(failsafe mirror from)
The following article is the exploratory article for Impact Festival (wiki), taking place in Utrecht from 30 wednesday October to Sunday 3 November in Utrecht, here. The theme for impact is “Capitalism, Catch 22“. I have been invited to speak by the people from Monnik. This article will link to the slides I will be using for Impact, and enhance on the message I will be trying to convey. Each slide of 20 will take about 1-2 minutes, for a total up probably over something of half an hour presentation. “Or so she said hopefully“. The point for me is to get people to have a look at the article accompanying the presentation which will enhance on all the points raised, and will itself act as a stealth introduction to Transhumanist, Technoprogressive (et.al) thinking.
I am Khannea Suntzu. This has been my name of preference since about mid 2010, I have used this name since the 1980s in some context or another, and it is my legal name since of July this year.
For the last few years I have been most prominently active writing commentaries on technological and societal developments, often in the form of critique and parody, emphasizing my doubts on politics and human nature. I regard myself as a social critic and activist. I am most active in transhumanism, extropianism, singularitarianism, and the techno-progressive ideal and I have the pleasure of being contributor to the Institute of Ethics and Emerging Technologies.
People in those eclectic circles occasionally label me a “gadfly”. In what I do I am most concerned about resource depletion, lack of foresight, human apathy, peak oil, unilateralism, the geopolitical and geofinancial system (or lack thereoff) and disparity in the world.
Despite my sometimes morbid analysis I am hopeful of a good future. Hence I focus on space exploration and colonization, space based solar power, basic income, virtual reality. In analyzing the future most of my interest is aimed squarely at the next few decades.
This may be a somewhat intimidating and politically incorrect presentation for some people. I will also be using many references from popular cinema – if you don’t get the particular cultural reference, feel free to wave a few hands.
Today’s presentation I will negotiating several overlapping concerns. I have a blog, and you can email me or ask me spoken questions after this presentation. When you do you need to speak very clearly or I might not fully hear you.
2. The Age of Pervasive Global Clueless
– if you (can) break it you own it –
Where there is no vision, the people perish. — Proverbs 29:18 .
Keywords: Overload, Ideology, Cognitive Dissonance, Dunning-Kruger, Mainstream Media, Future Shock, Politics, Corruption, Sponsorship, Conflict of Interest, Neo-liberalism, Austerity, Collapse, Capitalism, Futurology, Short-term thinking, Superstition, Incompetence, Populism
What am I saying: The politics of the world are breaking or already broken. There is not overarching vision of the future. Politicians and corporations operative along lines of cynical self-interest. Politicians buy voters with empty promises, or throw up their hands in despair at a world they no longer understand. Most politicians are just incompetent sock puppets while many others are just raking in corporate sponsorship money.
A critical component of the world as it exists in the early 21st century is that it is effectively escaping control at every point. This idea that reality transcend politics is not new – is is effectively an ideological anti-thesis to the utopian idealism of 20th century, i.e. futurism, national socialism, communism. Around the 1980s certain right wing elements in western democracies started to increasingly emphasize abstractions of personal freedom, emphasizing the importance of market-driven decision making. These politicians, of which Thatcher and Reagan were the most prominent, were expressing an opinion and postulating it as being something real. Right now many of these fairly arbitrary and self-serving talking points of this “Neo-Liberal” ideology are still being repeated verbatim, as “market fundamentalism”. Politicians claim there is not viable alternative to “letting ruthless supply and demand” mechanisms sort it all out.
I will claim today that this political response from the right has two reasons.
First – politicians no longer have a clue they can guarantee voters anything. A significant percentage of right wing politicians is starting to take democracy itself with a grain of salt, and would rather prefer a significantly curtailed electoral freedom. This of course benefits people who have particularly in-demand talents or significant financial investments. Those who own things in the world increasingly benefit from these investments under laissez-faire capitalism and diminished legal oversight.
Second – an increasing number of politicians, and this includes politicians on the left are throwing up their hands at the implications of an increasingly unmanageable and faster changing world. Politicians of any stripe find themselves unable to implement regulations fast enough to catch up with changing reality.
Politicians are visibly in a crisis of adequate modelling and understanding of the near future.
That does not mean there aren’t any halfway adequate models for describing the near future. There are many very good analysis for prediction, but increasingly futurology is coming up with descriptive narratives that completely transcend available tools any politician has. The world sees a rapid emergence of technologies and societal models (of which lateral warfare is one manifestation) that mostly transcend the coping mechanisms of existing city states.
To make it more difficult, a lot of politicians (especially in the United States) are governing in a non-fact based manner. I wouldn’t want to disparage organized religions too much, but the reality is that religious thinking, magical thinking, end-times thinking, dominionism and crass superstition makes politicians less capable of fully accepting the factual world around them.
So what does a politician do? When at a loss what to do accept money and favors from corporate sponsors. And that’s precisely what we are seeing world wide right now.
* Ignored Reality Is Going To Wipe Out the Human Race — Paul Craig Roberts
* Zero Hedge
* Peak Prosperity Chrash Course
* Max Keiser
* Mark Blyth: Austerity – The History of a Dangerous Idea
* Climate change may increase violence, study shows
* Guardian (…) Pentagon bracing for public dissent over climate and energy shocks
* Pentagon instructs Bush how bad climate change will be
* How Christian Delusions Are Driving the GOP Insane
* The toxin of nostalgia hinders progress and fuels extremism
* (George Soros) The next decades – A period of evil
* Hacktivism with Peter Ludlow
3. The Age of Exponential Trends of Scarcity
– the duality of increasing scarcity colliding with exponentially advancing technologies –
Key Words: Oil, Scarcity, Abundance, Divergence, Futurology, Dystopia, ResourceConflicts, Environment, Pollution, TechnoUtopianism, Climate, TeraWatt, Austerity, Decline, Disruption, Markets, SupplySideShock, DollarReserveCurrency, PaxAmericana, Lack of Fact-based Reasoning,
What am I saying:
There’s a tradition of futurists that claim that progress can easily compensate for a decrease in access to affordable oil, natural resources, biodiversity, a clean environment, a glut of garbage belts. A prominent spokesperson for this tradition techno-utopians is currently one Peter Diamandis.
