The Centre for Independent Studies 2010 John Bonython Lecture with Niall Ferguson. Is the rise and fall of empires cyclical or arrhythmic? How does economic profligacy - whether the result of arrogance or naivety - contribute to the downfall of civilisations? Today Professor Ferguson will argue that great powers or empires are in the strict sense of the word, complex systems. Made up of very large numbers of interacting components that are quite asymmetrically organised. In other words, he continues, their construction more resembles a termite hill than an Egyptian pyramid. They operate somewhere between order and disorder. Moreover imperial falls are nearly always associated with fiscal crises, when there are dramatic imbalances between revenues and expenditures. Thus alarm bells should be ringing in Washington DC but what does that for mean for Australia?
The work we’re collectively doing—opening up gradually all of human information and media, making it recombinable, helping people create and share their work—is a huge unspoken, sexy, world-redefining mission.
It’s a mission that many of us have become blasé about, almost unaware of. It’s a project so large that it’s hard to get a grasp on. And the next few years are going to get even more interesting as the network pervades physical objects and environments, sensing and manifesting information in the real world.
It’s time to recognise the scale of the project we have in front of us, the breadth of the material we have to work with, and the possibilities of design within it. All of human knowledge, creativity—even the planet itself—is our canvas.
Tom Coates is a technologist and writer, focused on the shape of the web to come and on developing new concepts that thrive in it. He’s worked for many prominent web companies including Time Out, the BBC and Yahoo! where he was Head of Product for the Brickhouse innovation team. He’s most known for the Fire Eagle location-sharing service, and for his work on social software, future media and the web of data.
For all of the Internet era, and even before, novelist William Gibson has been the ultimate science fiction guru of the age. He invented the notion – the word – “cyberspace” before the Web even existed. He took us to dystopic futures that became nows in “Neuromancer,” “Burning Chrome,” and “Virtual Light.”
Now, when whole lives – or big pieces – have migrated to the Web and beyond, Gibson is beyond as well. He’s watching the culture from new angles. We speak with Gibson about his latest novel, “Zero History,” and where our world – and his – stand now.
"I might be one of the first generation of science fiction writers to come to the writing of it with a head full of academic critical theories…"