Bruce Sterling on several histories that haven’t happened yet

SXSW Interactive drifts on and off the radar in terms of relevance to the art and technology circuit. Aside from the brain drain Silicon Valley exerts on its talent pool, the festival’s focus on commerce bears little relation to more aesthetic and research-oriented practices (aside from the fabled New Aesthetic brouhaha in 2012, anyways). One thing that endures at 'South by' though is Bruce Sterling’s wrapup talk each year, in which the Turin-based science fiction writer and design theorist ruminates on the currents that are rippling through the gathering. His talk from last week has been shared online and it lands a flurry of timely jabs.

As per usual, it’s a pleasure to hear Sterling put Silicon Valley in its place. In this particular rendition he sketches some of the futures that might result from pervasive automation. Driverless cars and the continued erosion of social security both point to the possibility of Universal Basic Income (UBI) – a prominent SXSW topic this year – and in his telling it could yield everything from a Plato’s Academy-style rethinking of cities as giant universities (fully-automated luxury communism!) or permanent austerity and/or mass-militarization. Even better: his contempt for the current fixation on AI. Below, he imagines our ancestors chiding us for turning humanity into the ‘supporting actors’ for automated systems and ideologies:

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