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what about the medium term
November 9, 2012 1:57 PM   Subscribe

MetaFilter's Own™ Charlie Stross visits 2512.
posted by gerryblog (23 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Reminds me a lot of this great post.
posted by gerryblog at 1:58 PM on November 9, 2012


Think racoons. Think racoons programmed to come out at night to harvest and wash fruit because we've invented racoon Heroin™ and trained them to take their fix in payment for crop-picking. Or something like that.

I think I just found my next project.
posted by porpoise at 2:09 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


I love that there are people who think of "in 500 years" as "the medium term".

Also, this is great, and as usual, cstross makes good points and a well-reasoned argument, although, as he also admits, it's extremely hard to make any solid predictions over that kind of time span.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:15 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


porpoise: "Think racoons. Think racoons programmed to come out at night to harvest and wash fruit because we've invented racoon Heroin™ and trained them to take their fix in payment for crop-picking. Or something like that.

I think I just found my next project
"

Raccoon crack? Crackoons? Yeah, because drug addicts are known for being reliable workers and unproblematic to manage. And that's before we even get into the ethics of this.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:16 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


The legal, economic, and cultural frameworks of 2512 are going to be rather different, as are the dominant sociopolitical groups. Possibly South Africa (or some political grouping in that part of the continent) will be the dominant superpower. Or maybe it'll be Poland.

Once nanotechnology provides us with a waterproof screen door, they'll be unstoppable.
posted by gimonca at 2:29 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I just watched a Nova on raccoons last night. Scary fucking animals. In 500 years, they won't be picking our crops, we'll be picking theirs.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:55 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


500 as the median age? Well now I'm depressed!
posted by blue_beetle at 3:04 PM on November 9, 2012


Speaking of regressions: racism and race politics as they exist today are largely a side-effect of the perceived need to find a moral basis from which to defend the African slave trade, followed by rationalisms based on a half-assed reading of evolution. Older strains of racism and intolerance hinge on religious absolutism.

no, the cart goes here and the horse goes -- oh, nevermind.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 3:13 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also this guy seems to be flat-out ignoring the fact that in 2512, the world will still be reeling from the time, four hundred years prior, when some dude freed us all from Temples of Syrinx-based totalitarianism by finding a guitar and playing it a little.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 3:16 PM on November 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also this guy seems to be flat-out ignoring the fact that in 2512, the world will still be reeling from the time, four hundred years prior, when some dude freed us all from Temples of Syrinx-based totalitarianism by finding a guitar and playing it a little.

Perhaps he did not want to rush to judgment.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:26 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Tools we're going to need include a better photosynthesis pathway (one that operates efficiently above 40 celsius, rather than shutting down)

Some researchers in our lab are investigating heat shock protein regulation in Arabidopsis. With the progress of global warming, I expect we'll see a lot more work in hardening plant life to climate changes over the next 10-20 years.

In 500 years, I would not be surprised if there are genetically engineered organisms which include custom proteins that act as heat pumps, effectively refrigerating the plant or animal — or we engineer nanomachines to same effect.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:29 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is really good, although I feel that many of the framing adjustments are hard to justify.
posted by grobstein at 3:42 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gee, I don't know where to comment. Here, or there?

One thing he said caught my eye: London, New York, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Mumbai — they're all going to be submerged, or protected by heroic water defenses and at comparable risk to today's Venice and New Orleans (both of which will be long-since lost).

Venice? Really? There was a plan proposed in the 1920s to dam the Strait of Gibraltar and (a) lower the water level in the Med and (b) generate an ass-ton of hydro-electric power.

We could save Venice if we really wanted to.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:24 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Five centuries ago, ... 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).

Don't know where he got this, but it's not in any way true; the Caliphate hadn't been a power for centuries. The last caliph who tried to regain the lost power was Al-Nasir (one of my favorite obscure historical figures—too bad the Wikipedia article is so shitty), and he had the misfortune to run into the Genghis Khan steamroller. The later Abbasids were just pets of the Mamluks. Five centuries ago, Persia and Turkey (under various dynasties) divided up the Middle East; neither one was really a Great Power in the sense of Rome or China.
posted by languagehat at 4:48 PM on November 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


The legal, economic, and cultural frameworks of 2512 are going to be rather different, as are the dominant sociopolitical groups. Possibly South Africa (or some political grouping in that part of the continent) will be the dominant superpower. Or maybe it'll be Poland.
It seems unlikely that, in an energy-starved future, any kind of globe-spanning empire could possibly exist. The end of cheap oil would almost certainly mean the end of globalism, as we understand it. Most of the trade infrastructure would have to be totally reinvented, as ships and aircraft and trucks would no longer be scalable solutions for transporting goods. Overall global trade would thus be greatly reduced, as imports become more expensive. Nuclear power is sustainable but it doesn't travel well; the reason industrialized economies use so much fossil fuels as an energy source is that they are cheap to transport. So barring the invention of some kind of mythical cheap, clean fuel source (cold fusion et al), economic activity would be rewound back to mercantilism or small, local economies driven by a technocratic elite (imagine people eating genetically modified food produced by their local Nourishment Center, to which they must give X hours of labor in order to earn their keep). Rewind culture and social structures back to reflect the simplification of commerce, and you have a sort of quasi-feudalism, where high technology and medieval power hierarchies exist hand in hand.
posted by deathpanels at 5:45 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


"We could save Venice if we really wanted to."

