Singularity beef, day 5

Paul Raven @ 27-06-2011

Yup, it’s still rolling. Here’s the post-Stross posts that came in over the weekend:

Anyone else catch any goodies?

[ * Interestingly enough, Fukuyama himself has more recntly veered considerably away from the theories espoused in The End Of History… ]

[ ** For the record, I really admire Brin as a challenging thinker; I’d admire him even more if he spent less time reminding me of his past successes. ]


Kick-offs, and kickings-into-touch

Paul Raven @ 07-02-2011

Just a quick one: among the folk among my Twitter cloud, this list of potential explanations from the BBC’s Paul Mason for “why everything’s kicking off” at the moment did the rounds maybe three times over the course of the weekend, and with some justification. A few highlights:

6. Horizontalism has become endemic because technology makes it easy: it kills vertical hierarchies spontaneously, whereas before – and the quintessential experience of the 20th century – was the killing of dissent within movements, the channeling of movements and their bureaucratisaton.

16. There is no Cold War, and the War on Terror is not as effective as the Cold War was in solidifying elites against change. Egypt is proving to be a worked example of this: though it is highly likely things will spiral out of control, post Mubarak – as in all the colour revolutons – the dire warnings of the US right that this will lead to Islamism are a “meme” that has not taken off. In fact you could make an interesting study of how the meme starts, blossoms and fades away over the space of 12 days. To be clear: I am not saying they are wrong – only that the fear of an Islamist takeover in Egypt has not been strong enough to swing the US presidency or the media behind Mubarak.

A minty-fresh blast of optimistic air, there. Well, James Nicoll is oftn quoted as saying “whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts”; in a naked remix thereof, I’ll say that whenever I feel my chest swell with optimism about current events, I read Bruce Sterling. Here’s the Chairman’s point-by-point besnarking of Mason’s list; by way of balance, two highlights:

4. They are not prone to traditional and endemic ideologies: Labourism, Islamism, Fianna Fail Catholicism etc… in fact hermetic ideologies of all forms are rejected. (((Unless you count Birtherism and climate-denial as hermetic ideologies, ’cause they are)))

14. In addition to a day off, you can “mix and match”: I have met people who do community organizing one day, and the next are on a flotilla to Gaza; then they pop up working for a think tank on sustainable energy; then they’re writing a book about something completely different. I was astonished to find people I had interviewed inside the UCL occupation blogging from Tahrir Square this week. (((Revolution of the Dilettantes! Good luck getting these multitasking mayflies to govern anything.)))

I remember asking Sterling in an interview I ran here a while back what made him feel positive about the next few decades, and I quite deservedly got my own naive arse served to me on a plate*:

I don’t even do “positive” and “negative” potential. I sincerely think that attitude makes people actively stupid about the future.

[…]

History is what it is. Major change-drivers, true historical forces, they have little to do with people’s innate need for pep-talk. If you want to help people deal with futurity, you need to think talk and act in a way that clarifies the situation — not within mental frameworks that are dystopian, utopian, miserabilist, hunky-dory, apocaphiliac, Singularitarian, millennialist… wishful thinking just isn’t serious thinking. We’re wishful about the future because it hasn’t happened yet, but the future is history. Tomorrow is quite similar to all the other days in history, with the quite small difference that it’s personally happening to us.

Anything that’s got “potential” has always got some positive and negative potential. Otherwise it’s not even “potential.”

I try hard to live that lesson these days. Some days, of course – especially in difficult times – you just want to feel a little bit better about tomorrow. Which is fair enough, I guess, so long as you stay aware that it’s just soma, and don’t smoke the stuff 24/7…

… athough, of course, that’s probably the sound of me arguing in favour of my own mental crutches.

[ * I actually got off lightly; I don’t remember where I saw it, but someone was talking about having interviewed Sterling and asking him at the end “was there anything I missed?”, to which Sterling replied “no, you asked all the usual questions”. Ouch. ]


Gonzo Augmented Reality

Paul Raven @ 07-07-2010

Thomas Carpenter of Games Alfresco was pretty impressed by the AR app that superimposes an oil slick on any BP logo within the frame of its image capture, and started riffing on the idea of gonzo AR – a sort of “the world as seen by [x]” idea, taking the idea of reality being defined by personal perceptions right down to the granular level of individuals.

