are . . . very much in the middle of an English Industrial Revolution
that is scarcely more than two centuries old and shows no symptoms of
weakness or decline. On the contrary, vigorous, relentless change remains
the characteristic sine qua non of the modern industrial ambit, and the
resulting immense flow of major and lesser innovations ceaselessly adds
complexity and diversity to the leading countries of a world that is certainly
not tottering on the brink of dissolution.
New World of the Gothic Fox: Culture and Economy in English and Spanish
civilizations often seem to have the peculiar characteristic of loving
to contemplate their own demises. Every decade, some new book appears
to warn of the impending global predominance of some other ideology or
nation. In the early 1990s we heard much of the neo- Confucian model exemplified
by the Four Tigers of East Asia, winning through work ethic and family
values. Before that it was Japan, Inc., dominating world commerce through
the samurai-like dedication of its corporate salary men and their collusion
with the godlike Ministry of International Trade and Industry. In the
1960s, Europe was similarly horrified by Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber’s
which predicted that American corporations would crush European business
through their superior corporate technique and aggressive marketing.
course, these works were primarily devices by which authors preached to
their own countrymen. Their picture of the foreign challenger has usually
borne only a slight resemblance to reality, and often the virtues of the
supposed competitive threat bore a curious inverted mirroring of the flaws
the author detected in his own countrymen. Americans of the 1980s and
early 1990s used the Japanese and East Asian models to decry the indiscipline,
lack of cohesion, and declining values they saw in their own lands. Likewise,
Servan-Schreiber’s book was more about the backwardness and lack of modernity
he feared in his own country than any actual virtues of General Motors
or U.S. Steel, both of which were about to get their clocks cleaned by
titled this book The
Anglosphere Challenge in a sort of tangential homage to Servan-Schreiber. Unlike the
works described earlier, I do not discuss an overseas competitor that
I fear is about to overtake America, or more properly, the Anglosphere,
the entirety of English-speaking civilization. Rather I argue that the
current gap in technological, military, and financial leadership enjoyed
by America and its Anglosphere cousins over the rest of the world is likely
to increase over the next twenty years. I believe this increase will take
place in the context of a rapid acceleration of genuine technological
revolution, one in which entrepreneurial innovation and rapid adaptation
will play an increasingly large part in commercial, financial, technological,
and national success.
I will inevitably be accused of triumphalism, I in fact warn that this
success has not been due to any inherent superiority of Anglosphere language
or peoples. Rather, it is the result of a long series of developments,
more than coincidence but less than foreordained fate. These developments
resulted in the Anglosphere nations having a particularly strong and independent
civil society; openness and receptivity to the world, its people, and
ideas; and a dynamic economy.
is no reason to believe that other cultures cannot develop their own versions
of these characteristics, nor that the Anglosphere cannot lose the advantages
it now has. The Anglosphere experienced the creation of the Industrial
Revolution, modern constitutional democracy, and the Information Revolution,
first in Britain, and then in America. The Anglosphere and the institutions
it created have led throughout.
is now creating the next set of scientific-technological revolutions,
which some are beginning to speak of as the revolutions of the Singularity.
If the Anglosphere can retain the openness and dynamism that allowed it
to lead in the past, it will remain among the leaders of the future. If
it loses those characteristics, it will at last be overtaken.
the challenge of The
Anglosphere Challenge is of the Anglosphere to both itself and the rest of the world.
To itself, the challenge is to understand the sources of its strength
and to maintain and expand upon them. It must also understand its own
failures and their causes, and to cure them before they overtake and undo
its successes. To the rest of the world, the challenge is likewise to
understand the reasons for the Anglo-
successes and failures, and to use that knowledge to cure their own failures
and expand upon their own successes. In doing so, mere imitation of Anglosphere
institutions and practices will not be sufficient; in fact, it may even
be harmful. More important is to understand the deep roots of strong civil
society, constitutionally bound civic states, and dynamic, open cultures.
The greater challenge for the rest of the world is to examine the roots
of their own societies and move them toward their own version of those
begin this book with a look forward to some of the possible revolutions
of the Era of the Singularity. I follow this with a discussion of how
these developments might affect the social and political environment.
Then I look to the past, to the newly emerging appreciation of the Anglosphere
as a distinct world civilization, child of Western civilization but no
longer defined within those bounds.
discuss at greater length the assertions made earlier about its relationship
to the leadership of the technological and political revolutions of the
past three hundred years.
THE INFORMATION REVOLUTION: THE SINGULARITY
the previous decade there was much talk about the Internet Era. Few really
understood it. What was least understood may have been two things: the
first, how early on into it we then were, and how much more there was
still to come; and the second, that the Information Revolution, and the
Internet Era it appeared to be generating were not the main events. Rather
they are the warm-up act, the advance guard of a related series of scientific-technical
revolutions that, when taken together, will have a more startling cumulative
effect on our daily lives than the Industrial Revolution.
end result of these revolutions will make the comic-book futures of the
past century look pale and unimaginative. The Singularity, a term taken
from mathematical science, describes an abrupt discontinuity: a point
where a rising trend line on a graph, for example, turns completely vertical.
Writer Vernor Vinge appropriated it to describe the effect of numerous
scientific, technological, and social revolutions coming together at the
same time and interacting with each other. The term has since gained currency
in futurological parlance. What we are talking about, then, are the effects
of not just the Information Revolution, but of the revolutions of the
book is an exploration into the world of the Singularity Revolutions and
the English-speaking civilization—the Anglosphere—which, for better or
worse, is leading the move into that world. Readers may be surprised to
find that the book talks more about the nature of government, culture,
and society than about molecules, bytes, or rockets, and draws more on
history than on mathematics.
is because science and technology, as fundamental as they are in affecting
the future, cannot tell us what the world will be like in twenty years,
nor how we will live our lives, or how we will think and feel about our
lives. It can only put upper and lower bounds on our options, and often
cannot describe those bounds very well. History, however imprecise and
changing its interpretation, is in effect one of the most important databases
available to help us understand the changes we face and to suggest how
we may respond to the challenges to our benefit.
facing the Singularity and its consequences, a vital lesson we have learned
from the failures of the past is to reject Utopia as a goal. This lesson
reflects the end of the idea that technological progress, or social progress,
or any other arrangement of human affairs can establish universal human
happiness. We know that technological and social changes have removed
specific causes of unhappiness, and the world is better off for it. A
key example is the worldwide end of slavery as a direct consequence of
the Industrial Revolution. Whatever the subsequent unhappiness of a liberated
slave, a patient cured of tuberculosis, or a woman able to bear a child
she once would have lost, it is rare to find people relinquishing those
benefits of change.
Singularity revolutions promise to alleviate scarcities, pollution, diseases,
ignorance, and even the fixity of life span. What they do not promise
is that, having delivered those benefits, humans will then be happy. Happiness
will remain the realm of religion and philosophy. But in facing the Singularity,
we must at least remove one additional cause of misery, which is the harm
that utopian philosophies have caused in attempting to engineer the perfect
society. Coming into an era which is likely to be marked by unprecedented
abilities to affect our condition in the world, it is all the more important
to do so without the illusion that such changes, however great and however
desirable, will bring perfection.
ABOUT THE REVOLUTIONS OF THE SINGULARITY
is the nature of the Era of the Singularity? It is a new technological,
social, and economic period, comparable at least in effect to the Industrial
Revolution but accelerating faster. This era appears to be emerging since
the Singularity revolutions began to accelerate in the 1990s. They promise
explode in the first decades of the twenty-first century. It is currently
fashionable to view the Internet-enabled stock explosion of the late 1990s
as a tulip-mania exercise. This ignores the genuine great improvements
to productivity added by information technologies, even in their current
immature form. Yet this increase in value added is itself merely a forerunner
of the economic changes of the next phases.
aim is not to take readers on a technological tour of these revolutions,
but instead to show ways to think about these revolutions using general
knowledge rather than narrow expertise in any field. In doing this, I
will mention five revolutions, not an exhaustive list of the possible
revolutions by any means. I will talk about biotechnology, a new generation
of space capabilities, significant life extension, molecular manufacturing
(also known as molecular nanotechnology or MNT), the possibility of commercially
exploitable petroleum of abiogenic origin, and advanced information technologies,
including strong computer-integrated manufacturing.
write as a commentator, not a prophet, and make no claim that any of these
revolutions are bound to come true, although several seem hard to avoid.
