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What's possible

It’s really easy to be cynical about upcoming technology.

Blockchain? Environmentally disastrous, full of terrible libertarians, NFTs are being used to launder money in huge numbers.

VR? You have to wear a giant thing on your face, it gives people motion sickness and nausea, all the commentary on the metaverse is nonsensical.

I believe each of those points! But I’m also worried about being overly conservative: everything has to change, and will continue changing. It’s important to understand the underlying trends if you’re going to participate in any way - which, as a technology professional, both want and have to. We can yell about the web in 2004 all we like, but it’s 2022, and the world has moved on.

I feel like I’ve written enough about blockchain, but there are silver linings: particularly in popular acceptance of decentralization and federated trust. I found this Twitter thread to be a good, nuanced take on the subject.

On VR: the technology is getting exponentially better. Yes, virtual reality demos have been laughable. But what if there was something here? What if the headsets reached the kind of quality and lightness that removed the screen door effect? What if they overcame the motion sickness problem? What if mixed reality and virtual reality became indistinguishable? Of course we won’t see the world that maximalists suggest, but that’s not to say there won’t be a bunch of good and interesting applications.

There’s a lot to tear down, and as always, there are a bunch of charlatans in tech. Criticism certainly has its place, and the tech press in particular has historically not been critical enough. But as technologists we need to imagine what might be possible.

Sure, these visions for the future aren’t right. But that’s not enough. The real work is to imagine what could be right, and what could be made possible, while staying true to our values and ethics. That’s a lot harder, but if we get it right, it’s a lot more rewarding. If we get to a point where the only people doing innovation on the internet are the people whose values we dislike, we’re in trouble.