An unofficial game of object-association could make great interactive art, political rhetoric, or dystopic reinforcing world-view; depending on its implementation.  Wouldn’t you like to point your smartphone at everyday objects and find out how your favorite artists or celebrities view the world? Seeing how YoYo Ma, or the Dalai Lama or Bruce Campbell (the guy from the Evil Dead series) view the world could be liberating. Or since our own Bruce Sterling is the Prophet of AR, one of the AR browsers could do a “Bruce Layer” and show us what kind of world he sees when he’s looking around.

Maybe if Glenn Beck was your thing, you’d have a Nazi symbol pop-up when you pointed it at an Obama sticker.  Or if you were a former Bush-hater, you could see a Stalin-esque version of the W with your smartphone.   Propaganda could be all encompassing, blotting out all but the sanctioned viewpoints.

I think we can safely assume that AR (like any other media) will get pretty ugly when mainstream politics gets a hold of it… although, going on past form, that’ll probably happen a few years after everyone else has moved on to something more novel. Back to Mr Carpenter:

And maybe that’s what a gonzo-reality could bring to AR.  Instead of a mirror reflecting all of our beliefs into an ever-increasing sine wave, we might be privy to alternate views to our own.  Maybe even trying out how someone else sees the world.

Maybe.

Or maybe we couldn’t handle their viewpoint.  The overstimulating rush would make our realities spin around us until we puked it back out, losing all those alternate nutrients our world views could have used to grow.

And there you have it; new technology, same old spectre of confirmation bias. Still, if AR ends up as ubiquitous and packed with stuff as the existing internet, cognitive bias will at least be a whole lot of fun.


Fascist transhumanists and 21st century politics

Tom James @ 04-09-2009

chain_crossCharlie Stross has written an interesting and engaging blog post on the future of politics in the 21st century, specifically he identifies the emergence of a new form of fascism that draws on transhumanism, the overhumanists:

To get to the money shot: transhumanism is going to influence the next century because, unless we are very unlucky indeed, the biotechnology, nanotechnology, and telecommunications industries are going to deliver goods that combine to fundamentally change the human condition. We’ve seen the tip of the iceberg so far

And what particularly exercises me is the possibility that if we can alter the parameters of the human condition, we can arbitrarily define some people as being better than others — and can make them so.

Not all transhumanists have good intentions. Earlier I went on for a while about Italy, home of the Modernist movement in art and birthplace of Fascism. Italy’s currently in the grip of a wave of racism and neofascist vigilantism, presided over by an allegedly racist media mogul with a near-monopoly on broadcast media in that country.

So it’s probably not surprising that Italy is the source of a new political meme that I hadn’t heard of before this week: overhumanism

It had to happen eventually. It is sad to see the largely noble ideals of transhumanism (particularly my personal favourite strand of democratic transhumanism) subverted in this way.

Is the spread of fascistic transhumanism as likely as Stross fears? If so, what can be done to prevent it?

[from Charlie’s Place][image from cosmo flash on flickr]


Red Faction: Guerilla

Jonathan McCalmont @ 22-07-2009

Political theatre and sock-puppet ideologies take centre stage on the dusty red plains of Mars, as Blasphemous Geometries examines the latest instalment in the Red Faction franchise.

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont

###

Somewhere, out in the mists of possibility that exist between universes and states of being, there is a game that begins in this fashion :

Your character is sitting in a cramped bedroom in front of a computer. Behind him, on the wall, is the green flag of Hamas (provided by someone down at the mosque, it serves both as a political statement and as a way of covering up an old poster of Ronaldinho. Your character clicks the mouse button and the webcam starts recording.  He reads a prepared speech about Gaza and the West Bank and concentrates upon keeping any signs of emotion from his voice. Martyrs, he has been told, must be proud. He has to stop and start again when his voice cracks into an embarrassing squeak on the word ‘Jihad’. He rides his bike to a lock up on the other side of town.  A van has been packed with explosives and a primitive trigger that appears to be a wiimote.  You snort your amusement at the in-joke. Continue reading “Red Faction: Guerilla”


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