Here is a keynote by videogame creator Will Wright to the 2010 Augmented Reality Event:
It’s about a half hour long, and there is a lot of meat in it.
What it has done to me though is make me anxious. All of this cool AR engineering, and the converging of technologically enhanced social creativity, that is unfolding all around us.
I listen to talks like this, or I read the squatter-futurist pamphleteering of Cory Doctorow, or Kurzweil’s boy’s-own singularity, or Aubrey De Grey’s mad attack on mortality, and these ideas excite me, they are fundamentally exciting, and I want aspects of all these futures so badly I can feel my ego bleed, but the basic act of even thinking about them also fills me with dread.
When the dread creeps in, they seem like children whistling past a cemetery. Every frivolous technological wonder described in these sources now gets this caveat appended to it in my head as I read:
If civilization doesn’t collapse before we get there.
Everything is very fragile, and all the best that we could make dangles over a chasm by a thread. I feel this more now than I ever have. Nuclear annihilation never seemed quite real, but a cascading collapse in global trust exacerbated by uneven suffering in the coming climate tumult, nation states withholding or encumbering trade as a weapon of retaliation to the point that the economy stagnates, fueling panic and depression, and grinding all technological progress to a halt over an excruciating decade or two… I do not find that hard to imagine at all.
I’m afraid that when I am old, we’ll be dependent on machinery that we have lost the skill or the will to build, and everything will slide into violence and parochial bigotry. And people will look back at the beautiful world we are losing now and see it not as beauty but as decadent weakness. In my lifetime.
We will never go back to the moon. We will never set foot on Mars. Our lifespans will shrink, our children will be poorer than we were, and because we keep better historical records now, everyone will see it happening and our confidence as a species will wither. We will never be what we might have been.
Then beautiful dreams like AR seem silly, and I worry about what we aren’t seeing.
The only way to combat this is to get out and do. Be doing. Civilization is nothing more than a mutually assured confabulation, an impossibly complex layered mesh of just-so stories dressing up the absurd miracle of empty space vibrating into a planet covered in monkeys wearing hats for no good reason. It rained on our heads for seven million years and it rains on our heads today, and the hats aren’t much, really, after all. But they sure are natty. And that one looks fabulous on you.
Hello new readers! I’m Bill, and I get like this sometimes. Do stick around!