probably be sooner than American ones.

There's a tendency for constitutions to decay over centuries, and so far they've decayed to straight monarchy. Then they slowly come back.

Previous enlightenments probably include:
Minoan Cretans
Simultaneous Classical Med and Indian (both invented democracy)
Norse and Caliphate in what we call Dark Ages
I tend to feel alot of the Americas had roughly reached the classical era by 1492

This' the most inclusive wave of Enlightment ever, even if as a reluctant aftermath of decolonization, because we CAN travel the whole planet now.

So, there'll be more later, probably at least partly offplanet. Even if we nuke ourselves all out, there'll still be spots missed by the war, especially as the number of warheads is way down already and clearly trending down.

173:

Yeah, what Tacitus and Juvenal said. Trouble is, they were saying it centuries before the Empire actually fell.

174:

commenter-with-messed-up-google-ID writes:
I'm afraid your comment shows little understanding of how nuclear weapons are controlled in the US and the general threat to the world of nuclear weapons. "The military" does not decide when or how to use nukes; the National Command Authority (NCA-POTUS and his successors) does. The process is shot through with double-checks and failsafes up and down the line. Any fiction you've read about a rogue general using a nuke is just that - fiction.

*cough* PAL code 0-0-0-0 *cough*

It was the 1980s before THAT was fixed. And the 90s before PAL-B was completely retired...

175:

The funny thing with Rome is, the problems were showing even before it became an empire. but then, it could expand into new territories, get new provinces, money and slaves. And then this ended.

Problem with the Roman Empire is, there is not one reason it went down, but many.

And like with the Late Bronze age collapse, the one you talk about says more about you than the event; there is a trade deficit, Rome imported luxury items from the East, but it didn't export that much, there is an inflation, where the Austrian school guys have spontaneous ejaculations, there is cheap immigrant labor, AKA slaves...

176:

its amazing that the US went to the trouble of creating the Permissive Action Link system - when the hi-tech device needed to arm a RAF nuclear bomb...was an Allen key ;-)

The number of platforms and launch systems capable of delivering a nuke is thankfully much reduced, in the US case, fewer than 400 Minuteman IIIs, 224 Trident D5 [288 if you include the "British" deterrent] and some B-52s, B-1Bs and B-2s - and the B-1Bs and B-2s are reaching the end of their maintenance-heavy and ridiculously expensive service lives with no replacements in sight.

The Russian nuclear arsenal is less viable still - and "probably" only capable of wreaking the kind of destruction the USSR was capable of in 1964-69.

China has DF-21, DF-31 ICBMs, and JL-2 SLBMs but probably >150 of them.

The French and Israelis have even smaller numbers of launch systems, in the case of France mostly SLBMs

A US-Russian nuclear exchange would be absolutely catastrophic, but a catastrophe mankind in some form could recover from - much unlike a nuclear war in 1980, or 1990.

177:

You *might* be able to get an augmented reality running over wireless, but it's likely going to be very jerky with lots of pixel dropout when you most need them for that action adventure sequence you're participating in. ;-) Sorry, I think you'll always be tied to a fiber if you really want augmented reality...

Some parts will go over fiber, but the last kilometer to your glasses had better be wireless. I don't see plug-in cables catching on for augmented reality.

Luckily, the bandwidth problems aren't nearly as bad as you imagine - or rather, they don't have to be. Between on-board caching and efficient design, the moment-to-moment realtime data transfers can be pretty small most of the time. Unless something changes in your view without warning, the system should be able to manage this with fairly moderate data speeds per user. (If you've looked under the hood, think Active Worlds architecture rather than Second Life architecture.) The whole plan may bog down again when you get lots of users trying to share one cell of the AR network, the way stadium crowds overwhelm the mobile phone network; people are batting around various schemes to address this and looking for the least bad answer.

178:

On the wireless front - keep in mind that fiber optic data transmision is "wireless" - it's a waveguide, working on photons. It's entirely possible to - over short distances - do away with the waveguide. Stick a LED beacon in the room, have a directional sensor aimed at it, voila - you can usually transmit data as fast as you can cycle the LED. Multiply by (surface area of room divided by resolution limit of the sensors) times number of wavelengths you can discretely generate across visible and NIR (at least).

Those numbers are "a lot"...

