Charles Stross on some possible futures

I’ve been a fan of Charlie Stross’s science fiction since I discovered it. Here’s a transcript of a talk he gave recently in Munich trying to tease out the potential implications in some pretty straightforward predictions about near-term technology change. As Larry Niven once observed, “Good science fiction writers predict cars: Great science fiction writers predict traffic jams.” Stross has some very provocative things to say about some possible traffic jams.

It’s a longish talk, well worth your time. Here are two tidbits to give you a sense of what you will find there:

Suppose you could capture a real-time video feed of all of your activity, something that researchers at Microsoft Labs are already actively experimenting with (Mylifebits project). Stross calls this “life-logging” and suggests that

The political hazards of lifelogging are, or should be, semi-obvious. In the short term, we’re going to have to learn to do without a lot of bad laws. If it’s an offense to pick your nose in public, someone, sooner or later, will write a ‘bot to hunt down nose-pickers and refer them to the police. Or people who put the wrong type of rubbish in the recycling bags. Or cross the road without using a pedestrian crossing, when there’s no traffic about. If you dig hard enough, everyone is a criminal. In the UK, today, there are only about four million public CCTV surveillance cameras; I’m asking myself, what is life going to be like when there are, say, four hundred million of them? And everything they see is recorded and retained forever, and can be searched retroactively for wrong-doing. [Charles Stross: Shaping the future]

Or consider the fallout that might occur when we do end up with cars capable of driving themselves?

Once all on-road cars are driverless, the current restrictions on driving age and status of intoxication will cease to make sense. Why require a human driver to take an eight year old to school, when the eight year old can travel by themselves? Why not let drunks go home, if they’re not controlling the vehicle? So the rules over who can direct a car will change. And shortly thereafter, the whole point of owning your own car — that you can drive it yourself, wherever you want — is going to be subtly undermined by the redefinition of car from an expression of independence to a glorified taxi. If I was malicious, I’d suggest that the move to autonomous vehicles will kill the personal automobile market; but instead I’ll assume that people will still want to own their own four-wheeled living room, even though their relationship with it will change fundamentally. [Charles Stross: Shaping the future]

Food for thought.