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« Could you outrun a dino? | Main | More on Malaise »

August 30, 2007


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Twenty years from now the world will still be made up of many nation-states...unless some ideology has succeeded in forcing their rule upon the rest. The infrastructure of world government, or proto-world gov't, won't be able to act that quickly.

But if we begin with the assumption that this is indeed what has transpired...

I'd much prefer a federalist system that allows for the central gov't to make the best use of our commonalities while enabling our differences to continue to be expressed at the local or regional level. This is more about culture and language than functional value add to global progress of humanity.

My fear would be that a truly centralized gov't would trend toward the oppression of the minority by the majority or the nanny state "knowing" what is best for the masses. There is more opportunity for social pressures to be relieved in the federalist system...more daily confrontation and inefficiencies, but better long-term stability??

Of course all of that is opinion or conjecture based upon second or third hand observation, but I'll stick with the good old "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

John B

Sorry, the only reasonable scenario I can see leading to a world government in that time frame is a Bostrom-esque "Scream" scenario - a small group gains nanofacture (or other balance-shattering) capability and rapidly develops highly effective monitoring and force-projection abilities at a minimum. They then use those abilities to prevent others from replicating their work or otherwise threatening their ogliopoly/monopoly - which implies at least a partial world government overseen by that small group.

IMO, there's too much racism, fanaticism & other mutual intolerances for an effective world government without one heck of a stick hanging obviously (ominously?) overhead - and given the examples splattered across the headlines every day from across the world, such a stick wouldn't get very much rest, IMO.

The 'next best' scenario would evolve from a massive societal disruption caused by implementation of a mature nanotech or other radically disruptive technology (limited- or full- access to 'immortality', AI, perhaps others). Given my admittedly pessimistic point of view of humanity, I just can't see that being anything but massively unpleasant and deadly. After said upset, it MIGHT be possible that the survivors could form a world government - but that'd be a secondary probability IMO, due to humans being more likely to set up tribes of one stripe or another. (Dr Seuss' "The Sneeches", anybody?)


John B

Oh, and a history note - 'local' versus larger-area rule also been an issue in ancient China and Japan as well, and probably in many other areas over time (Incan/Mayan empires seem likely to me, for instance.)

Of course the details of the choices in such matters have varied rather wildly, but the debate's involved that factor at least as one dimension of the disagreements.

-John B

Jamais Cascio

Both political history and social psychology strongly militate against the idea of a unified global government absent the presence of an external competing entity. Whether that entity is an alien civilization, a renegade off-world colony, or weakly-godlike post-Singularity AI that decided that space was friendlier than Palo Alto is moot; what is necessary is a reason for Earth residents to believe that surrendering sovereignty is less-costly than trying to compete with the External Entity alone.

Or, to be less confrontational on the subject, the question of federalism vs. centralization is pretty dependent upon the catalysts that make a single-world-government possible in the first place.

Tom Craver

We already have some world govern--ment, in the form of the web of treaties between nations. That web will probably get thicker and stronger and continue to have growing influence on national laws. But until it gains the power to tax and to raise an army loyal only to it, that can't really be called a government.

Government is inherently flawed as currently conceived - hierarchical, concentrating power at the top, with petty-power bureaucrats protecting their jobs and perks in the middle, and the masses at the bottom having only occasional and weak influence, when they get angry enough about something to take time out from their normal lives. The best government under that paradigm is the flattest pyramid.

But could there be a different paradigm? Maybe something based on modern ideas of "networks" rather than the primitive tribal pyramid? Maybe that's sort of what we're getting with our current treaty-based "world govern-ment" - a contractual network between nations?

Evan Martin

As humans become more connected and networked I see us as becoming more nodal (tribal?) and individualistic, not less. Privacy and individual liberty will be central issues to the next age (indeed, 'privacy' may need be redefined altogether and self-enhancement technologies will threaten those with power). Just as an organism only functions with cells performing trillions of differing functions grouped into organs, so will any global consciousness (infosphere, AI, etc.) consist of necessarily differing manifestations of culture and governance.
It is in our political, physical and spiritual benefit to have many states/nations maintaining themselves how they see fit and each other co-operatively though free markets and the principle of not polluting the ecosystems, which we share.
A one-world government is utterly ridiculous to contemplate seriously unless we genetically engineer a few people to be as selfless as Buddha, smart as Descartes and as just as Jefferson to rule over everybody else as Pharoes. But, you know, I bet humans would still rather live free.

