2010s events. What happened?
Jesus wept. What a decade. While a ton of nasty shit went down in the 2010s, we must resist the temptation to wrap our minds up in binge-watched box sets. We can work harder to understand why things are the way they are, and actively embrace the ideas and actions that can make the world better at scale.
9/11 and the Long War
The Saudi regime has benefited most from the September 11, 2001 attacks on the USA. That nearly all the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi is pure coincidence. From Iraq to Syria to Libya, all its regional rivals are now in tatters. Only Iran remains, so expect that rivalry to keep getting hotter. The Arab Spring kicked off the decade, a groundswell of hope leading to only one successful transition to democracy: Tunisia. The Syrian War began in 2011, leading to the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) declaring a ‘worldwide caliphate’ in 2014. The caliphate lost its last pocket of territory in Syria in 2019, and its leader al-Baghdadi was also killed. Who funded and inspired IS? The finger has been pointed at Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. As is usual in these cases, follow the money, look at who has benefited most from Islamic State’s despicable, hardline Sunni Islam philosophy and the current disarray in the Middle East.
One aspect of Islamic State’s initial successes worth noting was its sophisticated use of digital media. The decade was marked by the carefully-choreographed execution videos that Islamic State used to project its ideology worldwide. And we also learned that the Pentagon paid PR firm, Bell Pottinger, $500 million to produce fake jihadist videos at the height of the Iraq War, ostensibly to be used as bait in identifying online jihadis. What this actually achieved was a blurring of the fake and the real, so that it is now virtually impossible to identify what online content is credible.
Digital mind control at scale, and it may already be in the wrong hands
We have had a recent awakening: that we need to be careful of where control of our digital control systems lies (witness the shenanigans around Huawei). But what if it’s already too late? One third of the global population uses Facebook regularly, and probably the entire population of the world (minus a few tribes in the Amazon and Papua New Guinea, maybe) uses some kind of social media tool. We know now (see The Great Hack on Netflix) that our Facebook data was illegally used by nefarious companies like Cambridge Analytica to make Trump president of the United States, to get Brexit voted for by the British populace, and to enable (who knows how many) more bizarre and unbelievable events. We’ve suddenly moved into a new realm, one where digital companies have more control over how we think, how we behave and what we vote for, than political parties. Social media is no longer just a tool, it is in itself the activator. So what if, just what if, the people who own and control the social media companies are aligned with the right wing populists that we have suddenly seen take control in many countries, with liberal democracy itself under threat?
Saudi money and AI
One thing that the spectacular collapse of WeWork brought to light was the role of SoftBank in fronting Saudi Arabian investments. SoftBank’s frontman, the genial Masayoshi Son, is the perfect cover for spending the cash generated by the Saudi oil exports that are literally killing the world. Alarmingly, SoftBank aims to be the world leader in AI, artificial intelligence. He who pays the piper calls the tune. Do we really want a world where Saudi Arabian-inspired AI rules? If this doesn’t make you shudder in horror, your surname is probably al-Saud or Trump.
But what we know for certain is that at some point in the early 21st century all of mankind was united in celebration. We marveled at our own magnificence as we gave birth to A.I.Morpheus, The Matrix, 1999
We woke up to the horrible truth about climate change
It’s sickening that the decade ended with investors flocking into the Saudi Aramco flotation, literally profiting from their own choking deaths and the extinction of their entire species. Saudi Aramco is the single biggest contributor to the poisoning of our atmosphere (see link below). The 2010s were the hottest decade in recorded history and political leaders were exposed as useless, if not downright dangerous, in the face of the existential threat that the climate crisis poses. On the plus side, veganism went mainstream, with sustainability now added to animal welfare and health benefits as reasons for eating less meat.
