inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #0 of 74: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 1 Jan 05 07:19
Happy 2005, and welcome to our annual "state of the world" discussion with Bruce
Sterling. 2004 was twisted, so we should have a lot to talk about. First,
(probably overlong) bios for Bruce and discussion leader Jon L. The Bruce bio was
borrowed from The Bruce Sterling Online Index
(, with thanks to Chris Waltrip for all the
goodies there, including Cheap Truth, the Catscan columns, and the complete
Hacker Crackdown.

Bruce Sterling was born in Brownsville, Texas on April 14th, 1954. When he was
six months old, his parents moved to Austin where his father received a degree in
mechanical engineering from the University of Texas. After his father's
graduation the family moved to Galveston, where Bruce spent his formative years.  
He began writing at the age of twelve in what he would later describe as "a frank
bid for attention". When he was fifteen, his family moved to India, where his
father worked on a fertilizer plant project. He spent two and a half years
traveling extensively overseas, and then returned to Austin to attend classes at
the University of Texas. There Bruce became involved with a group of other
science fiction fans and writers who called themselves the Turkey City Writer's
Workshop, and with their encouragement began writing science fiction more
seriously. In 1976, he graduated with a degree in journalism and sold his first
science fiction story, Man-Made Self. A year later, Harlan Ellison published his
first novel, Involution Ocean, as part of his Discovery Series.

In 1980, Sterling published The Artificial Kid. For the next several years, he
wrote and sold a number of short stories set in what would eventually be called
the "Shaper-Mechanist universe". In 1985, he published a full-length novel in
this setting, called Schismatrix. At the same time, he began writing and editing
a photocopied "zine" called Cheap Truth in which he (under the pseudonym Vincent
Omniveritas) and a number of collaborators mocked the science fiction
establishment and called for a new, more vibrant, and more culturally relevant
approach to the genre. This viewpoint and the fiction associated with it
eventually became known as "cyberpunk". Along with William Gibson, John Shirley,
and Rudy Rucker, Sterling became one of the most prominent voices of this growing
movement. His eloquence, intensity, and gift for rhetoric combined to make him
such a powerful presence on science fiction convention panels that some people
referred to him as "Chairman Bruce". In 1986, he edited an anthology of cyberpunk
science fiction, Mirrorshades, which is considered to be one of the most
important documents of the genre. By 1988, the "cyberpunk" movement had run its
course, and Sterling began to move beyond it with his aggressively down-to-earth
science fiction novel Islands in the Net and a diverse short story collection,
Crystal Express, in 1989. He then collaborated with William Gibson on a
"steampunk" novel, The Difference Engine, which was published in 1990.

Also in 1990, the U.S. Secret Service raided the offices of Steve Jackson Games 
in Austin, Texas as part of a nationwide "hacker crackdown". Sterling was so 
alarmed by these events that he chronicled them in his first non-fiction novel, 
The Hacker Crackdown, published in 1992. After publishing the book in a 
conventional format, Sterling released the work in free electronic form as part 
of his bid to support a new communications medium known as the Internet. The 
electronic version of the book was widely disseminated, and can today be found on 
hundreds of websites around the world. He also gave the book away on disk at 
speaking engagements, to the considerable horror of his paper publishers. 
Following the publication of The Hacker Crackdown, Sterling began to write more 
journalism and non-fiction work, as well as embark upon a notable second career 
as a much sought-after public speaker. He continued to write science fiction, and 
in 1994 he published his dark tale of a global-warming future, Heavy Weather.

In 1995, Sterling gave a series of speeches explaining his interest in the life 
and death of new types of media. This led to the development of The Dead Media 
Project, an Internet mailing list and discussion group through which Sterling and 
a number of collaborators catalogued "dead" media of the past and present. 
Sterling's original aim was to organize a research project that would culminate 
in a book on dead media written collaboratively by the members of the mailing 
list. However the project eventually sputtered out and no book has yet been 

In 1996, Sterling published Holy Fire, and some of his research for this novel 
led him to a new interest in design, especially industrial design. This interest 
and a growing concern about global climate change moved him to launch the 
Viridian Design movement. The movement was developed in a series of speeches 
given by Sterling in 1998 and 1999, and officially declared by a manifesto of 
January 3rd, 2000. The goal of the movement is to advance environmental awareness 
through revolutionary art and design, or as phrased on the Viridians' official 
website, to "create irrestible demand for a global atmosphere upgrade." Like the 
Dead Media Project, the movement is organized mostly by Sterling through an 
Internet mailing list. Unlike the Dead Media Project, the Viridian Design 
movement has produced considerably more "real world" products, which include two 
magazines, graphics and fonts, a website, a weblog, and a number of design 
projects. The Viridian Design movement continues to thrive to this day.

