Looking Back From 2057
Well, its been an exciting century for me starting with the launch of the Russian satellite, Sputnik in 1957 and ending with the first space elevator on my 100th birthday in 2057. Its also been a sad and depressing time too with various wars and conflicts over oil and minerals but it all worked out for us all in the end.
The really frustrating thing is we could have done much of this years ago and saved our selves so much grief, but we didn't partly because we didn't know how, but mostly because of greed, self-interest and an astonishing lack of vision.
We have lost many things but gained so much more in return. Gone are many of the huge corporations, either they became victims of "hallucinated wealth" or simply out-manoeuvred by many smaller, more nimble companies as predicted by The Cluetrain Manifesto and Dingoes and Lions.
Like many industries, the music industry had to die before it could be re-born. Lets face it, any organisation that sees its own customers as potential criminals is definitely on the way out. In those days, music and movies were distributed on plastic discs (called CDs or DVDs) and billions were spent on preventing people from doing what they did naturally - sharing.
Various methods were tried to prevent this, DRM (Digital Rights Management) was the most obnoxious partly because it prevented people from making copies (to use in their other players) but mostly because it "locked out" competitors.
The result was that :-
There was a brief flirtation with high capacity disks like "Blue Ray" and "HD DVD" but the public got so tired of paying vast sums on new, incompatible formats that they either stuck with the original DVD format or just downloaded everything from the Internet.
- Most people ended up with unplayable disks due to incompatible DRM systems or companies going out of business.
- The "pirates" removed any copy prevention and made the music tracks available on the original Internet.
- People found it much easier to download from the "pirates" than to buy a "legal" disk and run the risk that it would be unplayable.
- The music industry got more desperate and aggressive until they were sued out of existence by their top performers, who had grown tired of the negative publicity and had found a much better way to distributed and promote their music - the Internet.
These days not only is it legal, its encouraged. You can copy any piece of music, video or literature to anyone or any device. As soon as you have listened or viewed 75% of it, the author gets a one-off micro-payment automatically.
In fact many artists gave much of their work away for free knowing that if it was good enough it would be copied millions of times and they would become household names very quickly. Another advantage of giving your work away was that you could attach contact and gig details to each track so every time you had a concert/gig/etc all your fans were informed automatically.
The movie industry was also on the endangered list but saw what was coming just in time. Even so, its still a fraction of its original size. Gone are the great actors and actresses (replaced with virtual actors), gone are the studios (replaced with virtual studios) and gone are fixed 'story lines'. In those days a "movie" was just a fixed sequence of images played one after the other very fast, you couldn't alter the story line, change the characters or view each scene from different viewpoints like you can now. The main driver for all of this was the game industry, they had been doing this kind of thing for years.
The way we watched things radically altered when huge, flexible video displays became cheap enough to be used as wallpaper. These were bright enough to replace lights too. Many people used one wall to watch programs and the others to display virtual, swimming fish as a form of relaxation (Bit like the early screen-savers).
The original Internet was classed as "disruptive technology" because it enabled the human race to communicate across the world in so many different ways much to the annoyance of the media who preferred to keep information artificially scarce, expensive and manipulatable.
Things really got interesting when Internet3 came on-line. This new network was a mix of the older Internet2 and NASA's revamped deep space network. Not only could you communicate with anyone or thing on planet Earth, you could reach people on the many orbiting space platforms, the Moon bases, the Mars base and any other planet in our solar system.
For quite a long time, electricity was generated solely by "Power Stations" from either Oil, Gas, Coal, Nuclear Fission (later by Nuclear Fusion), Solar and Wind/Wave turbines. As you can imagine, these were huge, dirty, expensive and inefficient.
The power was distributed along cables strung between huge metal towers called "pylons" to all parts of the country. It was transmitted at a very high voltage but stepped down to around 100 ~ 240 volts AC. Most buildings had some kind of "mains" supply connected to several power outlets (or sockets) that you could connect various appliances to.
The main problem with this system was that power-cuts were frequent and when they happened, entire cities were plunged into darkness. Another problem was that AC power is very hard to store in any useful quantity making unexpected demand surges expensive to deal with.
Shortages of fossil fuels like oil or gas started to cause huge problems in 2008. Many of the poorer countries suffered power cuts for weeks on end because they were unable to afford the ever increasing oil prices. As the power generating companies went bankrupt, people took things into their own hands by installing solar panels or wind turbines on their properties.
