Some questions are hard to formulate — but you carry them around inside you, like Confucius overlong in the womb, waiting for a way to ask them. I wanted to know about the quality of life in the future. I wanted to know about our political life; the scope of our freedom. So I simply asked the only questions I had… and six science fiction writers answered.

1) In the past you’ve written science-fictionally about the social future. What’s changed in your estimate of the social future since then? Do you have a sharper picture of where we’re going, socially?

Ken Wharton: “I’ve been pondering psychohistory lately — not Asimov’s big sweeping trends, but how large groups make decisions on single issues. Those with money and power are approaching Hari Seldonesque abilities, gradually steering public opinion using knowledge of how groups think, and I only see that trend increasing as basic human instincts are incorporated into more realistic game theory models. Individuals, on the other hand, often don’t have the time and/or inclination to dig into any particular issue for themselves — meaning that many people will tend to make decisions using the very instincts that are most easily manipulated.”

Considering the revelations in the documentary Outfoxed, about right-wing control of news content on the Fox channel, it’s a timely comment. It seems to dovetail with Kim Stanley Robinson’s: “It also helps me to think of us as animals and consider what behaviors caused our brains to expand over the last two million years, and then value some of those behaviors.”

Norman Spinrad: “The biggest change, one which I didn’t get at the time, was the rise to dominance of the American Christian fundamentalist far right. Where are we going? If Kerry should be elected, back to the Clintonian middle. But if Bush is re-elected, straight into the worst fascist shitter this country has ever experienced. We’re on a cusp like that of the Roman Republic about to degenerate into the Empire. Though in many ways it has already.”

Pat Murphy is thinking more about our health risks, the burdens we may have to carry: “I don’t know if it’s sharper, but it’s definitely bleaker. Here are two of the trends I’m currently watching: The emergence and spread of certain diseases — fostered by human activity. Consider the rapid spread of the SARS epidemic by international travelers, the emergence of Mad Cow Disease (which spread when sheep by-products were put in high-protein livestock), the role that global warming may play in increasing the geographic range of mosquitoes that spread malaria. The increase in children with Asperger’s syndrome and autism. Though generally described by the medical establishment as ‘disorders,’ both Asperger’s syndrome and autism are caused by a neurological difference. Affected individuals think differently, particularly with regard to communication.”

Cory Doctorow is thinking about control of information and technology as the deciding factor — leading to a new colonialism: “As you’d expect, I think the social future is tied up intimately with copyright, since copyright is the body of law that most closely regulates technology (copying, distributing, and producing are all inherently technological in nature and change dramatically when new tech comes along). Copyright also has the distinction of being the area of law/policy that deals most copiously in crazy-ass metaphors, such as the comparison of copying to “theft” — even though the former leaves a perfectly good original behind, while the latter deprives the owner of her property. Finally, copyright is the area of law most bound up with free expression, which makes it a hotbed of socio-technical storylines.

“Property law deals with instances of ideas — a physical chair — while “Intellectual Property” law deals with the ideas themselves — a plan for a chair. Increasingly, though, the instantiation of an idea and the idea itself: a electronic text, an MP3, a fabrication CAD/CAM file.

“Traditionally, new nations have exempted themselves from IP regulation (as the US did for its first century, enthusiastically pirating the IP of the world’s great powers). When you’re a net importer of IP, there’s no good economic reason to treat foreign ideas as sacrosanct property. Indeed, piracy and successful industrialization go hand in hand.

“Today, though, the developing world has been strong-armed into affording IP protection to foreign ideas, usually by tying IP enforcement to other trade elements (“If you give us fifty more years of copyright, we’ll double our soybean quota!”), which is working out to be a disaster. No one in Brazil or South Africa can pay American street-prices for pharmaceuticals — or CDs, or DVDs, or books, or software. A guy in Maastricht worked out that if every Burundi copy of Windows were legitimately purchased, the country would have to turn over 67.65 months’ worth of its total GDP to Microsoft. This is the impending disaster, a new form of colonialism that makes the old forms look gentle and beneficent by comparison.”

But Bruce Sterling’s thinking that the leading trends are coming from outside North America: “I used to think that the USA, being an innovative, high-tech polity, would be inventing and promulgating a lot of tomorrow’s social change. I don’t believe that any more. These days I spend a lot of time looking at Brazil, China, India, and Europe. Japan and Russia, interestingly, are even more moribund than the USA.”

More here.