Manna: Two Visions of Humanity’s Future – Marshal Brian

Reading begets more reading. It’s  why I like it as a hobby. Frankly, I am sure you could look at a lot of other hobbies in the same way, but a good work of non-fiction buttresses itself up by telling you about books that orbits its thesis. And thus you find yourself swirling down a rabbit hole of never ending book recommendations. I not only enjoyed Max Tegmark’s Life 3.0, but found it to be important as well, so that fact that it in turn recommended this book was pretty convincing. The fact that this book is free pretty much everywhere was also pretty convincing.

But then I peaked at the title’s of some of Marshal Brian’s other books and from those titles alone I was filled with (deserved) skepticism.

I’m worried about the future. There’s a lot to be worried about. A lot of these ‘futurologists’ (ie: people with loads of money and an interest in tech) are currently envisioning a future of either limitless doom and gloom or the very end of all suffering and misery.

That’s a prediction wide enough to pass all of human history through. But I have a vested interest in seeing how it plays out. So I find myself reading books like Life 3.0 to see where the opinions land. I also read books like Manna. Manna decides to take the fictionalization approach to worrying about the future by giving you a little narrative of what might happen.

This is a poor strategy. If you make your predictions to vague they are worthless, but if you make them too specific they become increasingly unlikely.

I never in my wildest imagination thought I was going to get to link to that.

I don’t have a problem with using imaginative techniques to make a point. Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns The Future (still on my list of one of the most important books recently read drop what you are doing and go read it NOW) does this very well in occasional vignettes, which really come off almost allegorically. But if all you have is the narrative, someone will bog you down in the specifics.

It doesn’t even need to be something relating to technology that falls prey to this. Very early in the story, the narrator is recounting his experience with a automated management system that instructs his every action in the fast food restaurant he works in.

The employees were told exactly what to do, and they did it quite happily.

No. I am sorry, but just ‘No’. People always tell me that it is weird when I look at something in Science-Fiction and declare it to be unrealistic (this is there misunderstanding of what science-fiction is), but I think that exact reaction here is completely justified. Sorry, this isn’t how anyone would react to this situation. To think so is foolish, and made me wonder if Mr Brian had ever worked a bottom-rung service industry job in his life. If you go to your local McDonald’s and the 16 year old behind the counter isn’t giving you great service, it is exactly because most people do not like being told what to do, and feel like they are worth more than the orders being given to them. That to me is as clear as human nature.

But the broad strokes of this novel are there, and they do express a variation of the concern I have with the coming inevitability of full automation. My only problem is with the execution of this project.

One of these books is not like the other. While all of the books in this genre have serious minded research in them, the others show their work, and that is pretty damn important.


Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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