That said, I would be amazed if none of them came true in any way, or
if we did not experience at least one other revolution that I neglected
entirely. That is the real point of Singularity—that we have gone beyond
hope of anticipating all of the major changes that we will encounter in
the coming years. That is why this book will devote its attention not
to any particular revolution per se, but to the characteristics of the
kind of societies that have generated such revolutions and the social
institutions that promise to deal best with the consequences.
AND UNBOUNDED VISIONS
introduced this book by describing the vision of the futurists at the
end of World War II, as filtered through the popular media to a boy of
that day. This vision was driven by the awesome scientific developments
unveiled in the closing years of that war—radar, computers, long-range
rockets, jet aircraft, and above all, the atomic bomb. In their own way,
the science fiction writers and denizens of the first think tanks such
as the Rand Corporation envisioned a scientific-technical revolution as
sweeping as the Singularity; but unlike the Singularity as it is now envisioned,
they believed it could be predicted, anticipated, and planned with substantial
precision. They had enormous faith in the powers of operational analysis
and planning, and that faith seemed justified. Robert McNamara and his
staff, the original Whiz Kids, used these methods to plan U.S. wartime
bomber production with brilliant success.
as defense secretary to John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam
era, McNamara attempted to apply these methods to the “rationalization”
of the Defense Department and the conduct of the Vietnam War, but with
was little appreciated at that time, outside of the then-arcane world
of Austrian, or Hayekian, economics, was the distinction between “bounded”
and “unbounded” problems. The former are the sort typical of engineering
problems, having a finite and definable number of elements and a predictable
set of significant interactions. The latter, which include the issues
of predicting and understanding very large systems such as the weather,
natural ecologies, or complex human economies, are characterized by extremely
large numbers of elements and near-infinite sets of possible significant
interactions. Methods such as McNamara’s operational analysis, which produced
wondrous results applied to even complex bounded problems, failed miserably
when applied to unbounded problems. Why did space and atomic energy, although
they produced real but limited benefits, not produce the results predicted
in the science fiction and techno-optimism of the 1950s? The answer is
that many of the problems which had to be overcome were unbounded problems,
while that era tried to deal with them having only a tool set useful for
bounded problems. The Singularity is above all an unbounded problem, and
therefore the history of the 1950s and 1960s provides a cautionary tale
of great significance.
AND UNBOUNDED PROBLEMS: THE SPACE DEVELOPMENT EXAMPLE
history of space exploration offers a very clear example of how inability
to make this distinction between bounded and unbounded problems is at
the heart of the difference between triumph and failure. It is likewise
the key to understanding why we are on the verge of a new revolution in
space and aviation. The first rocketry and space projects were wartime
emergency defense mobilizations—the German V-2 project; the Soviet intercontinental
ballistic missiles (ICBM) project; the American defense rocketry and space
projects; the Atlas, Thor, and Titan ballistic missiles; and the first
American reconnaissance satellite project, launched as a consequence of
the Project Feedback design study. The last led to the true start of the
American space program in 1954. These were bounded, closed-ended projects—build
a rocket that can carry x
build a satellite that can take photos of the earth. Their methodology
was an extension of the successful approaches used by the defense industry
in World War II, and carried out under similar circumstances—as government
projects with strong national commitments, good access to national resources,
and few if any cost constraints.
1957, the Soviets used some assets from their ballistic missile program
to establish a demonstration space program for propaganda purposes, an
extension of the 1930s Soviet practice of record-setting aviation feats.
The embarrassed U.S. government created what became the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration (NASA) on a similar basis and, under Kennedy,
began the Apollo lunar program, which was taken forward by Johnson with
the additional agenda of serving as an economic development tool for Texas
and politically allied Southern states. These programs also addressed
bounded problems, albeit very challenging ones, and enjoyed the same access
to policy support and national resources. On those terms, they were also
prevailing overconfidence of the 1960s led U.S. political authorities
to begin applying techniques used successfully on bounded problems to
address unbounded problems. The question “If we can put a man on the moon,
why can’t we X?”
became a trap for authorities, because the true answer, not well understood
at the time, usually was, “Because putting a man on the moon was a bounded
problem, and X
an unbounded problem.” Seeking a new role for NASA after the success of
Apollo, the Nixon administration and NASA developed the Space Shuttle
project. This took NASA out of the field of narrow-focused projects like
the lunar landings, and put it into the operation of routine transportation
for paying customers in a competitive field. The new task was accompanied
by a novel set of constraints—tight budget limits with uncertain and wavering
structure, personnel, and administrative practices were all inappropriate
to these tasks. Long-term management issues, which had been swept under
the rug during the Apollo days, emerged to haunt the agency. (One of the
founders of a major systems consulting firm explained to me that the original
NASA center managers, inherited from its minuscule research-oriented predecessor,
the National Advisory Council for Aeronautics, were academics “barely
competent to procure a box of pencils.” This led to a pattern of less-competent
agency managers relying on programmatically more sophisticated contractor
personnel to tell them, in effect, what they should buy from them.)
make the shuttle work politically, NASA’s leadership disastrously committed
themselves to an unachievable cost target, which led them to assume an
insupportable flight rate that far overstressed the available technology.
The loss of the shuttle Challenger
a predictable consequence of using inappropriate approaches for an unbounded
problem— creation of a cost-effective space transportation capability.
the U.S. government was pressured by the nascent commercial space industry
to adopt a policy that shifted the routine provision of
launch services to the private sector, returning NASA to research and
development (R&D) and exploration. This was appropriate and realistic—the
marketplace is effectively an unbounded phenomenon, and the private sector
is one of the best-adapted means for addressing unbounded problems. However,
the transition, although it established a competitive international launch
services industry, has remained stuck in a regime of high costs and relatively
unreliable service using for the most part spin-offs of existing military
designs. At current launch costs, most of the projected uses of space,
from relatively mundane ones such as space manufacturing to exotic dreams
such as tourism and colonization, remain earthbound. The only sectors
which have established themselves at all have been information-sector
initiatives: telecommunications, location and navigation services (the
Global Positioning System), and digital imagery from space—“remote sensing”
or satellite photography. Even there we have seen stagnation and massive
business miscalculations, such as the bankruptcy of Motorola’s Iridium
venture. The only thing that we can really afford to import from space
at this time is information.
the 1980s, the 1990s, and even more the current decade have become a time
of great entrepreneurial ferment in the space field. Although none of
it has borne fruit yet in any area other than information technology,
a nontrivial amount of private capital was raised and poured into R&D
in the fields of space launch, space tourism, and human-inhabited space
infrastructure. A wide variety of for-profit and nonprofit organizations
have been started, a substantial number of which have survived. In particular,
the field has begun to attract the participation of a number of highly
successful entrepreneurs, mostly from the information industry, who seem
willing and able to make the commitment of long-term, patient capital
the field has lacked to date.
number of factors exist which, in combination, have the potential to push
the entrepreneurial space field into an economic takeoff mode. Many of
the other Singularity revolutions discussed here (but particularly molecular
nanotechnology) have the potential to rapidly accelerate the rate of that
development. Space development has been promised for such a long time
that it has acquired an aura of permanent overpromise. This has masked
the reality that breakthrough into space is potentially quite close at
hand. Even the revolution in computation has begun to have an effect on
the cost of access to space, as the type of calculation that once required
expensive computers and exotic software can be performed on ordinary desktop
machines and in some cases with open-source free software. Linux, with
its robustness and widespread technology base, may become an excellent
operating system for space-based hardware.