179:

My bad, Fatal. By "augmented reality" I thought you meant getting into a Jaron Lanier sensory suit and twerking on the holodecks. I didn't realize that the term augmented reality had been scaled down from total immersion to a pair of spectacles -- another example of our civilization in decline -- we dream of holodecks and we get rose-colored specs, instead ;-).

Granted there's scads of bandwidth for the amount of data that Google Glasses could consume, but now it's time for me to wag my senior engineer finger at you... You wrote: Finally no reason why you can't use multiple frequencies simultaneously there are already wireless routers that do that. Yes, you can use multiple frequencies, but if everyone else in the vicinity is also using those multiple frequencies, you're screwed. There really is only a finite amount of the radio spectrum that's available for practical purposes. The spectrum below 20MHz isn't very efficient for data through-put, and the spectrum above 80MHz is not only already allocated, but it would it require higher rates of power consumption -- that would make it unsuitable for mobile devices.

180:

My bad, Fatal. By "augmented reality" I thought you meant getting into a Jaron Lanier sensory suit and twerking on the holodecks.

Ah, no; the immersive holodeck experience is something else. (You might want to read up on what the phrase "augmented reality" is generally held to mean; it's not synonymous with any of the virtual reality types you've probably been seeing for years.) But don't write that off, either; Microsoft has already patented an adaptive TV projection system to do that. It's not on the market yet, but the scheme seems to be to scan the room, model it internally, and watch the viewer via an attached Kinect system; the computer works out the distortions appropriate to the viewer and projects a picture which, wrapped around all the crap in your room, gets folded into the right shape to be seen correctly from exactly where you are.

A few promotional images of this have been released and they're...okay. You'll never mistake it for reality and your TV has better color balance and resolution. But as a first-generation, almost-customer-ready holodeck it's not bad.

There's no word yet on what kind of bandwidth networked applications for this might suck up, but we'll manage, and this one can run over fiber.

181:

von hicthofen @ 176
What about religious loonies nuking Tel Aviv, though?

Or is this one of the forbidden attractors?

182:

For a home AR system you don't need the bandwidth. You can leave the bulk of the data of the "world" being projected on a server in the house. The server woul d be more advanced version, beefier of the Xbox, if you want to talk MS. But there are a lot of possible alternatives to an MS based AR game.

183:

Of course getting an Allen key from the QM stores probably required half a ton of paperwork.

..and if you arm it in error, it's your job to pick up all the ball bearings and put them back in.

184:

"Minoan Cretans"

- whose civilization never recovered from the volcanic explosion of the island of Santorini.

Should the Yellowstone Caldera supervolcano ever do the same to American civilization, we can expect to read a 1,000 years hence stories about the mythical "Lost Continent of America".

185:

its amazing that the US went to the trouble of creating the Permissive Action Link system - when the hi-tech device needed to arm a RAF nuclear bomb...was an Allen key ;-)

American management tends to like complicated, expensive solutions. For example, the US space program spent millions designing a pen that would write in microgravity; the USSR used pencils. The US semiconductor industry developed sophisticated stepper motors to control crystal growth; the Japanese used a bucket with a hole in it.

In my own career, I've had times when management pushed back against an elegant solution to a problem because it just didn't seem sciencey enough to brag about to their own bosses.

187:

Whoops. My bad.

188:

which religious loonies? did you have any specific ones in mind?

the Israelis as we know, are not renowned for their forgiving nature ;-)

189:

The Archdruid just put up a good post on the ideological aspects of progress.

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-sound-of-gravediggers.html

He's an intelligent and well-read fellow, even if his religious/spiritual ideas are not something I agree with.

190:

"In our case, America is the new Rome" Maybe. But I notice that US influence in South and Central America is countered by the influence of Cuba and Venezuela.

And an increasing percentage of American business is owned by Canadians (the major interstate bus company for one), and Mexicans. Not to mention various other non-Americans.

My theory: There can't be a lone superpower in today's world. There has to be an opposing superpower.

Toynbee: Check his 1950's predictions about the future. He got a fair number of things wrong.

191:

1950s TV: I've just been rereading an anthropological study of an area in New Mexico, done from 1949 to 1955.

There were six TV sets in that area. It wasn't exactly the most urbanized part of the state; but I suspect that area has a good many more TV sets now. And more than one TV station.