In futurology there is a very problematic misunderstanding. I’ll need two examples to illustrate this misunderstanding.
Example one – there’s a thing called peak oil and climate change. We currently consume worldwide something like 20 terawatt year of energy, of which about 60% is coal and oil. This consumption of petrochemicals, primarily oil, will sharply decline in the next two decades as oil becomes increasingly expensive to produce. ‘Enthusiasts of technological progress’ generally claim that there will be new technologies that will seamlessly replace old technologies and that most people will transition to new modes of consumption. Techno-enthusiasts claim that this transition may have a few minor bumps, but (for instance) by 2040 the vast majority of our energy will be generated by solar and wind, and the transition to a electrical economy will be gradual, painless and will have only minor consequences for our standard of living.
Example two – due to advances in automation and robotization there has been ever since the 1990s a gradual decline in the number of available jobs. This decline has worsening as new automation technologies leapfrog human ability and businesses world-wide find that they can save on expenses by implementing various forms of automated, streamlined otherwise nonhuman service or production infrastructures. Again, people who enthusiastic about the advance of technologies insist that the decrease in employment will somehow magically liberate people from work, and these people will somehow all be able to transition to more worthwhile forms of employment.
In both examples there are downward or negative trends (mass-employment, income, cheap energy, biodiversity, climate, natural resources) as a directly attributable result of human industry, and frequently “technologists” will make bold claims that advancing technology itself will pick up the slack and people will have different lives but by and large their standards of living will improve, and we should “not interfere in natural supply/demand mechanisms”. We should “let markets sort it out”.
My presentation today will be about dispelling this myth. Rapid technological progress will be extremely disruptive for human society anywhere on the planet, the vast majority of humans are likely suffer a lot more personal hardship as a result of both trends intersecting, and free markets about worst equipped to resolve these dynamic changes.
I am not suggesting governments are particularly good at addressing societal pain caused by rapid, revolutionary transitions but at this time governments are the only mechanism we have to protect ourselves and our fellow human beings from the implicit dangers posed by these changes.
* Twenty (Important) Concepts I Wasn’t Taught in Business School – Part I
* Oil and the World Economy: Some Possible Futures
* The limits to Technological Optimism
* VPRO Tegenlicht, Abundance with Peter Diamandis, web site, Ted Video
* Other examples of depletion of Earth’s resources and services: 1, 2, 3
* Some seriously frantic and destructive strategies to get to remaining resources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
* The tragedy of the commons, Wiki
* How much of what stuff is left on the planet right now?
* A lot of Peak Oil related links 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, etc.
* (fwiw) The Limits to Growth: A report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind
* Elysium Movie
* Actuary Explains How An Oil Supply Crisis Could Bring Down The Global Economy
4. Peak Human Value
Keywords: Cold War, Peak Oil, Austerity, Marshall Plan, Reaganomics, Sustainability, Goldman-Sachs, Banking Sector, Communism, Detente, Corporatism, Disparity, Globalism, Singapore Capitalsm, Outsourcing, Union Busting, Red Queen Race
What am I saying:
During the cold war, in particular just after World War 2, it was certainly regarded as prudent by some parts of the United States business community that Europe would not be living in decades of economic deprivation. Pretty much immediately upon the end of World War 2 the United States started characterizing communism as an existential threat to the United States social order. It is perplexing how important business leaders all over the western world regarded it is critical to oppose communism. In the latter half of the 20th century, up till the collapse of the Soviet Union, the specter of communism has mobilized loan programs, a military arms race, a program of interventions in countries worldwide, a space race mostly for PR purposes and an espionage war of absurd proportions and levels of ruthlessness.
Without the conflicting ideology “communism” that was experienced as a direct threat to the ideology of “capitalism” none of these absurd things would have happened.
The cold war has been mostly an ideological conflict waged by the interests of socialized state control trying to spread itself, versus the interests of business owners, trying to desperately spread their value system.
In the 1990s there no longer was an overt need on part of the US to ideologically counterbalance against socialism. That enemy had been overcome, and the western world has been scrambling rather desperately ever since to find a new counter-thesis by which to rationalize its moral significance.
The people now living under capitalism may have reason to conclude that the old slogans asserting capitalism is a “free” system were just mostly bunk. We are finding that capitalism favors increasingly a very small strata of people in society, namely people who own natural resources, are able to exert extremely ruthlessness, have access to extremely rare talents and skill sets, or those who have exclusive access to the mechanisms of money creation. These days being rich isn’t even a rock solid guarantee.
The combination of success for the future is no longer about political control – it is about using energy resources, information sciences, ideas and machines to produce more automated machines.
Somewhere this century the relevance of human labor will become a rounding error in this equation, and the vast majority of people on the planet will have no barter value other than the one left by their ability to rouse pity from charitable donors.
What am I trying to say here?
The brief period of uncanny societal affluence, freedom and “democracy” was a brief historical aberration, made possible by a glut of cheap energy resources, an explosion of global industrialization, and as a more or less intentional PR initiative by rich global elites who were afraid “communism might take over”. In the late 1990s the status quo slowly started settling back in to the natural default human state, which more closely follow feudalism and oligarchic control of society.
* King Willem Alexander: klassieke verzorgingsstaat verdwijnt
* The age of inequality (as opposed to)
* (Thomas Friedman) The Earth is Flat, Hot,Flat and Crowded
* The CEOs Are Wrong: Smart Machines Will Replace Millions Of Jobs
* GOP: We can easily avoid default Thursday by not paying Social Security checks
* (Salon) RIP, the middle class: 1946-2013
* The historical context of the Marshall plan
* China Executes 14 Billionaires in 8 Years, Culture News Reports
* The poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko (wiki)
* Why the “Precariat” needs a basic income.
