Charlie Stross on the stop/go nature of technological change

Charlie Stross's keynote speech to the Yet Another Perl Conference is an inspired riff on the weird, gradual-then-sudden nature of technological change. As Charlie points out, almost everything today -- including the people -- was around 20 years ago, and most of what's around now will be around in 20 years. But there will be some changes that would shock your boots off. Improbably, he manages to tie this all into perl programming, which, apparently, is the future of smart sidewalks. Charlie's thoughtfully provided a transcript of his talk, and there's a video for those who prefer to hear his rather good comic delivery.

So here's my takeaway list of bullet-points for 2034:

* It's going to superficially resemble 2014.

* However, every object in the real world is going to be providing a constant stream of metadata about its environment — and I mean every object.

* The frameworks used for channeling this firehose of environment data are going to be insecure and ramshackle, with foundations built on decades-old design errors.

* The commercial internet funding model of 1994 — advertising — is still influential, and its blind-spots underpin the attitude of the internet of things to our privacy and security.

* How physical products are manufactured and distributed may be quite different from 2014. In particular, expect more 3D printing at end-points and less long-range shipment of centrally manufactured products. But in many cases, how we use the products may be the same.

* The continuing trend towards fewer people being employed in manufacturing, and greater automation of service jobs, will continue: our current societal model, whereby we work to earn money with which to buy the goods and services we need may not be sustainable in the face of a continuing squeeze on employment. But since when has consistency or coherency or even humanity been a prerequisite of any human civilization in history? We'll muddle on, even when an objective observer might look at us and shake her head in despair.

YAPC::NA 2014 keynote: Programming Perl in 2034

Notable Replies

  1. :rolleyes: Another BitCoin troll. Give it a rest, will you?

    Charlie's just an SF writer with a fair batting average in futurology. He'll be the first to tell you he's going to be wrong about some stuff — one of his favoured tee-shirts says "I tell lies for money". Don't treat him as a guru, let alone a fallen guru. Be entertained by his predictions: sing when he gets it right and cry when he gets it wrong, or vice versa, because that's the business he's in, entertainment.

  2. Never mind that he's been disturbingly spot-on on more than one occasion (e.g. the cancelled sequel to Rule 34). I'm dubious of his predictions about Perl-- I would say it's a prime example of the deeply flawed infrastructure he mentioned-- but overall it was a thought provoking talk.

    As for any predictions of graphene producing THz processors, I'll take it with the same grain of salt that I give to superconductors, cold fusion, and quantum computing. Sometimes a promising technology hits unexpected and incredibly difficult speed bumps.

  3. So you mean to say that they should not be gainfully employed in the future? And is this because you agree with Stross on how the current job market is untennable or because you mean to say that old people should get no jobs?
    Or is this just a dig at Perlers in general?

    There's a point in there somewhere, I'm sure.

  4. Two points:

    1. Talk was delivered at YAPC::NA 2014, a perl conference. What other programming language do you expect me to name check in it?
    2. Perl 6 development is running again and one of the VMs the compiler is targeting is ... Javascript. (At which point your argument against perl becomes an argument for perl, kinda-sorta!)
  5. It's more of a dig at the language itself. Its own slogan, "There's more than one way to do it", cuts right to the heart of the issue: Perl offers so many ways to say the same thing, it's easy to develop your own personal dialect. I used to work at a shop where " someone else's Perl" was a regular part of the lexicon. It's definitely possible to write readable Perl code, but it's entirely too easy for an undisciplined coder to produce "write only code".

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