revolution in computer-aided design and manufacturing now in progress
promises to greatly lower the time and cost of the development
space hardware of all sorts. Molecular nanotechnology, the ultimate enabling
technology, could enable a great explosion of activity into space, making
the entire solar system readily available, and even inhabitable, in short
path of development into space is likely to take a rather different path
in the Singularity Era than previously anticipated. Much of the literature
of space development from the late 1940s through the early 1990s anticipated
the gradual evolution of a human-crewed space infrastructure. This infrastructure
would have initially built on communications, through materials processing
and space manufacturing, and led to the eventual production of massive
space power facilities which might then beam power back to Earth. Human
presence would arise as a sort of company town like the mining towns of
the American West or the employees’ towns of the Panama Canal Zone.
fact, it is now more likely that the first substantial nongovernmental
human presence in space will be for purposes often regarded as frivolous:
tourism and entertainment. Acting to change the picture is the general
growth of wealth, led by the discretionary incomes of a nontrivial segment
of the developed world’s population and the production budgets of massive
entertainment projects. These climb on the graph, while the costs of creating
tourism and entertainment facilities in space have fallen. The set of
the movie Titanic
more than some projected private space facilities; sooner or later some
producer will take a flyer based on that logic. The economics of the science-
and technology-driven entrepreneurial sector have created the business
template upon which such ventures will eventually form and finance themselves.
Singularity-minded entrepreneurs may well become the “angels” needed to
provide the seed funding for such space ventures, a trend that has already,
as noted above, begun to happen.
somewhere on the other side of the Singularity, the real attraction of
space will likely be—space. That is, its fundamental attraction will be
the availability of physical space for humans to settle, inhabit, and
experiment with different approaches to the issues of society, morality,
and ethics. Each new technology will, after all, create options for such
moral and ethical issues, ones which may become impossible to settle by
compromise, and on which people will have strong convictions. (Consider
human cloning as one possible example. One person’s Frankenstein technology
may be another person’s dearly sought-after infertility treatment or incurable-disease
cure.) There will be a premium for space for people who cannot abide the
consensus in their home societies. Nanotechnology and biotechnology could
make space settlements not the claustrophobic tin cans of cheap science
fiction, but places people could validly think of as home. The ongoing
need for human social diversity
likely persistence of strong moral and political positions will create
a need for living space for differing groups.
with every other such Singularity Revolution, the real issues will ultimately
be human and social, rather than technological. Existing space law was
based upon a series of United Nations treaties and founded on several
premises, which have subsequently been undercut by emerging reality. The
treaties assumed almost all parties in space would be governmental; but
it is becoming likely that most will be private. It assumed that human
presence would be scarce and transitory, consisting of government employees
carrying out scientific missions or mining extraterrestrial resources
for return to Earth. It is more likely now that when humans go into space
in large numbers, they will go as private individuals, and that the natural
resources we once imagined them mining will have been rendered of little
importance by the advancing revolutions of the Singularity. If diamondoid
materials produced by nanotechnology become the principal structural materials
of the future, mining metals becomes a small matter. At the same time,
international treaties designed to control a few scientists become ill-suited
to the needs of large emerging communities of private parties. The Anglo-American
common-law tradition, which facilitated the replication of dozens of free
polities in the settlement of North America and Australasia, becomes a
more relevant set of experiences.
may set the bounds for human action, but they will be wide bounds, within
which human choice will determine the outcomes. Most important in determining
how people will live, on Earth or elsewhere, will be the social and political
arrangements they create. The technologies unleashed by the Singularity
revolutions will have both creative and destructive potential; and we
must find means to constrain the dangers while reaping the benefits, while
preserving the valuable aspects of our societies—above all, hard-won human
freedoms. The answers to these challenges lie primarily in the histories
of the societies that have created and led the Scientific-Technological
Revolution, of which the Singularity revolutions will be only the latest
AS THE OPPOSITE CASE: MISTAKING BOUNDED FOR UNBOUNDED PROBLEMS
we have seen, mistaking unbounded problems for bounded ones arose partly
from the great successes of modern systems engineering and problem solving
in addressing highly complicated, bounded problems, but even more from
the inability to understand the difference between the two. The scientists
and engineers of mid-century America have often been accused of hubris
by later commentators.
this hubris did not consist of pride in their achievements; rather, it
came from assuming that their techniques had become so powerful that all
problems could be reduced and addressed by their systems engineering techniques.
1970s and 1980s brought a general reaction to and skepticism about the
problem-solving ability of science and technology. Unfortunately, this
skepticism was for the most part no more understanding of the bounded/
unbounded distinction than of the engineers and planners it criticized.
This led to a throwing out of the baby with the bathwater: a belief that
no problems could be successfully addressed by science or engineering.
last few years of the 1990s brought a massive public phenomenon displaying
exactly this mistake: concern over the century date change in the worldwide
computer network, better known as the Y2K Crisis. Specifically, this was
the problem of modifying computer software worldwide to ensure that all
older programs expressing dates using a two-numeral date field (i.e.,
writing 1-1-99 for January 1, 1999) could properly function after January
1, 2000. Computers needed to correctly interpret the change from 1999
to 2000 as an increase rather than a decrease. Failure to do so would
create a substantial disruption in many automated or computer-aided processes.
first became aware of this issue in the early 1970s when I took an elementary
programming course and understood how dates were handled in computers.
that time, nobody was concerned about the issue, because they assumed
that the computers of the late 1990s would have software written from
scratch shortly before, and that the problems would have been dealt with.
Much to my surprise, and nearly everybody else’s, by the mid-1990s large
amounts of “legacy” software (programs little or not at all modified since
first written in the 1960s or 1970s) were still widely in use, and many
new programs still used two-year date fields. Furthermore, little to no
work had been done to update software to deal with this problem.
anybody who was not living as a hermit now knows, the media became filled
with cries predicting that the world would grind to a halt on January
1, 2000. At first, most people dismissed such cries as alarmist, but gradually,
more sober analysis began to reveal that indeed there was a real problem,
very little had in fact been done about it, and that it was difficult
to assess the scope of the problem.
alarm was particularly compounded by the fact that many of the systems
that people might be most concerned about, like nuclear weapons command
and control systems, were highly classified, and no open public examination
of the issue was possible.
myself must be counted, if not as a Y2K alarmist, at least as an observer
who leaned toward the side of concern. In my column in Strategic
a financial publication with between 60,000 and 100,000 readers during the 1995–2000 period, I repeatedly called
attention to the open questions regarding Y2K, and, in the initial years,
suspected that there could be substantial financial impact from the event.