5. Peak Democracy
Keywords: International competition, corporate, democracy, surveillance, protest, labor, welfare state, poverty, disparity, police state, end-game
What am I saying:
The democratic system we know today is a luxury from a profit-oriented political perspective. Democracy costs money, and increasingly so. Democracy functions much as an insurance against poverty. Democracy allows people a certain degree of safety from predation by people with power and the inclination to use it.
Laws protect citizens from crime. In a non-democratic society laws only exist to allow a governing class of people to exert some form of consistent force as to maximize their exclusive security and well-being. In a democratic society laws gravitate towards greater consistency and application other than status or privilege.
However democracy can only exist in a relatively narrow equilibrium. The equilibrium is defined by the ability of the underprivileged to offer some form of barter to the privileged. In the past the “masses” had the ability to go on strike, conduct vandalism, protest or otherwise agitate against the “privileged”.
In a world where people with considerable financial assets can secure access to automated means of production, and these technologies are constantly getting better, the only value left will remain in the ability to generate energy or the ability to destroy machines.
It is no surprise than that the United States (and much of the western world) is currently obsessed. The goal is publicly “a war on terror”, which is basicly saying “making sure NGO groups of any kind can not cause any kind of damage” to consumer confidence, critical infrastructures and the stuff owned by rich people. And at the same time occupying countries with oil.
There’s a fundamental paradigm shift here. The end result of this paradigm shift is intrinsically hostile to what we now understand as “democracy” or “personal freedom”.
Some added Thoughts
Income redistribution tends to aggravate automation, as income redistribution means higher taxes and higher taxes mean higher corporate operational costs, and higher operational costs means more difficulty competing internationally. This is a self-reinforcing cycle. That’s why various forms of “income democracy” are a form progress, i.e. “progressive”.
There is another mechanism in international politics and that is the perverse incentive to rescind democratic entitlements and “justice”. If you reduce democracy then societal labor and automation are linked more sluggishly. As soon as we take away people’s rights to vote for desirable governance (as is happening right now world wide) then constituents won’t have means to compel the state to redistribute money to them.
I will go ahead and label this “the Singapore model” and I notice this model is widely copied world-wide. Authoritarian and fiercely capitalist states renogotiate human freedoms ad “rights”, in a self-reinforcing race to cater to corporate clients. Corporations want labor to come cheap.
Reducing income produces predictable outcomes – protest, crime, vandalism, unionization, racism, political extremism, increased medical care costs, and arguably it correlates with acts of desperation we commonly refer to as “terrorism”. Hence, from the perspective of the corporate sector and the state, reducing income has two negative outcomes – it makes constituents in a country more belligerent.
In the beginning to mid of the 20th century this was a problem, as there were no methods to control unruly populations – these people might end up “revolting” (and thereby destroying a lot of corporate investments and massively reducing profit). Fortunately advancing technology and automation offers a functional solution for this problem and that is to turn society in to a progressively more militarized “preatorianized” society. An automated militarized society, with CCTV camera’s, drones, paramilitary law enforcement, constant police intimidation, nonlethal weapons, extralegal renditions, prisons, torture, special crowd control laws, assassination programs.
And guess what, we see all that as well, plain as day.
What we see looks intentional and designed. It is a feature, not a bug. The causating mechanism here is money in politics, one way or another. An investor caste funds the political caste, calling them to reduce wages and curtail democratic feedback mechanisms. The corporate hijacks or conspires for increased population control, preferably by having the state outsource policing to private security agencies. In this way the corporate sector can afford to more gradually automate (by exploiting available desperation labor – they call that “a more flexible work force”). The end result is still the same, expect that a significant percentage of corporate money and whatever remaining state budget are expended on the infrastructure of a surveillance state.
The problem is just that police states are less expensive than re-distributive societies (but I can propose a few ways to change that equation..) To make it even worse, societies world wide are locked in a globalist race to the bottom. It is essentially catering to the most ruthless denominator.
I am aware it has become politically problematic to label this fascism due to Godwin’s laws.
* Governmental control and surveillance of its people 1, 2, 3,
* The Rise of the Praetorian Class
* Retired Army officer warns: DHS preparing for war against American citizens
* The Single Best Overview of What the Surveillance State Does With Our Private Data
* Lawrence Lessig : Retaking democracy
* How the U.S. Is Spreading ‘Procedures of Totalitarianism’
* The great Divide – income inequality and its cost
* New Study Supports Link Between Inequality and Crime
* Heard that countries should ‘compete’ on tax? Wrong
* Gerard Depardieu Russian Citizen: French Actor Gets New Home Address
* Suicide: a side-effect of unemployment?
* Is Higher Education Even Worth It? – Defaults Skyrocket
* Krugman: The 1 percent has created a monster
* ‘The corporate takeover of the commons’
* Cameron on “Britain being part of the human rights convention” and “on forced labor”
* Stallman: How Much Surveillance Can Democracy Withstand?
* The tax that could save America from Wall Street
* In an age of mass-surveillance, democracy is dead
* Proof that NSA Spying Is Not Very Focused On Terrorism – Power, Money and Crushing Dissent Are Real Motives
6. The Corporate manual for hacking government, democracy and clueless mobs of people
– the world is increasingly governed and exploited by increasingly ruthless human beings –
Keywords: Psychopathic disorders, corporate culture, banking, Goldman-Sachs, Corporatism, entitlement culture,
What am I saying:
Democratic society used to be an attractive environment for investment. In the middle to end of the 20th century democracy and freedom was a petri dish societal environment that favored growth of high-tech industry and a competitive service sector.
A very functional way to look at this mechanism is in terms of evolutionary adaptation, and selection for survival traits. Businesses are mechanisms that seek to perpetuate themselves, as they generate utility and benefit for their owners. Hence owners and employees at businesses will conspire in a highly motivated fashion to maximize the conditions under which the business enterprise functions.
