1 The Internet Era—and Beyond
THE
ANGLOSPHERE
CHALLENGE

B
Y James C. Bennett
 

p. 9-44

We 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.

—Claudio Véliz, The New World of the Gothic Fox: Culture and Economy in English and Spanish America (1994)

Modern 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 The American Challenge, which predicted that American corporations would crush European business through their superior corporate technique and aggressive marketing.

Of 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 foreign competition.

I 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.

Although 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.

There 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.

It 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.

Therefore, 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- sphere’s 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 virtues.

I 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.

I 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.

BEYOND THE INFORMATION REVOLUTION: THE SINGULARITY

Over 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.

The 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 Singularity.

This 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.

That 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.

In 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.

The 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.

THINKING ABOUT THE REVOLUTIONS OF THE SINGULARITY

What 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 to 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.

My 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.

I 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.

BOUNDED AND UNBOUNDED VISIONS

I 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.

Later, 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 disastrous results.

What 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.

BOUNDED AND UNBOUNDED PROBLEMS: THE SPACE DEVELOPMENT EXAMPLE

The 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 kilograms y kilometers, 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.

In 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 brilliant successes.

The 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 is 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 support.

NASA’s 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.)

To 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 was a predictable consequence of using inappropriate approaches for an unbounded problem— creation of a cost-effective space transportation capability.

After Challenger, 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.

Yet 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.

A 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.

The revolution in computer-aided design and manufacturing now in progress promises to greatly lower the time and cost of the development of 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 order.

The 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.

In 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 cost 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.

Eventually, 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 and the likely persistence of strong moral and political positions will create a need for living space for differing groups.

As 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.

Technology 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 expression.

Y2K AS THE OPPOSITE CASE: MISTAKING BOUNDED FOR UNBOUNDED PROBLEMS

As 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.

But 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.

The 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.

The 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.

I 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.

At 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.

As 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.

This 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.

I 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 Investment newsletter, 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.

I 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.

In 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.

In 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.

In 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.

Mistaking 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 as needed.

DEATH AND TAXES: EXTENDING LIFESPAN, AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

Uncertain 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 years.

These revolutions are in themselves a convergence of a number of advances.

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.

Some 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.

Beyond 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 cancer.

TAKING A POSSIBILITY SERIOUSLY

Which 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 revolution will in fact be upon us in the next one to two decades. Such indicators include

Genuine 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.

Multiple 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.

Absence 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.

Understanding 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.

The 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 that x is possible,” or that “It hasn’t yet been demonstrated in theory that x is possible,” or that “We accept x is 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.

Better 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.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT THE EFFECTS OF THESE REVOLUTIONS: THE “PESSIMISTIC SCENARIO”

The 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 limit 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.

Most 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.

The 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 Scenario.”

Of course, we then must take into account the other changes likely to happen.

With an extended healthy life span, the pressure to retire and collect government-funded pensions at 65 or 70 becomes much diminished if not nonexistent.

The 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.

Another 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 have 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 system.

This 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.

They 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.

An 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.

As 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.

INDUSTRIAL GOODS AS SOFTWARE: THE NEXT PHASE OF THE INFORMATION REVOLUTION, AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

Few concepts have been misunderstood as much as that of the Information Age.

In 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.

Consider 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.

With 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.

One 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.

This 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 thereby 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.

The 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 the globe.

Adjustment 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.

Government 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.

But 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.

In 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.

Observable 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.

As 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.

Several 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?

Later 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.

Ultimately, 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.

CIVIL SOCIETY AND THE HAZARDS OF THE SINGULARITY REVOLUTIONS: THE CASE OF NANOTECHNOLOGY

Molecular 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.

Ironically, 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 magazine, 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 society.

Joy 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 benefits 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.

In 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.

I 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.

Military 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.

The time frame of the Singularity revolutions is likely to be very short by the standards of social and political change and will cause major changes 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.

It 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.

Today 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.

We 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.

It is here that clues to these issues will mostly be found, and here that the hunt will primarily take place.

CIVIL SOCIETIES AND THE ECONOMY OF THE SINGULARITY

Given that the economic climate of the coming era is likely to be dominated by a highly entrepreneurial and fast-moving economic model, which 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 have?

In 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.

A 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 voluntarily.

Continuing 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.

It is important to make clear that at the root of civil society is the individual.

People 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.

It 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 collectivity.

Thus 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.

The “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.

Most 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.

It 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 civic state.

Also misunderstood are the concepts of democracy and the market economy.

Democracy, 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.

England’s 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.

Today 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.

Similarly, 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.

The 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.

These 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.

The 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 Revolution.

Looking 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.

England, by virtue of its being an island at the periphery of Europe, was insulated from many of the more absolutist influences, driven by the needs of military competition, that eventually eradicated the complexity of emerging medieval civil society.

In 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.

The 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.

There 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.

As 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 and government.

The 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 they emerged.

For 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.

An 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.

Other areas of the world that are beginning to show similar creativity and entrepreneurship are, interestingly enough, also strong and relatively open 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.

The 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.”

This 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.

In 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.”

Similarly, 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 line 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.

Immigration 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