George Friedman's ''The Next 100 Years''

George Friedman is quite the expert on contemporary trends, and in this book he extrapolates them to the end of the 2080s (not quite a century, but quite a stretch. He predicts the 20xx's will be dominated by the US, which will be involved in two major wars. Among the trends he follows is the population bust (he suggests we will be subsidizing immigration by 2030, not restricting it), command and control from space, and space solar power.

These are likely trends, to be sure, but he makes many assumptions about the permanence of institutions and cultures and ethnic groups. Friedman assumes a smaller military projecting far more power per warrior, but may not be aware that those forces are already brimming with Hispanics, greatly altering his picture of a US-Mexico conflict in the 2080s. But by 2080, generations of intermarriage will have shattered the lines between "Hispanic" and "Anglo" - his great-great grandchildren will have blended heritages and speak Chinese-flavored Spanglish, as will their internet using companions in Mexico City and Shanghai. They will eat fish-stick tacos slathered in hummus and hoisin sauce.

I would expect a resident of Austin, where the hippie food stores and the science fiction book stores are operated by "hispanics" speaking in a Texas drawl, to understand how the lines are being redrawn.

Friedman acknowledges computers and their increasing role, but does not understand how the continued exponential growth of computation and communication driven by Moore's Law will replace many of the ways we do things, simply because the old ways can't keep up unless they are firmly hitched to the skyrocket. Factors of 30 every decade can lead to awesome changes over a century.

For example, Friedman assumes that by mid century, the US will launch manned Battle Stars (sort of like orbiting Cheyenne Mountains, without the mountains) and control our assets from them. Extremely vulnerable; not just to the missile weapons he posits in his book, but to directed energy weapons such as distributed lasers. Individuals such as Jordin Kare are already able to build 4KW continuous lasers; by 2050, nations will be able to deploy 100KW lasers by the millions, easily able to melt a large hole in a single space asset. That same laser power can be used to talk to myriads of individual thinsats, which can be launched and deployed much faster than directed energy weapons can remove them. The key, as always, is distributed systems linked by highly redundant and survivable information links. The generals stay underground, but in many different holes.

Server-sky computation and communication will also change global immigration patterns, and melt geographic borders. My friends are international. We speak English via fixed internet connections. That leaves out 90% of the world. With space-based global communications, and speech translation, I will be potentially connected to everybody, and everyone will be connected to me. My friends do not have to be within the same nation-state to collaborate economically or culturally. With hyper-communication, and only modest improvements in robotics, my doctor can be in India, my gardener in Ecuador, the shoe sales clerk in Ireland, the chef in France. They can talk in their native languages, I will hear them in English, and vice versa. Workers will no longer need to cross borders, and borders will no longer divide economies. With this kind of instantaneous mobility, tax structures will mobilize also, as will the nations that depend on them. People will still band into nations, but they will reform along non-geographic lines. Immigration will become a meaningless idea - why waste the travel time?

Apologists for the nation state should realize that nations (as opposed to villages, families, and complex webs of small alliances) are mostly 19th and 20th century phenomena. In the 18th century, few people lived in nation-states as we now define them, and many modern nation-states were colonies drawn willy-nilly on maps by diplomats in Europe. As social networking advances, we may find nations drawn in cyberspace instead, and individuals may be part of many nations.

Underneath all of this is the rapidly shifting landscape created by Moore's Law. As computation gets cheaper, it invades more realms and transforms them. Bulldozer blades are positioned by GPS. Hollywood movies can be synthesized by computers that fit under a desk. Smart munitions can find targets with precision, but soon targets will evade munitions with the same precision. Wiping out an enemy command center, or a strategic factory, becomes extremely difficult if operations can be relocated half a world away during the flight time of the munition. The server sky website is hosted by a New Zealand company on servers in Dallas. If Dallas got nuked, hosting can shift to London or Brisbane in 5 seconds. Computing can manage widely dispersed assets - if an air base consists of single airplanes parked hundreds of miles apart, the strategic cost of destroying it will bankrupt the attackers. Maintenance can use the same generalized repair and component synthesis hardware that supply the civilians nearby. There may not be airbases anyway, just alliances of the small collaboratives that own and draw income from each plane.

The technological and social changes that drive the next century will not change human nature, but they will radically change the means by which we express it. There will always be homes, and families, and ownership, and trade, and war. But how we package these eternal activities will be very different in 2100 than in 2000, making prediction a very chancy business.

All that said, I welcome Friedman's book. It is thought provoking and expanded my sense of the possible. While I suspect most of his predictions will turn out as accurate as jet packs and flying cars, if he provided a 100% accurate history of the next century, nobody would believe it.

GeorgeFriedman (last edited 2011-04-12 01:51:07 by KeithLofstrom)