In 1998, Sterling published Distraction, a novel about politics and 
bioengineering. This was followed by a short story collection, A Good 
Old-Fashioned Future, in 1999. In 2000, he published Zeitgeist, a postmodern 
fantasy set at the turn of the millenium. His most recent work, Tomorrow Now: 
Envisioning the Next 50 Years, is a nonfiction work of futurist speculation.

Sterling continues to produce a steady output of novels, short stories, 
journalism, media appearances, speeches, weblog posts and email screeds.


Jon Lebkowsky is CEO of Polycot, an innovative team of Internet technology 
experts with broad experience creating and managing information systems for 
businesses and nonprofit organizations. An authority on computer-mediated 
communications, virtual communities, and online social networks, he has worked as 
project manager, systems analyst, technology director, and online community 

He was cofounder and CEO of one of the first virtual corporations, FringeWare, 
Inc. He is currently President of EFF-Austin, President of the Austin Free-Net 
Board of Directors, a cofounder of the Open Source Business Alliance, the Austin 
Wireless City Project, and the national Social Software Alliance, and advisor for 
the annual South by Southwest Interactive conference. He serves on the Advisory 
Board for the University of Texas Science, Technology, and Society Program. A 
longtime Internet activist, he is co-editing a book on technology, democracy, and 
advocacy, and served on the organizing committee for O'Reilly's Digital Democracy 
Teach-In (February 9, 2004). He recently completed a year-long engagement with 
IC² Institute at the University of Texas, where he managed Wireless Future, a 
project that produced a major economic development report as well as a national 
wireless track within South by Southwest Interactive. He contributes to weblogs 
at,, and

He has written about technology for publications such as Mondo 2000, 21C, Whole 
Earth Review, Fringe Ware Review, Wired Magazine, 21C, and the Austin Chronicle.
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #1 of 74: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 1 Jan 05 07:29
Ice caps are melting, the US was slammed by a succession of major hurricanes this 
year, the U.S. is struggling with a painful war in Iraq... where do we start? And 
how did you get a gig teaching industrial design?
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #2 of 74: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 2 Jan 05 07:17
Well, for two years I've been trying to write a science fiction novel
about "ubiquitous computation."  However, I'm now so close to
my material that, when I went to lecture about it, I got asked
to join the faculty of a design school.

It's not like I get tenure, mind you.  I'm merely guest-artist
for a year, or, as they like to put it at my new alma mater,
Art Center College of Design, I'm "Provocateur-in-Residence."
But I get a salary, and, more to the point, I get to play
in the prototype lab.  

I could have said, "No, I've got to finish sci-fi novel
number umpteen here," but, gee whiz, if they're asking,
why not go?  ACCD is one of the world's most-famed
design schools, and justly so.  I was flattered.

I was in residence for a couple of weeks at Cranbrook
School of Design back in the early 90s, and I wrote
the outline and proposal for my novel HOLY FIRE there.
That turned out to be one of my better books.
So, y'know, I'll do it.  What the hey.

What's the worst that can happen, right?
The entire coast of Southern California
being wiped out in a giant Pacific tsunami,
that would be about "the worst," right?
And what's that got to do with me doing
some lively futuristic dabbling at a cool
art college in Pasadena?  Nothing, right?
It's all upside!

You know what the problem is with
"ubiquitous computation"?  It took me two
years to figure this out, but first, it isn't
"ubiquitous," and second, it isn't "computation."
Now all I have to do is go back to the
concrete and rebar of my sci-fi novel and start

In the meantime, I wrote some short stories.
They're a departure for me.  They're breaking
the mold -- to the extent that I ever had a mold.
Here's one:
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #3 of 74: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 2 Jan 05 12:20
That's great; "A Bug's Life" on steroids (with a few pheromones thrown in)...

Is ubiquitous computing dead? Or did we just apply the wrong label? I always 
thought there would be more devices embedded in the environment, but assigning 
addresses to many devices seemed challenging, and there was the issue of power 
supply. And I still hear a lot of buzz about nanotechnology.