We could stop further climate change from occurring if we wanted to, but getting billions of people to agree on the same thing, and then sacrifice their own well being for the benefit of their hypothetical great grandkids is pretty hard.

That said, I really doubt that global warming will still be a problem by 2512. Either our civilization collapses (bringing emissions to zero) and our descendants are much less technologically sophisticated than we are - or we survive the next century and get greenhouse gasses under control. By 2512 climate change would be one of those obscure problems that primitive peoples once had, like typhoid epidemics and bubonic plague. But then again, maybe the people of 2512 will be so used to their climate that changing it back to something more like ours would be an unacceptable disruption. Maybe all the engineered crops would die, and they really wouldn't want to deal with lower ocean levels, so they leave everything alone.


"Raccoon crack? Crackoons? Yeah, because drug addicts are known for being reliable workers and unproblematic to manage. And that's before we even get into the ethics of this."

He's just speculating that it might be easier to modify animals into becoming our servants, instead of using robots, human slaves or whatever to do the grunt work. And you never know, in this vision of a completely domesticated Earth, animal servitors might be the only kind of animals that exist at all. There might not be room for vast areas of unproductive "nature," or people who even understand the need for such things.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:50 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


He's just speculating that it might be easier to modify animals into becoming our servants, instead of using robots, human slaves or whatever to do the grunt work. And you never know, in this vision of a completely domesticated Earth, animal servitors might be the only kind of animals that exist at all.

"It was the best of times, it was the ... BLURST of times?? Stupid monkey!"
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:02 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


as usual, cstross makes good points and a well-reasoned argument

Yes: in fact I think he's a little too reasonable much of the time. Prophecies of this magnitude need to be half-mad if they are going to be really thought-provoking - or have a chance of hitting on the truth. When we look back on it in 500 years it's probably the drug-slave raccoon part that will make most sense.
posted by Segundus at 2:05 AM on November 10, 2012


The end of cheap oil would almost certainly mean the end of globalism, as we understand it. Most of the trade infrastructure would have to be totally reinvented, as ships and aircraft and trucks would no longer be scalable solutions for transporting goods.

Oh, there will be a fossil fuel depletion shock -- probably lasting decades -- but I don't think we could ever go back. The future may not be quite so dire.

A lot of that trade is cheap goods that could probably be 3D-printed using locally available materials -- although we may need to find a substitute for, or better recycle, petroleum-based plastics. Ultimately the knowledge economy will probably continue to be a worldwide phenomenon.
posted by dhartung at 2:47 AM on November 10, 2012


I suspect, apropos deathpanels' remark about energy, that cheap fossil oil is less important than they think. Oil is useful to us because it's transportable, storable, convenient to burn, and has a high energy density. But we can manufacture the stuff from water and CO2 if we have to. It's an energy-intensive, expensive, lossy process, but it's do-able. Reasons we might want synthetic oil: aviation, basically. Ships can run on nuclear reactors, or sails. Trains can run on nuclear power, too -- that's how the French TGV network is energized. (Not reactors on trains: reactors in containment domes powering a grid that powers an electrified railway network.) Automobiles for local transport can run on batteries. The only thing that really needs oil is a vehicle that travels off-grid, can't run on environmental energy sources such as wind power, and is too light to carry the shielding for a nuclear reactor.
posted by cstross at 4:57 AM on November 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


My neighbor who claims to be a time traveler from the far, far future has never offered me any proof of his claims, and when I press him for proof usually says something like "Come back when you have a spare half-billion dollars."

He has perfected the wearing of a unique kind of knowing, condescending smirk. Whether that's an affectation or not, it does tend to make people (me included) want to punch him.
posted by JHarris at 9:35 AM on November 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


The only thing that really needs oil is a vehicle that travels off-grid, can't run on environmental energy sources such as wind power, and is too light to carry the shielding for a nuclear reactor.

I once read a speculative white paper on powering planes using lasers from solar power satellites (SPS). SPS's are one of the killer apps like fusion power that once they are figured out will change the world in ways that can't be predicted-like the car and integrated circuits did and continue to do. So far human ingenuity has gotten us by (usually by the skin of our teeth-but still by).

There are several trends in a good direction such as the birth rate soon dropping below the replacement rate, human society trending towards peace and prosperity, and as societies get past a certain material well being threshold taking increasing notice and stewardship of the environment. Be of good cheer, despair is a sin and realize that small incremental change is the best way and that can be guided and usually provide a payoff in the short and long term.
posted by bartonlong at 10:14 AM on November 10, 2012


My neighbor who claims to be a time traveler from the far, far future has never offered me any proof of his claims, and when I press him for proof usually says something like "Come back when you have a spare half-billion dollars."

Ask him to set up a bank account for you with a few million dollars back in 1912. You'll pay him back sometime later this year.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:38 AM on November 11, 2012


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