23C3 - 1.5

23rd Chaos Communication Congress
Who can you trust?

Speakers
Joshua Ellis
Schedule
Day 1
Room Saal 1
Start time 14:00
Duration 01:00
Info
ID 1461
Event type Lecture
Track Culture
Language English
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The Grim Meathook Future

How The Tech Culture Can Maintain Relevance In The 21st Century

Most modern futurism describes technology-driven futures: the nanotech future, the biotech future, etc. But there's also another future, just as or more possible: the future where technology is marginalized by social and cultural forces (such as the rise of fundamentalism as a political force in the US and Middle East). This lecture talks about how technology and design can help humanity avoid a grim future.

Amongst technology pundits and futurists, it seems to be a given that "progress" in the 21st century will be driven by technological advancements -- nanotechnology, biotechnology, networking technology, etc. However, recent global trends and events suggest that the course of human destiny can just as easily be driven by religious fanatics using weapons and tactics which are hardly on the technological cutting edge.

Meanwhile, the promise of a global Internet providing equality to all is still a pipe dream; the developing world's primary interface to our networks come in the way of 419 spam and data piracy. Not to mention, of course, the fact that we're rapidly approaching the end of cheap, freely available energy sources and the likely beginning of massive climatic change.

As a species, we could be on the verge of the utopian vision of the "Singularity"...but we might just as easily be on the verge of a Spenglerian return to a global Dark Ages; a scenario that resembles less the utopian science fictions of Hugo Gernsback and more a nightmare of feral cities and warlordism...a scenario which I refer to with a certain amount of bleak humor as the "Grim Meathook Future". Such a scenario is not apocalyptic; rather, it's a natural result of what happens when the economic and technological bedrock upon which our current society relies begin to fail and anarchy and irrationalism take their place.

Against this unnerving potentiality, such current tech culture obsessions such as the blogosphere and the war against copyright seem downright frivolous. Are we become too self-obsessed, self-referential? Are we making ourselves irrelevant?

These are the questions I want to explore in this lecture. I plan to explore ways in which, by looking outward rather than inward, those of us in the technology culture and industry can work to prevent the Grim Meathook Future, and to ensure that our labor works to benefit humanity as a whole.

The talk will probably include discussion of many if not all of the following topics:

  • Spengler's concept of cyclical history and the widely-held idea that our society is in a similar position to societies like the Roman and Mayan empires, just prior to their collapse, and also some discussion of the shift in the 20th century from the idea of social improvement as progress to technological innovation as progress.
  • Already-extant examples of the Grim Meathook Future, such as the Lord's Resistance Army in Northern Uganda, the Somalian city of Mogadishu (as an example of a "feral city"), the rise in warlordism in both the developing world and the former Soviet bloc, and the increasing rise of ad-hoc infrastructure instead of designed infrastructure (such as the growing number and entrenchment of squatter communities in major world cities, many with their own self-evolved governments and infrastructures). Also, the lessons we can learn from these events and scenarios.
  • Current technological programs and initiatives which show promise in helping to direct and stabilize the massive changes which are beginning to occur globally, such as MIT's $100 laptop project, the Lifestraw project, and the search for alternative energy sources.
  • Possible useful future projects and initiatives which can be undertaken by the technology culture/industry as a whole.