Readers will know that I come back to the subject of space from time to time. Having seen Duncan Jones’ science fiction film Moon this weekend, it’s as good reason as any for a return visit – while trying to avoid any spoilers. As a film, it should be said, there’s a lot to like; an intriguing story, well told, and the production design is dazzling. It pays its respects to other space films, but is, unmistakably, a film of the ‘noughties’. As a piece of futures (it’s set in the mid-2020s) the on-board computer, with more than a nod to HAL and Dark Star, is like the human resources department of a global company – sometimes solicitous and caring, sometimes trying to enforce the bottom line – and the task the workers are engaged in is to harvest energy.
Futures work is inextricably bound up with theories about social change, and in particular how new discourses compete with existing ones, and eventually supplant them. So it’s good to see the now radical (and now veteran) British politician Tony Benn riffing on this in an article on the climate camp in London this week.
Following Usain Bolt’s devastating performances at the World Championships, there’s been more commentary on whether we’re reaching the limits of athletic performance. I blogged about this last year; the answer, in general, is that we are getting closer and closer to physical limits. In future, world records will increasingly be broken by physical “outliers” (such as Bolt or the American swimmer Michael Phelps), unless technology helps.
The first time I saw an article headed “State Capitalism and the Crisis” in McKinsey Quarterly (free, but registration required) I thought I had slipped into an alternate reality. But even when I pinched myself it was still there. In it, the political risk analyst Ian Bremmer argues that one of the results of the financial crisis is a resurgence of political economy (although he doesn’t use the phrase). Markets are now far more influenced by national politically influenced decisions than at any time in the last thirty years; this is not a temporary phase but a permanent shift; and as a result the ‘globalised markets’ paradigm is no longer the dominant model, even if some politicians and corporations haven’t caught up with this yet.
Every so often you notice a story that flashes a hazard light about the prevailing wisdom about the way the world works. Thus it was last week, reading Jack Schofield’s Guardian article about the limits of Moore’s ‘law’, the long-standing projection by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit will doubled every two years (effectively doubling performance against price in that time). It’s been suggested before that the microprocessor manufacturing process will reach physical limits. Schofield’s piece was on the increasing investment cost of processor manufacturing plants. One of the consequences is likely to be the end of the exponential growth in computing performance which has underpinned the speed and scale of the information and communications technology revolution.