Between 1997 and 2000, I gradually became convinced that the United States,
and most of the other stronger civil societies, had started to address
the Y2K issue to the extent that there would be no major disasters, and
that the financial impact, although real, had been adequately discounted.
still overestimated the impact in the weaker civil societies and was mildly
surprised to find that there were no major problems, worldwide, throughout
New Year’s Day 2000 and beyond.
retrospect, it is now clear that the Y2K problem was not one huge unbounded
problem beyond the ability to address or control. It was instead a parallel
set of many bounded problems, each addressable by the same means, and
in which problems in one area could be contained and prevented from spilling
over into other areas. One of the lessons of the Y2K episode is that the
degree of society’s dependence on computers, and the degree of computers’
interdependence on each other, was overestimated. Y2K was not solved by
any “silver bullet” cure. It was solved by large numbers of programmers
working long hours, carrying out tedious remediation work, usually fixing
or working around each date field individually.
the end it was successfully addressed by the same system management approaches
that built the bomber fleets of World War II, ran the Manhattan Project,
and took Apollo to the moon. Such approaches are in fact increasingly
effective in addressing the appropriate kinds of problems, because of
the advent of powerful computerized management tools.
approaching the Singularity, both the successes and failures of the managerial
and planning techniques of the twentieth century must be understood. Adequately
understanding the nature of a problem is the first step in fixing a problem.
an unbounded problem for a bounded one can be fatal; the Y2K experience
suggests that the opposite is true as well. The Singularity itself is
undoubtedly an unbounded problem as a whole; but at least some of its
component problems will turn out to be addressable by classic engineering
means. We need an overall framework which allows each approach to be applied
AND TAXES: EXTENDING LIFESPAN, AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
as the revolutions of the Singularity are, those triggered by biotechnology
and life extension are most likely to come to pass in the next twenty
revolutions are in themselves a convergence of a number of advances.
include improvements in microscope technology (particularly scanning tunneling
microscopes, which can resolve individual atoms); falling costs and increasing
power of computing; and the sheer critical mass of knowledge about the
molecular structure of organisms, the nature of genetics, and the evolutionary
drivers of medical phenomena.
of these advances will be the result of the Human Genome Project and other
genome research. Some will be advances in medical understanding unrelated
to genetic research, such as the recent growth in emphasis on infectious
causes for diseases that were once thought to have other causes. (Some,
like stomach ulcers, are now understood to be curable through antibiotics;
others such as heart disease are the subjects of such investigation.)
New approaches to molecular design of drugs and alternatives to traditional
invasive surgery are improving the ability to treat many diseases and
conditions. Potential advances in neurosurgery and other treatments begin
to hold hope for curing previously incurable conditions, such as spinal
cord injuries. Cloning technologies hold out the possibility of replacing
organs without reliance on donors and immunosuppressive treatments.
these advances, which are themselves startling, are more radical potential
advances. Molecular nanotechnology promises the ultimate molecular medicine—repairing,
maintaining, and rebuilding the body from the inside, molecule by molecule,
under full control. Equally radical in its own way is the current research
into telomeres—the bits on the end of chromosomes which serve to control
the starting and stopping of cell division, and thus have the potential
to control the aging process as well as provide a generic treatment for
A POSSIBILITY SERIOUSLY
of these paths will work, and which may be blind alleys, is beyond the
scope of this discussion. There is no way to tell for sure whether any
of these approaches will happen or will bear fruit. However, we must have
some way of knowing whether these prospects are in fact things we must
anticipate, concern ourselves about, and take into account in our planning.
The whole impact of disease-reducing and life-span-increasing technologies
is so complex that assessing and predicting its impact on society is a
classic unbounded problem. Since it cannot be effectively addressed by
precise forecasting, the best thing we can do at this point is introduce
some basic rules of thumb. Experience suggests that the following indicators,
when taken together, offer a reasonably good chance that a
will in fact be upon us in the next one to two decades. Such indicators
increase in knowledge.
We know not just more, but far more about living organisms, how they work,
and how they reproduce themselves, than we did a decade ago, or even a
few years ago. One of the key drivers of the Singularity is the achievement
of a sheer critical mass of knowledge and understanding, such that each
year’s worth of new understandings breeds not just a little more knowledge,
but a lot more.
visible paths of attack.
One visible path of attack, no matter how promising, always has the prospect
of being derailed by unknowns. This has indeed happened many times in
the history of science and technology. When multiple paths are visible,
the likelihood that at least one will succeed is much higher. The Manhattan
Project, for example, pursued simultaneously two separate paths to production
of a working atomic bomb, a decision justified by the outcome. As we have
seen, there are not one or two, but a plethora of paths available to gaining
control over disease, disability, and life span. This makes the likelihood
of success by at least one means substantially more realistic.
of fundamental scientific barriers to implementation. Many people not involved with either science or
technology make the mistake of confusing the two. The title of British
scientist C. P. Snow’s novelistic musings on the intellectual gap between
science and the humanities, The Two Cultures, would be equally appropriate to a discussion of
the gap between scientists and engineers.
this difference is critical to understanding whether the obstacles to
realizing a vision are ones of fundamental scientific principle or engineering
difficulty. It is a waste of time to devote ingenuity in design or improvement
of tools to try to propel a spaceship faster than the speed of light,
for example. If you wish to do that, you must attempt to improve upon
the theory of relativity. On the other hand, if you wish to manipulate
atoms in order to advance toward nanotechnology, it is well worth your
while to improve scanning tunneling microscopes and develop better grasping
tips for them.
interesting questions then become those in which one cannot be sure whether
a fundamental scientific barrier exists. However, in listening to a debate
about the possibility of a proposed goal, it is critical to determine
whether people are saying, “It flatly contradicts known scientific principles
possible,” or that “It hasn’t yet been demonstrated in theory that x is possible,” or that “We accept x
possible in theory, but the practical obstacles to realization are enormous.”
No fundamental theoretical objection to the feasibility of nanotechnology
has ever been generally accepted by the scientific community; a debate
exists regarding the theory, and almost everybody accepts that the obstacles
are substantial. The fact is that none of the approaches for medical progress
are in the category of violating fundamental laws of science; most are
in the second or third categories. This is a good indication that at least
some of them will bear substantial fruit.
tools are coming along.
Once it is accepted that a proposed advance is theoretically feasible
and there are plausible avenues of approach for dealing with implementation
issues, the next thing to look for is what new tools and enabling technologies
are becoming available. If there is a rapidly improving set of tools,
materials, techniques, or capabilities which might become usable in overcoming
the practical obstacles to implementing technologies, it becomes reasonable
to assume the technology is on the way to deployment. The airplane is
an interesting example. Much of the theoretical aerodynamics of heavier-than-air
flight was worked out well before the Wright brothers actually flew. There
were learned societies and journals of aerodynamics throughout the latter
nineteenth century. What was needed to move the dream from vision to reality
was simply an improvement in the tools needed to produce engines light
and powerful enough to make the airplane fly. The achievement of the Wright
brothers was to combine an understanding of the scientific principles
of aerodynamics with the tools and materials necessary to designing a
practical internal combustion engine with sufficient weight-to-power ratio
to permit powered flight. In the case of advanced biotechnology and nanotechnology,
a powerful stream of computational, investigative, and operational tools
began to become available throughout the 1990s, and promise to increase
both in power and availability in the coming decade. This improvement
in and increasing availability of tools is another powerful indicator
that these revolutions are moving from theory to reality.
TO THINK ABOUT THE EFFECTS OF THESE REVOLUTIONS: THE “PESSIMISTIC SCENARIO”
total effect of these changes is to promise an affordable, generally applicable
set of treatments that will prevent or cure most debilitating diseases
and conditions and extend active, healthy life spans beyond (perhaps well
beyond) the century-and-a-bit that seems to be the inherent
today. The manner in which these changes are advancing is typical of the
Singularity—progress is advancing along so many different fronts that
it is difficult to say which will arrive and which won’t, or on what schedule.
What is also typical of the Singularity is that timid straight-line projections
of current reality are the least useful means of addressing these issues.
observers seem to believe that the application of technology is increasing
medical costs. In reality, technology has begun to lower medical costs,
as effective treatments begin to keep people out of long-term nursing
care. Every treatment approach discussed earlier will tend to have the
same effect—substituting a simple, generic, and permanently effective
short course of treatment for a complex, condition-specific, partly effective
or palliative treatment, not to mention drastically reducing the need
for extended or permanent labor-intensive care.
political and social effects of these treatments will be a mixed lot.
Programs like America’s Medicare and the British National Health Service
will likely be rescued from a nightmare of increasingly aging patients
supported by a dwindling population of taxpaying workers. Conversely,
America’s Social Security system, like other taxpayer-supported state
pension schemes, will be under increasing pressure as retirees continue
to live on and collect their checks rather than conveniently dying. The
Social Security Administration once published a set of demographic projections:
the “Optimistic Scenario” showed the retirees continuing to die at the
then-current rate; the “Pessimistic Scenario” showed them living longer.