Vote RON PAUL in 2008!
"The internet's best friend."

Dale Carrico

World government already exists, of course, and so the relevant question is only whether or not that global governance should be democratized, whether or not people should actually have more of a say in the public decisions that affect them -- even when those public decisions are presently being made by corporations and militarist state actors. I'll cheerfully admit that I endorse radical democratization of already-existing globe-girdling decision making, which at present is driven mostly by the perceived interests of incumbent elites. But I can't predict whether or not the movements working toward this democratization (Green, social justice, anti-neoliberal, copyfight, p2p movements, etc) will actually succeed in overturning corporate-militarist global hegemony since the forces arrayed against them are so enormous, entrenched, and ruthless.

I will predict that every single tiny baby step in the direction of such democratization will be decried robotically by the good folks at the Heritage Foundation as a harbinger of Big Brother, however. These uncritical reactions and cynical distractions derive, I'm afraid, from a profoundly mistaken understanding of actually-existing government as an overbearing, monolithic, always-only coercive cartoonishly kingly figure, when practices and forms of actual governance have been growing for centuries -- see Michel Foucault -- ever more institutionally multilateral rather than centralized, administrative rather than dictatorial, and selectively facilitative rather than spectacularly oppressive (and all this is even true in awful eras in which atavistic right-wing notions of a rather embarrassingly kingly "Unitary Executive" capture the imagination and co-ordinate the conduct of so much of this institutional landscape, so much the worse for those who have to cope with these historical moments).

Nanobots, automation, IDDs, longevity medicine and so on are incapable in themselves of circumventing the conceptual impasse that derives from these very basic misconceptions about what states actually are that prevail across the neoliberal, libertarian, neoconservative right wing imaginary that has dominated so much North Atlantic public discourse since 1980, and indeed until people grasp these political basics talking about politics through the lens of projected (and often rather hyperbolic) technical capacities is mostly a deranging distraction.

Democratic World Federalism is not a matter of creating a Big Bad global tyrant Great Good global angel to rule the planet. All that talk is error, mystification, and distraction. Democratic World Federalism is a matter of reforming institutions like the UN to make them more representative of and responsive to the people in whose names they deliberate, it is a matter of investing world courts with the authority to enforce global environmental, human rights, labor, wartime standards, it is a matter of subsidizing co-operative monitoring of climate change, pandemics, tsunamis, weapons trafficking, human migrations, and so on.

Michael Anissimov

Dale, the reason you consider nanotech capacities hyperbolic is because you don't even believe that MM is possible. As Chris, Mike, and many others frequently mention, MM, the technology CRN was founded to address, will confer six additional orders of magnitude miniaturization in systems that transfer energy to force and vice versa, six orders of magnitude or greater in computing power, and at least a 100-fold improvement in strength-to-weight ratios for materials. If that's not an extreme increase in technological capacity that changes all the rules, then I don't know what is.

All that said, I think global federalism is great, and would welcome it at any time. I agree that many people look at governments as cartoonish kingly figures, and this is silly. But why do you write hundreds of pages of politically motivated material but yet don't even read the simple introductory papers on MM at this site and comment on them? Why don't you ever post at your blog on whether you believe MM is possible or not, and if so, in what timeframe?

Dale Carrico

"Dale, the reason you consider nanotech capacities hyperbolic is because you don't even believe that MM is possible."

