Saturday, 29 October 2016

Expanded scenario

I've continued to expand on our discussions yesterday in order to enrich the scenario for Heijplaat 2086. I've gone off on a few tangents, and haven't had time to complete it (never will be complete!), so please feel free to discuss and enrich it further, whether between yourselves or via comments and posts...

The village of Heijplaat seems to be resilient. It was due to be demolished in the 1980s and residents resisted. It now seems to be a desirable and experimental place to live with its concept houses and sustainable rhetoric. The RDM campus is a place for attracting and researching innovative technologies and the quarantine buildings with the beach and artist’s house are as bizarre as they are unique. The most distinctive feature of the place is the contrast in scale and function between the low rise domestic village and the massive port industry surrounding it.
We will assume that climate change continues, sea levels will rise approximately 1m, fossil fuels will be extinct, the global population will continue to increase and Rotterdam will also continue to grow and accept a significant number of immigrants. Heijplaat will exist within a socialist state with European characteristics (Ken’s phrase).

The future scenario, set in 2086, will take the village as a heritage site – an example of sustainable living for the 21st century, as it became established in 2030. So we will project forward several years for the village’s development, and include all the buildings and facilities required for an essentially small near self-sustaining experimental community (how many residents?) There will be a tension between this and the surrounding port, which will have fallen into decline since its increasingly large functions moved out west to Maasvlakte. However, the dock area around Heijplaat will still be concerned with storage and distribution of goods related more to the immediate area of Rotterdam and inland to central Europe. This will probably be a combination of water, land and air (drone) distribution. The RDM campus will have become a national centre of excellence for innovation in storage and distribution of goods (logistical automation). RDM's key breakthrough will be an artificial intelligence that predicts what humans need and ensure it’s available whenever and wherever, whether that be food or energy or clothes or leisure activities or 'things' - smartness gone bonkers. AI algorithms start to organise human life. Many of the residents of Heijplaat now work at RDM in research and education, rather than the port per se. RDM’s network spreads globally and it controls 20% of the movement of the world’s commodities through its swarm-based long distance surveillance, navigation, prediction and control technologies. This is the second largest such company in the world, after Elon Musk III’s South Africa-based PrediCon, with which RDM is in severe competition to control global commodity prediction, production and distribution.

The village will be highly desirable and expensive (a world heritage site), not changed significantly since 2030, as an example of the kind of sustainability thinking they thought would save the world at that time. However, there will be increasing tensions between the humans residing there, who may work at RDM or at home in creative or intellectual jobs, and the poorer surrounding dock area bordering the basins, where students, immigrants, and robot workers live. This area has developed significantly (its physical edges may have changed significantly too). Many existing industrial buildings (including dry docks, warehouses, cranes, ships etc) have been adapted for use, and other large buildings constructed and squatted. The village uses this large wall of ex-industry as physical protection from the world outside, but also doesn’t entirely trust it or its residents.
We are at a point in time when it’s ambiguous as to whether the robots are developing a conscience or not, as the algorithms used to predict and fulfill human needs have become so accurate and prescient that they seem to know humans better than the humans themselves. Whether emotions such as desire are involved is debatable, but this has certainly played havoc with the idea of the invisible hand of the market controlling commodity distribution, which in turn has completely rewritten economists’ rule books.

The humans are therefore suspicious of the robots and their artificial intelligence – they have up until now been treated as merely slaves. They have therefore displaced immigrants as the ‘other’ to be afraid of. Whether or not the robots have developed a type of human consciousness, they certainly have a different form of consciousness and the villagers suspect they have become 'organised' (trade union?) Some villagers believe the robots should be given a version of ‘human’ rights, while others fight against this, believing it will be the end of humanity. This is an ongoing debate in society.

Humans have continued to be technologically enhanced. Diseases like cancer have not been solved, but technologies to keep humans alive and replace parts of their bodies have become so good and prevalent that the richest in society choose to technologically enhance or replace organs that fail. Humans’ lifespans have therefore continued to increase, although quality of life is not necessarily any better, and the proportion of technology that constitutes the human body has continued to increase. The human ‘soul’ remains intact as a distinct enigmatic entity located somewhere within the human nervous system but its relationship with the human body has necessarily become confused. A new religion of Post-humanism is emerging.


  1. Sounds really cool. One question I had was about the 'robot workers' Are we imagining these as humanoids? Like mechanical people that have a place to 'live' or are they machines that permanently reside at the place they work? I just wanted to expand on this a little.

  2. I'm dubious about humanoid robots, partly because it has such a heavy weight of SF cliche and more fundamentally because there are simpler solutions using non-humanoid forms. For example cleaning rbots today don't look at all like the 'robot house servant' of yore. It's also worth bearing in mind that a key area of robotics research now is soft robots, using plastics and hydraulics rather than metals and mechanical linkages. (Google "swimming robot" for cool examples.)


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