Future History: Computing

As one might expect—since my degree is in computer science—one of the minor areas (sub-themes, if you will) that I touch on occasionally in the development of the Shine Cycle, my fantasy series-in-preparation, is alternate-universe computing. I like to speculate as to how computers and the ecosystem of ideas around them might develop if a few dozen people from our generation, including a handful with some trained insight into the inner workings of the technology, get dropped into a culture for whom “the Internet” was something to read about in yearly diplomatic or intelligence briefings, if that. And how that development would change symbiotically with the use of applied metaphysics.

But I’ll write more about that later. Today I’d like to talk about how, for the purposes of that part of the Shine Cycle which are set in our own future, I project computing will develop in our world over the next several centuries, and what sort of impact it will have.

First, long-range digital communications will be pushed to their physical limits by military and commercial needs as mankind spreads beyond this planet. But communications advances will still lag behind the paradigm-breaking transportation technologies that make them possible. I think that developments will be somewhat faster than the “realists” of the time will expect, but still vastly slower than the impatient fans predicted.

Second, for quite awhile the trend will, I think, be toward more and more distinct and even segmented networks: partly for defensive purposes, as electronic warfare and other attacks become more common, but also as a backlash against the monolithic context-provider-as-walled-garden approach. Instead, every family, group of friends, small business, or club can make its network its own walled garden—only now to keep the deluge of data and the false and misleading information out, not the people and the valuable content in.

Third, once populations have dispersed enough (see my first point above) that the “public outcry” effect that has grown in the last half-century or so can be suppressed or at least safely ignored by tyrants in their own spheres, in some places computers will be restricted as a luxury for the elite and a tool for keeping the tyrant ahead of the people, in some they will be made ubiquitous as a means of tracking and spying on the people to maintain the tyrant’s power, and in some they will be used to keep the people happy and politically asleep (more cheaply than subsidizing food), but in others they may eventually allow a government to develop based on the principle of subsidiarity: that local issues be handled locally by those who are interested (or nominated by their peers), but representatives at higher levels have their conduct in that office scrutinized by their constituents.

Where do you think computers will take us in the next several centuries?

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