Michael, why respond to words you put in my mouth yourself rather than things I say myself? It's true that I am not content to confine my thinking of emerging problems and opportunities associated with nanoscale technique always only to the very particular scenario Superlative Technologists have come to invest in Drexlerian molecular manufacturing. It's also true that I do not confine my discussion of that particular Superlative Technology Discourse always only to discussions of engineering its partisans have come to deem plausible, but focus on social, cultural, political, and rhetorical dimensions of that discourse more related to my own area of study. Neither of those actually true statements are properly or interestingly equated in my opinion with your characterization that I "don't believe that MM is possible." To be blunt, you are as wrong as you can be. The reason I don't post regular reassurances to readers of my blog that the one characterization of nanoscale technique that preoccupies your own attention is logically possible and then predict its relatively immenent arrival is because that isn't an interesting way of talking in my opinion, and because, to be perfectly frank, I think that sort of talk feeds an enormous amount of irrational delusive careless and damaging thinking. And besides that, of course, I know that even without me on hand to indulge in the talk you seem to crave from me there are plenty of online futurists who are more than happy to endlessly make promises they can't keep and confuse this sort of handwaving for "serious" technodevelopmental policy analysis.

Michael Anissimov

Dale, thanks for your response. First a quick word on terminology. I'm not sure "Superlative Technophiliac" describes me or others like me because our support for technology is not at all unconditional. For instance, I am extremely concerned about the social, cultural, and political effects of Drexlerian MM, and believe they could be profoundly negative just as easily as positive, if insufficient regulations are implemented. (I agree with you politically in that if profit motives are given free reign in the MNT era, we may find ourselves in a bad place.)

"Superlative Technologist", I guess so (but so are Drexler, Phoenix, and Treder, and most all transhumanists), but "Superlative Technophiliac", no. For a little more on this, see Technology: Four Possible Stances.

The CRN blog, and CRN literature in general, contains "regular reassurances" that MNT is possible and coming soon ("almost certainly before 2020"). In fact I am even *less* "Technologically Superlative" than CRN in that I think MNT could arrive after 2020 (but not by much) rather than before. Anyway, because Drexlerian MM "preoccupies the attention" of myself, CRN, and the Foresight Institute, we are all "feeding an enormous amount of irrational delusive careless and damaging thinking" according to you, which is too bad.

I don't crave any talk from you (although I don't particularly mind it), I just find it oddly fascinating that someone who doesn't believe that technology can cause extreme, sweeping, transformative change ("Superlative" in your rhetoric) obviously identifies with a community that does. You stick out like a sore thumb on the CRN blog, where proclamations of the extreme impact and near-term urgency of Drexlerian MNT are routine. I find it odd that you respect CRN but decry me, when most of what I write on MNT is just a slightly modified echoing of CRN's official viewpoints.

Solutions to poverty, neglected disease and militarism will require a *combination* of political and technological solutions. Without DDT, we couldn't combat malaria effectively. Without contraceptives, we couldn't combat unwanted pregnancies. I do not believe that MNT alone would solve these problems, but it would go a loooong way to making it possible. (You can't blame money as an excuse when the cost of products is the cost of the raw materials.)

Although I am a Singularitarian and Immortalist, my writings on MNT and nanotechnology are usual separate from writings on the former. This is because it's usually easier to introduce one radical idea at a time than several all at once.

You write,

"It's true that I am not content to confine my thinking of emerging problems and opportunities associated with nanoscale technique always only to the very particular scenario Superlative Technologists have come to invest in Drexlerian molecular manufacturing."

This is the very particular scenario that CRN promulgates. Self-replicating nanofactories, diamondoid weaponry, powerful engines that occupy cubic centimeters, 100-times-stronger materials, you name it. One either accepts the possibility or not, and in your case, it seems you don't. This doesn't mean that you're a bad person or deluded, just that I find it odd that you recommend the materials at CRN that are obviously so "Superlative".


Dale Carrico


Concerning the "Four Possible Stances" delineated in the text you mention, I happen to consider all four stances offered there rather unserious. That is because they seem to me to reduce actual technodevelopmental complexity and dynamism to a monolith. Worse, they seem to go on to invest that monolith with a kind of intentionality and agency. This gesture is all the more worrisome since it seems (as happens so often among Superlative Technocentrics) to go hand in hand with "neutral" (so-called), "autonomous," "apolitical" views of technodevelopmental change that would diminish the agency (or at any rate our awareness of and responsiveness to the agency) of the actually-existing actors on that terrain: the people who collectively research, study, invest, invent, test, publish, edit, teach, criticize, regulate, facilitate, promote, distribute, appropriate technoscientific outcomes. As it happens, none of the -- presumably "only" -- "four possible stances" offered up in the recommended formulation describes my own position and, hence, I daresay the title of your friend's post may need revision.

