Charlie Stross’s keynote at the 34th Chaos Communications Congress Leipzig is entitled “Dude, you broke the Future!” and it’s an excellent, Strossian look at the future we’re barelling towards, best understood by a critical examination of the past we’ve just gone through.
Stross is very interested in what it means that today’s tech billionaires are terrified of being slaughtered by psychotic runaway AIs. Like Ted Chiang and me, Stross thinks that corporations are “slow AIs” that show what happens when we build “machines” designed to optimize for one kind of growth above all moral or ethical considerations, and that these captains of industry are projecting their fears of the businesses they nominally command onto the computers around them.
– Charlie Stross’s CCC talk: the future of psychotic AIs can be read in today’s sociopathic corporations
The talk is an hour long, and really worth watching the whole thing. I especially loved the setup explaining the process of writing believable near term science fiction. Until recently, 90% of everything that would exist in 10 years already did exist, the next 9% you could extrapolate from physical laws, and only really 1% was stuff you couldn’t image. (Stross makes the point that the current ratios are more like 80 / 15 / 5, as evidenced by brexit and related upheavals, which makes his work harder).
It matches well with Clay Shirky’s premise in Here Comes Everyone, that first goal of a formal organization is future existence, even if it’s stated first goal is something else.
It’s good to step back some times and look at the really long view. Charlie Stross just did this with his new blog post on 2512, which provides a plausible look at what that world might be. I especially like the framing, about thinking what the world was like 500 years ago:
Five hundred years is a nearly unimaginable gulf from today’s perspective. Five centuries ago, the Portuguese conquistadores were beginning their rampage through South America; Martin Luther was finishing his doctorate in theology and thinking about sin: the huge sequence of civil wars that racked Japan for over a century were raging: the Great Powers were still the Chinese empire and the Caliphate (although the latter was undergoing a shift in center of gravity towards Istanbul and the Ottoman empire). The great powers in Europe were Spain and Venice; the English speaking world was a few million barbarians occupying a handful of damp islands on the outer fringes of Europe. It’s more than twice the historical existence of the USA to this date. Of our social institutions, very few survive from that long ago: the Catholic Church (and various orders and sub-groups within it), the Japanese Monarchy, and so on. A handful of universities, banks, and other institutions. The half-life of a public corporation today is about 30 years: ten half-lives out — 300 years hence — we may expect only one in a million to survive.
The whole post is definitely worth your time, but I do keep coming back to that half life statement. We take it for granted some time that organizations that exist today will be there tomorrow. But the reality is there is nothing magical about organizations, it’s about the people. Things only get done because some decides to do them.
Contemplating the long view seems like an appropriate Sunday morning activities.