While many of us are familiar with the notion of ‘cyberpunk’ from having read or heard about novels such as ‘Snow Crash’ and ‘a scanner darkly’. Many more are introduced through cinematic landmarks such as ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Matrix’ series, as well as graphic novels and animation such as Transmetropolitan, Phantom 2040, Aeon flux, and Ghost in the shell. While some of the precepts explored in these dystopian sagas of our popular culture are already in place, we begin to ask ourselves just how many of the defining elements presented in them may come to pass within our lifetime. To most of us, they simply exist as an artistic extrapolation taking the guise of entertainment media, though they often serve as a portent of what has yet to come: Our world is in the throes of pivotal changes and it is taking place at breakneck speed.
Perhaps one core theme that underlies the notion of a truly cyber-punk future is the establishment of a corporate technocracy controlling the population at large. We already live in a postindustrial world of increasingly volatile socio-economic instability, and this stratification has already resulted in two separate economies and social orders running in tandem: The ultra rich controlling the vast majority of the population at large, since the richest 1% has obtained 95% of the wealth and 90% of the US population has become poorer since 2009.
Since then, the richest 10% currently own 86% of all the wealth in the United States, and this trend is increasing: stifling the masses in an endless loop of low-wage service sector positions, unable to crack the top 20% of earners. In a future where this class division will only become more stark, we will see the disappearance of the “Middle-Class’, which will ultimately become one of the defining events of the 21st century. The emergence of the global market has tapped a substratum of workers in the third world, providing the elite with even greater control of cheap labor markets. This is due to a simple fact: Resources are scarce, and monetary privileges allow only the truly affluent to direct the flow of wealth. In a dystopian future, government surveillance will continue unabated against grassroots organizations and individuals promoting change to this social order, and the poor and disenfranchised will continue to fight our wars and become ‘heroes’, a favorite term of the propaganda machine, when they are injured in combat. A nation’s wealth is directly consistent with the overall power of its manufacturing and industrial bases and the natural resources that they can access. With corporate lobbyism and cronyism already firmly entrenched in our nations governments, the cornerstones of a corporate technocracy, a ‘boardroom government’ are already well in place.
This is the current state of social evolution in America today. We have gone from an archaic, agrarian based economy to an industrial manufacturing economy which has since transitioned into a service sector economy. The economy of the future will further delineate into a techno-centric hierarchy that will be controlled by those who can manage the flow of data and engineer creative solutions to uphold this progression and invest and develop the applications that fuel automation, particularly in the fields of renewable energy, heavy industries, and the emergence of hyper-sentient artificial intelligences. The introduction of bit-coin, a crypto-currency, will have significant impact on our future as well, and attempts will be made by congressional lobbyists to subject it to taxation and FDIC regulation because of its innate ability of generating monetary power to the masses anonymously. Access to information will also be regulated.
Increasing integration of technology into bio-mechanical synthesis:
With smartphones and tablets already a common facet of everyday life, the seeds of a bio-electronic revolution has already been sewn. If a cyberpunk dystopia were to come to pass, and, one can argue that it is inevitable, we would begin to see the fusion of such devices integrated into cybernetic constructs that we will be interacting with at the speed of thought. This bio-synthesis is the inevitable and logical evolution of such devices gaining increasing importance into our lives. These changes will take the form of neural implants, whereby access to a neural cloud-net will become as routine a task as a simple cell phone activation. Physical augmentations, grafting, and advanced bio-mechanical implants will become increasing sophisticated, thus, the line between man and machine will only continue to blur. The blind will see through the eyes of photoreceptors and the deaf will hear with cochlear implants composed of advanced silicates and circuits. The physically disabled will soon become stronger than the average man, retrofitted with bionic limbs capable of feats of strength that would appear all but superhuman by today’s standards. This progression will only be further enhanced by the introduction of holographic displays and user interfaces that will become commonplace as 3D projecting technology becomes feasible.
A prominent concept explored in the dystopian futurist’s repertoire is the dysphoria of complete virtual immersion by neural interlace, which is most commonly portrayed as a central plot device in the ‘matrix’ films and ‘Ghost in the shell.’ The concept is predicated upon the circumstance of 4D graphics rendering and quantum computing technology becoming so advanced and articulated that all sensory perceptions would be re-routed as an avatar ‘rezzed’ into a digital construct of a fabricated virtual reality. If all sights, smells, audio and tactile sensations could be replicated in an artificial environment, then it would follow that such perceptions would be indistinguishable to the human mind , which, in theory, would blur the distinction between waking reality and a computer generated world. The consequences of such a concept, if feasible, are as profound as they are disturbing: the administrators of such a world could artificially keep the physical body, (or merely the brain matter) alive whilst creating a living hell or a never ending loop of sheer bliss for the end user to experience at their discretion. This does draw certain parallels to the allegory of Plato’s cave, a parable over 2500 years old; but there are a few loopholes in the virtual immersion scenario which are entirely dependent upon our understanding of the immaterial human mind (not physical brain matter): That being, that even if the aforementioned technology were possible, highly cultivated minds capable of piercing through procedurally generated fantasy and deception would be capable of shattering the grand illusion and attain knowledge of the physical waking reality as we know it. While this does raise metaphysical questions of philosophical concern, such that the reality that we believe we are experiencing is already little more than an illusory Ferris wheel of never ending joy, but that’s another matter best saved for another topic post.
Another defining standard of a cyberpunk dystopia will be the gradual introduction of magnetic, or possibly anti-gravitational forms of transportation that will radically alter our lives. While the prospect of “Flying cars” has become as cliché as a 1950’s vision of ‘tomorrow’, the limitless possibilities associated with anti-gravitational systems are manifold, if not just for the construction engineering potential, but also for mobility in a highly urbanized world.
The land will become increasingly denuded and the air quality will only continue to degrade. In order to paint a picture of this landscape it would be crucial to understand the factors attributed to these trends that are underlying: Overpopulation, and man’s unceasing demand for energy and natural resources. Without the advent of carbon scrubbers, urban centers will become stark wastelands of pollution. Cities like Beijing are already toxic to breathe in without masks, and this trend will continue elsewhere as developing megacities are fueled by the burning of coal.
As the world’s great cities continue to expand, physical space within those cities will become increasingly limited. This will result in the exponential growth of mega-skyscrapers throughout the world’s major cities .Niche species clinging on to life will become extinct due to continued poaching and habitat loss. Siberian Tigers, Panda’s, Orangutans, Rhino’s, and Polar bears will become extinct in the wild. These species will be confined to game reserves and zoo’s, preserved only in small pockets.
Global warming will see the worlds coastlines changed dramatically. Oil drilling and emissions will further warm the tropics, trapping greenhouse gasses and further altering the biosphere. The oceans will rise, lapping at our concrete shores as the polar caps continue to melt, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of millions from coastal cities. The diaspora that would follow such a cataclysmic and slowly unfolding event would be followed closely by disease, famine, and war for the remaining resources. Humanity, of course, will respond with levees, dam’s and gates to slow the inevitable change. Rioting, social unrest, religious zealotry and fanaticism, corporate cronyism, and class warfare are all but a myriad of pressing issues that our world is facing.
The challenge will be how we adapt to this brave new world, while maintaining economic, social, and cultural homeostasis, despite the gradual decay that faces our generation, and those to come.