Max Hodak Writings

The Future

April 2016

I grew up reading William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. Today, knowledge of TrueCrypt and PGP is a key part of being an investigative journalist and dozens of cryptocurrencies have serious real-world value. I’ve worked on actual brain-machine interfaces. Multiple companies have launched and landed rockets with varying levels of total energy.

A major presidential candidate was formerly a reality TV star. An entire region of the world has disintegrated and, being left out of modernity, is actively exporting its frustration with major assistance from the internet.

Almost anything you can think of can be requested on-demand through your browser (or phone) from transportation, to lodging, to near-real-time satellite imagery, to custom DNA. My own company takes this trend to complex biotech experimentation.

There is an actual Planetary Defense office within NASA. It tracks large objects such as comets and asteroids, and is actively developing robotic spacecraft for deflecting asteroids that get too close. A 5,000-person company is talking about colonizing Mars and, after landing a 15-story building coming back from space upright on a barge in the middle of an ocean, being taken increasingly seriously.

The entire country of Iceland has had their DNA sequenced. The database has changed hands several times and is now owned by a Chinese contract research organization. Separately, BGI — formerly the Beijing Genomics Institute, the largest DNA sequencing center in the world — has sequenced tens of thousands of extremely high IQ individuals with an intent of identifying the genetic correlates of intelligence so that they can engineer it.

Relatively little science fiction depicts utopias. Much more common is vast inequality.

Income (and wealth) inequality is increasingly considered one of the defining issues of our time.

Top: SpaceX landing a rocket. Bottom: Syria (by Dwight Crow).

Millions of people all over the world — nearly 75% of whom are in the developing world — sit down in front of a bright computer screen every day for their main source of education.

Wild advances in AI and robotics raise intriguing and menacing questions about the future of work. Software are now the world’s best players for all board games and are responsible for the overwhelming majority of stock trading.

Climate change driven by humanity’s desire for growth is rapidly destroying whole ecosystems and threatening to reshape the world as we know it in short order. Due to its nature “it is a political problem perfectly designed to repel government intervention,” complicating something that would almost certainly need government intervention to fix.

Government surveillance is pervasive, taking different forms in different places. Epic leaks implicate a huge array of world leaders in schemes to hide vast wealth. The encryption software used by whistleblowers to make these disclosures turns out to have been written by a drug-kingpin-slash-arms-dealer, who among other things built a credible private army in Somalia as part of a plan to invade and take over the Maldives.

I could go on and on. If you tried to explain this world to someone from the 1950s, I can only hope that they would have said, “of course.” For as much as Silicon Valley complains “what happened to the future?” the reality we live in today is every bit as weird as Gibson imagined it. Naturally, little about this feels strange anymore. Of course an electric car would get billions in orders on its first day, it’s just a great product. Of course one of the world’s largest companies is a ad-monetized search engine that also happens to do autonomous vehicles, life extension research, and home thermostats.

When I hear that unicorns are dying and the sky is falling I just think to myself that some people need to get out more.