Thursday, October 13, 2005

A history of the future (I)

Lecture by Professor Mitsui at the Foundation Academy, July 2098:

The 20th century was once called mankind's bloodiest and most sordid century. The 21st century has turned out to be even worse. Then again, should we be surprised? It is not as if we humans have suddenly transformed our violent and selfish ways after two world wars, numerous genocides, failed political utopias, global warming and of course the invention of nuclear weapons. If anything, the onslaught of a blind and relentless materialism has caused our morals to further degenerate.

In a bid to seek the power and immortality of the gods, mankind began to research certain 'transhumanist' technologies in the late 20th century. These include the last stage of computer technology--artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and nanotechnology. Increased pleasure, immortality, wealth, intelligence and the surface knowledge of rationality (glorified as the highest form of cognition)--these are the goals of the transhumanist project.

In the early 2000s, the transhumanists were still a small, but already potent force including many members of the technological elite. The fateful event propelling them to eventual dominance was the horrific 2009-11 Middle Eastern war, where the liberal use of chemical and biological weapons forced the major antagonists to perfect and deploy proto-types of military robots. In retrospect, we know that this was indeed the first of mankind's robotic wars, and also the first in which those nations without sufficient robotic support were annihilated. Thus did Israel and her allies manage to secure a terrible victory over the Arabic nations; but not before the destruction of half her population in the so-called 2nd Holocaust.

In addition, the plagues spread by the war also encouraged genetic research, and many cures (and evils) came of that in the coming decades.

Encouraged and enriched by the bloody success of their (still primitive) robotic drones, many corporations in the developed world began to build even more advanced versions. By then both China and India had also entered the fray, and this caused the West to invest further in their military establishments. By the late 2010s, truly autonomous vehicles without human control began to be deployed. On another front, robotic companies, especially those in Japan, also released a wider and wider range of domestic robots.

Meanwhile, biotechnological companies had begun an exponential growth as new discoveries extend genetic medicine and therapy into every corner of society. Of course, this was also the period when the Foundation began investing in various biotechnological startups. In conjunction with the spectacular cures (many pioneered by the Foundation startups), a whole new sophisticated range of biological weapons were also developed.

By 2030, the transhumanist movement included some of the richest and most powerful men and women in the world. Robotic and genetic engineering corporations also became the largest and most dominant companies of the world economy. It was also in the late 2020s that the first political parties (funded by rich corporations) dedicated to a transhumanist agenda began to take shape. The wonders of genetic engineering and robotics (backed by nanotechnological improvements) seemed to promise a great new civilization, a whole new wonderful age.

Yet all these were built on deceptive sand. Fundamentally, man in general remains a petty brutal being. The immense power given by technology changes nothing. And indeed, the miracles of genetic engineering became more and more dubious as new viruses and pathogens created by mischievious and misguided imaginations appear almost daily. The increasing numbers, power and intelligence of robots also grew more and more disturbing. At the same time, many transhumanist began merging with machinery, purportedly creating a new race of cyborgs. Meanwhile many conservatives and religious folks began to react violently to these changes.

Social tensions, divisions and chaos increased steadily. Meanwhile, another catastrophic war broke out. This time, it was the First East Asian War (2029-2030) between Japan and China. For the last 10 years, Japan had built up perhaps the world's most advanced robotics industry. This naturally allowed her to potentially become a very threatening military power. China, who had become the world's largest economic power, did not look on this kindly. Prompted by hawks on both sides and a series of ridiculous incidents, a titantic conflict erupted, and it soon dragged in Taiwan and Korea.

Both Europe and America were too enervated by internal conflicts to intervene much, while India prudently decided to remain neutral. Left to her own devices, Japan fought valiantly but her navy and air force was eventually destroyed by the combined assault of the Chinese and Korean forces. This left her open to invasion, and she sued for peace. Imposing a crushing treaty on Japan, China and Korea exulted in their triumph over their old enemy. In Japan itself, the government collapsed, and a movement for vengeance began. For the time being, the clear retreat of the West, and the defeat of Japan left China as the sole hegemon of the East Asian region. Taiwan was forcibly merged and all the disputed islands of East Asia (including Japan's Okinawa) fell into Chinese hands.

Faced with economic and political collapse, the radical wing of the Japanese transhumanist party came to power promising a national 'gaizen'. Previously unthinkable projects like the mass production of war robots and the enforced implanation of machinery into human beings were implemented. New forms of deadly biological and nanotechnological weapons were also created. Finally, huge underground factories swarming with robots were also built, in a desperate effort to match the military prowess of China, an economy almost 10 times that of Japan.

