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global_futures 07/98

The Research Group on the Global Future's e-mail newsletter

01.07.1998 · Research Group on the Global Future

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Dear Friends of the Future,

When the Research Group on the Global Future was launched early this year, we started with a central question: How do we want to live in the future? In the short six months since then, we've added dozens more particular questions, particularly about the consequences that technology is likely to have for our societies. Thinking about how we want to live, however, remains a central concern. That's because we're convinced that our visions of the future -- visions of how we want to live -- go a long way toward shaping the actual future. Defining our goals, and sharing those definitions among Europe, Asia and North America, is a vitally important part of building a sustainable future.

One of our goals in the Research Group is to communicate our results regularly with a community of interested persons. Our friends of the future are not just futurologists -- though there are some of them in your ranks -- and not just social scientists -- though there are some of those as well. Our community of readers spans careers, ages, disciplines and locations, and they expect us to address their concerns. We're beginning to do that with our growing web site, and we're doing that more explicitly with this first installment of our newsletter. We also would like communication to flow in both directions; we're most interested in your reactions to the items in this newsletter and to the results of our first three events: Trilateral Agenda Brainstorming, Shaping the Future - Genetic Technology, and Shaping the Future - The Digital Revolution. (Click here for a look at all three events.)

We expect our newsletter to appear on a roughly monthly basis, and that its appearance will be driven more by content than by the calendar. In forthcoming issues, you should expect excerpts from the Group's working papers, results from conferences and meetings, reviews of current or crucial books, discussion among readers, and a few other surprises.

In this issue, you'll find two items: a short summary of our brainstorming session on the digital revolution, and the beginning of a review of Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. Both are really teasers; we know you're all busy, so we didn't want to fill your in-box with too much information. But there's much more of the Research Group's work behind the short pieces we've sent here. Click on the addresses included for the rest of the story.

And when you get the chance, drop us a line to let us know what you think.

Best regards,

Douglas Merrill
Jürgen Turek
Markus Vorbeck
Research Group on the Global Future



Shaping the Future - The Digital Revoslution

(Munich, July 13, 1998)

It’s all just ones and zeroes - bits and signals on chips and cables. But when the bits move a trillion dollars a day in financial markets, when the digital section of the economy is increasingly responsible for growth, it’s a serious business indeed. What happens to society when work goes digital? The Center for Applied Policy Research (CAP) invited economists, sociologists, political scientists and digital professionals to consider the consequences of the digital revolution at a brainstorming session at the CAP.

Digital processes are transforming the way people around the globe work and live; within Europe, Munich can rightly claim to be one of the centers of the new economy with its strengths in media, banking, and research. Our participants were all drawn from the local area, but they presented views that were far from parochial in character. Speakers considered the shape of an industrialized society after the digital revolution, with particular emphasis on likely economic consequences.
While they disagreed on many specifics, they all agreed that with the working world undergoing such a deep transformation, social and political relations would have to change as well. Standing still is not an option. Further, virtually everyone agreed that digitalization tended to both speed up and amplify existing traits within an organization, or indeed within a society. Thus a group already well-adapted to change is likely to change more, and derive more benefits from change, in a digital era. For those willing to seize new opportunities, digitalization offers the promises of virtuous circles and increasing returns. For those disinclined to take advantage of the digital revolution, relative decline threatens their current comfort.

Speakers at the brainstorming included Dr. Gabriele Hooffacker of Hooffacker & Partner, Prof. Dalia Marin of the University of Munich’s Economics Department, and Warnfried Dettling, of DIE ZEIT. Additional guests represented multimedia companies, banks, economic research institutes and news agencies.



A World Built One Atom at a Time

The Diamond Age
by Neal Stephenson

Reviewed by Douglas Merrill

In the middle of next centurynanotechnology delivers on all its
promises. At about the same time, new tech and way new economics overwhelm existing nation-states, which crumble slowly on their way to the dustbin of history. The characters of Neal Stephenson's novel, The Diamond Age, inhabit a world organized, to use the term loosely, into signatory tribes, phyles, registered diasporas, franchise-organized quasi-national entities, sovereign polities and dynamic security collectives bound together by the distributed but take-no-prisoners enforcement mechanisms of the Common Economic Protocol. But it takes a while to piece together the politics of The Diamond Age, an age marked more than anything by the practical implications of building virtually every device in the world atom by atom.

As in his previous novel, Snow Crash, Stephenson takes a number of visible trends and pushes them to their extreme, laying the foundations of the world of The Diamond Age. With winning characters and a Dickensian plot, he brings readers ever deeper into a future where it seems only natural that a Confucian judge of the Chinese Coastal Republic takes his meals at the House of the Venerable and Inscrutable Colonel, one Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken. And he tosses off so many extra ideas along the way -- from half-sentient, artificial centaurs to evolution among sub-microscopic machines -- that the whole creation takes on a fractal appearance, each magnification yielding another layer of intricacy.

For the rest of the review, please go here.