Submarines and the Whoopi Economy: How Science Fiction Writers Predicted (and Still Predict) the Future
Let's talk about submarines, and for a change - not the kind that get prime ministers into trouble, but ones that demonstrate an interesting point about predicting the future.
You may have heard of the First World War. When the war broke out in 1914, it was clear to the nations of the world that the main - in fact, the only - weapon of war at sea would be warships of various kinds. Almost everyone ignored a new contender in the arena: the submarines.
At the beginning of the twentieth century there were already relatively advanced submarines, with a diesel engine and two openings for firing torpedoes. All the military bodies examined the possibility of using submarines, but most saw them as a curiosity and nothing more. Great Britain indeed boasted the largest submarine fleet in the world, but most of them were only capable of patrolling coastal areas. In short, they had no idea how to use submarines effectively.
At the outbreak of war, Germany found itself with a fleet of twenty submarines, and with the urgent need to use it to undermine British control of the oceans. The German submarines were sent to sink as many enemy ships as possible, and the results surprised even the Germans.
At the beginning of the war, the German submarine commanders obeyed the naval laws of war: the submarines surfaced, demanded the ship's crew to surrender, gave the enemy sailors an opportunity to abandon the ships in lifeboats, and then sank the ship. At least, that was the plan. U-boat commanders who tried to obey the laws of war in this way quickly discovered that their adversaries were unwilling to lose honorably. The submarines that surfaced would receive a heavy barrage of artillery and cannon fire and were immediately sunk. In a short time the unwritten rules changed, and the German commanders ceased their gentlemanly ways, and began to sink ships all over the ocean without giving them advance warning. The Allies found themselves in a blockade imposed on them by a country whose naval power was minuscule compared to theirs, but one innovative technology allowed it to paralyze the other nations for days.
What's amazing is that the British should have known what to expect, because one of their most famous writers - Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories - published a science fiction story earlier that year, in which she succeeded A small invented country to use submarines as a way to blockade the British Empire. The Admiralty publicly dismissed the story as complete nonsense, and Britain failed to prepare for the new way of submarine warfare before it hit her tooth and nail. Just one month after the British admirals publicly mocked Conan Doyle's delusional ideas, World War I began. Over the next four years, German submarines sank more than 5,000 Allied ships, At the price of 199 German submarines only.
I love this story because it shows how science fiction writers can sometimes imagine futures that seem strange to the people living in the present, but can easily come true once the right conditions are met.
But why stop at submarines?
Let's look at another example of a successful prediction by a science fiction writer, this time from the early XNUMXs.
In 2004, writer and futurist Corey Doctorow tried to imagine a future society in which there is no longer a need for humans to perform work of any kind. In Doctorow's vision, robots can perform all physical jobs - from transporting loads and people on roads and in the sky, to growing plants on farms and even performing surgeries in hospitals. Artificial intelligence is replacing lawyers, accountants, doctors and other professionals in the knowledge professions. Doctorow asked himself what society and culture would look like in such a world, and what humans would do if they didn't have to work for a living.
Doctorow provided a possible answer to the question in his book "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" - which, by the way, was released to the Internet under a Creative Commons license, so that anyone can read it for free (link here). The book describes life in the 22nd century, where all work is done by robots. As a result, there is no more hunger or poverty in the world. Everyone can enjoy the best and healthiest food, the most advanced health services and artificial intelligences that are able to serve humans in any way they want, among other things through virtual reality simulations that they program and adapt automatically for each individual.
The only thing left for people to compete for in such a world is respect. The book describes a system in which each person has a Whuffie rating. To determine how much Whoopi each person has, artificial intelligences constantly scan the minds of people who know or have heard of them. If people like and appreciate you and your works, you get a high whoopie rating. If people are not happy with you, You can lose respect - lose whoopY .
It's not a bad idea, necessarily. In my last book - "The Rulers of the Future" - I proposed a similar system of karma coins. The system relies on the idea that in the world of the future we are going to be monitored all the time in any case by artificial intelligences that will analyze and understand all our actions. These intelligences can be programmed to notice good deeds, and reward the performers with karma coins. And so, if you stop to help someone on the side of the street, you can be sure that you will be rewarded later, and that people will want to help you to gain positive karma as well.
