Monday, December 27, 2010

What Rough Beast Slouches Towards Bethlehem?

In the darkening dawn of the 20th century, William Butler Yeats wrote, "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold." Yeats' Second Coming glimpsed a nightmarish "rough beast, its hour come round at last" slouching towards Bethlehem to be born. As we move into the 21st century, my fear is that the "center" is getting too strong--there seems to be no limit to what technology and government can do.

Computers can only get so fast, but quantum computing harnesses parallel timelines to do things that just aren't possible in a Newtonian universe. A fully-functioning quantum computer should break the barriers between relativity and quantum physics, and should also be able to bioengineer proteins from scratch. Given today's pace of progress, I expect decent quantum computers to be operational by 2025, yielding a whole new generation of technology by 2045.

Technology isn't the only thing that changes. There's a pace of progress in human relationships, too. I'm not aware of any "Moore's Law" for human interconnectedness, but we've gone from writing to printing to telegraph to radio to television to internet to blogs to Facebook to Twitter over time. Communications move further and faster. The news cycle has gone from monthly magazines to weekly papers to the nightly newscast to 24/7 cable to a constant feed to the Blackberry.

Yeats heard the winds of chaos scattering the ashes of Europe after World War I. Today an invisible web is twining its tentacles around a shrinking world. Who knows what the future holds?