A 25-year-old bet that tech would wreck society

Some 25 years ago, Kirkpatrick Sale, author of Rebels Against the Future, a book in praise of the 19th century anti-machinery Luddite movement, bet Kevin Kelly, a top editor of the techno-utopian magazine Wired, that technology would wreck society by 2020.

The bet was for $1,000.  They agreed that William Patrick, a book editor who’d worked with both of them, would judge who’d won.

Sale predicted an economic disaster that would render the dollar worthless, causing a depression worse than the one in 1930; a rebellion of the poor against the rich; and a series of environmental disasters.

Patrick’s verdict was as follows:

Global Environmental Disaster. Environmental problems have far more to do with old school, industrial technology (slowly being retired) than with information technology (which may well be the only hope for a solution). Even so, with fires, floods, and rising seas displacing populations; bugs and diseases heading north, ice caps melting and polar bears with no place to go; as well as the worst hurricane season and the warmest year on record, it’s hard to dispute that we are at least “close to” global environmental disaster. Round goes to Kirk.

Economic Collapse. Not much contest here. Even with a pandemic, unemployment is a problem, but nowhere near a crisis—at least not in the closing days of 2020. (Stay tuned.) The Dow recently hit 30,000, and the leading currencies are cruising along. (Bitcoin, an entirely new form of currency unimaginable in 1995, is soaring—nearing $20,000 when I last checked.) So, Kirk’s dire prediction was way off. Round goes to Kevin.

War between rich and poor, both within and among nations. This is a toughie. Kirk’s apocalyptic forecast is especially problematic when you factor in huge economic gains in China and India, driven in large part by tech. On the other hand, how heavily do you weigh economic unrest as a factor in spawning the terrorism that triggered “forever wars” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia? And the economic dislocation among blue collar workers that allowed Trump’s faux populism to win them over? Meanwhile, anger at police abuses has led to massive protests from the left and bloody riots in the U.S. and Europe. It’s hard to say that “the poor rising up in rebellion” accurately characterizes the current state of the world (especially with that rising middle class in Asia) but it’s also hard to say, when you consider the unrest in the Islamic world and Trump supporters waving automatic weapons, that we’re “nowhere close.” Round is a toss-up, with an edge to Kirk.

Source: The Technium

However, the bet was not a draw.  Sale’s bet was that all three predictions would happen, and so he lost.

Sale doesn’t accept that he lost.  He thinks all three of his predictions will yet come true.  I think there’s a good chance they might.

LINK

A 25-Year-Old Bet Comes Due: Has Tech Destroyed Society? by Steven Levy for Wired.  Hat tip to Steve from Texas.

Concluding Our 25-Year Bet by Kevin Kelly for The Technium.

Is Society Collapsing? by Kirkpatrick Sale for Counterpunch.

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One Response to “A 25-year-old bet that tech would wreck society”

  1. Vincent Says:

    I would agree that Sale wins outright. I’m not an economist but would guess that the Dow itself is based on bets and could only reflect economic collapse retrospectively

    Like

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