Co-authored with Scott Jacobsen
Imagine the year 2040 in all its weirdness. You’ll be old or oldish but will look and feel pretty good because medicine will be amazeballs. You’ll be way more plugged into social media and streaming sensory input through wearable information feeds. You’ll never be more than two feet away from something that’s chipped or roboticized. Daily life will be a battle between the familiarly human and the inexorable incursion of science fiction. And 2040 is only six Presidential elections away.
The major changes in our lives will come from market-driven technology, not politics. It’s already that way. Politics didn’t give us smart phones and Instagram. Government didn’t force us into our device-centered lives – the irresistibility of an endless flow of entertainment and personalized information did. Technology will save us or will at least compel us to join the next stages of civilization.
No government on earth will do a great job of coping with the tech explosion over the next 20, 50, and 100 years. But non-stupid governments will do better. Government that gets hung up on trans people in bathrooms will fail at making reasonable and timely decisions about AI.
Thanks to gerrymandering, we currently have an excess of dumbness in government. Gerrymandered districts which safely belong to one party send creeps and idiots to Washington to intentionally obstruct and break government.
Stupid, fanatical voices are overrepresented. Anti-science, anti-change, anti-reason viewpoints have too much power – power exercised by voters who have been encouraged by cynical leaders to think that belligerent ignorance is patriotic common sense. (See the Dunning-Kruger Effect, where dumb people tend to be too dumb to realize they’re dumb.)
Of course there are issues besides dumbness in this election – jobs, wages, education, racism, sexism, polarization, terrorism, social change, medical coverage, the environment. And for many of these issues, no political party has adequate solutions, though no politician will admit it. Politics can’t solve the problem of jobs lost to automation. Effective medical care would still be fairly expensive even if our greed-encouraging payment systems were somehow fixed. Some of these problems will never be solved – they’ll just be replaced by the problems of the future (just as the problem of too much poop on city streets went away when cars replaced horses).
But we need a functioning government, politicians who aren’t saps, and political dialogue that consists of non-stupid arguments about non-stupid issues. Otherwise, we’ll fall behind in the tech explosion, and you can’t catch up with an explosion – you can only ride it. China and India have a combined population eight times that of the United States. They have their own dysfunctions, but they have much more human capital – hardworking, smart people – with which to overcome them. We can’t be a nation of dopes and keep up.
We cannot elect a bombastic yahoo President who will empower the forces of dumbness. For our own citizens and to continue to attract the best brains from around the world, America must continue to be a shining beacon of awesomeness and among the most promising places for the future to unfold.
Despite our current political crapshow, the US still leads the world in technology. Here’s what we need for the US to continue to lead in tech:
Education: Colleges that continue to have a strong international reputation. Public schools that haven’t been ravaged by backwards state legislatures.
Quality of life – coolness, social mobility, safety, rule of law: America is where big, showy dreams come true. It’s the best country in which to be rich and famous – you might get to make out with a member of Kylie Jenner’s posse. But the fun is dampened if we have to worry about poisoned water or shooty folks or a Hate-Enabler-in-Chief.
Tolerance for change: Sooner or later, it’ll all happen – robot girlfriends and boyfriends, downloadable consciousness, genetically engineered PermaPuppies. Some parts of the world will wall themselves off from the future. Those places will suck worse than places that are reconciled to change.
Not being a clown show: We need to be pro-science and pro-smartness. Calling dumb spokespeople and dumb, contrary-to-fact ideas stupid shouldn’t be taboo. (For instance, Jeffrey Lord = moron.)
Not being (seen as) evil: In and after World War Two, the US was seen as heroic. We thought of ourselves as heroic. But WW2 was an unusually clear instance of good versus evil and was more than 70 years ago. We have to make some effort to look like we’re living up to American Part of that effort can include not electing a mega-jerk President.
With Hillary, we at least get something that acts like government. It won’t solve everyone’s problems, but it will at least function, allowing America to continue to be a place in which tech can flourish. And a Democratic President will nominate Supreme Court Justices who may help clean up gerrymandering,
We need some reasonable amount of government. For every American alive in 1789, the US now has more than 100 people. We have $37 trillion worth of infrastructure, more than $100,000 per person, but spending on infrastructure has plummeted (because of dumbness-based political gridlock).
The future is coming. We can’t hide from it under a triple comb-over.