21st Century ideas and inspirations

David Brin is best-known for shining light — plausibly and entertainingly — on technology, society, and countless challenges confronting our rambunctious civilization. His best-selling novels include The Postman (filmed in 1997) plus explorations of our near-future in Earth and Existence. Other novels are translated into 25+ languages. His short stories explore vividly speculative ideas. Brin's nonfiction book The Transparent Society won the American Library Association's Freedom of Speech Award for exploring 21st Century concerns about security, secrecy, accountability and privacy.

As a scientist, tech-consultant and world-known author, he speaks, advises, and writes widely on topics from national defense and homeland security to astronomy and space exploration, SETI and nanotechnology, future/prediction, creativity, and philanthropy. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was appraised as "#1 influencer" in Onalytica's Top 100 report of Artificial Intelligence influencers, brands & publications.


Here are net-accessible articles, interviews, and essays about how we confront and solve our 21st century challenges and opportunities.


even more articles about our challenging 21st Century

why politicians run

what do politicians do all day?

Why do so few politicians — especially incumbents — run ON their record? They run FROM it: Every election they vow to tackle problems they were elected 10, 20, even 30 years earlier to fix. What do they do between elections, when they are supposed to be exercising the power they've been given? Are there any statistically measurable accomplishments or proved positive effects? Don't effective leaders normally brag about their past effectiveness? In this article, "The GOP won’t run ON their record — they run FROM it," Brin takes a look at the notably substance-free campaign rhetoric.

Russian-Ukranian war

waging war in the 21st century

This essay's topic is war. I will concede that we are at least another generation away from abolishing the foul practice, at long last. Until then, wars will happen — as today's primitive nations and angry peoples jostle for advantage, as shortages of resources, even water, propel rising tensions, and as fierce cultural drivers that ignite the worst violence. Instead, let's focus on how our two U.S. political parties differ in the ways they wage war — their distinctions in doctrine, policy, professionalism, style and effectiveness.

better, greener future?

how life gets better

Many of us recall the decade when confidence in tomorrow become a sin. But even amid the tense and dolorous 1960s, a few like John W. Gardner dissented. "What we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems." Can it be that we took up Gardner's challenge, like decent, pragmatic people, and solved many insoluble problems... without ever noticing?

our 21st century culture war

disaster through the eyes of a scientist

In the aftermath of two major 21st century disasters — the Asian tsunami and the preventable destruction of New Orleans — David Brin posted a political essay about how such crises are worsened when experts and citizens turn on each other. A second, more philanthropic, essay discusses proxy activism, a convenient way modern folks can hire others to save the world for them. Finally, there's a science-oriented notion (cribbed from my novel Earth) about how it might be time to let the Mississippi forge its natural path to the sea.

the readiness matrix

what's the status of our readiness?

Can anyone honestly claim to know if we're prepared to deal with an emergency? Are we still preparing for war by building machines designed to win World War II? Can a readiness system designed to deal with a single natural emergency handle multiple simultaneous-yet-different 21st Century emergencies — super storms and mega-wildfires and fracking earthquakes? For answers, take a look back at our last readiness crisis. After the Iraq War debacle, Brin asked: Is it prudent to overstretch our military reserves waging wars that are, at-best, elective? A second article, written after the Hurricane Katrina debacle, suggesting how the Guard and Reserves could be returned to a healthy readiness state.

glorifying the serial killer

can we stop mass murder sprees?

After every mass murder journalists, shrinks and the public fret over each killer's declared motivation, perhaps hoping that knowing what sparked that particular killing frenzy might prevent the next one. Yet, when we stop and look for common threads, a pattern emerges: these seem to be less about the killers' specific hatreds than a frenzied, bloody tantrum staged by a string of losers with one common goal: immediate, global fame. It's time to deny wanna-be killers the notoriety they seek.

empowering one person at a time

empowering people, one at a time

For 2,000 years the enemies of democracy, led by that infamous so-called “philosopher” Plato, have tried to undermine the Periclean experiment by couching the debate in terms that work to the detriment of freedom. In order to do this, they pulled many tricks. Foremost, they emphasized and concentrated on the LEAST important and least honorable aspect of democracy — majority rule — while downgrading the most important aspect, which is open and knowing reciprocal accountability.