By this logic, the Singularity Scenario would have to be labeled the “Catastrophic
course, we then must take into account the other changes likely to happen.
an extended healthy life span, the pressure to retire and collect government-funded
pensions at 65 or 70 becomes much diminished if not nonexistent.
growth of public participation in the capital markets throughout the English-speaking
world, by means of tax-sheltered plans such as the American IRA and the
British equivalents, has meant that many retirees no longer look to the
rather minimal state pensions as a significant source of retirement income.
This is likely to continue to grow as a phenomenon. Similarly, the revolution
in medicine will likely reduce the percentage of income needed to pay
for health treatments, relieving the burden on the institutions responsible
for payment, whether private health insurance or state insurance schemes
such as the National Health Service.
important question is the fate of other political-social assumptions in
an environment of continued economic growth combined with extended healthy
life spans. The institutions that most developed nations
inherited from the mid-twentieth century were created primarily from fear.
Economic regulation is driven by fear of joblessness; medical insurance
systems are driven by fear of disease and premature death; and state pension
systems highlight the fear of impoverishment at the end of the working
life. (The remaining fear is military security, with fear of terrorist
attack replacing fear of massive nuclear exchange or invasion. This fear,
however, is decoupled from the classic social fears of the twentieth century.)
As these fears diminish, it is likely that people will question the high
opportunity cost these systems carry, and be willing to forego the relatively
minimal rewards they carry in return for a more open and flexible social
questioning will be accompanied and intensified by a growing need for
flexibility in order to deal with the consequences of multiple healthy,
active generations within the economy and political arena. Hierarchical
institutions will be under multiple pressures as a result of the changes
driven by the Singularity revolutions.
will be forced to reform or retrench when the seniority principle creates
greater strains on their systems. Either they will have to force senior
members to retire when they are still active and healthy, or junior members
will suffer long periods in lower ranks while waiting for the seniors
to leave and open up spaces.
entrepreneurial economy, in which all members expect to change the relationships
of their work life every few years, makes it easier to give young people
early entry into responsibility while permitting older people to remain
active. The Singularity revolutions will have other interesting effects,
such as permitting women to postpone childbearing until much later in
life, which will likely increase the birth rate among intelligent, educated,
ambitious women substantially (while being more than offset by a general
drop in the birth rate as general prosperity increases). The political
ramifications of having more than the four current generations active
in political life at one time also remain an open question.
we will see, each Singularity revolution brings its own set of questions,
all equally complex. The interactive nature of each of these changes makes
planning harder and raises the relative value of a flexible and reactive
social, political, and economic system.
GOODS AS SOFTWARE: THE NEXT PHASE OF THE INFORMATION REVOLUTION, AND ITS
concepts have been misunderstood as much as that of the Information Age.
popular misconceptions, it is imagined that in America and the other advanced
countries people will sit and peck at computers, while manufacturing will
be done somewhere in the Second or Third World, in factories which resemble
existing facilities. This is a complete misconception of the transition
from the Industrial to the Information Age. Consider the parallel transition
from the Agricultural to the Industrial Age. When Britain and America
became industrialized, they did not cease producing food. In fact the
United States became the greatest food exporter in the world because it
mastered the Machine Age early. Those who master information technology
will likewise hold mastery over manufacturing.
the production of the U.S. Air Force’s B-2 bomber, a very significant
milestone in this transition. The B-2 bomber was the first large artifact
to be designed entirely in software and subsequently downloaded to manufacture
directly, never having been printed out in paper blueprint form. Northrop
Grumman, its manufacturer, created the design of the B-2 in the computer,
downloaded it to the plant, and began producing it. One reason for its
extremely expensive development costs was the need to develop the capability
to do this directly.
this capability, the future design-to-manufacture process of aircraft
or other industrial artifacts ultimately becomes cheaper. It is another
example of technology and automation investment lowering costs in the
long run. The B-2 bomber, a large stealth aircraft, could not have been
produced except by this mode of design and manufacture, because it is
too complex an artifact to produce in any other fashion.
could compare the impact of the ability to perform this mode of integrated
computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing to the ability to build
a steel battleship in 1880 or 1890. The implications of this for military
supremacy should also be obvious, as forces equipped with such ships cut
through those equipped with wooden battleships like the proverbial hot
knife through butter. This will also be the case in high-technology production
of the future.
complete integration of manufacturing, production, and design over the
Internet will eventually become the principal mode of production. As a
consequence, the current wage advantages of the Second and Third Worlds
will be of reduced importance. Manufacturing supremacy will go to the
countries that have the best information technology. The United States,
being the current leader in information technology while still possessing
a large manufacturing base, is likely to be the primary beneficiary of
this process. Concerns over the current outflow of manufacturing to lower-wage
countries expressed by observers such as Kevin Phillips and Patrick Buchanan
are therefore misplaced. Such commentators fear that the entire assembly-line
base of manufacturing will eventually migrate to lower-wage or higher-subsidy
areas of the globe, and
undermine American military or economic strength. This is like fearing
that the advent of steel-hulled warships in the nineteenth century would
undercut British or American naval might, because it made irrelevant those
nations’ mastery of wooden ship technology.
implications of this revolution, however, go far beyond the issues of
military supremacy and national manufacturing dominance. This phenomenon
is properly named a revolution because it will require a very substantial
adjustment in the employment and economic situations of people throughout
will involve an intensification of some, but not all, existing trends,
and the emergence of other entirely new patterns. The traditional blue-collar
job—a place in a mass workforce employed as wage workers on assembly lines
in centralized facilities—will dwindle into obscurity, if not entirely
disappear. Some workplaces may retain vestiges of these patterns—shipyards,
possibly—and analogous employment patterns will linger in some fields
such as transportation. But for the most part, mass employment in manufacturing
is likely to come to an end.
workforces, which have already become the mainstay of traditional labor
organizing, may continue to retain similar characteristics. Mass service
organizations, such as hotel chains, may also continue to be mass employers.
the dominant economic activity in the world of the Singularity revolutions
will continue to be information-based work of one form or the other. As
I discuss in the section titled “The End of Capitalism and the Triumph
of the Market Economy,” the information-based economy is evolving beyond
the corporate forms which dominated the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Rather than monolithic organizations carrying out long-term plans, the
network economy of the Information Revolution will likely be characterized
by network organizations linking shifting combinations of entrepreneurs,
financiers, and marketers.
this environment, labor cost and the capital cost of the production facility
become minor components of the value of an item. Marketing and distribution
via Internet cut the cost of those components substantially. The marketing
advantages of traditional brand names continue to be worth something,
but even that will be relentlessly driven down by competition. Internet
business has already accustomed us to considering a brand name “established”
if it has been in the marketplace for only three years, and this may extend
fairly easily to the branding of material goods as well. True open-source
approaches may emerge in areas like aircraft and automobiles, where there
already exist large communities of technically skilled enthusiasts willing
to collaborate on designs and production software without immediate pay.
It may not be much of a stretch from existing companies which offer blueprints
and assembly kits for aircraft hobbyists, to become companies
which offer aircraft built from open-source designs and assembled in highly
automated manufacturing facilities.
trends suggest that the answer to “what will people do when manufacturing
is automated?” lies in greater reliance on entrepreneurship and self-employment,
including the classical services sectors and a large proliferation of
niches of design and prototyping of goods and devices to be manufactured
via these software-based industrial capabilities. This is consistent with
the shift in employment from the Agricultural to the Industrial Era and
its movement from farm to city. Many migrants to the cities capitalized
on mechanical skills learned while working on farm machinery, yet retained
vestiges of rural lifestyle habits such as recreational fishing and hunting,
gardening, and pastimes such as baseball (or cricket) and horse racing.
