2018

I was talking with one of my boys about how unsatisfactory the current year is – how we got the wrong future. Bruce Jenner instead of flying cars. The wrong Solar System too – no advanced but declining humanoid civilization on Mars, no jungle princesses wearing fur bikinis on Venus. Then I talked about a book by James Blish set in 2018, where we’re building a Bridge on Jupiter, out of frozen ammonia and Ice-7 and other materials frequently found in the Jovian aisle at Home Depot – with the aim of doing some weird gravitational experiment. We get the key data, let the Bridge disintegrate, and before you know it faster-than-light ships are buzzing around all the nearby star systems.

So I was bitching about 2018. Then Ben pointed out that there were still more than nine months left in the year.

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95 Responses to 2018

  1. Jacob says:

    Are you kidding? 2018 is a fantastic year. That omnibus bill provided $10,000,000 to female law enforcement officers in Afghanistan. Can you imagine a wiser use of your tax dollars? Things are going right on track, Doc.

    • gda says:

      “That omnibus bill provided 10,000,000 to female law enforcement officers in Afghanistan”

      Well, it provided “up to” $10M, but doesn’t mean a cent will actually be spent. The same thing applies for pretty much every other item in the Bill.

      Personally. I’m still admiring the Mulvaney/Ryan “Easter Egg” built into the Bill that will permit The Wall to be built by a clever little trick allowing National Security to be invoked so that they can draw from the DoD funds.

      Sneaky things like that make for a fun 2018.

      • Jacob says:

        Well, I hope every penny of it is sent over there. Can you imagine something more useful to the everyday American than having female law enforcement officers in Afghanistan?

        I won’t applaud them for that until they do it. Thanks for letting me know it might be an option, though.

      • The Z Blog says:

        The speed with which this myth as rocketed around the MAGA-sphere is a good example of what Festinger observed in When Prophecy Fails. The “undeniable disconfirmatory evidence” has made the people in the MAGA-sphere more committed to Trump.

        The internet makes this possible, as it provides the means to build virtual communities, that are even more intense and isolated than what can be done in real life. Practical necessity is not a moderating influence of on-line communities. So, the MAGA-sphere went from disonfirmation Friday afternoon, to fervent belief by dinner.

        • Jacob says:

          Interesting comment, I’ll have to take a look at the book.

          I wonder if that’s helpful to the movement. On the one hand, the inability to hold your leaders accountable sounds pretty bad. On the other, loudly denouncing your own politicians isn’t a strategy for electoral success, especially when the opposition is as morbidly determined as they are. I wonder if this puts an upper limit on the credibility of politicians: the only way a party could field credible candidates is by intensely scrutinizing them every electoral cycle, but intensely scrutinizing your own guy while the other party obsessively polishes the other candidate guarantees failure. An arms race to the bottom.

          I used to think he deliberately lied about petty, irrelevant stuff like Trump Steaks just to annoy the media. Now I think he probably lies about important stuff, too. I’d like him to prove me wrong, but then I’d also like a million bucks and a crazy but attractive Israeli girlfriend.

          For me, the coalmine canary was his bizarre hiring decisions: the biggest, dumbest, sleaziest, most fervently warmongering assholes he could find.

          • The Z Blog says:

            Trump was successful in real estate, because he knew the business cold. That allowed him to hire people, who were expert at certain aspects of it. In the media business, he became an expert on the business and that allowed him to hire a great media team.

            Trump does not know a lot about how to be President or how Congress works. He has not attracted good people he can trust to work all the levers of power. Washington has figured out that they can run circles around him and ignore him, for the most part. Maybe that changes in time, but for now, the White House is empty.

        • Can you prove its not possible? See this article from July 2017 which states it is possible. Would love to read what the law says, but not sure how to locate such a nuanced portion of law.

          https://www.usnews.com/opinion/economic-intelligence/articles/2017-07-19/congress-slyly-diverts-pentagon-money-to-fund-donald-trumps-border-wall

          • The Z Blog says:

            Every penny Congress authorizes is spoken for in the budget. Trump could move some small amounts from a dormant project to some other projects, but anything more than a few million gets Congressional action.

