Monday, February 24, 2020

Walkaway: A Glimpse of a Near-fetched Future

The novel Walkaway by Cory Doctorow presents a post-scarcity, peer-cooperative, creative-leap, transhumanist near future. Its plotlines entangle the privileged super-wealthy with the oppressed creative worker base. If found the story less compelling than the ideas it presents, so here's a no spoiler analysis of those points.

Post-scarcity economics and distributed peer culture: true creative innovation can lead to a plenitude of natural resource harvesting and efficient development for humanity. On the surface, a grassroots rise which takes control back from the corporate warlords feels quite positive, however, we must be wary that the base desire to grow for the sake of growth and material wealth does not remain our prime directive. What might complement post-scarcity economics better is an encouragement of true minimalism, human population reduction and whole planet biodiversity conservation.

Scientism and wishful thinking: as much as I am a fan of critical thinking, basic research and progressive policy, we must be wary of the unspoken "technology can fix everything" so let's rush forward with every discovery and innovation. Sure we will likely always have growing pains with new technology like social media platforms and the questionable information revolution its unleashed. Nevertheless, expanding consumerism,  worsening climate change, and resource shortages simply may not ever be sufficiently addressed by scientific innovation. The technological glass ceiling may be high, but the cost of unstable natural and societal environments may suffer. Spending trillions on human Mars exploration may have a modest payoff or it may turn into an interplanetary sinkhole. 

Virtual immortality and high artificial intelligence: the holy grail of current information research is attainment of systems which can out think humans and their current synthesizing constructs (scientific method, creativity, political power, etc.). These AI systems may become the war-machines which make nations and corporations beyond competitive to the point where our leadership will no longer be human. Of course, if our AI capability rises, so does the potential of human mind simulation itself, though it's uncertain at best if existence within transistor space will "feel" equivalent to neuron space. At some level no one wants to die, but if we actually attain the ability to live for long periods of time in a virtual space, will our quality of life rise or will our desire for "eating all the Halloween candy," once fulfilled make us sick psychologically.

These are my thoughts on a novel I recommend, less because of the plot, and more for the reflection its ideas stirred in me.

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