"[Transhumanists] are all 'feeding an enormous amount of irrational delusive careless and damaging thinking' according to you, which is too bad."

I say this very thing on a regular basis and have done for years. It isn't an ad hominem insult but a conclusion supported by reasons (which, as you know, I regularly reiterate in my writing). In a nutshell, I distinguish two broad perspectives on technodevelopmental politics (surely there are more, but these are the two that preoccupy me in such discussions for now). First, some people assume a sub(cult)ural perspective on technodevelopmental politics, that is to say, they assume an identity politics frame directing itself to the implementation of particular concrete futural scenarios with which they personally identify. I distinguish this sub(cult)ural perspective from technoprogressive perspectives that assume instead a democratizing frame devoted to what Jamais Cascio would describe as "open futures," and the substance of which demands, in my view, social struggle directing itself to the safest, fairest, most consensual, most democratically responsive distribution of technodevelopmental risks, costs, and benefits possible. There is, it seems to me, an undue linearity, elitism, and utopianism that sub(cult)ural perspectives lend themselves to, and I would suggest that sub(cult)ural technocentricity is the likeliest political (a better word might be depoliticizing) expression of Superlativity. (That's a lot of jargon, but many long critiques are being telescoped here in a rather breezy way since this is a conversation that Michael and I have been having a long time by now.)

I just find it oddly fascinating that someone who doesn't believe that technology can cause extreme, sweeping, transformative change ("Superlative" in your rhetoric) obviously identifies with a community that does.

That overgeneralization ("radical change is likely") is, of course, not what I mean by the term "Superlative" in my own (oft-delineated) usage. Superlativity is a focus on an idealized farther-future over futures emerging from and shaped by proximate problems and ongoing problem-solving. It also tends to be a discourse invested with hyperbolizing and transcendentalizing significances of a kind once associated primarily with religious worldviews and still vulnerable to appropriation by social formations with the trappings of authoritarian religiosity (like cults). To the extent that Superlativity solicits personal identification with rather than deliberation over particular futural scenarios (and this is very regularly the case in my view) it seems to be attractive to certain socially marginalized (many of them especially vulnerable to True Belief) and explicitly anti-social (among them, market fundamentalists and technocratic elitists) personalities. I find this very interesting.

It is abundantly clear from my writings that I consider technodevelopmental social struggle enormously sweeping and transformative in many of its historical and current and likely formations (an observation in any case so obvious that it hardly even qualifies as an insight in my view), contrary to your impression, gleaned who knows how from who knows what writings of mine. And you can trust me when I say that I don't identify with "transhumanists" in the least (even if I count a few among my friends and colleagues), however "obviously" it might seem to you that I really truly must do so, presumably just because I happen to take you guys seriously enough to worry about the impact you have on technodevelopmental policy language, efforts at education and organizing, and so on.

The point of saying this sort of thing is not to indulge in facile name-calling, however much folks who feel targeted by these critiques may wish to dismiss them as such, but to undermine tendencies to Superlativity that seem to me to inhere in technocentricity (any social worldview defined by a focus on technodevelopmental questions) at a time when technocentricity is demanded of serious progressives in a changed and changing world. I say these things to transhumanists and other futurists in particular, by the way, precisely because I think many of them are quite open to these critiques, would benefit from them, and once enlightened would make better technoprogressive allies. I should have thought all that would be obvious by now.

Solutions to poverty, neglected disease and militarism will require a *combination* of political and technological solutions.

The "technological solutions" are already available to eliminate poverty (and in any case technical problem solving is already ineradicably political), and the barriers to its use to serve such ends are indeed profoundly political questions of laziness, greed, short-sightedness, parochialism, and ruthless incumbency. New technologies will not alter that basic state of affairs one bit. Technodevelopmental outcomes express politics, they don't circumvent them. Until my Superlative Technocentric interlocutors grasp and come to terms with such basic propositions it is, I fear, rather difficult to take them very seriously for very long.