            The thing you have to understand is every cent of the budget has a hungry mouth attached to it. If the White House moved a dollar from a program, the lobbyist or agency that got that program in the budget is calling Congress.

    • Jamesrichardson703@gmail.com says:

      I, for one, sleep better knowing that Officers Fatima and Soraya are chowing down on doughnuts in Kabul.

      • Jacob says:

        Better make sure they don’t get the jelly filling on their hijabs!

        I laughed my ass off when I first saw that this was in the bill. I thought it was literally the most useless thing I’d ever seen. I didn’t even understand how someone could come up with something that crazy. As a thought experiment, I tried to think of the nuttiest, most wasteful possible idea for the money, and naturally went to “launch a puppy into the sun for under ten million bucks.”

        I immediately realized that that could result in a patent or two, unlike our friends Fatima and Soraya. (Waste disposal and feeding in 0 G would require fun gadgets, for example.) I unironically have a hard time imagining something more useless than what some bureaucrat is actually spending our money on.

        But I figured it out. I figured out how to be even more toxic and wasteful than someone who would spend 10 million on female LEOs in Afghanistan.

        Spend the 10 million on the salaries of new jobs in the government, and staff those jobs with the kind of dumb asshole who thinks it’s a good idea to spend 10 million on female LEOs in Afghanistan.

        • Ooh, yeah, self-replication is often the biggest worry. Who do we think Affirmative-Action beneficiaries are going to hire, for example?

          • Jacob says:

            Obviously they’ll have the wisdom, foresight, and sincere interest in our society’s prosperity to hire people based on their standardized scores and prior work performance.

            Jokes aside, I’m sure that’s exactly how this goes down, but that’s not even how I thought of it. I came to the conclusion that it would be very difficult for me to imagine something even more wasteful than what these people are actually doing, so the quickest way of being that wasteful is hiring them to do it for me.

            Can anyone here think of anything more useless, for ten million, than female LEOs in Afghanistan?

            Here’s one: a giant Rube Goldberg machine designed to kill whoever activates it by dropping a large, 24K gold sphere on their head.

            Sounds as useless as female LEOs in Afghanistan, but it isn’t: you could trick people you dislike into activating it, perhaps with plausible deniability when you’re slapped with the subsequent murder charge.

            I’m 0 for 2 here.

            • Thiago Ribeiro says:

              “Can anyone here think of anything more useless, for ten million, than female LEOs in Afghanistan?”
              Anything else costing 10 thousand grands Americans did in/for/about Afghanistan and Pakistan since 1980 that wouldn’t have been done by the Red Cross or the Doctors without Borders? I mean, at least, female LEOs probably won’t show their gratitude by crashing airplanes into American buildings or harboring terrorist groups or hiding bin Laden. Grading on a curve, it is an awesome investment.

              • Jacob says:

                Female LEOs are less harmful, certainly, but no less useless. If I’m allowed to put them on different scales. If we wanted to figure out how destructive we could be with 10 million it’d be a whole different ballgame.

              • Thiago Ribeiro says:

                The point should be to be less destructive, getting less bang for the buck. Afghans can be pretty destructive by themselves and on their own dough. Seriously, Carter did the last sensible thing any American president (including Mr. Peanutes himself) ever did about Afghanistan: he boycotted the Moscow Olympic Games over it. All the rest has been a disaster. So any investment in Afghanistan that not directly puts Stingers and Kalashnikovs on Anti-American war lord’s hands is awesome. The only Afghan investment better than that is nuking the country flat.

    • Thiago Ribeiro says:

      As opposed to all the rest of the Afghanistan affair, which has been so well planned and carried out, right?

  2. John Amalfi says:

    The Blish book–first in the Cities in Flight series, They Shall Have the Stars–also posited the US and the USSR were converging on indistinguishable dictatorships, and that we’d need the spindizzy drive to get out of Dodge. Good enough call for government work; I want my spindizzy.

  3. Zach Cochran says:

    (No relation, though I assume all (most? – not sure about Johnny Cochran) Cochrans are related.)