Is the book just shelved for a bit, or are you blowing it off and waiting for a 
blast from the muse?
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #4 of 74: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 3 Jan 05 02:16
*Well, I do hope to work on the book this year. After all,
I'm under contract to do it.  Never having been a teacher,
I naively don't know how grueling teaching is, but it's
not like they made me head of the department.

*It's a really profound notion, "ubiquitous computation,"
but I think it's badly formulated, because it implies
this smooth layer of magic wireless fudge that's
uniform everywhere, and it also suggests that number-crunching
on heavy iron is the main thing that gets done
with that capacity.

I believe "Internet of Things" is a somewhat better
way to put it, because here we get to think
with some proper wariness of a phenomenon
that's hugely powerful and transformative, but also screwed-up,
corrupt, invasive, patchy and dangerous -- 
in other words, we start thinking about it
as if it were a real technology.

My novel  is about people who understand this
and live with it on a daily basis, in various
subcultures and situations, so, once I've
figured out the conceptual core of it, I'm hoping it
comes along fairly briskly.

I'm assuming I can stop myself from making lamps.
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #5 of 74: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 3 Jan 05 15:34
What are your educational objectives for the design class?
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #6 of 74: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 3 Jan 05 20:32
(Note: Bruce reminds me that he's traveling tomorrow, therefore might
be silent for a bit.)
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #7 of 74: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 4 Jan 05 00:06
I don't board the plane till 2.  It'll be interesting to see if I can
do this while hopping through planetary airports in puddles of 
credit-card wi-fi.

My so-called "classes" are gonna be a series of futurist
labs where we ponder big flashy near-term tech trends and
speculate about what designers ought to do to exploit them.

My educational objectives are to learn something myself.

In design schools, people do projects and actually design
stuff, so presumably I'll be sitting in at a lot of
"crit sessions."  If you've never been in one of these,
they're kinda like psychoanalysis, but for objects.

As a further fillip, I'm officially part of the ACCD 
photography department, which, at least, ought
to give me an excuse to buy a decent digital
camera.  For some reason, my blog, "Beyond the
Beyond," has grown ever more thick with snapshots.
Last week, I stuck some video in it.
It's lousy video, but hey -- I'm Mr Multimedia
now, look out,
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #8 of 74: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 4 Jan 05 04:48
Getting to the state of the world (which is increasingly
well-dcoumented by amateur video these days), we've just had an epic
disaster of another kind in Southeast Asia, and earlier in the year the
US coast was slammed by a succession of intense hurricanes, and we'll
probably see more catastrophic weather as a result of climate change.
What are your thoughts about the social and political impact of
catastrophic disruptions?  How much battering will our essential
systems (electrical power, water and food distribution, etc.) take?
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #9 of 74: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 4 Jan 05 04:59
As a reference for that last question, here's an interesting op-ed by
Simon Winchester, the author of "Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded,
August 27, 1883":

"Given these cascades of disasters past and present, one can only
wonder: might there be some kind of butterfly effect, latent and
deadly, lying out in the seismic world? There is of course no hard
scientific truth - no firm certainty that a rupture on a tectonic
boundary in the western Pacific (in Honshu, say) can lead directly to a
break in a boundary in the eastern Pacific (in Parkfield), or another
in the eastern Indian ocean (off Sumatra, say). But anecdotally, as
this year has so tragically shown, there is evidence aplenty."
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #10 of 74: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 4 Jan 05 08:24
In Zurich, slurping email off wifi, boarding for Paris....
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #11 of 74: Gail Williams (gail) Tue 4 Jan 05 10:22
Wildly hopping about!   

Jon, as a former geology student, (whether that makes me more or less
credible), I had a strong take on that quote.  While Bruce circles the 
planet, I'll go out on a limb and say that regions can have relatively 
quiet times and then wake up again, but overall the patterns take place on 
such a long time frame that most patterns we can perceive in our lives 
are more likely coincidence. 

Now perhaps we can get others who know more than I on this subject
to read that article and comment on it.
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #12 of 74: David Gault (dgault) Tue 4 Jan 05 13:35

Hi Bruce,  Snappy New Year

This is a good chance to thank you for the work you highlight
on the Viridian site.  I have felt since I heard that there had
been a big ass quake underwater off Indonesia that I had a line
on the worst case and so far it's coming true.  As the recovery
of the infrastructure moves along,  I fear the results,  but at least
I can picture it,  again thanks to the stuff I read via Viridian.