Biological life on the planet can modify its qualities to modify the environment it inhabits by means of constant recursive improvement. In fact – biological life has completely altered the way our planet functions at the geological level. Three billion years ago life more or less was able to change the atmosphere of the planet towards becoming oxygenated. Existence in an oxygen bearing environment allowed life to expand to greater complexity states. While there is no consciousness or ontology at work in the gradual progress of evolutionary biology, there is purposes and meaning manifested in ever more complex life. The biologist Lovelock summarized this mechanism as “the Gaia effect”.
Recently another evolutionary biologist Peter Ward proposed a different mechanism that might exist side by side with the Gaia effect – the Medea effect. This mechanism seems to cyclically seek mass-extinction and mass destruction of overspecialized and complex life in favor of “the least common denominator” life.
In a planet where humans compete ruthlessly for maximized utility, the constant exchange of ideas and the ability of humans to formulate strategies and implement new technologies completely bypasses the slow crawl of evolutionary progress. While life “kludges” along by incrementally accumulating qualities suitable for species survival, the intelligence ability of individual humans allows the “privileged”, “talented” and “powerful” to more effectively seek social arrangements and the acquisition or creation of infrastructures geared towards profit maximization.
Capitalism is a lowest common denominator for doing this. For a while the state – specifically in the form of governments and democracy – existed to create precursor conditions of stability and access to a rational and docile labor force. There was even a brief period of mutually reciprocal benefit for workers, government bureaucrats and corporations, but somewhere in the 1990s this period ended. Government became raw material for the corporate sector, and big business, investment and bankers are now universally in control or quickly moving to exert fiscal dominance over every society across the planet.
* Adam Curtis, All watched over by machines of loving grace, (series wiki)
* Are the 1% of the 1% pulling politics in a conservative direction?
* Adam Curtis – the trap, (The Trap Wiki)
* The Rise of the Praetorian Class
* TED Talk: Exploding Wealth Inequality and the Rise of the Global Super-Rich
* Richard Fuld wiki
* Lobbying Bonanza as Firms Try to Influence European Union
* The secret state is just itching to gag the press
* ‘Shock Doctrine’ Americana: Endless War as the Ultimate Business Model
7. What if the “owner class” effectively secedes ?
What am I saying: ..
Democracy costs money to business, or disallows emerging business to make profits, often by enacting regulations that protects the electorate from predatory or dangerous business practices.
We exist in a period in human history where the precursor conditions are emerging where well-equipped multinational business will no longer need the services of any particular government. Nevertheless individual business is still engaged in a fierce and ruthless competition to consolidate access to maximum numbers of paying customers trading this off at the lowest tax regimen. The Netherlands has for several years inhabited precisely this “niche”, slavishly catering to international corporations and consequently being criticized by the United States as having turned in to a tax haven. This is all just evolutionary algorithms at work, and the corporate sector unleashing its inner dragon in the form of a corporate Medea effect, eating up the state.
With sufficient technology, automated infrastructure, unshackled access to third world mineral and energy resources there’s no reason for corporations to geographically associate with the “developed” world. Corporations can buy or create their own real estate, attract service through subsidiary sub-companies, buy services from the cheapest teleworkers anywhere on the planet. We are quickly seeing preconditions for corporate secession emerge. It can be argued that the bizarre political posturing of the Republican party in the US is a functional process of corporate secession.
The question is – how much will the globalized business community benefit from ridding itself from governments, democratic or otherwise, or circumvent governments towards becoming facilitating “Singapore styled” infrastructures?
An objective assessment of technological progress strongly suggests me that the point where such a transition or paradigm shift might become highly profitable for globalized corporations is years away rather than decades.
* Marty Sullivan figured out how the world’s biggest companies avoided billions in taxes. Here’s how he wants to stop them.
* How the Wealthy Wage War on Democracy Itself
* Seasteading Institute
* The Disturbing Link Between Psychopathy And Leadership
* The Corporation Documentary
* Dan Gilbert Is Planning To Tear Down Every Single Abandoned Building In Detroit
* Robert Reich: We Can Save the Economy If We Get Serious About Taxing the Rich
* Ayn Rand’s Gospel of Selfishness and Billionaire Empowerment Is Plaguing America
* Profetes van egoisme verovert Nederland
* Corporate rule hurts the US more than shutdown
* The fall-out from Falciani
* Let’s Get This Class War Started
8. There is no guarantee money will be worth anything – Money 2.0
What am I saying:
Money is a tool of exchanging value. That’s it. It used to be something you can put in your mattress or bury under a tree but these days if you get stopped by customs and you have more than 10.000 in your wallet the kindly people there will assume the money has been generated by illicit means and hold it for safekeeping until you have proven otherwise.
Essentially money is no longer a fully fungible medium of unfettered transaction, except for people who have become completely part of the global transactional infrastructure. That means that even the extremely affluent have been made subservient of the global banking system and are only considered relevant (or legitimate) in how local markets are able to compel such rich people to spend this money on officially sanctioned products.
That pretty much that money means nothing any more. It used to mean something to be affluent, these days affluence is only relative to investments made. Capitalism is a system geared towards the creation of consumer services, but that clearly isn’t the whole story here. The international order that has somehow evolved acts as a jealous Mistress and demands this money must be recycled as quickly as possible. Capitalism is under compulsion to reduce waste and to “ration” available services and products.
Something critical happened in the financial world a few decades ago that has divorced global monetary systems from monetary realism. From that point onwards the creation of new money has become an arbitrary choice by some policymaker or bank. This allowed governments to create any money they deemed fit, and use it for whatever arbitrary social program.
Money devaluation seems to be fairly routine and it is linked to the creation of militaries for the purpose of force projection and resource consolidation. In short – all throughout history some states have prospered, their select elites demanded an increasing share of the profits and the state came under compulsion to acquire ever more natural resources, slaves, oil – whatever was needed to maintain domestic social cohesion and to purchase policy consent from its citizens. This mechanism has proven as deadly to states as various forms of cancer – the militarization of such societies always produces the same cycle of unsustainable expansion and the end result is invariably a rather dismal process of societal collapse.