reach for the stars

what made America exceptional

The United States of America has been the most exceptional thing ever to happen to humanity. I say this not out of reflex triumphalism or chauvinism, but as a simple matter of outcomes appraisal. Indeed, I bet that in the grand context of time, the American Experiment will turn out to have been one of the major reasons, if we wind up succeeding as a species and even reaching for the stars. Yet... those aren't accomplishments of jingoist flag-waving but of relentless, day-to-day creativity, good-natured progress and lots of self-critique by every generation of new Americans.

foreclosure rowhouses

equalizing the economy

In 2009, the new Congress and President buckled down to fix the economic mess of the Great Recession of 2006-2008. We all wished them luck and wisdom... and it seemed that everybody — columnists, political sages, bloggers and citizens — was chirping in with suggestions from the wings, calling for more than a bandaid-and-a-bailout solution. Were any taken? Can they still be implemented?

prevent and prepare for the future

how a well-spun dystopia prevented itself

That the 20th century escaped the destiny portrayed in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four may be owed in part to the way his chilling tale affected millions, who then girded themselves to fight "Big Brother" to their last breath. In "The Self-Preventing Prophecy: How a Dose of Nightmare Can Help Tame Tomorrow's Perils," Brin notes this and more: how a society's continued success depends at least as much on the mistakes they avoid as on the successes they plan and implement.

an Existence future

will we need smart glasses?

Three times David Brin has been asked to talk about this invention: First, as science fiction (see Existence). Then as a future possibility (see speaking and consulting topics). Now? See his article in Variety magazine, "Google Glass Pros: In the Long Run, the Benefits Outweigh the Drawbacks," about the real-world pros and cons of these wearable devices.

some ways to achieve immortality

are we wise enough to achieve longevity?

In "Do We Really Want Immortality?," Brin predicts what would happen if, through a mix of compassion, creativity and good luck, we complete the difficult transition and manage to spread a life span of eighty- or ninety-years to everyone across the globe. Will future generations take a full life span as much for granted as modern Americans do? And will we be able to extend it even further? How long can humans live?

philanthropy's future ambitions

encouraging billionaires to invest in the 21st century

Widespread interest has been generated by Brin's concept, outlined in "Horizons and Hope: the Future of Philanthropy, of an "Eye of the Needle" (EON) Foundation. EON proposes an entirely new kind of proactive charitable institution, one that offers the super-wealthy (and us, too) a unique incentive: Invest now in a brighter tomorrow. Over fifteen trillion dollars may transfer between generations during the next decade or two in the United States alone. If even ten percent of this money went toward projects neither governments nor private capital controlled, we could create a thriving and prosperous future for our descendants.

Robert Heinlein quote

is Heinlein's dystopian future coming true?

Is Nehemiah Scudder our President? In 1953 Heinlein predicted how an American tyrant could get elected, noting "... our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington." The antidote Robert Heinlein and I both advocate is light as the cleanser and liberator. We must all see as much as we can handle, and then more. It is a citizen’s duty to look! And yes, to re-examine things we had been comfortable believing.

inspectors and investigators

needed: independent inspectors & investigators

Should we establish a new and important post, the office of Inspector General of the United States? Far from creating another vast new bureaucracy, this proposal would utilize current Inspectors General, already charged with examining operations and issuing warnings — or else stepping in more vigorously when things get out of hand. The problem? Nearly all of these inspectors owe their jobs and paychecks to the very same secretaries and directors who head the agencies they are charged to scrutinize. Often they are appointed pals, ensuring partiality and conflict of interest.

mass drivers makes space affordable

ready for von Neumann machines?