192:

Re, Long Distance Transport of Perishables (#80), this definitely was a major factor in the 19th century, maybe the US followed a slightly different trajectory from the UK; It was one of the "Features" of the development of Chicago and the Packing Plants, Live Cows/Pigs came in, and products and frozen/fresh meat left; All in Ice (not Mechanical) refrigerated rail cars. The Ice Hatches to add more (Mechaically Produced?) Ice at the ends are a feature of late 19th century Refrigerated cars. Also used to ship "Fresh" fruit and vegetable from California to the markets on the East Coast.

Recently (Thirty Years) there have been major changes in the Meat Processing Paradigm in the US, both Consolidation (Tyson Chicken, another cheap employer here in NW Arkansas) is kind of the WalMart of Protein; Not quite Soylent Green level, but working on it.

There has also been a transformation in the product distributed. It used to be your local Butcher or Supermarket would buy half a carcas (Beef) at a time, and trim/cut to order. A few still do, but get rid of that pesky unionized labor force, they closed the plants in Chicago, Milwaukee, etc, and moved them out to rural Iowa, Nebraska, etc. (Does "Iowa Beef Processors" (IBP) have a wikipedia entry that isn't captive of the plutocrats?); Using Cheap (Illegal/undocumented) labor, they now ship mostly Finished, already pacakged for retail sale product, what you find in the "Meat" section at WalMart.

There is a tale ("The Bully of Bentonville"?) about how when the Butchers at (One) walmart Unionized, well, they got rid of their postions.... In the entire CHAIN.

So there was a ready market (outlet) for the IBP Product.

Who cares if some Horsemeat or Salmonella occasionally shows up in the food supply. There are still Boutique (real) butchers, etc for the 1%.

Also, when was the first shipment of Frozen Meat from Australia to the UK?

193:

Von hichtofen @ 188
The "Iranians" (or rather their loopy guvmint)
As opposed to the fairly horrible guvmint the Israelis have at the moment, that is.

Sasquatch @ 192
IIRC it was NZ sheep ... and from Dunedin (the NZ one, not the one where Charlie lives!) in 1882.

194:

Don't know about the UK but the first shipment of frozen meat from Argentina to France was in 1876, aboard a ship made for that purpose, the Frigorifique.

http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Tellier

Another French ship, the Paraguay, (built by a competitor) also entered the "cheap meat transport" fray nearly at the same time.

195:

The questioner specifically said Australia, but I think NZ was first, but Argentina would have started before that - shorter, less hazardous jouney ....

196:

But I notice that US influence in South and Central America is countered by the influence of Cuba and Venezuela

It is a complicated relationship. Due to the tar like nature of Venezuela oil the export markets is limited. And the US still buy 65% of V's oil exports. Which is likely the single biggest funding source for the government.

197:

The ship was named "Dunedin". A sailing clipper with an added steam engine for the refrigeration. And, yes, she loaded her cargo at Dunedin NZ.

The first Australian shipment of frozen meat was in 1879, aboard the "Strathleven". An earlier attempt in 1876 failed because of a machinery breakdown.

Ice-cooled railroad trucks date back to 1851 in the USA.

198:

Ice-cooled railroad trucks date back to 1851 in the USA.

The was an ice house industry that only lasted for a few decades that specialized in "harvesting" ice from frozen lakes and ponds at strategic locations roughly from Chicago to NYC for the railroads to use in reloading as the meat car ice thawed or was unloaded for local distribution.

199:

That industry isn't new. I think even the Romans harvested ice...

That said, I think we have to distinguish between keeping things cold in insulated rooms or boxes with ice, and powered cooling technology, which is much more recent.

200:

I think the key point was that the ice harvesting was associated with the rail route.

Mechanical large-scale ice making supplanted it, but the technology for mechanical refrigeration wasn't portable at the level of the railroad truck. Grimsby, one of the major British fishing ports, had its Ice Factory which produced ice for the deep-water trawlers, to keep the fish in good condition for the voyage home. I don't know just when that was replaced by refrigerators on trawlers, but apparently the factory was built in 1901, switched from steam to electricity in 1933, and closed in 1990. I'm a little sceptical about that last date. It's often quoted but it coincides with a change in port ownership.

202:

So what was the Ice House on Victor Street?

