I wanted to lay out some random thoughts going into 2021.
First, like most people, I’m just happy 2020 is over. I know the quip that January 1st is just one day after December 31st, but it doesn’t feel that way. We’ve all been waiting for a sign that recent events have ended, and the calendar flip does that job.
That being true, the experts are saying pretty clearly that the next 2-3 months will be the worst months for COVID that we’ve ever seen, so it’s not like we’re clear of danger now.
Then there’s the small matter of Trump (hopefully) leaving the White House, and how that will actually go down. No point in trying to predict what will happen. Everything near him is resistant to prediction because prediction requires the behavior of rational actors. It’ll just have to be something sitting in our cognitive memory waiting to resolve, until it does.
Meanwhile, the stock market is thriving and people are wondering how long that will continue. Many think this K-shaped recovery (the rich get better, the poor get worse) will continue, while others think all the combining factors of COVID, mounting debt, evictions, unemployment, etc., will all finally explode. Again, no way to predict, but I feel like the stock market will continue to grow because optimism in the future is all we have left right now.
It’s like people are taking every last drop of positivity and pouring it into some distant future, in the form of the stock market. It doesn’t seem too terribly logical, using, well—numbers—with Tesla’s valuation as a case in point.
The thing I’m most concerned about for 2021 is an escalation with China. Not just militarily, but economically and just overall. I think we might be heading into a more serious general conflict. Not war, but strong hostility in the form of escalating all the various open fronts we already have with them. That means propaganda, cyber, tariffs, military maneuvers, etc.
What I’m specifically worried about is something I’ve not heard talked about before, which is the effect this might have on relations with Chinese people in the US—both recent immigrants and Americans.
In the Bay Area, because of the economic downturn in recent years, I’ve seen many shopping centers be taken over completely by Chinese businesses. Well, not so much a takeover as snatching up cheap stuff nobody else wants (or can afford). But the result in a lot of neighborhoods I see in the East Bay is that many shopping centers have like 20 businesses in them that are 100% Chinese.
I also know a number of real estate agents in the Bay Area who deal heavily with the Chinese population (because they’re Chinese American), and they have been describing this increased Chinese purchasing activity for years. And, anecdotally, I know many people renting in the East Bay who say most of the landlords they know are Chinese. A number of analysts have seen similar trends.
Anyway, the reality of how much this is true doesn’t matter as much as the perception. What I’m worried about is all these cases of Chinese espionage, Chinese cyberattacks, and then the increasing understanding that China’s CCP is moving to a vastly more aggressive stance towards the world will turn into a new narrative, which is something like:
You combine that with already-triggered Trump supporters who are looking for enemies anywhere and everywhere, and we could have a problem. And since we have tons of those Trump supporter types in government, we could actually see anti-Chinese legislation—or at least an attempt at it—if the narrative takes hold.
Racists have never been great at telling their targets apart.
We have a precedent for this of course, in World War II, where a group of Asians was rounded up because they were considered dangerous during an ongoing conflict. I don’t think we’ll see anything that extreme of course, but given what we’ve seen from the right I wouldn’t be surprised to see Red Scare language from some extremists, which could flare up relations between both newly-arrived and Americans of Chinese descent.
And the worst part of all this is that the Chinese government is actually probably thinking about how to somehow weaponize all the Chinese in the US. So it’s not like it’s total fantasy that they’d want to do this. We’re blessed there by the fact that so many Chinese are here because they fled China’s way of life in search of something better.
Anyway, not a huge likelihood that this will happen, but something I could see unfolding if Biden is not able to defuse things with China.
The other thing I wanted to mention was a comment I got from my last newsletter. A reader reached out and said that I was being rather negative lately, talking about how bad AI is, how bad the privacy situation is, surveillance, Drake’s equation, etc.
I thanked them for the comment and have thought a lot about it.
First, I think I could be forgiven for being a bit negative in 2020. It was a rough year. And I’m also in security so I see risk in many places. So, yeah, I do surface a good deal of issues, and I think some of that is part of providing what I provide in terms of discovery and curation.
But not completely.
I took the comment to heart because I am purposely trying not to be overly negative in the show. There is a ton of horrible shit happening in the world that I deliberately don’t surface. I also avoid politics, not just because that’s polarizing but also because it’s negative.
