SXSW2017 Bruce Sterling
SXSW2017 Bruce Sterling – notes from his customary keynote at the end of the Interactive portion of SXSW titled “The Future: History that hasn’t Happened Yet.”
Some quotes from Sterling’s recap:
Intro – calls himself a “South-by Heritage item”
About global warming:
“Every year I appear, I’m like ‘wanna know about the future, climate’s changing.’ And every next year I come back, and it’s worse. CO2 this year, out the roof. There will be hell to pay.”
About the Donald:
“It tires me to hear America say this is not our America because Donald is President. That’s silly, right? Nobody outside America has that attitude. Of course they know this is the President of the United States. This is the president of the United States – a rich TV-star con-artist who mostly talks self-serving bullshit. And that’s very American. Russians, Germans, French, Norwegians, South Africans – none of them have a moments illusion about it.”
I haven’t been able to find a posted video of the talk, but there is an audio recording at Soundcloud.
2nd half – Universal Basic Income
The topic Mr. Sterling chose to be of interest this year was Universal Basic Income. It’s got an acronym – UBI.
He reviewed other times in history when cultural change has frightened people into thinking jobs are going away (e.g., the industrial revolution) but, as he says “people don’t just stand around….people just pickup, and life kind of proceeds diagonally.”
So it’s possible that UBI is hokey and will never happen, but it is possible that deep learning and automation will force a surplus of people that are unnecessary. There might be zero work with plenty and leisure, but they might be zero work with scarcity…”universal robotized poverty.”
UBI might get support from the polarized left and right…for different reasons.
He noted that we’d done this kind of thing before, “if it happens, it will be like previous historical human arrangements.”
I believe I captured his list, which is classified as in order from worst possible outcome to least harmful (which Sterling says is always the best way…”like going to gym first thing in the morning…it’s painful, but it’s the worst thing that will happen to you all day.”
- reservations (Native American Indians). “Took a couple of centuries….today we’d use drones.”
- prison systems and labor camps. “…an engineering solution….you don’t do it to be the villain.” Mentions Nazi death camps.
- refugee camps. “displaced people, they don’t have an economy.” Mentions UN Camps at $1200 per year.
- armed forces. “one huge paramilitary defense corps.” “an Army is not at the mercy of the robot engineers.” “Probably the most plausible.”
- retirement villages. “universal pension income.” “Everybody just learns to mimic the elderly.”
- academic. “Everybody learns. People are busy even if they aren’t making a wage.”
- religions. “No competition because the robots are all atheists.” Monasteries and nunneries. “Maybe you could be religious and in an army.”
- healthcare uber alles. “would you rather be rich and employed or be immortal?”
- intentional rural communes. “go back to the land, live next to nature.” “traditional, romantic, never works. Sucks unless you’re the Amish.”
- drop out urban bohemia. “like Christiania, Denmark…why doesn’t everyone just become a beatnik?” “This is the Austin solution…this is the Keep it Weird contingent….you’re going to pay me to keep it weird, let’s see how weird I can get!”
- enlightenment. “an aspiration for many centuries…become spiritual mendicants….permanent vacation from economics.” “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment – chop wood, carry water.”
It is possible that a UBI solution is completely new and bizarre and totally revolutionary and not something from human history.
“We’re so inventive that we’ve got no use for ourselves. We’re making ourselves obsolete.” If you said that to people 100,200 or 400 years ago, would they congratulate us?” They would probably question why they are defaulting our future to robots and AI? They are not historical participants.
“If humanity declared itself useless and we all vanished, our machines would stop.” Long discussion about machines having no ambition or appetite. Sterling is obviously not on the side of AI taking over the world.
“When we say our machines can render us irrelevant, we are buying into a suicidal ideology.” His basic concept here is the UBI concept is humanity bailing out on its responsibility, leaving running the world to machines.
I tried to find videos of Mr. Sterling’s other closing keynotes so I could keep them all in one place. Here’s what I’ve found:
none found yet
none found yet