The Singularity is probably not happening any time soon, but lately we are in the midst of a technological revolution. At last software and computing power has become so good that many tasks are becoming completely automated. Self-driving cars, robotised factories, automatic translation are already a reality. And then there’s 3d printing, aeroponics, graphene. I don’t know if technological progress is slowing down compared to 1900-1950, but some good stuff is coming along, and it seems it can revolutionise the way our economy is presently organised. It seems the trend is towards decentralisation. Software has to be designed only once, then shipped at no cost; 3d printing and aeroponics negate the benefits of location: you can build or grow anything anywhere.
All of this sounds very nice, but the real revolution is not in the production of potatoes and logic boards. As always, the quickest sector to make use of new technologies is the military. Already we are seeing how air forces around the world are quickly shifting from expensive manned airplanes to unmanned drones. These are cheaper, deadlier, and can be controlled remotely. One of the most interesting blogs around is Global Guerrillas, by a former US Air Force pilot turned military theorist and survivalist geek. His blog, and his uber celtic face staring at you on the homepage tell you of a future world, soon to come true, where drone swarms with millions of small weaponised insect like machines and bullet-sized missiles fly around projecting power around the world, controlled only by a handful of men in the comfort of their homes.
While swarms of killed drones aren’t here yet, bullet missiles were demoed earlier this year, and I can easily imagine the Chinese Politburo using them to decapitate a protest by targeting its leaders, or the Israelis using them to harass Arab agitators. At this rate there is no doubt that the need for huge armies with millions of soldiers has disappeared. Fully autonomous robot armies may not happen yet, but software assisted remote controlled weapons are here already. A pity for fans of Gundam; you won’t get to ride your attack mecha.
Now I don’t think that all these advancements will totally negate the advantages of scale, there are parts of the supply chain that are prone to centralised control, and states won’t downsize without a fight. But the incentives are there for easy secession. The problem with this IT revolution in production and war is that not every man has the necessary brains to design a drone or its attack algorithm. All this new technologies are designed and managed by as old time reader Zhainan calls them, the geek squad. Joe Sixpack isn’t going to design a new algorithm so drone swarms can outflank their Canadian rivals. You need a good programmer team for that.
But geeks, if smart, have a problem with focus. They tend to get obsessed with trivia, and while good at incremental improvements, have a hard time at innovating from scratch. A lot of geeks are libertarian, that should tell you enough about their ability to perceive reality. The geek squad might control the new automated world, but they won’t know what to do with it. Geeks need external pressure to focus their minds in reality. They need to be led.
The best example of a non-geek leading a geek is Steve Jobs with Steve Wozniak. Woz was the guy who knew how to design a computer, but he never did anything useful or sellable. It was Jobs, a self confessed Humanities type who had the ideas, the charm and the guts to grab Woz and persuade him into building the Apple II. Over the extent of their relationship Jobs would cheat him, take his money, take all credit and fame from him. But he didn’t build or design shit. He just ordered people around.
That’s what Jobs did all his life. He knew what he liked, and he knew how to get others to do it for him. All his employees and acquaintances tell what a narcissistic jerk he was. But it worked. It worked beautifully. His company designed the best computer of his time, then the best OS, then came back to Apple and revolutionised music and phones. But he didn’t do shit, all he did was get the best people available and bully them into performing. To this day working conditions on Apple are one of the worst in the industry, with bad pay and much overtime. Yet it still has great minds working there producing the best tech.
Now imagine a little Steve Jobs was born in 2000. Later this decade he meets with a little Woz, and they talk how hot it would be to design bee-sized weaponised drones, and use them to build for themselves a kingdom in Central America. Apple is the most valuable company in the world with just around 20.000 real workers. If you harnessed that talent to build next-gen weaponry you could conquer yourself a kingdom in no time.
Not to say that traditional militaries are going anywhere, no amount of drones can counteract an H bomb. But little by little the big top down structures of the industrial era are going obsolete. When the time comes you can eat local food in a robotised aeroponic factory, print a car with a graphene printer all running on painted solar cells, what do you want a nation state for? The future of human society is thousands of Apple-like kingdoms ran by geek squads following a charismatic leader. War will be like Starcraft, a bloodless, frantic and fun affair run online by teenagers on their widescreen monitors. Until they lose and loser n00bs are enslaved by the conquerors and forced to debug foreign code on sweatshops. Or something.