Specifically,  the projections of threat to coastlines with 
low elevation rise as global warming proceeds seem to have come
true in about 45 minutes.  

I hope you or your cohort get involved in the recovery planning.
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #13 of 74: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 4 Jan 05 14:03

Now inside Charles De Gaulle airport, hiring wifi and sucking laptop
voltage off the plug of a defunct Coke machine.  This French airport
is lavishly hung with worshipful poster portraits of various
Nobel Peace Prize winners.  Could there be a message here, I wonder?

This tsunami is a healthy reminder that the world has disasters
worse than those we inflict on ourselves.  We seem to be
in the time of the "Sixth Great Extinction" thanks to the
human impact on the biosphere, but hey, there were five other
Great Extinctions that really did happen long before we started 
playing with matches.

I also saw that Winchester thing and was kind of nonplussed with it.
So, okay, suppose there were a ghastly "butterfly effect in the
seismic world." Suppose, say, some godforsaken place in Siberia or
the Deccan yawns open and disgorges forty cubic kilometers
of red-hot volcanic basalt. (Such things have been known
to happen.)   I reckon that'd be mighty bad, a real scifi disaster,
but what are we supposed to do about that, send each other SMS 
messages? Should we walk up the Embarcadero and Market Street
with "THE END IS NEAR" signs?  Let's face, civilization's
goose would be thoroughly cooked through no fault of
our own!  Most species would die, like they customarily do
in Great Extinctions.  The scattered remnants of the human race 
would just try not to be one of 'em.

I doubt there's anything constructive much we could do to save
civilization from such an eventuality, even if we knew that 
the event was coming. What can't be cured must be endured,
so I'm inclined not to worry my pretty head about it.

Let's talk about it from another perspective.
If you've got a choice between two worst-case scenarios:
a planet whose atmosphere is wrecked by giant volcanoes,
and a planet whose atmosphere was wrecked by Exxon-Mobil,
hey, there's no question that first one is vastly preferable.
Natural disasters, as opposed to human-inflicted ones,
can actually improve our morale.

I mean, look at the warm, snuggly, aren't-we-wonderful
reaction to the mayhem that hit the shores of Tamil Nadu,
compared to the who-us, no-way, talk-to-my-lawyer reaction
that still surrounds Bhopal.   

When a giant tidal wave hits Asia, Bush pulls his own 
dad out of mothballs, but when the Arctic melts from 
climate change,  permafrost forests fall over drunkenly 
and Eskimo villages slide into the thawing muck, 
everybody in the Republican Party
looks all pie--eyed, quotes the Bible and blames
hurricanes on lesbians.

We're doing practically nothing useful about climate
change and it's a steadily mounting disaster.
I do think the next decades are going to see a whole
lot of paramilitary Operations Other Than War in
reaction to astonishingly bad weather.  So, well,
an event like the tsunami gives us the chance to refine
our disaster-response chops.  They could use the

I'm digging the tsunami coverage on WORLDCHANGING.
Those guys rock so hard, I almost stopped crying
in my beer over WHOLE EARTH REVIEW.
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #14 of 74: Dave Christenson (jonl) Tue 4 Jan 05 14:28
Email from Dave Christenson:

To me, the case for anthropogenic global warming is strong enough to
justify (democraticly approved) public policy changes. Nonetheless the
connection between anthropogenic emissions and the global climate
clearly still has unknown complex interactions, and its even possible
that other "natural" (non human) forces are far more signifigant
climate factors.

Thus, I find that the poplular and media belief in of the scientific
certainty of anthropogenic global warming to be another example of the
wrong headedness of "common sense."

Do you have any concern that popular misconceptions about the
certainty of the science (art?) of global climate forcasting will have
adverse impacts on public policy?
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #15 of 74: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 4 Jan 05 14:30
Note to readers who aren't members of the WELL: you can still
participate in this discussion by sending your comments or questions to The inkwell.vue team of volunteer hosts will
post your emails in this thread. Be sure to clarify that you want your
comment posted!
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #16 of 74: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 4 Jan 05 14:49
Bruce, as a member of the WorldChanging team, thanks for the kind
words. WorldChanging bloggers also started the web site coordinating
tsunami resource and relief information at, and the tsunami help section at
WikiNews ( 

Speaking of great extinctions... the reverse seems to be happening. I
keep seeing news accounts of new species discovery. Can't recall seeing
so many new species appear in the past... though perhaps it's not
unusual, and I just hadn't noticed.