For purposes of this presentation let’s make a simple statement – we are in a period of history at best years removed from the big currencies on the planet entering substantial decline in value. The dollar will go first, hot on the heels followed by the Euro and the societal end result is already fairly visible in countries like Spain or Greece.
There is however a completely new mechanism at work here – when monetary unions collapse in the twenty-first century we will still have corporations and there is no reason to conclude that corporations will be able to expediently create exchange mechanisms for exclusive exchange of good, services, resources, land or labor.
Emphasis on exclusive. In other words, this largely hypothetical new currency will be “special people money”. That means that such a medium would potentially be a mechanism of exchange between corporations facilitating ‘important’ transactions, such as oil, real estate, military force, etc. Governments wouldn’t have much of this ‘uber-money’, unless they would consent to selling their natural resources, their best building location, water, their first born children, etc.
I am not suggesting that someone is out there planning this. But I am cautiously speculating that this possibility should be of some concern. The collapse of natural money printing and the creation of exclusive inter-corporate currencies would effectively castrate the nation-state and reduce the world’s populations to a servile mush of third world countries.
* Why Money will soon be extinct
* Max Keiser, Zero Hedge
* Mark Blyth: Austerity – The History of a Dangerous Idea
* NSA wants even greater powers … to defend Wall Street
* The Biggest Scam In The History Of Mankind!
* The New Century: Working to Live or Living to Work?
9. Relinquishing technology, industry is not an option
Keywords: Sustainability, Luddites, “opting out”, preppers, survivalism, the simple life, back to nature,
What am I saying:
A world filled with technology is quickly becoming a mixed blessing. On the one hand technology allows for incredible standards of living, the spread of information and education, amazing community building, entertainment and beauty. On the other hand, the techno-industrial substrate of progress is spreading over the planet at an exponential rate.
Let’s call this material substrate “techno sphere”.
Two centuries ago there was no “technosphere” on the planet. Romans started with depositing roads, and that was effectively the start of humans laying out infrastructure. It didn’t last long before humans experienced the dictates of technology. Initially only the lowest social castes of humanity experienced the fall-out and negative consequences of progress, but it can be argued that technosphere is increasingly assert its own value systems over every single human. This is a self-reinforcing mechanism, where technology has certain perceived benefits for humanity and humans do whatever they can to get more of these experienced benefits.
This is a one-way street. Humanity has become completely and irreversible dependent on the Technosphere. There is no going back to a state with any substantially reduced infrastructural services – technology has unwittingly created precursor conditions by means of self-perpetuated selective evolutionary mechanisms to make itself indispensable.
There are soon ten billion humans on the planet. Without access to energy and machines most of our civilization grinds to a halt. The consequence of total global service disruption provided by advanced industrial technology is the majority of humans will be dead within the year.
There is no backing away from this process, no matter what the greens, sustainability advocates or luddites claim. We cannot undo progress. Technological affordances have become obligatory, as we are discovering at potentially lethal and life-destroying consequences.
Progress experiments and often gets its blind attempts wrong – Fukushima and Chernobyl. Climate Change. Pesticides. High fructose corn syrup and fast food industries. The military industrial complex. ABC warfare deterrents. Organized crime. Highly addictive drugs. Humans frequently act as cellular automata in a blind watchmakers game of progress, but we are as humans enslaved by our needs and desires and we are individually or collectively easily seduced in to self-evidently catastrophic deals with the devil.
But its simpler. I would not agree with a world without personal computing and internet. I would not want to live in a world without central heaters and refrigerators, mass transport or hospitals. I will willingly consume products of which I know humans in the third world have endured horrific condition not dissimilar from slavery. I know that my consumption is dependent on this advance and spread of this technosphere across the surface of this planet.
* World population clock
* Hans Rosling 1, 2, 3
* Jeremy Rifkin on Occupy: the upcoming third industrial revolution needs a new economic vision.
* Hong Kong wants its citizens to breed harder, to pay for the fact that there are already too many people
10. The Tragic and lonely nature of the human state
Keywords: Frailty, Natural, Humanity, Overwhelmed, Progress, Future Shock, Desorientation, Freedom, Laws, Competition, Constraints, Dilemma, Disparity, Opportunity, Individualism, Existential Freedom, Responsibility, Society,
What am I saying:
The world is becoming more complex. There is however a point where complexity increases beyond the ability of specific individuals to cope, or be able to compete. While there always has been a percentage of humans were left functionally under-equipped, advancing societal complexity, and globalized competition, and diminishing free resources, and over-all complexity of competition, and the sheer absurd human populations world-wide are increasing the percentage of people that can not generate the precursor conditions for a dignified life or (even more insidiously) people are placed in responsible or authoritative positions and these people have insufficient (or incorrect) understanding of the world and enforce these flawed perceptions on other people.
All through human history the percentage of humans who “fail”, and who without help would die or live unacceptably miserable lives, has been the same. Maybe as little as 5%. Right now in some countries this percentage of people that find themselves “falling of the wagon” is going up sharply, as well as the percentage of people that at some stage of their lives need some form of support is sharply going up, due to the percentage of seniors and people with disability. Before the industrial age most people who became help dependent simply died.
Technology can increasingly compensate for vulnerable human states. This raises an interesting question – can we use technology to fix the over-all frailty states of human beings, and is doing so desirable? So far yes, there’s no moral impediment to offering people artificial limbs, prosthetic hips, hearing aid, glasses, translation software, heart transplants, kidney dialysis.
But what is the functional difference between helping people who are in some parts of their existence frail? Is it permissible to not just take vulnerability and compensate for it, or is it also morally permissible to allow the ambitious to use technology to augment the human state?
