Has the dystopian future that we all feared already arrived?

Is the dystopian future already here? So asks Kathriona Devereux in her weekly column
Has the dystopian future that we all feared already arrived?

A woman wearing Ray-Ban Stories, which allow you to take photos and videos, listen to music and calls, and share content online

REMEMBER back in 1999, when we innocently worried that the turn of the century would unleash a millennium bug in computer systems and modern civilisation would grind to a halt?

Planes falling out of the sky, health systems crashing, ATMs not working... all were appalling vistas on the horizon as the year 2000 loomed.

‘Y2K’ teams of computer scientists around the globe worked like the clappers to avert catastrophe.

Then, 1999 rolled into 2000 and... all was fine. So, well done computer programmers, crisis averted!

Survivalists and preppers who had readied themselves for a doomsday scenario were left with a lot of tinned beans to eat.

The millennium bug is just one example of humanity envisioning a dystopian future. The threat was real and immediate, so governments took action to protect countries from adverse outcomes.

However, books and films are packed with pessimistic fictional predictions of what will happen when the worst unfolds. Societies where the robots are in charge, or transnational super corporations rule the world, or humans have been hijacked by technology, or meglomaniacal lunatics are wreaking havoc on society.

Reading the news lately, I’m beginning to wonder if the dystopian future is already here.

Cyber-criminals

Last year, a major ransomware cyber-attack on the HSE’s IT systems caused a nationwide shutdown, and we got a real sense of the chaos that could have been unleashed if something like the millennium bug had materialised.

This was one of the biggest cyber-attacks on a health system, but it was just one high profile example of a mountain of cyber-crime, ranging from corporate ransomware attacks to credit and debit card fraud.

According to a Grant Thornton report last year, the overall cost of cyber-crime to the Irish economy in 2020 was €9.6 billion. That’s almost half the health budget of Ireland lost to cyber-criminals!

This sort of intangible crime does not generate the same visceral reaction as a pensioner being robbed in her own home, but it has serious societal and financial costs.

It is estimated that cyber-crime will cost the world $10.5 trillion annually by 2025 - a world where anonymous criminals under the cover of a laptop extort trillions from the world seems pretty dystopian to me.

Extreme Heat

If you are someone who gets hot and bothered when temperatures hit the mid-twenties in Ireland, reading about the sweltering temperatures currently being endured by an eighth of the world’s population in India and Pakistan will definitely make you sweat.

Thermometers have hit 50C in places in Pakistan following on from a very hot March and the hottest April on record.

That part of the world is no stranger to extreme heat, but this current heatwave started early and is relentless, with many reported heat-related deaths.

Artificial cooling is needed to survive those types of temperatures, so people are turning on fans and air conditioning units in their droves, creating enormous electricity demand.

Electricity is predominantly generated by burning coal, which as we all should know, releases carbon dioxide and drives the global warming that necessitates the extra air-conditioning in the first place.

The energy crisis exacerbated by the megalomaniacal leader in Russia means India and Pakistan can’t access the volumes of coal they need to meet this heat-related electricity demand, and lengthy power cuts are common.

The most impoverished people in this region don’t have access to cooling, shelter or adequate water. How scary it must be to watch the mercury rising without the means to cool down, and have to make a decision about going to work to put food on the table in unsurvivable temperatures.

To me, this seems like a hellscape befitting the central narrative of the best dystopian or post-apocalyptic fiction.

The fact that it’s happening in 2022 and is a situation predicted by climate scientists for decades only adds to the misery.

Smart Glasses

If you were a science fiction writer 100 years ago, you might have imagined that by now we’d be motoring around in flying cars in a utopian world where robots toiled and humans leisured.

That hasn’t transpired, but I thought the full page newspaper ad by Metaverse, the company formerly known as Facebook, explaining how smart glasses work, seemed like an advert from a dystopian science fiction future.

You can now spend €360 of your hard-earned cash on a pair of glasses called Ray Ban Stories, allegedly the “latest in wearable tech”, allowing you to “take photos and videos, listen to music and calls, and share content directly to your social media channels”.

The Irish Data Protection Commission are so worried that these glasses could breach people’s privacy, they ordered Metaverse to run a public information campaign explaining that the glasses could video someone without them being aware.

The ad explains the cameras are built into the frame of the glasses and an LED light on the frame is a sign the glasses are recording.

So, the next time you are throwing shapes on a dance-floor, keep an eye out for observers wearing smart glasses, they could be beaming your eccentric moves to the world.

Reports of people being attacked in the U.S for wearing smart glasses give a more sinister slant to the hi- tech promise, but developers seem intent on blurring the lines between real life and online life in ways that are straight out of science fiction.

With the state of the world at the moment - the climate, energy and Ukrainian crisis - you really have to ask: how smart are these so-called smart glasses?

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