Nisa: I’ll start by asking if you could set the scene for our readers. When in time does The Centenal Cycle trilogy take place and what were the key developments in history that took us from our present to this future?
Malka: The books take place about 60 years from now, give or take. I never put an exact date, but it’s roughly sometime around the 2060’s or 2070’s. The future in which they take place is one in which the nation state is mostly gone. There are some holdouts and some vestigial countries that keep playing by the rules that we play by now. But most of the world has switched to a system that I call microdemocracy, in which the basic unit is a jurisdiction of 100,000 people. It’s based on population rather than territory, meaning that they might be different physical sizes but each of these units, whether it’s a couple of really dense city blocks or acres of rural area, can vote for any government out of all the governments that exist in the world at that time. So you have a scatterplot of these governments. You might be walking through a city and change into a different government as you cross the street. And if you are a government, you have constituents in units all over the world.
All of this is facilitated and held together by a giant bureaucracy dedicated to information management, called Information, which is responsible for, on the one hand, all the physical infrastructure of information and the internet, surveillance, and all of the lines of communication that crisscross the world, but also for collecting all this information and making it available to everybody, as available and accessible as possible. So it’s not just a Big Brother state that collects information and holds it away from everybody else. It’s this idea of pushing that information out to everybody, whether that means annotating public speeches that aren’t strictly truthful, providing background data of studies to support any claims that are being made, or providing audio and translation and articles at different reading levels. It’s an enormous organization of people who are managing all the information that exists in the world.
In terms of how we got there, I’ll be honest that I left that somewhat undefined in the book because to me, it was less important to make this something that made perfect sense as a progression from where we are. It’s not a leap from where we are in terms of the technology, either the digital technology or the organizational technology, because we have most of the things that are involved in this system already. We already have large cities that are formed of multiple municipalities that have slightly different rules that change when you drive from one to another. And we already have countries that are not geographically contiguous, from Alaska to Gibraltar. We have lots of examples of governments that function in some of the same ways I’ve described. But obviously the ‘political will’ problem makes it difficult to imagine getting from where we are now to such a different system. I wanted to give an example of how things could be different to provide that contrast to where we are now, without necessarily going through the steps to get there. That said, I’ve done a little bit of work and thinking about what could take us from one to the other. And there are some hints in the books about how this happens. There are a couple of civil action lawsuits that take place about misinformation, both on the parts of the cable news networks and on the parts of advertising companies, that bring very large settlements, and the interest from these settlements is part of what’s used to set up Information.
A lot of governments in the book are based on corporations and one of the things that we see happening now is corporations blurring the line between the private sector and the nation state. We see corporations doing things like suing nation states. They figure out ways to put themselves on the same footing as governments, while at the same time, they are not bound by the same things governments are. Saying they are multinational is also a way of saying they are outside of national constraints. And at the same time, these corporations are really good at convincing people to buy their products. And that seems to me like a combination of circumstances that could, in the right conditions, lead to very powerful actors believing that they could win in a new kind of democracy.