11. The idea of Transhumanism
Keywords: Transhumanism, Extropy, Singularity, Nootropics, Cybernetics, Intelligence Amplification, Nanotechnology, 3D printing, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality. Ray Kurzweil, Enhanced Reality, Matrix, Cyberspace, Robotics
What am I saying:
Transhumanism as we understand it today emerged in the late 1980s. It is an ideology that is humanist and most advocates of the idea claim to be against force, tyranny, compulsion as part of the aspirations of the movement. Instead many of the people that compose this movement want to be left alone, and be able to acquire in the context of free markets of freely accessible consumer options, the benefits of things such as life extension, intelligence amplification, genetic therapies, cybernetics, virtual reality, gadgets, artificial intelligence servants and robotics, neural interfaces and a whole lot more. So on the one hand Transhumanism is humanist (one could argue mostly atheist) and advocates of scientific materialism. On the other hand most these people, especially on the extropianist side, are libertarians and more than a little elitist.
In the western world we seem to have become suspicious of Utopian ideologies, after witnessing how wrong badly calibrated or ruthless overarching grand visions for the future of humanity can turn out. So on the one hand a specific ideology we might call Transhumanism, Extropianism, Singularitarianism, Abolitionism or the Technoprogressive movement comes up with ideas to improve the human state, and on the other hand people (particularly) in the US and EU has been known to respond with distrust or hostility towards these ideas. A percentage of people are open to the Transhumanist message, but another (probably bigger) percentage of people responds instinctively with hostility.
The idea of “commodified Transhumanism” was particularly threatening to Francis Fukuyama, who wrote an article in 2004 describing transhumanism as one the world’s most dangerous ideologies. A few years before Bill Joy used perfectly reasonable arguments advocating relinquishing much these same technologies, and before that a well-known terrorist by the name of Ted Kaczinsky did much the same by somewhat less moral means – he blew up fragmentation bombs at several university offices to emphasize his how serious he felt.
And most recently there has been recurrent talk from the Vatican that it should regard “Transhumanism” as an enemy to humanity.
Transhumanism seems to be an instinctively terrifying concept for many humans.
What’s the answer of Transhumanists? Make these choices voluntary.
But what are the consequences if small, largely unaccountable groups of human beings set out by themselves to improve themselves? Should society force taxpayers to implement yet another type of prohibition to disallow humans to experiment with self-augmentation, or would that only aggravate the problem – black markets are quite effective in meeting demand. Can society allow a small number of people to seek self-enhancement or should be socialize these technologies? Or should we just adopt a world-wide “wait and see” attitude?
Or maybe – are most people in 2013 already completely “transhumanist”, as perceived by people from 1990?
* Paradise Engineering, The Hedonistic Imperative, Abolitionism, David Pearce
* Bill Joy, Francis Fukuyama on transhumanism
* Disability Culture Meets the Transhumanist Condition
* Nootropics, The Good Drug Guide
* The Institute of Ethics and Emerging technologies
* German Transhumanism – haunted by history
* Cryonics, Cryonics FAQ
* The origins of “an epidemic” of autism and asperger in silicon valley
* Ich Bin Ein Neo-Eugenicist, Liberal Eugenics
* Eric Drexler on a hyper-abundant society
* Cryonics, Cryonics FAQ
* Hugo deGaris on the “Artilect War”, Wiki
* Kevin Warwick on Artificial Intellitence, Wiki
* Bill Joy, Francis Fukuyama on transhumanism, The Unabomber, manifesto
* <a href="The Catholic Church Has Declared War on Transhumanism“>Catholic church “declares war” on “Transhumanism”
* Alex Jones hysterical rants on Transhumanism 1, 2, 3 Others: 1
* Augmented Reality Explorer Steve Mann Assaulted At Parisian McDonald’s
* Personhood beyond the human conference, Yale university 2013
* Interesting video – “True Skin”.
* They shall walk
* “The answer, of course, is Technology” – Hugh Herr about (his) cybernetics and human augmentation on TED.
12. Changing all the rules – The Emergence of Artificial Intelligence
What am I saying:
We do not know whether or not it possible for humans to create machines that replicate key aspects of what it means to be versatile intelligent. But the signs are there that this uncertainty won’t matter in the next few decades. It has become fairly irrelevant whether or not it will be possible to create AI. It is already possible to create machines that have cognitive ability far exceeding human equivalent abilities, and each year the range of qualities in “thinking” machines that outrank human capability increases, and what they do they do better as well.
There is little consensus whether (or when) engineering could come up with a form of AI that can compete with a competent human in everyday life. There are several parallel hypothetical approaches to do this – (*) reverse engineering the human mind step by step; (*) allow for random mutations in software constructs and select for qualities we’d regard as “intelligent”; (*) use a range of technologies to make laboratory intelligence smarter, (*) combine human or animal brain matter and reconstruct artificial brains from this material, (*) design intelligence from theoretical mathematical models of intelligence or (*) throw ever more and ever cheaper hardware at the problem. I am not sure some of these methods are legal or moral, but it’s a big world and someone, somewhere is using these methods, in various forms of combinations.
There is a point where a device generated by these methods would be able to start solving complex problems. These problems may be problems we humans wouldn’t even acknowledge as problems, or be able to acknowledge as existing in the first place. Evolution has given human brains a very narrow band of operational parameters, but an artificial mind may be under no such constraints and there’s a chance that in our lifetimes we may be faced with a thing that in the strictest sense remains mostly uncommunicative, and we’d naively label it non-intelligent – but it solves problems so fast that it quickly transcend whatever attempts we try to constrain its development. Once such a device is out there in the wild, and it puts itself to the challenge of redesigning its own hardware and software (and does so effectively) it gets more capable in solving an ever bigger cloud of problems, and so on. This idea is called “recursive self-improvement” and while it is fairly obvious such a thing might happen, it is not certain when this “take-off point” could occur, or how fast it could unfold. It does however seem likely that any ‘owners’ benefiting from the fruits of efforts of these technologies stand a chance to get very rich very fast, by marketing the inventions of these artificial minds.