The notion of gun-propelled launchers goes back to Jules Verne, and have been envisioned in numerous Sci Fi tales, including Earthlight, by Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Heart of the Comet by Benford & Brin. Now, two researchers propose that a space-capable mass driver may be feasible. James Powell and George Maise take a highly optimistic view, claiming that a system capable of launching a payload into orbit for less than $40/kg could be built using existing technology — if it were to gather substantial international R&D support.

prophets and losses

prophecy as political manipulation

Proclamations of doom are perennial flowers which have sprouted in the garden of human imagination since earliest times. Oracles appear whenever turmoil causes nations and peoples to feel uncertain about the future. Ambiguity is the prophet's major stock in trade. For example, King Croesus bribed the Delphic Oracle for good news, so the priests told him what he wanted to hear — if he marched on Persia he would destroy a great empire. He marched, and the empire he destroyed was his own. Other doom-prophecies prove devastatingly self-fulfilling.

Taliban in Afghanistan

can we end our never-ending war with this contrary idea?

We need to be idealists, but pragmatic ones who are capable of jiu jitsu, when it seems called for. And, when it comes to Afghanistan, jiu jitsu is always called for. Think. When did we do our very best against the Taliban? During the initial post-9/11 intervention, when they had something to lose. Something that could easily be taken from them. Guerillas are at their best sneaking around in barely more than the clothes on their backs, sniping in target-rich environments. They know that they are absolutely terrible at holding onto discrete, well-defined territory, let alone governing it. Not against a coalition of modern powers.


a brief intro to science fiction author DAVID BRIN

To learn more, visit his books page, or see his "about me" page or detailed biography.

DAVID BRIN author

novels

David Brin's science fiction novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages. They range from bold and prophetic explorations of our near-future to Brin's Uplift series, envisioning galactic issues of sapience and destiny (and star-faring dolphins!). Learn More


shorter fiction

Short stories and novellas have different rhythms and artistic flavor, and Brin's short stories and novellas, several of which earned Hugo and other awards, exploit that difference to explore a wider range of real and vividly speculative ideas. Many have been selected for anthologies and reprints, and most have been published in anthology form. Learn More


Contrary Brin blog

Since 2004, David Brin has maintained a blog about science, technology, science fiction, books, and the future — themes his science fiction and nonfiction writings continue to explore. Learn More


social media influencer

Who could've predicted that social media — indeed, all of our online society — would play such an important role in the 21st Century — restoring the voices of advisors and influencers! Lively and intelligent comments spill over onto Brin's social media pages. Learn More

DAVID BRIN scientist

scientist

David Brin's Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in Brin's PhD research. Learn More


transparency expert

Brin's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, continues to receive acclaim for its accuracy in predicting 21st Century concerns about online security, secrecy, accountability and privacy. Learn More


speaker & consultant

Brin speaks plausibly and entertainingly about trends in technology and society to audiences willing to confront the challenges that our rambunctious civilization will face in the decades ahead. He also talks about the field of science fiction, especially in relation to his own novels and stories. To date he has presented at more than 300 meetings, conferences, corporate retreats and other gatherings. Learn More


future/tech advisor

Brin advises corporations and governmental and private defense- and security-related agencies about information-age issues, scientific trends, future social and political trends, and education. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was appraised as "#1 influencer" in Onalytica's Top 100 report of Artificial Intelligence influencers, brands & publications. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others. Learn More

Contacting BRIN

All the Ways in the World to Reach David Brin

an ornery, contrary BLOG, and other insightful wormholes!

Do not enter if you want a standard "Party" line! Contrary Brin's incendiary posts on science, sci-fi and politics and its engaged, opinionated community poke at too-rigid orthodoxies, proposing ideas and topics that fascinate — and infuriate. See for yourself, and if you like — subscribe for more.

Questions? Concerns? Email DAVID BRIN at mail@davidbrin.com


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pages about DAVID BRIN

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  • a selection of book reviews
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  • a compilation of great sf books to read
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  • science fiction that teaches
  • BRIN's nonfiction explorations

  • THE TRANSPARENT SOCIETY
  • privacy, security, accountability and transparency
  • designing and crafting our amazing 21st Century
  • predicting and projecting our near and far future
  • leading and following our politics and economy
  • keeping track of changes in science and technology
  • scanning our sky for habitable (inhabited?) worlds