Doctorow presents in his book - and in a self-criticism that he himself wrote later - a different picture of the idea of karma coins, or whoopi. He agrees that Woofi can be used as a kind of reward system, but also points out its negative sides. When one of the protagonists in the book is accused of a crime, he loses so much Whoopi that others can harass him and rob him without harm. Even the elevators stop serving him, and he becomes, in effect, a sub-citizen. And precisely the people with the highest whoopie levels are, as Doctorow states, “sociopathic maniacs who know how to flatter, lick, or threaten their way up. And once you have enough Whoopi – once people see you as having a reputation – other people go out of their way to give you opportunities to do things that will make you even more famous… and generally [allowing you] to take credit for anything successful, and blame the failures on inferior mortals.” 
This, by the way, is a problem that also exists with money in the world today. Rich people can avoid failures and punishments that would have crushed poorer people, and the more money they have - the more money they can make. So maybe the Whoopi method isn't so bad, since it allows everyone to move forward in life? In Doctorow's story, after all, the main character succeeds in a big way at the end of the book, when others hear about the injustice done to her - and suddenly she gains huge amounts of Whoopi due to the pity people feel for her. Whoopi makes it possible to turn the emotions of the audience into an immediate return, and this is not something that happens easily with money. So Whoopi is a system with advantages and disadvantages.
Either way, Doctorow was able to foresee the main idea behind the current giant project of the Chinese government. The Chinese government is currently developing and implementing the "social credit rating", which sets each person a certain level of 'respect' according to their actions. If he buys a safe and cheap German car, instead of a car made in China, his social rating goes down. If he frequently talks to relatives outside of China, his social rating drops a bit more. If he is from the Muslim minority in China and prays five times a day, his social ranking takes another hit, and so on. When the social ranking is low enough, that person stops receiving service from those around him: people see that his social ranking is low, and avoid communicating with him out of fear that their ranking will also drop as a result of getting to know him. People with too low a social ranking cannot get on planes or trains, enroll their sons in the prestigious schools in the country, or buy houses in prestigious areas. And alternatively, people with whoopi - sorry, social rating - high, are respected and appreciated by those around them.
All this, Doctorow came up with already in 2004 in the science fiction book he wrote. He dared to ask a big question - what will life look like in a world where there is no need for human labor, and where technology makes it possible to monitor everyone at any time, and revealed an important layer of the society of the future.
Do science fiction writers know how to predict the future?
What did the science fiction writers win that they actually manage to predict the future? Well, first of all, the question itself is misleading. It is not at all clear that the writers of the Madev succeed in predicting the future better than others. They just think a lot about the future, and some things do come true.
So far, no surprise. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. But what is interesting is that science fiction writers manage to describe other possibilities for human society at a high level of detail. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are not, but good science fiction writers manage to free themselves completely from the shackles of the present, and imagine in detail a completely different system realized in the future. Just reading their ideas can help expand our mental models and better prepare us for the future.
And I'm not the only one who thinks so.
In 2005, the Canadian Army hired an MDB writer to write a story (Crisis in Zefra) that describes the possible future of combat in twenty years. The story was written in 2005, but already refers to robots, drones, and instant means of communication between terrorists. The Marine Corps in America opened its own workshop in recent years, to which it invited some of the greatest science fiction writers today, and they sat down with the Marines to help them write science fiction stories that reimagined the future of war.
The French army is actually hiring science fiction writers these days to weave stories for it that will describe the future of war. The writers will try to predict in advance how terrorists and countries will use advanced technology against France. They will not predict one exact future, but they will help the generals of the French army to develop new mental models that include the most innovative technologies - and the ways of using them.
Last but not least, your faithful servant also works from time to time writing science fiction stories for various organizations. In the stories I try to describe how the world could look following certain future developments, and how different trends can combine together to bring about results that seem unusual and strange from our current point of view.
In short, if you want to think outside the box, develop new and broader mental models, and better understand what can happen in the future - you need to read science fiction. And even if I (and the various armies) are completely wrong and you get no benefit from it, at least enjoy every moment.
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