The human mind is very complex, but it is not infinitely complex, A sufficiently fast improving artificial mind would be able to analyse and understand the foundational and functional principles of the human neurology. Many in the transhuman community allege that this should become possible somewhere this century. It seems a no-brainer that at the moment there is something that as “smart” (of lack of a better label) such a device would make most forms of human effort replicable and commercially useless. If we still have a societal paradigm as implicitly competitive as “capitalism” it is inescapable that the interests of the owners of such technologies would make the interests and wishes of everyone else pretty irrelevant.
Every time in history people became exponentially more powerful than other humans, the end result has always been the same – the weaker people get displaced and die, in often quite miserable ways. My expectation the odds of this happening in our respective lifetimes is moderate to fair.
* What is safe (friendly) artificial intelligence?
* MIRI (formerly SIAI), wiki
* Ben Goertzel on “Strong” AGI
* Elizer Yudkowsky on AI
* Some AI movies in popular fiction: AI, Alien 1, 2, 3, Bicentennial Man, Forbid Project, I Robot, Keloid, Prometheus, Short Circuit, Space 2001, Terminator 1, 2, 3, 4, The Matrix 1, 2, 3, Animatrix, Transformers 1, 2 ,3, Wall-E, (other list)
13. Technology run amok – The Singularity
Keywords: Singularity, Moore’s Law, Future, Ray Kurzweil, The Spike, Hockeystick Curve, Omega Point, Hard Take-off, Artificial Intelligence, Terminator, Rapture of the Nerds, Vernor Vinge,
What am I saying:
The Singularity as an idea originated from somewhere in half to latter 20th century. There was an inclination with Science Fiction writers to avoid writing about artificial intelligence, as these people (mostly nerdy white males) noticed that it was not possible to speculate meaningfully, and write entertaining stories about greater-than-human intelligence. To deal with this these authors came up with explanations why smarter than human AI would either be impossible, or would become “outlawed” in these stories, kinda like “Butlerian Jyhad”.
Vernor Vinge first coined the term Singularity, and effectively set the stage for great aspirational hope and stories of doom and fear regarding this Singularity idea. Various SF writers and commentators consequently dismissed the concept as “impossible in the real world”, or “at best vaguely entertaining nonsense”, and others accused the idea of being a form of religious thinking in techno-fetishist clothes.
The implications of Singularity were well explored in various online communities, specifically the Extrop[y Mailing lists in the 1990s. Many of these lists make the claim that they said “all there is to say” on this topic, on this side of the Singularity.
The idea of the Singularity is simply put the period in human history when greater than human intelligence emerges and acts in the world. Clearly most people take human level intelligence (paired with the full range needs, desires and ambitions all so common with humans) and conclude that even with fairly modest ambitions and needs, any such superhuman AI would quickly desire to expand its ability to face challenges in the world (i.e. engineer and recode itself to become progressively smarter and better) and attain even greater levels of ability. This intelligence is quite likely to be distinctly non-human, and there seems to be a fair chance such intelligence might not a-priori inclined to be friendly or benevolent towards humans. Worst case scenario the Singularity centers on a number of highly competitive AI systems that regard humanity as a nuisance and out-compete one another in a fierce conflict for dominance of the planet and solar system resources. If that worst case scenario occurs the exponential growth rate of superhuman intelligence AI will result in the extinction of most humans and at best the complete subjugation of a small contingent of remaining “reservation monkey” humans within a very short timeframe. The ability for such an intelligence to quickly respond to any kind of aggressive countermeasures engineered and produced by humans is about several orders of magnitude faster than any human can come up with (months). Humans would be engineering anti-AI measures in months, the hypothetically hostile AI would design, concept test, engineer, produce and field test a range of versatile anti-human measures in days.
Ray Kurzweil, writer of “The Singularity is near” suggests there’s a simple solution. As an advocate of almost manic-optimist “Singularitarianism” Ray probably has the best answer to the conceptual challenges posed by Singularity (other than “ignoring it”, or “being hysterically afraid of it”) and that is the idea we (all of humanity) will peacefully, productively and happily merge with technology, become cyborgs, abandon our frail mortal bodies, live materially prosperous lives and be happily ever after – existing probably for millennia as effectively deities. Probably investing in dotcom startups till the heat death of the universe.
* Singularity wiki
* Singularity University FAQ
* Steal this Singularity!
* Global 2045 movement
* (humor) I am the very model of a Singularitarian
* A condensed critique of Transhumanism (and the Singularity)
* Vernor Vinge describing the Singularity
* Shock Level 1-4
* Animatrix Second Renaissance Part1, Part2
* Steven Spielbergs AI “Flesh Fair”
* Infowars going off on a hysterical rant on The Singularity
* The Bots Can Save Us, But Only if We Ask Them To
14. A cautious inquiry about the Morphology of Singularities (plural)
Keywords: Escalation, morphology, variation, multiple world interpretation, artillects,
What am I saying:
Ray Kurzweil is a Singularity advocate. He argues for the Singularity and presents it as an extension of current market-oriented, pro human rights, freedom enhancing trend in the world. Take every talking point of western progress of the last century, extend it towards consumer choices of radically enhanced human intelligence, complete virtual reality and augmented reality saturation, immortality, technological superpowers, unbridled sexuality and conquest of the universe by space industrialization and you have what Ray advocates. It is his business model and as business models based on the realization of future promises come it is a good one.
But I might categorize Ray as a Pelagian Singularitarian. In Ray’s proposed future all of mankind will be saved and turned in extremely nice human technological demigods. But is that a fair expectation. Any time I argue that this might not be the case (or even very likely) I get corrected by the hardliner techno-rapture fanatical crowd. They say “I am too pessimistic”. I argue back – but cynical realism is a feature of western European thinking about progress, revolutions, science, industry.
Singularities are not a single event. This is essentially a cosmological roll of the dice. If technology indeed completely escalates out of control and the effects of radical progress saturate the world (and possibly the universe) the effects of such a particularly unprecedented transitional event transcend most ability for humans to model. But we can ask a few questions to get at least an inkling of a clue on how much impact such an event may have.