Some skills will require upgrading, such as computer literacy (but not
programming, which will become largely automated at the submodular level)
or, for industrial design, some mathematics and engineering skills (again
aided by design software). But the rural migrants to the cities also had
to acquire higher educational skills than they previously enjoyed.
the Information Revolution aspect of the Singularity revolutions progresses,
increasingly advanced issues come into play. Moore’s law— the geometric
improvement in the performance of computers, combined with the geometric
reduction of their cost—has continued to accurately describe the progress
of computing hardware. New technologies, like nanotechnology, promise
to continue this progress even after the ultimate physical limits of integration
on silicon chips have been reached. As computer performance continues
to improve, previously unseen—and somewhat spooky—phenomena will begin
to emerge. Already, work at the Santa Fe Institute has established the
reality of “e-life”—the creation of software constructs that act in accordance
with the laws of evolution.
different approaches promise to create computers within the next twenty
to forty years which may be able to pass the Turing Test—that is, to be
capable of an exchange which a human observer cannot distinguish from
a conversation with another human being. At what point should such entities
be considered truly intelligent and possessing of rights?
in this book, I discuss the nature of this emerging society as “amphibious”—existing
partly in cyberspace and partly in the physical world. Advanced computer
interface devices bring the prospect of some humans living increasingly
in the cyberspace environment. This trend will probably start among persons
having severe physical disabilities, who can experience a comparatively
unencumbered existence within cyberspace, but eventually embracing persons
who choose it for other reasons.
these developments will create new social and political issues, the impact
of which cannot be well predicted or effectively addressed from this side
of the Singularity. What we can understand is the way past frameworks
have accommodated radical technology-driven social change and the relative
successes of the various approaches. I believe these offer hints about
the nature of the framework in which the solutions to the challenges of
the Singularity can be met.
SOCIETY AND THE HAZARDS OF THE SINGULARITY REVOLUTIONS: THE CASE OF NANOTECHNOLOGY
manufacturing, or molecular nanotechnology (MNT), involves physically
manipulating individual atoms and molecules to create materials, structures,
and machines. In essence, MNT proposes constructing things from the atom
up, assembling larger and larger modules until the desired structure and
scale are achieved, but without necessarily using biological materials
or the self-replicating capabilities of natural systems. First proposed
by K. Eric Drexler in the early 1980s, MNT has never required any overturning
of scientific principles—it is, rather, the ultimate challenge of engineering,
one which will give an enormous mastery over physical devices.
MNT and related Singularity technologies seem to be passing in the eyes
of some from being the object of unsupported ridicule to the object of
irrational fear without any intervening period of rational consideration.
In the March 2000 issue of Wired
software entrepreneur Bill Joy published a long, pessimistic essay in
which he considered the effect of three revolutions within the bounds
of what is discussed here—genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics. He speculated
they would either cause an unintended catastrophe that could wipe out
all life on Earth, or lead in the relatively short term to the emergence
of artificial intelligence much more powerful than the human mind. In
this scenario, we would eventually become obsolete and therefore either
reduced to the status of pets, or extinct. Joy ended his article with
a call to establish Draconian measures to end or greatly inhibit technological
progress, and to establish what would effectively become a static, totalitarian
himself has subsequently moderated his position, still being wary of the
downsides of the Singularity, but also realizing the hazards of a relinquishment
strategy. However, his article and the alarm it raised has taken on a
life of its own. Many who dismissed the prospect of MNT for two decades,
and who ignored the real work being done on the dangers of nanotechnology
(which are real, if not as extreme as Joy represented in his article)
and advocated measures that forego the potential enormous
of this technology. In the end, such a relinquishment regime as Joy originally
advocated is both intolerable in its effects and ineffective in combating
the hazards it seeks to avoid. His list of solutions included a call for
international controls of MNT and other technologies, on the model of
proposals for the “internationalization” of atomic energy made in 1945.
Unfortunately, the history of international systems for technology controls,
even when dealing with cruder, less concealable technologies in eras without
the formidable information technologies of the Web, is poor. It would
require either the creation of a global empire under the control of “trusted”
nations and individuals, with the implementation of a pervasive totalitarian
regime of surveillance and control (which would create grave “Who watches
the watchers?” problems), or, in a truly international regime, cause enormous
problems from the linking of civilizations with extremely different concepts
of civic duty and the function of the state.
facing the real challenges of the Singularity, we must draw on the experiences
of technological societies. We must consider two issues. Firstly, we must
ask which social characteristics are typical of the societies most open
to the rapid development of new technologies, because in reality, the
rules of dealing with the new technologies will be set by the society
that first produces them. Secondly, we must ask which constitutional systems
permit effective control of real hazards in a regime that does not create
incentives to take research and production underground.
have studied and discussed these issues for the past two decades. At the
same time, I have been active in the entrepreneurial sector of two of
the key technologies discussed earlier. The conclusions I have derived
from this work are that the key to controlling the hazards of the Singularity
lies in the same phenomenon that has made it possible—the strong civil
society that created both the Industrial Revolution and constitutional
democracy. The strongest and most prolific of the strong civil societies
at the center of the Industrial Revolution have been and remain those
of the English-speaking world—the Anglosphere. Any hope of realizing the
benefits of the Singularity requires an understanding of the Anglosphere
and its unique features. Any hope of dealing effectively with the hazards
of the Singularity likewise will be found in its past successes.
analysts sometimes use the term “come-as-you-are party” to describe the
opening phases of a war, or a short war in its entirety. The term refers
to the fact that in these short time frames, combatants cannot count on
any resources—troops, weapons, or supplies—that do not already exist.
In a long war, they must take into account the possibility that new troops
will be enlisted and trained, new weapons will be developed and deployed,
or new supplies can be obtained. In the near-term time frame, the emphasis
has to be on making do with what exists.
time frame of the Singularity revolutions is likely to be very short by
the standards of social and political change and will cause major
in livelihood and life in the space of a decade or two. The social challenge
of adaptation must be treated as a come-as-you-are party. There will be
no time to experiment with and test novel social arrangements, philosophies,
or institutions once the Singularity begins. This may seem counterintuitive
to many people. Surely novel technological capabilities require novel
social institutions, don’t they? The experience of the past century argues
that the opposite is the case. Institutions tend to be modified more than
replaced, institutions tend to not die out unless they demonstrate actual
and substantial harm, and institutions tend to adapt only as much as needed
to provide a viable solution to pressing problems.
should give pause to advocates of radically different and untried institutions
that the same arguments, widely used to justify some of the most grotesque
and deadly social experiments of human history—Adolf Hitler’s Germany,
Stalin’s Soviet Union, and Mao Tse-tung’s China— were offered as justification
for well over 150 million human murders. The early twentieth century was
filled with predictions that the airplane, the automobile, or the assembly
line (or whatever) had made parliamentary democracy, market economies,
jury trials, and Bills of Rights irrelevant, obsolete, and harmful.
we have already brought the Scientific-Technological Revolution to the
point where spacecraft and the Internet make the technologies of the early
twentieth century—its fabric-winged biplanes, Tin Lizzies, and “Modern
Times” gearwheel factories—look like quaint relics. Yet all of the “obsolete”
institutions derided by the modernists of that day thrive and strengthen.
The true surprise of the Singularity revolutions is likely not to be the
technological wonders and dangers it will bring, but the robustness of
the strong civil-society institutions which will bring them forth, and
which offer the best hope of exploiting and constraining them.
are entering an unplanned and unplannable time of great promise and pressing
hazard. We need to respond to these challenges by strengthening an evolving
and evolvable framework, based on our best and most successful institutions,
to address such issues. I will examine one strong civil society—the Anglosphere
of this book’s title—which has thrived on unplanned phenomena and has
evolved the most successful to date of systems for dealing with the unexpected.
is here that clues to these issues will mostly be found, and here that
the hunt will primarily take place.
SOCIETIES AND THE ECONOMY OF THE SINGULARITY
that the economic climate of the coming era is likely to be dominated
by a highly entrepreneurial and fast-moving economic model,
nations are going to be well-positioned to take advantage of developments?