    I haven’t thought about James Blish in years. I read every one of his Star Trek books when I was a kid. That memory made me smile. Also smiled that we’ve still got 9 months to go on that Jupiter goal; it’s good to not be too pessimistic, I guess. I never read the Okie books, but now I’ll have to give them a shot.

    • Jacob says:

      Actually, you are all related, but it’s a really, really big family tree. Up to 40,000 years since your greatE3 grandfather split off with that of Johnny Cochran. I think we must have left Africa because we were sick of that guy’s shit.

  4. Jake Smith says:

    For that matter, how about the commercial space station and moon bases in the movie 2001? I grew up on 50s and 60s SF and expected us to be mining the asteroid belt and planting colonies on outer system moons by now. On the other hand, in Blish’s Cities in Flight series one of the characters uses a slide rule to do all his calculations. Heinlein’s Rolling Stones fly all over the solar system and plot their courses with pencil and paper. Larry Niven wrote an article discussing the technology in his (and Jerry Pournelle’s) novel The Mote in God’s Eye in which he describes how people in his far future society (1000 years from now) will have “pocket computers” that give them access to all the information they could possibly need . . . .

  5. Space Ghost says:

    It was Ice IV

  6. tim hadselon says:

    One side says innovation is improving rapidly (pointing to internet, iPhone, etc). Others say it has stalled. What are reasonable metrics to go by?

    Silicon Valley seems to still be innovating. But the real physical world seems pretty stuck.

    i.e. a brand new 2018 Cessna 182 is pretty much the same plane made in the 60s.

  7. MawBTS says:

    Playing videogames made in the 1990s is fun. The story is always something like “it’s the year 2004…and everything has changed“, cue a steroid-pumped hero blasting mutant lizards with a plasma cannon.

  8. Smithie says:

    Nine months? I guess we’ll have to skip the gravity assist. But at least we don’t have hobo floating cities looking for work.

  9. Senator Brundlefly says:

    Was the idea of space colonies every really feasible though? I mean, no attempt at big colonies in Antarctica or underwater in the ocean and those at least have the benefit of being on Earth. With regards to human habitation, I think a bit of home improvement (ex. green the Sahara) might be more worth it than the lifeless void of space where all the biological givens of water, O2, and gravity are pretty shaky.

    • Smithie says:

      You’re right; it probably doesn’t make good economic sense to go into space compared to sea-steading, etc. Trouble is you have to defend your island, while you build it. And a lot of environmentalists, not to mention states would be against you. Not easy,

      Space has a special appeal because it’s empty. It’s like how it used to mean something that the US had the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Atlantic on the other. Plus there’s a lot of energy and minerals to grab.

      Imagine a place with zero political correctness and rent-seeking. On earth there’s always some, though the levels vary significantly.

      • Senator Brundlefly says:

        Good points. But if one group can colonize space, don’t you think others would as well? Leading to the same issues? Plus there seems to be international laws against claiming outer space for any one nation (though I can see these easily being ignored). Plus in the beginning stages, wouldn’t any space colony be highly dependent on Earth for resources, limiting its capacity to be a place of freedom?

        • Smithie says:

          To me, there’s one huge limitation: realistically I’m not sure how much you can do with only rockets and in situ resource utilization, at least at first. I think you’d need to move some serious mass to reach an industrial threshold.

          In order to do that, you need some serious infrastructure on earth. Something big and incredibly expensive. Maybe a space elevator or something simpler. An easy target, and if you are able to move millions of tons into space, then that’s going to scare the crud out of a lot of people. We are probably talking an international coalition and a preemptive strike.

          • M says:

            Sine we have done precisely zero in situ resource utilization to date, I’m not sure we know how far we can go with that.

            We’re just now starting to re-use the launch vehicles, after all.

      • Henry Scrope says:

        Why do something out of economic necessity? No good ever comes of it. Do things because we can, because we want to, just for the hell of it, for fun, for a laugh, because its there.

        Let’s colonise Mars.

        Let’s unite the Anglosphere in a superstate.

        Let’s build a transatlantic tunnel, hoorah!

    • wontgetthtough says:

      Who would want to colonize space? How would want to live on Mars? We would only do that out of absolute necessity?