Cryptozoology may be a growth industry?
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #17 of 74: David Gault (dgault) Tue 4 Jan 05 19:36
Are new species really "appearing"?  Aren't they new only in the
sense of newly classified?  
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #18 of 74: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 4 Jan 05 20:09
It's probably more accurate to say "new species discovered," rather
than "appearing," and in some cases, like those discovered in the murky
depths of ocean trenches, that makes sense. But when we hear that
they're discovering new species of mammals and birds - where were they
before we discovered 'em? (One answer is at "Dr. Colleen
McCann, curator of primates at the Bronx Zoo, said these discoveries
suggested that, despite the destructive activities of people, there
were still 'tiny pockets of habitat that have yet to be discovered.'")
It still throws me, though, given the extensive searches and researches
done today.

But I digress... Dave Christenson's question is still in queue:

"Do you have any concern that popular misconceptions about the
certainty of the science (art?) of global climate forcasting will have
adverse impacts on public policy?"
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #19 of 74: Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Tue 4 Jan 05 20:42

Hiya, Bruce.  Thanks from me as well for the nice words for WorldChanging.
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #20 of 74: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 5 Jan 05 02:16
 Nonetheless the
connection between anthropogenic emissions and the global climate
clearly still has unknown complex interactions,

"Unknown complex interactions."  You can say the same for
lung cancer.  You a three-pack a day man, Dave?

Nobody can predict what particular shape and size a stormcloud is
going to be, but that doesn't mean you ought to
go play golf in the lightning.

I'm now back in the Paris airport again where we
just observed a three minute silence, mandated
by the European Union, in solidarity with the
tsunami victims.  At least, I think that's what just
went down; my French is one of the best.

Also, this &*&%$#^ wifi provider doesn't want
to play nice with Safari.

Here's a great place to go look for some scientific
doubts about global warming, because, y'know,
there aren't any any more.  The denial is all spin now, it's  the
stormy twin of Creationism.

The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change – (Science Magazine –
December 3, 2004)

In recent years, all major scientific bodies in the United States
whose members' expertise bears directly on the matter have issued
similar statements to the effect that that Earth's climate is being
affected by human activities. 928 abstracts, published in refereed
scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI
database with the keywords "climate change". The 928 papers were
divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus
position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods,
paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all
the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly
or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or
paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate
change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus
position. Admittedly, authors evaluating impacts, developing methods,
or studying paleoclimatic change might believe that current climate
change is natural. However, none of these papers argued that point.
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #21 of 74: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 5 Jan 05 04:30
I keep going back to my interview with Dr. James White of the
University of Colorado when I was writing "Being Green in 2001" for the
issue of Whole Earth Review that you edited. Here's a relevant

(begin quote)
James White: My own research tells me that climate change is not this
give and take, push and shove kind of linear system where if we
increase CO² by X, we get X climate change; if we increase it by 2X, we
get 2X climate change. And that is really what the models give us
back, because the models don't have mode changes, the models don't
have... if North Atlantic deep water fails, a sophisticated model that
can handle that. But if you look at the way climate has changed
historically, going back over the history of the earth, it's not a
little bit here, a little bit there. It's more like my little brother,
when we were kids. I would pester him, and he didn't respond, and I
would pester him more, and he would blow up, and yell and scream at me.
When Mom asked me what I did, I said "All I did was poke him once,
Mom." Not talking about all that energy I built up in my little brother
with all those other tormenting little pokes. And it's that kind of
nonlinear behavior that makes waiting for the shoe to drop a rather
dangerous activity. You don't really want to wait until you get a big
climate change before you do something.

Jon Lebkowsky: We don't know what all the factors are, correct?

James White: I think the sad reality is that we may, before all is
said and done, get a big climate change, and that may be the mobilizing
factor. Some people have argued that we'll need that. We'll need the
big change, the grizzly bear set free in the house before we deal with
the bears in the yard.

Jon Lebkowsky: Won't it be too late?

