There’s a wave of change coming. If we want to be realistic, we need to be ready for it — at least, as far as we are able to be. Anyone making plans for a future that won’t be there by the time it arrives is simply wasting everybody’s time, and first of all their own.
Under even remotely capitalist conditions, technology reliably over-performs in the medium term, as long as you’re looking in the right direction. Sure, flying cars, jetpacks, and nuclear fusion have gone missing, but instead we got mass-consumer computing, Cyberspace, and mobile telephony. What actually turned up has switched the world far more than the technologies that got lost would have done. It climbed into our brains far more deeply, established far more intense social-cybernetic circuitry, adjusted us more comprehensively, and opened gates we hadn’t foreseen. (You’re on a computer of some kind right now, in case you hadn’t noticed.)
Because technological innovation rolls in on hype cycles, it messes with our expectations, systematically. There’s always a prompt for fashionable disillusionment, shortly before the storm-front hits. Dupes always fall for it. It’s hard not to.
The hype wave carrying us now has cyberpunk characteristics. Anticipated in the 1980s-90s, its delivery lag-time had drawn burnt-out excitement down to reflexive cynicism by the turn of the Millennium. The only thing preventing the first decade of the 21st Century being defined by broken promises was the intolerable embarrassment of having to admit that cyberpunk futurism had ever seemed credible at all. Social Media rushed in to paste an amnesiac banality over awkward recollections of the lost horizon.
All those detailed expectations of decentralized crypto-fortresses, autonomous Cyberspace agencies, anarcho-capitalist digital dynamics, and immersive simulated worlds — so ludicrously dated — are reaching their implementation phase now. Satoshi Nakamoto’s blockchain machinery is the primary driver, and there’ll be much more on that to come. It’s the Internet-enveloping blockchain that lays down the infrastructure for the first independent techno-intelligences — synthetic agencies modeled as self-resourcing autonomous corporations. It’s probably strictly impossible for us to exaggerate what that implies.
‘Virtual Reality‘ appears as a comparative triviality, and perhaps it is. Nevertheless, as a socio-technological and cultural occurrence, it will be vast enough on its own to shake the world.
William Gibson fabricated a fictional brand-placeholder for the coming immersive interface products (‘decks’): Ono Sendai. We can now confidently substitute the actual first-wave brand Oculus Rift, which is undergoing subsumption into the Facebook Internet-capital ‘stack‘ around about now. Oculus Rift is happening. Techno-commercial realization of VR in the near-term is thus a practical inevitability.
Comparing this second-echelon techno-commercial occurrence to the wildest dreams of political innovation is radically humiliating to the latter. Not only will politics certainly disappoint us, but even were it not to, the outcome would be a relatively pitiful one. Political transformation is ‘at best’ a re-ordering of primate dominance hierarchies, which everyone knows won’t actually be for the best — or anything close to it. VR could easily be worse, but it will inevitably be much bigger. It touches on the cosmological (and if people want to push that into the ‘theo-cosmological’ they won’t receive much push-back from here).
Set aside Moldbuggian invocations of VR as a solution to the ‘dire problem‘ for now — even though they exceed the limits of the consensual political imaginary. The implications of VR effortlessly reach the level of the Fermi Paradox. It could be the Great Filter itself, which is arguably the most awesome monster — or abstract horror — the human species has ever conceived. Whatever the games and worlds it introduces, end of history scenarios are bundled in for free. It’s vast, and it’s coming just about now.
Our species is about to start building worlds. If we don’t take that seriously, our seriousness is very much in question.