Obviously the victorious Chinese and Koreans viewed this emerging Japanese juggernault with alarm. But short of launching an unthinkably bloody land invasion of Japan, or risking an exchange of WMDs, they could do little more than to build up their own transhumanist armies. In any event, their combined economy was so much larger than the Japanese that despite their inferior robotic industries, they quickly manage to match and then exceed the feverish Japanese war efforts. Thus in the 2030s, robotic and other transhumanist forms of warfare advanced faster than ever before.

The UN tried to mediate between the feuding East Asian nations but to no avail. The late Foundation chairman also met the leaders of both China and Japan in an attempt to ameliorate the crisis. But Japan and China refused to budge. The Foundation then pulled out all research and technological resources from East Asia. The different Foundation companies were henceforth centered mainly in Europe, India, Singapore and New Zealand. Its financial wing however kept its branches in Shanghai.

12 uneasy years went by. Meanwhile in the Americas, the United States was facing the worst economic crisis in its history. Years of over-spending, socio-political disorder and the severe competition from Asia had taken a terrible toll. In 2042, matters came to a head when Hurricane Lulu struck the Eastern seaboard, devastating New York City, Boston and Washington simultaneously. The damage was horrific in New York. Sea walls were breached and much of lower Manhattan was flooded and destroyed before evacuation could take place. Countless people were killed, including many of America's top financial talents. The financial markets (still functioning in cyberspace), were already depressed by the American economic failure and threatened to collapse completely after the unprecedented disaster.

Complete collapse was averted when the greatest European and American banks joined the Foundation companies to save collapsing banks, insurance agencies and other financial institutions. Both the ECB and what remained of the Federal Reserve also joined this financial coalition. After 3 weeks of harrowing rescues, the worst was over and capital markets remain intact throughout the world. However the US economy was irreversibly damaged, and the days of US dominance was clearly over. For a short while, it seemed as if the world would be ruled by the Chinese.

However this hope was to be shortlived. Fearing a Chinese pre-emptive strike now that the United States was clearly too weak to rescue anybody, PM Tsuji of Japan put an apocalyptic plan into action. On July 15 2042, all the nuclear and biotechnological weapons of Japan were launched at the cities of China and Korea. Most of the nuclear missiles were stopped by Chinese defenses, but many of the bio-tech weapons went through, starting the worst epidemic in mankind's history. Plagues of a thousand varieties sprouted all over East Asia, and much faster than the production of remedies. Millions died within days, and almost 300 million in the next decade.

Meanwhile, airloads of cybernetic 'super-soldiers' and robots headed en masse towards Korea and Eastern China. Their mission was simple: total subjugation so as to save Japan. The Chinese and Koreans were caught by surprise and were disoriented by the WMD first strike. Pearl harbor-like, they quickly lost many of their main cities and troops. Within just 3 months, Japanese forces had captured Shanghai, Hong Kong, Beijing and had surrounded Chang-An (the new Chinese capital, the old Xian). Korea was completely overrun. However Japanese losses had been very significant. After all, they were fighting against a stronger enemy.

Soon, like the 2nd Sino-Japanese war of the 20th century, the size of China again worked against Japan. For one thing, China and Korea had managed a terrible WMD revenge against Japan in the first days of the war. Much of Japan had already been reduced to wasteland and half its population would die in just a few months. It certainly could not launch a second wave of invaders. Even its underground factories had not managed to replace the severe losses of the war in China.

On the other hand, the surviving industries of the Chinese hinterland churned out relentless waves of robotic and cybernetic armies. In a decisive battle around Chang-An, the Chinese army managed to beat back the Japanese invaders and annihilate their best generals. Without support and adequate replacements, Japanese forces were defeated in a crushing offensive that drove them out of the Asian mainland by early 2043. Bloodthirsty Chinese and Korean troops then readied themselves to invade Japan.

At this point, the complete destruction of Japan might have followed. Fortunately, the European Union, which (with the fall of America and the destruction of Asia) had become the world's pre-eminent power, decided to intervene. It brokered a deal in which European aid will pour into devastated China, Korea and Japan, while what remained of Japan will join the EU as a member. Japan will lose her independence but at least would maintain her national existence under a benign government. Thus in 2043, the EU became a Eurasian power.