These days, all buildings are energy self-sufficient and come complete with solar tiles, mini-wind generators and storage batteries. Most electronic equipment runs directly from the batteries which are in turn charged from the sun, wind, fuel-cells or any other available power source.
These days, the basic essentials of life are free like water, certain foods and shelter. This was just a another extension UK's NHS (National Health Service) where treatment was free at the point of need but paid for by everyone. When this was first introduced many people tried to live for free but soon got bored of drinking water, eating the same boring food and being unable to go anywhere or do anything interesting. Another side effect was another huge layer of bureaucracy was removed.
Another change was tax. In the old days huge numbers of "tax inspectors" were needed to collect a tax from everyone. These days its automatic, you get paid, your credit is updated and the state gets a small percentage.
A major change was the accountability of corporations. The laws of the time assigned the same rights to a corporation as to an individual. The problem was that the character of many corporations could be described as greedy, paranoid and psychopathic. It was the early Internet that made exposing these much easier and faster. After a few high profile "melt downs", many of the more "psychopathic" corporations where given the same treatment as an individual would have got.
The way companies are run has changed a lot too. In the bad old days, companies would grow and grow until they imploded under their own weight. These days things are more dynamic, some companies form to produce a one-off product and dissolve soon after. Many behave like 'cells', when they reach a certain size, they divide into separate entities. This kept them very lean and competitive, and most importantly - fun.
Things are much simpler these days too. Walk into shop. Look in special mirror and see your self in a selection of clothes as if you were wearing them. Real-time 3D digitising and overlays. No need to be measured, the 3D digitiser captured all your measurements and feed them to the machine that would make your clothes.
Law and Order
Crime, though still present, has been much reduced. It all started in 2009 when a woman was burgled but found the burglar by searching through real-time satellite images of her house via an Internet sat-map service. It was simple to find an image of her house at the time the burglar entered and follow him back to his flat half a mile away. She presented the images to the local police force who "nicked" him.
Another form of crime called "shoplifting" also disappeared when tiny tracking devices called "RFID" were built into every sellable item. To purchase all you had to do was pick up the item at a shop and walk out. As soon as you walked through the shop door, your credit card was automatically debited by the cost of the item. Anyone daft enough to do this with an "empty" credit card was tracked by the RFID in the item and dealt with.
Biometrics also played a part as many things (like cars, computers) would not work with any unauthorised person so stealing them was pointless unless you could get round the biometric security system which was expensive.
Micro MRI scanners (as used in hospitals) make police work so easy now. Round up the suspects for questioning and the scanner will soon know who is lying based on their brain patterns.
With an ever expanding population complicated by people living longer the only way was up. It started with things like the International Space Station but when space travel got cheaper huge multi-purpose space platforms were constructed. These originally housed engineers and scientists but soon grew when more modules were added like space telescopes, factories, hospitals and even hotels.
These days, space travel is routine. Many people go into space to visit friends living on the space platforms or take tours. I went up a couple of years back to watch a space probe being assembled and launched to study some primitive life on Jupiter's moon, Europa. I saw two people recover an old communications satellite. No one uses those any more - the space platforms do that job too. I also had a quick look at the telescope control room and spent the night in the hotel. Its a weird experience when you move from the outer ring were most of the people live and work (normal gravity), past the middle ring where the hospice / hospital / research areas, to the hub were most of the equipment is (no gravity).
Some people choose to spend their last days (and cash) in space, the cash helped fund space development along with some medical research. A lot of disabled people also worked in space too, no need for functional legs (or a wheel chair) when you worked in zero G.
The long awaited "Space Elevator" is nearly operational now. It took years to find a material that could be stretched 62,000 miles and withstand continuous lightning strikes. There are hundreds of companies bidding to build the huge platforms that will be anchored at strategic locations along its length. At the end they fixed an asteroid to keep the whole structure taut. I heard they were going to put a centrifugal launch platform there too.
For the very first time, the human race had some useful control over the weather. The space platforms had a continuous read-out of the global weather condition. This data was feed to super computers which in turn controlled huge space mirrors. If the gulf stream started to slow, just reflect some of the Sun's energy to that point to help the evaporation process. If there was a hurricane brewing near the American coast, the computers would angle the mirrors to gently heat the surrounding areas and disrupt the hurricane creation process. By subtly heating and cooling certain strategic locations, rain could be encouraged in fall in useful places. Huge areas of desert were made habitat able by this method.
Reference and Inspiration
"The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual" by Locke, Weinberger, Searls & Levine
"Dingoes and Lions" by David Chan.
(C) 2006 Peter Blue