A prediction or four

As one year ends and a new year starts, there's often a collective pause for reflection.

It's as if a shift in an arbitrary number that we've collectively agreed represents today, is somehow significant. When we all know it isn't. Not really.

Dates (and I'm not talking about those weird sticky fruit things your Mum used to hand out with the After Eights on Boxing Day) don't matter. Events do.

That said, those of us old enough to remember the turn of the millenium, would probably agree (if we could be bothered to stop and think about it) that there is usually something uniquely prescient about the 2nd year of a decade. Culturally, they tend to set the tone for the rest of the coming decade. '72 marked the beginning of the end for the Vietnam War and the collective loss of innocence of the flower power generation. '82 ushered in the New Romantics, who led the charge of 80's aspirational individualism. '92 smelt like Teen Spirit. '02 sounded like "meh" and we all grew smartphones in '12.

So, what will 2022 bring?

Who knows. Predictions are usually best left to astrologers, hedge-fund managers and other charlatans.

But, if we step back from wild speculation, place an ear to the train-tracks and listen carefully, perhaps we can try to decipher the distant rumblings. Maybe, from among the other unhelpful noise, we can make sense of the deep, far-away sounds of the oncoming train.

You see, we can be fairly certain that the level of change in society driven by technological innovation - to the extent we've experienced it over the last 25 years - will not occur again.

Moore's law is dead (or on life support). Physical, rather than engineering, barriers are now slowing the rate of improvements in computer processing and storage technologies. But, perhaps more importantly in the real world, the devices we have already do (pretty much) everything we want or need them to do. This isn't 1992. There aren't any revolutionary pieces of software left to be discovered, created and perfected.

Perhaps then, the final frontier of technology driven societal change rests with the emergence of A.I. But contrary to what Mr Spock and his cohort would have you believe, A.I. is not, of itself, really a technological innovation. What a lot of people don't seem to understand about A.I. is how rooted in machine learning it is - that it appears "smart" only because it has a huge dataset to refer to - and how utterly divorced from intelligence, that that process is. The A.I. of 2022 is unlikely to do anything more inventive than streamline existing commercial processes - because that's where the money is. And, at the risk of sounding like a luddite, you have to ask yourself does it actually matter how good Netflix is at predicting the TV and films you'll like?

So, if we are approaching the point where technological innovation will no longer be the driving force of societal change, what will be?

Well, as a charlatan, my best guesses are 3 fold:

  1. For the first time in their lives, anyone not old enough to remember the turn of the millenium, will have to abandon the idea that "technology will set you free". Millenials and, to some extent, Zoomers have defined themselves by their adoption and patronage of the internet. They are slowly (and, for them, somewhat painfully) waking up to the idea that the party is over - that the utopian ideals of the early years of the internet have been lost and replaced by a dystopian mechanism of control and corporate manipulation.
  2. The rise of "No". It seems weird to say it, but "no" is such a powerful word - and one which seems to be especially resonant at the moment on our metaphoric train-tracks. The notion that much of what has previously been "expected" (aka demanded) of us by society is bunk, seems to be gaining ground - driven by a realisation that the future, all our futures, may not be better than our past. Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but wouldn't it be transformative, if people just decided not to do the things they're told they ought to do - and did the things they want to do?
  3. Despite Romesh being a significant improvement over Anne, the reboot of "The Weakest Link" won't go anywhere. The format's flawed. No-one wants to take on the strongest link in the final round. They should make it so the weakest link's vote doesn't count and the strongest link is immune from the popular vote. But it's obvious failings, do act as a reminder for how democracy works, so maybe the producers are playing 4D chess. 

Oh, and I have 1 other. At some point, someone trying to sell you something will write something about how this year includes the date 22/2/22 and, "ooh look isn't interesting that all the numbers are the same". When it isn't. That's the way numbers work.

Still, it'll help you identify the charlatans.

Coz, you know, everybody has been burned before.

(And I had to use a line from that Charlatans' song, because it's the only one I know.)


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