It's a "Christian Centre" now, and looks rather post-war industrial in style. a concrete frame with brick infill. Were there two ice factories? There seems to be a certain confusion: the ice factory on the Docks seems to get called the Ice House sometimes.

I have a vague memory of going past it when I had driving lessons, mumble years ago. Cleethorpes Road looks to have changed a lot.

203:

But weren't there Republics before? There were republics in Renaissance Italy and the classical world as well. Many barbarian types that haven't developed advanced concepts in BS, such as Divine Right of Kings, have had many different kinds of organization, including voting. What happened in the enlightenment wasn't a revolution against something that had been eternal, but against a con game that has been imposed, in it's relatively most virulent form, relatively recently. There have always been power struggles and experimental systems, but the modern state of revolution is about having a whole theoretical basis worked out for it, in reaction to the monarchists having worked out a theoretical basis for what they wanted to do, which they needed to do when they centralized against the nobles and in light of all that theology. So, its permanent in the way that all useful ideas are permanent.

204:

I'm only a recent resident of Grimsby - and not even Grimsby, but its rural hinterlands - but the Ice House and Ice Factory are two separate buildings, of that I'm certain

http://lds.localdataimages.com/large/1225/12251348.jpg

is on Victor Street, and

the actual Ice Factory is on the docks

http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/49450000/jpg/_49450712_lincolnshire,_grimsby,_the_ice_factory-1.jpg

at Gorton street, full details here

http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-479276-the-grimsby-ice-factory-including-railin

[more than you could ever want to know, in fact]

you sound like you know Grimsby well - you called it Cleethorpe Road for a start!

205:

As I said, I had driving lessons in the town, a long time ago. The A180 didn't exist back then. Nor the A16 Peaks Parkway: that was still obviously an old railway, with assorted level crossings and underpasses. The A16 ran up Scartho Road in those days.

I was having a look at the Streetview images, and Freeman Street is looking pretty rough these days. The images are dated October 2012, and obviously after normal opening hours, but far too many of the shuttered shops have no sign above the shutter. And the cinema has gone.

I cannot find any of the cinemas in Grimsby or Cleethorpes which I remember. One or two buildings have been re-purposed. One on Kent Street, very anonymous, and one in Cleethorpes that looks to be some sort of club. Others have just vanished.

There were, I think, three of them still running when I was learning to drive.

206:

I purposely kept this response simple so that I was certain I wasn't saying things I shouldn't. With over 30 years in the US Department of Defense, both in and out of uniform, I try to be careful what I say in public fora. This Wikipedia entry has a short but seemingly accurate description of NCA: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Command_Authority

207:

Lots has changed in Grimsby - once upon a time, according to a taxi-driver/local historian there was once sixteen cinemas in Grimsby, and the ones in Freeman street and Kent street are long gone, mid nineties and mid seventies respectively.

Now there is only one, and it's in Cleethorpes...

http://commondatastorage.googleapis.com/static.panoramio.com/photos/original/58181691.jpg

...but its an improvement on what was there before - and now only the clientele are dirty or unpleasant!

I think the Kent Street one is where I saw Bambi, when I was three

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2355/2324010684_34f8ec93ee.jpg

Freeman street has been in continual decline since the advent of the Freshney Place shopping development, and is now mostly occupied by charity shops. There used to be five second-hand bookshops, a second-hand record shop there - all gone.

The ABC cinema on Grimsby road, Cleethorpes burnt down in 1985 and a drive-through McDonalds occupies the site. The Empire Theatre became a bingo hall, and is now and amusement arcade.

Modern commerce has destroyed much of what made Grimsby and Cleethorpes interesting, as it has many other small towns.

208:

When I was roaming Grimsby, trying to pass driving tests, Freshney Place was about half the size it is now. Back then it was the Riverhead Centre, and very roughly just the section nearest Victoria Street. The road ran through at the back of those shops, across the current bus station, and onto Victoria Street, past the junction with Pasture Street.

The car parks for the Riverhead were between that road and the water. I think there were pedestrian subways.

I think I might be horribly confused if I tried to drive through now.

Incidentally, it's a good example of the limits of Streetview. There were public rights of way through the Riverhead Centre, all gone now. Part of Victoria Street is pedestrianised. There's a black hole in the available geography.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on March 23, 2013 8:05 PM.

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