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If there is one metanarrative that can sum up the era we are entering in terms of the impact of technological change on society, it’s extremes – new technologies that are prepared to change society come with both much higher upsides than most technologies have in the past, as well as much lower downsides.

Let’s take three, in order of present, near-future, further-future.

First: vehicles piloted by software or by humans remotely. We are already somewhat here, with drones in the air and self-driving cars creeping closer. The upsides to these technologies are tremendous – an end to traffic congestion and vehicle-related deaths, same-day delivery of anything, cheaper commercial airfare, and boundless other changes unimaginable to us.

It also means robot armies and spies, ie, vast reductions in the marginal cost (economic and political) of slaughter and snooping.

Second: 3D printing. The great leap to the world of instant satisfaction, universal artisanship, the Star Trek economy.

It also means every home is a potential arsenal.

Lastly: nanobots, ultra-tiny ultra-sophisticated drones. It means amazing geological and astronomical exploration, as well as a revolution in medicine – imagine “Body Wars” come to life, tumors and blood clots eliminated in seconds with no pain and minimal costs, strokes and punctured lungs repaired. Average age skyrockets.

It also means invisible untraceable assassins and an end to any presumption of privacy.

This is the future, folks.

nom shanti nom

Sparked by something I experienced today (not this, actually), I went back to find a post I assumed I had written on this blog, but realize I had in fact written on my old, now-defunct blog, and said “drat” so now I am repeating this theory here:

A trend I have already seen and expect to see continue into the future is the increasing non-profit-ization of the US economy. As an inside-the-Beltway denizen it could be easy to assume I’m talking about the traditional foundation, charity, NGO-type stuff but I’m not. Instead I think things that traditionally have been incorporated as for-profit businesses will in the future be often incorporated as non-profits, for many reasons:

1) Technology shatters business model

2) Driven by underlying cause

3) Tax preference

4) Creative re-imagining

5) Lack of pressures inherent in for-profit models

And probably others (feel free to contribute thoughts, my vast readership!).

A good example of this is ProPublica, which is a 1, 2, and 5 kind of thing where traditional journalism models are failing but journalism is a public service. Another good example (though, since they’re defunct, maybe not the best example) is JDub Records, which is similar. I expect to see more book publishing go this route. Another good example is Yoga District, a non-profit cooperative network of yoga studios in DC.

And tonight, I went to a happy hour at Cause, a “Philanthropub” in downtown DC, which is, yes, a non-profit bar (complete with cheddar-coated fries and wings and a quinoa-lentil burger) that donates 100% of its net profits to various charities. So, I’m going to notch that as a definitive “I was right” because sometimes I get to be right!

Yesterday a friend of mine tweeted an invitation via a new service called Feastly. The invitation was to come to her home and eat a delicious, home-cooked gourmet meal in exchange for money. The service, Feastly, is set up to do exactly that – while it is still in private beta (and therefore cannot be fully-explored until one is invited in) it clearly aggregates offerings of that sort, sortable by dietary restrictions, price, attire, pet-friendliness, and other criteria. It’s a great idea, and one I wish I thought of.

On a social scale, I think as we see more services like this that directly connect buyers and sellers – think eBay, Etsy, ebook self-publishing – it will throw further into question whether statistics like GDP/GNI are useful metrics, not just of broader concepts like "standard of living," but of what they purport to measure. Every meal eaten on Feastly and not at a formal restaurant is one that involves an exchange of goods and services for money, and most of them will likely not be counted by current methods of measuring GDP. This issue predates the internet, of course, but the internet’s amazing power to match small-scale producers to buyers will accelerate this trend, as will the advent of 3-D printing.

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