Greta Thunberg and the school strikes for the climate
Greta started her protest outside the Swedish parliament in August 2018. In 2019, millions around the world joined her, in probably the defining acts of the year. The strikes will continue, and more will listen to Greta and to other voices around the world. This could be the beginning of a new kind of global political movement. Climate change knows no borders, so why should the politics that can stop it? If we don’t all act, the next decade will be known as The Burning 20s.
2010s movies and popular culture
The lines got irreversibly blurred, with the rise of Netflix and other streaming services. The Avengers owned the cinemas, but DC finished the decade strongly with Joker. Game of Thrones sprawled across the decade, redefining what television entertainment can be. There was so much high-quality content in 2010s movies (Drive and Mad Max: Fury Road this writer’s favourites), with so many choices, devices and monthly subscriptions, it’s hard to imagine what the entertainment landscape will look like in ten years. I guess we should sit back and enjoy the show, but in moderation.
And, of course, we had Blade Runner month in November 2019.
In books, the clear winner was Yuval Noah Harari, whose trilogy of life-changing books, Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons, should be on the school curriculum everywhere. Bottom line is that everything is a story and we really need to start asking ourselves why we think what we think. If you haven’t read these books yet, please rush out and buy. Now.
Science and technology took us to a new level of awe
The first photo of a black hole (above) required massive cooperation by observatories all over the world and the innovative use of technologies, resulting in a clear illustration of what we can achieve when we work together towards a positive goal. Space activities took a giant leap forward, with low-cost satellite launch thanks to reusable spacecraft now the norm, and the idea of colonising Mars totally credible.
Quantum computing milestone reached
Google claimed to have made a true quantum computer, which will revolutionise computing (quantum computers use qubits instead of bits. Bits are 1 or 0. Qubits can be 1 or 0 or both at the same time), making enormous calculations possible in a fraction of the time that today’s supercomputers would take. Expect more powerful computer modelling of things like climate change tipping points, and current digital security techniques to become instantly obsolete. IBM disputes Google’s claim of quantum superiority, so keep an eye on this story.
Objective reality doesn’t exist
Perhaps the most revolutionary scientific advance in the 2010s was the experimental proof of one of quantum physics’ most challenging and profound assumptions: Reality is subjective. Think about it. What you perceive as reality is reality. Reality cannot be described by someone else, or in a book, or in a religious text. It really is in the eye of the beholder. This leads us towards another, tantalising quantum possibility: that the Universe exists only because we are here to observe it. Wow.
What will the 2020s be known as? It’s up to you
We now have all the tools we need. We have the technology, we understand the problems and we have the will. Will we spend the 2020s binge-watching Netflix while getting junk food delivered through an app so we never even have to get off our fat arses? Or will we finally understand that reality is what we make it? The Universe is depending on us. Literally.
PR firm makes fake jihadist propaganda videos: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/us-government-pentagon-fake-al-qaeda-propganda-videos-a7348371.html
WeWork, SoftBank, Saudi Arabia and AI: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/dec/20/why-wework-went-wrong
The biggest contributors to climate change, Saudi Aramco is number one: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/09/revealed-20-firms-third-carbon-emissions
Proof that objective reality does not exist: https://www.livescience.com/objective-reality-not-exist-quantum-physicists.html
Read more about quantum physics, the multiverse and time travel in Future Shocks, the digital book by Gary J Byrnes, includes manifesto for resistance to AI: https://www.readathriller.com/thriller/quantum-fiction-is-born-an-experiential-sci-fi-book-brings-shocking-dystopian-vision-to-life-in-real-time-launches-manifesto-to-resist-ai/
Quote from The Matrix, by the Wachowskis, used under artistic license.
The first direct image taken of a supermassive black hole, located at the galactic core of Messier 87. It shows a heated accretion ring orbiting the object at a mean separation of 350 AU, or ten times larger than the orbit of Neptune around the Sun. The dark center is the event horizon and its shadow. By Event Horizon Telescope – https://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1907a/; JPG saved from full size TIFF and converted with maximum quality level 12 in Photoshop 2019., CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77916527