      The same might even be true of flying cars. I’m perfectly content with the scenery at ground level.

    • Ursiform says:

      It will make economic sense to build cities in the Sahara long before it will make economic sense on the moon. Or Mars.

      • Abraham Lincoln says:

        By giving them jobs and wives.

        Just kidding.

        If you won’t shoot them — or can’t — then you can do skyscrapers connected at the top by walkways or flying vehicles. If everything you need is in your skyscraper or a neighboring one, why ever descend to ground level?

    • Zenit says:

      Was the idea of space colonies every really feasible though?

      No, and neither was space trade, space war, space piracy and other tropes of old times science fiction, copied and pasted from old sea stories. Just replace sailing ships with space ships, muskets with blasters, cannon with photon torpedoes and you are done.

  10. pyrrhus says:

    Heh…I’ve been telling my boys for a long time that I got trapped in the wrong space-time thread, and one of them needs to invent a time machine that will get us all back to the correct reality…So far, no luck.

  11. Senator Brundlefly says:

    Have people’s optimistic predictions about the future in the past usually come true? I know Jules Verne stuff like moon travel and submarines have, but are there other examples?

  12. Abelard Lindsey says:

    My childhood (actually early teens) inspiration was the O’niell space colony concept. I actually have recently downloaded the free ebooks of both “The High Frontier” and “2081” on my Kindle. “2081” in particular states that their would be “many” space colonies built by 2015 and that people would be migrating to them.

    Even by the time I was 16 (1979), I knew it wasn’t going to happen, at least not prior to 2050.

    You guys are right that none of these SF writers predicted laptop computers and smart phones. My fried thinks they have got in wrong again in their failure to depict the ubiquity of sexbots in current SF novels.

    • MawBTS says:

      You guys are right that none of these SF writers predicted laptop computers and smart phones.

      Did you ever read Johnny Mnemonic by William Gibson?

      The film version is set in the year 2021, and one plot point is that Johnny (a guy with a computer embedded in his head, played by a pre-Matrix Keanu Reeves) gets an upgrade that doubles his storage capacity from 80gb to 160gb.

      We’re still three years short of 2021, and $300 gets you a hard drive with eight terabytes of storage.

    • wontgetthtough says:

      why would you want to live on a space colony? I mean as a child it might seem cool, but as an adult you should know that it would be a major hassle and a step backwards from life on Earth.

      • Bob says:

        I believe the amount of solar energy available, the amount of raw materials in space, the ease of manufacturing in low gravity environments, climate control, etc., potentially make per capita living standards much higher in the space colonies according to O’Neill and others.

        • ChrisA says:

          I think that this will all be realized by robots. Almost no-one will want to live in space long term, it would be just too damn boring. A forget trying to bring up a family there, even if you could persuade a female to go there, they are going to want to have their kids on earth where they can grow up in a more natural environment. The only reason that this would change is if the earth becomes uninhabitable for some reason.

          • Bob says:

            What would be the point of having robots there alone?

            Theoretically, they would be able to provide much higher living standards for much more people, potentially trillions of people. And they would replicate natural environments. The earth wouldn’t have to be uninhabitable before attracting people to settle in space.

        • Abelard Lindsey says:

          Yes, and the large ones (island 3’s) would have been very nice to live in. Also remember the L-5 Society was during the 70’s which was the decade when everyone believed in the “Club of Rome” limits to growth crap. The space colony idea was essentially an intellectual rebellion against the limits to growth ideology. Of course we have never built space colonies, the rest of the world is developing, and the human population is leveling off on its own. One could say that the limits to growth people were wrong and the space colonies proved unnecessary.

          • Bob says:

            Real wages have been stagnant since the early 70s, and while the rest of the world is developing, most of it isn’t converging on peak American per capita levels. I don’t know if they’re necessary, but continued real growth would be a lot easier if we did have advanced space colonies like the kind proposed by O’Neill.

            • Abelard Lindsey says:

              What you say is true. But its not due to resource limits. Its due to cultural and cognitive limits instead. I do remain an advocate of space colonization. But it would not make a difference in the issues you mention. Rather, space colonization would allow for self-motivated competent people (e.g. “heinleinian” types) to leave this society and create new ones on their own.