Why do some nations do well, and not others, and what does this say about
the alignments and associations in international politics that we currently
the past two decades, we have observed such varied phenomena as differing
responses of nations to the end of communism in Eastern Europe and the
former Soviet Union, collapse of the East Asian neo-Confucian bubble,
and revival of entrepreneurism in Britain in the wake of the Thatcher
reforms. These experiences have created a better appreciation of the link
between a strong civil society and prosperity. In the emerging economy
of this new Scientific-Technical Revolution, these strong civil-society
values will be even more central to success.
civil society is built of a vast network of networks. These networks start
with the individual and the families, community organizations, congregations,
social organizations, and businesses created by individuals coming together
up through the local, regional, national, and international networks,
the tying together of local organizations creates civil society. Such
civil societies beget civic states. These states are ones in which authority
begins at the local and community level and gradually is built upward
to deal with wider-scale issues. Civic states are built on community assent
and a feeling of participation in a local, regional, and national community.
Law is generally accepted, as are the common rules of society, and the
authority of the state is not upheld by constant exercise of force but
by the willingness of citizens to comply.
is important to make clear that at the root of civil society is the individual.
who define themselves primarily as members of collective entities, whether
families, religions, racial or ethnic groups, political movements, or
even corporations, cannot be the basis of a civil society. Individuals
must be free to dissociate themselves from such collectivities without
prejudice and reaffiliate with others in a civil society. Societies that
place individuals under the permanent discipline of inherited or assigned
collectivities, and permanently bind them into such, remain bogged down
in family favoritism, ethnic, racial, or religious factionalism, or systems
such as the “crony capitalism” which has marked in particular East Asia
and Latin America.
is likewise important to make clear that a family in a civil society is
a voluntary association, even though it is built on inherited connections.
It should not place loyalty to its members above moral obligations to
the rest of society, such as fair dealing, and should have no power over
its members, other than the sanction of withdrawal of help or association.
Similarly, its individuals may choose to join associations marked by in- herited ties, such as ethnic or religious organizations,
but are not penalized for declining to join. Those individuals should
be dealt with by the state as individuals, rather than as members of that
would-be advocates of civil society are often fooled into seeing family-dominated
societies, in which membership in family networks determines one’s economic,
social, and political future, as civil societies, when in fact they are
the opposite of such. Some also see societies in which everyone is dealt
with by the state as a member of an ethnic, racial, or religious community
(such as the old vilayet system of the Ottoman Empire) as civil societies.
These are in fact authoritarian societies corrupted by the lack of choice.
“family values” of a crony society are not the same as the family values
of a civil society. The ethnic- or religious-based voluntary associations
of a civil society are not the same as the ethnic or religious compartments
of an authoritarian society. One of the quiet success stories of strong
civil societies, particularly the United States, has been the manner in
which the compulsory family and religious affiliations of the Old World
were transformed into voluntary associations of civil society when transplanted
by immigrants. These immigrants transformed themselves from members of
traditional societies into self-actualized individuals in civil societies.
This took place in the same generation in some families, and in two or
three generations in others.
societies have some elements of civil society, but their strength differs
greatly from society to society. Some states, generally the most peaceful
and prosperous ones, are civic states, or have elements of being civic
states, but others have little or no civic nature: totalitarian states,
personal dictatorships, and kleptocracies. The latter are states existing
primarily to permit the persons or groups in control to steal from those
subject to its power. Most of the poorer and strife-wracked states of
the world are in the latter category. The relationship between civil society
and prosperity, like that between civic statehood and domestic peace,
is not coincidental. However, the link of causality has often been misunderstood.
is now quite clear that prosperous states are rich because of the strength
of their civil society, and that peaceful states are peaceful because
of the strength of their civic statehood, not the other way around. States
that have inherited vast natural wealth relative to their populations
have been able to spread wealth around, but this has not generally strengthened
civil society or the coherence of the civic state. When Saddam Hussein
invaded Kuwait, the sons of the rich Kuwaitis fled to Cairo, while their
parents negotiated the price of Western intervention. This is not a strong
misunderstood are the concepts of democracy and the market economy.
modern market economies, and civic states are effects of a strong civil
society, not causes. Over the past century, there has been a misdirection
of attention to the surface mechanics of democracy, to nosecounting, rather
than with the underlying roots of the phenomenon. It is clear now that
a society containing the strong networks of association which characterize
a civil society also develops means of expressing the interests of those
networks to the state. It is the need for effective means of expression
that gave rise to the original mechanisms we now call democratic. Later,
intellectuals in societies that did not have a strong existing civil society,
particularly pre-Revolutionary France, looked at societies that did, particularly
England, and attempted to derive an abstract theoretical construct which
captured the essence of that experience. They called this thing democracy,
but they subsequently focused attention on their model (and its misunderstandings)
rather than the essence of the thing they actually admired.
strong civic state had its roots in the local expressions of civil society
in the civic realm, a process which may or may not have had roots in pre-Norman
Conquest days but was certainly well-rooted by the fourteenth century.
These include the grand and petit jury systems, the election of various
aldermen and other local officials, and the quasi-official roles of many
civil-society institutions. Selecting members of the House of Commons
was one of many different mechanisms by which local communities gave or
withheld their consent to the state.
we look back and focus on the ways in which those days differed from today—the
restricted franchise, the “rotten boroughs” which elected members of Parliament
with a handful of voters, the lack of a mass party system, and the open
sale of votes for money or favor. We see those characteristics as not
very democratic, but it is a mistake to ignore the many ways in which
England’s system created a far more effective means of assent and dissent
compared to other state systems of the times. The lesson from English
history has been repeated many times over, up to and including contemporary
events in Taiwan and South Korea. When civil society reaches a certain
degree of complexity, democracy typically emerges. Absent that civil society,
importing the mechanisms of democracy—the forms and rituals—results only
in creating one more set of spoils for families and groups to fight over
at the expense of the rest of society.
the market economy is more than the absence of socialism. It is more than
the absence of interventionist government; it is the economic expression
of a strong civil society, just as substantive (rather than formulaic)
democracy is the political expression of a civil society and civic state.
Majoritarian mechanisms no more create civil society than wet streets
cause rain. There is theoretically no reason why democracy needs a market
economy, or vice versa—but in practice they are almost always found together. This is a clue. Entrepreneurship in business
uses and requires the same talents and often the same motives that go
into starting a church, a nonprofit organization, or a political party.
The society that can create entrepreneurial businesses tends to be able
to create the other forms of organizations as well—often the same individuals
start several of each form at different stages in their lives.
market economy also requires a civil society with general acceptance of
a common framework of laws, practices, and manners. Without a general
acceptance of fair dealing, an agreement on what fair dealing means, and
an adjudication system that can resolve and enforce resolution of disputes,
a modern market economy cannot exist. Just as post- Soviet Russia’s politics
demonstrated that the mechanics of democracy alone cannot create a civic
state, its economy demonstrated that market formulas cannot by themselves
create a market economy or a civil society. They are necessary but insufficient
conditions in each case.
realizations have immense implications for the Singularity Era. It is
highly likely that the innovation of the current Information Revolution
will continue to spark innovation for the other Singularity Revolutions.
