Painful Truth: Cynicism needed about coming future

The next big thing could be a miracle wrapped around a curse.

My fears for the future are getting strange.

I now worry that every great technological advancement will bring with it some unintended and even more destructive side effect.

The internet was supposed to connect us all together in peaceful forums brimming with the accumulated knowledge of mankind.

It’s also used to viciously harass strangers and spread rumours and misinformation. If we didn’t have the internet, the flat earth conspiracists wouldn’t be as organized as they are now. Gwyneth Paltrow would not have an empire selling fraudulent New Age “health products.” Donald Trump would likely not be president.

So I find myself in the strange position of both rooting for and dreading those technologies that are on the cusp of existence.

Self driving cars?

They could slash traffic accidents to a fraction of what we currently endure. No more drunk drivers, no more road racing twits, no more raging lunatics cutting off anyone driving in the remote vicinity of the speed limit.

But one possibility of self driving cars is that people will become more used to commuting longer distances. If you don’t have to actually drive, you can watch TV or read or chat with your friends over Skype or Twitter.

Which could in turn encourage people to live farther and farther from where they work, thus expanding the scope of suburban sprawl. Traditionally, sprawl is contained by the limit of drivers’ tolerance for commuting. Lift that, and we could pave a lot more land over.

Similarly, what happens if people ever figure out how to make vertical farming work cheaply and effectively?

It’s much the same. If we can grow all our food in super-efficient buildings, why bother with the Agricultural Land Reserve? Pave everything!

How about automation in general?

The dream is to automate as many messy, dirty jobs as possible, so that we can all work less and spend our time on hobbies, family, and creative pursuits.

Or the wealthy could wind up owning everything, with 90 per cent of the population kept on a basic income right around the poverty level. Enjoy your meal of soylent and your government-supplied hovel, while a hundred people compete for each job that could lift you out of a life of dull misery.

A few years ago, I would have thought that was too cynical.

But Trump is president. Maybe it’s not cynical enough.