Archive for the ‘ Futurism ’ Category

Soul and the New Machine



The announcement of a new Cyberpunk 2020 video game came as a shock to me, not just because like most everyone I’d assumed that particular RPG was dead, but also because I’d been working on a personal homebrew reboot of the game for over a year. In a perfect illustration of why the future is never a linear extrapolation of the present, the Cyberpunk RPG line languished in obscurity under Talsorian Inc. for over a decade, until the sudden announcement by CD Projekt RED, the hugely popular developer studio behind The Witcher series of games, that they were building Cyberpunk 2077. The original Cyberpunk 2020/2013 never received the video game treatment even at the height of its popularity, and its magical twin Shadowrun had only one small video game produced for the SNES back in the early 1990s, so seeing a major studio tackle a game that had been essentially dead for 15 years not only made my day, it blew my feeble powers of prediction out of the water.

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The Endless City

The future is mega-urban.

Chinese hypercities of tens of millions of inhabitants, such as the newly-proposed Guangzhou megalopolis (aka Pearl River Delta/Zhusanjiao/Golden Delta) or the Bohai economic rim, will contain 40, 50 or 60m people each, roughly comparable to the present-day population of France or the UK. China, India and the rest of the developing world are urbanizing at a tremendous rate, achieving urbanization rates of 60-70 percent in some prefectures within 1 or 2 decades, accelerating a process that took 2 centuries in Europe and 50 years in North America.

Playing a cyberpunk game like Deux Ex: Human Revoltuion one could see the multi-level megacity of Heng Sha and immediately think of the exploding conurbations of the new China – hypercities such as BoHai Ring City and Guangzhou accreting within the polluted industrial Sinosphere like pearls inside a shell.

The UN Habitat State of the World’s Cities 2011 report indicates that Africa is currently leading the urbanization race, with China, India and Brazil close behind. With some of the largest and fastest growing populations in the world, African cities will become gigantic hives, half middle-class and half slum, a boon and a bane to national governments on the continent. Warfare, too, will have to adapt to grinding condo-to-condo infantry battles rather than the classic open-field tank battles of previous world wars. Today military operations in urban terrain (MOUT) doctrine dominates mechanized infantry and heavy armor operations manuals, and the days of long-range strike planning in the Fulda Gap are long gone.

Urban operations in Chinese cities in a hypothetical war between China and the USA could be ugly beyond belief; civilian casualties could top 90% of all casualties and simply by shooting an assault rifle a soldier could accidentally end up committing war crimes  in places as densely populated as these. In the face of intransigent urban insurgents dominating fighting operations would modern warfare one day return to the bomb-it-into-rubble doctrine of the Second World War again?

For a more civilian perspective on China’s lightspeed urban transformation, check out the China Urban Dev Blog.

Security Councils of the Future

boardoomThe topic of what a future global governance structure might look like is not often touched-upon by futurologists, who generally prefer to focus on snazzier topics such as technology or disaster scenarios, but is probably of greater importance than either of these two domains.

Simply put, the question is: who will shape the global order?

As mentioned previously the current international order was constructed by the United States and its allies, with the grudging acquiescence of the Soviet Union, at the close of World War II. With Germany and Japan both occupied, most of Europe and Asia devastated, India just emerging from colonialism and China in the throes of civil war, the Soviets and the Americans bestrode the world and imposed their vision of the future on its inhabitants. No other major country was capable of doing it. Read more

Crafting a Near-Future World, Part 1

For most people it seems to be a truism that the more realistic something is, the more boring it seems to them. Simulations of international relations and negotiation strategies between great powers, or the dance of sub-atomic quanta in a  particle collider, is fun stuff for academics but the average person’s eyes glaze over within seconds. Roleplaying gamers are no different in that regard, though there is a small hardcore group of gamers who prefer system complexity…and they are mostly wargamers.future world map - syndicate

Attempting to construct a near-future or cyberpunk world requires a certain level of realism in order to present a situation which is both different and yet familiar and believable to the players. Presenting a near-future in which McDonald’s rules the world and Jay-Z is the president of Russia might be fun for a wacky one-shot session of something-or-other, but it’s no basis for a long-term campaign. Read more

Burn All Your Tomorrows

picture of chinese mist-cloaked mountainsIf the future is the unknown country, then upon reaching a certain level of understanding of the past we are obligated to explore that strange new continent, and to search for more meaning than what only the past can provide. Past is not prologue, after all, but the ambiguity of the future means it can be a futurolog, or a chronicle of future events, even if the predictions are accurate only half the time.

More pragmatically, in this blog I will attempt to construct a near-future world which is neither cyberpunk in the classical cyberware-corporations-hackers style nor post-apocalyptic in the style of The Matrix or The Terminator. This world will be familiar to you: children will go to school, corporations will create products you like to use, people will commute to work in cars and nation-states will compete on the international stage for power, prestige and resources. Taking Max Headroom’s motto to heart we will explore the future only 20 minutes into the future, without delving into questions of global apocalypse (climate-, nuclear- or viral-related or otherwise) but definitely examining sensitive questions of culture, religion, race, economic organization, secrecy, warfare and political power.

It will be a more realist, prosaic future, with the occasional sharp shock to break us out of our complacency.

And it won’t be post-cyberpunk or post-anything. The future is always now, where we stand.