But—to get to the actual point of this post—here’s where I am with overall outlook. And this is going to be super freeform, so I apologize for the looseness. I think this really calls for a more stream-of-consciousness approach.
On one level I think we might be super screwed. As a race. As humans. As homo-sapiens.
The doomsday clock has been running since 1945, tracking how close we are to destroying ourselves. It’s never been closer to midnight than it is right now, at 100 seconds away.
Many countries with nuclear weapons are becoming less stable, adding to the doomsday situation
The US is drowning in debt
Democracies are struggling while authoritarians are rising in power
China is becoming more aggressive, as a strategy
Russia is becoming more brazen
We’re sprinting towards AGI with no regard of what will happen if we succeed
Our progress with modifying biology could be getting us closer to democratized bioweapons
Inequality is growing, which is dramatically increasing social tensions
I’m sure I’m forgetting some, and these are all bad things.
But I am actually optimistic.
Which is rich given my lack of belief in free will.
I can’t give full attribution, but I think it’s largely tied to stoicism, and simply choosing to be positive.
If you look at Pinker’s last two books there really is data that things—at many important levels—are getting better.
And this is highly unscientific, of course, but I feel like there’s massive pent-up frustration with lockdown and mediocrity. Like everyone wants to just explode and be happy and kind and extra.
Even the Roaring 20’s were only roaring for some people though.
Some are talking about a ‘Roaring 20’s”, where people are thriving and happy. I can’t call it, honestly. Nobody can.
I can see it going hard in either direction.
I could see democracies falling, America declining, continued hacks, Russia and China partner to snipe and salvage everything the US has built over the last 70 years, China starts colonizing much of the world, dystopian levels of social bifurcation and unrest in Europe and the US, the possibility of kinetic conflict between the US and China, and the possible dissolution of the United States.
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Or I could see an eruption of happiness resulting from Biden returning normalcy to US Leadership. Russia takes out Putin and replaces him with some sort of moderate billionaire, the world turns its back on China because they showed their malicious hand too early, and China’s best and smartest accelerate their exodus to Europe, Canada, and the US to get away from the regime—forcing the CCP to collapse or shift into something much more western in terms of representation and human rights.
Like I said. I can’t call it.
Perhaps the more likely outcome is less extreme. The US continues a gentle decline, Russia fades into the background, and China rises slowly.
One larger trend that I think will continue regardless is millions of people opting out of reality.
As our tech gets better, and as more effort is spent on making games immersive, most people will switch their Life Loop system to be game primary / reality secondary.
Basically, I believe evolution requires us to focus primarily on one major Life Loop, with a life loop being a goal and reward system.
So if you’re a dedicated parent above everything else, then your life loop is parenting. Your job is your secondary because it supports your family and children. And if you play ultimate frisbee or World of Warcraft those are distant N-tiers away.
What that means is it’d be really hard for a dedicated parent to dedicate their entire life to World of Warcraft if it requires 30 hours a week of dedication. What about working? What about time with kids? What about self-improvement to improve your work performance, which in turn improves your kids?
My belief is that we can only really handle one primary life loop. If it’s World of Warcraft, everything else starts at a distant second. If it’s parenting, or your work, everything else starts at a distant second as well.
I think what’s happening now, and what we’re going to see accelerate, is more people switching their life primary life loops from the real world to game worlds.
I wrote here why alternative meaning loops can be dangerous.
Their goals, their relationships, the work they put into their domiciles and their gear—all that will be on their character, not on their life on the outside.
They’ll work just to have money to escape reality and play their game. And increasingly, they won’t be able to do anything better than robots and AI that’s worth a paycheck, so the government will have to give them money for rent and gaming fees.
Much of humanity’s meaning will move to the virtual world. And gaming companies will move more towards infinitely sized, constantly-evolving game worlds that mimic reality in many ways. You’ll be able to be a criminal, the police, a porn star, a marine biologist, a professional athlete, etc.
Anyway, bottom line is many people in the bottom 80% of socio-economic happiness will opt to disconnect from the real world. And the better automation and AI become, the fewer good jobs there will be for people to get into that top 20% in the real world, and the faster that will go.
Same with the gaming immersion tech. The better that gets the better a person’s reality will have to be to compete with it.
Anyway, just some random and raw thoughts as we get ready to start January of 2021.
I hope they bounce around in your head and interact with your own in a useful way.
I’ll see you out there.