One either accepts the possibility [of MM in the Drexlerian construal] or not, and in your case, it seems you don't.

That particular logical alternative is not one I invest with much in the way of significance, personally. Is the particular scenario that preoccupies your attention here logically possible, or at any rate not logically disallowed -- as it certainly is, for now, practically unavailable -- given our present knowledge?

Sure. To be a wee bit provocative here: So what?

There are a bazillion equally logically possible outcomes that seem to me as or more likely as this one, at the level of detail where life is actually lived and will continue to be. And I am, in any case (as a rhetorician and technocritical theorist by trade, recall) far more interested personally in the fascinating displays of loose argumentation, the surrogate commentaries on contemporary circumstances, the symptoms of social alienation, collective wish fulfillment, authoritarian religiosity, and so on that tend to freight Superlative Technology discourses, than I could possibly be interested in making promises I can't keep or listening to others make such promises where technodevelopmental outcomes are concerned.

I find it odd that you recommend the materials at CRN that are obviously so "Superlative".

I see more in the materials at CRN than you seem to do. For all I know Mike and Chris wouldn't agree with me about the texts of theirs and the discussions they have faciliated that seem to me to be the most valuable ones. Certainly, I don't agree that everything of interest discussed at CRN is properly identified with Superlativity in my sense of the term, even if some of it is (as some of my own writing could no doubt justly be criticized for as well). I find the things Mike and Chris write about quite interesting on a regular basis, but it may be that I simply skip right past some discussions out of complete lack of interest which are the very passages that for you define the spirit of the place altogether. Different things interest different people, this is nothing odd in the least but, to the contrary, surely an obvious commonplace.

Ted Stalets

It's 2027, and the structure for the first-ever system of world governance has been a work in progress for 2 decades. We have a pretty good system of world law, and a powerful global constitution which the world had voted on and approved years ago.

Back in 2007, we already had at our disposal the tools to initiate a democratic global governance. We had a political tool - a global referendum - which we used to get an assessment of the wishes of the global human community. We had a technological tool in the form of the Internet - to quantify those wishes. And along with national elections (and some instances of e-voting) we elected a global governing body - responsible to the people of the planet.

This governing body helped to establish a legal system which was also based on the wishes of the human community, in concert with existing supranational organizations at that time - like the World Bank, etc.

Through the earlier part of the 21st century, we had taken bold steps toward global issues such as climate change, pollution, and importantly - national and non-government military aggression. Yes - it is a different world in 2027 - for even terrorist organizations now have the privilege of sitting down and outlining their positions within a framework of world law. We have learned many things in these last 20 years - and we hold one learning above all others... Just because you disagree with another human - you have no legal right to harm that person. War was banned through the passing of our global constitution several years prior.

The two great powers at the beginning of the 21st century were 1) the United States and 2) global public opinion. As times got more dangerous, global public opinion demanded a world response to world issues - and a natural democratic world government evolved. Elections around the world were held as several hundred members of a new global parliament took their positions within a new supranational governance/service to the world.

These world public servants gave up a piece of themselves as well - subjecting themselves to totally open correspondence during their work day - with technology transcribing all written and verbal communications and immediately pushing this out to "watchdog" organizations and any other interested parties - via the Internet - in most all languages. We had developed a new model of government - one of complete transparency - as a means of stifling political corruption.

Indeed, this new sort of "totally open/transparent" governance has started to trickle down to lower levels of government - the nation state, the state, and the municipal levels. Governance has gotten "clean" through the help of communications technologies and the Internet.

Looking back from 2027, we see that the political process has been a bottom-up process - primarily due to the democratizing powers of the Internet. There is much gratitude around the planet for having achieved this socio-political evolution - for we knew well and good that any sort of "big brother" government would have smashed our hopes for world democracy - and with it - our individual freedoms.

In 2027, the future looks cautious, but bright.

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