* how fast does the Singularity happen? Very slow should be at least “considerably” faster than technological and industrial and societal progress in the most fast moving periods in human history Take for instance Dubai in the late nineties and early oughties – There was mostly desert there and a few years later there was a complete sprawling city, with buildings reaching for the sky. Even a slow Singularity would be a mass-mover of
biospheretechnosphere at least several times faster than Dubai or Shanghai building. A fast one might be several orders of magnitude as fast.
* How much energy does a Singularity access. Right now seven billion humans are limping along and constrained on just under 20 terawattyear of energy, more or less. If a Singularity taps fusion, new forms of fission, can grow solar like a weed – how much energy will it tap, and what are the side effects of consuming that energy? 50 terawatt per year? Hundreds of terawatt per year? Such energetic processes, even if well managed with sufficient means of cooling, will have side effects on the rest of the planetary surface.
* How considerate will the Singularity become towards humans, or towards specific categories of humans. To what degree will a Singularity be a reflection of values of a limited category of humans. If the Mossad programs the seed AI for Singularization, this may have considerably bad implications for the rest of the species.
* Will there be one ascending entity in a Singularity, (a “Singleton”) or will it be many. Will all humans take place in the transformation.. will some humans become posthumans, or will all humans be posthumans. Will this transition by voluntary or in some part involuntary. If it is involuntary, will it be a dictate by a central authority or will it be something like “keep up with desperate progress or become extinct. Or be relegated to a reservation.
Once you abandon the party line from the US west coast movement on Singularity – once you accept the “developed” world is it really is (and not as US media claim it is) and you extend even a small fraction of those values, with its oil wars and drone strikes and outsourcing and slave labor and garbage sorting poor people in third world countries, and we assume that at least some of these values extend in to the Singular, we are faced with a prospect of a Singularity where a fairly small number of people might benefit on an almost cosmological scale. You’d end up with a very peculiar kind of “Left Behind” scenario. If the more negative (psychopathic) human values get translated in to the Singularity, we may get the kind of Singularity we deserve.
The most important thing we as humans need to collectively understand that the childhood for this planet is over. It is about collective responsibility now, for ourselves, the moral quality of our choices, and what we might actually want from the future. To destroy humanity, the prospects for the species or even all biological life on this planet is turning out to be the easy thing. To actually have the imagination to acknowledge the potential for the species, and to connect this responsibility to meaningful and consistent goals is the hard thing.
15. Audience participation moment
16. Summary, questions
For purposes pf summary let me oversimplify. The future is about the intersection and competition between two world paradigms.
Thew first paradigm is that people in the world are assumed imbued with innate rights, regardless of race, properties, education, relationships or whatever. People organize against the predation of nature and the tyranny of the excessively powerful and implemented a formalized insurance system we now call democracy. Democracy demands the creation of a powerful state, and people can sue this state to collectivize means from everyone in the state (and in some cases people outside the state) and redistribute these commons to protect the citizen, guarantee certain rights, determine justice, law, security and so forth.
In the second paradigm there are people who are succesful, as a result of a range of reasons – birth, talent, affluence, fortune, connections to other people, or whatever. These people do not under any circumstances want anyone else, least of all a state, to come and nationalize anything of their properties.
We live in a time when there is increasing resources (i.e. increasing scarcity) and increasing individual power. So effectively the powerful are likely to become more powerful as a result of investments they made in the past (land, buildings, education, connections, machines, mining rights, or whatever), and at the same time technology makes these people even more powerful, as investments tend to reduce the negotiating power of the majority of people in primarily labor disputes.
As technology grows and as scarcity increases, it looks like the second paradigm is winning, and especially the United States government (but essentially every other government world wide) is acting as if the second paradigm has already won, by using a war on terror to implement an infrastructure of repression that can only be interpreted as being squarely aimed against resistance against inequality.
This process stands to escalate further and further unless people accept this, realize this in full and renegotiate. It has to become evident for our democratically elected leaders that there is no reasonable alternative that continue with democracy, and that the steadily escalating societal disequilibrium in the world must be corrected as soon as possible. If our current leaders do not acknowledge this simple reality they should be replaced, by whatever means possible. To not do so may have dire consequences as technology escalates onwards. We are not decades removed from a technological inflection point where any kind of renegotiation strategy would fail, as at that point law enforcement, surveillance and military power can be completely automated as well as privatized, and hence completely removed from any democratic, legal or humane oversight. History has invariably shown us what the consequences of such societal orders are.
Chances on humanity having the collective cognitive ability to realize these simple models for the future are very unlikely. Chances on humanity having the imagination to fully grasp the consequences what would happen if they don’t act is very unlikely. Chances on humanity actually having the self-organizing ability to act look slim to remote.
The future is not set. We may stand on the precise of three possible futures – one future entails all the worst negative consequences of this experiment we call progress, and I’d qualify that future as awful and mostly not worth living. In the second future we see all the negative consequences of progress and industry, as well as the negative consequences of exponentially expanding technological progress, and I’d qualify such a future as probably a great deal worse than the first since it would imply very little hope for the majority of humans to ever aspire to anything better than what little slice of Dante’s Inferno they happen to live in.
The third future – and yes, I am oversimplifying here – is a future where we evenly distribute the benefits of progress over all of humanity, while sanely (not excessively) rewarding the people that contribute to progress. In this world whatever resources are available are rationed, a benevolent state guarantees people a dignified existence and we are protected from the full force of natural dangers, scarcity as well as the worst pathology of human nature.
In the latter future lies in my opinion the only chance for humanity and an somewhat acceptable future. In such an equitable future there may actually be a form of progress that improves upon our arguably flawed state of existence to a degree we may not anticipate in our wildest dreams. My suggestion in this presentation everyone in this audience takes personal responsibility and do whatever is necessary to negotiate for this preferred future outcome.