This suggests that they will likewise emerge in an entrepreneurial environment
marked by the fast creation of teams and fast capitalization through venture
money and public markets. The rapid formation, deployment, and financing
of enterprises typical of Silicon Valley are also an inherent characteristic
of a strong civil society.
strong role of non-company organizations (such as professional and industry
associations, and informal networks of acquaintance) in Silicon Valley
also argues that this form of entrepreneurism is a strong civil society
phenomenon. In fact, I will argue in more detail that the current wave
of entrepreneurism is a characteristic of a more advanced evolution of
civil society now emerging, and which is part and parcel of the Singularity
at the geography of the Singularity, it is no accident that it is emerging
first in the United States. Strong civil society has its roots in medieval
Europe, as a result of the society being built of a mix of tribal, feudal,
local, church, family, and state institutions, characterized by the lack
of a single, overwhelming power which could impose its will. Gradually
the different interests established negotiated relationships of power
and influence, none of which involved full submission of one element to
another. At first these institutions were neither free nor voluntary in
nature, for the most part. However, the multiplicity of institutions eventually
permitted some liberty, and eventually enabled many individuals to establish
substantial freedom and independence through astute negotiation.
by virtue of its being an island at the periphery of Europe, was insulated
from many of the more absolutist influences, driven by the
of military competition, that eventually eradicated the complexity of
emerging medieval civil society.
particular, its insulation from effective invasion after 1066 and lack
of need to maintain a large land army shielded it from the centralization
of political authority into Sun King-style monarchies in the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries. Thus, it was free to continue combining medieval
institutions such as Parliament, juries, and corporations into effective
forms of complex civil societies. These forms were present throughout
Western Europe but faded or changed into instruments of state power over
civil society on most of the continent, while still flourishing in England.
colonization of North America happened in such a way that the most useful
characteristics of civil society were brought to its soil from England,
while many of the less useful remnants of feudalism were left behind.
In fact, Anglo-America was a particularly strong civil society from the
start, especially in New England and Pennsylvania, where Puritans and
Quakers, both of whom were strongly dedicated to the fundamentals of civil
society, brought particularly robust institutions. In particular, both
elevated the sanctity of contract and covenant to central places in their
moral universe, a great advantage for dynamic entrepreneurship.
appears to be a vital fundamental link between the entrepreneurial cultures
of the Quakers of Pennsylvania and northern England, the dissenters of
northern and midland England and America, and the Calvinists of New England
and Scotland, to the emergence, development, and continuing dominance
of the Industrial and Information revolutions. It is important to reject
a triumphalist or essentialist view of the Anglo- American role in this
matter. The fact that the Calvinist Netherlands originated many of the
capitalist mechanisms later developed more fully in the Anglosphere is
sufficient to prove that there was no inherent virtue in English-speaking
people at the heart of its success. This also implies that the set of
characteristics which have given the Anglosphere its leadership can be
lost as well as acquired, that other cultures can (and to some extent
have) acquired characteristics with similar effects. It also implies that
these cultural and institutional characteristics are fairly deep-seated,
and changes, negative and positive alike, usually require several generations
to take full effect.
the saying goes, “There is a lot of ruin in a nation.” Thus England took
more than a few generations to lose the characteristics that enabled entrepreneurial
vigor, and when relatively shallow political and institutional changes
reversed the climate of decline, entrepreneurial vigor quickly resurfaced
there. Conversely, it will take more than “anticorruption” campaigns in
low-trust cultures in the former Soviet states, Latin America, or East
Asia to change a deep-rooted cultural bias toward nepotism in business
consequences of these conclusions are very significant to the specific
outcome of the Singularity revolutions of the next decades. The Singularity
is likely to emerge in a strong civil society—most likely, the Anglosphere.
It will continue to be the center of the Singularity Revolution process
for the foreseeable future. This suggests that the most important political
challenge of the near future is to create close cooperative ties among
groups of strong civic states, starting with the Anglosphere nations.
These conclusions also suggest that one critical preparation for this
process is for nations to gain an awareness of the distinctiveness of
their own civilization, not in order to feel superior to others but to
create a realistic basis for addressing the substantial opportunities
and problems arising within this civilization. Finally, we must realize
that every advance brought by the Singularity revolutions will bring a
serious potential for danger and disruption. The potential solutions to
such dangers must come from the strengths of the civilization from which
a half-century now some have advocated constructing a world government
in hopes that it would control such hazards. Such a government (unless
it is a disguised empire of the major powers imposed on the rest) would
have to be constructed on a lowest-common-denominator basis to include
a substantial collection of brutal dictatorships, rotten oligarchies,
and naked kleptocracies. It may be more useful to construct a framework
for cooperation starting with a small number of significant strong civil
societies and to work on improving constitutional structures which can
restrain harmful use of power, whether political or technological, while
preserving safeguards against political abuse. Any such institution will
have to draw on civil-society strengths of openness, voluntary consent
and compliance, inclusion, constitutional restraint of authority, and
flow of participation from the fundamental levels of society to the top.
Any other approach is unlikely to be effective in achieving its goals
or be tolerable to its citizens.
understanding of the success of market economies and democratic government
will lead inevitably to skepticism about ambitious, broadly inclusive
international or transnational institutions. International cooperation
will be essential to meet the challenges of the Singularity revolutions.
But the first challenge of organizations is to attempt to link internally
states with much in common. If we cannot make such forms work, there is
no hope whatsoever for institutions hoping to link across different cultures,
except in the most superficial ways. Thus, the first challenge is creating
the institutional ties to parallel the economic realities of the convergence
within the English-speaking economies.
areas of the world that are beginning to show similar creativity and entrepreneurship
are, interestingly enough, also strong and relatively
civil societies—Scandinavia, as mentioned, and places like the Netherlands.
It is no accident that a figure such as Linus Torvalds—who created the
Linux language and the Linux phenomenon—is a citizen of Finland. It is
also of note that he promptly moved to the English-speaking world—in this
case Palo Alto, California—in order to advance his dreams.
problem is not any lack of creativity among non-English-speaking people,
nor a lack of energy or entrepreneurial drive. The problem is that when
creativity does arise and ventures start, the prevailing set of social,
economic, and political institutions retards their growth. In corrupt
and undemocratic countries with weak civil societies, family networks
permit entrepreneurs to get around these obstacles, up to a point. But
they cannot expand easily beyond that. In stronger civil societies such
as Germany, which have high-trust characteristics but lack openness and
flexibility in their political and social systems, ventures start but
can become frustrated by bureaucratic barriers. In America, start-ups
draw heavily on Indian programmers and entrepreneurs. In Germany, a proposal
to give visas to Indian programmers gave rise to a political slogan of
“Kinder statt Inder”—“(our) Children, not Indians.”
resistance to flexibility may change. In fact, I believe it will. However,
these changes will not happen overnight. The European Union (EU) will
likely go through one or more rather severe crises before it changes its
nature; the Japanese system is similarly rigid and slow to change. The
decades it will require for these changes to take place will also be the
critical decades of the Singularity revolutions.
the short term, therefore, it is likely that the Anglosphere nations will
continue to pull away from Continental Europe and Japan. When I have presented
these conclusions in public forums in places such as Silicon Valley, I
have had comments from audience members— French and Italian immigrants—who
have told me, “In my country, I just could not start a company. I wanted
to start a software company, so I had to come to America.”
many young Continental Europeans use their EU rights to relocate to Britain
because it has a more entrepreneurial culture than the continent, and
they want that freedom. Free movement has been reported as a success of
the EU principles, but it is very much one way. Young Continentals move
to Britain and Ireland, suggesting it may be an example of the English-speaking
world’s continual attraction for the smart, talented, and ambitious. To
be sure, there is a substantial reverse flow of British migrants to the
continent, but these tend to be retirees or long-distance commuters remaining
economically linked to the Anglo-sphere while enjoying continental weather,
wine, and lower costs of real estate. There is a French Silicon Valley,
but it does not lie in any of the planned technology centers created by
the French state—it stretches along the Channel link
through the Thames Valley, where hundreds of thousands of young French
men and women (including the latest model for Marianne, the incarnation
of the Republic) have relocated to pursue their dreams without the high
taxes and social burdens of the continent.
patterns suggest that the institutional arrangements and alignments which
the English-speaking nations have pursued over the past thirty years are
probably obsolete and need serious rethinking, realigning, and in some
cases, abandonment. Other institutions need to emerge to take the place
of the declining ones.
Much can be learned from the successes and failures of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the EU, the North American Free Trade A