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Looking back at 2058

Farmers with cybernetic backpacks

2058 was many things: the hottest year in recorded history, a year when civil rights protests made national news in the face of deepening inequality, and where conflicts and the climate crisis turned millions of people into refugees around the globe.

But it was also a year marked by rapid technological change. While the traditional internet has long been split into siloed national networks divided by starkly different local legislation and restrictive private ownership of the underlying backbone, the decentralized airnet has grown from an illicit activist project designed to overcome these divisions as a way to organize for global peace into a legitimate network that’s beginning to be noticed by commercial interest. It helps that the network is designed to swiftly route around damage like surveillance: a truly peer-to-peer architecture rather than the hub-and-spoke “faux-deration” model of yore.

Some of these nascent services carry the names of their long-departed internet forebears: the likes of AirBay and, yes, AirBnb play on our nostalgia for the bygone internet era. It’s been argued that these services are a way to embrace, extend, and extinguish the airnet from a network designed for global peace into a neutered continuation of the status quo, but most users appreciate the new services. Even critics who believed the airnet was a way to undermine the cold civil war effort have found it harder to avoid the lure of airhubs by the likes of The New York Times and ESPN.

Illicit graphene printing is also rife. Of course, use of the printers without a license was banned globally some years ago, but because any graphene printer (with enough ink) can print the components for another whole printer, it’s been hard to regulate. The ink itself can be synthesized from kelp and ash, which has created a new black market industry around the eastern Pacific coast and in areas like northern Scotland. Recipes for equipment like window solar arrays and air-gen panels are becoming more common, particularly with in the light of the failure of many local electricity grids, and this decentralized approach to power generation has also led to the growth of more airnet hubs — which, of course, was the reason for the bans in the first place, because of the security threat that decentralized power and information presents. (Who is to say that the technology couldn’t be used to build a terrorist power plant?) Nonetheless, while there are no official figures for obvious reasons, anecdotal evidence suggests that growth shows no signs of stopping.

Which brings us to the cold war itself. From an admittedly-privileged position in the Democratic States, it’s been fascinating to watch the Free States continue to iterate their underlying models. Each state, of course, continues to have a CEO and Board of Directors drawn from investors and highly-prized advisors. While the investors are known — firms like Andreessen Horowitz and Elon Musk’s Capital Punishment — the Limited Partners remain private. It’s not clear who, exactly, is backing the firms that put money into Free States like TenSC, but each one is experimenting with a different model of governance that you could imagine other nations picking up and learning from. In particular, Bama’s reliance on Proof of Effort blockchains that pay wired-up migrant farmworkers based on a combination of exertion and produce has been drawing some attention from elsewhere, particularly for its use of children.

Without visiting, it’s hard to know which stories about these states are true, and which have been embellished in order to create a desired impression. Still, based on the first-hand accounts that have been published to onion airhubs, the culture has been one of enforced techno-optimism, which is to say, rigid, ruthless discrimination conducted with a bleach-white smile. Disappointing but not surprising.

Because governance and religion are both conducted almost universally through AI agents, warfare has been relatively straightforward: the Democratic States have seeded training data that benefits our interests; a fact wrong here, a piece of advice wrong there. Algorithmic propaganda has grown an entire industry of malware prompt engineering, but even without Democratic interference, the Free States have been trending towards decline, with food lines growing longer and fuel getting scarcer. Lifestyles depend on goods long-since frowned upon in the Democratic States — tobacco, alcohol, meat — which are becoming scarcer in the face of diminishing resources. The consensus is that it’s only a matter of time before they implode and rejoin the Union. (I wonder if we’ll keep Proof of Effort and all the rest of it?)

Entertainment this year was an improvement, largely due to the Certified Human movement. I enjoyed watching TV shows that had been written by real people; although the linear storytelling took a little getting used to, the imperfections reminded me of watching the grain dance on real film, before algorithmic upscaling made every image lifelessly flawless. Doctor Who — still the best show ever made — is wonderful in its 95th year, and I enjoyed the Barbie remake. I could have done without the all-synthetic Expendables remake, but what can you do. Some people still love watching mindless action, even if every single star is dead.

What should we look forward to in 2059? Hopefully some reclamation of the abandoned nations now that climate tech is beginning to make them relivable, and perhaps a new treaty with President Thunberg that will make travel possible again. We can hope. Some people say that Mark Zuckerberg will return from exile, but we’ll see.

In the meantime, onwards. Happy New Year! I’ll raise a glass of gr8 juice to you all.

 

Image by ChatGPT.

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