James White: It'll be too late to handle that climate change. It won't
be too late to adapt. I find it very difficult to support the notion
of Armageddon. We may be heading for rough times in terms of growing
the food we need. We may be headed for tough times particularly in
terms of the first world/third world relationship. But we're already on
rough times now. For crying out loud, the net flow of wealth in this
world is from poor nations to rich nations.
(end quote)

A couple of important points in that discussion: first, it's important
to think in terms of climate change rather than global warming,
because, because it's not necessarily "warming," and manifestations can
vary in different parts of the world and across time. The other point
is that we're too late to counter our impact on climate change, and
because it's so complex, we can't exactly predict the effects of
climate change. But we have to learn how to adapt.

The "Attention Conservation Notice" in your last Viridian message a
month ago said "This may be the last Viridian Note you read this year,
because I'm wintering in Belgrade, Serbia. Once I'm teaching design in
Pasadena, however, you can expect all Viridian hell to break loose."

So you're back from Belgrade and on your way to Pasadena: what are
your Viridian plans?
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #22 of 74: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Wed 5 Jan 05 09:14
From off-Well:

As for these 'new species eruptions' we've been experiencing, I hope
that most of the
increase is due to the increased fine-tunedness of our classifications,
as well as the searching
(anything new from J. Craig Venter's exploits, anyone?), but there's
also the 'flushing factor' -
get enough people beating the environment at the edges, we're bound to
drive a few 'new'
species out of their hidey holes and into the harsh light of day.

I'm rather surprised that we haven't exposed some really virulent ones,
myself.  I fully expect an
avian bird flu / Hanta virus crossbreed to make an appearance in the
not-too-distant future, but
maybe it's just the post-holiday/travel blues talking...

       Duncan Stewart
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #23 of 74: from HENRY (tnf) Wed 5 Jan 05 09:43

Henry writes:

Hi Bruce,

I've recently become aware of the emerging technology
of 3D printing and consumer-level computer controlled
manufacturing (partly through reading your blog). The
technology is in its earliest stages and has yet to
show its full range of possibilities, but the
potential advantages are certainly numerous and
exciting. However, I also wonder about other

First, the potential "Napsterization" of physical
objects: why buy, for example, the latest Star Wars
action figure when you could download a hacked CAD
file free from the Web and make one for the price of
materials? I know the costs won't bear out initially,
but I assume such "makers" will get cheaper over time,
and just the above scenario could kill the toy
industry (which is usually wobbly in the best of
times). What are the future social and economic
effects of this technology?

Then there's the possibility of homemade (no
engineering skills required) high-tech weapons:
time-delay bombs, mines, antitank weapons,
antiaircraft missile components. Would "makers" be
classified (and restricted) as weapons? How would
nations and global organizations react?

I imagine you'll have more to say on this subject once
you start at school, but I'd love to hear any initial thoughts.
inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #24 of 74: from JELLY BEAN QUEEN (tnf) Wed 5 Jan 05 09:52

Jelly Bean Queen writes:

Hi Jon,

Love reading your stuff, keep up the good work!! I'd like to add this
(utopian) question to the chat with Bruce Sterling if you agree. Perhaps you
could comment on this too?  Thanks, Jel

Although world 'issues' are increasingly interrelated and complex, individual
issues are usually singled out (for convenience or for practical reasons -
NGO's or pressure groups usually only have resources to attempt one 'issue'
at a time). Eg: A spokesperson cites evidence that denies man-influenced
climate change and justifies proceeding with business as usual, ignoring
other factors such as pollution, wilderness destruction or worldwide equity
and insufficient natural resources to allow all countries to consume at the
same rate as developed nations.

How can we shift focus & accountability to the broader picture, ie: a 'Nasty
Factor' - a combination of burning issues (such as global equity, pollution,
health, human rights, climate change, natural resource limits, biodiversity
and wilderness protection). Imagine a corporation says it isn't convinced
about climate change per se, but acknowledges its (widget) undoubtably has an
excess of 'Nasty Factors' , so they develop a new eco-friendly, sustainable
(widget)". Ostensibly, the growth of CSR should facilitate this, but well,
you know...

inkwell.vue.234 : Bruce Sterling: State of the World 2005
permalink #25 of 74: Berliner (captward) Wed 5 Jan 05 09:58
And Bruce, since this won't take a minute, could you remind us how to
subscribe to your always-exciting Viridian newsletter? This will
benefit both those who are just tuning in and the Very Stupid who
changed e-mail addresses this spring and then couldn't figure out how
to get back on! 


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