    • Bob says:

      If I recall correctly, the O’Neill concepts were completely based on technology that was already available at the time they were developed in the 70s. I don’t think it’s been technical obstacles that have prevented their development.

      • Abelard Lindsey says:

        Yes and no. The basic technologies to build them were available in the 1970’s but the biomeme stuff has yet to be worked out.

  13. wontgetthtough says:

    On the one hand, futurology is an exercise in futility. On the other, if we needed flying cars or colonies on Mars, we would have them. Near-lights-peed drives? Maybe not.

    BTW, Gcochran, did you recommend Ringworld? If so, thanks. Cute story.

  14. Zenit says:

    If you remember optimistic, shiny and happy science fiction futures, you are really ancient. I was promised nothing than famine, plague, environmental collapse, nuclear holocaust, alien invasion, robot uprising, mutant genocide and zombie apocalypse.
    Our future is not like science fiction future, it is much better.

    • reinertor says:

      Yes, the SF I read either had no connection to reality (like Dune), or was kinda pessimistic about the future. Mind you, I didn’t mind a dystopian future as long as the toys were getting shinier.

  15. Toad says:

    Then again, we didn’t experience the Eugenics Wars of 1992.

    Eugenics Wars

    The Eugenics Wars (or the Great Wars) were a series of conflicts fought on Earth between 1992 and 1996. The result of a scientific attempt to improve the Human race through selective breeding and genetic engineering, the wars devastated parts of Earth, by some estimates officially causing some thirty million deaths, and nearly plunging the planet into a new Dark Age.

    Genetic engineering of Humans was ultimately banned on Earth, as the concept was considered anti-Humanistic by Earth leaders.

    Genetic engineering banned? Thats crazy.

    • JayMan says:

      Especially when you consider that the world of Star Trek, where preadolescents take calculus, is pretty impossible without genetic engineering.

    • Zimriel says:

      Read the books. The Eugenics Wars were retconned into a cloak-and-dagger undercover conflict unnoted at the time but later recognised as important.
      Mind you, all that is out of date now too.

  16. Dave Pinsen says:

    Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 combines hard science terraforming with futuristic Bruce Jenner stuff. Although he has one of his space characters recognize that some earthlings who haven’t done their crazy self-experimentation think the spacers are decadent and perverse.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I read some stuff by Kim Stanley Robinson years ago but it didn’t grab me.

      • M says:

        Red Mars started out by assuming that NASA would actually be able to do manned missions to Mars, as opposed to its current role as pork.

        I stopped reading about 50 pages in – that struck me as the most fantastic thing I had ever read (in the sense that it was completely unrelated to reality).

      • Abelard Lindsey says:

        Agreed. The problem is not his politics, although I despise them. The problem is that he is boring.

        • Smithie says:

          I agree: very painful to read.

          • Dave Pinsen says:

            Also: Red Mars and Green Mars were great reads. I read Blue Mars for closure, but that one went on way too long and got boring.

            • Abelard Lindsey says:

              No, I thought even his Mars trilogy was boring. I like Greg bear’s Mars novel (Moving Mars) that was published during the same period.

        • Dave Pinsen says:

          KSR’s future politics is interesting. Unlike a lot of sci-fi writers, he grapples with the economic and political consequences of self-replicating machinery, etc. The closer he gets to the present, the more conventionally liberal he is, and the less it interests me.

          In terms of writing chops, there are few writers in any genre who can match KSR.

      • Dave Pinsen says:

        I would give him another shot, but 2312 isn’t his best.

        A good stand-alone book of his is Aurora, about a generation ship.

        Another is his alternate history, The Years Of Rice And Salt. That one images what world history would have been like had the Black Plague wiped out 99% of Europe’s population.

        • wontgetthtough says:

          I’m pretty sure that Aurora was written by a 12 year old.

        • Abelard Lindsey says:

          Actually 2312 and Aurora are the only KSR books that are readable. They are the only novels of his that do not put you to sleep by sheer boredom. Brin’s novel “Existenz” is also not bad at all. The problem with most of Brin’s novels is that his Id is smeared all over them. This novel is refreshing free of it.

          • Dave Pinsen says:

            I was underwhelmed by Existenz. Despite him being a physicist, and KSR having a PhD in English, there was more hard sci-fi in Aurora, plus a better story, and interesting speculations about politics and sociology on a generation ship. Most of the interesting ideas in 2312 were mentioned first in the Mars trilogy (e.g., the city on rails on Mercury’s terminator). The book doesn’t have much of a story holding it together. I liked The Years of Rice and Salt much better.

  17. The Z Blog says:

    What always brings me solace is the knowledge that things will probably only get worse. It makes the present feel like a golden age.

    • Maciano says:

      Memo: avoid cynical people: it’s a cover for them to not to try make anything better and make you feel as miserable as they are.

  18. dearieme says:

    “Ben pointed out that there were still more than nine months left in the year.” What an optimist. He really believes that the US attempts to provoke war, presumably nuclear, with Russia are going to fail? Perhaps he has faith that the absurd boor Trump will defeat the vile Deep State. I don’t say that’s the way to bet but it probably is the way to pray.

    • reinertor says:

      the US attempts to provoke war, presumably nuclear, with Russia

      I feel like either I’m crazy, or the propaganda campaign against Putin really is similar to the campaigns preceding attacks on the respective countries of Milosevic, Saddam, or Gaddafi, except it’s been going on much longer and way more hysterical. But then, it always ended with a war against those countries. So what is going to happen here? Do these bozos have a plan? Do they even understand what are the possible consequences?

    • Anon says:

      Trump may be a boor but at least he’s not a bore, like yourself. If only I had a penny for every time some middling internet commenter brought up Trump unsolicited only to signal sophistication by calling him a brute…

  19. Regarding future space flight, there is a famous quote by Professor Sir Fred Hoyle:
    “It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on the Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing intelligence this is not correct. We have or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned.”

  20. Sending our best and brightest outward is a sure recipe for Edenic Return. Douglas Adams’s prediction may be the closest to the reality.

  21. ChrisA says:

    As others have noted above, probably many of the Science Fiction fantasies were never practical, its a bit like bemoaning you are not in Harry Potter’s universe. The deeper question behind all this is if we are failing to progress at the same rate as the 1950’s. The poster child is aviation where progress from say 1915 to 1950 is just astounding (going in 35 years from barely able to work powered glider to supersonic jets). This was true of a lot of other massive engineering as well, like internal combustion technologies, or missiles and so on. It now seems like massive engineering progress has paused. Our planes, rockets, missiles, ships would be pretty much recognizable to our 1950’s colleagues. Heck some of them are still in regular use (B-52s).

    • Bob says:

      Well if you consider Project Orion and O’Neill’s work, there’s no technical reason why we couldn’t have had gigantic interstellar spaceships and space colonies by now.

      Aviation was helped along by the world wars. Intense state competition incentivizes such technical development. Civil aviation in the US actually stalled a bit after WWII and relied on old military planes for a while, until the British released the de Havilland Comet, which was based on work on jets the British had done during the war.

  22. Michel Rouzic says:

    I’m loving how the world is changing, it’s going from enforced success to much more Darwinism. In a way Bruce Jenner is a sign of that change, he felt like LARPing as a woman for a long time, but instead he felt socially pressured to bottle it up, get married and have children. Now things have changed, those pressures are fading away, and he feels free to live as a woman. Were he 40 years younger he might even have gotten his banana split and made sure that’s the end of the genetic road for him. It takes a good understanding of the mechanisms at work in the world to understand that in the long term we’re going in the opposite of the direction we’re going in the short term, that makes it interesting.

    I feel sorry for people who dream of a scifi future, obviously they’re bound for never ending disappointment, but also what they dream about isn’t even good (what on Earth would you be doing on Mars, a desert more boring and less livable than either Atacama or Antarctica with horrendous Internet? And robot AI girlfriends? What problem does that solve?) and more importantly I don’t think they fully appreciate the beauty of the self-righting mess we live in on Earth. You’ll never leave Earth but it’s a very good thing, try to appreciate it. Besides you all know very well that we’re not adapted to life anywhere else.

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